Part 8 out of 9
baronet. I know you are always glad to be free.'
'Come for a stroll in the park, Brian,' she pleaded gently, pitying him
with all her heart, more tenderly inclined to him in his decay and
degradation than she had been in his prime of manhood, before these fatal
habits began. 'Do come with us, dear. We won't walk further than you
like; it's a lovely evening.'
'I hate a summer twilight,' returned Brian; 'it always gives me the
horrors--a creepy time, when all sorts of loathsome creatures are
abroad--bats, and owls, and stag-beetles, cockchafers, and other
abominations. Can't you let me alone?' he went on, angrily. 'I tell you I
have work to do.'
Ida left him upon this, without a word. What was she to do? This was her
first experience of a mind diseased, and it seemed to her worse than any
trouble that had ever touched her before. She had stood beside her
father's death-bed, and the hair of her flesh had stood up at the awful
moment of dissolution, when it was as if verily a spirit had passed
before her face, calling her beloved from the known to the unknown. Yet
in the awe and horror of death there had been holiness and comfort, a
whisper of hope leading her thoughts to higher regions, a promise that
this pitiful, inexplicable parting was not the end. This dissolution in
the living man, this palpable progress of degradation, visible day by day
and hour by hour, was worse than death. It meant the decay and min of a
mind, the wreck of an immortal soul. What place could there be in heaven
for the drunkard, who had dribbled away his reason, his power to
discriminate between right and wrong, by perpetual doses of brandy? what
could be pleaded in extenuation of this gradual and deliberate suicide?
Ida went slowly downstairs, her soul steeped in gloom, seeing no ray of
light on the horizon; for with the most earnest desire to save her erring
husband, she felt herself powerless to help him against himself. If he
were denied the things he cared for at Wimperfield, there was little
doubt that he would go back to his solitary chambers, where he was his
own master. He was not so ill either in mind or body as to justify her in
using actual restraint.
At the moment she thought of telegraphing for Aunt Betsy, whose firm
manly mind might offer valuable aid in such a crisis: but she shrank from
the idea of exposing her husband's degradation even to his aunt. She did
not want the family at Kingthorpe to know how low he had fallen. Mr. and
Mrs. Jardine had been impressed by the change in him, and Bessie had
harped upon his lost good looks, habitual irritability, and deteriorated
manners; but neither had hinted at an inkling of the cause; and Ida hoped
the hideous truth had been unsuspected by either. She decided, therefore,
during those few minutes of meditation which she spent in the portico
waiting for Vernon, that she would rely on her own intelligence, and upon
professional aid rather than upon any family intervention. If she could,
by her own strong hand, with the help of the London physician, lead her
husband's footsteps out of this Tophet into which he had sunk himself,
she would spare no trouble, withhold no sacrifice, to effect his rescue,
and she and her stepmother, the kindliest of women, would keep the secret
Vernon came bounding out of the hall, eager for the accustomed evening
ramble. This evening walk with the boy had been Ida's happiest time of
late, perhaps the only portion of her day in which she had enjoyed the
sense of freedom from ever present anxiety, in which she had put away
troubled thought. She had gone back to her duty meekly and resignedly
when this time of respite was over, but with a sense of unspeakable woe.
Wimperfield with its lighted windows, stone walls, and classic portico,
had seemed to her only as a prison-house, a whited sepulchre, fair
without and loathsome within.
Vernie was full of curiosity about that little scene at the dinner table.
The boy had that quick perception of the minds and acts of others which
is generally developed in a child who spends the greater part of his life
with grown-up people; and he had been quite as conscious as his elders of
the unpleasantness of the scene.
'I hope Brian doesn't think I'm stingy about the wine,' he said; 'he
might drink it all for anything I should care. I don't want it.'
'I know, darling; but you were quite right in what you said at dinner.
The wine does Brian harm, and that's why mamma and I don't want him to
'Has it always done him harm?' asked Vernon.
'Always; that is, lately.'
'Then why did you let him take so much--a whole bottle, sometimes two
bottles--all to himself at dinner? I heard Rogers tell Mrs. Moggs about
'Rogers ought not to have given him so much.'
'Oh! but Rogers said it wasn't his place to make remarks, only he was
very sorry for poor Mrs. Wendover--that's you, you know--not Mrs.
Wendover at Kingthorpe.'
'Oh, Vernie, you were not listening?'
'Of course not. I wasn't listening on purpose; but I was in the lobby
outside the housekeeper's room, waiting for some grease for my shooting
boots. I always grease them myself, you know, for nobody else does it
properly; and Rogers said the brandy Mr. Wendover had drunk in three
weeks would make Mrs. Moggs' hair stand on end; but it couldn't,--could
it?--when she wears a front. A front couldn't stand on end,' said Vernon,
exploding at his own small joke, which, like most of the witticisms of
childhood, was founded on the physical deficiencies of age.
'Look, Vernie! there is going to be a lovely sunset,' said Ida, anxious
to change the conversation.
But Vernon's inquiring mind was not satisfied.
'Is it wicked to drink champagne and brandy?' he asked.
'Yes, dear, it is wicked to take anything which we know will do us harm.
It would be wicked to take poison; and brandy is a kind of poison.'
'Except for poor people, when they are ill; they always come to the
vicarage for brandy when they are ill, and Mrs. Jardine gives them a
'Brandy is a medicine sometimes, but it is a poison if anyone takes too
much of it--a poison that ruins body and soul. I hope Brian will not take
any more; but we mustn't talk about it, darling, above all to strangers.'
'No, I shouldn't talk of it to anybody but you, because I like Brian. He
used to go fishing with me, and to be so good-natured, and to tell me
funny stories, and do imitations of actors for me; but now he's so cross.
Is that the brandy?'
'I'm afraid it is.'
'Then I hate brandy.'
They were in the park by this time, wandering in the wildest part of the
ground, where the bracken grew breast high in great sweeps of feathery
green. They came to a spot on the edge of a hill where three or four
noble old elms had been felled, and where a couple of men in smock frocks
were sawing coffin boards.
'What are those broad planks wanted for?' the boy asked; 'and why do you
make them so short?'
'They're not uncommon short, Sir Vernon,' the man answered, touching his
hat; 'the shortest on 'em is six foot. Them be for coffins, Sir Vernon.'
'How horrid! I hope they won't be wanted for ages,' said the boy.
'Not much chance o' that, sir; there's allus summun a wantin' a weskit o'
this make,' answered the man, with a grin, as Vernon and Ida went on,
uncomfortably impressed by the idea of those two men sawing their
coffin-boards in the calm, bright evening, with every articulation of the
branching fern standing sharply out against the yellow light, as on the
margin of a golden sea.
They rambled on, and presently Ida was repeating passages from those
Shakespearian plays which had formed Vernon's first introduction to
English history, and of which he had never tired. Ida knew all the great
speeches, and indeed a good many of the more famous scenes, by heart, and
Vernon liked to hear them over and over again, alternately detesting the
Lancastrians and pitying the Yorkists, or hating York and compassionating
Lancaster, as the fortunes of war wavered. And then there was Richard the
Second, more tenderly touched by Shakespeare than by Hume or Hallam; and
Richard the Third, whose iniquities were made respectable by a kind of
diabolical thoroughness; and that feebler villain John. Vernon was as
familiar with them as if they had been flesh and blood acquaintances.
'Cheap Jack knows Shakespeare as well as you do,' said Vernon presently,
when they had left the park by a wooden gate that opened into a patch of
common land, which lay between the Wimperfield fence and Blackman's
'Who is Cheap Jack?' asked Ida absently.
'The man you saw the night I came home, when Mr. Jardine was with us.
Don't you remember?'
'The man in the cart--the showman? Yes, I know; but I did not see him.'
'No; he hates the gentry, and women, too, I think. But he likes
'I shouldn't have thought he would have known anything about
'Oh, but he does--better than you even. When he was mending my
fishing-rod--you remember, don't you?--I told you how clever he was at
'Yes, I remember--it was the day you were out so long quite alone; and I
was dreadfully frightened about you.'
'Oh, but that was silly. Besides, I wasn't alone--I was with Jack all
day. And if I had been alone, I can take care of myself--I shall be
twelve next birthday. Nobody would try to steal me now,' said Vernon,
drawing himself up and swaggering a little.
'What, not even good Mrs. Brown? Well, no; I think you are too clever to
be stolen. Still you must not go out again without Robert.' (Robert was a
youth of two-and-twenty, Sir Vernon's body-guard and particular
attendant, to whom the little baronet occasionally gave the go-by.)
'Besides, I don't think you ought to associate with such a person as this
Cheap Jack--a vagabond stroller, whose past life nobody knows.'
'Oh, but you don't know what kind of man Jack is--he's the cleverest man
I ever knew--cleverer than Mr. Jardine; he knows everything. Let's go up
on the hanger.'
'No, dear, it's getting late; we must go home.'
'No, we needn't go home till we like--nobody wants us. Mamma will be
asleep over her knitting,--how she does sleep!--and she'll wake up
surprised when we go home, and say, "Gracious, is it ten o'clock? These
summer evenings are so short!"'
'But you ought to be in bed, Vernie.'
'No, I oughtn't. The thrushes haven't gone to bed yet. Hark at that one
singing his evening hymn! Do come just a wee bit further.'
They were at the foot of the hanger by this time, and now began to climb
the slope. The atmosphere was balmy with the breath of the pines, and
there was an almost tropical warmth in the wood--languorous, inviting to
repose. The crescent moon hung pale above the tops of the trees, pale
above that rosy flush of evening which filled the western sky.
'What makes you think Jack so clever?' inquired Ida, more for the sake of
sustaining the conversation than from any personal interest in the
'Oh, because he knows everything. He told me all about Macbeth,
the witches, don't you know, and the ghost, and Mrs.--no, Lady
Macbeth--walking in her sleep, and then he made my flesh creep--worse
than you do when you talk about ghosts. And then he told me about
Agamemnon, the same that's in Homer. I haven't begun Greek yet, but Mr.
Jardine told me about him and Cly--Cly--what's her name?--his wife. And
then he told me about Africa and the black men, and about India, and
tiger-hunts, and snakes, and the great mountains where there are tribes
of wild monkeys;--I should so like to have a monkey, Ida! Can I have a
monkey I And he told me about South America, just as if he had been there
and seen it all.'
'He must be a genius,' said Ida, smiling.
'Can I have a monkey?'
'If your mother doesn't object, and if we can get a nice one that won't
'Oh, he wouldn't bite me; I should be friends with him directly. When I
am grown up I shall shoot tigers.'
'I shall not like Mr. Cheap Jack if he puts such ideas into your head.'
'Oh, but you must like him, Ida, for I mean to have him always for my
friend; and when I come of age I shall go to the Rockies with him, and
shoot moose and things.'
'Oh, you unkind boy! is that all the happiness I am to have when you are
'You can come too.'
'What, go about America with a Cheap Jack! What a dreadful fate for me!'
'He is not dreadful--he is a splendid fellow.'
'But if he hates women he would make himself disagreeable.'
'Not to you. He would like you. I talked to him about you once, and he
listened, and seemed so pleased, and made me tell him a lot more.'
'Impertinent curiosity!' said Ida, with a vexed air. 'You are a very
silly boy to talk about your relations to a man of that class.'
'He is not a man of that class,' retorted Vernon angrily; 'besides I
didn't talk about my relations, as you call it. I only talked about you.
When I told him about mamma he didn't seem to listen. I could see that by
his eyes, you know; but he made me go on talking about you, and asked me
all kinds of questions.'
'He is a very impertinent person.'
'Hush, there he is, smoking outside his cottage,' cried the 'boy,
pointing to a figure sitting on a rude bench in front of that hovel which
had once sheltered Lord Pontifex's under-keeper.
Ida saw a tall, broad-shouldered figure with a tawny face and a long
brown beard. The face was half hidden under a slouched felt hat, the
figure was clad in clumsy corduroy. Ida was just near enough to see that
the outline of the face was good, when the man rose and went into his
hut, shutting the door behind him.
'Discourteous, to say the least of it,' she exclaimed, laughing at
Vernon's disconcerted look.
'I'll make him open his door,' said the boy, running towards the cottage;
but Ida ran after him and stopped him midway.
'Don't, my pet,' she said; 'every man's house is his castle, even Cheap
Jack's. Besides I have really no wish to make your friend's acquaintance.
Oh, Vernie,' looking at her watch, 'it's a quarter-past nine! We must go
home as fast as ever we can.'
'He is a nasty disagreeable thing,' said Vernon. 'I did so want you to
see the inside of his cottage. He has no end of books, and the handsomest
fox terrier you ever saw--and such a lot of pipes, and black bear skins
to put over his bed at night--such a jolly comfortable little den! I
shall have one just like it in the park when I come of age.'
'You talk of doing so many things when you come of age.'
'Yes; and I mean to do them, every one; unless you and mother let me do
them sooner. It's a dreadful long time to wait till I'm twenty-one!'
'I don't think we are tyrants, or that we shall refuse you anything
'Not a cottage in the park?'
'No, not even a cottage in the park.'
They walked back at a brisk pace, by common and park, not loitering to
look at anything, though the glades and hills and hollows were lovely in
that dim half-light which is the darkness of summer. The new moon hung
like a silver lamp in mid-heaven, and all the multitude of stars were
shining around and above her, while far away in unfathomable space, shone
the mysterious light which started on its earthward journey in the years
that are gone for ever.
Lady Palliser was not calmly slumbering in front of the tea-table, in the
mellow light of a duplex lamp, after her wont. She was standing at the
open window, watching for Ida's return.
'Oh, my dear, I have been so frightened,' she exclaimed, as Ida and
'About what, dear mamma?'
'About Brian. He has been going on so. Rogers came to tell me, and I went
up to the corridor, and asked him to unlock his door and let me in, but
he wouldn't. Perhaps it was providential that he didn't unlock the door,
for he might have killed me.'
'Oh, mamma, what nonsense!' exclaimed Ida. She hurried Vernon off to bed
before his mother could say another word, and then went back to the
widow, who was walking about the drawing-room in much perturbation.
'Now tell me everything,' said Ida; 'I did not want Vernon to be
'No, indeed, poor pet. But oh! Ida, if he should try to kill Vernon!'
'Dear mother, he has no idea of killing anyone. What can have put such
dreadful notions in your head?'
'The way he went on, Ida. I stopped outside his door ever so long
listening to him. He walked up and down like a mad-man, throwing things
about, talking and muttering to himself all the time. I think he was
packing his portmanteau.'
'There is nothing so dreadful in that--nothing to alarm you.'
'Oh! Ida, when a person is once out of their mind, there is no knowing
what they may do.'
Ida did all in her power to soothe and reassure the frightened little
woman, and, having done this, she went straight to her husband's room.
She knocked two or three times without receiving any answer; then came a
sullen refusal: 'I don't want to be worried by anyone. You can go to your
own room, and leave me alone.'
But, upon her assuming a tone of authority, he opened the door, grumbling
all the while.
The room was in frightful confusion--a couple of portmanteaux lay open on
the floor; books, papers, clothes, were scattered in every direction.
There was nothing packed. Brian was in shirt-sleeves and slippers, and
had been smoking furiously, for the room was full of tobacco.
'Why don't you open your windows, Brian?' said his wife; 'the atmosphere
She went over to one of the windows, and flung open the sash. 'That's a
comfortable thing to do,' he said, coming over to her, 'to open my window
on a snowy night.'
'Snowy, Brian! Why, it's summer--a lovely night!'
'Summer! nonsense. Don't you see the snow? Why, it's falling thickly.
Look at the flakes--like feathers. Look, look!' He pointed out of the
window into the clear moonlit air, and tried to catch imaginary
snowflakes with his long, nervous fingers.
'Brian, you must know that it is summer-time,' Ida said, firmly. 'Look at
the woods--those deep masses of shadow from the oaks and beeches--in all
the beauty of their summer foliage.
'Yes; it's odd, isn't it?--midsummer, and a snow-storm!'
'What have you been doing with all those things?'
'Packing. I must go to London early to-morrow. I have an appointment with
'The man who is to plan the alterations for this house. I shall make
great alterations, you know, now that the place is yours. I am going to
build an underground riding school, like that at Welbeck.'
'The place mine? What are you dreaming of?'
'Of course it is yours, now Vernon is dead. You were to inherit
everything at his death. You cannot have forgotten that.'
'Vernon dead! Why, Brian, he is snug and safe in his room a little way
off. I have seen him within this half-hour.'
'You are a fool,' he said; 'he died nearly three months ago. You are the
sole owner of this place, and I am going to make it the finest mansion in
He rambled on, talking rapidly, wildly, of all the improvements and
alterations he intended making, with an assumption of a business-like air
amidst all this lunacy, which made his distracted state so much the more
painful to contemplate. He talked of builders, specifications, estimates,
and quantities--was full of self-importance--described picture galleries,
music rooms, high-art decorations which would have cost a hundred
thousand pounds, and all with absolute belief in his own power to realise
these splendid visions. Yet every now and then in the very rush of his
projects there came a sudden cloud of fear--his jaw fell--he looked
apprehensively behind him--became darkly brooding--muttered something
about that hideous charge hanging over him--a conspiracy hatched by
men who should have been his friends--the probability of a great trial
in Westminster Hall; and then he ran on again about builders and
architects--Whistler, Burne Jones--and the marvellous mansion he was
going to erect on the site of this present Wimperfield.
He rambled on with this horrible garrulity for a time that seemed almost
an eternity to his agonised wife, and only ceased at last from positive
exhaustion. But when Ida talked to him with gentle firmness, reminding
him that Vernon was still the owner of Wimperfield, and that she was
never likely to be its mistress, he changed his tone, and appeared to be
in some measure recalled to his right senses.
'What, have I been talking rot again?' he muttered, with a sheepish look.
'Yes, of course, the boy is still owner of the place. The alterations
must stand over. Get me some brandy and soda, Ida, my mouth is parched.'
Ida rose as if to obey him, and rang the bell; but when the servant came
she ordered soda-water only.
'Brandy and soda,' Brian said; 'do you hear? Bring a bottle of brandy. I
can't get through the night without a little now and then.'
Ida gave the man a look which he understood. He left the room in silence.
'Brian,' she said, when he was gone, 'you must not have any more brandy.
It is brandy which has done you harm, which has filled your brain with
these horrible delusions. Mr. Fosbroke told me so. You affect to despise
him; but he is a sensible man who has had large experience.'
'Large experience! in an agricultural village--physicking a handful of
rustics!' cried Brian, scornfully.
'I know that he is clever, and I believe him,' answered Ida; 'my own
common sense tells me that he is right. I see you the wreck and ruin of
what you have been; and I know there is only one reason for this dreadful
'It is your fault,' he said sullenly. 'I should be a different man if you
had cared for me. I had nothing worth living for.'
Ida soothed him, and argued with him, with inexhaustible patience, full
of pity for his fallen state. She was firm in her refusal to order brandy
for him, in spite of his angry protest that he was being treated like a
child, in spite of his assertion that the London physician had ordered
him to take brandy. She stayed with him for hours, during which he
alternated between rambling garrulity and sullen despondency; till at
last, worn out with the endeavour to control or to soothe him, she
withdrew to her own room, adjoining his, and left him, in the hope that,
if left to himself, he would go to bed and sleep.
Rest of any kind for herself was impossible, weighed down with anxiety
about her husband's condition, and stricken with remorse at the thought
that it was perhaps his ill-starred marriage which had in some wise
tended to bring about this ruin of a life. And yet things had gone well
with him, existence had been made very easy for him, since his marriage;
and only moral perversity would have so blighted a career which had
lain open to all the possibilities of good fortune. The initial
difficulty--poverty, which so many men have to overcome, had been
conquered for Brian within the first year of his marriage. And now six
years were gone, and he had done nothing except waste and ruin his mind
Ida left the door ajar between the two rooms, and lay down in her
clothes, ready to go to her husband's assistance if he should need help
of any kind. She had taken the key out of the door opening from his room
into the corridor, so that he would have to pass through her own room in
going out. She had done this from a vague fear that he might go roaming
about the house in the dead of the night, scaring her stepmother or the
boy by some mad violence. She made up her mind to telegraph for the
London physician early next morning, and to obtain some skilled attendant
to watch and protect her husband. She had heard of a man in such a
condition throwing himself out of a window, or cutting his throat: and
she felt that every moment was a moment of fear, until proper means had
been taken to protect Brian from his own madness.
She listened while he paced the adjoining room, muttering to himself;
once she looked in, and saw him sitting on the floor, hunting for some
imaginary objects which he saw scattered around him.
'How did I come to drop such a lot of silver?' he muttered; 'what a devil
of a nuisance not to be able to pick it up properly?'
She watched him groping about the carpet, pursuing imaginary objects,
with eager sensitive fingers, and muttering to himself angrily when they
By-and-by he flung himself upon his bed, but not to sleep, only to turn
restlessly from side to side, over and over again, with a weary monotony
which was even more wearisome to the watcher than to himself.
Two or three times he got up and hunted behind the bed curtains,
evidently with the idea of some lurking foe, and then lay down again,
apparently but half convinced that he was alone. Once he started up
suddenly, just as he was dropping off to sleep, and complained of a flash
of light which had almost blinded him.
'Lightning,' he muttered; 'I believe I am struck blind. Come here, Ida.'
She went to him and soothed him, and told him there had been no
lightning; it was only his fancy.
'Everything is my fancy,' he said, 'the world is built out of fancies,
the universe is only an extension of the individual mind;' and then he
began to ramble on upon every metaphysical theory he had ever read
about, from Plato and Aristotle to Leibnitz and Kant, from Hegel to
Bain--talking, talking, talking, through the slow hours of that terrible
At last, when the sun was high, he fell into what seemed a sound sleep;
and then Ida, utterly worn with care and watching, changed her gown for a
cashmere _peignoir_, and lay down on her bed.
She slept soundly for a blessed hour or more of respite and
forgetfulness, then woke suddenly with an acute consciousness of trouble,
yet vaguely remembering the nature of that trouble Memory came back only
too soon. She rose hurriedly, and went to look at her patient.
His room was empty. He had passed through her room and gone out into the
corridor, without awakening her. She rang her bell, and was answered by
Lady Palliser's own maid, Jane Dyson, who came in a leisurely way with
the morning cups of tea. It was now seven o'clock.
'Is Mr. Wendover downstairs--in the dining-room or library?' Ida asked,
trying not to look too anxious.
'I have not seen him, ma'am.'
'Inquire, please. I want to know where he is, and why he left his room so
much earlier than usual.'
She had a dismal feeling that all the household must know what was amiss,
that the shame and degradation of the case could hardly be deepened.
'Yes, ma'am; I'll go and see.'
'Do, please, while I take my bath,' said Ida. 'You can come back to me in
The cold bath refreshed her, and she was dressing hurriedly when Jane
Dyson returned to announce that Mr. Wendover and Sir Vernon had gone out
fishing at half-past six--the under-housemaid had seen them go, and had
heard Mr. Wendover say that they would have a long day.
'Go and ask her if she heard where they were going,' said Ida, going on
with her dressing, eager to be out of doors on her brother's track.
That wild talk of Brian's last night--that horrible delusion about the
boy's death--coupled with this early expedition, filled her with
unspeakable fear. It was no new thing for Brian and the boy to go out
fishing together. They had spent many a long day whipping distant trout
streams in the summer that was gone, but this year Vernon had vainly
endeavoured to tempt his old companion to join him in his wanderings with
rod and line. Brian had refused all such invitations peevishly or
sullenly; as if it were an offence to remind him how poor a creature he
had become. And now, after a night of wakefulness and delirium, Brian,
with his brain still wild and disordered, perhaps, had taken the boy out
with him on some indefinite excursion--alone--the helpless child in the
power of a maniac!
Ida did not wait for the return of the maid, but ran downstairs as soon
as she was dressed, and questioned Rogers the butler. Rogers, as an old
and valuable servant, took his ease of a morning, and only appeared upon
the scene when underlings had made all things comfortable and ready to
his hand. He therefore knew nothing of the mode and manner of Mr.
Wendover and the boy's departure.
Robert, Sir Vernon's body-guard, groom, and general out-door retainer,
was fetched from his breakfast; and he was able to inform Mrs. Wendover
how Sir Vernon had gone out to the stables at twenty minutes past six,
with his fishing basket slung over his shoulder, to ask for some
artificial flies which Robert had been making for him, and to say that he
should not want the pony or Robert all the morning, as he was going out
with Mr. Wendover. He had not mentioned his destination, but Robert knew
that the water meadows on the other side of Blackman's Hanger were his
favourite ground for such sport. He had been there with Robert many a
His remotest point in this direction was five or six miles from home. The
boy was able to walk twelve miles in a day without undue fatigue, resting
a good deal, and taking his own time; but in a general way he rode his
pony when he went on any long excursion, and dismounted from time to time
as the fancy took him.
'I'm afraid he may overtire himself with Mr. Wendover, said Ida, anxious
to give a good reason for her anxiety. 'Get Cleopatra ready for me, and
get a horse for yourself, and we'll ride after them. Mr. Wendover is an
invalid, and ought not to have the trouble of a child upon his hands all
day. If I can overtake them, I shall persuade them both to come back.'
'If they don't, they'll be likely to get caught,' said Robert, exploring
the clouds with the sagacious eyes of a rustic observer schooled by long
experience to read signs and tokens in the heavens. 'There'll be a storm,
I'm afeard, before dinner-time.'
Dinner-time with Robert meant the hour of the sun's meridian, which he
took to be the universal and legitimate dinner-hour for all mankind,
designed so to be from the creation.
'How soon can you have the horses ready?'
'In a quarter of an hour, ma'am.'
Ida flew upstairs, meeting her step-mother on the way. Lady Palliser had
gone to her son's room as soon as she left her own--her custom always;
and on missing the boy, had made instant inquiries as to his whereabouts,
and had already taken fright.
'Oh, Ida, if that dreadful husband of yours should lure him into some
lonely place, and kill him! My boy, my beloved, my lovely boy!'
'Dear mother, be reasonable. Brian would not hurt a hair of his head.
Brian loves him,' urged Ida soothingly, yet with a torturing pain at her
heart, remembering Brian's delirious raving last night.
'What will not a madman do? Who can tell what he will do?' cried Lady
Palliser, wringing her hands.
'Trust in God, mother; no harm will come to our boy. No harm shall come
to him--except perhaps a wetting. Get warm clothes ready for him against
I bring him home. I am going to ride after him,' said Ida, hurrying off
to her room.
In less than ten minutes she had put on her habit, and was in the stable
yard; and three minutes afterwards Fanny Palliser, roaming up and down
and round about her son's room like a perturbed spirit, heard the clatter
of hoofs, and saw her stepdaughter ride out of the yard attended by
Robert, the best and kindest of grooms, and devoted to his young master.
Lady Palliser went downstairs, and again interrogated the housemaid who
had witnessed Sir Vernou's departure. 'How had Mr. Wendover seemed?' she
asked--'good-tempered, and pleasant, and quiet?'
Very good-tempered, and very pleasant, the girl told her, but not quiet;
he talked and laughed a great deal, and seemed full of fun, but in a
The mother remembered how many a time her boy and Brian Wendover had been
out together, and tried to put away fear. After all, Brian was a nice
fellow--he had always made himself agreeable to her. It was only of late
that he had become fitful and strange in his ways. She had seen such a
case before in her own family, her own flesh and blood, her mother's only
brother. That victim to his own vice had been elderly at the time she
knew him--a chronic sufferer. She but too well remembered his tottering
knees, and restless, tremulous feet: those painful morning hours when he
shook like an aspen leaf: those dreadful nights, when he sat cowering
over the fire, glancing askant over his shoulder every now and then,
haunted by phantoms, hearing and replying to imaginary voices, striving
with restless, shivering hands to rid himself of imaginary vermin. He had
been mad enough at times in all conscience, as mad as any lunatic in
Bedlam; but he had never tried to injure any one but himself. Once they
found him with an open razor, possibly contemplating suicide; but he
abandoned the idea meekly enough when surprised by his friends, and
explained himself with one of those lies with which his tremulous tongue
was every so ready.
Arguing with herself by the light of past experience, that after all this
drink-madness was a disease apart, seldom culminating in actual violence,
Lady Palliser sat down before her silver urn, and made believe to
breakfast, in solitary state, thinking as she poured out her tea how very
little all these grand things upon the table could help or comfort one in
the hour of trouble. Nay, in such times of misfortune, the little
sitting-room of her childhood, the round table and shabby old chairs, the
kettle on the hob, and the cat upon the hearth, had seemed to possess an
element of sympathy and comfort entirely wanting in this spacious formal
dining-room, with its perpetual repetition of straight lines, and its
Ida rode through the park, and across the common, and round the base of
Blackman's Hanger, as fast as her clever mare could carry her with any
degree of comfort to either. The clever mare was somewhat skittish from
want of work, and inclined to show her cleverness by shying at every
stray rabbit, or crocodile-shaped excrescence in the way of fallen
timber, lying within her range of vision; but Ida was too anxious to be
disconcerted by any such small surprises, and rode on without drawing
rein to the banks of the trout-stream which wound its silvery way through
the valley on the other side of Blackman's Hanger. If they could have
crossed the hill, the distance would have been lessened by at least
two-thirds, but the steep was much to sheer for any horse to mount, and
Ida had to circumnavigate the wooded promontory, which narrowed and
dwindled to a furzy ridge at the edge of the river. Once in the valley
her way was easy, with only here and there a low hedge for the mare to
jump, just enough to put her in good spirits. But after riding for about
seven miles along the bank of the stream, Ida pulled up in despair, to
ask Robert where next she must look for his master. It was evident this
was the wrong scent.
'They'd hardly have come further nor this within the time,' Robert
admitted, with a rueful look at the lather on Cleopatra's dark brown neck
and shoulder; 'and this is further nor ever I come with Sir Vernon. We
must try somewheres else, ma'am.
And so they turned, and at Robert's direction Ida rode off, this time at
a walking pace, for another of Vernon's happy hunting grounds.
A sudden ray of hope occurred to her as they returned by the base of
Blackman's Hanger. What if Vernon should have taken Brian to Cheap Jack's
cottage, to have introduced him to that gifted misanthrope, who, among
his other accomplishments, had a talent for repairing fishing tackle?
Moved by this hope, Ida dismounted, and gave Cleopatra's bridle to
Robert, who was on his feet almost as soon as his mistress.
'Let the mare rest for a little while, Robert,' she said;' I am going up
to the top of the hill to see the pedlar--Sir Vernon may have been with
him this morning.'
'Not unlikely, ma'am--he be a rare favourite with Sir Vernon.'
'I hope he's a respectable person.'
'Oh, I think the chap's honest enough,' answered the groom, with a
patronising air; 'but he's a queer customer--a reg'lar Peter the wild
boy, he is.'
Ida, who had never heard of this gentleman, was not particularly
enlightened by the comparison. She went lightly and quickly up the steep
ascent, and along a furzy ridge which rose imperceptibly skywards, until
she came to the fir plantation which sheltered the gamekeeper's cottage.
The lattice stood wide open, and a man was leaning with folded arms on
the sill as she came in sight, but in a flash the man had gone, and the
lattice was closed.
She ran on, nothing deterred by this discourtesy, and knocked at the door
with the handle of her whip.
'Is my brother, Sir Vernon Palliser, here?' she asked.
'No,' a gruff voice answered from within.
'Please open the door, 'I want to ask your advice. The boy has wandered
off on a fishing expedition. Have you seen anything of him this morning?'
'Are you sure?'
'Do you think I should tell you a lie?' growled the sulky voice from
'What a surly brute!' thought Ida. 'How can Vernon like to make a
companion of such a man?'
She lingered, only half convinced, and nervously repeated her story--how
Sir Vernon had gone out with Mr. Wendover that morning before seven, and
how she had been looking for them, and was afraid they would be caught in
the storm which was evidently coming.
'You'd better go home before you're half drowned yourself,' growled the
surly voice. 'I'll look for the boy and send him home to you, if he's
'Will you I will you really look for him?' faltered Ida, in a rapture of
gratitude. 'You know his ways, and he is so fond of you. Pray find him,
and bring him home. You shall be liberally rewarded. We shall be deeply
grateful,' she added hastily, fearing she had offended by this suggestion
of sordid recompense.
'I'll do my best,' grumbled the woman-hater, 'when you've cleared off. I
shan't stir till you're gone.'
'I am going this instant, my horse is at the bottom of the Hanger. God
bless you for your goodness to my brother.'
'God bless you,' replied the voice in a deeper and less strident tone.
Big drops were falling slowly and far apart from the lowering sky as Ida
went down the hill, a steep and even dangerous descent for feet less
accustomed to that kind of ground.
'You'd better ride home as fast as you can, ma'am,' said Robert, as he
mounted Cleopatra's light burden. 'The mare's had a good blow, and you
can canter her all the way back.'
'I don't care about the storm for myself. Sir Vernon must be out in it.'
A low muttering peal of thunder rolled slowly along the valley as she
settled herself in her saddle.
'Sir Vernon won't hurt, ma'am. Besides, who knows if he ain't at home by
There was comfort in this suggestion; but after a smart ride home, under
a drenching shower diversified by thunder and lightning, Ida found Lady
Palliser waiting for her in the portico. There had been no tidings of the
boy. Two of the gardeners had been despatched in quest of him--each
provided with a mackintosh and an umbrella; and now the mother, no longer
apprehensive of homicidal mania on the part of Brian, was tortured by her
fear of the fury of the elements, the pitiless rain which might give her
boy rheumatic fever, lightnings which might strike him with blindness or
death, rivers which might heave themselves above their banks to drown
him, trees which might wrench themselves up from their roots on purpose
to tumble on him. Lady Palliser always took the catastrophic view of
nature when she thought of her boy.
Luncheon was out of the question for either Ida or her stepmother. They
went into the dinning-room when the gong sounded, and each was
affectionately anxious that the other should take some refreshment; but
they could do nothing except watch the storm, the fine old trees bending
to the tempest, the darkly lurid sky brooding over the earth, thick
sheets of rain, driven across the foregound, and almost shutting out the
distant woods and hills. The two women stood silently watching that
unfriendly sky, and listened for every footstep in the hall, in the fond
hope of the boy's return. And then they tried to comfort, each other with
the idea that he was under cover somewhere, at some village inn, eating a
homely meal of bread and cheese happy and cheery as a bird, perhaps,
while they were so miserable about him.
'I have an idea that Cheap Jack will find them,' said Ida by-and-by.
'Vernon says he is such a clever fellow; and a rover like that would know
every inch of the country.'
The day wore on; the storm rolled away towards other hills; and woods;
and a rent in the dun-coloured clouds showed the bright blue above them.
Soon all the heaven was clear, and the wet grass was shining in the
One of the messengers now returned with the useless mackintosh. He had
been able to hear nothing of Sir Vernon and his companion. He had been at
Wimperfield village, and through two other villages, and had taken a
circuitous way back by another meadow-stream, where there might be a hope
of trout; but he had seen no trace of the missing boy. The field
labourers he had met had been able to give him no information.
There was nothing to be done but to wait, and wait, and wait. Robert had
mounted a fresh horse and had gone off to scour the country, wondering
not a little that there should be such a fuss about a day's fishing.
Five o'clock came, and afternoon tea, usually the pleasantest hour of the
day; for in this summer-time the five o'clock tea-table was prepared in
the rose garden in front of the drawing-room, under a Japanese umbrella,
and in the shade of a screen of magnolia and Portugal laurel, mock orange
and guelder rose, that had been growing for half a century. To-day Lady
Palliscr and her step-daughter took their tea in silent dejection. They
had grown weary of comforting each other--weary of all hopeful
It was on the stroke of six--the boy and his companion had been away
nearly twelve hours. They could do nothing but wait.
Suddenly they heard voices--two or three voices talking excitedly and all
together--and then a shrill sweet cry in a voice they both knew so well.
'He is alive!' cried Fanny Palliser, starting up and rushing towards the
She had scarcely gone half-a-dozen steps when Rogers came out, crimson,
puffing with excitement, leading Vernon by the arm.
'Here he is, my lady, safe and sound!' said Rogers; 'but he has had a
rare drenching--the sooner we put him to bed the better.'
'Yes, yes, he must go to bed this instant. Oh, thank God, my darling, my
darling! Oh, you naughty boy, how could you give me such a fright! You
have almost broken your poor mother's heart, and Ida's too.'
'Dear mother, dear Ida, I am so sorry. But I didn't go alone. I went with
Brian. That wasn't naughty, was it?' the boy asked, innocently.
'Naughty to stay away so long--to go so far. Where have you been?'
'Bird's-nesting in the woods, and I have got a honey-buzzard's nest--two
lovely eggs, worth ten shillings apiece--the nest is built on the top of
a crow's nest, don't you know. First we went fishing, but there were no
fish; and then I asked Brian to let me do some bird's-nesting, and we
went into the woods--oh, a long, long way, and I got very tired--and we
had no lunch. Brian had something in a bottle; he bought it at an inn on
the road; I think it was brandy. He swore because it was so bad, but he
didn't give me any; and when the storm came on we were on Headborough
Hanger, and Brian and I lost each other, and I suppose he came straight
'No, Brian has not come home.'
'Oh, dear,' said the boy; 'I hope he's not looking for me all this time.'
'Come, darling, you must go to bed; we must get off these wet clothes,'
said Ida, and Vernon's mother and sister carried him off to his room,
where a fire was lighted, and blankets heated, and hot-water bottles
brought for the comfort of the young wanderer.
The boy prattled on unweariedly all the time he was being undressed,
telling his day's adventures,--how Brian had been frightened because he
thought there were some men following them, who wanted to take Brian to
prison. He did not see the men, but Brian saw them hiding behind trees,
and watching and following them secretly.
'I was very tired,' said the boy, with a piteous look, 'and my feet
ached, for Brian would go so fast. And I wanted to come home badly; but
Brian said the men were after us, and we must double upon them; and we
went round and round and round till we lost ourselves; and then Brian
told me to rest on the trunk of a tree while he went a little way further
to see if the men were really gone; and I sat and waited till I got very
cold, but he did not come back; and then I went to look for him, and
couldn't find him; and then I began to cry. I was not frightened, mother,
but I was so tired.'
'My poor darling! how could Brian be so cruel?' sobbed the mother,
hugging her boy, while Ida was preparing warm negus and chicken
sandwiches for his refreshment.
'He wasn't cruel,' explained Vernon; 'he was frightened about those men,
ever so much more afraid than I was. But I never saw any men, Ida. How
was it Brian could see them, when I couldn't?'
'How did you find your way home at last, dearest?' asked Ida.
'I didn't find it. I should be in the wood still if it was not for
Jack--Jack found me, and carried me across the Hanger on his back, and
took me up to his cottage, and took off my clothes and dried them, and
gave me some brandy in a teaspoon, and then wrapped me in a bear-skin,
and carried me all the way here.'
'How good of him!' said Ida; 'and how I should like to thank him for his
'He doesn't want to be thanked. He hates girls,' said Vernon, with
perfect frankness. 'He just gave me into Rogers' arms and walked off. But
I shall go and thank him to-morrow morning, and I shall take him my onyx
breast-pin,--the one you gave me last Christmas, mother. You don't mind,
'No, dear; you may give him anything you like. But I think he would
rather have a sovereign--or a nice warm overcoat for the winter. What
would be the good of an onyx pin to him?'
'What would be the good of it! Why, he would keep it for my sake, of
course!' answered Vernie, with a grand air.
Vernon had no appetite for the chicken sandwiches, or inclination for
_Madeira negus_. He took a few sips of the latter to please his
womankind, but he could eat nothing. He had fasted all day, and now, in
his over excited state, he had no power to eat. Lady Palliser took fright
at this, and sent off for the family doctor, that fatherly counsellor in
whose wisdom she had such confidence. The boy was evidently feverish, his
eyes were too bright, his cheeks flushed. He was restless, and unable to
sleep off his fatigue in that placid slumber of childhood which brings
healing with its rythmical ebb and flow.
The dinner-gong sounded, and Brian was still missing, but at half-past
eight he came in, and walked straight to the drawing-room, where Ida was
sitting alone. Neither she nor her stepmother had sat down to dinner.
Lady Palliser was in her boy's room, waiting for the doctor.
'Oh, Brian, thank God you are safe!' said his wife, as he came slowly
into the room, and sank into a chair. 'What a scare you have given us
'Did you think I was drowned, or that I had cut my throat ?' he asked,
sneeringly. 'I don't think either event would have mattered much to
anyone in this house.'
His manner was entirely different from what it had been last night. His
words were cool and deliberate, his expression moody, but in nowise
'You have no right to say that; but people who say such things seldom
mean what they say,' replied Ida, quietly. 'Had you not better go to your
room at once and change your clothes, or take a warm bath. It is a kind
of suicide to wander about all day in wet clothes as you have done.'
'Who told you I was wandering about all day?'
'Vernon told us.'
'Vernon!' He started, as if suddenly remembering the boy's existence; and
then in an agitated manner asked, 'Did he come home? Is he all right?'
'He came home, thank God; at least, he was brought home. I doubt if he
could have found his way back alone. I am afraid he is going to be ill.'
'Nonsense! a little cold, perhaps; nothing more. It was a diabolical day.
I never saw such rain--a regular tropical down-pour. But what is a shower
of rain for a healthy boy?'
'Not much, perhaps, if he is able to change his clothes directly
afterwards. But to be wandering about for hours in wet clothes, without
food,--that is enough to kill a stronger boy than my brother.'
'It won't kill him, you may depend,' said Brian, with a cynical laugh; 'I
should profit too much by his death: and I'm not one of fortune's
favourites. He's tough enough.'
'Brian, you have no more heart than a stone.'
'Perhaps not. All the heart I had I gave to you, and you made a football
of it; but "Why should a heart have been there, in the way of a fair
woman's foot?" as the poet asks.'
'Had you not better go to your room and take off your wet clothes?'
She had no inclination to argue or remonstrate with a man whose mind was
so evidently askew, who had long ago passed the boundary line of
principle and noble thought, and had become a mere creature of impulse,
blown this way or that way by every gust of passion,--so weak a sinner
that her scornful anger was tempered by pity.
'If you are anxious I should escape a severe cold, perhaps you will be
liberal enough to allow me a little brandy,' said Brian.
Ida was doubtful how to reply. She had been told to withhold all
stimulants, and yet this was an exceptional case. Happily at this very
moment the door was opened, and Mr. Fosbroke, the family doctor, was
She ran to meet him. 'Vernon has had a severe wetting, and we are afraid
he is going to be ill,' she said. 'I'll take you upstairs at once. Mamma
is with him.'
As soon as they were outside in the hall she told him about Brian's
request, and asked his advice.
'I think I would give him a small tumbler of grog after his wetting. To
refuse would seem too severe. But take care he hasn't the control of the
She ran back to her husband, told him she would take some randy and water
to his room for him by the time he had hanged his clothes, and then she
went with Mr. Fosbroke to in Vernon's room, that bright airy room
overlooking the rose garden, which maternal and sisterly love had
decorated with all possible prettinesses, and furnished with every
appliance of comfort.
Mr. Fosbroke examined the boy carefully, and seemed hardly to like the
aspect of the case, though he maintained the customary professional
The boy was feverish, very feverish, he admitted;--pulse a good deal too
rapid; temperature high. One could never tell how these cases were going
to turn. The boy had suffered unusual fatigue and deprivation, and for a
child so reared the strain was severe; but in all probability a gentle
febrifuge, which would throw him into a perspiration, and a good night's
rest, would be all that was needed, and he would be as well as ever
'These small things get out of order so easily,' said Mr. Fosbroke,
smiling down at the flushed cheek on the pillow. 'They are like those
foolish little Geneva watches ladies are so fond of wearing. My old
turnip never goes wrong. You must make haste and grow big, Vernon, and
then mamma will not be so easily frightened about you.'
Vernon smiled faintly, without opening his eyes.
'You see, you have contrived between you to make him an exotic,' said the
doctor; 'and you mustn't be surprised if he gives you a little trouble
now and then. Orchids are beautiful flowers, but they are difficult to
'Oh, Mr. Fosbroke,' said Lady Palliser, 'how can you say so! Vernie is so
hardy--riding his pony in all weathers.'
'Yes, but always provided with a mackintosh--always told to hurry home at
the first drop of rain. Well, I dare say he will be ready for his pony
to-morrow, if he takes my draught.'
To-morrow came, but Vernon was not in a condition to ride his pony. The
fever and prostration were worse than they had been over night, and while
Brian seemed to have taken no harm from his exposure to the storm, the
boy had evidently suffered a shock to the system, from which he would be
slow to recover.
Tortured with anxiety about this idolised brother, Ida did not forget her
duty to her husband. She did what she had resolved to do during the long
watches of that agonising night, in which she had seen Brian the victim
of his own weak self-indulgence, to all intents and purposes a madman,
yet unworthy of the compassion which lunacy inspires, since this madness
was self-induced,--she telegraphed to the London physician whose advice
her husband affected to value; and at five o'clock in the afternoon she
had the satisfaction of seeing a soberly-clad gray-haired gentleman
alight from a Petersfield fly in front of the portico. This was Dr.
Mallison, of Harley Street, a great authority in all nervous
disorders--as thorough and as real a man as Dr. Rylance was artificial
and shallow, yet a, man whom some of Dr. Rylance's most profitable
patients denounced as a brute.
Dr. Mallison's plain and straightforward manner invited confidence, and
Ida confided her fears and anxieties to him without scruple, telling him
faithfully all that she had observed in her husband's conduct before and
after that one dreadful night, which she described shudderingly.
'Yes, I remember his case. This seems to have been rather a sharp attack.
He had one early in the spring, just before he came to me.'
'An attack--like this one--an attack of--'
'Delirium tremens. Not quite so bad as this last, from his own account;
but then one can never quite trust a patient's account. And you say he is
'Yes; he has been in his room all to-day, writing or reading. He seems
dull and low-spirited, that is all.'
'No delusions to-day?'
'Not that I have discovered; but I have only seen him now and then. My
little brother is ill, and I have been in his room most of my time.'
'Poor soul! that is a bad job,' said Dr. Mallison, kindly. 'Well, you
must have an attendant for your husband. Can you get anybody here, do you
think? Or shall I send you a man from town?'
'I shall be very grateful if you will send some one. It would be
difficult to get any one here.'
'I dare say it would. I'll get a person despatched to you by the mail
train, if I am back in time. Your husband must not be left to himself.
That is a vital point. Still so long as he is reasonable, and shows no
sign of violence, it will not do to let him suppose that he is watched.
That would aggravate matters. You must be diplomatic. Let the man pass as
an extra servant, not a professional nurse. All invalids detest
'Is this dreadful malady likely to pass away?' asked Ida, falteringly.
It was unspeakably painful to her to discuss her husband's failing; and
yet she wanted to learn all that could be known about it.
'Undoubtedly. Remove the cause, and the effect will cease. But you have
to do more than that. You have to restore the constitution to its normal
state--to renew the tissues which intemperance has destroyed--in a word,
to eliminate the poison and then the craving for drink will cease, and
your husband may begin life again, like Naaman after his seventh dip in
Jordan. At Mr. Wendover's age, such a habit ought not to be fatal. There
is ample time for reform; but I give you fair warning that it is not an
easy disease to cure. I'm not talking of delirium tremens, which is a
symptom rather than a disease, but of alcoholic poisoning. The craving
for alcohol once established is an ugly weed to root out.'
'If patience and care can cure him, he shall be cured,' said Ida, with a
steadfast look, which gave new nobility to her beautiful face in the
observant eyes of the physician--a man keen to appreciate every gradation
of the physical and the mental, and to tell to the nicest shade where
sense left off and soul began. Here was a woman assuredly in whom soul
predominated over sense.
'I believe that, madam,' he said, kindly; 'and you shall have my best
assistance, depend upon it.'
'Why should a young man bring upon himself such an affliction as this?'
Ida asked, wonderingly. 'Ours is counted a sober era.'
'Why, indeed? After-dinner boozing and three-bottle men are a tradition
of the dark ages; and yet there are dozens of young men in London--gifted
young men some of them--who are doing this thing every year. Half the
untimely deaths you hear of might be traced home to the brandy bottle, if
a man had only the curiosity to look into first causes. One man dies of
congestion of the lungs. Yes, but he had burnt up his lungs first with
perpetual alcohol. Another is a victim to liver. Why, madam, a temperate
man may work thirty years under an Indian sun, and hardly know that he
has a liver. Another is said to have died of too much brain work. Yes,
work done by a brain steeped in alcohol--not a brain, but a preparation
in spirits. They all do the same thing--pegging--pegging--pegging--from
breakfast to bed-time; and most of them would deny that they are
'Do you think that if my husband drank it was because he was not
happy--because he had something on his mind?'
'Much more likely that it was because he had nothing on his mind, my dear
madam. These briefless barristers in the Temple--men with private means,
not obliged to hunt for work, with a little fancy for literature, and a
little taste for the drama--these idle youths, whose only idea of social
intercourse is to be gossiping and drinking in one another's rooms all
day long, living an undomestic life in chambers, without the public
interests or athletic sports of a university--these are the chosen
victims of alcohol. Of course, I don't pretend for a moment that they all
drink; but where the tendency to drink exists this is the kind of life to
'My husband was not obliged to live in chambers--he had a home here.'
'Yea; but young men, unless they are sportsmen, hate the country; and
then, once in the London vortex, a man can't easily escape. And now, I
suppose, I had better go and see the patient Does he know I have been
'Then perhaps we shall have a scene. He may be angry.'
'I must risk that,' said Ida, firmly. 'He refused to be treated by our
family doctor, and I felt that things could not go on any longer as they
were going on.'
She led the way to Brian's room. He was lounging by the open window,
smoking; his books and papers were scattered about the tables in reckless
'Dr. Mallison has come to see you, Brian,' said Ida, quietly, as the
physician followed her into the room.
'You sent for him, then!' exclaimed Brian, starting up angrily.
'There was no alternative; you refused to be attended by Mr. Fosbroke.'
'Fosbroke--a village apothecary, the parish doctor, who would have
poisoned me. Yes, I should think so. How dare you send for anyone? How
dare you treat me like a child?'
'I dare do anything which I believe to be for your good,' Ida answered,
He quailed before her, and changed his tone in a moment. 'Well, if it
gratifies you to spend your money upon physicians--How do you do, Dr.
Mallison? Of course, I am very glad to see you, as a friend; but I want
'I'm afraid you do,' said the physician. 'You have not done what I told
you when I saw you in London.'
'What was that?'
'To give up all stimulants.'
'Oh, that was impossible! It's just like asking a man to shut his mouth,
and breathe only through his nostrils, when he has lived all his life
with his mouth open. No man can change his habits all at once, at the
fiat of a physician. But I have been very moderate ever since I saw you.'
'And yet you have had another attack?'
'Who told you that?' asked Brian, with an angry glance at his wife.
'Your own appearance tells me--yes, and your pulse. You have been
indulging in the old habits--nipping all day long; and you have been
'Sleeping badly!' muttered Brian moodily; 'I wish to Heaven I could sleep
anyhow. I have forgotten the sensation of being asleep--I don't know what
it means. Just as I fancy myself dropping off there comes a flash of
light in my eyes, and I am broad awake again. The other night I thought
it lightened perpetually, but my wife said there was no lightning.'
'A case of shattered nerves, and all your own doing,' said Dr. Mallison.
'You must leave off brandy.'
'Brandy has left me off,' retorted Brian. 'My wife and her step-mother
have gone in for strict economy. I am not allowed a spoonful of cognac,
although I tell them it is the only thing that staves off racking
'You must endure neuralgia rather than go on poisoning yourself with
brandy. For you alcohol is rank poison--you are suffering now from the
cumulative effect of all you have taken within the last twelve months.
There are men who can drink with impunity--go on drinking hard through a
long life; but you are not one of those. Drink for you means death.'
'A man can die but once,' grumbled Brian; 'and an early death is better
than an aimless life.'
'For shame!' said the physician. 'If I had such a wife as you have, the
aim of my life would be to make myself worthy of her, and to win
distinction for her sake.'
'Ah, there was a time when I thought the same,' answered Brian; 'but
that's over and done with.'
Ida left the doctor and his patient together, and walked up and down the
corridor outside her husband's room, waiting to hear Dr. Mallison's final
directions. He remained closeted with Brian for about a quarter of an
'I have said all I could, and I have written a prescription which may do
some good,' he told Ida. 'This is a case for moral suasion rather than
medical treatment. If you can exercise a good influence over your
husband, and keep all stimulants away from him, he will recover. But his
constitution has been undermined by bad habits--an indolent unhealthy
life--a life spent in hot rooms, by artificial light. Get him out of
doors as much as you can, without exposing him to bad weather or undue
fatigue. He is very weak, and altogether out of gear; and you mustn't
expect much improvement until he recovers tone and appetite; but if you
can ward off any return of the delirium, that will be something gained.'
'Indeed it will. The delirium was too terrible.'
'Well, keep all drink away from him.'
'Even if he seems to suffer for want of it?'
'Yes. The old-fashioned idea was that stopping a man's drink suddenly
would bring on an attack of delirium tremens; but we know better than
that now. We know that the delirium is only a consequence of alcoholic
poisoning, and inevitable where that goes on.'
Ida went back to the drawing-room with the doctor. The tea-table was
ready, and there were decanters and sandwiches on another table. Dr.
Mallison took a cup of tea and a sandwich, while he gave Ida minute
directions as to the treatment of the patient. And then he accepted the
handsome cheque which had been written for him, with Mr. Fosbroke's
advice as to amount, and took his departure, promising to send a skilled
attendant within the next twelve hours.
Ida felt happier after she had seen Dr. Mallison. There was very little
that could be done for her husband. He had sown his wild oats, and that
light scattering of the seeds of folly had been pleasant enough, no
doubt, in the time of sowing; and this was the unanticipated result--a
bitter harvest of care and pain which had to be endured somehow.
And now came for that household at Wimperfield a period of agonising
trouble and fear. The boy's illness developed into an acute attack of
rheumatic fever, and for three dreadful days and nights his life trembled
in the balance. Not once did Ida enter her husband's room during that
awful period of fear. She could not steel herself to look upon the man
whose sin, or whose folly, had brought this evil on her beloved one. 'My
murdered boy,' she kept repeating to herself. Even on her knees, when she
tried to pray, humbly and meekly appealing to the Fountain of mercy and
grace--even then, while she knelt with bowed head and folded hands, those
awful words flashed into her mind. Her murdered boy.
If he were to die, who could doubt that his death would lie at Brian's
door? who could put away the dark suspicion that Brian had wantonly, and
with murderous intent, exposed the delicate child to bad weather and long
hours of fasting and fatigue?
'AND, IF I DIE, NO SOUL WILL PITY ME.'
At last their long watchings, their tender care, directed by one of the
most famous men in London--who was summoned to Wimperfield at Mr.
Fosbroke's suggestion within a week of Dr. Mallison's visit--and attended
twice or thrice a day by the clever apothecary, were rewarded by the
assurance that the time of immediate danger was over, and that now a slow
and gradual recovery might fairly be anticipated. It was only then that
Ida could bring herself to face Brian again, and even then she met him
with an icy look, as if the life within her were frozen by grief and
care, and those rigid lips of hers could never again melt into smiles.
Brian had been leading a fitful and wandering life during the boy's
illness, watched and waited upon by Towler, the man from London, with
whom he quarrelled twenty times a day, and who needed his long experience
of the "ways" of alcoholic victims to enable him to endure the fitfulness
and freakishness of his present charge.
Warned by Dr. Mallison that he must spend as much of his life in the open
air as possible, Brian had taken to going in and out of the house fifty
times a day, now wandering for five or ten minutes in the garden, anon
rambling as far as the edge of the park, then running into the stable
yard, and ordering a horse to be saddled instantly, but never mounting
the horse. After seeing the animal led up and down the yard once or
twice, he would always find some excuse for not riding; the fact being
that he had no longer courage enough to get into the saddle. His riding
days were over. Even the stable mastiff, an old favourite with Brian,
gave him a painful shock when the great tawny brute leapt out of his
kennel, straining at his chain, and baying deep-mouthed thunder by way of
Towler had a hard time of it, following his charge here and there,
waiting upon him, bearing his abuse; but Towler had a peculiar gift, a
faculty for getting on with patients of this kind. He knew how to dodge,
and follow, and circumvent them; how to take liberties with them, and
scold them, without too deeply wounding their _amour-propre;_ how to
humour and manage them; and although Mr. Wendover quarrelled with his
attendant fifty times a day, he yet liked the man, and tolerated his
presence; and had already come to lean upon him, and to be angry when
Towler absented himself.
'Well,' said Brian, looking up as Ida entered his room on that happy
morning on which she had been told that her brother was out of
danger--'the boy is better, I hear?'
These things are quickly known in a household, when there has been
general anxiety about the issue of an illness.
'Yes, he is better. By God's grace, he will live; but his life has
trembled in the balance. Brian, it would have been your fault if he had
'Would it? Yes, I suppose indirectly I should have been the cause. I was
a fool to take him out that morning; but,' shrugging his shoulders, 'I
wanted a ramble, and I wanted company. Who could tell there would be such
a diabolical storm, or that we should lose our way? Thank God he is out
of danger. Poor little beggar! Did you think I wanted to put him out of
the way?' he asked, suddenly, looking at her with a keen flash of
'To think that would be to think you a murderer,' she answered, coldly.
'I have thought that you had little affection for him or for me when you
exposed him to that danger; and then I schooled myself to think better of
you--to remember that, perhaps, on that day you were hardly responsible
for your actions.'
'In fact, that I was a lunatic,' said Brian.
'I would rather think you mad than wicked.'
'Perhaps I am neither. Why have you put that man as a spy upon me?'
The discreet Towler had retired into the adjacent bedroom during this
'He is not a spy. Dr. Mallison said you ought to have a servant specially
to wait upon you, that in your sleepless nights you might not be left
'No, they are a trial, those long nights. Towler is not a bad fellow, but
he irritates me sometimes. Last night he let a black-muzzled gipsy brute
hide behind my curtains, and then told me it was my "delusions."
Delusions! when I saw the fellow as plain as I see you now.'
Ida was silent. She had hoped that the patient had passed this stage, and
was on the road to recovery of health and reason. She interrogated Towler
by-and-by, and he assured her that Mr. Wendover had taken no stimulants
since he had been attending upon him.
'Are you sure he cannot get any without your knowledge?' Ida asked. 'Dr.
Mallison told me that in this malady a patient is terribly artful--that
he will contrive to evade the closest watchfulness, if it is any way
possible to get drink.'
'Ah, that's true enough, ma'am,' sighed the man; 'there's no getting to
the bottom of their artfulness: but I'm an old hand, and I know all the
ins and outs of the complaint. It isn't possible for Mr. Wendover to get
any drink in this house, and he never goes out of it without me. Every
drop of wine and spirits is under lock and key, and all the servants are
warned against giving him anything.'
Ida sighed, full of shame at the thought that her husband, the man whom
it was her duty to honour and obey, should be degraded by such
humiliating precautions; and yet there was no help for it. He had brought
himself to this pass. This is the end of ambrosial nights, the feast of
reason, the flow of soul, wit drowned in whisky, satire stimulated by
brandy and soda.
Ida went back to her brother's room. It was there her love, her fears,
her cares were all concentrated. Duty might make her careful and
thoughtful for her husband, but here love was paramount. To sit by his
pillow, to talk to him, or read to him, or pray for him, to minister to
him, jealous of the skilled nurse who had been hired to perform these
offices,--these things were her delight. Lady Palliser, worn out with
watching and anxiety, had now broken down altogether, and had consented
to take a long day's rest; but Ida's more energetic nature could do with
much less rest--half an hour's delicious sleep now and then, with her
head on her darling's pillow, was all-sufficient to restore her.
And so the blessed days of hope went on, and every morning and every
afternoon Mr. Fosbroke's report was more favourable. It was a tedious
recovery from a cruel disease, happily shortened by at least two-thirds
of its old-fashioned length by modern treatment; but all was going well,
and the hearts of the watchers were at ease. The boy lay swathed in
cotton wool, very helpless, very languid, fed and petted from morning
till night, like a young bird brought up by hand: and Ida and her
stepmother had to be patient and thankful.
Ida had often thought during the boy's illness of the man who had found
him, and brought him safely home to them on that anxious day; and she
wished much to testify her gratitude to the misanthropic dweller in the
gamekeeper's cottage; but she hesitated as to her manner of approaching
him. To go herself would be futile, when he had so obdurately shut his
door against her. Then she had Vernon's assurance that this Bohemian
hated women. She might have sent a servant with a message; but she had
reason to know, from Vernon's description of the man, that he was
altogether above the servant class, and would be likely to resent such a
form of approach. She might have written to him; but her pride recoiled
from that course, remembering his cavalier treatment of her. And so she
let the days slip by, until Vernon began to recover strength and good
spirits, and to inquire about his friend.
'I want Jack to come and see me, and sit with me,' said the boy; 'he
could come to tea couldn't he, mother? You wouldn't mind, would you?'
'My dear, he is not a proper person for you to associate with,' replied
Lady Palliser. 'You oughtn't to bemean yourself by associating with your
'Bemean fiddlesticks!' cried Vernie; 'I don't believe there is such a
word. Jack is the cleverest man I know--cleverer than Mr. Jardine, and
that's saying a great deal.'
Vainly did the widow endeavour to awaken her son's mind to the great gulf
which divides a baronet from a hawker--a gulf not to be bridged over by
the genius of a Dalton or a Whewell--and to those nice distinctions which
obtain between a casual out-of-door intercourse with a man of this class,
and a deliberate invitation to tea.
'When I'm well enough to go out I can go to him,' answered Vernon,
doggedly; 'but now I'm ill he must come to me; and it's very unkind of
you not to let him come. Blow his station in life! If he was a duke I
shouldn't want him.'
'I can't think what you can want with this low person, when Ida and I are
always doing everything to amuse you,' moaned Lady Palliser.
'Ida's a darling, and you too, mother,' said the boy, putting his thin
little arms round his mother's neck. He was now just able to move those
poor arms, which had been so racked with pain a little while ago. 'But I
get tired of everything--Shakespeare, Dickens, even. It's so long to stay
in bed; and I think Jack would amuse me more than anyone, if you'd let
'He shall come, darling. Is there anything I could refuse you?' said the
mother, eagerly, moved by the sight of tears in Vernon's innocent blue
'Ask him to come to tea this afternoon.'
'Yes, love; I'll go and see about it this minute.'
Lady Palliser went in quest of Ida, who was sitting in Brian's study
reading, while her husband wrote, or made believe to write, at a table in
the window piled with books of reference, which he consulted every now
and then, lolling back in his chair and reading listlessly--altogether a
mere show and pretence of study, never likely to result in anything--a
weary dawdling away of the long summer morning.
To Ida, Lady Palliser explained her difficulty. A note of some kind must
be written to this Cheap Jack; and the little woman did not know how to
word that note.
'If I say, "Lady Palliser presents her compliments to Mr. Cheap Jack, and
requests the pleasure of his company," it seems like patting myself on a
level with him, don't you know. I wish you'd write for me, Ida.'
'Willingly, dear mother; but I'm afraid the man won't come. He is such a
very rough diamond.'
'Oh! but surely he will be gratified at an invitation to tea!'
'I'm afraid not. But I'll write at once. Anything to please Vernon.' Ida
wrote as follows:--
'Sir Vernon Palliser, who is slowly recovering from a serious illness,
will be very pleased if his friend Jack will spend an hour or two with
him this afternoon. Any hour convenient to Jack will be agreeable to Sir
Vernon, but he would much like Jack to drink tea with him between four
and five. The other members of the family will not intrude upon the sick
room while Jack is there.'
'I think that will do,' said Ida; and Lady Palliser carried off the note,
wondering at her stepdaughter's cleverness, yet inclined to fear that the
hermit of Blackman's Hanger might be offended at being addressed as Jack,
_tout court;_ and yet how could one deal ceremoniously with a man who
acknowledged no surname, and was known to all the neighbourhood only as
Mr. Fosbroke came for his noontide visit just after this business of the
letter, and found Ida and her stepmother both with the invalid. He was
told what they had done.
'Do you think he'll come?' Vernon asked, eagerly.
'I should think he would. Sir Vernon,' answered the doctor; 'for I know
he takes a keen interest in your recovery. All the time you were really
bad he used to hang about the Park gate every day as I went out, and
stopped me to ask how you were. And he asked after you, too, Mrs.
Wendover,--seemed to be afraid your anxiety about this little man would
be too much for you.'
'Remarkably polite of him,' said Ida, laughing; 'yet he treated me in the
most bearish manner when I went to his cottage.'
'If he is a bear, he is a bear with gentlemanly instincts,' replied the
doctor. 'Nothing could be more respectful, more delicate, than his
inquiries about you; and I could see by the expression of his eyes that
he really felt for you. He has very fine eyes.'
'One of the tokens of his gipsy blood, I suppose,' said Ida.
'Yes; I believe he is a gipsy. They are a keen-witted race.'
'A gipsy!--and with so much plate as there is in this house!' exclaimed
Lady Palliser. 'Oh, Vernie, you ought not to have asked me to ask him!'
'Don't be afraid, mother,' said Ida; 'he shall be sharply looked after,
if he does come.'
'Looked after, indeed! Why, you might give him the run of a silver mine.
What does he care for your trumpery silver spoons?' cried Vernon,
The invalid was doomed to disappointment. About two hours after Ida's
letter had been despatched, a small boy brought Cheap Jack's reply, to
the following effect:--'Jack is very sorry he cannot drink tea with his
'Little friend, indeed! What vulgar familiarity!' exclaimed Lady
'But he belongs to the dwellers in tents, and would be out of place in a
'Then he _is_ a gipsy,' said Lady Palliser. 'What a luck; escape!'
'He looks forward to the pleasure of seeing Sir Vernon on the Hanger
before long. Meanwhile he can only send his duty and best wishes for Sir
Vernon's speedy recovery.'
'The end is a little better than the commencement,' said Lady Palliser;
'but I call it a great liberty for a Cheap Jack to talk of my son as his
'He might have left out "little," considering that I shall be twelve next
birthday,' said Vernon, with dignity. 'But I am his friend, mother; and I
mean to be his friend always. And when I am grown up I shall take him to
the Rocky Mountains, and we will hunt moose and things.'
Lady Palliser sighed, and hoped that this passion for low company would
pass with the other follies of childhood.
Now that all danger was past, and that Vernon was on the high-road to
health, Ida spent the greater part of her time in attendance upon her
husband. It was her duty, she told herself; and she who had so failed in
love must needs fulfil every duty. But the performance of this simple,
wifely duty of attendance on an invalid husband was fraught with pain:
his temper was so irritable, his mind was so weak, his whole being so
degraded and sunk by his infirmity, that the progress of his decay was,
of all forms of dissolution, the most painful for the looker-on. That he
was sinking into a lower depth of degradation, rather than recovering,
was sadly obvious to Ida, in spite of occasional intervals of better
feeling and rare flashes of his old brightness.
The case was altogether perplexing. Towler admitted that he was more
puzzled than he had ever been about any patient whom he had enjoyed the
honour of attending. Mr. Wendover, under his present conditions of
absolute sobriety, and with youth on his side, ought to have shown a
decided improvement by this time; and yet there was no substantial
amelioration of his state, and his latest fit of the horrors, which
occurred only a night ago, had been quite as bad as the first which
Towler had witnessed.
'You do not think that he gets brandy without your knowledge?' inquired
Ida, blushing at the question.
'No, ma'am; I'm too careful for that. I've searched his trunks even, and
every cupboard in his rooms; and I've looked behind the registers of the
stoves, which are very handy places for patients hiding bottles in summer
time; but there's not so much as an ounce phial. And Mr. Wendover's
hardly out of my sight, except when he takes his bath, or just going in
and out of his bath-room, where he keeps his pipes, as you know, ma'am.
Besides, even if he had any hiding-place for the drink, who is likely to
supply him with it?'
'No; I hope there is no one,' said Ida, thoughtfully. 'I hope no one in
this house would so betray my confidence.'
'I've taken stock of all the servants, ma'am, and I don't think there's
one that would do it.'
Ida was of the same opinion. The servants were old servants, as loyal to
the heads of the house as a highland clan to their chief.
Sunday came--a peaceful summer Sabbath--a day of sunshine and azure sky,
and Ida, whose anxiety about Vernon had kept her away from her parish
church for the last three Sundays, was able to set out upon her walk to
the village with a heart quite at rest on the boy's account. Even the
mother could find no excuse for staying at home with her boy, and felt
that conscience and society alike required that she should assist at the
service of her parish church. Vernie was convalescent, able to sit up in
his bed, propped with pillows, and eat hot-house grapes, and turn over
the leaves of endless volumes of _Punch_, laughing with his hearty
childish laugh at Leech's jokes and the curious garments of a departed
'How could men wear such trousers? and how could women wear such
bonnets?' he asked his mother, wonderingly contemplating fashionable
youth as represented by the great pen-and-ink humourist.
'I don't know why we shouldn't wear them, Vernie,' said his mother, with
rather an offended air; 'those spoon bonnets were very becoming. I wore
one the day your pa first saw me.'
'And hoops under your gown like that?' said Vernie, pointing; 'and those
funny little boots? What a guy you must have looked!'
When a boy has come to this pass he may fairly be left with servants for
a couple of hours; so Lady Palliser put on her stateliest mourning--her
thick corded silk, flounced with crape and her Mary Stuart bonnet, and
went across the park, and up hill and down hill, for it was a country of
hills and hollows--to the parish church of Wimperfield, a very ancient
edifice, with massive columnar piers, Norman groined roof, and walls
enriched by a grand array of memorial tablets, setting forth the honours
and virtues of those dead and gone landowners whose bones were mouldering
in the vaults below the square oaken pews in which the living worshipped.
In the chancel there was the usual stately monument to some magnate of
the middle ages, who was represented kneeling by his wife's side, with a
graduated row of sons and daughters kneeling behind them, as if the whole
family had died and petrified simultaneously, in the act of pious
Ida did not invite her husband to join her in her Sabbath devotions,
assured that he would claim an invalid's privilege to stay at home. He
had very rarely attended the parish church with his wife, affecting to
despise such humdrum and conventional worship. He had just that thin
smattering of modern science which enables shallow youth to make a merit
of disbelief in all things beyond the limit of mathematical
demonstration. He had skimmed Darwin, and spoke lightly of mankind as the
latest development of time and matter, and no higher a being, from a
spiritual point of view, than the first worm that wriggled in its
primeval slime. He had dipped into Herbert Spencer, and talked largely of
God as the Unknowable; and how could the Unknowable be supposed to take
pleasure in the automatic prayers of a handful of bumpkins and
clodhoppers met together in a mouldy old church, time out of mind the
temple of superstitions and ceremonies. The vast temple of the universe
was Brian Walford's idea of a church; and a very fine church it is, if a
man will only worship faithfully therein; but the man who abandons formal
prayers and set seasons of devotion with a vague idea of worshipping in
the woodland or on the hill top, very rarely troubles himself to realise
Brian's broadly-declared agnosticism had long been a cause of pain and
grief to his wife. She had felt that this alone would have made sympathy
impossible between them, had there been no other ground for difference.
She thought with a bitter sense of contrast of his cousin, who was a
student and a thinker, and who yet was not ashamed to believe and to
worship as a little child. Surely it was not a sign of a weak
intelligence for a man to believe in something better and higher than
himself, when Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, and Virgil could so
believe. Brian Walford's idea of cleverness was to consider himself the
ultimate product of incalculable antecedent time, the full-stop of
Here were all the pious parishioners, the county families, and the
country bumpkins, meekly kneeling on their knees, and uplifting their
voices in perfect faithfulness--not thinking very deeply of any element
in the service perhaps, but honest in their reverence and their love. The
old church was a pretty sight on such a summer morning--the white robes
of the choristers touched with supernal radiance, the light tempered by
the deep rubies and purples and ambers in windows old and new--the very
irregularities and architectural anomalies of the building producing a
quaintness which was more pleasing than absolute beauty.
The litany was nearly over when Ida heard a familiar step on the stone
pavement of the nave. It was Brian's step; and presently he stopped at
the door of the high oaken pew, opened it, and came in and seated
himself-on the bench, opposite to the spot where she knelt by her
step-mother's side. It was a capacious old pew, and would have held ten
people. Brian kicked about the hassocks, and made himself comfortable;
but he did not kneel, or take any part in the service. He sat with his
elbows on his knees, and his chin in his hands, staring at the floor. His
presence filled Ida with anxiety. He had not risen from his bed when she
left home, and Towler had given her to understand that he would not get
up for some time, as he had had a very bad night. He must have risen and
dressed hurriedly in order to follow her to church. His eyes had the wild
look in them which she had noticed on the night when he saw visions.
It was in vain that Ida tried after this to fix her mind upon the
service--every movement, every look of Brian's, alarmed her. She was
thankful for the high pew which sheltered him from the gaze of the
congregation; and presently when they stood up to sing a hymn, she was
glad that Brian remained seated, albeit their was irreverence in the
But when the last verse was being sung, he rose suddenly and looked all
round the church with those wild eyes of his, took up a book and turned
the leaves abstractedly, and remained standing like a sleep-walker for a
minute or so, after the congregation had gone down on their knees for the
When the gospel was read he rose again, and lolled with his back against
the plastered wall, his head just under a winged cherub head in marble,
which adorned the base of a memorial tablet. This time he stood till all
the service was over, so obviously apart from all the rest of the
congregation, so evidently uninterested in anything that was going on,
that Ida felt as if every eye must be watching him, every creature in the
church conscious of his infirmity. He was carelessly dressed, his collar
awry, his necktie loose, his hair unbrushed. His very appearance was a
disgrace, which Lady Palliser, whose great object in life was to maintain
her dignity before the eyes of the county families, felt could hardly be
lived down in the future.
That pale haggard countenance, those bloodshot, wandering eyes,--surely
every creature in the church must know that they meant brandy!
The sermon began--one of those orthodox, old-fashioned, dry-as-dust
sermons often heard in village churches, a discourse which sets out with
a small point in Bible history, not having any obvious bearing upon
modern thought or modern life, and discusses, and explains, and enlarges
upon it with deliberate scholarship for about half-an-hour, and then, in
a brisk five minutes, endeavours to show how the conduct of Ahab, or
Jehoram, or Ahaziah, in this little matter, was an exact counter-part or
paradigm of our conduct, my dear brethren, when we, etc., etc.
The Vicar had not arrived at this point, but was still expatiating upon
the unbridled wickedness of Jehoram, when Brian, who after a period of
alarming restlessness had been sitting like a statue for the last few
minutes, suddenly started up, and exclaimed wildly, 'I can't endure it a
moment longer--the stench of corruption--the dead rotting in their
graves--the horrid, nauseous odour of grave-clothes--the foul stink of
earth-worms! How can you bear it! You must have no feeling! you must be
made of stone!'
Ida and her stepmother had both risen, each in her way was trying to
soothe, to quiet him, to induce him to sit down again. The Vicar had
stopped in his discourse, scared by that other voice, but as Brian's loud
accents sank into mutterings he took up the thread of his argument, and
went on denouncing Jehoram.
'Brian, indeed there is nothing--no bad odour here.'
'Yes, there is the stench of death,' he protested, staring at the ground,
and then pointing with a convulsive movement of his wasted hand he cried,
'Don't you see, under that seat there, the worms crawling up through the
rotten flooring, there? there!--fifty--a hundred--legion. For God's sake
get me out of this charnel house! I can hear the dry bones rattle as the
worms swarm out of the mouldering coffins.'
His deadly pallor, his countenance convulsed with disgust, showed how
real this horror was to him. Ida put her hand through his arm, and led
him quietly away, out of the stony church into the glow of the summer
He sank exhausted upon a grassy mound in the churchyard--a village
child's grave, with the rose wreath which loving hands had woven fading
above the sod.
'How can you sit in such a vault?' he asked; 'how can you live in such
'Indeed, dear Brian, it is only fancy. There is nothing amiss.'
'There is everything amiss. Death is everywhere--we begin to die directly
we are born--life is a descending scale of decay--we rot and rot and rot
as we walk about the world, pretending to be alive. First a man loses his
teeth, and then his hair, and then he looks in the glass and sees himself
withered, and haggard, and wrinkled, and knows that the skeleton's clutch
is upon him. I tell you we are always dying. Why go to that vault
yonder,' pointing to the church, 'to breathe the concentrated essence of
'It is good for us to remember the dead when we worship God, Brian. He is
the God of the dead as well as the living. There is nothing terrible in
death, if we believe.'
'If we believe! If! The whole future is an "if!" The future! What future
can there be for us? We came from nothing, we go back to nothing--we are
resolved into the elements which renew the earth for new comers. The
wheel of progress is always revolving--for the mass there is eternity,
infinity--no beginning, no end; but for the individual, his little span
of life begins and ends in corruption.'
The sound of the organ and the fresh rustic voices singing a familiar
hymn told Ida that the sermon was over. Lady Palliser was in an agony of
anxiety to get Brian away before the congregation came out. She and Ida
contrived to beguile him out of the churchyard and away towards
Wimperfield Park by a meadow path which was but little frequented. He
grew more rational as they walked home, but talked and argued all the way
with that semi-hysterical garrulity which was so painful to his hearers.
They found Vernon sitting up in bed, reading 'Grimm's Goblins,' and in
very high spirits. A most wonderful event had happened. Cheap Jack had
been to see him. He came with Mr. Fosbroke at twelve o'clock. He had
overtaken Mr. Fosbroke in the park, and had asked leave to go up to the
house with him, just for a peep at his patient.
'He only stayed a quarter of an hour,' said Vernie, 'for old Fos was in a
hurry; but it was such fun! He made me laugh all the time, and Fos
laughed, too,--he couldn't help it; and he said Jack's funny talk was
better for me now than all the medicine in his surgery; and I am to get
up for an hour or two this afternoon; and I am to have some chicken, and
as much asparagus as ever I can eat--and in less than a week I shall be
able to go up to the hanger and see Jack.'
'My darling, you will have to be much stronger first,' said Ida.
'Oh, but I am very strong now, Ah, there's Brian,' as his brother-in-law
looked in at the door. 'What a time since you're been to see me! You've
been ill, too, mother said. Come in, Brian. Don't mind about giving me a
bad cold that day. It wasn't your fault.'
Brian came into the room with a hang-dog look, and sat by the boy's bed.
'Yes, it was my fault, Vernie. I am a wretched creature. Everything that
I do ends badly. I didn't mean to do you any harm.'
'Of course not. You thought it was fun, and so did I, till I got tired
and hungry. But those men who were chasing you! There were no men, were
there? _I_ didn't see any,' said the boy, with his clear blue eyes on
Brian's haggard face.
'Yes, they were there, dodging behind the trees. I saw them plain
enough,' answered Brian, moodily. 'It was about that business I told you
of. No, I couldn't tell you; it was not a thing to tell a child--a
shameful accusation; but I have given them the slip.'
'Brian,' said Ida, laying her hand on his shoulder, 'why do you say these
things? You know you are talking nonsense.'
'Am I?' he muttered, cowering as he looked up at her. 'Well, it's as
likely as not. Ta, ta, Vernie! You're as well as ever you were. It is I
who am booked for a coffin!'
He went away with his feeble shuffling steps, so unlike the step of
youth; Ida following him, thinking sadly of the autumn afternoons when he
used to come leaping out of his boat--young, bright, and seemingly full
of life and energy, and when she half believed she loved him.
JOHN JARDINE SOLVES THE MYSTERY.
The Jardines came the next day, self-invited guests. Ida had tried to
prevent any such visit, in her desire to keep her husband's degradation
from the knowledge of his kindred; but Bessie was not to be so put off.
She had heard that Brian was ill, and that Vernon had been dangerously
ill; and her heart overflowed with love and compassion for her friend. It
was not easy for Mr. Jardine to leave his parish, but he would have done
a more difficult thing rather than see his wife unhappy; so on the Monday
morning after that scene in the church, Ida received a telegram to say
that Mr. and Mrs. Jardine were going to drive over to see her, and that
they would claim her hospitality for a couple of days.
It was a drive of over thirty miles, only to be done by a merciful man
between sunrise and sunset. Mr. and Mrs. Jardine started at five o'clock,
breakfasted and lunched on the road, and brought their faithful steed,
Drummer Boy, up to the Wimperfield portico at seven in the evening, with
not a hair turned. Ida was waiting for them in the portico.
'You darling, how pale and worried you look!' exclaimed Bessie, as she
hugged her friend; 'and why didn't you let me come before?'
'You could have done me no good, dear, when my troubles were at the
worst. Thank God the worst is over now--Vernie is getting on splendidly.
He was downstairs to-day, and ate such a dinner. We were quite afraid he
would bring on a relapse from over-eating. He is delighted at the idea of
seeing you and Mr. Jardine.'
'Has he gone to bed? I'll go up to see him at once, if I may,' said John
'He is in his own room. He asked to stop up till seven on purpose to see
'Then I'll go to him this instant.'
The luggage had been brought out of the light T cart, and the Drummer Boy
had been led round to the stables. Ida took Bessie to a room at the end
of the house, remote from Brian's apartments.
'Why, this isn't our usual room!' said Bessie, astonished.
'No, I thought this would be a pleasanter room in such warm weather. It
looks east,' Ida answered, rather feebly.
'It's a very nice room; only I felt more at home in the other. I have
occupied it so often, you know, I felt almost as if it were my own. Oh,
you cruel girl! why didn't you let me come sooner? I wanted so to be with
you in your trouble; and I offered to come directly I heard Vernie was
'I know, dear; but you could have done no good. We were in God's hands.
We could only pray and wait.'
'Love can always do good. I could have comforted you!
'Nothing could have comforted me if he had died.'
'And Brian--poor Brian has been ill, too. I thought him very much changed
when we were here--so thin, so nervous, so depressed.'
'Yes, he was ill then--he is very ill now. We take all the care we can of
him, but he doesn't get any better.'
'Poor dear Brian! and he was once the soul of fun and gaiety--used to
sing comic songs so capitally. I suppose it is a poor thing for a man to
do, but it was very nice, especially at Christmas time. There are so few
people who can do anything to help one over Christmas Eve and Christmas
Day. Brian was good at everything--charades, clumps, consequences, dumb
crambo. And to think that he should be ill so long! What is his
complaint, Ida?' asked Bessie, suddenly becoming earnest, after a lapse