Infomotions, Inc.A Flat Iron for a Farthing or Some Passages in the Life of an only Son / Ewing, Juliana Horatia Gatty, 1841-1885



Author: Ewing, Juliana Horatia Gatty, 1841-1885
Title: A Flat Iron for a Farthing or Some Passages in the Life of an only Son
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): polly; rubens; bundle; nurse bundle; maria; regie; aunt maria; nurse; leo; andrewes; miss blomfield; aunt; uncle ascott
Contributor(s): Wheelhouse, M. V. [Illustrator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 66,478 words (short) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 63 (easy)
Identifier: etext19859
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Title: A Flat Iron for a Farthing
       or Some Passages in the Life of an only Son

Author: Juliana Horatia Ewing

Illustrator: M. V.  Wheelhouse

Release Date: November 18, 2006 [EBook #19859]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A FLAT IRON FOR A FARTHING ***




Produced by Kathryn Lybarger, Sankar Viswanathan, and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net









               [Illustration: Mrs. Bundle (see p. 3).]


                          A FLAT IRON FOR A
                               FARTHING

                                  or

                     Some Passages in the Life of
                             an only Son



                                  by

                        Juliana Horatia Ewing



                            Illustrated by

                           M. V. Wheelhouse



                          George Bell & Sons

                                London

                                 1908.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dedicated

TO MY DEAR FATHER,

AND TO HIS SISTER, MY DEAR AUNT MARY,

IN MEMORY OF

THEIR GOOD FRIEND AND NURSE,

E. B.

OBIT 3 MARCH, 1872, AET. 83.

J. H. E.

       *       *       *       *       *




PREFACE


An apology is a sorry Preface to any book, however insignificant, and
yet I am anxious to apologise for the title of this little tale. The
story grew after the title had been (hastily) given, and so many other
incidents gathered round the incident of the purchase of the flat iron
as to make it no longer important enough to appear upon the title
page. It would, however, be dishonest to change the name of a tale
which is reprinted from a Magazine; and I can only apologise for an
appearance of affectation in it which was not intended.

As the Dedication may seem to suggest that the character of Mrs.
Bundle is a portrait, I may be allowed to say that, except in
faithfulness, and tenderness, and high principle, she bears no
likeness to my father's dear old nurse.

It may interest some of my child readers to know that the steep street
and the farthing wares are real remembrances out of my own childhood.
Though whether in these days of "advanced prices," the flat irons, the
gridirons with the three fish upon them, and all those other valuable
accessories to doll's housekeeping, which I once delighted to
purchase, can still be obtained for a farthing each, I have lived too
long out of the world of toys to be able to tell.

J. H. E.

       *       *       *       *       *




CONTENTS


CHAP.

I.      MOTHERLESS

II.     "THE LOOK"--RUBENS--MRS. BUNDLE AGAIN

III.    THE DARK LADY--TROUBLE IMPENDING--BEAUTIFUL, GOLDEN MAMMA

IV.     AUNT MARIA--THE ENEMY ROUTED--LONDON TOWN

V.      MY COUSINS--MISS BLOMFIELD--THE BOY IN BLACK

VI.     THE LITTLE BARONET--DOLLS--CINDER PARCELS--THE OLD GENTLEMAN NEXT
            DOOR--THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS

VII.    POLLY AND I RESOLVE TO BE "VERY RELIGIOUS"--DR. PEPJOHN--THE
            ALMS-BOX--THE BLIND BEGGAR

VIII.   VISITING THE SICK

IX.     "PEACE BE TO THIS HOUSE"

X.      CONVALESCENCE--MATRIMONIAL INTENTIONS--THE JOURNEY TO OAKFORD--OUR
            WELCOME

XI.     THE TINSMITH'S--THE BEAVER BONNETS--A FLAT IRON FOR A FARTHING--I
            FAIL TO SECURE A SISTER--RUBENS AND THE DOLL

XII.    THE LITTLE LADIES AGAIN--THE MEADS--THE DROWNED DOLL

XIII.   POLLY--THE PEW AND THE PULPIT--THE FATE OF THE FLAT IRON

XIV.    RUBENS AND I "DROP IN" AT THE RECTORY--GARDENS AND GARDENERS--MY
            FATHER COMES FOR ME

XV.     NURSE BUNDLE IS MAGNANIMOUS--MR. GRAY--AN EXPLANATION WITH MY
            FATHER

XVI.    THE REAL MR. GRAY--NURSE BUNDLE REGARDS HIM WITH DISFAVOUR

XVII.   I FAIL TO TEACH LATIN TO MRS. BUNDLE--THE RECTOR TEACHES ME

XVIII.  THE ASTHMATIC OLD GENTLEMAN AND HIS RIDDLES--I PLAY TRUANT
            AGAIN--IN THE BIG GARDEN

XIX.    THE TUTOR--THE PARISH--A NEW CONTRIBUTOR TO THE ALMS-BOX

XX.     THE TUTOR'S PROPOSAL--A TEACHERS' MEETING

XXI.    OAKFORD ONCE MORE--THE SATIN CHAIRS--THE HOUSEKEEPER--THE LITTLE
            LADIES AGAIN--FAMILY MONUMENTS

XXII.   NURSE BUNDLE FINDS A VOCATION--RAGGED ROBIN'S WIFE--MRS.
            BUNDLE'S IDEAS ON HUSBANDS AND PUBLIC-HOUSES

XXIII.  I GO TO ETON--MY MASTER--I SERVE HIM WELL

XXIV.   COLLECTIONS--LEO'S LETTER--NURSE BUNDLE AND SIR LIONEL

XXV.    THE DEATH OF RUBENS--POLLY'S NEWS--LAST TIMES

XXVI.   I HEAR FROM MR. JONATHAN ANDREWES--YORKSHIRE--ALATHEA _alias_
            BETTY--WE BURY OUR DEAD OUT OF OUR SIGHT--VOICES OF THE NORTH

XXVII.  THE NEW RECTOR--AUNT MARIA TRIES TO FIND HIM A WIFE--MY FATHER
            HAS A SIMILAR CARE FOR ME

XXVIII. I BELIEVE MYSELF TO BE BROKEN-HEARTED--MARIA IN LOVE--I MAKE
            AN OFFER OF MARRIAGE, WHICH IS NEITHER ACCEPTED NOR REFUSED

XXIX.   THE FUTURE LADY DAMER--POLLY HAS A SECRET--UNDER THE
            MULBERRY-TREE

XXX.    I MEET THE HEIRESS--I FIND MYSELF MISTAKEN ON MANY POINTS--A NEW
            KNOT IN THE FAMILY COMPLICATIONS

XXXI.   MY LADY FRANCES--THE FUTURE LADY DAMER--WE UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER
            AT LAST

XXXII.  WE COME HOME--MRS. BUNDLE QUITS SERVICE

       *       *       *       *       *




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


MRS. BUNDLE _Frontispiece_

THE LANK LAWYER WAGGED MY HAND OF A MORNING, AND SAID, "AND HOW IS
    MISS ELIZA'S LITTLE BEAU?"

"BLESS ME, THERE'S THAT DOG!"

"MR. BUCKLE, I BELIEVE?"

SHE ROLLED ABRUPTLY OVER ON HER SEAT AND SCRAMBLED OFF BACKWARDS

POLLY AND REGIE IN THE "PULPIT" AND THE "PEW"

"ALL TOGETHER, IF YOU PLEASE!"

IT WAS ONLY A QUIET DINNER PARTY, AND MISS CHISLETT HAD BROUGHT OUT
    HER NEEDLEWORK

       *       *       *       *       *




A FLAT IRON FOR A FARTHING

CHAPTER I

MOTHERLESS


When the children clamour for a story, my wife says to me, "Tell them
how you bought a flat iron for a farthing." Which I very gladly do;
for three reasons. In the first place, it is about myself, and so I
take an interest in it. Secondly, it is about some one very dear to
me, as will appear hereafter. Thirdly, it is the only original story
in my somewhat limited collection, and I am naturally rather proud of
the favour with which it is invariably received. I think it was the
foolish fancy of my dear wife and children combined that this most
veracious history should be committed to paper. It was either
because--being so unused to authorship--I had no notion of
composition, and was troubled by a tyro tendency to stray from my
subject; or because the part played by the flat iron, though
important, was small; or because I and my affairs were most chiefly
interesting to myself as writer, and my family as readers; or from a
combination of all these reasons together, that my tale outgrew its
first title and we had to add a second, and call it "Some Passages in
the Life of an only Son."

Yes, I was an only son. I was an only child also, speaking as the
world speaks, and not as Wordsworth's "simple child" spoke. But let me
rather use the "little maid's" reckoning, and say that I have, rather
than that I had, a sister. "Her grave is green, it may be seen." She
peeped into the world, and we called her Alice; then she went away
again and took my mother with her. It was my first great, bitter
grief.

I remember well the day when I was led with much mysterious solemnity
to see my new sister. She was then a week old.

"You must be quiet, sir," said Mrs. Bundle, a new member of our
establishment, "and not on no account make no noise to disturb your
dear, pretty mamma."

Repressed by this accumulation of negatives, as well as by the size
and dignity of Mrs. Bundle's outward woman, I went a-tiptoe under her
large shadow to see my new acquisition.

Very young children are not always pretty, but my sister was beautiful
beyond the wont of babies. It is an old simile, but she was like a
beautiful painting of a cherub. Her little face wore an expression
seldom seen except on a few faces of those who have but lately come
into this world, or those who are about to go from it. The hair that
just gilded the pink head I was allowed to kiss was one shade paler
than that which made a great aureole on the pillow about the pale face
of my "dear, pretty" mother.

Years afterwards--in Belgium--I bought an old mediaeval painting of a
Madonna. That Madonna had a stiffness, a deadly pallor, a thinness of
face incompatible with strict beauty. But on the thin lips there was a
smile for which no word is lovely enough; and in the eyes was a pure
and far-seeing look, hardly to be imagined except by one who painted
(like Fra Angelico) upon his knees. The background (like that of many
religious paintings of the date) was gilt. With such a look and such a
smile my mother's face shone out of the mass of her golden hair the
day she died. For this I bought the picture; for this I keep it still.

But to go back.

I liked Mrs. Bundle. I had taken to her from the evening when she
arrived in a red shawl, with several bandboxes. My affection for her
was established next day, when she washed my face before dinner. My
own nurse was bony, her hands were all knuckles, and she washed my
face as she scrubbed the nursery floor on Saturdays. Mrs. Bundle's
plump palms were like pincushions, and she washed my face as if it had
been a baby's.

On the evening of the day when I first saw Sister Alice, I took tea in
the housekeeper's room. My nurse was out for the evening, but Mrs.
Cadman from the village was of the party, and neither cakes nor
conversation flagged. Mrs. Cadman had hollow eyes, and (on occasion) a
hollow voice, which was very impressive. She wore curl-papers
continually, which once caused me to ask my nurse if she ever took
them out.

"On Sundays she do," said Nurse.

"She's very religious then, I suppose," said I; and I did really think
it a great compliment that she paid to the first day of the week.

I was only just four years old at this time--an age when one is apt to
ask inconvenient questions and to make strange observations--when one
is struggling to understand life through the mist of novelties about
one, and the additional confusion of falsehood which it is so common
to speak or to insinuate without scruple to very young children.

The housekeeper and Mrs. Cadman had conversed for some time after tea
without diverting my attention from the new box of bricks which Mrs.
Bundle (commissioned by my father) had brought from the town for me;
but when I had put all the round arches on the pairs of pillars, and
had made a very successful "Tower of Babel" with cross layers of the
bricks tapering towards the top, I had leisure to look round and
listen.

"I never know'd one with that look as lived," Mrs. Cadman was saying,
in her hollow tone. "It took notice from the first. Mark my words,
ma'am, a sweeter child I never saw, but it's _too_ good and _too_
pretty to be long for this world."

It is difficult to say exactly how much one understands at four years
old, or rather how far one quite comprehends the things one perceives
in part. I understood, or felt, enough of what I heard, and of the
sympathetic sighs that followed Mrs. Cadman's speech, to make me
stumble over the Tower of Babel, and present myself at Mrs. Cadman's
knee with the question--

"Is mamma too pretty and good for this world, Mrs. Cadman?"

I caught her elderly wink as quickly as the housekeeper, to whom it
was directed. I was not completely deceived by her answer.

"Why, bless his dear heart, Master Reginald. Who did he think I was
talking about, love?"

"My new baby sister," said I, without hesitation.

"No such thing, lovey," said the audacious Mrs. Cadman; "housekeeper
and me was talking about Mrs. Jones's little boy."

"Where does Mrs. Jones live?" I asked.

"In London town, my dear."

I sighed. I knew nothing of London town, and could not prove that Mrs.
Jones had no existence. But I felt dimly dissatisfied, in spite of a
slice of sponge-cake, and being put to bed (for a treat) in papa's
dressing-room. My sleep was broken by uneasy dreams, in which Mrs.
Jones figured with the face of Mrs. Cadman and her hollow voice. I had
a sensation that that night the house never went to rest. People came
in and out with a pretentious purpose of not awaking me. My father
never came to bed. I felt convinced that I heard the doctor's voice in
the passage. At last, while it was yet dark, and when I seemed to have
been sleeping and waking, waking and falling asleep again in my crib
for weeks, my father came in with a strange look upon his face, and
took me up in his arms, and wrapped a blanket round me, saying mamma
wanted to kiss me, but I must be very good and make no noise. There
was little fear of that! I gazed in utter silence at the sweet face
that was whiter than the sheet below it, the hair that shone brighter
than ever in the candlelight. Only when I kissed her, and she had laid
her wan hand on my head, I whispered to my father, "Why is mamma so
cold?"

With a smothered groan he carried me back to bed, and I cried myself
to sleep. It was too true, then. She was too good and too pretty for
this world, and before sunrise she was gone.

Before the day was ended Sister Alice left us also. She never knew a
harder resting-place than our mother's arms.




CHAPTER II

"THE LOOK"--RUBENS--MRS. BUNDLE AGAIN


My widowed father and I were both terribly lonely. The depths of his
loss in the lovely and lovable wife who had been his constant
companion for nearly six years I could not fathom at the time. For my
own part, I was quite as miserable as I have ever been since, and I
doubt if I shall ever feel such overwhelming desolation again, unless
the same sorrow befalls me as then befell him.

I "fretted"--as the servants expressed it--to such an extent as to
affect my health; and I fancy it was because my father's attention was
called to the fact that I was fast fading after the mother and sister
whose death (and my own loneliness) I bewailed, that he roused himself
from his own grief to comfort mine. Once more I was "dressed" after
tea. Of late my bony nurse had not thought it necessary to go through
this ceremony, and I had crept about in the same crape-covered frock
from breakfast to bedtime.

Now I came down to dessert again, and though I think the empty place
at the end of the table gave my father a fresh shock when I took my
old post by him, yet I fancy the lonely evening was less lonely for my
presence.

From his intense indulgence I think I dimly gathered that he thought
me ill. I combined this in my mind with a speech of my nurse's that I
had overheard, and which gave me the horrors at the time--"He's got
_the look_! It's his poor ma over again!"--and I felt a sort of
melancholy self-importance not uncommon with children who are out of
health.

I may say here that my nurse had a quality very common amongst
uneducated people. She was "sensational;" and her custom of going over
all the circumstances of my mother's death and funeral (down to the
price of the black paramatta of which her own dress was composed) with
her friends, when she took me out walking, had not tended to make me
happier or more cheerful.

That night I ate more from my father's plate than I had eaten for
weeks. As I lay after dinner with my head upon his breast, he stroked
my curls with a tender touch that seemed to heal my griefs, and said,
almost in a tone of remorse,

"What can papa do for you, my poor dear boy?"

I looked up quickly into his face.

"What would Regie like?" he persisted.

I quite understood him now, and spoke out boldly the desires of my
heart.

"Please, papa, I should like Mrs. Bundle for a nurse; and I do very
much want Rubens."

"And who is Rubens?" asked my father.

"Oh, please, it's a dog," I said. "It belongs to Mr. Mackenzie at the
school. And it's such a little dear, all red and white; and it licked
my face when nurse and I were there yesterday, and I put my hand in
its mouth, and it rolled over on its back, and it's got long ears, and
it followed me all the way home, and I gave it a piece of bread, and
it can sit up, and"--

"But, my little man," interrupted my father--and he had absolutely
smiled at my catalogue of marvels--"if Rubens belongs to Mr.
Mackenzie, and is such a wonderful fellow, I'm afraid Mr. Mackenzie
won't part with him."

"He would," I said, "but--" and I paused, for I feared the barrier was
insurmountable.

"But what?" said my father.

"He wants ten shillings for him, Nurse says."

"If that's all, Regie," said my father, "you and I will go and buy
Rubens to-morrow morning."

Rubens was a little red and white spaniel of much beauty and sagacity.
He was the prettiest, gentlest, most winning of playfellows. With him
by my side, I now ran merrily about, instead of creeping moodily at
the heels of nurse and her friends. Abundantly occupied in testing the
tricks he knew, and teaching him new ones, I had the less leisure to
listen open-mouthed to cadaverous gossip of the Cadman class. Finally,
when I had bidden him good-night a hundred times, with absolutely
fraternal embraces, I was soothed by the light weight of his head
resting on my foot. He seemed to chase the hideous fancies which had
hitherto passed from nurse's daytime conversation to trouble my night
visions, as he would chase a water-fowl from a reedy marsh, and I
slept--as he did--peacefully.

Nor was this all. My other wish was also to be fulfilled, but not
without some vexations beforehand. It was by a certain air and tone
which my nurse suddenly assumed towards me, and which it is difficult
to describe by any other word than "heighty-teighty," and also by dark
hints of changes which she hoped (but seemed far from believing) would
be for my good, and finally, by downright lamentations and tragic
inquiries as to what she had done to be parted from her boy, and
"could her chickabiddy have the heart to drive away his loving and
faithful nursey," that I learned that it was contemplated to supersede
her by some one else, and that if she did not know that I was to blame
in the matter, she at any rate believed me to have influence enough to
obtain a reversal of the decree. That Mrs. Bundle was to be her
successor I gathered from allusions to "your great fat bouncing women
that would eat their heads off; but as to cleaning out a nursery--let
them see!" But her most masterly stroke was a certain conversation
with Mrs. Cadman carried on in my hearing.

"Have you ever notice, Mrs. Cadman," inquired my bony nurse of her not
less bony visitor--"Have you ever notice how them stout people as
looks so good-natured as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths is
that wicked and cruel underneath?" And then followed a series of
nurse's most ghastly anecdotes, relative to fat mothers who had
ill-treated their children, fat nurses who had nearly been the death
of their unfortunate charges, fat female murderers, and a fat
acquaintance of her own, who was "taken" in apoplexy after a fit of
rage with her husband.

"What a warning! what a moral!" said Mrs. Cadman. She meant it for a
pious observation, but I felt that the warning and the moral were for
me. And not even the presence of Rubens could dispel the darkness of
my dreams that night.

Alternately goaded and caressed by my nurse, who now laid aside a
habit she had of beating a tattoo with her knuckles on my head when I
was naughty, to the intense confusion and irritation of my brain, I
at last resolved to beg my father to let her remain with us. I felt
that it was--as she had pointed out--intense ingratitude on my part to
wish to part with her, and I said as much when I went down to dessert
that evening. Morever, I now lived in vague fear of those terrible
qualities which lay hidden beneath Mrs. Bundle's benevolent exterior.

"If nurse has been teasing you about the matter," said my father, with
a frown, "that would decide me to get rid of her, if I had not so
decided before. As to your not liking Mrs. Bundle now--My dear little
son, you must learn to know your own mind. You told me you wanted Mrs.
Bundle--by very good luck I have been able to get hold of her, and
when she comes you must make the best of her."

She came the next day, and my bony nurse departed. She wept
indignantly, I wept remorsefully, and then waited in terror for the
manifestation of Mrs. Bundle's cruel propensities.

I waited in vain. The reign of Mrs. Bundle was a reign of peace and
plenty, of loving-kindness and all good things. Moreover it was a
reign of wholesomeness, both for body and mind. She did not give me
cheese and beer from her own supper when she was in a good temper, nor
pound my unfortunate head with her knuckles if I displeased her. She
was strict in the maintenance of a certain old-fashioned nursery
etiquette, which obliged me to put away my chair after meals, fold my
clothes at bedtime, put away my toys when I had done with them, say
"please," "thank you," grace before and after meals, prayers night and
morning, a hymn in bed, and the Church Catechism on Sunday. She
snubbed the maids who alluded in my presence to things I could not or
should not understand, and she directed her own conversation to me, on
matters suitable to my age, instead of talking over my childish head
to her gossips. The stories of horror and crime, the fore-doomed
babies, the murders, the mysterious whispered communications faded
from my untroubled brain. Nurse Bundle's tales were of the young
masters and misses she had known. Her worst domestic tragedy was about
the boy who broke his leg over the chair he had failed to put away
after breakfast. Her romances were the good old Nursery Legends of
Dick Whittington, the Babes in the Wood, and so forth. My dreams
became less like the columns of a provincial newspaper. I imagined
myself another Marquis of Carabas, with Rubens in boots. I made a
desert island in the garden, which only lacked the geography-book
peculiarity of "water all round" it. I planted beans in the fond hope
that they would tower to the skies and take me with them. I became--in
fancy--Lord Mayor of London, and Mrs. Bundle shared my civic throne
and dignities, and we gave Rubens six beefeaters and a barge to wait
upon his pleasure.

Life, in short, was utterly changed for me. I grew strong, and stout,
and well, and happy. And I loved Nurse Bundle.




CHAPTER III

THE DARK LADY--TROUBLE IMPENDING--BEAUTIFUL, GOLDEN MAMMA


So two years passed away. Nurse Bundle was still with me. With her I
"did lessons" after a fashion. I learned to read, I had many of the
Psalms and a good deal of poetry--sacred and secular--by heart. In an
old-fashioned, but slow and thorough manner, I acquired the first
outlines of geography, arithmetic, etc., and what Mrs. Bundle taught
me I repeated to Rubens. But I don't think he ever learned the
"capital towns of Europe," though we studied them together under the
same oak tree.

We had a happy two years of it together under the Bundle dynasty, and
then trouble came.

I was never fond of demonstrative affection from strangers. The ladies
who lavish kisses and flattery upon one's youthful head after eating
papa's good dinner--keeping a sharp protective eye on their own silk
dresses, and perchance pricking one with a brooch or pushing a curl
into one eye with a kid-gloved finger--I held in unfeigned abhorrence.
But over and above my natural instinct against the unloving fondling
of drawing-room visitors, I had a special and peculiar antipathy to
Miss Eliza Burton.

At first, I think I rather admired her. Her rolling eyes, the black
hair plastered low upon her forehead,--the colour high, but never
changeable or delicate--the amplitude and rustle of her skirts, the
impressiveness of her manner, her very positive matureness, were just
what the crude taste of childhood is apt to be fascinated by. She was
the sister of my father's man of business; and she and her brother
were visiting at my home. She really looked well in the morning,
"toned down" by a fresh, summer muslin, and all womanly anxiety to
relieve my father of the trouble of making the tea for breakfast.

"Dear Mr. Dacre, _do_ let me relieve you of that task," she cried, her
ribbons fluttering over the sugar-basin. "I never like to see a
gentleman sacrificing himself for his guests at breakfast. You have
enough to do at dinner, carving large joints, and jointing those
terrible birds. At breakfast a gentleman should have no trouble but
the cracking of his own egg and the reading of his own newspaper. Now
do let me!"

Miss Burton's long fingers were almost on the tea-caddy; but at that
moment my father quietly opened it, and began to measure out the tea.

"I never trouble my lady visitors with this," he said, quietly. "I am
only too well accustomed to it."

Child as I was, I felt well satisfied that my father would let no one
fill my mother's place. For so it was, and all Miss Burton's efforts
failed to put her, even for a moment, at the head of his table.

I do not quite know how or when it was that I began to realize that
such was her effort. I remember once hearing a scrap of conversation
between our most respectable and respectful butler and the
housekeeper--"behind the scenes"--as the former worthy came from the
breakfast-room.

"And how's the new missis this morning, Mr. Smith?" asked the
housekeeper, with a bitterness not softened by the prospect of
possible dethronement.

"Another try for the tea-tray, ma'am," replied Smith, "but it's no
go."

"A brazen, black-haired old maid!" cried the housekeeper. "To think of
her taking the place of that sweet angel, Mrs. Dacre (and she barely
two years in her grave), and pretending to act a mother's part by the
poor boy and all. I've no patience!"

On one excuse or another, the Burtons contrived to extend their visit;
and the prospect of a marriage between my father and Miss Burton was
now discussed too openly behind his back for me to fail to hear it.
Then Nurse Bundle on this subject hardly exercised her usual
discretion in withholding me from servants' gossip, and servants'
gossip from me. Her own indignation was strongly aroused, and I had no
difficulty in connecting her tearful embraces, and her allusions to my
dead mother, with the misfortune we all believed to be impending.

[Illustration: The lank lawyer wagged my hand of a morning, and said,
"And how is Miss Eliza's little beau?"]

At first I had admired Miss Burton's bouncing looks. Then my head had
been turned to some extent by her flattery, and by the establishment
of that most objectionable of domestic jokes, the parody of love
affairs in connection with children. Miss Burton called me her little
sweetheart, and sent me messages, and vowed that I was quite a little
man of the world, and then was sure that I was a desperate flirt. The
lank lawyer wagged my hand of a morning, and said, "And how is
Miss Eliza's little beau?" And I laughed, and looked important,
and talked rather louder, and escaped as often as I could from the
nursery, and endeavoured to act up to the character assigned me with
about as much grace as AEsop's donkey trying to dance. I must have
become a perfect nuisance to any sensible person at this period, and
indeed my father had an interview with Nurse Bundle on the subject.

"Master Reginald seems to me to be more troublesome than he used to
be, nurse," said my father.

"Indeed you say true, sir," said Mrs. Bundle, only too glad to reply;
"but it's the drawing-room and not the nursery as does it. Miss Burton
is always a begging for him to be allowed to stay up at nights and to
lunch in the dining-room, and to come down of a morning, and to have a
half-holiday in an afternoon; and, saving your better knowledge, sir,
it's a bad thing to break into the regular ways of children. It ain't
for their happiness, nor for any one else's."

"You are perfectly right, perfectly right," said my father, "and it
shall not occur again. Ah! my poor boy," he added in an irrepressible
outburst, "you suffer for lack of a mother's care. I do what I can,
but a man cannot supply a woman's place to a child."

Mrs. Bundle's feelings at this soliloquy may be imagined. "You might
have knocked me down with a feather, sir," she assured the butler
(unlikely as it seemed!) in describing the scene afterwards. She found
strength, however, to reply to my father's remark.

"Indeed, sir, a mother's place never can be filled to a child by no
one whatever. Least of all such a mother as he had in your dear lady.
But he's a boy, sir, and not a girl, and in all reason a father is
what he'll chiefly look to in a year or two. And for the meanwhile,
sir, I ask you, could Master Reginald look better or behave better
than he did afore the company come? It's only natural as smart ladies
who knows nothing whatever of children, and how they should be brought
up, and what's for their good, should think it a kindness to spoil
them. Any one may see the lady has no notion of children, and would be
the ruin of Master Reginald if she had much to do with him; but when
the company's gone, sir, and he's left quiet with his papa, you'll
find him as good as any young gentleman needs to be, if you'll excuse
my freedom in speaking, sir."

Whatever my father thought of Mrs. Bundle's freedom of speech, he only
said,

"Master Reginald will be quite under your orders for the future,
Nurse," and so dismissed her.

And Mrs. Bundle having "said her say," withdrew to say it over again
in confidence to the housekeeper.

As for me, if my vanity was stronger than my good taste for a while,
the quickness of childish instinct soon convinced me that Miss Burton
had no real affection for me. Then I was puzzled by her spasmodic
attentions when my father was in the room, and her rough repulses when
I "bothered" her at less appropriate moments. I got tired of her, too,
of the sound of her voice, of her black hair and unchanging red
cheeks. And from the day that I caught her beating Rubens for lying on
the edge of her dress, I lived in terror of her. Those rolling black
eyes had not a pleasant look when the lady was out of temper. And was
she really to be the new mistress of the house? To take the place of
my fair, gentle, beautiful mother? That wave of household gossip which
for ever surges behind the master's back was always breaking over me
now, in expressions of pity for the motherless child of "the dear lady
dead and gone."

"I don't like black hair," I announced one day at luncheon; "I like
beautiful, shining, golden hair, like poor mamma's."

"Don't talk nonsense, Reginald," said my father, angrily, and shortly
afterwards I was dismissed to the nursery.

If I had only had my childish memory to trust to, I do not think that
I could have kept so clear a remembrance of my mother as I had. But in
my father's dressing-room there hung a water-colour sketch of his
young wife, with me--her first baby--on her lap. It was a very happy
portrait. The little one was nestled in her arms, and she herself was
just looking up with a bright smile of happiness and pride. That look
came full at the spectator, and perhaps it was because it was so very
lifelike that I had (ever since I could remember) indulged a curious
freak of childish sentiment by nodding to the picture and saying,
"Good-morning, mamma," whenever I came into the room. Such little
superstitions become part of one's life, and I freely confess that I
salute that portrait still! I remember, too, that as time went on I
lost sight of the fact that it was I who lay on my mother's lap, and
always regarded the two as Mamma and Sister Alice--that ever-baby
sister whom I had once kissed, and no more. I generally saw them at
least once a day, for it was my privilege to play in my father's
dressing-room during part of his toilet, and we had a stereotyped
joke between us in reference to his shaving, which always ended in my
receiving a piece of the creamy lather on the tip of my nose.

But it was one evening when the shadow hanging over the household was
deepest upon me, that I slipped unobserved out of the drawing-room
where Miss Burton was "performing" on my mother's piano, and crept
slowly and sadly upstairs. I went slowly, partly out of my heavy
grief, and partly because I carried Rubens in my arms. Had not the
lawyer kicked him because he lay upon the pedal? I was resolved that
after such an insult he should not so much as have the trouble of
walking upstairs. So I carried him, and as I went I condoled with him.

"Did the nasty man kick him? My poor Ru, my darling, dear Ru! The
pedal is yours, and not his, and the whole house is yours, and not his
nor Miss Burton's; and oh, I wish they would go!"

As I whined, Rubens whined; as I kissed him he licked me, and the
result was unfavourable to balance, and I was obliged to sit down on a
step. And as I sat I wept, and as I wept that overpowering mother-need
came over me, which drives even the little ragamuffin of the gutter to
carry his complaints to "mother" for comfort and redress. And I took
up Rubens in my arms again, sobbing, and saying, "I shall go to
Mamma!" and so weeping and in the darkness we crept into the
dressing-room.

I could see nothing, but I knew well where "Mamma" was, and standing
under the picture, I sobbed out my incoherent complaint.

"Good-evening, Mamma! Good-evening, Sister Alice! Please, Mamma, it's
me and Rubens." (Sobs on my part, and frantic attempts by Rubens to
lick every inch of my face at once.) "And please, Mamma, we're very
miser-r-r-r-rable. And oh! please, Mamma, don't let papa marry Miss
Burton. Please, please don't, dear, beautiful, golden Mamma! And oh!
how we wish you could come back! Rubens and I."

My voice died away with a wail which was dismally echoed by Rubens.
Then, suddenly, in the darkness came a sob that was purely human, and
I was clasped in a woman's arms, and covered with tender kisses and
soothing caresses. For one wild moment, in my excitement, and the
boundless faith of childhood, I thought my mother had heard me, and
come back.

But it was only Nurse Bundle. She had been putting away some clothes
in my father's bedroom, and had been drawn to the dressing-room by
hearing my voice.

I think this scene decided her to take some active steps. I feel
convinced that in some way it was through her influence that a letter
of invitation was despatched the following day to Aunt Maria.




CHAPTER IV

AUNT MARIA--THE ENEMY ROUTED--LONDON TOWN


Aunt Maria was my father's sister. She was married to a wealthy
gentleman, and had a large family of children. It was from her that we
originally got Nurse Bundle; and anecdotes of her and of my cousins,
and wonderful accounts of London (where they lived), had long figured
conspicuously in Mrs. Bundle's nursery chronicles.

Aunt Maria came, and Uncle Ascott came with her.

It is not altogether without a reason that I speak of them in this
order. Aunt Maria was the active partner of their establishment. She
was a clever, vigorous, well-educated, inartistic, kindly, managing
woman. She was not exactly "meddling," but when she thought it her
duty to interfere in a matter, no delicacy of scruples, and no
nervousness baulked the directness of her proceedings. When she was
most sweeping or uncompromising, Uncle Ascott would say, "My dear
Maria!" But it was generally from a spasm of nervous cowardice, and
not from any deliberate wish to interrupt Aunt Maria's course of
action. He trusted her entirely.

Aunt Maria was very shrewd, and that long interview with Nurse Bundle
in her own room was hardly needed to acquaint her with the condition
of domestic politics in our establishment. She "took in" the Burtons
with one glance. The ladies "fell out" the following evening. The
Burtons left Dacrefield the next morning, and at lunch Aunt Maria
"pulled them to pieces" with as little remorse as a cook would pluck a
partridge. I never saw Miss Eliza Burton again.

Aunt Maria did not fondle or spoil me. She might perhaps have shown
more tenderness to her brother's only and motherless child; but, after
Miss Burton, hers was a fault on the right side. She had a kindly
interest in me, and she showed it by asking me to pay her a visit in
London.

"It will do the child good, Regie," she said to my father. "He will be
with other children, and all our London sights will be new to him. I
will take every care of him, and you must come up and fetch him back.
It will do you good too."

"To be sure!" chimed in Uncle Ascott, patting me good-naturedly on the
head; "Master Reginald will fancy himself in Fairy Land. There are the
Zoological Gardens, and Madame Tussaud's Waxwork Exhibition, and the
Pantomime, and no one knows what besides! We shall make him quite at
home! He and Helen are just the same age, I think, and Polly's a year
or so younger, eh, mamma?"

"Nineteen months," said Aunt Maria, decisively; and she turned once
more to my father, upon whom she was urging certain particulars.

It was with unfeigned joy that I heard my father say,

"Well, thank you, Maria. I do think it will do him good. And I'll
certainly come and look you and Robert up myself."

There was only one drawback to my pleasure, when the much anticipated
time of my first visit to London came. Aunt Maria did not like dogs;
Uncle Ascott too said that "they were very rural and nice for the
country, but that they didn't do in a town house. Besides which,
Regie," he added, "such a pretty dog as Rubens would be sure to be
stolen. And you wouldn't like that."

"I will take good care of Rubens, my boy," added my father; and with
this promise I was obliged to content myself.

The excitement and pleasure of the various preparations for my visit
were in themselves a treat. There had been some domestic discussion as
to a suitable box for my clothes, and the matter was not quickly
settled. There happened to be no box of exactly the convenient size in
the house, and it was proposed to pack my things with Nurse Bundle's
in one of the larger cases. This was a disappointment to my dignity;
and I ventured to hint that I "should like a trunk all to myself, like
a grown-up gentleman," without, however, much hope that my wishes
would be fulfilled. The surprise was all the pleasanter when, on the
day before our departure, there arrived by the carrier's cart from our
nearest town a small, daintily-finished trunk, with a lock and key to
it, and my initials in brass nails upon the outside. It was a parting
gift from my father.

"I like young ladies and gentlemen to have things nice about 'em,"
Nurse Bundle observed, as we prepared to pack my trunk. "Then they
takes a pride in their things, and so it stands to reason they takes
more care of 'em."

To this excellent sentiment I gave my heartiest assent, and proceeded
to illustrate it by the fastidious care with which I selected and
folded the clothes I wished to take. As I examined my socks for signs
of wear and tear, and then folded them by the ingenious process of
grasping the heels and turning them inside out, in imitation of Nurse
Bundle, an idea struck me, based upon my late reading and approaching
prospects of travel.

"Nurse," said I, "I think I should like to learn to darn socks,
because, you know, I might want to know how, if I was cast away on a
desert island."

"If ever you find yourself on a desolate island, Master Reginald,"
said Nurse Bundle, "just you write straight off to me, and I'll come
and do them kind of things for you."

"Well," said I, "only mind you bring Rubens, if I haven't got him."

For I had dim ideas that some Robinson Crusoe adventures might befall
me before I returned home from this present expedition.

My father's place was about sixty miles from London. Mr. and Mrs.
Ascott had come down in their own carriage, and were to return the
same way.

I was to go with them, and Nurse Bundle also. She was to sit in the
rumble of the carriage behind. Every particular of each new
arrangement afforded me great amusement; and I could hardly control my
impatience for the eventful day to arrive.

It came at last. There was very early breakfast for us all in the
dining-room. No appetite, however, had I; and very cruel I thought
Aunt Maria for insisting that I should swallow a certain amount of
food, as a condition of being allowed to go at all. My enforced
breakfast over, I went to look for Rubens. Ever since the day when it
was first settled that I should go, the dear dog had kept close, very
close at my heels. That depressed and aimless wandering about which
always afflicts the dogs of the household when any of the family are
going away from home was strong upon him. After the new trunk came
into my room, Rubens took into his head a fancy for lying upon it; and
though the brass nails must have been very uncomfortable, and though
my bed was always free to him, on the box he was determined to be, and
on the box he lay for hours together.

It was on the box that I found him, in the portico, despite the cords
which now added a fresh discomfort to his self-chosen resting-place. I
called to him, but though he wagged his tail he seemed disinclined to
move, and lay curled up with one eye shut and one fixed on the
carriage at the door.

"He's been trying to get into the carriage, sir," said the butler.

"You want to go too, poor Ruby, don't you?" I said; and I went in
search of meats to console him.

He accepted a good breakfast from my hands with gratitude, and then
curled himself up with one eye watchful as before. The reason of his
proceedings was finally made evident by his determined struggles to
accompany us at the last; and it was not till he had been forcibly
shut up in the coach-house that we were able to start. My grief at
parting with him was lessened by the distraction of another question.

Of all places about our equipage, I should have preferred riding with
the postilion. Short of that, I was most anxious to sit behind in the
rumble with my nurse. This favour was at length conceded, and after a
long farewell from my father, gilded with a sovereign in my pocket, I
was, with a mountain of wraps, consigned to the care of Nurse Bundle
in the back seat.

The dew was still on the ground, the birds sang their loudest, the
morning air was fresh and delicious, and before we had driven five
miles on our way I could have eaten three such breakfasts as the one I
had rejected at six o'clock. In the first two villages through which
we drove people seemed to be only just getting up and beginning the
day's business. In one or two "genteel" houses the blinds were still
down; in reference to which I resolved that when _I_ grew up I would
not waste the best part of the day in bed, with the sun shining, the
birds singing, the flowers opening, and country people going about
their business, all beyond my closed windows.

"Nurse, please, I should like always to have breakfast at six o'clock.
Do you hear, Nursey?" I added, for Mrs. Bundle feigned to be absorbed
in contemplating a flock of sheep which were being driven past us.

"Very well, my dear. We'll see."

That "we'll see" of Nurse Bundle's was a sort of moral soothing-syrup
which she kept to allay inconvenient curiosity and over-pertinacious
projects in the nursery.

I had soon reason to decide that if I had breakfast at six, luncheon
would not be unacceptable at half-past ten, at about which time I lost
sight of the scenery and confined my attention to a worsted workbag in
which Nurse Bundle had a store of most acceptable buns. Halting
shortly after this to water the horses, a glass of milk was got for me
from a wayside inn, over the door of which hung a small gate, on whose
bars the following legend was painted:--

    "This gate hangs well
    And hinders none.
    Refresh and pay,
    And travel on."

"Did you put that up?" I inquired of the man who brought my milk.

"No, sir. It's been there long enough," was his reply.

"What does 'hinders none' mean?" I asked.

The man looked back, and considered the question.

"It means as it's not in the way of nothing. It don't hinder nobody,"
he replied at last.

"It couldn't if it wanted to," said I; "for it doesn't reach across
the road. If it did, I suppose it would be a tollbar."

"He's a rum little chap, that!" said the waiter to Nurse Bundle, when
he had taken back my empty glass. And he unmistakably nodded at me.

"What is a rum little chap, Nurse?" I inquired when we had fairly
started once more.

"It's very low language," said Mrs. Bundle, indignantly; and this fact
depressed me for several miles.

At about half-past eleven we rattled into Farnham, and stopped to
lunch at "The Bush." I was delighted to get down from my perch, and to
stretch my cramped legs by running about in the charming garden behind
that celebrated inn. Dim bright memories are with me still of the
long-windowed parlour opening into a garden verdant with grass, and
stately yew hedges, and formal clipped trees; gay, too, with bright
flowers, and mysterious with a walk winding under an arch of the yew
hedge to the more distant bowling-green. On one side of this arch an
admirably-carved stone figure in broadcoat and ruffles played
perpetually upon a stone fiddle to an equally spirited shepherdess in
hoop and high heels, who was for ever posed in dancing posture upon
her pedestal and never danced away. As I wandered round the garden
whilst luncheon was being prepared, I was greatly taken with these
figures, and wondered if it might be that they were an enchanted
prince and princess turned to stone by some wicked witch, envious of
their happiness in the peaceful garden amid the green alleys and
fragrant flowers. As I ate my luncheon I felt as if I were consuming
what was their property, and pondered the supposition that some day
the spell might be broken, and the stone-bound couple came down from
those high pedestals, and go dancing and fiddling into the Farnham
streets.

They showed no symptoms of moving whilst we remained, and, duly
refreshed, we now proceeded on our way. I rejected the offer of a seat
inside the carriage with scorn, and Nurse and I clambered back to our
perch. No easy matter for either of us, by the way!--Nurse Bundle
being so much too large, and I so much too small, to compass the feat
with anything approaching to ease.

I was greatly pleased with the dreary beauties of Bagshot Heath, and
Nurse Bundle (to whom the whole journey was familiar) enlivened this
part of our way by such anecdotes of Dick Turpin, the celebrated
highwayman, as she deemed suitable for my amusement. With what
interest I gazed at the little house by the roadside where Turpin was
wont to lodge, and where, arriving late one night, he demanded
beef-steak for supper in terms so peremptory that, there being none in
the house, the old woman who acted as his housekeeper was obliged to
walk, then and there, to the nearest town to procure it! This and
various other incidents of the robber's career I learned from Nurse
Bundle, who told me that traditions of his exploits and character
were still fresh in the neighbouring villages.

At Virginia Water we dined and changed horses. We stayed here longer
than was necessary, that I might see the lake and the ship; and Uncle
Ascott gave sixpence to an old man with a wooden leg who told us all
about it. And still I declined an inside place, and went back with
Nurse Bundle to the rumble. Early rising and the long drive began to
make me sleepy. The tame beauties of the valley of the Thames drew
little attention from my weary eyes; and I do not remember much about
the place where we next halted, except that the tea tasted of hay, and
that the bread and butter were good.

I gazed dreamily at Hounslow, despite fresh tales of Dick Turpin; and
all the successive "jogs" by which Nurse called my incapable attention
to the lamplighters, the shops, the bottles in the chemists' windows,
and Hyde Park, failed to rouse me to any intelligent appreciation of
the great city, now that I had reached it. After a long weary dream of
rattle and bustle, and dim lamps, and houses stretching upwards like
Jack's beanstalk through the chilly and foggy darkness, the carriage
stopped with one final jolt in a quiet and partially-lighted square;
and I was lifted down, and staggered into a house where the light was
as abundant and overpowering as it was feeble and inefficient without,
and, cramped in my limbs, and smothered with shawls, I could only beg
in my utter weariness to be put to bed.

Aunt Maria was always sensible, and generally kind.

"Bring him at once to his room, Mrs. Bundle," she said, "and get his
clothes off, and I will bring him some hot wine and water and a few
rusks." As in a dream, I was undressed, my face and hands washed, my
prayers said in a somewhat perfunctory fashion, and my evening hymn
commuted in consideration of my fatigues for the beautiful verse, "I
will lay me down in peace, and take my rest," etc.; and by the time
that I sank luxuriously between the clean sheets, I was almost
sufficiently restored to appreciate the dainty appearance of my room.
Then Aunt Maria brought me the hot wine and water flavoured with
sleep-giving cloves, and Nurse folded my clothes, and tucked me up,
and left me, with the friendly reflection of the lamps without to keep
me company.

I do not think I had really been to sleep, but I believe I was dozing,
when I fancied that I heard the familiar sound of Rubens lapping water
from the toilette jug in my room at home. Just conscious that I was
not there, and that Rubens could not be here, the sound began to
trouble me. At first I was too sleepy to care to look round. Then as I
became more awake and the sound not less distinct, I felt fidgety and
frightened, and at last called faintly for Nurse Bundle.

Then the sound stopped. I could hardly breathe, and had just resolved
upon making a brave sally for assistance, when--plump! _something_
alighted on my bed, and, wildly impossible as it seemed, Rubens
himself waggled up to my pillow, and began licking my face as if his
life depended on laying my nose and all other projecting parts of my
countenance flat with my cheeks.

How he had got to London we never knew. As he made an easy escape from
the coach-house at Dacrefield, it was always supposed that he simply
followed the carriage, and had the wit to hide himself when we
stopped on the road. He was terribly tired. He might well be thirsty!

I levied large contributions on the box of rusks which Aunt Maria had
left by my bedside, for his benefit, and he supped well.

Then he curled himself up in his own proper place at my feet. He was
intensely self-satisfied, and expressed his high idea of his own
exploit by self-gratulatory "grumphs," as after describing many mystic
circles, and scraping up the fair Marseilles quilt on some plan of his
own, he brought his nose and tail together in a satisfactory position
in his nest, and we passed our first night in London in dreamless and
profound sleep.




CHAPTER V

MY COUSINS--MISS BLOMFIELD--THE BOY IN BLACK


My first letter to my father was the work of several days, and as my
penmanship was not of a rapid order, it cost me a good deal of
trouble. When it was finished it ran thus:

MY DEAR PAPA,

     I hope you are quite well. i am quite well. Rubens is here
     and he is quite well. We dont no how he got here but i am
     verry glad. Ant Maria said well he cant be sent back now so
     he sleeps on my bed and i like London it is a kweer place
     the houses are very big and i like my cussens pretty well
     they are all gals their nozes are very big i like Polly.

Nurse is quite well so good-bye.

i am your very loving son,

REGINALD DACRE.

Though I cannot defend the spelling of the above document, I must say
that it does not leave much to be added to the portrait of my cousins.
But it will be more polite to introduce them separately, as they were
presented to me.

I heard them, by the bye, before I saw them. It was whilst I was
dressing, the morning after my arrival, that I heard sounds in the
room below, which were interpreted by Nurse as being "Miss Maria
doing her music." The peculiarity of Miss Maria's music was that after
a scramble over the notes, suggestive of some one running to get
impetus for a jump, and when the ear waited impatiently for the
consummation, Miss Maria baulked her leap, so to speak, and got no
farther, and began the scramble again, and stuck once more, and so on.
And as, whilst finding the running passage quite too much for one
hand, she struggled on with a different phrase in the other hand at
the same time, instead of practising the two hands separately, her
chances of final success seemed remote indeed. Then I heard the
performance in peculiar circumstances. Nurse Bundle had opened my
window, and about two minutes after my cousin commenced her practice,
an organ-grinder in the street below began his. The subject of poor
Maria's piece knew no completion, as she stuck halfway; but the
organ-grinder's melodies only stopped for a touch to the mechanism,
and Black-Eyed Susan passed into the Old Hundredth, awkwardly, but
with hardly a perceptible pause. The effect of the joint performance
was at first ludicrous, and by degrees maddening, especially when we
had come to the Old Hundredth, which was so familiar in connection
with the words of the Psalm.

"Three and four and--" began poor Maria afresh, with desperate
resolution; and then off she went up the key-board; "one and two and
three and four and, one and two and three and four and--"

"--joy--His--courts--un--to," ground the organ in the inevitable
pause. And then my cousin took courage and made another start--"Three
and four and one and two and," etc.; but at the old place the nasal
notes of the other instrument evoked "al--ways," from my memory; and
Maria pausing in despair, the Old Hundredth finished triumphantly,
"For--it--is--seemly--so--to--do."

At half-past eight Maria stopped abruptly in the middle of her run,
and Nurse took me down to the school-room for breakfast.

The school-room was high and narrow, with a very old carpet, and a
very old piano, some books, two globes, and a good deal of feminine
rubbish in the way of old work-baskets, unfinished sewing, etc. There
were two long windows, the lower halves of which were covered with
paint. This mattered the less as the only view from them was of
backyards, roofs, and chimneys. Living as I did, so much alone with my
father, I was at first oppressed by the number of petticoats in the
room--five girls of ages ranging from twelve to six, and a grown-up
lady in a spare brown stuff dress and spectacles.

As we entered she came quickly forward and shook Nurse by the hand.

"How do you do, Mrs. Bundle? Very glad to see you again, Mrs. Bundle."

Nurse Bundle shook hands first, and curtsied afterwards.

"I'm very well, thank you, ma'am, and hope you're the same. Master
Reginald Dacre, ma'am. This lady is Miss Blomfield, Master Reginald;
and I hope you'll behave properly, and give the lady no trouble."

"I'm the governess, my dear," said Miss Blomfield, emphatically. (She
always "made a point" of announcing her dependent position to
strangers. "It is best to avoid any awkwardness," she was wont to
say; and I saw glances and smiles exchanged on this occasion between
the girls.) Miss Blomfield was very kind to me. Indeed she was kind to
every one. Her other peculiarities were conscientiousness and the
fidgets, and tendencies to fine crochet, calomel, and Calvinism, and
an abiding quality of harassing and being harassed, which I may here
say is, I am convinced, a common and most unfortunate atmosphere of
much of the process of education for girls of the upper and middle
classes in England.

At this moment my aunt came in.

"Good morning, Miss Blomfield."

"Good morning, Mrs. Ascott," the governess hastily interposed. "I hope
you're well this morning."

"Good morning, girls. Good morning, Nurse. How do you, Regie? All
right this morning? Bless me, there's that dog! What an extraordinary
affair it is! Mr. Ascott says he shall send it to the 'Gentleman's
Magazine.' Well, he can't be sent back now, so I suppose he'll have to
stop. And you must keep him out of mischief, Regie. Remember, he's not
to come into the drawing-room. Mrs. Bundle, will you see to that? Miss
Blomfield, will you kindly speak to Signor Rigi when he comes
to-morrow--"

"Certainly, Mrs. Ascott," interposed the governess.

"--about that piece of Maria's? She doesn't seem to get on with it a
bit."

"No, Mrs. Ascott."

"And I'm sure she's been practising it for a long time."

"Yes, Mrs. Ascott."

[Illustration: "Bless me, there's that dog!"]

"Mr. Ascott says it makes his hand quite unsteady when he's shaving in
the morning, to hear her always break off at one place."

The lines of harass on Miss Blomfield's countenance deepened visibly,
and her crochet-needle trembled in her hand, whilst a despondent
stolidity settled on Maria's face.

"Certainly, Mrs. Ascott. I'm very glad you've spoken. Thank you for
mentioning it, Mrs. Ascott. It has distressed me very greatly, and
been a great trouble on my mind for some time. I spoke very seriously
to Maria last Sabbath on the subject" (symptoms of sniffling on poor
Maria's part). "I believe she wishes to do her duty, and I may say I
am anxious to do mine, in my position. Of course, Mrs. Ascott, I know
you've a right to expect an improvement, and I shall be most happy to
rise half an hour earlier, so as to give her a longer practice than
the other young ladies, and only consider it my duty as your
governess, Mrs. Ascott. I've felt it a great trouble, for I cannot
imagine how it is that Maria does not improve in her music as Jane
does, and I give them equal attention exactly; and what makes it more
singular still is that Maria is very good at her sums--I have no fault
to find whatever. But I regret to say it is not the case with Jane. I
told her on Wednesday that I did not wish to make any complaint; but I
feel it a duty, Mrs. Ascott, to let you know that her marks for
arithmetic are not what you have a right to expect."

Here Miss Blomfield paused and wiped her eyes. Not that she was
weeping, but over and above her short-sightedness she was troubled
with a dimness of vision, which afflicted her more at some times than
others. As she was in the habit of endeavouring to counteract the
evils of a too constantly laborious and sedentary life, and of an
anxious and desponding temperament, by large doses of calomel, her
malady increased with painfully rapid strides. On this particular
morning she had been busy since five o'clock, and neither she nor the
girls (who rose at six) had had anything to eat, and they were all
somewhat faint for want of a breakfast which was cooling on the table.
Meanwhile a "humming in the head," to which _she_ was subject,
rendered Maria mercifully indifferent to the proposal to add an extra
half-hour to her distasteful labours; and Miss Blomfield corrugated
her eyebrows, and was conscientiously distressed and really puzzled
that Mother Nature should give different gifts to her children, when
their mother and teachers according to the flesh were so particular to
afford them an equality of "advantages."

"Signor Rigi told me that Maria has not got so good an ear as Jane,"
said Mrs. Ascott. "However, perhaps it will be well to let Maria
practise half an hour, and Jane do half an hour at her arithmetic on
Saturday afternoons."

"Certainly, Mrs. Ascott."

"And now," said my aunt, "I must introduce the girls to Reginald. This
is Maria, your eldest cousin, and nearly double your age, for she is
twelve. This is Jane, two years younger. This is Helen; she is nine,
and as tall as Jane, you see. This is Harriet, eight. And this is
Mary--Polly, as papa calls her--and she is nineteen months younger
than you, and a terrible tomboy already; so don't make her worse. This
is your cousin, girls, Reginald Dacre. You must amuse him among you,
and don't tease him, for he is not used to children."

We "shook hands" all round, and I liked Polly's hand the best. It was
least froggy, cold, and spiritless.

Then Mrs. Ascott departed, and Maria (overpowered by the humming)
"flopped" into her chair after a fashion that would certainly have
drawn a rebuke from Miss Blomfield if an access of eye-dimness had not
carried her to her own seat with little more grace.

Uncle Ascott had a large nose, and my cousins were the image of him
and of each other. They were plain, lady-like, rather bouncing girls,
with aquiline noses, voices with a family _twang_ that was slightly
nasal, long feet terribly given to chilblains, and long fingers, with
which they all by turns practised the same exercises on the old piano
on successive mornings before breakfast. When we became more intimate,
I used to keep watch on the clock for the benefit of the one who was
practising. At half-past eight she was released, and shutting up the
book with a bang would scamper off, in summer to stretch herself, and
in winter to warm her hands and toes. I used to watch their fingers
with childish awe, wondering how such thin pieces of flesh and bone
hit such hard blows to the notes without cracking, and being also
somewhat puzzled by the run of good luck which seemed to direct their
weak and random-looking skips and jumps to the keys at which they were
aimed. I have seen them in tears over their "music," as it was called,
but they were generally persevering, and in winter (so I afterwards
discovered) invariably blue.

It was not till we had finished breakfast that Miss Blomfield became
fairly conscious of the presence of Rubens, and when she did so her
alarm was very great.

Considering what she suffered from her own proper and peculiar
worries, it seemed melancholy to have to add to her burdens the hourly
expectation of an outbreak of hydrophobia.

In vain I testified to the sweetness of Rubens' temper. It is
undeniable that dogs do sometimes bite when you least expect it, and
that some bites end in hydrophobia; and it was long before Miss
Blomfield became reconciled to this new inmate of the school-room.

The girls, on the contrary, were delighted with my dog; and it was on
this ground that we became friendly. My particular affection for Polly
was also probably due to the discovery that with an incomparably
stolid expression of countenance she was passing highly buttered
pieces of bread under the table to Rubens at breakfast.

Polly was my chief companion. The other girls were good-natured, but
they were constantly occupied in the school-room, and hours that were
not nominally "lesson time" were given to preparing tasks for the next
day. By a great and very unusual concession, Polly's lessons were
shortened that she might bear me company. For the day or two before
this was decided on I had been very lonely, and Cousin Polly's holiday
brought much satisfaction both to me and to her; but it filled poor
Miss Blomfield's mind with disquietude, scruples, and misgivings.

In the middle of the square where my uncle and aunt lived there was a
garden, with trees, and grass, and gravel-walks; and here Polly and I
played at hide and seek, and ran races, and chased each other and
Rubens.

The garden was free to all dwellers in the square, and several other
children besides ourselves were wont to play there. One day as I was
strolling about, a little boy whom I had not seen before came down the
walk and crossed the grass. He seemed to be a year or two older than
myself, and caught my eye immediately by his remarkable beauty, and by
the depth of the mourning which he wore. His features were exquisitely
cut, and, in a child, one was not disposed to complain of their
effeminacy. His long fair hair was combed--in royal fashion--down his
back, a style at that time most unusual; his tightly-fitting jacket
and breeches were black, bordered with deep crape; not even a white
collar relieved his sombre attire, from which his fair face shone out
doubly fair by contrast.

"Polly! Polly!" I cried, running to find my companion and guide, "who
is that beautiful boy in black?"

"That's little Sir Lionel Damer," said Polly. "Good-morning, Leo!" and
she nodded as he passed.

The boy just touched his hat, bent his head with a melancholy and yet
half-comical dignity, and walked on.

"Who's he in mourning for?" I asked.

"His father and mother," said Polly. "They were drowned together, and
now he is Sir Lionel."

I looked after him with sudden and intense sympathy. His mother and
his father too! This indeed was sorrow deeper than mine. Surely his
mother, like mine, must have been fair and beautiful, so much beauty
and fairness had descended to him.

"Has he any sisters, Polly?" I asked.

Polly shook her head. "I don't think he has anybody," said she.

Then he also was an only son!




CHAPTER VI

THE LITTLE BARONET--DOLLS--CINDER PARCELS--THE OLD GENTLEMAN NEXT
DOOR--THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS


The next time I saw Sir Lionel was about two days afterwards, in the
afternoon, when the elder girls had gone for a drive in the carriage
with Aunt Maria, and the others, with myself, were playing in the
garden; Miss Blomfield being seated on a camp-stool reading a terrible
article on "Rabies" in the Medical Dictionary.

Rubens and I had strolled away from the rest, and I was exercising him
in some of his tricks when the little baronet passed us with his
accustomed air of mingled melancholy, dignity, and self-consciousness.
I was a good deal fascinated by him. Beauty has a strong attraction
for children, and the depth of his weeds invested him with a
melancholy interest, which has also great charms for the young. Then,
to crown all, he mourned the loss of a young mother--and so did I. I
involuntarily showed off Rubens as he approached, and he lingered and
watched us. By a sort of impulse I took off my little hat, as I had
been taught to do to strangers. He lifted his with a dismal grace and
moved on.

But as he walked about I could see that he kept looking to where
Rubens and I played upon the grass, and at last he came and sat down
near us.

"Is that your dog?" he asked.

"Yes he's my dog," I answered.

"He seems very clever," said Sir Lionel. "Did you teach him all those
tricks yourself?"

"Very nearly all," said I. "Rubens, shake hands with Sir Lionel."

"How do you know my name?" he asked.

"Polly told me," said I.

"Do you know Polly?" Sir Lionel inquired.

I stared, forgetting that of course he did not know who I was, and
answered--

"She's my cousin."

"What's your name?" he asked.

I told him.

"Do you like Polly?" he continued.

"Very much," I said, warmly.

It was with a ludicrous imitation of some grown-up person's manner
that he added, in perfect gravity--

"I hope you are not in love with her?"

"Oh, dear no!" I cried, hastily, for I had had enough of that joke
with Miss Eliza Burton.

"Then that is all right," said the little baronet; "let us be
friends." And friends we became. "Call me Leo, and I'll call you
Reginald," said the little gentleman; and so it was.

I think it is not doing myself more than justice if I say that to
this, my first friendship, I was faithful and devoted. Leo, for his
part, was always affectionate, and he had an admiration for Rubens
which went a long way with Rubens' master. But he was a little spoiled
and capricious, and, like many people of rather small capacities
(whether young or old), he was often unintentionally inconsiderate. In
those days my affection waited willingly upon his; but I know now that
in a quiet amiable way he was selfish. I was blessed myself with an
easy temper, and at that time it had ample opportunities of
accommodating itself to the whims of my friend Leo and my cousin
Polly. Not that Polly was like Sir Lionel in any way whatever. But she
was quick-tempered and resolute. She was much more clever for her age
than I was for mine. She was very decided and rapid in her views and
proceedings, very generous and affectionate also, and not at all
selfish. But her qualities and those of Leo came to the same thing as
far as I was concerned. I invariably yielded to them both.

Between themselves, I may say, they squabbled systematically, and were
never either friends or enemies for two days together.

Polly and I never quarrelled. I did her behests manfully, as a general
rule; and if her sway became intolerable, I complained and bewailed,
on which she relented, being as easily moved to pity as to wrath.

As the weather grew more chill, we seldom went out except in the
morning. In the afternoon Polly and I (sometimes accompanied by Leo)
played in the nursery at the top of the house.

Now and then the other girls would come up, and "play at dolls" with
Polly. On these occasions the treatment I experienced was certainly
hard. They were soon absorbed in dressing and undressing, sham meals,
sham lessons, and all the domestic romance of doll-life, in which,
according to my poor abilities, I should have been most happy to have
taken a part. But, on the unwarrantable assumption that "boys could
not play at dolls," the only part assigned me in the puppet comedy was
to take the dolls' dirty clothes to and from an imaginary wash in a
miniature wheelbarrow. I did for some time assume the character of
dolls' medical man with considerable success; but having vaccinated
the kid arm of one of my patients too deeply on a certain occasion
with a big pin, she suffered so severely from loss of bran that I was
voted a practitioner of the old school, and dismissed. I need hardly
say that this harsh decision proved the ruin of my professional
prospects, and I was sent back to my wheelbarrow. It was when we were
tired of our ordinary amusements, during a week of wet weather, that
Polly and I devised a new piece of fun to enliven the monotony of the
hours when we were shut up in that town nursery at the top of the
house.

Outside the nursery-windows were iron bars--a sensible precaution of
Aunt Maria against accidents to "the little ones." One day when the
window was slightly open, and Polly and I were hanging on the
window-ledge, in attitudes that fully justified the precautionary
measure of a grating, a bit of paper which was rolled up in Polly's
hand escaped from her grasp, and floated down into the street. In a
moment Polly and I were standing on the window-ledge, peering down--to
the best of our ability--into the square and into the area depths
below. Like a snow-flake in summer, we saw our paper-twist lying on
the pavement; but our delight rose to ecstasy when a portly passer-by
stooped and picked up the document and carefully examined it.

Out of this incident arose a systematic amusement, which, in advance
of our age, we called "the parcel post."

By shoving aside the fire-guard in the absence of our nurses, we
obtained some cinders, with which we repaired to our post at the
window, thus illustrating that natural proclivity of children to
places of danger which is the bane of parents and guardians. Here we
fastened up little fragments of cinder in pieces of writing-paper, and
having secured them tidily with string, we dropped these parcels
through the iron bars as into a post-office. It was a breathless
moment when they fell through space like shooting stars. It was a
triumph if they cleared the area. But the aim and the end of our
labours was to see one of our missives attract the notice of a
passer-by, then excite his curiosity, and finally--if he opened
it--rouse his unspeakable disgust and disappointment.

Like other tricksters, our game lasted long because of the ever-green
credulity of our "public." In the ever-fresh stream of human life
which daily flowed beneath our windows, there were sure to be one or
more pedestrians who, with varying expressions of conscientious
responsibility, unprincipled appropriation, or mere curiosity, would
open our parcels, either to ascertain what trinket should be restored
to its owner, or to keep what was to be got, or to see what there was
to be seen.

One day when we dropped one of our parcels at the feet of a lady who
was going by, she nonplussed us very effectually by ringing the bell
and handing in to the footman "something which had been accidentally
dropped from one of the upper windows." Fortunately for us the parcel
did not reach Aunt Maria; Polly intercepted it.

As the passers-by never wearied of our parcels, I do not know when we
should have got tired of our share of the fun, but for an occurrence
which brought the amusement suddenly to an end. One afternoon we had
made up the neatest of little white-paper parcels, worthy of having
come from a jeweller's, and I clambered on to the window-seat that I
might drop it successfully (and quite clear of the area) into the
street. Just as I dropped it, there passed an elderly gentleman very
precisely dressed, with a gold-headed cane, and a very well-brushed
hat. Pop! I let the cinder parcel fall on to his beaver, from which it
rebounded to his feet. The old gentleman looked quickly up, our eyes
met, and I felt convinced that he saw that I had thrown it. I called
Polly, and as she reached my side the old gentleman untied and
examined the parcel. When he came to the cinder, he looked up once
more, and Polly jumped from the window with a prolonged "Oh!"

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Oh, dear!" cried Polly; "it's the old gentleman next door!"

For several days we lived in unenviable suspense. Every morning did we
expect to be summoned from the school-room to be scolded by Aunt
Maria. Every afternoon we dreaded the arrival of "the old gentleman
next door" to make his formal complaint, and, whenever the front-door
bell rang, Polly and I literally "shook in our shoes."

But several days passed, and we heard nothing of it. We had given up
the practice in our fright, but had some thoughts of beginning again,
as no harm had come to us.

One evening (by an odd coincidence, my birthday was on the morrow) as
Polly and I were putting away our playthings preparatory to being
dressed to go down to dessert, a large brown-paper parcel was brought
into the nursery addressed jointly to me and my cousin.

"It's a birthday present for you, Regie!" Polly cried.

"But there's your name on it, Polly," said I.

"It must be a mistake," said Polly. But she looked very much pleased,
nevertheless; and so, I have no doubt, did I. We cut the string, we
tore off the first thick covering. The present, whatever it might be,
was securely wrapped a second time in finer brown paper and carefully
tied.

"It's _very_ carefully done up," said I, cutting the second string.

"It must be something nice," said Polly, decisively; "that's why it's
taken such care of."

If Polly's reasoning were just, it must have been something very nice
indeed, for under the second wrapper was a third, and under the third
was a fourth, and under the fourth was a fifth, and under the fifth
was a sixth, and under the sixth was a seventh. We were just on the
point of giving it up in despair when we came to a box. With some
difficulty we got the lid open, and took out one or two folds of
paper. Then there was a lot of soft shavings, such as brittle toys and
gimcracks are often packed in, and among the shavings was--a small
neatly-folded white-paper parcel. _And inside the parcel was a
cinder._

We certainly looked very foolish as we stood before our present. I do
not think any of the people we had taken in had looked so thoroughly
and completely so. We were both on the eve of crying, and both ended
by laughing. Then Polly--in those trenchant tones which recalled Aunt
Maria forcibly to one's mind--said,

"Well! we quite deserve it."

The "parcel-post" was discontinued.

We had no doubt as to who had played us this trick. It was the old
gentleman next door. He was a wealthy, benevolent, and rather
eccentric old bachelor. It was his custom to take an early walk for
the good of his health in the garden of the square, and he sometimes
took an evening stroll in the same place for pleasure. Somehow or
other he had made a speaking acquaintance with Miss Blomfield, and we
afterwards discovered that he had made all needful inquiries as to the
names, etc., of Polly and myself from her--she, however, being quite
innocent as to the drift of his questions.

I should certainly not have selected the old gentleman's hat to drop
our best parcel on to, if I had known who he was. I was not likely to
forget his face now.

I soon got to know all our neighbours by sight. On one side of us was
the old gentleman, whose name was Bartram; on the other side lived Sir
Lionel Damer. He was staying with his guardian, an old Colonel
Sinclair; and when my father came up to town he and this Colonel
Sinclair discovered that they were old school-fellows, which Leo and I
looked upon as a good omen for our friendship.

Polly and I and Nurse Bundle became as learned in gossip as any one
else who lives in a town, and is constantly looking out of the window.
We knew the (bird's-eye) appearance of everybody on our side of the
square, their servants, their cats and dogs, their carriages, and even
their tradesmen. If one of the neighbours changed his milkman, or
there came so much as a new muffin man to the square, we were all
agog. One day I saw Polly upon our perch, struggling to get her face
close to the glass, and much hindered by the size of her nose. I felt
sure that there was _something_ down below--at least a new butcher's
boy. So I was not surprised when she called me to "come and look."

"Who is it?" said Polly.

"I don't know," said I.

And then we both stared on, as if by downright hard looking we could
discover the name of the gentleman who had just come down the steps
from Colonel Sinclair's house. He was a short slight man, young, and
with sandy hair. Neither of us had seen him before. Having the good
fortune to see him return to Colonel Sinclair's house, about two hours
later, I hurried with the news to Polly; and we resolved to get to see
Leo as soon as possible, and satisfy our curiosity respecting the
stranger. So in the afternoon we sent a message to invite him to come
and play with us in the square, but we received the answer that "Sir
Lionel was engaged."

Later on he came into the square, and the stranger with him. Polly and
I and Rubens were together on a seat; but when Leo saw us he gave a
scanty nod and went off in the opposite direction, leaning on the arm
of the stranger and apparently absorbed in talking to him. I was
rather hurt by his neglect of us. But Polly said positively,

"That is Leo's way. He likes new friends. But when he treats me like
that, I do not speak to him for a week afterwards."

That evening a cab carried off the stranger, and next day Leo came to
us in the square, all smiles and friendliness.

"I've been so wanting to see you!" he cried, in the most devoted
tones. But Polly only took up her doll, and with her impressive nose
in the air, walked off to the house.

I could not quarrel with Leo myself, and we were soon as friendly as
ever.

"I want to tell you some news, Regie," he said. "Colonel Sinclair has
decided that I am to have a tutor."

"Are you glad?" I asked.

"Yes, very," said Sir Lionel. "You see I like him very much--I mean
the tutor. He was here yesterday. You saw him with me. He is going to
be a clergyman. He has been at Cambridge, and he plays the flute."

For a long time Leo enlarged to me upon the merits of his tutor that
was to be; and when I went back to Polly the news I had to impart
served to atone for my not having joined her in snubbing the
capricious Sir Lionel. As for him, he was very restless under Polly's
displeasure, and finally apologized, on which Polly gave him a sound
scolding, which, to my surprise, he took in the utmost good part, and
we were all once more the best possible friends.

That visit to London was an era in my life. It certainly was most
enjoyable, and it did me a world of good, body and mind. When my
father came up, we enjoyed it still more. He coaxed holidays for the
girls even out of Aunt Maria, and took us (Leo and all) to places of
amusement. With him we went to the Zoological Gardens. The monkeys
attracted me indescribably, and I seriously proposed to my father to
adopt one or two of them as brothers for me. I felt convinced that if
they were properly dressed and taught they would be quite
companionable, and I said so, to my father's great amusement, and to
the scandal of Nurse Bundle, who was with us.

"I fear you would never teach them to talk, Regie," said my father;
"and a friend who could neither speak to you nor understand you when
you spoke to him would be a very poor companion, even if he could
dance on the top of a barrel-organ and crack hard nuts."

"But, papa, babies can't talk at first," said I; "they have to be
taught."

Now by good luck for my argument there stood near us a country woman
with a child in her arms to whom she was holding out a biscuit,
repeating as she did so, "Ta!" in that expectant tone which is
supposed to encourage childish efforts to pronounce the abbreviated
form of thanks.

"Now look, papa!" I cried, "that's the way I should teach a monkey. If
I were to hold out a bit of cake to him, and say, 'Ta,'"--(and as I
spoke I did so to a highly intelligent little gentleman who sat close
to the bars of the cage with his eyes on my face, as if he were well
aware that a question of deep importance to himself was being
discussed)--

"He would probably snatch it out of your hand without further
ceremony," said my father. And, dashing his skinny fingers through the
bars, this was, I regret to say, precisely what the little gentleman
did. I was quite taken aback; but as we turned round, to my infinite
delight, the undutiful baby snatched the biscuit from its mother's
hand after a fashion so remarkably similar that we all burst out
laughing, and I shouted in triumph,

"Now, papa! children do it too."

"Well, Regie," he answered, "I think you have made out a good case.
But the question which now remains is, whether Mrs. Bundle will have
your young friends in the nursery."

But Mrs. Bundle's horror at my remarks was too great to admit of her
even entering into the joke.

The monkeys were somewhat driven from my mind by the wit and wisdom of
the elephant, and the condescension displayed by so large an animal
in accepting the light refreshment of penny buns. After he had had
several, Leo began to tease him, holding out a bun and snatching it
away again. As he was holding it out for the fourth or fifth time, the
elephant extended his trunk as usual, but instead of directing it
towards the bun, he deliberately snatched the black velvet cap from
Leo's head and swallowed it with a grunt of displeasure. Leo was first
frightened, and then a good deal annoyed by the universal roar of
laughter which his misfortune occasioned. But he was a good-tempered
boy, and soon joined in the laugh himself. Then, as we could not buy
him a new cap in the Gardens, he was obliged to walk about for the
rest of the time bare-headed; and many were the people who turned
round to look a second time after the beautiful boy with the long fair
hair--a fact of which Master Lionel was not quite unconscious, I
think.

My aunt kindly pressed us to remain with her over Christmas. I longed
to see the pantomime, having heard much from my cousins and from Leo
of its delights--and of the harlequin, columbine, and clown. But my
father wanted to be at home again, and he took me and Rubens and Nurse
Bundle with him at the end of November.




CHAPTER VII

POLLY AND I RESOLVE TO BE "VERY RELIGIOUS"--DR. PEPJOHN--THE
ALMS-BOX--THE BLIND BEGGAR


I must not forget to speak of an incident which had a considerable
influence on my character at this time. The church which my uncle and
his family "attended," as it was called, was one of those most dreary
places of worship too common at that time, in London and elsewhere. It
was ugly outside, but the outside ugliness was as nothing compared
with the ugliness within. The windows were long and bluntly rounded at
the top, and the sunlight was modified by scanty calico blinds, which,
being yellow with age and smoke, _toned_ the light in rather an
agreeable manner. Mouldings of a pattern one sees about common
fireplaces ran everywhere with praiseworthy impartiality. But the
great principle of the ornamental work throughout was a principle only
too prevalent at the date when this particular church was last "done
up." It was imitations of things not really there, and which would
have been quite out of place if they had been there. For instance,
pillars and looped-up curtains painted on flat walls, with pretentious
shadows, having no reference to the real direction of the light. At
the east end some Hebrew letters, executed as journeymen painters
usually do execute them, had a less cheerful look than the
highly-coloured lion and unicorn on the gallery in front. The clerk's
box, the reading-desk, and the pulpit, piled one above another, had a
symmetrical effect, to which the umbrella-shaped sounding-board above
gave a distant resemblance to a Chinese pagoda. The only things which
gave warmth or colour to the interior as a whole were the cushions and
pew curtains. There were plenty of them, and they were mostly red.
These same curtains added to the sense of isolation, which was already
sufficiently attained by the height of the pew walls and their doors
and bolts. I think it was this--and the fact that, as the congregation
took no outward part in the prayers except that of listening to them,
Polly and I had nothing to do--and we could not even hear the old
gentleman who usually "read prayers"--which led us into the very
reprehensible habit of "playing at houses" in Uncle Ascott's
gorgeously furnished pew. Not that we left our too tightly stuffed
seats for one moment, but as we sat or stood, unable to see anything
beyond the bombazine curtains (which, intervening between us and the
distant parson, made our hearing what he said next to impossible), we
amused ourselves by mentally "pretending" a good deal of domestic
drama, in which the pew represented a house; and we related our
respective "plays" to each other afterwards when we went home.

Wrong as it was, we did not intend to be irreverent, though I had the
grace to feel slightly shocked when after a cheerfully lighted evening
service, at which the claims of a missionary society had been
enforced, Polly confided to me, with some triumph in her tone, "I
pretended a theatre, and when the man was going round with the box
upstairs, I pretended it was oranges in the gallery."

I had more than once felt uneasy at our proceedings, and I now told
Polly that I thought it was not right, and that we ought to "try to
attend." I rather expected her to resent my advice, but she said that
she had "sometimes thought it was wrong" herself; and we resolved to
behave better for the future, and indeed really did give up our
unseasonable game.

Few religious experiences fill one with more shame and self-reproach
than the large results from very small efforts in the right direction.
Polly and I prospered in our efforts to "attend." I may say for myself
that, child as I was, I began to find a satisfaction and pleasure in
going to church, though the place was hideous, the ritual dreary, and
the minister mumbling. When by chance there was a nice hymn, such as,
"Glory to Thee," or "O GOD, our help in ages past," we were quite
happy. We also tried manfully to "attend" to the sermons, which,
considering the length and abstruseness of them, was, I think,
creditable to us. I fear we felt it to be so, and that about this time
we began to be proud of the texts we knew, and of our punctilious
propriety in the family pew, and of the resolve which we had taken in
accordance with my proposal to Polly--

"Let us be very religious."

One Saturday Miss Blomfield was a good deal excited about a certain
clergyman who was to preach in our church next Sunday, and as the
services were now a matter of interest to us, Polly and I were excited
too. I had been troubled with toothache all the week, but this was now
better, and I was quite able to go to church with the rest of the
family.

The general drift of the sermon, even its text, have long since faded
from my mind; but I do remember that it contained so highly coloured a
peroration on the Day of Judgment and the terrors of Hell, that my
horror and distress knew no bounds; and when the sermon was ended, and
we began to sing, "From lowest depths of woe," I burst into a passion
of weeping. The remarkable part of the incident was that, the rest of
the party having sat with their noses in the air quite undistressed by
the terrible eloquence of the preacher, Aunt Maria never for a moment
guessed at the real cause of my tears. But as soon as we were all in
the carriage (it was a rainy evening, and we had driven to church),
she said--

"That poor child will never have a minute's peace while that tooth's
in his head. Thomas! Drive to Dr. Pepjohn's."

Polly did say, "Is it very bad, Regie?" But Aunt Maria answered for
me--"Can't you see it's bad, child? Leave him alone."

I was ashamed to confess the real cause of my outburst, and suffered
for my disingenuousness in Dr. Pepjohn's consulting-room.

"Show Dr. Pepjohn which it is, Regie," said my aunt; and, with tears
that had now become simply hysterical, I pointed to the tooth that had
ached.

"Just allow me to touch it," said Dr. Pepjohn, inserting his fat
finger and thumb into my mouth. "I won't hurt you, my little man," he
added, with the affable mendaciousness of his craft. Fortunately for
me it was rather loose, and a couple of hard wrenches from the
doctor's expert fingers brought it out.

"You think me very cruel, now, don't you, my little man?" said the
jocose gentleman, as we were taking leave.

"I don't think you're cruel," I answered, candidly; "but I think you
tell fibs, for it _did_ hurt."

The doctor laughed long and loudly, and said I was quite an original,
which puzzled me extremely. Then he gave me sixpence, with which I was
much pleased, and we parted good friends.

My father was with us on the following Sunday, and he did not go to
the church Aunt Maria went to. I went to the one to which he went.
This church was very well built and appropriately decorated. The music
was good, the responses of the congregation hearty, and the service
altogether was much better adapted to awaken and sustain the interest
of a child than those I had hitherto been to in London.

"You know we _couldn't_ play houses in the church where Papa goes," I
told Polly on my return, and I was very anxious that she should go
with us to the evening service. She did go, but I am bound to confess
that she decided on a loyal preference for the service to which she
had been accustomed, and, like sensible people, we agreed to differ in
our tastes.

"There's no clerk at your church, you know," said Polly, to whom a gap
in the threefold ministry of clerk, reader, and preacher, symbolized
by the "three-decker" pulpit, was ill atoned for by the chanting of
the choir.

In quite a different way, I was as much impressed by the sermons at
the new church as I had been by that which cost me a tooth.

One sermon especially upon the duties of visiting the sick and
imprisoned, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, made an
impression on me that years did not efface. I made the most earnest
resolutions to be active in deeds of kindness "when I was a man,"
and, not being troubled by considerations of political economy, I
began my charitable career by dividing what pocket money I had in hand
amongst the street-sweepers and mendicants nearest to our square.

I soon converted Polly to my way of thinking; and we put up a
money-box in the nursery, in imitation of the alms-box in church. I am
ashamed to confess that I was guilty of the meanness of changing a
sixpence which I had dedicated to our "charity-box" into twelve
half-pence, that I might have the satisfaction of making a dozen
distinct contributions to the fund.

But, despite all its follies, vanities, and imperfections (and what
human efforts for good are not stained with folly, vanity, and
imperfection?), our benevolence was not without sincerity or
self-denial, and brought its own invariable reward of increased
willingness to do more; according to the deep wisdom of the poet--

    "In doing is this knowledge won:
    To see what yet remains undone."

We really did forego many a toy and treat to add to our charitable
store; and I began then a habit of taxing what money I possessed, by
taking off a fixed proportion for "charity," which I have never
discontinued, and to the advantages of which I can most heartily
testify. When a self-indulgent civilization goads all classes to live
beyond their incomes, and tempts them not to include the duty of
almsgiving in the expenditure of those incomes, it is well to remove a
due proportion of what one has beyond the reach of the ever-growing
monster of extravagance; and, being decided upon in an unbiased and
calm moment, it is the less likely to be too much for one's domestic
claims, or too little for one's religious duty. It frees one for ever
from that grudging and often comical spasm of meanness which attacks
so many even wealthy people when they are asked to give, because,
among all the large "expenses" to which their goods are willingly made
liable, the expense of giving alms of those goods has never been
fairly counted as an item not less needful, not less imperative, not
less to be felt as a deduction from the remainder, not less life-long
and daily, than the expenses of rent, and dress, and dinner-parties.

We had, as I say, no knowledge of political economy, and it must be
confessed that the objects of our charity were on more than one
occasion most unworthy.

"Oh, Regie, dear," Polly cried one day, rushing up to me as she
returned from a walk (I had a cold, and was in the nursery), "there is
such a poor, poor man at the corner of ---- Street. I do think we ought
to give him all that's left in the box. He's quite blind, and he reads
out of a book with such queer letters. It's one of the Gospels, he
says; so he must be very good, for he reads it all day long. And he
can't have any home, for he sits in the street. And he's got a ticket
on his back to say 'Blind,' and 'Taught at the Blind School.' And as I
passed he was reading quite loud. And I heard him say, 'Now Barabbas
was a robber.' Oh, he _is_ such a poor man! And you know, Regie, he
_must_ be good, for _we_ don't sit reading our Bibles all day long."

I at once gave my consent to the box being emptied in favour of this
very poor and very pious man; and at the first opportunity Polly took
the money to her _protege_.

"He was so much pleased!" she reported on her return. "He seemed quite
surprised to get so much. And he said, 'GOD bless you, miss!' I wish
you'd been there, Regie. I said, 'It's not all from me.' He _was_ so
much pleased!"

"How did he know you were a _miss_, I wonder?" said I.

"I suppose it was my voice," said Polly, after a pause.

As soon as I could go out, I went to see the blind man. As I drew
near, he was--as Polly told me--reading aloud. The regularity and
rapidity with which his fingers ran over line after line, as if he
were rubbing out something on a slate, were most striking; and as I
stood beside him I distinctly heard him read the verse, "Now Barabbas
was a robber." It was a startling coincidence to find him still
reading the words which Polly overheard, especially as they were not
in any way remarkably adapted for the subject of a prolonged
meditation.

Much living alone with grown-up people had, I think, helped towards my
acquiring a habit I had of "brown studying," turning things over,
brewing them, so to speak, in my mind. I stood pondering the
peculiarities of the object of our charity for some moments, during
which he was elaborately occupied in turning over a leaf of his book.
Presently I said--

"What makes you say it out loud when you read?"

He turned his head towards me, blinking and rolling his eyes, and
replied in impressive tones--

"It's the pleasure I takes in it, sir."

Now as he blinked I watched his eyes with mingled terror, pity, and
curiosity. At this moment a stout and charitable-looking old
gentleman was passing, between whom and my blind friend I was
standing. And as he passed he threw the blind man some coppers. But in
the moment before he did so, and when there seemed a possibility of
his passing without what I suspect was a customary dole, such a sharp
expression came into the scarcely visible pupils of the blind man's
half-shut eyes that (never suspecting that his blindness was feigned,
but for the moment convinced that he had seen the old gentleman) I
exclaimed, without thinking of the absurdity of my inquiry--

"Was it at the Blind School you learnt to see so well with your blind
eyes?"

The "very poor man" gave me a most unpleasant glance out of his
"sightless orbs," and taking up his stool, and muttering something
about its being time to go home, he departed.

Some time afterwards I learnt what led me to believe that he had the
best possible reason for being able to "see so well with his blind
eyes." He was not blind at all.




CHAPTER VIII

VISITING THE SICK


I had been quite prepared to find Polly a willing convert to my
charitable schemes, but I had not expected to find in Cousin Helen so
strong an ally as she proved. But our ideas were no novelty to her, as
we soon discovered. In truth, at nine years old, she was a bit of an
enthusiast. She read with avidity religious biographies furnished by
Miss Blomfield. She was delicate in health, but reticent and resolute
in character. She was ready for any amount of self-sacrifice. She
contributed liberally to our box; and I fancy that she and Polly
continued it after I had gone back to Dacrefield.

My new ideas were not laid aside on my return home. To the best of my
ability I had given Nurse Bundle an epitome of the sermon on
alms--deeds which had so taken my fancy, and I have reason to believe
that she was very proud of my precocious benevolence. Whilst the
subject was under discussion betwixt us, she related many anecdotes of
the good deeds of the "young gentlemen and ladies" in a certain
clergyman's family where she had lived as nursemaid in her younger
days; and my imagination was fired by dreams of soup-cans, coal-clubs,
linsey petticoats comforting the rheumatic limbs of aged women,
opportune blankets in winter, Sunday-school classes, etc., etc.

"My dear!" said Nurse Bundle, almost with tears in her eyes, "you're
for all the world your dear mamma over again. Keep them notions, my
dear, when you're a grown gentleman, and there'll be a blessing on all
you do. For in all reason it's you that'll have to look to your pa's
property and tenants some time."

My father, though not himself an adept in the details of what is
commonly called "parish work," was both liberal and kind-hearted. He
liked my knowing the names of his tenants, and taking an interest in
their families. He was well pleased to respond by substantial help
when Nurse Bundle and I pleaded for this sick woman or that unshod
child, as my mother had pleaded in old days. As for Nurse Bundle, she
had a code of virtues for "young ladies and gentlemen," as such, and
charity to the poor was among them. Though I confess that I think she
regarded it more in the light of a grace adorning a certain station,
than as a duty incumbent upon all men.

So I came to know most of the villagers; and being a quaint child,
with a lively and amusing curiosity, which some little refinement and
good-breeding stayed from degenerating into impertinence, I was, I
believe, very popular.

One afternoon, during the spring that followed our return from London,
I had strolled out with Rubens, and was bowling my hoop towards one of
the lodges when a poor woman passed by on the drive (which was a
public road through the park), her apron to her face, weeping
bitterly. I stopped her, and asked what was the matter, and finally
made out that she had been to some sale at a farmhouse near, where a
certain large blanket had "gone for" five shillings. That she had
scraped five shillings together, and had intended to bid for it, but
had (with eminent stupidity) managed just to be out of the way when
the blanket was sold; and that it had gone for the very sum she could
have afforded, to another woman who would only part with it for six
and sixpence--eighteenpence more than the price she had paid for it.

The poor woman wept, and said she had had hard work to "raise" the
five shillings, and could not possibly find one and sixpence more. And
yet she did want the blanket badly, for she had a boy sick in bed, and
his throat was so bad--he suffered a deal from the cold, and there
wasn't a decent "rag of a blanket" in her house. I did not quite
follow her long story, but I gathered that one and sixpence would put
an end to her troubles, and at once offered to fetch her the money.

"Where do you live?" I asked.

"The white cottage just beyond the gate, love," she answered.

"I will bring you the money," said I. For to say the truth, I was
rather pompous and important about my charitable deeds, and did not
dislike playing the part of Sir Bountiful in the cottages. In this
case, too, it was a kindness not to take the woman back to the hall,
for she had left the sick child alone; and when I arrived at the
cottage with the money he complained bitterly at the idea of her
leaving him again to get the blanket.

"Let me go a minute, love, and I'll fetch Mrs. Taylor to sit with thee
till I get the blanket."

"I don't want a blanket," fretted the child; "I be too hot as 'tis. I
don't want to be 'lone."

"If you'll only be a minute, I'll stop with him," said I; and there
was some kindness in the offer, for I was really afraid of the boy
with his heavy angry eyes and fever petulance. The woman gladly
accepted it, and hurried off, despite the child's fretful tears, and
his refusing to see in "the young gentleman's" condescension the
honour which his mother pointed out. No doubt she only meant to be "a
minute," and Mrs. Taylor's dwelling was, to my knowledge, near; but I
suppose she had to tell, and her friends to hear, the whole history of
the sale, her disappointment and subsequent relief, as a preliminary
measure. After which it is probable that Mrs. Taylor had to look at
her pie in the oven, or attend to some similar and pressing domestic
duty before she could leave her house; and so it was nearly half an
hour before they came to my relief. And all this time the sick boy
tossed and moaned, and cried for water. I gave him some from a mug on
the table, not so much from any precocious gift for sick nursing (for
I was simply "frightened out of my wits"), but because the imperative
tone of his demand forced me involuntarily into doing what he wanted.
He grumbled, when between us we spilt the water on his clothes, and
then, soothed for a few seconds, he lay down, till the fever, like a
possessing demon, tossed him about once more, and his throat became as
parched as ever, and again he moaned for "a drink," and we repeated
the process. This time the mug was emptied, and when he called a third
time I could only say, "The mug's empty."

"There's a pot behind the door," he muttered, impatiently; "look
sharp!"

Now food, and drink, and all other necessaries of life came to me
without effort or seeking, and I was as little accustomed as any other
rich man's son to forage for supplies; but on this occasion
circumstances forced out of me a helpfulness which necessity early
teaches to the poor. I became dimly cognizant of the fact that water
does not spring spontaneously in carafes, nor take a delicate colour
and flavour in toast-and-water jugs of itself. I found the water-pot,
replenished the mug, and went back to my patient. By the time his
mother returned I had become quite clever in checking the spasmodic
clutches which spilt the cold water into his neck.

From what Mrs. Taylor said to her friend, it was evident that she
disapproved in some way of my presence, and the boy's mother replied
to her whispered remonstrances, "I was _that_ put out, I never
thought;" which I have no doubt was strictly true.

As I afterwards learnt, she got the blanket, and never ceased to laud
my generosity.

I was rather proud of it myself, and it was not without complacency
that I recounted to Nurse Bundle my first essay in "visiting the
sick."

But complacency was the last feeling my narrative awoke in Mrs.
Bundle. She was alarmed out of all presence of mind; and her
indignation with the woman who had requited my kindness by allowing me
to go into a house infected with fever knew no bounds. She had no pity
to spare for her when the news reached us that the child was dead.

Nothing further came of it for some time. Days passed, and it was
almost forgotten, only I became decidedly ill-tempered. A captious
irritability possessed me, alternating with fits of unaccountable
fatigue. At that time I was always either tired or cross, and
sometimes both. I must have made Nurse Bundle very uncomfortable. I
was so little happy, for my own share, that when after a day's
headache I was put to bed as an invalid, it was a delicious relief to
be acknowledged to be ill, to throw off clothes and occupation, and
shut my eyes and be nursed.

This happiness lasted for about half an hour. Then I began to shiver,
and, through no lack of blankets my teeth were soon chattering and the
bed shaking under me, as it had been with the village boy. But when
this was succeeded by burning heat, and intolerable, consuming
restlessness, I would have been glad to shiver again. And then my mind
wandered with a restlessness more intolerable than the tossing of my
body; and all boundaries of time, and place, and person became
confused and indefinitely extended, and hot hours were like ages, and
I thought I was that other boy, and that myself would not wait upon
him; and the only sensible words I spoke were cries for drink; and so
the fever got me fairly into its clutches.




CHAPTER IX

"PEACE BE TO THIS HOUSE"


I can appreciate now what my father and Nurse Bundle must have
suffered during my dangerous illness. It was not a common tie that
bound my father's affections to my life. Not only was I his son, I was
his only son. Moreover, I was the only living child of the beloved
wife of his youth--all that remained to him of my fair mother. Then I
was the heir to his property, the hope of his family, and, without
undue egotism, I may say, from what I have been told, that I was a
quaint, original, and (thanks to Mrs. Bundle) not ill-behaved child,
and that, for a while at least, I should have been much missed in the
daily life of the household.

Mrs. Cadman told me, long afterwards, exactly how many days and nights
Nurse Bundle passed in my sick chamber, "and never had her clothes
off;" and if the wearing of clothes had been one of the sharpest
torments of the Inquisition, Mrs. Cadman could not have spoken in a
hollower tone, or thrown more gloom round the announcement.

That, humanly speaking, my good and loving nurse saved my life, I must
ever remember with deep gratitude. There are stages of fever, when, as
they say, "a nurse is everything;" and a very little laziness,
selfishness, or inattention on Nurse Bundle's part would probably
have been my death-warrant. But night and day she never relaxed her
vigilance for one instant of the crisis of my malady. She took nothing
for granted, would trust no one else, but herself saw every order of
the doctor carried out, and, at a certain stage, fed me every ten
minutes, against my will, coaxing me to obedience, and never losing
heart or temper for one instant. And this although my petulance and
not infrequent assurances that I wished and preferred to die--"I was
so tired"--within the sick room, and my father's despair and bitter
groan that he would sacrifice every earthly possession to keep me
alive, outside it, would have caused many people to lose their heads.
In such an hour many a foolish, gossiping, half-educated woman, by
absolute faithfulness to the small details of her trust, by the
complete laying aside of personal needs and personal feelings, rises
to the sublimity of duty, and, ministering to the wants of another
with an unselfish vigilance almost perfect, earns that meed of praise
from men, which from time to time persists, in grateful hyperbole, to
liken her sex to the angels.

My poor father, whose irrepressible distress led to his being
forbidden to enter my room, powerless to help, and therefore without
alleviation for his anxiety, simply hung upon Nurse Bundle's orders
and reports, and relied utterly on her. Fortunately for his own
health, she gained sufficient influence to insist, almost as
peremptorily as in my case, upon his taking food. Often afterwards did
she describe how he and Rubens sat outside the door they were not
allowed to enter; and she used to declare that when she came out,
Rubens, as well as my father, turned an anxious and expectant
countenance towards her, and that both alike seemed to await and to
understand her report of my condition.

Only once did Nurse Bundle's self-possession threaten to fail her. It
was on my repeated and urgent request to "have the clergyman to pray
with me."

Mrs. Bundle, like most uneducated people, rather regarded the
visitation of the sick by the parish clergyman as a sort of extreme
unction or last sacrament. And to send for the parson seemed to her
tantamount to dismissing the doctor and ringing the passing bell. My
father was equally averse from the idea on other grounds. Moreover,
our old rector had gone, and the lately-appointed one was a stranger,
and rather an eccentric stranger, by all accounts.

For my own part, I had a strong interest in the new rector. His
Christian name was the same as my own, which I felt to constitute a
sort of connection; and the tales I had heard in the village of his
peculiarities had woven a sort of ecclesiastical romance about him in
my mind. He had come from some out-of-the-way parish in the west of
England, where his people, being thoroughly used to his ways, took
them as a matter of course. It was his scrupulous custom to conform as
minutely as possible to the canons of the Church, as well as to the
rubrics of the Prayer Book, and this to the point of wearing shoes
instead of boots. He was a learned man, a naturalist, and an
antiquarian. His appearance was remarkable, his hair being prematurely
white, and yet thick, his eyes grey and expressive, with thick dark
eyebrows, which actually met above them. For the rest, he was tall,
thin, and dressed in obedience to the canons. I had been much
interested in all that I had heard of him, and since my illness I had
often thought of the unqualified note of praise I had heard sounded in
his favour by more than one village matron, "He's beautiful in a
sick-room." It was on one occasion when I heard this that I also heard
that he was accustomed on entering the house to pronounce the
appointed salutation, in the words of the Prayer Book, "Peace be to
this house, and to all that dwell in it." And so it came about that,
when my importunity and anxiety on the subject had overcome the
scruples of my father and nurse, and they had decided to let me have
my way rather than increase my malady by fretting, the new rector came
into my room, and my first eager question was, "Did you say
that--about Peace, you know--when you came in?"

"I did," said the rector; and as he spoke one of his merits became
obvious. He had a most pleasing voice.

"Say it again!" I cried, petulantly.

"Peace be to this house, and to all that dwell in it," he repeated
slowly, and with slightly upraised hand.

"That's Rubens and all," was my comment.

As I wished, the rector prayed by my bedside; and I think he must have
been rather astonished by the fact that at points which struck me I
rather groaned than said, "Amen." The truth is, I had once happened to
go into a cottage where our old rector was praying by the bed of a
sick old man--a Methodist--who groaned "Amen" at certain points in a
manner which greatly impressed me, and I now did likewise, in that
imitativeness of childhood which had helped to lead me to the fancy
for surrounding my own sick bed with all the circumstances I had seen
and heard of in such cases in the village. For this reason I had (to
her hardly concealed distress) given Nurse Bundle, from time to time,
directions as to my wishes in the event of my death. I remember
especially, that I begged she would not fail to cover up all the
furniture with white cloths, and to allow all my friends to come and
see me in my coffin. Thus also I groaned and said "Amen"--"like a poor
person"--at what I deemed suitable points, as the rector prayed.

He was not less wise in a sick room than Mrs. Bundle herself. He
contrived to quieten instead of exciting me, and to the sound of his
melodious voice reading in soothing monotone from my favourite book of
the Bible--the Revelation of St. John the Divine--I finally fell
asleep.

When the inspired description of the New Jerusalem ended, and my own
dream began, I never knew. As I dreamed, it seemed a wonderful and
beautiful vision, though all that I could ever remember of it in
waking hours was the sheerest nonsense.

And this was the beginning of my acquaintance with the Rev. Reginald
Andrewes.




CHAPTER X

CONVALESCENCE--MATRIMONIAL INTENTIONS--THE JOURNEY TO OAKFORD--OUR
WELCOME


On the day when I first left my sick room, and was moved to a sofa in
what had been my poor mother's boudoir, my father put fifty pounds
into Nurse Bundle's hand, and sent another fifty to Mr. Andrewes for
some communion vessels for the church, on which the rector had set his
heart. They were both thank-offerings.

"I owe my son's recovery to GOD, and to you, Mrs. Bundle," said my
father, with a certain elaborateness of speech to which he was given
on important occasions. "No money could purchase such care as you
bestowed on him, and no money can reward it; but it will be doing me a
farther favour to allow me to think that, should sickness ever
overtake yourself when we are no longer together, this little sum,
laid by, may come in useful, and afford you a few comforts."

That first evening of my convalescence we were quite jubilant; but
afterwards there were many weary days of weakness, irritability, and
_ennui_ on my part, and anxiety and disappointment on my father's.
Rubens was a great comfort at this period. For his winning ways formed
an interest, and served a little to vary the monotony of the hours
when I was too weak to bear any definite amusement or occupation. It
must have been about this time that a long cogitation with myself led
to the following conversations with Nurse Bundle and my father:--

"How old are you, Nurse?" I inquired, one forenoon, when she had
neatly arranged the tray containing my chop, wine, etc., by my chair.

"Five-and-fifty, love, come September," said Nurse Bundle.

"Do people ever marry when they are five-and-fifty, papa?" I asked
that evening, as I lay languid and weary on the sofa.

"Yes, my dear boy, sometimes. But why do you want to know?"

"I think I shall marry Nurse Bundle when I am old enough," I said,
with almost melancholy gravity. "She's a good deal older than I am;
but I love her very much. And she would make me very comfortable. She
knows my ways."

My father has often told me that he would have laughed aloud, but for
the sad air of utter weariness over my helpless figure, the painful,
unchildlike anxiousness on my thin face, and in my old-fashioned air
and attitude. I have myself quite forgotten the occurrence.

At last this most trying time was over, but the fever had left me
taller, weaker, and much in need of what doctors call "tone." All
concerned in the care of me were now unanimous in declaring that I
must have a "change of air."

There was some little difficulty in deciding where to go. Another
visit to Aunt Maria was out of the question. Even if London had been a
suitable place, the fear of infection for my cousins made it not to be
thought of.

"Where would _you_ like to go, Nurse?" I inquired one evening, as we
all sat in the boudoir discussing the topic of the day.

"I should like to go wherever it's best for your good health, Master
Reginald," was Nurse Bundle's answer, which, though admirable in its
spirit, did not further the settlement of the matter we found it so
difficult to decide.

"But where would you like to go for yourself?" I persisted. "Where
would you go if it was you going away, and nobody else?"

"Well, my dear, if it was me just going away for myself, I think I
should go to my sister's at Oakford."

This reply drew from me a catechism of questions about Oakford, and
Nurse Bundle's sister, and Nurse Bundle's sister's husband, and their
children; and when my father came to sit with me I had a long history
of Oakford and Nurse Bundle's relatives at my fingers' ends, and was
full of a new fancy, which was strong upon me, to go and stay for
awhile at Oakford with Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Buckle.

"Nurse says they sometimes let lodgings," I said; "and I should like
Nurse to see her sister; and," I candidly added, "I should like to see
her myself."

My father's uppermost wish was to please me; and as Oakford was known
to be healthy, and the doctor favoured the proposition, it was decided
according to my wishes. If we stayed long, my father was to go
backwards and forwards, and he was to fetch us when we went away. His
anxiety was still so great, and led him to watch me in a manner which
fidgeted me so much, that I think the doctor was only too glad that
the place should be sufficiently near to induce him to leave me to
the care of Nurse Bundle.

We went by coach to Oakford. I was not allowed to sit outside on this
journey. It was only a short one, however; and, truth to say, I did
not feel strong enough for any feats of energy, and went meekly enough
into that stuffy hole, the inside! Before following me, Nurse Bundle
gave some directions to the driver, of a kind that could only be
effectual in reference to a small place where everybody was known.

"Coachman! Oakford! And drop us at Mr. Buckle's, please, the saddler."

"High Street, isn't it?" said the fat coachman, looking down on Mrs.
Bundle exactly as a parrot looks down from his perch.

"To be sure; only three doors below the 'Crown.'"

With which Mrs. Bundle gathered up her skirts, and her worsted
workbag, and clambered into the coach.

There were two other "insides." One of these never spoke at all during
the journey. The other only spoke once, and he seems to have been
impelled thereto by a three hours' contemplation of the contrast
between my slim, wasted little figure, and Nurse Bundle's portly
person, as we sat opposite to him. He was a Scotchman, and I fancy "in
business."

"You're weel matched to sit on the one side," was his remark.

Once, when I was feeling faint, he opened the window without my having
spoken, and only acknowledged my thanks by a silent nod. When the
coach stopped in the High Street of Oakford, and Nurse Bundle had
descended, he so far relaxed, as he handed out me and the worsted
workbag, as to indulge his national thirst for general information by
the inquiring remark:

"You'll be staying at the 'Crown' the night, mem?"

"No, sir. We stop here," said Nurse Bundle.

I caught his keen blue eye at the window whilst the coach was delayed
by the getting out of our luggage. I do not think he missed one
feature of our welcome on the threshold of the saddler's shop.

I feel sure that Scotchmen do greatly profit by the habit they have of
"absorbing into their constitutions," so to speak, all the facts of
every kind that come within their ken. They "go in for general
information," like the Tom Toddy in Mr. Kingsley's 'Water Babies;' but
their hard heads have, fortunately, no likeness to turnips.

This, however, is a digression.

Mr. Benjamin Buckle, Mrs. Benjamin Buckle, Jemima Buckle, their
daughter, Mr. Buckle's apprentice, and the "general girl," or
maid-of-all-work, were all in the shop to receive us. I believe the
cat was the only living creature in the house who was not there. But
cats seldom exert themselves unnecessarily on behalf of other people,
and she awaited our arrival upstairs. I had a severe if not
undignified struggle with the string before I could get my hat off.
Then I advanced, and, holding out my hand to Mr. Buckle, said,

"Mr. Buckle, I believe?"

[Illustration: "Mr. Buckle, I believe?"]

"The same to you, sir, and a many of them," said Mr. Buckle, hastily;
being, I fancy, rather put out by the touch of my frail hand, which
was certainly very unlike the leather he handled daily. He saw his
mistake, and added quickly,

"Your servant, sir. I hope your health's better, sir?"

"Very well, thank you," said I (all children make that answer, I
think).

"What a little gentleman!" said Mrs. Buckle, in an audible "aside" to
my nurse. She was as good-natured a woman as Mrs. Bundle herself, but
with less brains. She lived in a chronic state of surprises and
superlatives.

"You are Nurse's sister, aren't you, please?" I asked, going up to
her, and once more tendering my hand. "I wanted to see you very much."

"Now just to think of that, Jemima! did you ever?" cried Mrs. Buckle.

"La!" said Jemima; in acknowledgment of which striking remark, I bent
my head, and said,

"How do you do, Jemima?" adding, almost without an instant's pause,
"Please take me away, Nurse! I am so very tired."

By one immediate and unbroken action, Mrs. Bundle cut her way through
our hospitable friends and the scattered rolls of leather and other
trade accessories in the shop, and conveyed me into an arm-chair in
the sitting-room upstairs, where I sat, the tears running down my face
for very weakness.

I had longed for the novelty of a residence above a saddler's shop;
but now, too weary for new experiences, I was only conscious that the
stairs were narrow, the room dingy and vulgar after the rooms at home,
and as I wept I wished I had never come.

At this day, I am glad that I had the courtesy to restrain my
feelings, and not to damp the delighted welcome of Nurse and her
friends by an insulting avowal of my disappointment. I really was not
a spoilt child; and indeed, the insolent and undisciplined egotism of
many children "now-a-days," was not often tolerated by the past
generation. As I sat silent and sad, Nurse Bundle ransacked her bag,
muttering, "What a fool I be, to be sure!" and anon produced a flask
of wine, from which she filled a wine-glass with a very big leg, which
was one of the chimney ornaments. I emptied it in obedience to her
orders, and in a few minutes my tears ceased, and I began to take a
more cheerful view of the wallpaper and the antimacassars.

"What a pretty cat!" I said, at last. The said cat, a beauty, was
lying on the hearthrug.

"Isn't it a beauty, love?" said Nurse Bundle; "and look, my dear, at
your own little dog lying as good as gold in the rocking-chair, and
not so much as looking at puss."

Rubens did not _quite_ deserve this panegyric. He lay in his chair
without touching puss, it is true; but he kept his eye firmly and
constantly fixed upon her, only restrained from an attack by my known
objection to such proceedings, and by the immovable composure of the
good lady herself. Half a movement of encouragement on my part, half a
movement of flight on the cat's, and Rubens would have been after her.
All this was so plainly expressed in his attitude, that I burst out
laughing. Rubens chose to take this as a sound to the chase, and only
by the most peremptory orders could I induce him to keep quiet. As to
the cat, I saw one convulsive twitch of the very tip of her tail,
eloquent of wrath; otherwise she never moved.

"Now, my dear," said Mrs. Bundle, "suppose you come upstairs to bed,
and get a good night's rest. I can hear Jemima a-shaking of the coals
in the warming-pan now, on the stairs."

Warming-pans were not much used at home, and I was greatly interested
in the brazen implement which Jemima wielded so dexterously.

"It's like an ironing cloth," was my comment when I got between the
sheets. I had often warmed my hands on the table where Nurse ironed my
collars at home.

Rubens duly came to bed; and I fell asleep, well satisfied on the
whole with Oakford and the saddler's household.




CHAPTER XI

THE TINSMITH'S--THE BEAVER BONNETS--A FLAT IRON FOR A FARTHING--I FAIL
TO SECURE A SISTER--RUBENS AND THE DOLL


Oakford was not a large town. It only boasted of one street, "to be
called a street," as Mr. Buckle phrased it, though two or three lanes,
with more or less pretentious rows of houses, and so forth, ran at
right angles to the High Street. The High Street was a steep hill. It
was tolerably broad, very clean, pebbled and picturesque. The "Crown
Inn" was an old house with an historical legend attached to it.
Several of the shops were also in very old houses, with overhanging
upper stories and most comfortable window seats. Mr. Buckle's was one
of these.

The air of the place was keen, but very healthy, and I seemed to gain
strength with every hour of my stay. With strength, all my interest in
the novelty of the situation woke afresh, and I was delighted with
everything, but especially with the shop.

On the subject of the saddlery business, I must confess that a
difference of opinion existed between myself and my excellent nurse.
She jealously maintained my position as a "young gentleman" and
lodger, against the familiarity into which the Buckles and I fell by
common consent. She served my meals in separate state, and kept
Jemima as well as herself in attendance on my wants. She made my
sitting-room as comfortable as she could, and here it was her wish
that I should sit, when in the house, "like a young gentleman." My
wish, on the contrary, was to be in the shop, and as much as possible
like a grown-up saddler. It did seem so delightful to be always
working at that nice-smelling leather, and to be able to make for
oneself unlimited straps, whips, and other masculine appendages. I was
perfectly happy with spare fragments, cutting out miniature saddles
and straps, stamping lines, punching holes, and mislaying the good
saddler's tools in these efforts; whilst my thoughts were occupied
with many a childish plan for inducing my father to apprentice me to
the worthy Mr. Buckle.

I was a good deal taken with Mr. Buckle's apprentice, a rosy-cheeked
young man, whose dress and manners I endeavoured as much as possible
to imitate. I strutted in imitation of his style of walking down the
High Street, and about this time Nurse Bundle was wont to say she
"couldn't think what had come to" my hat, that it was "always stuck on
one side." Pondering the history of Dick Whittington and the fair
Alice, I said one day to Jemima Buckle,

"I suppose you and Andrew will marry, and when Mr. Buckle dies you
will have the shop?"

"Me marry the 'prentice!" said Miss Jemima. And I discovered how
little I knew of the shades of "caste" in Oakford.

Jemima used often to take me out when Nurse Bundle was otherwise
engaged, and we were always very good friends. One day, I remember,
she was going to a shop about half way up the High Street, and I
obtained leave to go with her. Mrs. Bundle was busy superintending the
cooking of some special delicacy for her "young gentleman's" dinner,
and Jemima and I set forth on our errand. It was to a tinsmith's shop,
where a bath had been ordered for my accommodation.

Ah! through how many years that steep street, with its clean, sunny
stones, its irregular line of quaint old buildings, and the distant
glimpse of big trees within palings into which it passed at the top,
where the town touched the outskirts of some gentleman's place, has
remained on my mind like a picture! Getting a little vague after a few
years, and then perhaps a little altered, as fancy almost
involuntarily supplied the defects of memory; but still that steep
street, that tinsmith's shop--_the_ features of Oakford!

I have since thought that Jemima must have had some special attraction
to the tinsmith's, her errands there were so many, and took so much
time. This occasion may be divided into three distinct periods. During
the first, I waited in that state of vacant patience whereby one
endures other people's shopping. During the second, I walked round all
the cans, pans, colanders, and graters, and took a fancy to a tin mug.
It was neither so valuable nor so handsome as the silver mug with
dragon handles given me by my Indian godfather, but it was a novelty.
When I looked closer, however, I found that it was marked, in plain
figures, fourpence, which at that time was beyond my means; so I
walked to the door, that I might solace the third period by looking
out into the street. As I looked, there came down the hill a fine,
large, sleek donkey, led by an old man-servant, and having on its back
what is called a Spanish saddle, in which two little girls sat side
by side, the whole party jogging quietly along at a foot's pace in the
sunshine. I may say here that my experience of little girls had been
almost entirely confined to my cousins, and that I was so overwhelmed
and impressed by the loveliness of these two children, and by their
quaint, queenly little ways, that time has not dimmed one line in the
picture that they then made upon my mind. I can see them now as
clearly as I saw them then, as I stood at the tinsmith's door in the
High Street of Oakford--let me see, how many years ago? ("Never mind,"
says my wife; "go on with the story, my dear," and I go on.)

The child who looked the older, but was, as I afterwards discovered,
the younger of the two, was also the less pretty. And yet she had a
sweet little face, hair like spun gold, and blue-grey eyes with dark
lashes. She wore a grey frock of some warm material, below which
peeped her indoors dress of blue. The outer coat had a quaint cape
like a coachman's, which was relieved by a broad white crimped frill
round her throat. Her legs were cased in knitted gaiters of white
wool, and her hands in the most comical miniatures of gloves. On her
fairy head she wore a large bonnet of grey beaver, with a frill
inside. (My wife explains that it was a "cap-front," adorned with
little bunches of ribbon, and having a cap attached to it, the whole
being put on separately before the bonnet. Details which seem to amuse
my little daughters, and to have less interest for my sons.) But it
was her sister who shone on my young eyes like a fairy vision. She
looked too delicate, too brilliant, too utterly lovely, for anywhere
but fairy-land. She ought to have been kept in tissue-paper, like the
loveliest of wax dolls. Her hair was the true flaxen, the very fairest
of the fair. The purity and vividness of the tints of red and white in
her face I have never seen equalled. Her eyes were of speedwell blue,
and looked as if they were meant to be always more or less brimming
with tears. To say the truth, her face had not half the character
which gave force to that of the other little damsel, but a certain
helplessness about it gave it a peculiar charm. She was dressed
exactly like the other, with one exception; her bonnet was of white
beaver, and she became it like a queen.

At the tinsmith's door they stopped, and the old man-servant, after
unbuckling a strap which seemed to support them in their saddle,
lifted each little miss in turn to the ground. Once on the pavement,
the little lady of the grey beaver shook herself out, and proceeded to
straighten the disarranged overcoat of her companion, and then, taking
her by the hand, the two clambered up the step into the shop. The
tinsmith's shop boasted of two seats, and on to one of these she of
the grey beaver with some difficulty climbed. The eyes of the other
were fast filling with tears, when from her lofty perch the sister
caught sight of the man-servant, who stood in the doorway, and she
beckoned him with a wave of her tiny finger.

"Lift her up, if you please," she said, on his approach. And the other
child was placed on the other chair.

The shopman appeared to know them, and though he smiled, he said very
respectfully,

"What article can I show you this morning, ladies?"

The fairy-like creature in the white beaver, who had been fumbling in
her miniature glove, now timidly laid a farthing on the counter, and
then turning her back for very shyness on the shopman, raised one
small shoulder, and inclining her head towards it, gave an appealing
glance at her sister out of the pale-blue eyes. That little lady, thus
appealed to, firmly placed another farthing on the board, and said in
the tiniest but most decided of voices,

     "TWO FLAT IRONS, IF YOU PLEASE."

Hereupon the shopman produced a drawer from below the counter, and set
it before them. What it contained I was not tall enough to see, but
out of it he took several tiny flat irons of triangular shape, and
apparently made of pewter, or some alloy of tin. These the grey beaver
examined and tried upon a corner of her cape with inimitable gravity
and importance. At last she selected two, and keeping one for herself,
gave the other to her sister.

"Is it a nice one?" the little white-beavered lady inquired.

"Very nice."

"_Kite_ as nice as yours?" she persisted.

"Just the same," said the other, firmly. And having glanced at the
corner to see that the farthings were both duly deposited, she rolled
abruptly over on her seat, and scrambled off backwards, a manoeuvre
which the other child accomplished with more difficulty. The coats and
capes were then put tidy as before, and the two went out of the shop
together hand in hand.

Then the old man-servant lifted them into the Spanish saddle, and
buckled the strap, and away they went up the steep street, and over
the brow of the hill, where trees and palings began to show, the
beaver bonnets nodding together in consultation over the flat irons.




CHAPTER XII

THE LITTLE LADIES AGAIN--THE MEADS--THE DROWNED DOLL


"Mr. Buckle, sir, can you oblige me with eight farthings for
twopence?"

I had closely copied this form of speech from the apprentice, whose
ways, as I have said, I endeavoured in every way to imitate. Thus,
twopence being at that time the extent of my resources, I went about
for some days after my adventure at the tinsmith's with all my worldly
wealth in my pocket in farthings, pondering many matters.

[Illustration: She rolled abruptly over on her seat and scrambled off
backwards.]

I began to have my doubts about saddlery as a profession. Truth to
say, a want beyond the cutting and punching of leather had begun to
stir within me. I wished for a sister. Somehow I had never desired to
adopt one of my cousins in this relation, not even my dear friend
Polly; but since I had seen the little lady in the white beaver, I
felt how nice it would be to have such a sister to play with, as I had
heard of other sisters and brothers playing together. Then I fancied
myself showing her all my possessions at home, and begging the like
for her from my indulgent father. I pictured the new interest which my
old toys would derive from being exhibited to her. I thought I would
beg for an exhibition of the magic lantern, for a garden for her
like my own, and for several half-holidays. It delighted me to imagine
myself presenting her with whatever she most admired, like some
Eastern potentate or fairy godmother. But I could not connect her in
my mind with the saddlery business. I felt that to possess so dainty
and elegant a little lady as a sister was incompatible with an
apprenticeship to Mr. Buckle.

Meanwhile I kept watch on the High Street from Mr. Buckle's door. One
morning I saw the donkey, the man, the Spanish saddle, and the beaver
bonnets come over the brow of the hill, and I forthwith ran to Nurse
Bundle, and begged leave to go alone to the tinsmith's, and invest one
of my eight farthings in a flat iron. It was only a few yards off, and
she consented; but, as I had to submit to be dressed, by the time I
got there the little ladies were already in the shop, and seated on
the two chairs. My fairy beauty looked round as I came in, and
recognizing me, gave a little low laugh, and put her head on her own
shoulder, and then peeped again, smiling so sweetly that I fairly
loved her. The other was too deeply engaged in poking and fumbling for
farthings in her glove to permit herself to be distracted by anything
or anybody. This process was so slow that the shopman came up to me
and asked what I wanted. I took a well-warmed farthing from the
handful I carried, and laid it on the counter, saying--

"A flat iron, if you please."

He put several before me, and after making a show of testing them on
the end of my comforter, I selected one at random. I know that I did
not do it with half the air which the little grey-beavered lady had
thrown over the proceeding, but I hardly deserved the scornful tone in
which she addressed no one in particular with the remark, "He has no
business with flat irons. He's only a boy."

She evidently expected no reply, for without a pause she proceeded to
count out five farthings on to the counter, saying as she did so, "A
frying-pan, a gridiron, a dish, and two plates, if you please." On
which, to my astonishment, miniature specimens of these articles, made
of the same material as the flat irons, were produced from the box
whence those had come. I was so bewildered by the severity of the
little lady's remarks, and the wonderful things which she obtained for
her farthings, that I dropped my remaining seven on to the shop floor,
and was still grubbing for them in the dust, when the children having
finished their shopping, came backwards off the seats as usual. They
passed me in the doorway, hand in hand. The little lady with the white
beaver was next to me, and as she passed she gave a shy glance, and
her face dimpled all over into smiles. Unspeakably pleased by her
recognition, I abandoned my farthings to their fate, and jumping up, I
held out my dusty hand to the little damsel, saying hastily but as
civilly as I could, "How do you do? I hope you're pretty well. And oh,
please, _will_ you be my sister?"

Having once begun, I felt quite equal to a full explanation of my
position and the prospect of toys and treats before us both. I was
even prepared, in the generous excitement of the moment to endow my
new sister with a joint partnership in the possession of Rubens, and
was about to explain all the advantages the little lady would derive
from having me for a brother, when I was stopped by the changed
expression on her pretty face.

I suppose my sudden movement had startled her, for her smiles vanished
in a look of terror, as she clung to her companion, who opened wide
her eyes, and shaking her grey beaver vehemently, said, "We don't know
you, Boy!"

Then they fled to the side of the old man-servant as fast as their
white-gaitered legs would carry them.

I watered the dusty floor of the shop with tears of vexation as I
resumed my search for the farthings, and having found them I went back
to the saddler's, pounding them in my hot hand, and bitterly
disappointed.

I don't suppose that Rubens understood the feelings which gave an
extra warmth to my caresses, as I hugged him in my arms, exclaiming,

"_You_ aren't afraid of me, you dear thing!"

But he responded sympathetically, both with tongue and tail.

I had not frightened the little ladies away from the High Street, it
seemed. I saw them again two days later. They had been out as usual,
and some trifling mischance having happened to the Spanish saddle,
they called at Mr. Buckle's door for repairs. I was in the shop, and
could see the two little maidens as they sat hanging over their strap,
with a doll dressed very much like themselves between them. I crept
nearer to the door, where the quick grey eyes of the younger one
caught sight of me, and I heard her say in her peculiarly trenchant
tones--

"Why, there's that Boy again!"

I slipped a little to one side, and took up a tool and a bit of
leather with a pretence of working, hoping to be out of sight, and
yet to be able to look at the little white-beavered fairy, for whom my
fancy was in no way abated. But her keen-eyed sister saw me still, and
her next remark rang out with uncompromising distinctness--

"He's in the shop still. He's working. He must be a shop-boy!"

I dropped the tools, and rushed away to my sitting-room. My
mortification was complete, and it was of a kind that Rubens could not
understand. Fortunately for me, he simply went with my humour, without
being particular as to the reason of it, like the tenderest of women.

A day or two afterwards I went out with Rubens and Jemima Buckle for a
walk. Our way home lay through some flat green meads, crossed by a
stream, which, in its turn, was crossed by a little rustic bridge. As
we came into these fields we met a man whose face seemed familiar,
though I could not at first recall where I had seen him. Afterwards I
remembered that he was the tinsmith, and Jemima stayed to chat with
him for a few minutes, but Rubens and I strolled on.

It seemed an odd coincidence that, a few seconds after meeting the
tinsmith, I should meet the little white-beavered lady. She was
crossing the bridge. Her sister was not with her, nor the donkey, nor
the man-servant. She was walking with a nurse, and she carried a big
doll in her arms. The doll, as I have said before, was "got up"
wonderfully like its mistress. It had a miniature coat and cape and
frills, it had leggings, it had a white plush bonnet (so my wife
enables me to affirm), it had hair just the colour of the little
lady's locks.

As she crossed the bridge, she seemed much pleased by the running of
the water beneath her feet, and saying, "Please let Dolly 'ook," in
her pretty broken tones, she pushed her doll through the rustic work,
holding it by its sash. But, alas! the doll was heavy, and the sash
insecurely fastened. It gave way, and the doll plunged into the
stream.

Once more the sweet little face was convulsed by a look of terror and
distress. As the doll floated out on the other side of the bridge, she
shrieked and wrung her hands. As for me, I ran down to the edge of the
stream, calling Rubens after me, and pointing to the doll. Only too
glad of an excuse for a plunge, in he dashed, and soon brought the
unfortunate miss to shore by one of her gaitered legs. It was with
some triumph that I carried the dripping doll to its little mistress,
and heard the nurse admonish her to--

"Thank the young gentleman, my dear."

I have often since heard of faces "like an April sky," but I never saw
one which did so resemble it in being by turns bright and overcast,
with tears and smiles struggling together, and fear and pleased
recognition, as the face of the little blonde in the white beaver
bonnet. It was she who held out her hand this time, and as I took it
she said, "'ank you 'erry much."

"It was Rubens' doing, not mine," said I. "Rubens! shake hands, sir!"

But the little lady was frightened. She shrank away from the warm
greeting of Rubens, and I was obliged to shake hands with him myself
to satisfy his feelings.

The nursemaid had been wringing out the doll's clothes for the little
lady, but now they moved on together.

"Dood-bye!" said the little lady, smiling and waving her hand. I
waved mine, and then Jemima, having parted with the tinsmith, came up,
and we went home.

I never saw the beaver bonnets again.




CHAPTER XIII

POLLY--THE PEW AND THE PULPIT--THE FATE OF THE FLAT IRON


By the time that my father came to fetch us away, I was wonderfully
improved in health and strength. I even wanted to go back outside the
coach; but this was not allowed.

I did not forget the little lady in the white beaver, even after my
return to Dacrefield. I was fond of drawing, and I made what seemed to
me a rather striking portrait of her (at least as to colouring), and
wore it tied by a bit of string round my neck. It is unromantic to
have to confess that it fell at last into the washhand basin, and was
reduced to pulp.

I brought my farthing flat-iron home with me, and it was for long a
favourite plaything. I used to sprinkle corners of my pocket-handkerchief
with water, as I had seen Nurse Bundle "damp fine things" before ironing
them. But after all, "play" of this kind is dull work played alone. I was
very glad when Polly came.

It was a few weeks after our return that my father proposed to ask
Cousin Polly to pay us a visit. I think my aunt had said something in
a letter about her not being well, and the visit was supposed to be
for the benefit of her health.

She was not ill for long at Dacrefield. My "lessons" were of a very
slight description as yet, and we spent most of our time out of doors.
The fun of showing Polly about the farm and grounds was quite as
satisfactory as any that my dream of the flaxen-haired sister had
promised. I was quite prepared to yield to Cousin Polly in all things
as before; but she, no doubt in deference to my position as host, met
me halfway with unusual affability and graciousness. Country life
exactly suited her. I think she was profoundly happy exploring the
garden, making friends with the cows and horses, feeding the rabbits
and chickens, and "playing at haunted castles" in the barn.

Her vigour and daring when we climbed trees together were the objects
of my constant admiration. Tree-climbing was Polly's favourite
amusement, and the various fancies she "pretended" in connection with
it, did credit to her imaginative powers. Sometimes she "pretended" to
be Jack in the Beanstalk; sometimes she pretended to be at the
mast-head of a ship at sea; sometimes to be in an upper story of a
fairy-house; sometimes to be escaping from a bear; sometimes (with
recollections of London) to be the bear himself on a pole, or a monkey
in the Zoological Gardens; or to be on the top of the Monument or of
St. Paul's. Our most common game, however, was the time-honoured drama
of "houses." Each branch constituted a story, and we used to emulate
each other in our exploits of high climbing, with a formula that ran
thus:--

"Now I'm in the area" (the lowest branch). "Now I'm on the dining-room
floor" (the next), and so on, ending with, "And now I'm the very poor
person in the garret."

There were two trees which stood near each other, of about equal
difficulty.

We used each to climb one, and as we started together, the one who
first became the "very poor person in the garret" was held to be the
winner of the game.

We were not allowed to climb trees on Sunday, which was a severe
exercise of Polly's principles. One Sunday afternoon, however, much to
my amazement, she led me away down the shrubbery, saying,

"My dear Regie! I've found two trees which I'm sure we may climb on
Sundays." Much puzzled, I nevertheless yielded to her, being quite
accustomed to trust all her proceedings.

I was not enlightened by the appearance of the trees, which were very
much like others as to their ladder-like peculiarities. They were old
Portugal laurels which had been cut in a good deal at various times.
They looked very easy to climb, and did not seem to boast many
"stories." I did not see anything about them adapted for Sunday
amusement in particular.

But Polly soon explained herself.

"Look here, Regie," said she; "this tree has got three beautiful
branches, one for the clerk, one for the reading-desk, and one for the
pulpit. I'm going to get into the top one and preach you a sermon; and
you're to sit in that other tree--it makes a capital pew. I'm sure
it's quite a Sunday game," added Polly, mounting to the pulpit with
her accustomed energy.

I seated myself in the other tree; and Polly, after consuming some
time in "settling herself," appeared to be ready; but she still
hesitated, and finally burst out laughing.

"I beg your pardon," she added, rubbing her hands over her laughing
mouth, and composing herself. "Now I'm going to begin." But she still
giggled, which led me to say--

"Never mind the text, as you're laughing. Begin at once without."

"Very well," said Polly.

There was another break down, and then she seemed fairly grave.

"My dear brethren," she began.

"There's only one of us," I ventured to observe.

"Now, Regie, you mustn't speak. The congregation never speaks to the
clergyman when he's preaching."

"It's such a small congregation," I pleaded.

"Well, then, I won't preach at all, if you go on like that," said
Polly.

But, as I saw that she was getting cross, and as I had no intention of
offending her, I apologized, and begged her to proceed with her
sermon. So she began again accordingly--

"My dear brethren."

But here she paused; and after a few moments of expectation on my
part, and silence on Polly's, she said--

"Is your pew comfortable, Regie dear?"

"Very," said I. "How do you like the pulpit?"

"Very much indeed," said Polly; "but I don't think I can preach
without a cushion. Suppose we talk."

Thus the sermon was abandoned; and as Polly refused to let me try my
luck in the pulpit, she remained at a considerably higher level than I
was. At last I became impatient of this fact, and began to climb
higher.

[Illustration: Polly and Regie in the "Pulpit" and the "Pew".]

"Stop!" cried Polly; "you mustn't leave your pew."

"I'm going into the gallery," a happy thought enabled me to say.

Polly made no answer. She seemed to be meditating some step; and
presently I saw her scramble down to the ground in her own rapid
fashion.

"Regie dear, will you promise not to get into my pulpit till I come
back?" she begged.

I gave the promise; and, without answering my questions as to what she
was going to do, she sped off towards the house. In about five minutes
she returned with something held in the skirt of her frock, which
seemed greatly to incommode her in climbing. At last she reached the
pulpit, but she did not stay there. Up and on she went, much hindered
by her burden.

"Polly! Polly!" I cried. "You mustn't go higher than the pulpit. You
know it isn't fair. The pulpit is the top one, and you must stay
there. The clergyman never goes into the gallery."

"I'm not going into the gallery," she gasped; and on she went to the
topmost of the large branches. There she paused, and from her lap she
drew forth the dinner-bell.

"I'm in the belfry," she shouted in tones of triumph, "and I'm going
to ring the bell for service."

Which she accordingly did, with such a hearty goodwill that Nurse
Bundle and several others of the household came out to see what was
the matter. My father laughed loudly, but Mrs. Bundle was seriously
displeased.

"Master Reginald would never have thought of no such thing on a Sunday
afternoon but for you, Miss Polly," she said, with a partiality for
her "own boy" which offended my sense of justice.

"I climbed a tree too, Nurse," I said, emphatically.

"And it was only a Sunday kind of climbing," Polly pleaded. But Nurse
Bundle refused to see the force of Polly's idea; we were ignominiously
dismissed to the nursery, and thenceforward were obliged, as before,
to confine our tree-climbing exploits to the six working days of the
week.

And these Portugal laurels bore the names of the Pulpit and the Pew
ever afterwards.

       *       *       *       *       *

I showed my flat iron to Polly, and she was so much pleased with it
that I greatly regretted that I had only brought away this one from
Oakford. I should have given it to her, but for its connection with
the little white-beavered lady.

We both played with it; and at a suggestion of Polly's, we gave quite
a new character to our "wash" (or rather "ironing," for we omitted the
earlier processes of the laundry). We used to cut small models of
clothes out of white paper, and then iron them with the farthing iron.
How nobly that domestic implement did its duty till the luckless day
when Polly became uneasy because we did not "put it down to the fire
to get hot!"

"Nurse doesn't like us to play with fire," I conscientiously reminded
her.

"It's not playing with fire; it's only putting the iron on the hob,"
said Polly.

And to this unworthy evasion I yielded, and--my arm being longer than
Polly's--put the flat iron on the top bar of the nursery grate with my
own hand. Whilst the iron was heating we went back to our scissors and
paper.

"You cut out a few more white petticoats, Regie dear," said Polly,
"and I will make an iron-holder;" with which she calmly cut several
inches off the end of her sash, and began to fold it for the purpose.

Aunt Maria's nursery discipline was firm, but her own nature was
independent, almost to aggressiveness; and Polly inherited enough of
the latter to more than counteract the repression of the former. Thus
all Cousin Polly's proceedings were very direct, and, if necessary,
daring. When she cut her sash, I exclaimed--"My dear Polly!" just as
Uncle Ascott was wont at times to cry--"My dear Maria!"

"I'd nothing else to make it of," said Polly, calmly. "It's better
than cutting up my pocket-handkerchief, for it only shortens it a
little, and Mamma often cuts the ends a little when our sashes ravel.
How many petticoats have you done, dear?"

"Four," said I.

"Well, we've three skirts. Those long strips will do for Uncle
Reginald's neckties. You can cut that last sheet into two pieces, and
we'll pretend they're tablecloths. And then I think you'd better fetch
the iron. Here's the holder."

"Oh! Polly dear! It is such fun!" I cried; but as I drew near to the
fireplace the words died away on my lips. My flat iron was gone.

At first I thought it had fallen on to the hearth; but looking nearer
I saw a blob or button of lead upon the bar of the grate. There was no
resisting the conviction which forced itself upon me: my flat iron was
melted.

Polly was much distressed. Doubly so because she had been the cause of
the misfortune. As we were examining the shapeless lump of metal, she
said, "It's like a little lump of silver that Miss Blomfield has
hanging to her watch chain;" which determined me to have a hole made
through the remains of my flat iron, and do the same.

"Papa has promised me a watch next birthday," I added.

Polly and I were very happy and merry together; but her visit came to
an end at last. Aunt Maria came to fetch her. She had brought her down
when she came, but had only stayed one night. On this occasion she
stayed from Saturday to Monday. Aunt Maria never allowed any of the
girls to travel alone, and they were never allowed to visit without
her at any but relations' houses. One consequence of which was, that
when they grew up, and were large young women with large noses, they
were the most helpless creatures at a railway-station that I ever
beheld.

Whilst Aunt Maria was with us, she "spoke seriously," as it is called,
to my father about my education. I think she was shocked to discover
how thoroughly Polly and I had been "running wild" during Polly's
visit. Whether my father had given any rash assent to proposals for
our studying together, which Aunt Maria may have made at her last
visit, or not, I do not know. Anyway, my aunt seemed to be shocked,
and enlarged to my father on the waste of time involved in allowing me
to run wild so long. My father was apt to "take things easy," and I
fancy he made some vague promises as to my education, which satisfied
my aunt for the time. Polly and I parted with much grief on both
sides. Aunt Maria took her back to her lessons, and I was left to my
loneliness.

I felt Polly's loss very much, especially as my father happened to be
a good deal engaged just then, and Nurse Bundle busy superintending
some new arrangements in our nursery premises. I think she missed
Polly herself; we had not been so quiet for some weeks. We almost felt
it dull.

"Of course a country place _is_ very quiet," Mrs. Bundle said one
evening to the housekeeper, with whom we were having tea for a change.
"Anybody feels it that has ever lived in a town, where people is
always dropping in."

"What's 'dropping in,' Nurse?" I asked.

"Well, my dear, just calling in at anybody's house, and sitting down
in a friendly way, to exchange the weather and pass time like."

"That must be very nice," I said.

"Like as if we was in Oakford," Mrs. Bundle continued, "and I could
drop in, as it might be this afternoon, and take a seat in my sister's
and ask after their good healths."

"I wish we could," said I.

The idea fermented in my brain, as ideas were wont to do, in the large
share of solitary hours that fell to my lot. The result of it was the
following adventure.




CHAPTER XIV

RUBENS AND I "DROP IN" AT THE RECTORY--GARDENS AND GARDENERS--MY
FATHER COMES FOR ME


One fine morning, when my father was busy with the farm-bailiff, and
Mrs. Bundle was "sorting" some clothes, I took my best hat from the
wardrobe, deliberately, and with some difficulty put on a clean frill,
fastened my boots, and calling Rubens after me, set forth from the
hall unnoticed by any of the family.

Rubens jumped up at me in an inquiring fashion as we went along. He
could not imagine where we were going. I knew quite well. I was making
for the Rectory, the road to which I knew. I had often thought I
should like to go and see Mr. Andrewes, and Mrs. Bundle's remarks to
the housekeeper had suggested to me the idea of calling upon him. We
were near neighbours, though we did not live in a town. I resolved to
"drop in" at the Rectory.

It was a lovely morning, and Rubens and I quite enjoyed our walk. He
became so much excited that it was with difficulty that I withheld him
from chasing the ducks on the pond in Mr. Andrewes' farm-yard, as we
went through it. (The parson had a little farm attached to his
Rectory.) Then I with difficulty unlatched the heavy gate leading into
the drive, and fastened it again with the scrupulous care of a
country squire's son. The grounds were exquisitely kept. Mr. Andrewes
was a first-rate gardener and a fair farmer. That neatness, without
which the brightest flowers will not "show themselves" (as gardeners
say), did full justice to every luxuriant shrub, and set off the pale,
delicately-beautiful border of snowdrops and crocuses which edged the
road, and the clumps of daffodil, polyanthus, and primrose flowers
dotted hither and thither. I was not surprised to hear the chorus of
birds above my head, for it was one of the parson's "oddities" that he
would have no birds shot on his premises.

When I came into the flower-garden, there was more exquisite neatness,
and more bright spring flowers, thinly scattered in comparison with
summer blossoms, but shining brightly against the rich dark mould. And
on the turf were lying gardening-tools, and busy among the tools and
flower-beds were two men--the Rev. Reginald Andrewes and his gardener.
It took me several seconds to distinguish master from man. They were
both in straw hats and shirt sleeves, but I recognised the parson by
his trousers. His hat was the older of the two, and not by any means
"canonical." Having found him, I went up to the bed where he was busy,
and sat down on the grass near him, without speaking. (I was
accustomed to respect my father's "busy" moments, and yet to be with
him.) Rubens followed my example, and sat down in silence also. He had
smelt the parson before, and wagged his tail faintly as he saw him.
But he reserved his opinion of the gardener, and seemed rather
disposed to growl when he touched the wheelbarrow.

"Bless me!" said Mr. Andrewes, who was startled, as he well might be,
by my appearance. "Why, my dear boy, how are you?"

"Very well, thank you," said I, getting up and offering my hand; "I've
dropped in."

"Dear me!" said Mr. Andrewes; "I mean, I'm very glad to see you! Won't
you come in? You mustn't sit on the grass."

"What a pretty garden you have!" I said, as we walked slowly towards
the house. Mr. Andrewes turned round.

"Well, pretty well. It amuses me, you know," he said, with the mock
humility of a real horticulturist. And he looked round his garden with
an unmistakable glance of pride and affection. "Have you a garden,
Reginald?" he inquired.

"Yes," I said. "At least, I've two beds and a border. The beds are
shaped like an R and a D. But I haven't touched them since I was ill.
The gardener tidied them up when I was at Oakford, and I think he has
dug up all my plants. At least I couldn't find the Bachelor's Button,
nor the London Pride, nor the Pansies, and I saw the Lavender-bush on
the rubbish-heap."

"So they do--so they always do!" said the parson, excitedly. "The only
way is to keep in the garden with them, and let nothing go into the
wheelbarrow but what you see.--Jones! you may go to your dinner. I
watch Jones like a dragon, but he sweeps up a tap-root now and then,
all the same; and yet he's better than most of them. Some flowers are
especially apt to take leave of one's beds and borders," Mr. Andrewes
went on. He was talking to himself rather than to me by this time.
"Fraxinellas, double-grey primroses, ay, and the pink and white ones
too. And hepaticas, red, blue, and white."

"What are hepaticas like?" I asked.

"Let me show you," said Mr. Andrewes, crossing the garden. "Look here!
there are the pretty little things. I have seen them growing wild in
Canada--single ones, that is. The leaves are of a dull green, and when
they fade, the whole plant is hardly to be distinguished from Mother
Earth--at least, not by a gardener's eye. If you will promise me not
to let the gardener meddle with them, unless you are there to look
after him, I will give you plants for your beds and borders, my boy."

"Oh, thank you," I said; "I like gardening very much. I should like to
garden like you. I've got a spade, and a hoe, and a fork, and I had a
rake, but it's lost. But I know papa will give me another; and I can
tidy my own beds, so the gardener need not touch them; and if there
was a wheelbarrow small enough for me to wheel, I could take my weeds
away myself, you know."

And I chattered on about my garden, for, like other children, I was
apt to "take up" things very warmly, in imitation of other people; and
Mr. Andrewes had already fired my imagination with dreams of a little
garden in perfect order and beauty, and tended by my own hands alone;
and as I talked of my garden, the parson talked of his, and so we
wandered from border to border, finding each other very good company,
Rubens walking demurely at our heels. A great many of Mr. Andrewes'
remarks, though I am sure they were very instructive, were beyond my
power of understanding; but as he closed each lecture on the various
flowers by a promise of a root, a cutting, a sucker, a seedling, or a
bulb, as the case might be, I was an attentive and well-satisfied
listener. I much admired some daffodils, and Mr. Andrewes at once
began to pick a bunch of them for me.

"Isn't it a pity to pick them?" I said, politely.

"My dear Regie," said Mr. Andrewes, "if ever you see anybody with a
good garden of flowers who grudges picking them for his friends, you
may be quite sure he has not learnt half of what his flowers can teach
him. Flowers are generous enough. The more you take from them the more
they give. And yet I have seen people with beds glowing with
geraniums, and trees laden with roses, who grudged to pluck them, not
knowing that they would bloom all the better and more luxuriantly for
being culled."

"Do daffodils flower better when the flowers are picked off?" I asked,
having my full share of the childish propensity for asking awkward and
candid questions. Mr. Andrewes laughed.

"Well, no. I must confess they are not quite like geraniums in this
respect. And spring flowers are so few and so precious, one may be
excused for not quite cutting them like summer flowers. But it
wouldn't do only to be generous when it costs one nothing. Eh, Regie?"

I laughed and said "No," which was what I was expected to say, and
thanked the parson for the daffodils. He pulled out his watch.

"My dear boy, it's luncheon time. Will you come in and have something
to eat with me?"

I hesitated; Mrs. Bundle had not spoken of any meal in connection with
the ceremony of "dropping in," but, on the other hand, I should
certainly like to lunch at the Rectory, I thought. And, indeed, I was
hungry.

"Oh, you must come," said Mr. Andrewes, leading me away without
waiting for an answer. "I'm sure you must be hungry, and the dog too.
What's his name, eh?"

"Rubens," said I.

"Does he paint?" Mr. Andrewes inquired. But as I knew nothing of
Painter Peter Paul Rubens or his works, I was only puzzled, and said
he knew a good many tricks which I had taught him.

"We'll see if he can beg for chicken-bones," said the parson,
hospitably; and indoors we went. Mr. Andrewes said grace, though not
in the words to which I was accustomed, and we sat down together,
Rubens lying by my chair. I endeavoured to conduct myself with the
strictest propriety, and I believe succeeded, except for the trifling
mischance of spilling some bread-sauce on to my jacket. Mr. Andrewes
saw this, however, and wanted to fasten a table-napkin round me, to
which I objected.

"Too like a pinafore, eh?" said he, with a sly laugh.

"I don't think I ought to wear pinafores now," I said, in a grave and
injured tone. "Leo Damer doesn't, and he's not much older than I am.
But I think," I added, candidly, "he rather does as he likes, because
he's got nobody to look after him."

The parson laughed, and then gave a heavy sigh.

"I wish my mother could come back, and tie a pinafore round my neck!"
he exclaimed, abruptly. Then I believe he suddenly remembered that I
had lost my mother and was vexed with himself for his hasty speech. I
saw nothing inconsiderate in the remark, however, and only said,

"Is your mother dead?"

"Yes, my boy. Many years ago," said Mr. Andrewes.

"Did your father marry anybody else?" I inquired.

"My father died before my mother."

"Dear me," said I; "how very sad! Leo's father and mother died
together. They were drowned in his father's yacht." I was in the
middle of a history of my friend Leo, and of my visit to London, when
a bell pealed loudly through the house.

"Somebody's in a hurry," said Mr. Andrewes; "that's the front-door
bell."

In three minutes the dining-room door was opened, and the servant
announced "Mr. Dacre." It would be untrue to say that I did not feel a
little guilty when my father walked into the room. And yet I had not
really thought there was "any harm" in my expedition. I think I was
chiefly annoyed by the ignominious end of it. It was trying, after
"dropping in" and "taking luncheon" like a grown-up gentleman, to be
fetched home as a lost child.

"What could make you run away like this, Regie?" said my poor
bewildered parent. "Mrs. Bundle is nearly mad with fright. It was very
naughty of you. What were you thinking of?"

"I thought I would drop in," I explained. And in the pause resulting
from my father's astonishment at my absurd and old-fashioned
demeanour, I proceeded with Nurse Bundle's definition as well as I
could recollect it in my confusion, and speak it for impending tears.
"So I came, and Rubens came, and Mr. Andrewes was in the garden, and
we sat down, to change the weather, and pass time like, and Mr.
Andrewes was in the garden, and he gave me some flowers, and Mr.
Andrewes asked me in, and I came in, and he gave me some luncheon and
he asked Rubens to have some bones, and--"

"'Change the weather and pass time like,'" muttered my father.
"Servants' language! oh, dear!"

In my vexation with things in general, and with the strong feeling
within me that I was in the wrong, I seized upon the first grievance
that occurred to me as an excuse for fretfulness, and once more quoted
Nurse Bundle.

"It's so very quiet at home," I whimpered, with tears in my eyes,
which had really no sort of connection with the dulness of the Hall,
or with anything whatever but offended pride and vexation on my part.

Ah! How many a stab one gives in childhood to one's parents' tenderest
feelings! I did not mean to be ungrateful, and I had no measure of the
pain my father felt at this hint of the insufficiency of all he did
for my comfort and pleasure at home. Mr. Andrewes knew better, and
said, hastily,

"Just the love of novelty, Mr. Dacre. We have been children
ourselves."

My father sighed, and sitting down, drew me towards him with one hand,
stroking Rubens with the other, in acknowledgment of his greeting and
wagging tail. Then I saw that he was hurt. Indeed, I fancied tears
were in his eyes as he said,

"So poor Papa and home are too dull--too quiet, eh, Regie? And yet
Papa does all he can for his boy."

My fit of ill-temper was gone in a moment, and I flung my arms round
my father's neck--Rubens taking flying leaps to join in the embrace,
after a fashion common with dogs, and decidedly dangerous to eyes,
nose, and ears. And as I kissed my father, and was kissed by Rubens,
I gave a candid account of my expedition. "No, dear papa. It wasn't
that. Only Nurse said country places were quiet, and in towns people
dropped in, and passed time, and changed the weather, and if she was
in Oakford she would drop in and see her sister. And so I said it
would be very nice. And so I thought this morning that Rubens and I
would drop in and see Mr. Andrewes. And so we did; and we didn't tell
because we wanted to come alone, for fun."

With this explanation the fullest harmony was restored; and my father
sat down whilst Mr. Andrewes and I finished our luncheon and Rubens
had his. I gave an account of the garden in terms glowing enough to
satisfy the pride of the warmest horticulturist, and my father
promised a new rake, and drank a glass of sherry to the success of my
"gardening without a gardener."

But as we were going away I overheard him saying to Mr. Andrewes,

"All the same, a boy can't be with a nurse for ever. She has every
good quality, except good English. And he is not a baby now. One
forgets how time passes. I must see about a tutor."




CHAPTER XV

NURSE BUNDLE IS MAGNANIMOUS--MR. GRAY--AN EXPLANATION WITH MY FATHER


Naturally enough, I did my best to give Nurse Bundle a faithful
account of my attempt to realize her idea of "dropping in," with all
that came of it. My garden projects, the arrival of my father, and all
that he said and did on the occasion. From my childish and confused
account, I fancy that Nurse Bundle made out pretty correctly the state
of the case. Being a "grown-up person," she probably guessed, without
difficulty, the meaning of my father's concluding remarks. I think a
good, faithful, tender-hearted nurse, such as she was, must suffer
with some of a mother's feelings, when it is first decided that "her
boy" is beyond petticoat government. Nurse Bundle cried so bitterly
over this matter, that my most chivalrous feelings were roused, and I
vowed that "Papa shouldn't say things to vex my dear Nursey." But Mrs.
Bundle was very loyal.

"My dear," said she, wiping her eyes with her apron, "depend upon it,
whatever your papa settles on is right. He knows what's suitable for a
young gentleman; and it's only likely as a young gentleman born and
bred should outgrow to be beyond what an old woman like me can do for
him. Though there's no tutors nor none of them will ever love you
better than poor Nurse Bundle, my deary. And there's no one ever has
loved you better, my dear, nor ever will--always excepting your dear
mamma, dead and gone."

All this stirred my feelings to the uttermost, and I wept too, and
vowed unconquerable fidelity to Nurse Bundle, and (despite her
remonstrances) unconquerable aversion from the tutor that was to be. I
furthermore renewed my proposals of marriage to Mrs. Bundle,--the
wedding to take place "when I should be old enough."

This set her off into fits of laughing; and having regained her good
spirits, she declared that "she wouldn't have, no, not a young squire
himself, unless he were eddicated accordingly;" and this, it was
evident could only be brought about through the good offices of a
tutor. And to the prospective tutor (though he was to be her rival)
she was magnanimously favourable, whilst I, for my part, warmly
opposed the very thought of him. But neither her magnanimity nor my
unreasonable objections were put to the test just then.

Several days had passed since I and Rubens "dropped in" at the
Rectory, and I was one morning labouring diligently at my garden, when
I saw Mr. Andrewes, in his canonical coat and shoes, coming along the
drive, carrying something in his hand which puzzled me. As he came
nearer, however, I perceived that it was a small wheelbarrow, gaily
painted red within and green without. At a respectful distance behind
him walked Jones, carrying a garden-basket full of plants on his head.

Both the wheelbarrow and the plants were for me--a present from the
good-natured parson. He was helping me to plant the flower-roots, and
giving me a lecture on the sparing use of the wheelbarrow, when my
father joined us, and I heard him say to Mr. Andrewes, "I should like
a word with you, when you are at liberty."

I do not know what made me think that they were talking about me. I
did, however, and watched them anxiously, as they passed up and down
the drive in close consultation. At last I heard Mr. Andrewes say--

"The afternoon would suit me best; say an hour after luncheon."

This remark closed the conversation, and they came back to me. But I
had overheard another sentence from Mr. Andrewes' lips, which filled
me with disquiet,

"I know of one that will just suit you; a capital little fellow."

So the tutor was actually decided upon. "'A capital little fellow.'
That means a nasty fussy little man!" I cried to myself. "I hate him!"

For the rest of that day, and all the next, I worried myself with
thoughts of the new tutor. On the following morning, I was standing
near one of the lodges with my father, looking at some silver
pheasants, when Mr. Andrewes rode by, and called to my father.

Now, living as I did, chiefly with servants, and spending much more of
my leisure than was at all desirable between the stables and the
housekeeper's room, my sense of honour on certain subjects was not
quite so delicate as it ought to have been. With all their many
merits, uneducated people and servants have not--as a class--strict
ideas on absolute truthfulness and honourable trustworthiness in all
matters. A large part of the plans, hopes, fears, and quarrels of
uneducated people are founded on what has been overheard by folk who
were not intended to hear it, and on what has been told again by those
to whom a matter was told in confidence. Nothing is a surer mark of
good breeding and careful "upbringing" (as the Scotch call it) than
delicacy on those little points which are trusted to one's honour. But
refinement in such matters is easily blunted if one lives much with
people who think any little meanness fair that is not found out. I
really saw no harm in trying to overhear all that I could of the
conversation between my father and Mr. Andrewes, though I was aware,
from their manner, that I was not meant to hear it. I lingered near my
father, therefore, and pretended to be watching the pheasants, for a
certain instinct made me feel that I should not like my father to see
me listening. He was one of those highly, scrupulously honourable
gentlemen, before whose face it was impossible to do or say anything
unworthy or mean.

He spoke in low tones, so that I lost most of what he said; but the
parson's voice was a peculiarly clear one, and though he lowered it, I
heard a good deal.

"I saw him yesterday," was Mr. Andrewes' first remark.

("That's the tutor," thought I.)

My father's answer I lost; but I caught fragments of Mr. Andrewes'
next remarks, which were full of information on this important matter.

"Quite young, good-tempered--little boy so fond of him, nothing would
have induced them to part with him; but they were going abroad."

Which sounded well; but I suspected the parson of a good deal of
officious advice in a long sentence, of which I only caught the words,
"Can't begin too early."

I felt convinced, too, that I heard something about the "use of the
whip," which put me into a fever of indignation. Just as Mr. Andrewes
was riding off, my father asked some question, to which the reply
was--"Gray."

My head was so full of the tutor that I could not enjoy the stroll
with my father as usual, and was not sorry to get back to Nurse
Bundle, to whom I confided all that I had heard about my future
teacher.

"He's a nasty little man," said I, "not a nice tall gentleman like
Papa or Mr. Andrewes. And Mr. Andrewes saw him yesterday. And Mr.
Andrewes says he's young. And he says he's good-natured; but then what
makes him use whips? And his name is Mr. Gray. And he says the other
little boy was very fond of him, but I don't believe it," I continued,
breaking down at this point into tears, "and they've gone abroad
(sobs) and I wish--boohoo! boohoo--they'd taken _him_!"

With some trouble Nurse Bundle found out the meaning of my rather
obscure speech. Her wrath at the thought of a whip in connection with
her darling was quite as great as my own. But she persisted in taking
a hopeful view of Mr. Gray, and trusting loyally to my father's
judgment, and she succeeded in softening my grief for the time.

When I came down to dessert that evening I pretended to be quite happy
and comfortable, and to have nothing on my mind. But happily few
children are clever at pretending what is not true, and as I was
constantly thinking about "that dreadful tutor," and puzzling over the
scraps of conversation I had heard to see if anything more could be
made out of them, my father soon found out that something was amiss.

"What is the matter, Regie?" he asked.

"Nothing, Father," I replied, with a very poor imitation of
cheerfulness and no approach to truth.

"My dear boy," said my father, frowning slightly (a thing I always
dreaded), "do not say what is untrue, for any reason. If you do not
want to tell me what troubles you, say, 'I'd rather not tell you,
please,' like a man, and I will not persecute you about it. But don't
say there is nothing the matter when your little head is quite full of
something that bothers you very much. As I said, I will not press you,
but as I love you, and wish to help you in every way I can, I think
you had better tell me."

Now, though I had really not thought I was doing wrong in listening to
the conversation I was not meant to hear, a _something_ which one
calls conscience made me feel ashamed of the whole matter. I had a
feeling of being in the wrong, which is apt to make one vexed and
fretful, and it was this, quite as much as fear of my grave father,
which made the colour rush to my face, and the tears into my eyes.

"Come, Regie," he said, "out with it. Don't cry, whatever you do;
that's like a baby. Have you been doing something wrong? Tell me all
about it. Confession is half way to forgiveness. Don't be afraid of
me. For heaven's sake, don't be afraid of me!" added my father, with
impatient sadness, and the frown deepening so rapidly on his face that
my tears flowed in proportion.

(How sad are the helpless struggles of a widowed father with young
children, I could not then appreciate. How seldom successful is the
alternative of a second marriage, has become proverbial in excess of
the truth.)

My father was more patient than many men. He did not dismiss me and my
tears to the nursery in despair. With the insight and tenderness of a
mother he restrained himself, and unknitting his brows, held out both
his hands and said very kindly,

"Come and tell poor Papa all about it, my darling."

On which I jumped from my chair, and rushing up to him, threw my arms
about his neck and sobbed out, "Oh, Papa! Papa! I don't want him."

"Don't want _whom_, my boy?"

"M-m-m-m-r. Gray," I sobbed.

"And who on earth is Mr. Gray, Regie?" inquired my perplexed parent.

"The tutor--the new tutor," I explained.

"But _whose_ new tutor?" cried the distracted gentleman, whose
confusion seemed in no way lessened when I added,

"Mine, Papa; the one you're going to get for me." And as no gleam of
intelligence yet brightened his puzzled face, I added, doubtfully,
"You are going to get one, aren't you, Papa?"

"What put this idea into your head, Regie?" asked my father, after a
pause.

And then I had to explain, feeling very uncomfortable as I did so, how
I had overheard a few words at the Rectory, and a few words more at
the lodge, and how I had patched my hearsays together and made out
that a certain little man was coming to be my tutor, who had
previously been tutor somewhere else, and that his name was Gray. And
all this time my father did not help me out a bit by word or sign. By
the time I had got to the end of my story of what I had heard, and
what I had guessed, and what Nurse Bundle and I had made out, I did
not need any one to tell me that to listen to what one is not intended
to hear is a thing to be ashamed of. My cheeks and ears were very red,
and I felt very small indeed.

"Now, Regie," said my father, "I won't say what I think about your
listening to Mr. Andrewes and me, in order to find out what I did not
choose to tell you. You shall tell me what you think, my boy. Do you
think it is a nice thing, a gentlemanly thing, upright, and honest,
and worthy of Papa's only son, to sneak about listening to what you
were not meant to hear. Now don't begin to cry, Reginald," he added,
rather sharply; "you have nothing to cry for, and it's either silly or
ill-tempered to whimper because I show you that you've done wrong.
Anybody may do wrong; and if you think that you have, why say you're
sorry, like a man, and don't do so any more."

I made a strong effort to restrain my tears of shame and vexation, and
said very heartily--

"I'm very sorry, Papa. I didn't think of it's being wrong."

"I quite believe that, my boy. But you see that it's not right now,
don't you?"

"Oh yes!" I exclaimed, "and I won't listen any more, father." We made
it up lovingly, Rubens flying frantically at our heads to join in the
kisses and reconciliation. He had been anxiously watching us, being
well aware that something was amiss.

"I don't mean to tell you what Mr. Andrewes and I _were_ talking
about," said my father, "because I did not wish you to hear. But I
will tell you that you made a very bad guess at the secret. We were
not talking of a tutor, or dreaming of one, and you have vexed
yourself for nothing. However, I think it serves you right for
listening. But we won't talk of that any more."

I do not think Nurse Bundle was disposed to blame me as much as I now
blamed myself; but she was invariably loyal to my father's decisions,
and never magnified her own indulgence in the nursery by pitying me if
I got into scrapes in the drawing-room.

"My dear," said she, "your Pa's a gentleman, every inch of him. You
listen to him, and try and do as he does, and you'll grow up just such
another, and be a pride and blessing to all about you."

But we both rejoiced that at any rate our fears were unfounded in
reference to the much-dreaded Mr. Gray.




CHAPTER XVI

THE REAL MR. GRAY--NURSE BUNDLE REGARDS HIM WITH DISFAVOUR


My feelings may therefore be "better imagined than described" when, at
about ten o'clock the following morning, my father called me
downstairs, and said, with an odd expression on his face,

"Regie, Mr. Gray has come."

Not for one instant did I in my mind accuse my father of deceiving me.
My faith in him was as implicit as he well deserved that it should be.
Black might be white, two and two might make five, impossible things
might be possible, but my father could not be in the wrong. It was
evident that I must have misunderstood him last night. I looked very
crestfallen indeed.

My father, however, seemed particularly cheerful, even inclined to
laugh, I thought. He took my hand and we went to the front door, my
heart beating wildly, for I was a delicate unrobust lad yet, far too
easily upset and excited. More like a girl, in fact, if the comparison
be not an insult to such sturdy maids as Cousin Polly.

Outside we found a man-servant on a bay horse, holding a little white
pony, on which, I supposed, the little tutor had been riding. But he
himself was not to be seen. I tried hard to be manly and calm, and
being much struck by the appearance of the pony, who, when I came down
the steps, had turned towards me the gentlest and most intelligent of
faces, with a splendid long curly white forelock streaming down
between his kind dark eyes, I asked--

"Is that Mr. Gray's pony, father?"

"What do you think of it?" said my father.

"Oh, it's a little dear," was my emphatic answer, and as the pony
unmistakably turned his head to me, I met his friendly advances by
going up to him, and in another moment my arms were round his neck,
and he was rubbing his soft, strong nose against my shoulder, and we
were kissing and fondling each other in happy forgetfulness of
everything but our sudden friendship, whilst the man-servant
(apparently an Irishman) was firing off ejaculations like crackers on
the fifth of November.

"Sure, now, did ever anyone see the like--just to look at the
baste--sure he knows it's the young squire himself entirely. Och, but
the young gintleman's as well acquainted with horses as myself--sure
he'd make friends with a unicorn, if there was such an animal; and
it's the unicorn that would be proud to let him, too!"

"It has been used to boys, I think?" said my father.

"Ye may say that, yer honour. It likes boys better than man, woman, or
child, and it's not every baste ye can say that for."

"A good many beasts have reason to think very differently, I fear,"
said my father.

"And _that's_ as true a word as your honour ever spoke," assented the
groom.

Meanwhile a possible ground of consolation was beginning to suggest
itself to my mind.

"Will Mr. Gray keep his pony here?" I asked,

"The pony will live here," said my father.

"Oh, do you think," I asked, "do you think, that if I am very good,
and do my lessons well, Mr. Gray will sometimes let me ride him? He
_is_ such a darling!" By which I meant the pony, and not Mr. Gray. My
father laughed, and put his hand on my shoulders.

"I have only been teasing you, Regie," he said. "You know I told you
there was no tutor in the case. Mr. Andrewes and I were talking about
this pony, and when Mr. Andrewes said _grey_, he spoke of the colour
of the pony, and not of anybody's name."

"Then is the pony yours?" I asked.

My father looked at my eager face with a pleased smile.

"No, my boy," he said, "he is yours."

The wild delight with which I received this announcement, the way I
jumped and danced, and that Rubens jumped and danced with me, my
gratitude and my father's satisfaction, the renewed amenities between
myself and my pony, his obvious knowledge of the fact that I was his
master, and the running commentary of the Irishman, I will not attempt
to describe.

The purchase of this pony was indeed one of my father's many kind
thoughts for my welfare and amusement. My odd pilgrimage to the
Rectory in search of change and society, and the pettish complaints of
dulness and monotony at home which I had urged to account for my freak
of "dropping in," had seemed to him not without a certain serious
foundation. Except for walks about the farm with him, and stolen
snatches of intercourse with the grooms, and dogs, and horses in the
stables (which both he and Nurse Bundle discouraged), I had little or
no amusement proper to a boy of my age. I was very well content to sit
with Rubens at Mrs. Bundle's apron-string, but now and then I was, to
use an expressive word, _moped_. My father had taken counsel with Mr.
Andrewes, and the end of it all was that I found myself the master of
the most charming of ponies, with the exciting prospect before me of
learning to ride. The very thought of it invigorated me. Before the
Irish groom went away I had asked if my new steed "could jump." I
questioned my father's men as to the earliest age at which young
gentlemen had ever been allowed to go out hunting, within their
knowledge. I went to bed to dream of rides as wild as Mazeppa's, of
hairbreadth escapes, and of feats of horsemanship that would have
amazed Mr. Astley. And hopes and schemes so wild that I dared not
bring them to the test of my father's ridicule, I poured with pride
into Nurse Bundle's sympathetic ear.

Dear, good, kind Nurse Bundle! She was indeed a mother to me, and a
mother's anxieties and disappointments were her portion. The effect of
her watchful constant care of my early years for me, was whatever good
there was about me in health or manners. The effect of it for her was,
I believe, that she was never thoroughly happy when I was out of her
sight. In these circumstances, it seemed hard that when most of my
infantile diseases were over, when I was just becoming very
intelligent (the best company possible, Mrs. Bundle declared), when I
wore my clothes out reasonably, and had exchanged the cries which
exercise one's lungs in infancy for rational conversation by the
nursery fireside, I should be drawn away from nurse and nursery almost
entirely. It was right and natural, but it was hard. Nurse Bundle felt
it so, but she never complained. When she felt it most, she only said,
"It's all just as it should be." And so it was. Boys and ducklings
must wander off some time, be mothers and hens never so kind! The
world is wide, and duck-ponds are deep. The young ones must go alone,
and those who tremble most for their safety cannot follow to take care
of them.

I really shrink from realizing to myself what Nurse Bundle must have
suffered whilst I was learning to ride. The novel exercise, the
stimulus of risk, that "put new life into me," were to her so many
daily grounds for the sad probability of my death.

"Every blessed afternoon do I look to see him brought home on a
shutter, with his precious neck broken, poor lamb!" she exclaimed one
afternoon, overpowered by the sight of me climbing on to the pony's
back, which performance I had brought her downstairs to witness, and
endeavoured to render more entertaining and creditable by secretly
stimulating the pony to restlessness, and then hopping after him with
one foot in the stirrup, in what I fancied to be a very knowing
manner.

"Why, my dear Mrs. Bundle," said my father, smiling, "you kill him at
least three hundred and sixty-four times oftener in the course of the
year than you need. If he does break his neck, he can only do it once,
and you bewail his loss every day."

"Now, Heaven bless the young gentleman, sir, and meaning no
disrespect, but don't ye go for to tempt Providence by joking about
it, and him perhaps brought a hopeless corpse to the side door this
very evening," said Mrs. Bundle, her red cheeks absolutely blanched by
the vision she had conjured up. Why, I cannot say, but she had fully
made up her mind that when I was brought home dead, as she believed
that, sooner or later, I was pretty sure to be, I should be brought to
the side-door. Now "the side-door," as it was called, was a little
door leading into the garden, and less used, perhaps, than any other
door in the house. Mrs. Bundle, I believe, had decided that in that
tragedy which she was constantly rehearsing, the men who should find
my body would avoid the front-door, to spare my father the sudden
shock of meeting my corpse. The side-door, too, was just below the
nursery windows. Mrs. Bundle herself, would, probably, be the first to
hear any knocking at it, and she naturally pictured herself as taking
a prominent part in the terrible scene she so often fancied. It was
perhaps a good thing, on the whole, that she chose this door in
preference to those in constant use, otherwise every ring or knock at
the front or back door must have added greatly to her anxieties.

I fear I did not do much to relieve them. I rather aggravated them.
Partly I believe in the conceit of showing off my own skill and
daring, and partly by way of "hardening" Mrs. Bundle's nerves. When
more knowledge, or longer custom, or stronger health or nerves, have
placed us beyond certain terrors which afflict other people, we are
apt to fancy that, by insisting upon their submitting to what we do
not mind, our nervous friends can or ought to be forced into the
unconcern which we feel ourselves; which is, perhaps, a little too
like dosing the patient with what happens to agree with the doctor.

Thus I fondled my pony's head and dawdled ostentatiously at his heels
when Nurse Bundle was most full of fears of his biting or kicking. But
I feel sure that this, and the tricks I played to show the firmness of
my "seat," only made it seem to her the more certain that, from my
recklessness, I must some day be bitten, kicked, or thrown.

I had several falls, and one or two narrow escapes from more serious
accidents, which, for the moment, made my father as white as Mrs.
Bundle. But he was wise enough to know that the present risks I ran
from fearlessness were nothing to the future risks against which
complete confidence on horseback would ensure me. And so with the
ordinary mishaps, and with days and hours of unspeakable and healthy
happiness, I learnt to ride well and to know horses. And poor Mrs.
Bundle, sitting safely at home in her rocking-chair, endured all the
fears from which I was free.

"Now look, my deary," said she one day; "don't you go turning your
sweet face round to look up at the nursery windows when you're a
riding off. I can see your curls, bless them! and that's enough for
me. Keep yourself still, love, and look where you're a going, for in
all reason you've plenty to do with that. And don't you go a waving
your precious hand, for it gives me such a turn to think you've let
go, and have only got one hand to hold on with, and just turning the
corner too, and the pony a shaking its tail, and shifting about with
its back legs, till how you don't slip off on one side passes me
altogether."

"Why, you don't think I hold on by my hands, do you?" I cried.

"And what should you hold on with?" said Mrs. Bundle. "Many's the
light cart I've rode in, but never let go my hold, unless with one
hand, to save a bag or a bandbox. And though it's jolting, I'm sure a
light cart's nothing to pony-back for starts and unexpectedness."

I tried in vain to make Nurse Bundle like my pony.

"I've seen plenty of ponies!" she said, severely; by which she meant
not that she had seen many, but that what she had seen of them had
been more than enough. "My brother-in-law's first cousin had one--a
little red-haired beast--as vicious as any wild cat. It won a many
races, but it was the death of him at last, according to the
expectations of everybody. He was brought home on a shutter to his
family, and the pony grazing close by in the ditch as if nothing had
happened. Many's the time I've seen him on it expecting death as
little as yourself, and he refused twenty pound for it the Tuesday
fortnight before he was killed. But I was with his wife that's now his
widow when the body was brought."

By the time that I heard this anecdote I was happily too good a rider
to be frightened by it; but I did wish that Mrs. Bundle's relative had
died any other death than that which formed so melancholy a precedent
in her mind.

The strongest obstacle, however, to any chance of my nurse's looking
with favour on my new pet was her profound ignorance of horses and
ponies in general. Except as to colour or length of tail, she
recognized no difference between one and another. As to any
distinctions between "play" and "vice," a fidgety animal and a
determined kicker, a friendly nose-rub and a malicious resolve to
bite, they were not discernible by Mrs. Bundle's unaccustomed eyes.

"I've seen plenty of ponies," she would repeat; "I know what they are,
my dear," and she invariably followed up this statement by rehearsing
the fate of her brother-in-law's cousin, sometimes adding--

"He was very much giving to racing, and being about horses. He was a
little man, and suffered a deal from the quinsies in the autumn."

"What a pity he didn't die of a quinsy instead of breaking his neck!"
I felt compelled to say one day.

"He might have lived to have done that if it hadn't a been for the
pony," said Mrs. Bundle emphatically.




CHAPTER XVII

I FAIL TO TEACH LATIN TO MRS. BUNDLE--THE RECTOR TEACHES ME


I was soon to discover the whole of my father's plans with Mr.
Andrewes for my benefit. Not only had they decided that I was to have
a pony, and learn to ride, but it was also settled that I was to go
daily to the Rectory to "do lessons" with the Rector.

I was greatly pleased. I had already begun Latin with my father, and
had vainly endeavoured to share my educational advantages with Mrs.
Bundle, by teaching her the first declension.

"Musa, amuse," she repeated after me on this occasion.

"Musae, of a muse," I continued.

"_Of amuse!_ There's no sense in that, my dearie," said Mrs. Bundle;
and as my ideas were not very well defined on the subject of the
muses, and as Mrs. Bundle's were even less so as to genders, numbers,
and cases, I reluctantly gave in to her decision that "Latin was very
well for young gentlemen, but good plain English was best suited to
the likes of her."

She was greatly delighted, however, with a Latin valentine which I
prepared for her on the ensuing 14th of February, and caused to be
delivered by the housemaid, in an envelope with an old stamp, and
postmarks made with a pen and a penny. The design was very simple; a
heart traced in outline from a peppermint lozenge of that shape, which
came to me in an ounce of "mixed sweets" from the village shop. The
said heart was painted red and below it I wrote in my largest and
clearest handwriting, _Mrs. B. Amo te_. When the Latin was translated
for her, her gratification was great. At first she was put out by
there being only two Latin words to three English ones, but she got
over the difficulty at last by always reading it thus:--

    "A mo te,
    I love thee."

My Latin had not advanced much beyond this stage when I began to go to
Mr. Andrewes every day.

Thenceforward I progressed rapidly in my learning. Mr. Andrewes was a
good scholar, and (quite another matter) a good teacher; and I fancy
that I was not wanting in quickness or in willingness to work. But
Latin, and arithmetic, and geography, and the marvellous improvement
he soon made in my handwriting, were small parts indeed of all that I
owe to that good friend of my childhood. I suppose that--other things
being equal--children learn most from those who love them best, and I
soon found out that I was the object of a strangely strong affection
in my new teacher. The chief cause of this I did not then know, and
only learnt when death had put an end, for this life, to our happy
intercourse. But I had a child's complacent appreciation of the fact
that I was a favourite, and on the strength of it I haunted the
Rectory at all hours, confident of a welcome. I turned over the
Rector's books, and culled his flowers, and joined his rides, and made
him tell me stories, and tyrannized over him as over a docile
playfellow in a fashion that astonished many grown-up people who were
awed and repelled by his reserve and eccentricities, and who never
knew his character as I knew it till he could be known no more. But I
fancy that there are not a few worthy men who, shy and reserved, are
only intimately known by the children whom they love.

I may say that not only did I owe much more than mere learning to Mr.
Andrewes, but that my regular lessons were a small part even of his
teaching.

"It always seems to me," he said one day, when my father and I were
together at the Rectory, "that there are two kinds of learning more
neglected than they should be in the education of the young. Religious
knowledge, which, after all, concerns the worthiest part of every man,
and the longest share of his existence (to say nothing of what it has
to do with matters now); and the knowledge of what we call Nature, and
of all the laws which concern our bodies, and rule the conditions of
life in this world. It's a hobby of mine, Mr. Dacre, and I'm afraid I
ride my hobbies rather like a witch on a broomstick. But a man must
deal according to his lights and his conscience; and if I am intrusted
with the lad's education for a while, it will be my duty and pleasure
to instruct him in religious lore and natural science, so far as his
age allows. To teach him to know his Bible (and I wish all who have
the leisure were taught to read the Scriptures in the original
tongues). To teach him to know his Prayer-book, and its history.
Something, too, of the history of his Church, and of the faith in
which better men than us have been proud to live, and for which some
have even dared to die."

When the Rector became warm in conversation, his voice betrayed a
rougher accent than we commonly heard, and the more excited he became
the broader was his speech. It had got very broad at this point, when
my father broke in. "I trust him entirely to you, sir," he said; "but,
pardon me, I confess I am not fond of religious prodigies--children
who quote texts and teach their elders their duty; and Reginald has
quite sufficient tendency towards over-excitement of brain on all
subjects."

"I quite agree with you," said Mr. Andrewes. "I think you may trust
me. I know well that childhood, like all states and times of
ignorance, is so liable to conceit and egotism, that to foster
religious self-importance is only too easy, and modesty and moderation
are more slowly taught. But if youth is a time when one is specially
apt to be self-conceited, surely, Mr. Dacre, it is also the first, the
easiest, the purest, and the most zealous in which to learn what is so
seldom learned in good time."

"I dare say you are right," said my father.

"People talk with horror of attacks on the faith as sadly
characteristic of our age," said the Rector, walking up and down the
study, and seemingly forgetful of my presence, if not of my father's,
"(which, by-the-bye, is said of every age in turn), but I fear the
real evil is that so few have any fixed faith to be attacked. It is
the old, old story. From within, not from without. The armour that was
early put on, that has grown with our growth, that has been a strength
in time of trial, and a support in sorrow, and has given grace to
joy, will not quickly be discarded because the journals say it is
old-fashioned and worn-out. Life is too short for every man to prove
his faith theoretically, but it is given to all to prove its practical
value by experience, and that method of proof cannot be begun too
soon."

"Very true," said my father.

"I don't know why a man's religious belief (which is of course the
ground of his religious life) should be supposed to come to him
without the trouble of learning, any more than any other body of
truths and principles on which people act," Mr. Andrewes went on. "And
yet what religious instruction do young people of the educated classes
receive as a rule?--especially the boys, for girls get hold of books,
and pick up a faith somehow, though often only enough to make them
miserable and 'unsettled,' and no more. I often wonder," he added,
sitting down at the table with a laugh, "whether the mass of educated
men know less of what concerns the welfare of their souls, and all
therewith connected, or the mass of educated women of what concerns
their bodies, and all _therewith_ connected. I feel sure that both
ignorances produce untold and dire evil!"

"So theology and natural science are to be Regie's first lessons?"
said my father, drawing me to him.

"I've been talking on stilts, I know," said Mr. Andrewes, smiling.
"We'll use simpler terms,--duty to GOD, and duty to Man. One can't do
either without learning how, Mr. Dacre."

I repeat this conversation as I have heard it from my father, since I
grew up and could understand it. Mr. Andrewes' educational theories
were duly put in practice for my benefit. In his efforts for my
religious education, Nurse Bundle proved an unexpected ally. When I
repeated to her some solemn truth which in his reverent and simple
manner he had explained to me; some tale he had told me of some good
man, whose example was to be followed; some bit of quaint practical
advice he had given me, or perhaps some hymn I had learned by his
side, the delight of the good old soul knew no bounds. She said it was
as good as a sermon; and as she was particularly fond of sermons, this
was a compliment. She used to beg me carefully to remember anything of
the kind that I heard, and when I repeated it, she had generally her
own word of advice to add, and wonderful tales with which to point the
moral,--tales of happy and unhappy deathbeds, of warnings, judgments,
and answers to prayer. Tales, too, of the charities of the poor, the
happiness of the afflicted, and the triumphs of the deeply tempted,
such as it is good for the wealthy, and healthy, and well-cared-for,
to listen to. Nurse Bundle's religious faith had a tinge of
superstition; that of Mr. Andrewes was more enlightened. But with both
it was a matter of every-day life, from which no hope or fear, no
sorrow or joy, no plan, no word or deed, could be separated.

And however imperfectly, so it became with me. Like most children, I
had my own rather vivid idea of the day of judgment. The thought of
death was familiar to me. (It is seldom, I think, a painful one in
childhood.) I fully realized the couplet which concluded a certain
quaint old rhyme in honour of the four Evangelists which Nurse Bundle
had taught me to repeat in bed--

    "If I die before I wake,
    I pray the Lord my soul to take."

I used to recite a similar one when I was dressed in the morning--

    "If my soul depart to-day,
    A place in Paradise I pray."

When I had had a particularly pleasant ride, or enjoyed myself much
during the day, I thanked GOD specially in my evening prayers. I
remember that whatever I wished for I prayed for, in the complete
belief that this was the readiest way to obtain it. And it would be
untruth to my childish experience not to add that I never remember to
have prayed in vain. I also picked up certain little quaint
superstitions from Nurse Bundle, some of which cling to me still.
Neither she nor I ever put anything on the top of a Bible, and we
sometimes sat long in comical and uncomfortable silence because
neither of us would "scare the angel that was passing over the house."
When the first notes of the organ stirred the swallows in the church
eaves to chirp aloud, I believed with Mrs. Bundle that they were
joining in the Te Deum. And when sunshine fell on me through the
church windows during service, I regarded it as "a blessing."

The other half of Mr. Andrewes' plan was not neglected. From him I
learnt (and it is lore to be thankful for) to use my eyes. He was a
good botanist, and his knowledge of the medicinal uses of wild herbs
ranked next to his piety to raise him in Mrs. Bundle's esteem. When
"lessons" were over, we often rode out together. As we rode through
the lanes, he taught me to distinguish the notes of the birds, to
observe what crops grow on certain soils, and at what seasons the
different plants flower and bear fruit. He made me see with my own
eyes, and hear with my own ears, for which I shall ever be grateful
to him. I fancy I can hear his voice now, saying in his curt cutting
fashion--

"How silly it sounds to hear anybody with a head on his shoulders say,
'I never noticed it!' What are eyes for?"

If I admired some creeper-covered cottage, picturesquely old and
tumble-down, he would ask me how many rooms I thought it contained--if
I fancied the roof would keep out rain or snow, and how far I supposed
it was convenient and comfortable for a man and his wife and six
children to live in. In some very practical problems which he once set
me, I had to suppose myself a labourer, with nine shillings a week,
and having found out what sum that would come to in half a year, to
write on my slate how I would spend the money, to the best advantage,
in clothing and feeding two grown-up people and seven children of
various ages. As I knew nothing of the cost of the necessaries of
life, I went, by Mr. Andrewes' advice, to Nurse Bundle for help.

"What do beef and mutton cost?" was my first question, as I sat with
an important air at the nursery table, slate in hand.

"Now bless the dear boy's innocence?" cried Mrs. Bundle. "You may
leave the beef and mutton, love. It's not much meat a family gets
that's reared on nine shillings a week."

After a series of calculations for oatmeal-porridge, onion-potage, and
other modest dainties, during which Mrs. Bundle constantly fell back
on the "bits of things in the garden," I said decidedly--

"They can't have any clothes, so it's no good thinking about it."

"Children can't be let go bare-backed," said Mrs. Bundle, with equal
decision. "She must take in washing. For in all reason, boots can't be
expected to come out of nine shillings a week, and as many mouths to
feed."

"She must take in washing, sir," I announced with a resigned air, and
the old-fashioned gravity peculiar to me, when I returned to the
Rectory next day. "Boots can't come out of nine shillings a week."

The Rector smiled.

"And suppose one of the boys catches a fever, as you did; and they
can't have other people's clothes to the house, because of the
infection. And then there will be the doctor's bill to pay--what
then?"

By this time I had so thoroughly realized the position of the needy
family, that I had forgotten it was not a real case, or rather, that
no special one was meant. And I begged, with tears in my eyes, that I
might apply the contents of my alms-box to paying the doctor's bill.

Many a lesson like this, with oft-repeated practical remarks about
healthy situations, proper drainage, roomy cottages, and the like, was
engraven by constant repetition on my mind, and bore fruit in after
years, when the welfare of many labourers and their families was in my
hands.

It is difficult to convey an idea of the learning I gained from my
good friend, and yet to show how free he was from priggishness, or
from always playing the schoolmaster. He was simply the most charming
of companions, who tried to raise me to his level, and interest me in
what he knew and thought himself, instead of coming down to me, and
talking the patronizing nonsense which is so often supposed to be
acceptable to children.

Across all the years that have parted us in this life I fancy at times
that I see his grey eyes twinkling under their thick brows once more,
and hear his voice, with its slightly rough accent, saying--

"_Think_, my dear lad, _think_! Pray learn to think!"




CHAPTER XVIII

THE ASTHMATIC OLD GENTLEMAN AND HIS RIDDLES--I PLAY TRUANT AGAIN--IN
THE BIG GARDEN


It was perhaps partly because, like most only children, I was
accustomed to be with grown-up people, that I liked the way in which
Mr. Andrewes treated me, and resented the very different style of
another friend of my father, who always bantered me in a playful,
nonsensical fashion, which he deemed suitable to my years.

The friend in question was an old gentleman, and a very benevolent
one. I think he was fond of children, and I am sure he was kind.

He never came without giving me half-a-guinea before he left,
generally slipping it down the back of my neck, or hiding it under my
plate at dinner, or burying it in an orange. He had a whole store of
funny tricks, which would have amused and pleased me if I might have
enjoyed them in peace. But he never ceased teasing me, and playing
practical jokes on me. And the worst of it was, he teased Rubens also.

Mr. Andrewes often afterwards told of the day when I walked into the
Rectory--my indignant air, he vowed, faithfully copied by the dog at
my heels, and without preface began:

"I know I ought to forgive them that trespass against us, but I
can't. He put cayenne pepper on to Rubens' nose."

In justice to ourselves, I must say that neither Rubens nor I bore
malice on this point, but it added to the anxiety which I always felt
to get out of the old gentleman's way.

By him I was put through those riddles which puzzle all childish
brains in turn: "If a herring and a half cost threehalfpence," etc.
And if I successfully accomplished this calculation, I was tripped up
by the unfair problem, "If your grate is of such and such dimensions,
what will the coals come to?" I can hear his voice now (hoarse from a
combination of asthma and snuff-taking) as he poked me jocosely but
unmercifully "under the fifth rib," as he called it, crying--

"_Ashes_! my little man. D'ye see? _Ashes_! _Ashes_!"

After which he took more snuff, and nearly choked himself with
laughing at my chagrin.

Greatly was Nurse Bundle puzzled that night, when I stood, ready for
bed, fumbling with both hands under my nightshirt, and an expression
of face becoming a surgeon conducting a capital operation.

"Bless the dear boy!" she cried. "What are you doing to yourself, my
dear?"

"How does he _know_ which is the fifth rib?" I almost howled in my
vexation. "I don't believe it _was_ the fifth rib! I wish I _hadn't_ a
fifth rib! I wish I might hurt _his_ fifth rib!"

I think the old gentleman would have choked with laughter if he could
have seen and heard me.

One day, to my father's horror, I candidly remarked,

"It always makes me think of the first of April, sir, when you're
here."

I did not mean to be rude. It was simply true that the succession of
"sells" and practical jokes of which Rubens and I were the victims
during his visits did recall the tricks supposed to be sacred to the
Festival of All Fools.

To do the old gentleman justice, he heartily enjoyed the joke at his
own expense; laughed and took snuff in extra proportions, and gave me
a whole guinea instead of half a one, saying that I should go to live
with him in Fools' Paradise, where little pigs ran about ready roasted
with knives and forks in their backs; adding more banter and nonsense
of the same kind, to the utter bewilderment of my brain.

He was the occasion of my playing truant to the Rectory a second time.
Once, when he was expected, I took my nightshirt from my pillow, and
followed by Rubens, presented myself before the Rector as he sat at
breakfast, saying, "Mr. Carpenter is coming, and we can't endure it.
We really can't endure it. And please, sir, can you give us a bed for
the night? And I'm very sorry it isn't a clean one, but Nurse keeps
the nightgowns on the top shelf, and I didn't want her to know we were
coming."

Mr. Andrewes kept me with him for some hours, but he persuaded me to
return and meet the old gentleman, saying that it was only due to his
real kindness to bear with his little jokes; and that I ought to try
and learn to make allowances, and "put up with" things that were not
quite to my mind. So I went back, and partly because of my efforts to
be less easily annoyed, and partly because I was older than at his
latest visit, and knew all the riddles, and could see through his
jokes more quickly, I got on very well with him.

Very glad I was afterwards that I had gone back and spent a friendly
evening with the kind old man; for the following spring his asthma
became worse and worse, and he died. That visit was his last to us. He
teased me and Rubens no more. But when I heard of his death, I felt
what I said, that I was very sorry. He had been very kind and his
pokes and jokes were trifles to look back upon.

Mr. Andrewes kept up his interest in my garden. Indeed, I soon got
beyond the childish way of gardening; I ceased to use my watering-pot
recklessly, and to take up my plants to see how they were getting on.
I was promoted from my little beds to some share in the large
flower-garden. My father was very fond of his flowers, and greatly
pleased to find me useful.

Some of the happiest hours I ever spent were those in which I worked
with him in "the big garden;" Rubens lying in the sun, keeping
imaginary guard over my father's coat. We had a friendly rivalry with
the Rectory, in which I felt the highest interest. Sometimes, however,
I helped Mr. Andrewes himself, when he rewarded me with plants and
good advice. The latter often in quaint rhymes, such as

    "This rule in gardening never forget,
    To sow dry, and to set wet."

But after a time, and to my deep regret, Mr. Andrewes gave up the care
of my education. He said his duties in the parish did not allow of his
giving much time to me; and though my father had no special wish to
press my studies, and was more anxious for the benefit of the
Rector's influence, Mr. Andrewes at last persuaded him that he ought
to get a resident tutor and prepare me for a public school.

By this time I had almost forgotten my foolish prejudice against the
imaginary Mr. Gray, and was only sorry that I could no longer do
lessons with the Rector.

I suppose it was in answer to some inquiries that he made that my
father heard of a gentleman who wanted such a situation as ours. He
heard of him from Leo Damer's guardian, and the gentleman proved to be
the very tutor whom I had seen from the nursery windows of Aunt
Maria's house. He had remained with Leo ever since, but as Leo's
guardian had now sent him to school, the tutor was at liberty.

In these circumstances, I felt that he was not quite a stranger, and
was prepared to receive him favourably.

Indeed, when his arrival was close at hand, Nurse Bundle and I took an
hospitable pleasure in looking over the arrangements of his room, and
planning little details for his comfort.

He came at last, and my father was able to announce to Aunt Maria (who
had never approved of what she called "Mr. Andrewes' desultory style
of teaching") that my education was now placed in the hands of a
resident tutor.




CHAPTER XIX

THE TUTOR--THE PARISH--A NEW CONTRIBUTOR TO THE ALMS-BOX


Mr. Clerke was a small, slight, fair man. He was short-sighted, which
caused him to carry a round piece of glass about the size of a penny
in his waistcoat pocket, and from time to time to stick this into his
eye, where he held it in a very ingenious, but, as it seemed to me,
dangerous fashion.

It took me quite a fortnight to get used to that eye-glass. It was
like a policeman's bull's-eye lantern. I never knew when it might be
turned on me. Then the glass had no rim, the edges looked quite sharp,
and the reckless way in which the tutor held it squeezed between his
cheek and eyebrow was a thing to be at once feared and admired.

I was sitting over my Delectus one morning, unwillingly working at a
page which had been set as a punishment for some offence, with my
hands buried in my pockets, fumbling with halfpence and other
treasures there concealed, when, seeing my tutor stick his glass into
his eye as he went to the bookcase, I pulled out a halfpenny to try if
I could hold it between cheek and brow, as he held his glass. After
many failures, I had just triumphantly succeeded when he caught sight
of my reflection in a mirror, and seeing the halfpenny in my eye, my
chin in air, and my face puckered up with what must have been a
comical travesty of his own appearance, he concluded that I was
mimicking him, and defying his authority, and coming quickly up to me
he gave me a sharp box on the ear.

In the explanation which followed, he was candid enough to apologize
handsomely for having "lost his temper," as he said; and having
remitted my task as an atonement, took me out fishing with him.

We got on very well together. At first I think my old-fashioned ways
puzzled him, and he was also disconcerted by the questions which I
asked when we were out together. Perhaps he understood me better when
he came to know Mr. Andrewes, and learned how much I had been with
him.

He had a very high respect for the Rector. The first walk we took
together was to call at the Rectory. We stayed luncheon, and Mr.
Andrewes had some conversation with the tutor which I did not hear. As
we came home, I was anxious to learn if Mr. Clerke did not think my
dear friend "very nice."

"Mr. Andrewes is a very remarkable man," said the tutor. And he
constantly repeated this. "He is a very remarkable man."

After a while Mr. Clerke ceased to be put out by my asking strange
unchildish questions which he was not always able to answer. He often
said, "We will ask Mr. Andrewes what he thinks;" and for my own part,
I respected him none the less that he often honestly confessed that he
could not, off-hand, solve all the problems that exercised my brain.
He was not a good general naturalist but he was fond of geology, and
was kind enough to take me out with him on "chipping" expeditions, and
to start me with a "collection" of fossils. I had already a collection
of flowers, a collection of shells, a collection of wafers, and a
collection of seals. (People did not collect monograms and old stamps
in my young days.) These collections were a sore vexation to Nurse
Bundle.

"Whatever a gentleman like the Rector is thinking of, for to encourage
you in such rubbish, my dear," said she, "it passes me! It's vexing
enough to see dirt and bits about that shouldn't be, when you can take
the dust-pan and clear 'em away. But to have dead leaves, and weeds,
and stones off the road brought in day after day, and not be allowed
so much as to touch them, and a young gentleman that has things worth
golden guineas to play with, storing up a lot of stuff you could pick
off any rubbish-heap in a field before it's burned--if it was anybody
but you, my dear, I couldn't abear it. And what's a tutor for, I
should like to know?"

(Mrs. Bundle, who at no time liked blaming her darling, had now
acquired a habit of laying the blame of any misdoings of mine on the
tutor, on the ground that he "ought to have seen to" my acting
differently.)

If Mr. Clerke discovered that he could confess to being puzzled by
some of my questions, without losing ground in his pupil's respect, I
soon found out that my grown-up tutor had not altogether outlived
boyish feelings. It dimly dawned on me that he liked a holiday quite
as well, if not better than myself; and as we grew more intimate we
had many a race and scramble and game together, when bookwork was over
for the day. He rode badly, but with courage, and the mishaps he
managed to suffer when riding the quietest and oldest of my father's
horses were food for fun with him as well as with me.

He told me that he was going to be a clergyman, and on Sunday
afternoons we commonly engaged in strong religious discussions. During
the fruit season it was also our custom on that day to visit the
kitchen-garden after luncheon, where we ate gooseberries, and settled
our theological differences. There is a little low, hot stone seat by
one of the cucumber frames on which I never can seat myself now
without recollections of the flavour of the little round, hairy, red
gooseberries, and of a lengthy dispute which I held there with Mr.
Clerke, and which began by my saying that I looked forward to meeting
Rubens "in a better world." I distinctly remember that I could bring
forward so little authority for my belief, and the tutor so little
against it, that we adjourned by common consent to the Rectory to take
Mr. Andrewes' opinion, and taste his strawberries.

I feel quite sure that Mr. Clerke, as well as myself, strongly felt
the Rector's influence. He often said in after-years how much he owed
to him for raising his aims and views about the sacred office which he
purposed to fill. He had looked forward to being a clergyman as to a
profession towards which his education and college career had tended,
and which, he hoped, would at last secure him a comfortable livelihood
through the interest of some of his patrons. But intercourse with the
Rector gave a higher tone to his ideas. He would have been a clergyman
of high character otherwise, but now he aimed at holiness; he would
never have been an idle one, but now his wish was to learn how much he
could do, and how well he could do that much for the people who should
be committed to his charge. He was by no means a reticent man, he
liked sympathy, and soon got into the habit of confiding in me for
want of a better friend. Thus as he began to take a most earnest
interest in parish work, and in schemes for the benefit of the people,
our Sunday conversations became less controversial, and we gossiped
about schools and school-treats, cricket-clubs, drunken fathers,
slattern mothers, and spoiled children, and how the evening hymn
"went" after the sermon on Sunday, like district visitors at a parish
tea-party. What visions of improvement amongst our fellow-creatures we
saw as we wandered about amongst the gooseberry-bushes, Rubens
following at my heels, and eating a double share from the lower
branches, since his mouth had not to be emptied for conversation! We
often got parted when either of us wandered off towards special and
favourite trees. Those bearing long, smooth green gooseberries like
grapes, or the highly-ripened yellows, or the hairy little reds. Then
we shouted bits of gossip, or happy ideas that struck us, to each
other across the garden. And full of youth and hopefulness, in the
sunshine of these summer Sundays, we gave ourselves credit for
clear-sightedness in all our opinions, and promised ourselves success
for every plan, and gratitude from all our proteges.

Mr. Andrewes had started a Sunday School with great success (Sunday
Schools were novelties then), and Mr. Clerke was a teacher. At last,
to my great delight, I was allowed to take the youngest class, and to
teach them their letters and some of the Catechism.

About this time I firmly resolved to be a parson when I grew up. My
great practical difficulty on this head was that I must, of course,
live at Dacrefield, and yet I could not be the Rector. My final
decision I announced to Mr. Andrewes.

"Mr. Clerke and I will always be curates, and work under you."

On which the tutor would sigh, and say, "I wish it could be so, Regie,
for I do not think I shall ever like any other place, or church, or
people so well again."

At this time my alms-box was well filled, thanks to the liberality of
Mr. Clerke. He now taxed his small income as I taxed my pocket-money
(a very different matter!), and though I am sure he must sometimes
have been inconveniently poor, he never failed to put by his share of
our charitable store.

Some brooding over the matter led me to say to him one Sunday, "You
and I, sir, are like the widow and the other people in the lesson
to-day: I put into the box out of my pocket-money, and you out of your
living."

The tutor blushed painfully; partly, I think, at my accurate
comprehension of the difference between our worldly lots, and partly
in sheer modesty at my realizing the measure of his self-sacrifice.

When first he began to contribute, he always kept back a certain sum,
which he as regularly sent away, to whom I never knew. He briefly
explained, "It is for a good object." But at last a day came when he
announced, "I no longer have that call upon me." And as at the same
time he put on a black tie, and looked grave for several days, I
judged that some poor relation, who was now dead, had been the object
of his kindness. He spoke once more on the subject, when he thanked me
for having led him to put by a fixed sum for such purposes, and added,
"The person to whom I have been accustomed to send that share of the
money said that it was worth double to have it regularly."




CHAPTER XX

THE TUTOR'S PROPOSAL--A TEACHERS' MEETING


I think it was Mr. Clerke who first suggested that we should take the
Sunday scholars and teachers for a holiday trip. Such things are
matters of course now in every parish, but in my childhood it was
considered a most marvellous idea by our rustic population. The tutor
had heard of some extraordinarily active parson who had done the like
by his schools, and partly from real kindness, and partly in the
spirit of emulation which intrudes even upon schemes of benevolence,
he was most anxious that we at Dacrefield should not "be behindhand"
in good works. Competition is a feeling with which children have great
sympathy, and I warmly echoed Mr. Clerke's resolve that we would not
"be behindhand."

"Let us go to the Rectory at once," said I; "Mr. Andrewes said we
might have some of those big yellow raspberries, and we must ask him
about it. It's a splendid idea. But where shall we go?"

The matter resolved itself into this question. The Rector was quite
willing for the treat. My father gave us a handsome subscription; the
farmers followed the Squire's lead. Mr. Andrewes was not behindhand.
The tutor and I considered the object a suitable one for aid from our
alms-box. There was no difficulty whatever. Only--where were we to
go?

Finally, we all decided that we would go to Oakford.

It was not because Oakford had been the end of our consultation long
ago, after my illness, nor because Nurse Bundle had any voice in the
matter, it was a certain bullet-headed, slow-tongued old farmer, one
of our teachers, who voted for our going to Oakford; and more by
persistently repeating his advice than by any very strong reasons
there seemed to be for our following it, he carried the day.

"I've know'd Oakford, man and boy, for twenty year," he repeated, at
intervals of three minutes or so, during what would now be called a
"teachers' meeting" in the school-room. In fact, Oakford was his
native place, though he was passing his old age in Dacrefield, and he
had a natural desire to see it again, and a natural belief that the
spot where he had been young and strong, and light-hearted, had
especial merits of its own.

Even though we had nothing better to propose, old Giles' love for home
would hardly have decided us, but he had something more to add. There
was a "gentleman's place" on the outskirts of Oakford, which
sometimes, in the absence of the family, was "shown" to the public:
old Giles had seen it as a boy, and the picture he drew of its glories
fairly carried us away, the Rector and tutor excepted. They shrugged
their shoulders with faces of comical despair as the old man, having
fairly taken the lead, babbled on about the "picters," the "stattys,"
and the "yaller satin cheers" in the grand drawing-room; whilst the
other teachers listened with open mouths, and an evident and growing
desire to see Oakford Grange. I did not half believe in old Giles'
wonders, and yet I wished to see the place myself, if only to learn
how much of all he described to us was true. I supposed that "the
family" must have been at home when I was at Oakford, or Mr. and Mrs.
Buckle would surely have taken me to see the Grange.

The Rector suggested that the family might be at home now, and we
might have our expedition for nothing; but it appeared that old Giles'
sister's grandson had been over to see his great-uncle only a
fortnight ago, "come Tuesday," and had distinctly stated that the
family "was in furrin' parts," and would be so for months to come.
Moreover, he had said that there was a rumour that the place was to be
sold, and nobody knew if the next owner would allow it to be "shown,"
even in his absence. Thus it was evident that if we wanted to see the
Grange, it must be "now or never."

On hearing this, our fattest and richest farmer (he took an upper
class in school more in deference to his position than to the rather
scanty education which accompanied it) rose and addressed the Rector
as follows:--

"Reverend sir. I takes the liberty of rising and addressin' of you,
with my respex to yourself and Mr. Clerke, and the young gentleman as
represents the Squire I've a-been tenant to, man and boy, this thirty
year and am proud to name it." (Murmurs of applause from one or two
other farmers present, my father being very popular.)

"Reverend sir. I began with bird-scaring, and not a penny in my
pocket, that wouldn't have held coppers for holes, if I had, and
clothes that would have scared of themselves, letting alone clappers.
The Squire knows how much of his land I have under my hand now, and
your reverence is acquainted with the years I've been churchwarden.

"Reverend Sir. I am proud to have rose by my own exertions. I never
iggerantly set _my_self against improvements and opportoonities."
(Gloom upon the face of the teacher of the fourth class, who objected
to machinery, and disbelieved in artificial manures.) "_My_ mottor 'as
allus been, 'Never lose a chance;' and that's what I ses on this
occasion; 'never lose a chance.'"

As our churchwarden backed his advice by offering to lend waggons and
horses to take us to Oakford, if the other farmers would do the same,
his speech decided the matter. We all wanted to go to Oakford, and to
Oakford it was decided that we should go.




CHAPTER XXI

OAKFORD ONCE MORE--THE SATIN CHAIRS--THE HOUSEKEEPER--THE LITTLE
LADIES AGAIN--FAMILY MONUMENTS


The expedition was very successful, and we all returned in safety to
Dacrefield; rather, I think, to the astonishment of some of the
good-wives of the village, who looked upon any one who passed the
parish bounds as a traveller, and thought our jaunt to Oakford
"venturesome" almost to a "tempting of Providence."

It is a curious study to observe what things strike different people
on occasions of this kind.

It was not the house itself, though the building was remarkably fine
(a modern erection on the site of the old "Grange"), nor the natural
features of the place, though they were especially beautiful, that
roused the admiration of our teachers and their scholars. Somebody
said that the house was "a deal bigger than the Hall" (at Dacrefield),
and one or two criticisms were passed upon the timber; but the noble
park, the grand slopes, the lovely peeps of distance, the exquisite
taste displayed in the grounds and gardens about the house, drew
little attention from our party. Within, the succession of big rooms
became confusing. One or two bits in certain pictures were pronounced
by the farmers "as natteral as life;" the "stattys" rather
scandalized them, and the historical legends attached by the
housekeeper to various pieces of furniture fell upon ears too little
educated to be interested. But when we got to the big drawing-room the
yellow satin chairs gave general and complete satisfaction. When old
Giles said, "Here they be!" we felt that all he had told us before was
justified, and that we had not come to Oakford in vain. We stroked
them, some of the more adventurous sat upon them, and we echoed the
churchwarden's remark, "Yaller satin, sure enough, and the backs
gilded like a picter-frame."

I cannot but think that the housekeeper must have had friends visiting
her that day, which made our arrival inconvenient and tried her
temper--she was so very cross. She ran through a hasty account of each
room in injured tones, but she resented questions, refused
explanations, and was particularly irritable if anybody strayed from
the exact order in which she chose to marshal us through the house. A
vein of sarcasm in her remarks quite overpowered our farmers.

"Please to stand off the walls. There ain't no need to crowd up
against them in spacyous rooms like these, and the paper ain't one of
your cheap ones with a spotty pattern as can be patched or matched
anywhere. It come direct from the Indies, and the butterflies and the
dragons is as natteral as life. 'Whose picter's that in the last
room?' You should have kept with the party, young woman, and then
you'd 'ave knowed. Parties who don't keep with the party, and then
wants the information repeated, will be considered as another party,
and must pay accordingly. Next room, through the white door to the
left. Now, sir, we're a-waiting for you! All together, if you
please!"

[Illustration: "All together, if you please!"]

But in spite of the good lady, I generally managed to linger behind,
or run before, and so to look at things in my own way. Once, as she
was rehearsing the history of a certain picture, I made my way out of
the room, and catching sight of some pretty things through an open
door at the end of the passage, I went in to see what I could see.
Some others were following me when the housekeeper spied them, and
bustled up, angrily recalling us, for the room, as we found, was a
private _boudoir_, and not one of those shown to the public. In my
brief glance, however, I had seen something which made me try to get
some information out of the housekeeper, in spite of her displeasure.

"Who are those little girls in the picture by the sofa?" I asked.
"Please tell me."

"I gives all information in reference to the public rooms," replied
the housekeeper, loftily, "as in duty bound; but the private rooms is
not in my instructions."

And nothing more could I get out of her to explain the picture which
had so seized upon my fancy.

It was a very pretty painting--a modern one. Just the heads and
shoulders of two little girls, one of them having her face just below
that of the other, whose little arms were round her sister's neck. I
knew them in an instant. There was no mistaking that look of decision
in the face of the protecting little damsel, nor the wistful appealing
glance in the eyes of the other. The artist had caught both most
happily; and though the fair locks I had admired were uncovered, I
knew my little ladies of the beaver bonnets again.

Having failed to learn anything about them from the housekeeper, I
went to old Giles and asked him the name of the gentleman to whom the
place belonged.

"St. John," he replied.

"I suppose he has got children?" I continued.

"Only one living," said old Giles. "They do say he've buried six, most
on 'em in galloping consumptions. It do stand to reason they've had
all done for 'em that gold could buy, but afflictions, sir, they be as
heavy on the rich man as the poor; and when a body's time be come it
ain't outlandish oils nor furrin parts can cure 'em."

I wondered which of the quaint little ladies had died, and whether
they had taken her to "furrin parts" before her death; and I thought
if it were the grey-eyed little maid, how sad and helpless her little
sister must be.

"Only one left?" I said mechanically.

"Ay, ay," said old Giles; "and he be pretty bad, I fancy. They've got
him in furrin parts where the sun shines all along; but they do say he
be wild to get back home, but that'll not be, but in his coffin, to be
laid with the rest in the big vault. Ay, ay, affliction spares none,
sir, nor yet death."

So this last of the St. John family was a boy. If the little ladies
were his sisters, both must be dead; if not, I did not know who they
were. I felt very angry with the housekeeper for her sulky reticence.
I was also not highly pleased by her manner of treating me, for she
evidently took me for one of the Sunday-school boys. I fear it was
partly a shabby pride on this point which led me to "tip" her with
half-a-crown on my own account when we were taking leave. In a moment
she became civil to slavishness, hoped I had enjoyed myself, and
professed her willingness to show me anything about the place any day
when there were not so "many of them school children crowging and
putting a body out, sir. There's such a many common people comes,
sir," she added, "I'm quite wored out, and having no need to be in
service, and all my friends a-begging of me to leave. I only stays to
oblige Mr. St. John."

It was, I think, chiefly in the way I had of thinking aloud that I
said, more to myself than to her, "I'm sure I don't know what makes
him keep you, you do it so very badly. But perhaps you're
respectable."

The half-crown had been unexpected, and this blow fairly took away her
breath. Before her rage found words, we were gone.

I did not fail to call on Mr. and Mrs. Buckle. The shop looked just
the same as when I was there with Mrs. Bundle. One would have said
those were the very rolls of leather that used to stand near the door.
The good people were delighted to see me, and proud to be introduced
to Mr. Andrewes and my tutor. I had brought some little presents with
me, both from myself and Nurse Bundle, which gave great satisfaction.

"And where is Jemima?" I asked, as I sat nursing an imposing-looking
parcel addressed to her, which was a large toilette pincushion made
and ready furnished with pins for her by Mrs. Bundle herself.

"Now, did you ever!" cried Mrs. Buckle in her old style; "to think of
the young gentleman's remembering our Jemima, and she married to Jim
Espin the tinsmith this six months past."

So to the tinsmith's I went, and Jemima was, as she expressed it,
"that pleased she didn't know where to put herself," by my visit. She
presented me with a small tin lantern on which I had made some remark,
and which pleased me well. I saw the drawer of farthing wares also,
and might have had a flat iron had I been so minded; but I was too old
now to want it for a plaything, and too young yet to take it as a
remembrance of the past.

I asked Mrs. Buckle about the two little beaver-bonneted ladies, but
she did not help me much. She did not remember them. They might be Mr.
St. John's little girls; he had buried four. A many ladies wore beaver
bonnets then. This was all she could say, so I gave up my inquiries.
It was as we were on our way from the Buckles to join the rest of the
party that Mr. Clerke caught sight of the quaint little village
church, and as churches and church services were matters of great
interest to us just then, the two parsons, the churchwarden, five
elder scholars and myself got the key from the sexton and went to
examine the interior.

It was an old and rather dilapidated building. The glass in the east
window was in squares of the tint and consistency of "bottle glass,"
except where one fragment of what is technically known as "ruby" bore
witness that there had once been a stained window there. There were
dirty calico blinds to do duty for stained glass in moderating the
light; dirt, long gathered, had blunted the sharpness of the tracery
on the old carved stalls in the chancel, where the wood-worms of
several generations had eaten fresh patterns of their own, and the
squat, solemn little carved figures seemed to moulder under one's
eyes. In the body of the church were high pews painted white, and four
or five old tombs with life-size recumbent figures fitted in oddly
with these, and a skimpy looking prayer-desk, pulpit, and font, which
were squeezed together between the half-rotten screen and a stone
knight in armour.

"Pretty tidy," said our churchwarden, tapping of the pews with a
patronising finger; "but bless and save us, Mr. Andrewes, sir, the
walls be disgraceful dirty, and ten shillings' worth of lime and
labour would make 'em as white as the driven snow. The sexton says
there be a rate, and if so, why don't they whitewash and paint a bit,
and get rid of them rotten old seats, and make things a bit decent?
You don't find a many places to beat Dacrefield, sir, go as far as you
will," he added complacently, and with an air of having exhausted
experience in the matter of country churches.

"Them old figures," he went on, "they puts me in mind of one my father
used to tell us about, that was in Dacrefield Church. A man with a
kind of cap on his face, and his feet crossed, and very pointed toes,
and a sword by his side."

"At Dacrefield?" cried Mr. Andrewes; "surely there isn't a Templar at
Dacrefield?"

"It were in the old church that came down," continued the
churchwarden, "in the old Squire's time. There was a deal of ancient
rubbish cleared out then, sir, I've heard, and laid in the stackyard
at the Hall. It were when my father were employed as mason under
'brick and mortar Benson,' as they called him, for repairs of a wall,
and they were short of stones, and they chipped up the figure I be
telling you of. My father allus said he knowed the head was put in
whole, and many's the time I've looked for it when a boy."

I think Mr. Andrewes could endure the churchwarden's tale of former
destructiveness no longer, and he abruptly called us to come away. I
was just running to join the rest at the door, when my eye fell upon
a modern tablet of marble above a large cushioned pew. Like the other
monuments in the church, it was sacred to the memory of members of the
St. John family, and, as I found recorded the names of the wife and
six children of the present owner of the estate. Very pathetic, after
the record of such desolation, were the words of Job (cut below the
bas-relief at the bottom, which, not very gracefully, represented a
broken flower): "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away: blessed
be the name of the LORD."

Mr. Clerke was hurrying back up the church to fetch me as I read the
text. I had just time to see that the last two names were the names of
girls, before I had to join him.

Amy and Lucy. Were those indeed the dainty little children who such a
short time ago were living, and busy like myself, happy with the
tinsmith's toys, and sad for a drenched doll? Wild speculations
floated through my head as I followed the tutor, without hearing one
word of what he was saying about tea and teachers, and reaching
Dacrefield before dark.

I had wished to be their brother. Supposing it had been so, and that I
were now withering under the family doom, homesick and sick unto death
"in furrin parts!" My last supposition I thought aloud:

"I suppose they know all the old knights, and those people in ruffs,
with their sons and daughters kneeling behind them, now. That is, if
they were good, and went to heaven."

"_Who_ do you suppose know the people in the ruffs?" asked the
bewildered tutor.

"Amy and Lucy St. John," said I; "the children who died last."

"Well, Regie, you certainly _do_ say _the_ most _sin_gular things,"
said Mr. Clerke.

But that was a speech he often made, with the emphasis as it is given
here.




CHAPTER XXII

NURSE BUNDLE FINDS A VOCATION--RAGGED ROBIN'S WIFE--MRS. BUNDLE'S
IDEAS ON HUSBANDS AND PUBLIC-HOUSES


I was very happy under Mr. Clerke's sway, and yet I was glad to go to
school.

The tutor himself, who had been "on the foundation" at Eton, had
helped to fill me with anticipations of public-school life. It was
decided that I also should go to Eton, but as an oppidan, and becoming
already a partisan of my own part of the school, I often now disputed
conclusions or questioned facts in my tutor's school anecdotes, which
commonly tended to the sole glorification of the "collegers."

I must not omit to mention an interview that about this period took
place between my father and Mrs. Bundle. It was one morning just after
the Eton matter had been settled, that my nurse presented herself in
my father's library, her face fatter and redder than usual from being
swollen and inflamed by weeping.

"Well?" said my father, looking up pleasantly from his accounts. But
he added hastily, "Why, bless me, Mrs. Bundle, what is the matter?"

"Asking your pardon for troubling you, sir," Nurse Bundle began in a
choky voice, "but as you made no mention of it yourself, sir, your
kindness being what it is, and the young gentleman as good as gone to
school, and me eating the bread of idleness ever since that tutor
come, I wished to know, sir, when you thought of giving me notice."

"Give you notice to do what?" asked my father.

"To leave your service, sir," said Mrs. Bundle, steadily. "There's no
nurse wanted in this establishment now, sir."

My father laid one hand on Mrs. Bundle's shoulder, and with the other
he drew forward a miniature of my mother which always hung on a
standing frame on the writing-table.

"It is like yourself to be so scrupulous," he said; "but you will
never again speak of leaving us, Mrs. Bundle. Please, for her sake,"
added my father, his own voice faltering as he looked towards the
miniature. As for Nurse Bundle, her tears utterly forbade her to get
out a word.

"If you have too much to do," my father went on, "let a young girl be
got to relieve you of any work that troubles you; or, if you very much
wish for a home to yourself, I have no right to refuse that, though I
wish you could be happy under my roof, and I will see about one of
those cottages near the gate. But you will not desert me--and
Reginald--after so many years."

"The day I do leave will be the breaking of my heart," sobbed Nurse
Bundle, "and if there was any ways in which I could be useful--but
take wages for nothing, I could not, sir."

"Mrs. Bundle," said my father, "if your wages were a matter of any
importance to me, if I could not afford even to pay you for your work,
I should still ask you to share my home, with such comforts as I had
to offer, and to help me so far as you could, for the sake of the
past. I must always be under an obligation to you which I can never
repay," added my father, in his rather elaborate style. "And as to
being useful, well, ahem, if you will kindly continue to superintend
and repair my linen and Master Reginald's ----"

"Why, bless your innocence, sir, and meaning no disrespect," said Mrs.
Bundle, "but there ain't no mending in _your_ linen. There was some
darning in the tutor's socks, but you give away half-a-dozen pair last
Monday, sir, as hadn't a darn in 'em no bigger than a pea."

I think it was the allusion to "giving away" that suggested an idea to
my father in his perplexity for employing Nurse Bundle.

"Stay," he exclaimed, "Mrs. Bundle, there is a way in which you could
be of the greatest service to me. I often feel that the loss of a lady
at the head of my household must be especially felt among the poor
people around us--additionally so, as Mr. Andrewes is not married, and
there is no lady either at the Rectory or here to visit the sick and
encourage the mothers and children. I fear that when I do anything for
them it is often in a wrong way, or for wrong objects."

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Bundle, an old grievance rushing to her mind,
"I had thought myself of making so bold as to speak to you about that
there Tommy Masden as you give half-crowns to, as tells you one big
lie on the top of another, and his father drinks every penny he earns,
and his mother at the back-door all along for scraps, and throwed the
Christmas soup to the pig, and said they wasn't come to the workus
yet; and a coat as good as new of yours, sir, hanging out of the door
of the pawnshop, and giving me such a turn I thought my legs would
never have carried me home, till I found you'd given it to that Tommy,
who won't do a hand's turn for sixpence, but begs at every house in
the parish every week as comes round, and tells everybody, as he tells
yourself, sir, that he never gets nothing from nobody."

"Well, well," said my father, laughing, "you see how I want somebody
to look out the real cases of distress and deserving poverty. Of
course, I must speak to Mr. Andrewes first, Mrs. Bundle, but I am sure
he will be as glad as myself that you should do what we have neither
of us a wife to undertake."

I know Nurse Bundle was only too glad to reconcile her honest
conscience to staying at Dacrefield; and I think the allusion to the
lack of a lady head to our household decided her at all risks to
remove that reason for a second Mrs. Dacre. Moreover, the duties
proposed for her suited her tastes to a shade.

Mr. Andrewes was delighted. And thus it came about that, though my
father would have been horrified at the idea of employing a Sister of
Mercy, and though Bible-woman and district visitor were names not
familiar in our simple parochial machinery, Mrs. Bundle did the work
of all three to the great benefit of our poor neighbours.

Not, however, to the satisfaction of those who had hitherto leant most
upon the charity of the Hall. A certain picturesquely tattered man,
living at some distance from the village, who was in the habit of
waylaying my father at certain points on the estate, with well-timed
agricultural remarks and a cunning affectation of half-wittedness and
good-humour, got henceforward no half-crowns for his pains.

"Mrs. Bundle has knocked off all my pensioners," my father would
laughingly complain. But he was quite willing that the half-crowns
should now be taken direct to the man's wife and children, instead of
passing from his hands to the public-house. "Though really the good
woman--for I understand she is a most excellent person--is singularly
hard-favoured," my father added, "and looks more as if she thrashed
old Ragged Robin than as if he beat her, as I hear he does."

"Nothing inside, and the poker outside, makes a many women as they've
no wish to sit for their picter," said Mrs. Bundle, severely, in reply
to some remark of mine, reflecting, like my father's, on the said
woman's appearance. "And when a woman has children, and their father
brings home nothing but kicks and bad language, in all reason if it
isn't the death or the ruin of her, it makes her as she 'asn't much
time nor spirits to spare for dropping curtseys and telling long tales
like some people as is always scrap-seeking at gentry's back-doors.
But I knows a clean place when I takes it unawares, and clothes with
more patch than stuff, and all the colour washed out of them, and
bruises hid, and a bad husband made the best of, and children as knows
how to behave themselves."

The warmth of Mrs. Bundle's feelings only prompted me to tease her;
and it was chiefly for "the fun of working her up" that I said--

"Ah, but, Nurse, you know we heard she went after him one night to the
public-house, and made a row before everybody. I don't mean he ought
to go to the public-house, but still, I'm sure if I'd a wife who came
and hunted me up when she thought I ought to be indoors, I'd--well,
I'd try and teach her to stay at home. Besides, women ought to be
gentle, and perhaps if she were sweeter-tempered with him, he'd be
kinder to her."

"Do you know what she went for, Master Reginald?" said Nurse Bundle.
"Not a halfpenny does he give her to feed the children with, and
everything in that house that's got she gets by washing. And the rich
folk she washed for kept her waiting for her money--more shame to 'em;
there was weeks run on, and she borrowed a bit, and pawned a bit, and
when she went the day they said they'd pay her, he'd been before and
drawed the money, and was drinking it up when she went to see if she
could get any, and then laughed at her, and sent her back to the
children as was starving, and the neighbour she'd borrowed of as
called her a thief and threatened to have her up. Gentle! why, bless
your innocence, who ever knowed gentleness do good to a drunkard? She
should have stood up to him sooner, and he'd never have got so bad.
She's kept his brute ways to herself and made his home comfortable
with her own earnings, till he thinks he may do anything and never
bring in nothing. She did lay out some of his behaviour before him
that day, and he beat her for it afterwards. But if it had been me,
Master Reginald, I'd have had money to feed them children, or I'd have
fought him while I'd a bit of breath in my body."

And with all my respect for Nurse Bundle, I am bound to say that I
think she would have been as good as her word.

"Go to your tutor, my dear," she continued, "and talk Latin and Greek
and such like, as you knows about; but don't talk rubbish about
pretty looks and ways for a woman as is tied to a drunkard, for I
can't abear it. I seed enough of husbands and public-houses in my
young days to keep me a single woman and my own missis. Not but what
I've had my feelings like other folk, and plenty of offers, besides a
young cabinet-maker as had high wages and the beautifullest complexion
you ever saw. But he was overfond of company; so I went to service,
and cried myself to sleep every night for three months; and when next
I see him he was staggering along the street, and I says, 'I'm sorry
to see you like this, William,' and he says, 'It's your doing, Mary;
your No's drove me to the glass.' And I says, 'Then it's best as it
is. If one No drove you to the glass, you and married life wouldn't
suit, for there's plenty of Noes there.' So I left him wiping his
eyes, for he always cried when he was in beer. And I says to myself,
'I'll go back to place, where I knows what I'm working for, and can
leave it if we don't suit.' And it was always the same, my dear. If it
was a nice-looking footman, he'd have his evening out and come home
fresh; and if it was an elderly butler as had put a little by, he
wanted to set up in the public line. So I kept myself to myself, my
dear, for I'm short-tempered at the best, and could never put up with
the abuse of a man in liquor."

I was so thoroughly converted to the side of Ragged Robin's wife, that
I at once pressed some of my charity money on Mrs. Bundle for her
benefit; but I tried to dispute my nurse's unfavourable view of
husbands by instancing her worthy brother-in-law at Oakford.

"Ah, yes, Buckle," said Mrs. Bundle, in a tone which seemed to do
less justice to the saddler's good qualities than they deserved. "He's
a good, soft, easy body, is Buckle."

Whence I concluded that Mrs. Bundle, like some other ladies, was not
altogether easy to please.

I think it was during our last walk through the village before Mr.
Clerke left us, that he and I called on Ragged Robin's wife. She was
thankful, but not communicative, and the eyes, deep set in her bony
and discoloured face, seemed to have lost the power of lighting up
with hope.

"My dear Regie," said Mr. Clerke, as we turned homewards, "I never saw
anything more pitiable than the look in that woman's eyes; and the
tone in which she said, 'There be a better world afore us all,
sir--I'll be well off then,' when I said I hoped she'd be better off
and happier now, quite went to my heart. I'm afraid she never will
have much comfort in this world, unless she outlives her lord and
master. Do you know, Regie, she reminds me very much of an ill-treated
donkey; her bones look so battered, and there's a sort of stubborn
hopelessness about her like some poor Neddy who is thwacked and tugged
this way and that, work he never so hard. Poor thing, she may well
look forward to Heaven," added my tutor, whose kind heart was very
sore on this subject, "and it's a blessed thought how it will make up,
even for such a life here!"

"What will make it up to the donkeys?" I asked, taking Mr. Clerke at a
disadvantage on that standing subject of dispute between us--a "better
world" for beasts.

But my tutor only said, "My dear Regie, you _do_ say _the_ most
_sin_gular things!" which, as I pointed out, was no argument, one way
or another.

Meanwhile, through Mrs. Bundle, we did our best for Robin's wife and
certain other ill-treated women about the place. Mrs. Bundle could be
very severe on the dirt and discomfort which "drove some men to the
public as would stay at home if there was a clean kitchen to stay in,
and less of that nagging at a man and screaming after children as
never made a decent husband nor a well-behaved child yet." Yet in
certain cases of undeserved brutality, like Robin's, I fear she
sometimes counselled resistance, on the principle that it "couldn't
make him do worse, and might make him do better."

I am sure that my father had never thought of Mrs. Bundle acting as
sick nurse in the village; but matters seemed to develop of
themselves. She was so experienced and capable that she could hardly
fail to smoothe the disordered bed-clothes, open the window, clear the
room of the shiftless gossips who flocked like ravens to predict
death, and take the control of mismanaged sick-rooms. It came to be a
common thing that some wan child should present itself at our door
with the message that "Missis Bundle she wants her things, for as
mother be so bad, she says she'll see her over the night."

As for herself, I doubt if she had ever been happier in her life. Her
conscience was at ease, for she certainly worked hard enough for her
wages, and it was good to see the glow of pleasure that an
oft-repeated remark of my father's never failed to bring over her
honest face.

"Don't overwork yourself, Mrs. Bundle. What should we do if you were
laid up?"




CHAPTER XXIII

I GO TO ETON--MY MASTER--I SERVE HIM WELL


I went joyfully to school the first time, but each succeeding half
with less and less willingness. And yet my school-days were very happy
ones, especially to look back upon.

"You will be in the same tutor's house as Lionel Damer," said my
father; "and I have written to ask him to befriend you."

"Just the sort of idiotic thing parents do do," said Sir Lionel, on
our first meeting. "You may thank your stars I don't pay you off for
it."

Leo had grown much taller since we met, but he had lost none of his
beauty. I was overpowered by his noble appearance and the air of
authority he wore, and then and there gave him the hero-worship of my
heart. It was with a thrill of delight that I heard him add, "However,
I want a fag, and I dare say I can take you. Any sock with you?"

"Oh, yes, Leo," said I, hastily; "a big hamper. And there are two
cakes, and a pigeon pie, and lots of jam, and some macaroons and
turnovers, and two bottles of raspberry vinegar."

"My name's Damer," said Leo. "Can you cook?"

"Not yet, Damer," said I, hoping that my answer conveyed my
willingness to learn. For I was quite prepared for all the duties of
fag life from Mr. Clerke's descriptions. And I was prepared to perform
them, pending the time when I should have a fag of my own.

I must do Leo justice. His tyranny was merciful. I was soon expert in
preparing his breakfast. I used to fetch him hot dishes from the shop.
My own cooking was not good, and I made, so he said, the most
execrable coffee, which led him to fling the contents of the pot at me
one morning, ruining my shirt, trickling hot and wet down my body
under my clothes, and giving me infinite trouble in cleaning his
carpet. (As to _his_ coffee, and the salad dressing he made, and his
cooking generally, when he chose to do it, I have never met with
anything like it since. However, things taste well in one's
school-days.)

Leo Damer was one of those people who seem able to do everything just
a little better than his neighbours, without attaining overwhelming
superiority in any one line. The masters always complained that he did
not do as much in school as he might have done, and yet he stood well
with them. His conduct was of the highest. I may say here that,
knowing him intimately in boyhood and youth, I am able to assert that
his moral conduct was always "without reproach." His own freedom from
vice, and the tight hand he kept over me, who lived but to admire and
imitate him, were of such benefit to me in the manifold temptations of
school-life as I can never forget. His self-respect amounted to
self-esteem, his love for other people's good opinion to a failing, he
was refined to fastidiousness; but I think these characteristics
helped him towards the exceptional character he bore. A keen
sensitiveness to pain and discomfort, and considerable natural
indolence, further tended to keep him out of scrapes into which an
adventurous spirit led many more reckless boys. He had never been
flogged, and he said he never would be. "I would drown myself sooner,"
he said to me. And if any dark touch were wanting to complete my
hero's portrait, it was given by this terrible threat, in which I put
full faith.

He was a dandy, and his dressing-table was the plague of my life. Well
do I remember breaking some invaluable toilette preparation on it, and
the fit of rage in which he flung the broken bottle at my head. He was
very sorry when his first wrath was past, and he bound up my head, and
gave me a pound of sausages, and a superbly bound copy of Young's
"Night Thoughts," which I still possess. I also retain a white scar
above one of my eyes, in common with at least eight out of every ten
men I know.

"Do you ever hear from your cousin?" Sir Lionel asked one day in
careless tones.

"Polly writes to me sometimes," said I.

"You can show me the next letter you get," said Sir Lionel
condescendingly; which I accordingly did, and thenceforward he saw all
my letters from her. I was soon clever enough to discover that Leo
liked to be asked after by his old friends, and to receive messages
from them, which led me to write to Polly, begging her always to send
"nice messages" to Sir Lionel, as he would then treat me well, and
perhaps give me some of his smoked bacon for breakfast. Her reply was
characteristic:

"MY DEAR REGIE,--"

     I shan't send nice messages to Leo. I am sorry you showed
     him the letter where I said he was handsome. Handsome is
     that handsome does, and if he treats you badly he is very
     ugly, and I hate him. If he doesn't give you any bacon, he's
     very mean. You may tell him what I say.

"I am your affectionate cousin,

"POLLY."

I was obliged to hide this letter from Leo; but when he asked me if I
had heard from Polly I could not lie to him, and he sent me to
Coventry for withholding the letter. I bore a day and a half of his
silence and neglect; then I could endure it no longer, and showed him
the letter. He was less angry than I expected. He coloured and
laughed, and called me a little fool for writing such stuff to Polly,
and said her answer was just like her. Then he gave me some of the
bacon, and we were good friends again.

But the seal of our friendship was a certain occasion when I saved him
from the only flogging with which he was ever threatened.

He was unjustly believed to be concerned in an insolent breach of
certain orders, and was sentenced to a flogging which was really the
due of another lad whom he was too proud to betray. He would not even
condescend to remonstrate with the boy who was meanly allowing him to
suffer, and betrayed his anguish in the matter so little that I doubt
if the real culprit (who never was a week unflogged himself) had any
idea what the punishment was to poor Leo.

He hid himself from us all; but in the evening I got into his room,
where I found him, pale and silent, putting some things into a little
bag.

"Little one!" he cried, "I know you can keep a secret. I want you to
help me off. I'm going to run away."

"Oh Damer!" I cried; "but supposing you're caught; it'll be much worse
then."

"They won't catch me," he said, his lip quivering. "I can disguise
myself. And I shall never come back till I'm a man. My guardian would
bring me here again. He thinks a man can hardly be a gentleman unless
he was well flogged in his youth. Look here old fellow, I've left
everything here to you. Keep out of mischief as I've shown you how,
and--and--you'll tell Polly I wasn't to blame."

I was now weeping bitterly. "Dear Damer," said I, "you can't disguise
yourself. Anybody would know you; you're too good-looking. Damer," I
added abruptly, "did you ever pray for things? I used to at home, and
do you know, they always came true. Wait for me, I'll be back soon," I
concluded, and rushing to my room, I flung myself on my knees, and
prayed with all my heart for the averting of this, to my young mind,
terrible tragedy. I dared not stay long, not knowing what Leo might
do, and on the stairs I met the real culprit, who was in our house. To
this day I remember with amusement the flood of speech with which, in
my excitement, I overwhelmed him. I painted his meanness in the
darkest colours, and the universal contempt of his friends. I made him
a hero if he took his burden on his own back. I dwelt forcibly on
Leo's bitter distress and superior generosity. I bribed him to confess
all with my many-weaponed pocket-knife (the envy of the house). I
darkly hinted a threat of "blabbing" myself, as my meanness in telling
tales would be as nothing to his in allowing Leo to suffer for his
fault. Which argument prevailed I shall never know. I fancy Leo's
distress and the knife did it between them, for he was both
good-natured and greedy. He told the truth by a great effort, and took
his flogging with complete indifference.

Thenceforward Leo and I were as brothers. He taught me to sketch, we
kept divers pets together, and fused our botanical collections. He
cooked unparalleled dishes for us, and read poetry aloud to me with an
exquisite justness and delicacy of taste that I have never heard
surpassed.

His praise was nectar to me. When he said, "I tell you what, Regie,
you've an uncommon lot of general information, I can tell you," my
head was quite turned. Whatever he did seemed right to me. When I
first came to school, my hat was duly peppered and pickled by the boys
and replaced by me with one of unexceptionable shape. My shirts then
gave offence to my new master.

"I suppose," he said, surveying me deliberately, "a good many of your
things are made by Mrs. Baggage?"

"Nurse Bundle makes my shirts, Damer," said I.

"It's all the same," said Damer. "I knew it was connected with a
_parcel_ somehow. Well, the _Package_ patterns are very pretty, no
doubt, but I think it's time you were properly rigged out."

Which was duly done; and when holidays came and the scandalized Mrs.
Bundle asked what I had done "with them bran-new fine linen shirts,"
and where "them rubbishing cotton rags" had come from that I brought
in their place, I could only inform her, with a feeble imitation of
Leo's lofty coolness, that I had used the first to clean Damer's
lamp, and that the second were the "correct thing."

One day I said to him, "I don't know why, Damer, but you always make
me think of a vision of one of the Greek heroes when I see you walking
in the playing-fields."

I believe my simply-spoken compliment deeply gratified him; but he
only said, like Mr. Clerke, "You _do_ say the oddest things, little
'un!"




CHAPTER XXIV

COLLECTIONS--LEO'S LETTER--NURSE BUNDLE AND SIR LIONEL


If Nurse Bundle hoped that when I went to school an end would be put
to the "collections" which troubled her tidy mind, she was much
deceived. Neither Leo nor I were bookworms, and we were not by any
means so devoted as some boys to games and athletics. But for
collections of all kinds we had a fancy that almost amounted to mania.

Our natural history manias in their respective directions came upon us
like fevers. We "sickened" at the sight of somebody else's collection,
or because we had been reading about butterflies, or birds' eggs, or
water-plants, as the case might be. When "the complaint" was "at its
height," we lived only for specimens; we gave up leisure, sleep, and
pocket-money to our collection; we made notes and memoranda in our
grammars and lexicons that had no classical reference. We sent letters
to country newspapers which never appeared, and asked questions that
met with no reply. We were apt, also, to recover from these attacks,
leaving Nurse Bundle burdened with boxes or folios of dry, dusty
broken fragments of plants and insects, which we did not touch, but
which she was strictly forbidden to destroy. We pursued our fancies
during the holidays. I have now a letter that I got from Damer after
my fourth half:

"London.

"MY DEAR REGIE,--

     "_Eureka_! What do you think? My poor governor collected
     moths. I bullied my guardian till he let me have the
     collection. Such specimens! No end of foreign ones we know
     nothing about, and I am having a case made. I found a little
     book with his notes in. We are quite at sea to go flaring
     about with nets and bruising the specimens. The way is to
     dig for chrysalises. Mind you do; and how I envy you! For I
     have to be in this horrid town, when I long to be grubbing
     at the roots of trees. Polly quite agrees with me. She hates
     London; and says the happiest time in her life was when she
     was at Dacrefield. My only comfort is to go to the old
     bookstalls and look for books about moths and butterflies.
     Imagine! The other day when your aunt was out, I took Polly
     with me. She said she would give anything on earth to go. So
     we went. We went into some awful streets, and had some
     oysters at a stall, and came back carrying no end of books;
     and just as we got in at the door there were your aunt and
     Lady Chelmsfield coming out. What a rage your aunt was in! I
     tried to take all the blame, but she shut Polly up for a
     fortnight. It's a beastly shame, but Polly says the
     expedition was worth it; her spirit is splendid. I never
     wrote such a long letter in my life before, but I am in the
     blues, and have no one to talk to. I wish my poor governor
     had lived. I wish I were in the country. I wish your aunt
     was a moth. Wouldn't I pin her to a cork! Mind you work up
     old Mother Hubbard to a sumptuous provision of grub for next
     half, and don't forget the other grubs. Would that I could
     dig with thee for them. _Vale_!

"Thine ever,

"LIONEL DAMER."

Of course this ended in Leo's being invited to Dacrefield. He came,
and, wonderful to relate, we got Polly too. My father invited her and
my aunt to visit us, and they came. As Leo said, Aunt Maria "behaved
better than we expected." Indeed, Leo had no reason to complain of her
treatment of him as a rule, for he was constantly at the Ascotts'
house during his holidays.

And so we rambled and scrambled about together, Leo, and Polly, and I.
And we added largely to our collections, and made a fernery (the
Rector helping us), and rode about the country, and were thoroughly
happy. We generally went to the nursery for a short time before
dressing for dinner, where we teased and coaxed Mrs. Bundle, and ate
large slices of an excellent species of gingerbread called
"parliament," which she kept in a tin case in the cupboard. In return
for these we entertained her with marvellous "tales of school,"
rousing her indignation by terrible narratives of tyrannous and cruel
fagging, and taking away her breath by tales of reckless daring,
amusing impudence, or wanton destructiveness common to boys. Some of
these we afterwards confessed to be fables, told--as we politely put
it--to "see how much she _would_ swallow."

After dinner we were expected to sit with my father and Aunt Maria in
the drawing-room. Then, also, poor Polly was expected to "give us a
little music," and dutifully went through some performances which
were certainly a remarkable example of how much can be acquired in the
way of mechanical musical skill where a real feeling for the art is
absent. After politely offering to turn over the leaves of her music,
which Polly always declined (it was the key-note of her energetic
character that she "liked to do everything herself"), my father
generally fell asleep. I whiled away the time by playing with Rubens
under the table, Aunt Maria "superintended" the music in a way that
must have made any less stolid performer nervous, and Leo was apt to
try and distract Polly's attention by grimaces and pantomime of a far
from respectful nature behind Aunt Maria's back.

Sir Lionel was not a favourite with Nurse Bundle. I was unfortunate
enough to give her a prejudice against him, which nothing seemed to
wear out. Thinking his real, or affected mistake about her name a good
joke, and having myself the strongest relish and admiration for his
school-boy wit, I had told Nurse Bundle of his various versions of her
name; and had tried to convey to her the comic nature of the scenes
when my hat was pickled, and when Leo condemned my home-made shirts.

But quite in vain. Nurse Bundle's sense of humour (if she had any) was
not moved by the things that touched mine. She looked upon the
destruction of the hat and the shirts as "a sinful waste," and as to
Leo's jokes--

"Called me a baggage, did he?" said the indignant Mrs. Bundle. "I'll
Sir Lionel him when I get the chance. At my time of life, too!"

And no explanation from me amended matters. By the time that Leo did
come, Nurse Bundle had somewhat recovered from the insult, but he was
never a favourite with her. He "chaffed" her freely, and Mrs. Bundle
liked to be treated with respect. Still there was a fascination about
his beauty and his jokes against which even she was not always proof.
I have seen her laugh and fetch out the parliament box when Leo
followed her about like a dog walking on its hind legs, wagging an old
piece of rope at the end of his jacket for a tail, and singing--

    "Good Mother Hubbard,
    Pray what's in your cupboard?
    Could you give a poor dog a bone?"

And when he got the parliament he would "sit up" and balance a slice
of the gingerbread on his nose, till Polly and I cheered with delight,
and Rubens became frantic at the mockery of his own performances, and
Mrs. Bundle complained that "Sir Lionel never knowed when to let
nonsense be."

But I think she was something like the housemaid who "did the
bedrooms," and who complained bitterly of the additional trouble given
by Leo and me when we were at Dacrefield, and who was equally pathetic
about the dulness of the Hall when we returned to school. "The young
gentlemen be a deal of trouble, but they do keep a bit of life in the
place, sure enough."




CHAPTER XXV

THE DEATH OF RUBENS--POLLY'S NEWS--LAST TIMES


When one has reached a certain age time seems to go very fast. Then,
also, one begins to understand the meaning of such terms as "the
uncertainty of life," "changes," "loss of friends," "partings," "old
times," etc., which ring sadly in the ears of grown-up folk.

After my first half at Eton, this universal experience became mine.
There was never a holiday time that I did not find some change; and,
too often, a loss to meet my return.

One of the first and bitterest was the death of Rubens.

I had been most anxious to get home, and yet somehow, in less high
spirits than usual, which made it feel not unnatural that my father's
face should be so unusually grave when he came to meet me.

"I have some very bad news for you, my dear boy," he said. "I fear,
Regie, that poor Rubens is dying."

"He've been a-dying all day, sir," said the groom, when we stood at
last by Rubens' side. "But he seems as if he couldn't go peaceable
till you was come."

He seemed to be gone. The beautiful curls were limp and tangled. He
lay on his side with his legs stretched out; his eyes were closed.
But when I stooped over him and cried "Ruby!" his flabby ears pricked,
and he began to struggle.

"It's a fit," said the groom.

But it was nothing of the kind. Rubens knew what he was about, and at
last actually got on to his feet, when, after swaying feebly about for
a moment, he staggered in my direction (he could not see) and
literally fell into my arms, with one last wag of his dear tail.

"They say care killed the cat," said Mrs. Bundle, when I went up to
the nursery, "but if it could cure a dog, my deary, your dog would
have been alive now. I never see the Squire so put about since you had
the fever. He was up at five o'clock this very morning, the groom
says, putting stuff into the corners of its mouth with a silver
teaspoon, and he've had all the cow doctors about to see him, and Dr.
Gilpin himself he've been every day, and Mr. Andrewes the same. And
I'd like to know, my deary, what more could be done for a sick
Christian than the doctor and parson with him daily till he dies?"

"A Christian would be buried in the churchyard," said I; "and I wish
poor dear Rubens could."

But as he couldn't, I made his grave where the churchyard wall skirted
the grounds of the Hall. "Perhaps, some day, the churchyard will have
to be enlarged," I explained to the Rector, who was puzzled by my
choice of a burying-place, "and then Rubens will _get taken in_."

My father was most anxious to get me another pet. I might have had a
dog of any kind. Dogs of priceless breeds, dogs for sporting, for
ratting, and for petting; dogs for use or for ornament. From a
bloodhound and mastiff almost large enough for me to ride, to a toy
poodle that would go into my pocket--I might have chosen a worthy
successor to Rubens, but I could not.

"I shall never care for any other dog," I was rash enough to declare.
But my resolve melted away one day at the sight of a soft, black ball,
like a lump of soot, which arrived in a game-bag, and proved to be a
retriever pup. He grew into a charming dog, of much wisdom and
amiability. I called him Sweep.

Thus half by half, holidays by holidays, changes, ceaseless changes
went on. Births, deaths, and marriages furnished my father with "news"
for his letters when I was away, and Nurse Bundle and me with gossip
when I came back.

I heard also at intervals from Polly. Uncle Ascott's wealth increased
yearly. The girls grew up. Helen "was becoming Tractarian and
peculiar," which annoyed Aunt Maria exceedingly. Mr. Clerke had got a
curacy in London, and preached very earnest sermons, which Aunt Maria
hoped would do Helen good. Mr. Clerke worked very hard, and seemed to
like it; but he said that his happiest days were Dacrefield days. "I
quite agree with him," Polly added. Then came a letter:--"Oh, my dear
Regie, fancy! Miss Blomfield is married. And to whom, do you think? Do
you remember the old gentleman who sent us the cinder-parcel? Well,
it's to him; and he is really a very jolly old man; and thinks there
is no one in the world like Miss Blomfield. He told her he had been
carefully observing her conduct in the affairs of daily life for eight
years. My dear Regie, _fancy_ waiting eight years for one's next door
neighbour, when one was quite old to begin with! You have no idea how
much younger and better she looks in a home of her own, and a handsome
silk dress. Can you fancy her always apologising for being so happy?
She thinks she has too much happiness, and is idle, and who knows
what. It makes me feel quite ill, Regie, for if she is idle, and has
too much happiness, what am I, and what have I had? Do you remember
the days when you proposed that we should be very religious? I am sure
it's the only way to be very happy: I mean happy _always_, and
_underneath_. Leo says the great mistake is being _too_ religious, and
that people ought to keep out of extremes, and not make themselves
ridiculous. But I think he's wrong. For it seems just to be all the
heap of people who are only a little religious who never get any good
out of it. It isn't enough to make them happy whatever happens, and
it's just enough to make them uncomfortable if they play cards on a
Sunday. I know I wish I were really good, like Miss Blomfield, and Mr.
Clerke, and Helen. * * *"

It was the year of Miss Blomfield's marriage that Ragged Robin's wife
died. We had all quite looked forward to the peace she would enjoy
when she was a widow, for it was known that delirium tremens was
surely shortening her husband's life. But she died before him. Her
children were wonderfully provided for. They were girls, and we had
them all at the Hall by turns in some sort of sub-kitchenmaid
capacity, from which they progressed to higher offices, and all became
first-class servants, and "did well."

"My dear," said Nurse Bundle, "there ain't no difficulty in finding
homes for gals that have been brought up to clean, and to do as
they're bid. It's folk as can't do a thing if you set it 'em, nor
take care of a thing if you gives it 'em, as there's no providing
for."

I almost shrink from recording the hardest, bitterest loss that those
changeful years of my school-life brought me--the death of Mr.
Andrewes. It was during my holidays, and yet I was not with him when
he died.

I do not think I had noticed anything unusual about him beforehand. He
had not been very well for some months, but we thought little of it,
and he never dwelt upon it himself. I was in the fifth form at the
time, and almost grown up. Sweep was a middle-aged dog, the wisest and
handsomest of his race. The Rector always dined with us on Sunday, but
one evening he excused himself, saying he felt too unwell to come out,
and would prefer to stay quietly at home, especially as he had a
journey before him; for he was going the next day to visit his brother
in Yorkshire for a change. But he asked if my father would spare me to
come down and spend the evening with him instead. I rightly considered
Sweep as included in the invitation, and we went together.

As we went up the drive (so familiar to me and poor little Rubens!) I
thought I had never seen the Rector's garden in richer beauty, or
heard such a chorus from the birds he loved and protected. Indeed the
border plants were luxuriant almost to disorder. It struck me that Mr.
Andrewes had not been gardening for some time. Perhaps this idea led
me to notice how ill he looked when I went indoors. But dinner seemed
to revive him, and then in the warm summer sunset we strolled outside
again. The Rector leant heavily on my arm. He made some joke about my
height, I remember. (I was proud of having grown so tall, and
secretly thought well of my general appearance in the tail-coat of
"fifth form.") With one arm I supported Mr. Andrewes, the other hung
at my side, into the hand of which Sweep ever and anon thrust his nose
caressingly.

"How well the garden looks!" I said. "And your birds are giving you a
farewell concert."

"Ah! You think so too?" said the Rector, quickly.

I was puzzled. "You are going to-morrow, are you not?" I said.

"Yes, of course. I see," said the Rector laughing. "I was thinking of
a longer journey. How superstitions do cling to north-countrymen!
We've a terrible lot of Paganism in us yet, for all the Christians
that we are!"

"What was your superstition just now?" said I.

"Oh, just part of a belief in the occult sympathy of the animal world
with humanity, which, indeed, I am by no means prepared to give up."

"I should think not!" said I.

"Though doubtless the idea that they feel and presage impending death
to man must be counted a fable."

"Awful rot!" was my comment. "I say, sir, I'm sure you're not well, to
get such stuff into your head."

"It's just that," said the Rector. "When I was a boy, I was far from
strong, and being rather bookish, I was constantly overworking my
head. What weird fancies and fads I had then, to be sure! I was
haunted by a lot of nervous plagues which it's best not to explain to
people who have never been tormented with them. One of the least
annoying was a sensation which now and then took possession of me
that everything I saw, heard, or did, was 'for the last time.' I've
often run back down a lane to get another glimpse of home, and done
over again something I had just finished--to break the charm! The old
childish folly has been plaguing me the last few days. It is strong on
me to-night."

"Then we'll talk of something else," said I.

Eventually our conversation became a religious one. It was like the
old days before I went to school. We had not had much religious talk
of late years. To say the truth, since I became an Eton man the
religious fervour of my childhood had died out. A strong belief in the
practical power of prayer (especially "when everything else failed")
was almost all that remained of that resolution to which Polly had
alluded in her letter. In discussions with her, I took Leo's view of
the subject. I warned her in a common-sense way against being
"religious overmuch" (not that I had any definite religious measure in
my mind); I laughed at Helen; I indulged a little cheap wit, and made
Polly furious, by smart sneers about women and parsons. I puzzled her
with scraps of old philosophy, and theological difficulties of
venerable standing, and was as proud to discomfit her faith as if my
own soul had no stake in the matter. I fairly drove her to tears about
the origin of evil. Sometimes I would have "Sunday talks" with her in
a different spirit, but even then she said I "did her no good," for I
would not believe that she could "have anything to repent of."

I fancy Mr. Andrewes had asked me to come to him that evening greatly
for the purpose of having a "Sunday talk." My father had wished me to
be confirmed at home rather than at school, and as Bishops did not
hold confirmations at such short intervals then as they do now, an
opportunity had only just occurred. Mr. Andrewes was preparing me, and
it was a great annoyance to him that his ill-health obliged him to go
away in the middle of his instructions. I think he was feverish that
night. Every now and then he spoke so rapidly that I could hardly
follow him. Then there were pauses in which he seemed lost, and abrupt
changes of subject, as if he could hardly control the order of his
thoughts. And in all the evident strain and anxiety to say everything
that he wished to say to me appeared that morbid fancy of its being
"the last time."

After we had talked for some time he said, "Life goes wonderfully
fast, Regie, though you may not think so just now. I do so well
remember being a child myself. I was eight years old, I think, when I
prayed for money enough to buy a _Fuchsia coccinea_ (they had not been
in England more than ten or twelve years then). My brother gave me
half-a-crown, and I got one. It seems as if that one yonder must be
it. I began a model of my father's house in card-board one winter,
too. Then I got bronchitis, and did not finish it. I have been
intending to finish it ever since, but it lies uncompleted in a box
upstairs. So we purpose and neglect, till death comes like a nurse to
take us to bed, and finds our tasks unfinished, and takes away our
toys!"

Presently he went on: "Our mechanical arbitrary division of time is
indeed a very false one. See how one day drags along, and how quickly
another passes. The true measure of time is that which makes each
man's life a day, his day. The real night is that in which no man can
work. Indeed, nothing can be more true and natural than those Eastern
expressions. I remember things that happened in my childhood as one
remembers what one did this morning. What a lot of things I meant to
do to-day! And one runs out into the garden instead of setting to
work, and it is noon before one knows where he is, and other people
take up one's time, and the afternoon slips away, and a man's day had
need be fifty times its length for him to do all he means and ought to
do, and to run after all the distractions the devil sends him as well.
So comes old age, the evening when one is tired, and it's hard to make
any fresh start; and then we're pretty near the end, at 'the last
feather of the shuttle,' as we say in Yorkshire. I often think that
the pitiful shortness of this life, compared with a man's hopes and
plans, is almost proof enough of itself that there must be another,
better fitted to his aims and capacities. And then--measure the folly
of not securing _that_! And talking of proofs, Regie, and whilst I'm
taking the privilege of this season of your confirmation to proffer a
little advice, above all things make up your mind as to what you
believe, and on what grounds you believe it. Ask yourself, my boy, if
you believe the articles of the Apostles' Creed to be real positive
truths. Do you think there is evidence for the facts, as matters of
history? Are you ever likely to have the time or the talent to test
this for yourself? And, if not, do you consider the authority of those
who have done so, and staked everything upon their truth, as
sufficient? Will you receive it as the Creed of your Church? Make up
your mind, my boy, above all things make up your mind! Have _some_
convictions, some real opinions, some worthy hopes; and be loyal to,
and in earnest about, whatever you do pin your faith to, I assure you
that vagueness of faith affects people's every-day conduct more than
they think. The sort of belief which takes a man to church on Sunday
who would be ashamed to look as if he were really praying, or
confessing real sins when he gets there, is small help to him when the
will balances between right and wrong. It is truly, as a matter of
mere common sense, a poor bargain, a wretched speculation, to be half
religious; to get a few checks and scruples out of it, and no real
strength and peace; and, it may be, to lose a man's soul, and not even
gain the world. For who dare promise himself that Christ our Judge,
who spent a self-denying human youth as our example, and so loved us
as to die for us, will accept a youth of indifference, and a
dissatisfied death-bed on our part? And if it be all true, and if
gratitude and common sense, and self-preservation, and the example and
advice of great men, demand that we shall serve GOD with all our
powers, don't you think the devil must, so to speak, laugh in his
sleeve to see us really conceited of being too large-minded to attend
too closely, or to begin to attend too early, to our own best
interests?"

"Ah!" he added after a while, "my dear boy--dearer to me than you can
tell--the truth is, I covet for you the unutterable blessing of a
youth given to GOD. What that is, some know, and many a man converted
late in life has imagined with heart-wrung envy: an Augustine, already
numbered with the Saints, a Prodigal robed and decked with more than
pardon, haunted yet by dark shadows of the past, the husks and the
swine. My boy, with an unstained youth yet before you to mould as you
will, get to yourself the elder son's portion--'Thou art ever with
Me, and all that I have is thine.' And what GOD has for those who
abide with Him, even here, who can describe? It's worth trying for,
lad; it would be worth trying for, on the chance of GOD fulfilling His
promises, if His Word were an open question. How well worth any
effort, any struggle, you'll know when you stand where I stand
to-night."

We had reached the front steps of the house as he said this. The last
few sentences had been spoken in jerks, and he seemed alarmingly
feeble. I shrank from understanding what he meant by his last words,
though I knew he did not refer to the actual spot on which we stood.
The garden was black now in the gloaming. The reflection from the
yellow light left by the sunset in the west gave an unearthly
brightness to his face, and I fancied something more than common in
the voice with which he quoted:

    "Jesu, spes poenitentibus,
    Quam pius es petentibus!
    Quam bonus te quaerentibus!
    _Sed quid invenientibus_!"

But I was fanciful that Sunday, or his nervous "fads" were infectious
ones; for on me also the superstition was strong to-night that it was
"the last time."




CHAPTER XXVI

I HEAR FROM MR. JONATHAN ANDREWES--YORKSHIRE--ALATHEA _alias_
BETTY--WE BURY OUR DEAD OUT OF OUR SIGHT--VOICES OF THE NORTH


I sat up for a short time with my father on my return. When I went to
bed, to my amazement Sweep was absent, and I could not find him
anywhere. I did not like to return to the Rectory, for fear of
disturbing Mr. Andrewes' rest, so I went to bed without my dog.

I was up early next morning, for I had resolved to go to the station
to see Mr. Andrewes off, though his train was an early one, that I
might disabuse him of his superstition by our meeting once more. It
was with a secret sense of relief, for my own part, that I saw him
arranging his luggage. Sweep, by-the-by, had turned up to breakfast,
and was with me.

"I've come to see you off," I shouted, "and to break the charm of
_last times_, and Sweep has come too."

"Strange to say, Sweep came back to me last night, after you left,"
said the Rector, laughing; "and he added omen to superstition by
sitting under the window when I turned him out, and howling like a
Banshee."

Sweep himself looked rather foolish as he wagged his tail in answer
to the Rector's greeting. He had the air of saying, "We were all a
little excited last night. Let it pass."

For my own part I felt quite reassured. The Rector was in his sunniest
mood, and as he watched us from the window to the very last, his face
was so bright with smiles, that he hardly looked ill.

For some days Sweep and I were absent, fishing.

When I returned, I found on my mantelpiece a black-edged letter in an
unfamiliar hand. But for the black I should have fancied it was a
bill. The writing was what is called "commercial." I opened it and
read as follows:

"North Side Mills, Blackford,

Yorks. 4/8, 18--.

"SIR,

     "I have to announce the lamented Decease of my
     Brother--Reverend Reginald Andrewes, M.A.--which took place
     on the 3rd inst. (3.35 A.M.), at Oak Mount, Blackford; where
     a rough Hospitality will be very much at your Service,
     should you purpose to attend the Funeral. Deceased expressed
     a wish that you should follow the remains; and should your
     respected Father think of accompanying you, the Compliment
     will give much pleasure to Survivors.

     "Funeral party to leave Oak Mount at 4 P.M. on Thursday next
     (the 8th inst.), D.V.

     "A line to say when you may be expected will enable me to
     meet you, and oblige,

"Yours respectfully,

"JONATHAN ANDREWES.

"Reginald Dacre, Esq., Jun."

It is useless to dwell upon the bitterness of this blow. My father
felt it as much as I did, and neither he nor I ever found this loss
repaired. One loses some few friends in a lifetime whose places are
never filled.

We went to the funeral. Had the cause of our journey been less sad, I
should certainly have enjoyed it very much. The railway ran through
some beautiful scenery, but it was the long coach journey at the end
which won my admiration for the Rector's native county. I had never
seen anything like these noble hills, these grand slopes of moorland
stretching away on each side of us as we drove through a valley to
which the river running with us gave its name. Not a quiet, sluggish
river, keeping flat pastures green, reflecting straight lines of
pollard willows, and constantly flowing past gay villas and country
cottages, but a pretty, brawling river with a stony bed, now yellow
with iron, and now brown with peat, for long distances running its
solitary race between the hills, but made useful here and there by
ugly mills built upon the banks. Sometimes there was a hamlet as well
as a mill. Tracts of the neighbouring moorland were enclosed and
cultivated, the fields being divided by stone walls, which looked rude
and strange enough to us. The cottages were also built of stone; but
as we drove through a village I could see, through several open doors,
that the rooms were very clean and most comfortably furnished, though
without carpets, the floors, like everything else, being of stone.

It was dark before we reached Blackford. The latter part of our
journey was through a coal and iron district, and the glare of the
furnace fires among the hills was like nothing I had ever seen. At the
coach office we were met by Mr. Jonathan Andrewes. He was a tall,
well-made man, with badly-fitting clothes, rather tumbled linen,
imperfectly brushed hair and hat, and some want of that fresh
cleanliness and finish of general appearance which went to my idea of
a gentleman's outside. I found him a warm-hearted, cold-mannered man,
with a clear, strong head, and a shrewdness of observation which
recalled the Rector to my mind more than once. The tones of his voice
made me start sometimes, they were so like the voice that I could
never hear again in this life. He spoke always in the broad dialect
into which the Rector was only wont to relapse in moments of
excitement.

A carriage, better appointed than the owner, and a man-servant rather
less so, were waiting, and took us to Oak Mount. In the hall our host
apologized for the absence of Mrs. Andrewes, who was at the sea-side,
out of health.

"But Betty 'll do her best to make you comfortable, sir," he said to
my father, and turning to a middle-aged woman with a hard-featured,
sensible face, and very golden hair tightly braided to her head, who
was already busy with our luggage, he added, "You've got something for
us to eat, Betty, I suppose?"

"T' supper 'll be ready by you're ready for it," said Betty, when she
had finished her orders to the man who was taking our things upstairs.
"But when folks is come off on a journey, they'll be glad to wash
their 'ands, and I've took hot water into both their rooms."

The maid's familiarity startled me. Moreover, I fancied that for some
reason she was angry, judging by the form and manner of her reply; but
I have since learned that the ordinary answers of Scotch and Yorkshire
folk are apt to sound more like retorts than replies.

In the end I became very friendly with this good woman. Her real name,
I discovered, was not Betty. "They call me Alathea," she said, meaning
that that was her name, "but I've allus gone by the name of Betty."
From her I learnt all the particulars of my dear friend's last
illness, which I never should have got from the brother.

"He talked a deal about you," she said. "But you see, you're just
about t' age his son would have been if he'd lived."

"His son!" I cried: "was Mr. Andrewes married?"

"Ay," said she, "Master Reginald were married going i' two year. It
were his wife's death made him that queer while he couldn't abide the
business, and he'd allus been a great scholard, so he went for a
parson."

Every detail that I could get from Alathea was interesting to me.
Apart from the sadly interesting subject, she had admirable powers of
narration. Her language (when it did not become too local for my
comprehension) was forcible and racy to a degree, and she was not
checked by the reserve which clogged Mr. Jonathan's lips. The
following morning she came to the door of the drawing-room (a large
dreary room, which, like the rest of the house, was handsomely
_upholstered_ rather than furnished), and beckoned mysteriously to me
from the door. I went out to her.

"You'd like to see the body afore they fastens it up?" she said.

I bent my head and followed her.

"He makes a beautiful corpse," she whispered, as we passed into the
room. It was an incongruous remark, and stirred again an hysterical
feeling that had been driving me to laugh when I felt most sad amid
all the grotesquely dreary preparations for the "burying." But, like
some other sayings that offend ears polite, it had the merit of truth.

It was not the beauty of the Rector's face in death, however, noble as
it was, that alone drew from me a cry of admiration when I stooped
over his coffin. From the feet to the breast, utterly hiding the grave
clothes, and tastefully grouped about his last pillow, were the most
beautiful exotic flowers I ever beheld. Flowers lately introduced that
I had never seen, flowers that I knew to be rare, almost
priceless--flowers of gorgeous colours and delicate hothouse beauty,
lay there in profusion.

"Mr. Jonathan sent for 'em," Betty murmured in my ear. "There's pounds
and pounds' worth lies there. He give orders accordingly. There warn't
to be a flower 'at warn't worth its weight in gowd a'most. Mr.
Reginald were that fond of flowers."

I made no answer. Bitterly ached my heart to think of that dear and
noble face buried out of sight; the familiar countenance that should
light up no more at the sight of me and Sweep. "He looks so happy," I
muttered, almost jealously. Alathea laid her hand upon my arm.

"Them that sleeps in Jesus rests well, my dear. And, as I said to
Master Jonathan this morning, it ain't fit to overbegrudge them 'ats
gone Home."

I think it was the naming of that Name, in which alone we vanquish the
bitter victories of death, that recalled the verse which had been
floating in my head ever since that evening at the Rectory:

    "Jesu, spes poenitentibus,
    Quam pius es petentibus!
    Quam bonus te quaerentibus!
    _Sed quid invenientibus_!"

The loneliness of my childhood had given me a habit of talking to
myself. I did not know that I had quoted that verse of the old hymn
aloud, till I discovered the fact from hearing afterwards, to my no
small surprise, that Betty had reported that I "made a beautiful
prayer over the corpse."

       *       *       *       *       *

The grim and hideous pomp of the funeral was most oppressive, though
in the abundance of plumes and mutes Mr. Jonathan had, as in the more
graceful tribute of the flowers, honoured his brother nobly after his
manner, which was a commercial one. It was a very expensive "burying."
Alathea did tell me what "the gin and whiskey for the mourners alone
come to," though I have forgotten. But we lost sight of the ignoble
features of the occasion when the sublime office for the Burial of the
Dead began. When it was ended I understood one of Betty's brusque
remarks, which had puzzled me when it came out at breakfast-time.

"You'll 'ave to take what ye can get for your dinners, gentlemen," she
had said; "for the singers is to meet at three, and I can't pretend to
do more nor I can."

The women mourners at the funeral (there were a few) all wore large
black silk hoods, which completely disguised them; but at the end of
the service one of them pushed hers back, and I recognized the golden
hair of Alathea, as she joined a group rather formally collected on
one side of the grave. She looked round as if to see that all were
ready, and then in such a soprano voice as one seldom hears, she
"started" the funeral hymn. It was the Old Psalm--

    "O GOD, our help in ages past,
      Our hope for years to come;

    Our shelter from life's stormy blast,
      And our eternal home."

I had heard very little chorus-singing of any kind; and I did not then
know that for the best I had heard--that of St. George's choir at
Windsor--voices were systematically imported from this particular
district. My experience of village singing was confined to the thin
nasal unison psalmody of our school children, and an occasional rustic
stave from a farmer at an agricultural dinner. Great, then, was my
astonishment when the little group broke into the four-part harmony of
a fine chorale. One rarely hears such voices. Betty had a grand
soprano, and on the edge of the group stood a little lad singing like
a bird, in an alto of such sweet pathos as would have made him famous
in any cathedral choir.

Mr. Jonathan's head drooped lower and lower. Affecting as the hymn was
in my ears, it had for him, no doubt, associations I could not share.
My father moved near him, with an impulse of respectful sympathy.

To me that one rich voice of harmony spoke as the voice of my old
teacher; and I longed to cry to him in return, "I have made up my
mind. It _is_ worth trying for! It is 'worth any effort, any
struggle.' Our eternal home!"




CHAPTER XXVII

THE NEW RECTOR--AUNT MARIA TRIES TO FIND HIM A WIFE--MY FATHER HAS A
SIMILAR CARE FOR ME


The stone that marks the burying-place of the Andrewes family taught
me the secret of the special love the Rector bore me. It recorded the
deaths of his wife Margaret, and of his son Reginald. The child was
born in the same year as myself.

Mr. Jonathan Andrewes came to Dacrefield on business connected with
his brother's affairs, and he accepted my father's hospitality at the
Hall. We seldom met afterwards, and were never intimate; but, slight
as it was, our tie was that of friendship rather than acquaintance.

The next presentation to the Rectory of Dacrefield was in my father's
gift. He held it alternately with the Bishop, to whom he owed Mr.
Andrewes. He gave it to my old tutor.

Mr. Clerke's appointment had the rare merit of pleasing everybody.
After he had been settled with us for some weeks, my father said,

"Mr. Clerke is good enough to be grateful to me for presenting him to
the living, but I do not know how to be grateful enough to him for
accepting it. I really cannot think how I should have endured to see
Andrewes' place filled by some new broom sweeping away every trace of
our dear friend and his ways. Clerke's good taste in the matter is
most delicate, most admirable, and very pleasant to my feelings."

The truth is there was not a truer mourner for the old Rector than the
new one. "I so little thought I should never see him again," he cried
to me. "I have often felt I did not half avail myself of the privilege
of knowing such a man, when I was here. I have notes of more than a
score of matters, on which I purposed to ask his good counsel, when we
should meet again. And now it will never be."

"I feel so unworthy to fill his place," he would say. "My only comfort
is in trying to carry out all his plans, and, so far as I can, tread
in his steps."

In this spirit the new Rector followed the old one, even to becoming
an expert gardener. He bought the old furniture of the Rectory.
Altogether, we were spared those rude evidences of change which are
not the least painful parts of such a loss as ours.

With the parishioners, I am convinced, that Mr. Clerke was more
popular than Mr. Andrewes had been. They liked him at first for his
reverence for the memory of a pastor they had loved well. I think he
persuaded them, too, that there never could be another Rector equal to
Mr. Andrewes. But in reality I believe he was himself more acceptable.
He was much less able, but also less eccentric and reserved. He was
nearer to the mental calibre of his flock, and not above entering into
parish gossip after a discreet fashion. He was not less zealous than
his predecessor.

When Aunt Maria came to visit us she gladly renewed acquaintance with
Mr. Clerke, who was a great favourite of hers. I think she imagined
that he was presented to Dacrefield on the strength of her approval.
She used to say to me, "You know Reginald, I always told your father
that Mr. Clerke was a most spiritual preacher." But after seeing him
as Rector of Dacrefield, she added, "He's getting much too 'high.'
Quite like that extraordinary creature you had here before. But it's
always the way with young men."

Uncle Ascott did not publicly undertake Mr. Clerke's defence, but he
told me:

"I don't pretend to understand these matters as Maria does, but I can
tell you I never liked any of our London parsons as I like Clerke.
There's something I respect beyond anything in the feeling he has for
your late Rector. And between ourselves, my dear boy, I rather like a
nicely-conducted service."

So Uncle Ascott and Mr. Clerke were the very best of friends, and my
uncle would go to the Rectory for a quiet smoke, and was always
hospitably received. (Neither my aunt nor my father liked the smell of
tobacco.) Aunt Maria's favour was a little withdrawn. She tried a
delicate remonstrance, but though he was most courteous, it was not to
be mistaken that the Rector of Dacrefield meant to go his own way:
"the way of a better man than I shall ever be," he said. Failing to
change his principles, or guide his practice, my aunt next became
anxious to find him a wife. "Medical men and country parsons ought to
be married," said she, "and it will settle him."

She selected a young lady of the neighbourhood, the daughter of a
medical man. "Most suitable," said my aunt (by which she meant not
_quite_ up to the standard she would have exacted for a son of her
own), "and with a little money." She patronised this young lady, and
even took her with us one day to lunch at the Rectory; but when she
said something to Mr. Clerke on the subject, she found him utterly
obdurate. "What does he expect, I wonder?" cried my aunt, rather
unfairly, for the Rector had not given utterance to any matrimonial
hopes. She always said, "She never could feel that Mr. Clerke had
behaved well to poor Letitia Ramsay," which used to make downright
Polly very indignant. "He didn't behave badly to her. It was mamma who
always took her everywhere where he was; and how she could stand it, I
don't know! He never flirted with her, Regie."

The next few years of my life seemed to whirl by. They were very happy
ones. My dear father lived, and our mutual affection only grew
stronger as time went on.

Then, when I was a man, it gradually dawned upon me, through many
hints, that my father had the same anxiety for me that Aunt Maria had
had for the Rector. He wished me to marry. At one time or another my
fancy had been taken by pretty girls, some of whom were unsuitable in
every respect but prettiness, and some of whom failed to return my
admiration. My dear father would not have dreamed of urging on me a
marriage against my inclinations, but he would have preferred a lady
with some fortune as his daughter-in-law.

"Our family is an old one, my dear boy," he said, "but the estate is
much smaller than it was in my great-grandfather's time. Don't suppose
that I would have you marry for money alone; but if the lady should be
well portioned, sir, so much the better--so much the better."

At last he seemed to set his heart upon my having one of Aunt Maria's
daughters. People who live years and years on their own country
estates without going much from home are apt sometimes to fancy that
there is nothing like their own family circle. My father had a great
objection, too, to what he called "modern young ladies." I think he
thought that, as there was no girl left in the world like my poor
mother, I should be safer and happier with one of my cousins. They
were unexceptionably brought up, and would all have considerable
fortunes.

But though I was very fond of my cousins, I had no wish to choose a
wife from them. They had been more like sisters to me than cousins
from our childhood. At one time, it is true, I was rather sentimental
about Helen. She was the only one of the sisters who was positively
pretty, and her resolute character and unusual tastes roused a
romantic interest in me for a while. When she was twelve years old,
she was found one day by Aunt Maria in the bedroom of a servant who
had fallen ill, and to whom she was attending with the utmost
dexterity. She had a genius for the duties of a sick room, which
developed as she grew up. There were no lady-doctors then, but Helen
was determined to be a hospital nurse. Strongly did Aunt Maria object,
and Helen never defied her wishes in the matter. But she had all Mrs.
Ascott's determination, with more patience. She waited long, but she
followed her vocation at last.

None of the other girls had any special tastes. The laborious and
expensive education of their childhood did not lead to anything worth
the name of a pursuit, much less a hobby, with any one of them. Of the
happiness of learning, of the exciting interest of an intellectual
hobby, they knew nothing. With much pains and labour they had been
drilled in arts and sciences, in languages and "the usual branches of
an English education." But, apart from social duties and amusements,
the chief occupation of their lives was needlework. I have known many
people who never received proper instruction in music or drawing, who
yet, from what they picked up of either art by their own industry and
intelligence, nearly doubled the happiness of their daily lives. But
in vain had "the first masters" made my cousins glib in chromatic
passages, and dexterous with tricks of effects in colours and crayons.
They played duets after dinner, and Aunt Maria sometimes showed off
the water-colour copies of their school-room days, which, indeed, they
now and then recopied for bazaars; but for their own pleasure they
never touched a note or a pencil. Perhaps real enjoyment only comes
with what one has, to a great extent, taught oneself. Helen had been
her own mistress in the art of nursing, and it was an all-absorbing
interest to her.

They were very nice girls, and I do not think were entirely to blame
for the small use to which they put their "advantages." They were tall
and lady-like, aquiline-nosed and pleasant-looking, without actual
beauty. It took a wonderful quantity of tarlatan to get them ready for
a ball, a large carriage to hold them, and a small amount of fun to
make them talkative and happy.

Except Maria, they all inherited my aunt's firmness and decision of
character. Maria, the oldest and largest, was the most yielding. She
had more of Uncle Ascott about her.




CHAPTER XXVIII

I BELIEVE MYSELF TO BE BROKEN-HEARTED--MARIA IN LOVE--I MAKE AN OFFER
OF MARRIAGE, WHICH IS NEITHER ACCEPTED NOR REFUSED


A phase of my life, into which I do not propose to enter, left me
firmly resolved that (as I said in confidence to Clerke) "I shall
marry to please the governor. One doesn't go in for a broken heart,
you know, but it isn't in me to _care_ a second time."

It was shortly after this that Maria and her mother came to stay at
the Hall. A rather mysterious letter from my aunt had led to the
invitation. It was for the benefit of Maria's health. My father also
invited Polly; she was a favourite with him. Leo and some other
friends were expected for shooting. Our neighbours' houses as well as
ours were filling with visitors, and though I fancied myself a
disappointed man, I found my spirits rising daily.

My aunt and Maria arrived first: Polly was visiting elsewhere, and was
to join them in a day or two. I was glad to have ladies in the house
again, and after dinner I strolled about the grounds with Maria. She
was looking delicate, but it improved her appearance, and she quite
pleased me by the interest she seemed to take in the place. But I had
seen more of Maria during a visit I paid to London two months before
than usual, and had been quite surprised to find her so well versed
in Dacrefield matters.

"It's uncommonly pleasant having you here," said I, as we leaned over
a low wall in the garden. "I wonder we do not become perfect
barbarians, cut off as we are from ladies' society. I'm sure I wish
you would settle down here instead of in London. You would civilise
both the Rectory and the Hall."

I was really thinking of my uncle taking a house in the neighbourhood.
I do not know what Maria was thinking of; but she looked up suddenly
into my face, with a strange expression, as if half inclined to speak.
She said nothing, however, only blushed deeply, and began walking
towards the house. I puzzled for a few minutes over that pathetic look
and blush, but I could make nothing of it, and it passed from my mind
till the next evening after dinner, when, after a little ceremonious
preamble, my father asked if there was "anything between" myself and
my eldest cousin. In explanation of this vague question, he told me
that Maria had been failing in health and spirits for some months;
that my aunt's watchful observation and experience had led her to the
conclusion that Maria was not in a consumption, but in love. As,
however, she kept her own counsel, Mrs. Ascott could only guess in the
matter. From her feverish interest in Dacrefield, her ill-concealed
excitement when the visit was proposed, the improvement in her health
since she came, and a multitude of other small facts which my aunt had
ferreted out and patched together with an ingenuity that amazed me,
Maria was supposed to care for me.

"We were a good deal together in town, sir," said I, "and Maria was
very jolly with me. But I am sure I gave her no reason to think I was
in love with her, and I don't believe she cares for me. It's one of my
aunt's mare's nests, depend upon it. The poor girl has got a horrid
cough, and, of course, she was pleased to get out of London smoke."

"If you did care for her," said my father; "and, above all, if you had
led her to think you did, the course is obvious, and I have no doubt
she would make an excellent wife. Polly is my favourite, and Maria is
a year or two older than you. But she is a nice, sensible, well-bred
woman. She is the eldest daughter, and will have--"

"My dear father," said I, "Maria and I are very friendly as cousins,
but she has not an idea of me in any other than a brotherly relation.
At least I think not," I added, for the look and blush that had
puzzled me came back to my mind.

"I only mention this because I wished to warn you against trifling
with your cousin's affections if you mean nothing," said my father.

"I should be sorry to trifle with any lady's affections, sir," was my
reply. We said no more. I sighed, thinking of what I fully believed
had blighted my existence. My father sighed, thinking, I know, of his
own vain wish to see me happily married. At last I could bear it no
longer, and calling Sweep, I went out into the garden. It was
moonlight, and Maria was languidly pacing the terrace. I joined her,
and we strolled away into the shrubbery.

I cannot say that my father's warning led me to shun Maria's society.
My father and my aunt naturally talked together, and circumstances
almost forced us two into _tete-a-tetes_. I could not fail to see that
Maria liked to be with me, and I found the task of taking care of her
soothing to what I believed to be my blighted feelings. We rode
together (she had an admirable figure and rode well), and the exercise
did her health great good. We often met Mr. Clerke in our rides, and
he seemed to enjoy a canter with us, though he rode very little better
than when I first knew him. We took long walks with Sweep, and from
the oldest tenant to the latest puppy, everything about Dacrefield
seemed to interest my fair cousin. I came at last to believe that Aunt
Maria was right.

When I did come to believe it (and I do not think that any
contemptible conceit made me hasty to do so), other thoughts followed.
I was as firmly convinced as any other young man with my experiences
that I could never again feel what I had felt for the person who shall
be nameless. But the first bitterness of that agony being undoubtedly
over, I felt that I might find a sober satisfaction in making my
father's declining years happy by giving him a daughter-in-law, and
that I was perhaps hardly justified in allowing Maria to fall into a
consumption when I could prevent it. "There are some people," thought
I, "with whom one could spend life very happily in a quiet fashion;
people who would not offend one's taste, or greatly provoke one's
temper, and whom one feels that one could please in like manner.
_Suitable_ people, in fact. And when a fellow has had his great
heart-ache and it's all over, no doubt suitableness is the thing to
make married life happy.... Maria is suitable."

I remember well the day I came to this conclusion. Our visitors had
not yet arrived, but Polly was expected the next day, and Leo and some
others shortly. "I may as well get it over before the house is full,"
I thought. But, to my vexation, I discovered that my father had asked
Mr. Clerke to come up after dinner. "It's his own fault if I don't get
another chance of speaking," thought I. But, as I strolled sullenly on
the terrace (without Maria) a note arrived from the Rector to say that
he was called away to see a sick man. I dashed into the drawing-room,
gave the letter to my father, and seeing Maria was not there, I went
on into the conservatory.

There are moments when even plain people look handsome. Notably when
self-consciousness is quite absent, and some absorbing thought gives
sentiment to the face, and grace and power to the figure. It was so at
this moment with Maria, who stood gazing before her, the light from
above falling artistically on her glossy hair and tall, elegant
figure. At the sound of my footsteps she started, and the colour
flooded her face as I came up to her. She sank on to a seat close by,
as if too much agitated to stand.

"I have something I want to say to you," said I, stooping over her,
and speaking in my gentlest voice. "May I say it?"

She moved her lips as if trying to speak, but there was no sound, and
she just nodded her head, which then drooped so that I could hardly
see her face.

"We have known each other since we were children," I began.

"Yes, Regie dear," murmured Maria.

"We were always very good friends, I think," continued I.

"Oh, yes, Regie dear."

"Childhood was a very happy time," said I, sentimentally.

"Oh, yes, Regie dear."

"But we can't be children for ever," I continued.

"Oh, no, Regie dear."

"Please take what I am going to say kindly, cousin, whatever you may
think of it."

"Oh, yes, Regie dear."

"I hope I may truthfully say that your happiness is, as it ought to
be, my chief aim in the matter."

Maria's response was inaudible.

"It's no good beating about the bush," said I, desperately clothing my
sentiments in slang, after the manner of my age; "the fellow who gets
you for a wife, Maria, must be uncommonly fortunate, and I hope that
with a good husband, who made your wishes his first consideration, you
would not be unhappy in married life yourself."

Lower and lower went her head, but still she was silent.

"You say nothing," I went on. "Probably I am altogether wrong, and you
are too kind-hearted to tell me I am an impertinent puppy. It is
Dacrefield--the place only--that you honour with your regard. You have
no affection for--"

Maria did not let me finish this sentence. She put up her hands to
stop me, and seemed as if she wished to speak; but after one pitiful
glance she buried her face in her hands and wept bitterly. I am sure I
have read somewhere that when a woman weeps she is won. So Maria was
mine. I had a grim feeling about it which I cannot describe. "I hope
the governor will be satisfied now," was my thought.

However, there is nothing I hate more than to see a woman cry. To be
the means of making her cry is intolerable.

"Please, please, don't! Oh, Maria, what a brute you make me feel.
_Please_ don't," I cried, and raising my cousin from her Niobe-like
attitude, I comforted her as well as I could. She only said, "Oh,
Regie dear, how kind you are," and laid her sleek head against my arm
with an air of rest and trustfulness that touched my generosity to the
quick. What right had I, after all, to accept an affection to which I
could make no similar return? "However," thought I, "it's done now;
and they say it's always more on one side than the other; and at least
I'm a gentleman. I care for no one else, and she shall never know it
was chiefly to please the governor. I suppose it will all come right."

Whilst I pondered, Maria had dried her eyes, and now sat up, gazing
before her, almost in her old attitude.

"I wonder, Regie dear," she said, presently--"I wonder how you found
out that I--that we--that I _cared_--"

"Oh, I don't know," said I, inanely, for I could not say that nothing
could be plainer.

"I always used to think that to live in this neighbourhood would be
paradise," murmured Maria, looking sentimentally but vacantly into a
box of seedling balsams.

"I'm very glad you like it," said I. I could not make pretty speeches.
An unpleasant conviction was stealing over my mind that I had been a
fool, and had no one but myself to blame. I began to think that Maria
would not have died of consumption even if I had not proposed to her,
and to doubt if I were really so heartbroken as I had fancied. (Indeed
the society of my cousin, who was a lady, had by this time gone far to
cure me of my sentiment for one who was not, and who had been
sensible enough to marry a man in her own rank of life, to my father's
great relief, and, as I then thought, to my life-long disappointment.)
The whole affair seemed a mockery, and I wished it were a dream. It
was not thus that my father had plighted his troth to my fair mother.
This was not the sort of affection that had made happy the short lives
of Leo's parents. The lemon-scented verbena which I was pounding
between my fingers bitterly recalled a little sketch of the monument
to their memory which Leo had shown me in his Bible, where he had also
pressed a sprig of verbena. Beneath the sketch he had written, "They
were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not
divided." I remembered his telling me how young they were when they
were married. How his father had never cared for any one else, and how
he would like to do just the same, and marry the one lady of his love.
I began, too, to think Clerke was right when he replied to my
confidences, "I'm only afraid, Regie, that you don't know what love
is."

It was whilst these thoughts were crowding all too vividly into my
mind that Maria said, impressively, and with unmistakable clearness,

"After _all_, you know, Regie, he's a _thorough_ gentleman, if he _is_
poor. I must say _that_! And if he _has_ a profession instead of being
a landed proprietor, it's the _highest_ and _noblest_ profession there
is."

It seemed to take away my breath. But I was standing almost behind
Maria; she was preoccupied, and I had some presence of mind. I had
opportunity to realize the fact that I was not the object of Maria's
attachment, as I had supposed. I was not poor, I had no profession,
and my common avocations did not, I fear, deserve to be called high
or noble. The description in no way fitted me. Further still, it was
evident that my cousin had not dreamed that I was making her an offer.
She believed that I had discovered her attachment to some other man,
and was grateful for my sympathy. I did not undeceive her. After a
rapid review of the position, I said,

"But my dear Maria, though I have penetrated to the fact that you have
a secret, and though I want beyond anything to help and comfort you, I
do not yet know who the happy man is, remember."

"Don't you?" said Maria, looking up hastily, and the colour rushed to
her face as before. "Oh, I thought you knew it was Mr. Clerke. You
know, he _is_ so good, and I've known him so long."

At this moment Aunt Maria's voice called from the drawing-room end of
the conservatory.

"Will you give us a little music, Maria? Mr. Clerke has come after
all, and Bowles has brought in the tea."




CHAPTER XXIX

THE FUTURE LADY DAMER--POLLY HAS A SECRET--UNDER THE MULBERRY-TREE


Polly came into the house, as she always did, like a sunbeam. Mrs.
Bundle, who was getting old, and apt to be depressed in spirits from
time to time, always revived when "Miss Mary" paid us a visit. A
general look of welcome greeted her appearance in church on Sunday. My
father made no secret of his pleasure in her society. I think she was
in the secret of her sister's engagement, and Maria looked comforted
by her coming.

Our meals were now quite merry. We had plenty of family gossip, and
news of the neighbourhood to chat over.

"So Lady Damer that is to be is coming to the Towers," Maria announced
at breakfast, on the authority of a letter she was reading. "Leo is
coming here to shoot, isn't he, Regie?"

"We expect him every day," said I; "but I never knew he was engaged.
Who is it?"

"Well, it's not an announced engagement," said Maria, "but everybody
says it is to be. She is an heiress, and her father was an old friend
of his guardian's. And, by-the-bye, Regie, her sister is coming too,
and will do beautifully for you. She is co-heiress, you know. They're
really very rich, and your one is lovely."

"I'm sure I'm very much obliged to you," said I, "and we are to dine
at the Towers next week, so I shall see the heiresses. But suppose I
take a fancy to the wrong one?"

"You can't have her," said Maria, laughing.

"I tell you she is for Leo, and she is very clever and strong-minded,
which is just what he wants--a wife who can take care of him."

"Oh, deliver me from a strong-minded lady!" I cried. "Damer is quite
welcome to her."

"Your one isn't a bit strong-minded," said Maria. "She is very pretty,
but has no will of her own at all. She leans completely on Frances; I
don't know what she'll do when she marries, for they have been orphans
since they were quite children, and have never lived apart for a
week."

At this point Polly broke in with even more warmth and directness of
speech than usual,

"Frances Chislett is the most superior girl I ever knew. Men always
laugh at strong-minded women; but I'm sure I don't know why. I can't
think how any human being with duties and responsibilities can be
either more useful or more agreeable for being weak-minded."

And this was all that Polly contributed to our nonsensical
conversation about the heiresses.

After she came I forsook the society of Maria. I knew now that she
only wanted to talk to me about the Rector and the parish. Besides,
though Maria was strongly interested in Dacrefield for Clerke's sake,
she knew much less of it than Polly, with whom I revisited numberless
haunts of our childhood, the barns and stables, the fernery, the
"Pulpit" and the "Pew."

I did not tell her of my romance with Maria. I was not proud of it.
But as we sat together in the old apple-room above the stables, I
confided to her my "unfortunate attachment," which I had now
sufficiently recovered from not to be offended by her opinion, that it
was all for the best that it had ended as it had.

I do not remember exactly how it was that I came to know that
Polly--even Polly--had her own private heart-ache. I think I took an
unfair advantage of her strict truthfulness, when I once suspected
that she had a secret, and insisted upon her confiding in me as I had
done in her. Nurse Bundle gave me the first hint. Mrs. Bundle,
however, believed that "Miss Mary" was only waiting for me to ask her
to be mistress of Dacrefield Hall. And though she had "never seen the
young lady that was good enough for her boy," she graciously allowed
that I might "do worse than marry Miss Mary."

"My time's pretty near come, my dear," said Mrs. Bundle, "but many's
the time I pray the Lord to let me live to put in if it is but a pin,
when your lady dresses for her wedding."

But I was not to be fooled a second time by the affectionate belief my
friends had in my attractions.

"My dear old Nursey," said I, squatting down with Sweep by her easy
chair, "I know what a dear girl Polly is, and if she wanted to be Mrs.
Dacre she soon should be. But you're quite mistaken there; she is my
dear sister, and always will be so, and never anything else."

"Well, well," said Nurse Bundle, "young folks know their own affairs
better than the old ones, and the Lord above knows what's good for us
all, but I'm a great age, and the Squire's not young, and taking the
liberty to name us together, my deary, in all reason it would be a
blessing to him and me to see you happy with a lady as fit to take
your dear mother's place as Miss Mary is. For let alone everything
else, my dear, servants is not what they used to be, and when I'm dead
you'll be cheated out of house and home, without any one as knows what
goes to the keeping of a family, and what don't."

"Well, Nursey," said I, "I'll try and find a lady to please you and
the governor. But it won't be Polly, I know, and I wish it may be any
one as good."

I bullied poor Polly sadly about having a secret, and not confiding it
to me. She was far from expert at dissembling, and never told an
untruth, so I soon drove her into a corner.

"I'm rather disappointed, I must confess, in one way," said I, having
found her unable flatly to deny that she did "care for" somebody. "I
always hoped, somehow, that you and Leo would make it up together."

"You heard what Maria said," said Polly, shortly.

"Oh, I don't believe in the heiress," said I, "unless you've refused
him. He'd never take up with the blue-stocking lady and her money-bags
if his old love would have had him."

"I wish you wouldn't call her names," said Polly, angrily. "I tell you
she's the best girl I ever knew. I don't care much for most girls;
they are so silly. I suppose you'll say that's envy, but I can't help
it, it's true. But Frances Chislett never bores me. She only makes me
ashamed of myself, and long to be like her. When she's with me I feel
rough, and ignorant, and useless, and--"

"What a soothing companion!" I broke in.

"Poor Damer! So you want him to marry her, as one takes nasty
medicine--all for his good."

"Want him to marry her!" repeated Polly, expressively. "No. But I am
satisfied that he should marry _her_. So long as he is really happy,
and his wife is worthy of him--and _she_ is worthy of him--"

A light dawned upon me, and I interrupted her.

"Why, Polly, it _is_ Leo that you care for!"

We were sitting under an old mulberry-tree near the gate, in the
kitchen garden, but when I said this Polly jumped up and tried to run
away. I caught her hand to detain her, and we were standing very much
in the attitude of the couple in a certain sentimental print entitled
"The Last Appeal," when the gate close by us opened, and my father put
his head into the garden, shouting "James! James!" I dropped Polly's
hand, and struck by the same idea, we both blushed ludicrously; for
the girls knew as well as I did the plans made on our behalf by our
respective parents.

"The men are at dinner, sir," said I, going towards my father. "Can I
do anything?"

"Not at all--not at all; don't let me disturb you," said the old
gentleman, with an unmistakably pleased expression of countenance. And
turning to blushing Polly, he added in his most gracious tones,

"You look charming, my dear, standing under that old mulberry-tree, in
your pretty dress. It was planted by my grandfather, your
great-grandfather, my love, and Regie's also. I wish I could have you
painted so. Quite a picture--quite a picture!"

Saying which, and waving off my attempts to follow him, he bowed
himself out and shut the door behind him. When he had gone, Polly and
I looked at each other, and then burst out laughing.

"The plot certainly thickens," said I, sitting down again. "I beg you
to listen to the gratified parent whistling as he retires. What shall
we do, Polly, how could you blush so?"

"How could I help it when I saw you get so red?" said Polly.

"We certainly are a wonderful family at this point," said I; "the
whole lot of us in a mess with our love affairs, and my aunt and the
governor off on completely wrong scents."

"Oh, I think everybody's the same," said Polly, picking off half-ripe
mulberries and flinging them hither and thither; "but that doesn't
make one any better pleased with oneself for being a fool."

"You're not a fool," said I, pulling her down to the seat again; "but
I wish you wouldn't be cross when you're unhappy. Look at me.
Disappointment has made me sympathetic instead of embittering me. But,
seriously, Polly, I'm sure you and Leo will come all right, and in the
general rejoicing your mother must let Clerke and poor Maria be happy.
Even I might have found consolation with the beautiful heiress if I
had been left to find out her merits for myself; but one gets rather
tired of having young ladies suggested to one by attentive friends.
The fact is, matrimony is not in my line. I feel awfully old. The
governor is years younger than I am. Whoever saw _me_ trouble _my_
long legs and back to perform such a bow as he gave you just now? I
wish he'd leave me in peace with Sweep. Since the day I came of age,
when every old farmer in the place wound up his speech with something
about the future Mrs. Reginald Dacre, I've had no quiet of my life for
her. Clerke too! I really did think Clerke was a confirmed old
bachelor, on ecclesiastical grounds. I wish I'd gone fishing to
Norway. I wish a bit of the house would fall down. If the governor
were busy with real brick and mortar, he wouldn't build so many
castles in the air, perhaps."

As I growled, Sweep, beneath my feet, growled also. I believe it was
sympathy, but lest it should be the approach of Aunt Maria (whom Sweep
detested), Polly and I thought well to withdraw from the garden by
another gate. We returned to the house, and I took her to my den to
find a book to divert her thoughts. I was not surprised that a long
search ended in her choosing a finely-bound copy of Young's "Night
Thoughts."

"I often feel ashamed of knowing so little of our standard poets," she
remarked parenthetically.

"Quite so," said I; "but I feel it right to mention that the marks in
it are only mine."




CHAPTER XXX

I MEET THE HEIRESS--I FIND MYSELF MISTAKEN ON MANY POINTS--A NEW KNOT
IN THE FAMILY COMPLICATIONS


Leo came to the Hall. "His" heiress came to the Towers, but not
"mine." She was to follow shortly.

I could not make out how matters stood between Leo and Polly. When
Damer came, Polly was three times as _brusque_ with him as with any of
us; he himself seemed dreamy, and just as usual.

We went to dine at the Towers. We were rather late. Leo, in right of
his rank, took a dowager of position in to dinner. Our host led me
across the room, and introduced me to "Miss Chislett."

[Illustration: It was only a quiet dinner party, and Miss Chislett had
brought out her needlework.]

She was not the sort of person I expected. It just flashed across me
that I understood something of Polly's remark about Frances Chislett
making her feel "rough." My cousins were ladies in every sense of the
term, but Miss Chislett had a certain perfection of courteous grace
and dignified refinement, in every word, and gesture, and attitude, as
utterly natural to her as the vigorous tread of any barefooted peasant
girl, and which one does meet with (but by no means invariably) among
women of the highest class in England. Her dignity fell short of
haughtiness (which is not high breeding, and is very easy of
assumption); her grace and courtesy were the simple results of
constant and skilful consideration for other people, and of a
self-respect sufficient to dispense with self-consciousness. The
advantage of wealth was evident in the exquisite taste and general
effect of her costume. She was not beautiful, and yet I felt disposed
for an angry argument with my cousins on the subject of her looks. Her
head was nobly shaped, her figure was tall and beautiful, her grey
eyes haunted one. I never took any lady to dinner who gave me so
little trouble. When we had been together for two minutes, I felt as
if I had known her for years.

"Well, what do you think of her?" said Polly, when we met in the
drawing-room. Polly had been taken in by Mr. Clerke, and they had
neither of them paid much attention to what the other was saying.
Maria had said "yes" and "no" alternately to the observations of the
elderly and Honourable Mr. Edward Glynn; but as he was deaf this
mattered the less.

"Was I right?" said Polly.

"No," said I; "she's not a bit strong-minded." Polly laughed.

"I'll say one thing for her," said I; "I don't mind how often I take
her in to dinner. She doesn't expect you to make conversation."

"Why, my dear Regie," said Polly, "you've been talking the whole of
dinner-time!"

Leo had seated himself by the heiress. Poor Polly's eyes kept
wandering towards them, and (I suppose, because I had heard so much
about her) so did mine. It was only a quiet dinner-party, and Miss
Chislett had brought out her needlework, some gossamer lace affair,
and Leo leant over the sofa where she sat, playing with the contents
of her workbox. Polly's eyes and mine were not the only ones turned
towards them. Ours was not the only interest in the future Lady Damer.

Aunt Maria carried Polly off to the piano to "give us a little music,"
and I sat down and stultified myself with an album at the table, and
Frances Chislett chatted with Sir Lionel. They were close by me, and
every word they said was audible. It was the veriest chit-chat, and
Leo's remarks on the little bunch of charms and knicknacks that he
found in the workbox seemed trivial to foolishness. "I'd no idea Damer
was so empty-headed," I thought, and I rather despised Miss Chislett
for smiling at his feeble conversation.

"I often wonder what's the use of farthings," I heard him say as he
turned one over in the bunch of knicknacks. "They won't buy anything
(unless it's a box of matches). They only help tradesmen to cheat when
they're 'selling off.'"

"I beg your pardon," said Miss Chislett, "I have bought most charming
things for a farthing each."

"So have I," said I, turning round on my chair, and joining in the
conversation, which seemed less purposeless after I began to take part
in it. Leo looked at us both with a puzzled air.

"Frying-pans, for instance," said Miss Chislett.

"--and gridirons," said I.

"Plates, knives, and forks," said the heiress.

"--and flat irons," I concluded; playing involuntarily with the blob
of lead which still hung at my watch-chain.

Polly had finished her performance, and was now standing near us. She
understood the allusion, and laughed.

"Do _you_ know what they're talking about?" asked Sir Lionel, going
up to her. I sat down by the heiress.

"Were you ever at Oakford?" she asked, turning her grey eyes on me.
She spoke almost abruptly, and with a touch of imperiousness that
suddenly recalled to me where I had seen those eyes before.

"Certainly," said I, "and at the tinsmith's."

"What were you doing there?" she asked, and after all these years
there was no mistaking the accent and gesture of the little lady of
the grey beaver. Before she had well begun her apology for the
question, I had answered it,

     "BUYING A FLAT IRON FOR A FARTHING."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, you've gone it hard to-night, old fellow," said Damer, as we
drove away from the Towers. "You and Miss Chislett will be county talk
for six months to come."

"Nonsense," said I, "we knew each other years ago, and had a good deal
to talk about."

But to Polly, as we parted for the night in the corridor, I said, "My
dear child, to add to all the family complications, I'm head over ears
in love with the future Lady Damer."




CHAPTER XXXI

MY LADY FRANCES--THE FUTURE LADY DAMER--WE UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER AT
LAST


It was true. My theories and my disappointment went to the winds. We
had few common acquaintances or social interests to talk about, and
yet the time we spent together never seemed long enough for our fluent
conversation. We had always a thousand things to say when we met, and
feeling as if we had been together all our lives, I felt also utterly
restless and wretched when I was not with her. Of course, I learnt her
history. She and her sister were the little ladies I had seen in my
childhood. The St. John family were their cousins, and as the boy, of
whom mention has been made, did die in Madeira, the property
eventually came to Frances Chislett and her sister. The estate was
sold, and they were co-heiresses. Adeline, the other sister, soon came
to the Towers. She was more like her old self than Frances. The
exquisitely, strangely fair hair, the pale-blue eyes, the gentle
helpless look, all were the same. She was very lovely, but Frances was
like no other woman I had ever seen before, or have ever met with
since. I resolved to ask Lionel Damer how matters really stood between
them, and, if he were not engaged to her, to try my luck. One day when
she was with us at the Hall I decided upon this. I was told that
Lionel was in the library, and went to seek him. As I opened the door
I saw him standing in front of Polly, who was standing also. He was
speaking with an energy rare with him, and in a tone of voice quite
strange to me.

"It's not like you to say what's not true," he was saying. "You are
_not_ well, you are _not_ happy. You may deceive every one else,
Polly, but you can never deceive me. All these years, ever since I
first knew you--"

I stole out, shut the door, and went to seek Frances. I found her by
Rubens' grave, and there we plighted our troth.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was in the evening of the same day that Polly and I met in the
hall, on our way to attempt the difficult task of dressing for dinner
in five minutes. The grey-eyed lady of my love had just left me for
the same purpose, and I was singing, I don't know what, at the top of
my voice in pure blitheness of heart. Polly and I fairly rushed into
each other's arms.

"My dear child!" said I, swinging her madly round, "I am delirious
with delight, and so is Sweep, for she kissed his nose."

Poor Polly buried her head on my shoulder, saying,

"And, oh, Regie! I _am_ so happy!"

It was thus that my father and Aunt Maria found us. Fate, spiteful at
our happiness, had sent my father, stiff with an irreproachable
neckcloth, and Aunt Maria, rustling in amber silk and black laces,
towards the drawing-room, five minutes too early for dinner, but just
in time to catch us in the most sentimental of attitudes, and to hear
dear, candid, simple-hearted Polly's outspoken confession--"I _am_ so
happy!"

"And how long are you going to keep your happiness to yourselves,
young people?" said my father, whose face beamed with a satisfaction
more sedately reflected in Aunt Maria's countenance. "Do you grudge
the old folks a share? Eh, sir? eh?"

And the old gentleman pinched my shoulder, and clapped me on the back.
He was positively playful.

"Stop, my dear father," said I, "you're mistaken."

"Eh, what?" said my father, and Aunt Maria drew her laces round her
and prepared for war.

"Polly and I are not engaged, sir, if that's what you think," said I,
desperately.

My father and Aunt Maria both opened their mouths at once.

"Dinner's on the table, sir," the butler announced. My father lacked a
subject for his vexation, and turned upon old Bowles:

"Take the dinner to ----"

"--the kitchen," said I, "and keep it warm for ten minutes; we are not
ready. Now, my dear father, come to my room, for I have something to
tell you."

There was no need for Polly to ask Aunt Maria to go with her. That
lady drove her daughter before her to her bedroom, with a severity of
aspect which puzzled and alarmed poor Leo, whom they passed in the
corridor. A blind man could have told by the rustle of her dress that
Mrs. Ascott would have a full explanation before she broke bread again
at our table.

I fancy she was not severe upon the future Lady Damer, when Polly's
tale was told.

As to my father, he was certainly vexed and put out at first. But day
by day my lady-love won more and more of his heart. One evening, a
week later, he disappeared mysteriously after dinner, and then
returned to the dining-room, carrying some old morocco cases.

"My dear boy," he said, in an almost faltering voice, "I never dared
to hope my dear wife's diamonds would be so worthily worn by yours.
Your choice has made an old man very happy, sir. For a thoroughly
high-bred tone, for intelligence, indeed, I may say, brilliancy of
mind, and for every womanly grace and virtue, I have seen no one to
approach her since your mother's death. I should have loved little
Polly very much, but your choice has been a higher one--more
refined--more refined. For, strictly between ourselves, my dear boy,
our dear little Polly has, now and then, just a thought too much of
your Aunt Maria about her."

The Rector and Maria were made happy. My father "carried it through,"
by my desire. Uncle Ascott was delighted, and became a benefactor to
the parish; but it took Aunt Maria some years to forget that the
patronised curate had scorned the wife she had provided for him, only
to marry her own daughter.

When I bade farewell to Adeline on our wedding day, she gave me her
cheek to kiss with a pretty grace, saying,

"You see, Regie, I _am_ your sister after all!"




CHAPTER XXXII

WE COME HOME--MRS. BUNDLE QUITS SERVICE


The day my wife and I returned from our wedding trip to Dacrefield was
a very happy one. We had a triumphal welcome from the tenants, my dear
father was beaming, the Rector no less so, and good old Nurse Bundle
showered blessings on the head of my bride.

Frances was a great favourite with her. She was devoted to the old
woman, and her delicate tact made her adapt herself to all Mrs.
Bundle's peculiarities. She sat with her in the nursery that night
till nearly dinner-time.

"I must take her away, Nursey," said I, coming in; "she'll be late for
dinner."

"Go with your husband, my dear," said Nurse Bundle, "and the Lord
bless you both."

"I'll come back, Nursey," said Frances; "you'll soon see me again."

"Turn your face, my dear," said Nurse Bundle. "Hold up the candle,
Master Reginald. Ay, ay, that'll do, my deary. I'll see you again."

We were still at dessert with my father, when Bowles came hastily into
the room with a pale face, and went up to my wife.

"Did you send for Mrs. Bundle, ma'am, since you came down to dinner?"
he asked.

"Oh, dear no," said my wife.

"Cook was going upstairs, and met Missis Bundle a little way out of
her room," Bowles explained; "and Missis Bundle she says, 'Don't stop
me,' says she, 'Mrs. Dacre wants me,' she says, and on she goes; and
cook waits and waits in her room for her, and at last she comes down
to me, and she says--"

"But where _is_ Mrs. Bundle?" cried my father.

"That's circumstantially what nobody knows, sir," said Bowles with a
distracted air.

We all three rushed upstairs. Mrs. Bundle was not to be found. My
father was frantic; my wife with tears lamented that some chance word
of hers might have led the half-childish old lady to fancy that she
wanted her.

But a sudden conviction had seized upon me.

"You need not trouble yourself, my darling," said I; "you are not the
Mrs. Dacre Nurse Bundle went to seek."

I ran to my father's dressing-room. It was as I thought.

Below my mother's portrait, on the spot where years before she had
held me in her arms with tears, I, weeping also, held her now in
mine--quite dead.

THE END

       *       *       *       *       *




The Queen's Treasures Series

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COUSIN PHILLIS.

By MRS. GASKELL. Illustrated by MISS M. V. WHEELHOUSE. With an
introduction by THOMAS SECCOMBE.


SIX TO SIXTEEN.

By MRS. EWING. Illustrated by MISS M. V. WHEELHOUSE.


A FLAT IRON FOR A FARTHING.

By MRS. EWING. Illustrated by MISS M. V. WHEELHOUSE.        [_Nov_. 1908.


JAN OF THE WINDMILL.

By MRS. EWING. Illustrated by MISS M. V. WHEELHOUSE.        [_Jan_. 1909.


_Others to follow_.


LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS

       *       *       *       *       *





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