Infomotions, Inc.The Pillars of the House, V1 / Yonge, Charlotte Mary, 1823-1901



Author: Yonge, Charlotte Mary, 1823-1901
Title: The Pillars of the House, V1
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): wilmet; felix; alda; lance; audley; underwood; cherry; edgar; vale leston; sister constance
Contributor(s): Morley, Henry, 1822-1894 [Editor]
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Identifier: etext6331
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Title: The Pillars of the House, V1

Author: Charlotte M. Yonge

Release Date: August, 2004 [EBook #6331]
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This etext of The Pillars of the House was prepared by Sandra Laythorpe,
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at http://www.menorot.com/cmyonge.htm






THE PILLARS OF THE HOUSE

OR

UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE

BY

CHARLOTTE M. YONGE

VOL. I

ILLUSTRATED BY HERBERT GANDY





CONTENTS TO VOL. I.

CHAP.

    I. THE BIRTH-DAY GIFT

   II. THE PICNIC

  III. FORTUNATUS' PURSE

   IV. TWILIGHT AND DAWN

    V. WORKING FOR BREAD

   VI. THE CACIQUE

  VII. THE CHESS-PLAYER'S BATTLE

 VIII. THE HOME

   IX. THE THIRTEEN

    X. THE FAMILY COBWEB ON THE MOVE

   XI. THE CHORAL FESTIVAL

  XII. GIANT DESPAIR'S CASTLE

 XIII. PEGASUS IN HARNESS

  XIV. WHAT IT MAY LEAD TO

   XV. WHAT IT LED TO

  XVI. THE WINTER OF DISCONTENT

 XVII. MIDSUMMER SUN

XVIII. BY THE RIVER

  XIX. THE HOUSE WITHOUT PILLARS

   XX. VALE LESTON

  XXI. A KETTLE OF FISH

 XXII. THE REAL THING AND NO MISTAKE

XXIII. SMOKE-JACK ALLEY





THE PILLARS OF THE HOUSE

OR

UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE




CHAPTER I
THE BIRTHDAY GIFT



'O I've got a plum-cake, and a feast let us make,
 Come, school-fellows, come at my call;
 I assure you 'tis nice, and we'll all have a slice,
 Here's more than enough for us all.'
                               JANE TAYLOR.


'It is come! Felix, it is come!'

So cried, shouted, shrieked a chorus, as a street door was torn open
to admit four boys, with their leathern straps of books over their
shoulders. They set up a responsive yell of 'Jolly! Jolly!' which
being caught up and re-echoed by at least five voices within, caused
a considerable volume of sound in the narrow entry and narrower
staircase, up which might be seen a sort of pyramid of children.

'Where is it?' asked the tallest of the four arrivals, as he soberly
hung up his hat.

'Mamma has got it in the drawing-room, and Papa has been in ever
since dinner,' was the universal cry from two fine-complexioned,
handsome girls, from a much smaller girl and boy, and from a creature
rolling on the stairs, whose sex and speech seemed as yet uncertain.

'And where's Cherry?' was the further question; 'is she there too?'

'Yes, but--' as he laid his hand on the door-- 'don't open the letter
there. Get Cherry, and we'll settle what to do with it.'

'O Felix, I've a stunning notion!'

'Felix, promise to do what I want!'

'Felix, do pray buy me some Turkish delight!'

'Felix, I do want the big spotty horse.'

Such shouts and insinuations, all deserving the epithet of the first,
pursued Felix as he entered a room, small, and with all the contents
faded and worn, but with an air of having been once tasteful, and
still made the best of. Contents we say advisedly, meaning not merely
the furniture but the inmates, namely, the pale wan fragile mother,
working, but with the baby on her knee, and looking as if care and
toil had brought her to skin and bone, though still with sweet eyes
and a lovely smile; the father, tall and picturesque, with straight
handsome features, but with a hectic colour, wasted cheek, and
lustrous eye, that were sad earnests of the future. He was still
under forty, his wife some years less; and elder than either in its
expression of wasted suffering was the countenance of the little girl
of thirteen years old who lay on the sofa, with pencil, paper, and
book, her face with her mother's features exaggerated into a look at
once keen and patient, all three forming a sad contrast to the solid
exuberant health on the other side the door.

Truly the boy who entered was a picture of sturdy English vigour,
stout-limbed, rosy-faced, clear eyed, open, and straight-forward
looking, perhaps a little clumsy with the clumsiness of sixteen,
especially when conscience required tearing spirits to be subdued to
the endurance of the feeble. It was, however, a bright congratulating
look that met him from the trio. The little girl started up, 'Your
sovereign's come, Felix!'

The father showed his transparent-looking white teeth in a merry
laugh. 'Here are the galleons, you boy named in a lucky hour! How
many times have you spent them in fancy?'

The mother held up the letter, addressed to Master Felix Chester
Underwood, No. 8 St. Oswald's Buildings, Bexley, and smiled as she
said, 'Is it all right, my boy?'

'They want me to open it outside, Mamma!--Come, Whiteheart, we want
you at the council.'

And putting his arm round his little sister Geraldine's waist, while
she took up her small crutch, Felix disappeared with her, the mother
looking wistfully after them, the father giving something between a
laugh and a sigh.

'Then you decide against speaking to him,' said Mrs. Underwood.

'Poor children, yes. A little happiness will do them a great deal
more good than the pound would do to us. The drops that will fill
their little cup will but be lost in our sea.'

'Yes, I like what comes from Vale Leston to be still a festive
matter,' said Mrs. Underwood; 'and at least we are sure the dear boy
will never spend it selfishly. It only struck me whether he would not
enjoy finding himself able to throw something into the common stock.'

'He would, honest lad,' said Mr. Underwood; 'but, Mamma, you are very
hard-hearted towards the rabble. Even if this one pound would provide
all the shoes and port wine that are pressing on the maternal mind,
the stimulus of a day's treat would be much more wholesome.'

'But not for you,' said his wife.

'Yes for me. If the boy includes us old folks in his festivity, it
will be as good as a week's port wine. You doubt, my sweet Enid. Has
not our long honeymoon at Vale Leston helped us all this time?' Her
name was Mary, but having once declared her to be a woman made of the
same stuff as Enid, he had made it his pet title for her.

Mrs. Underwood's thoughts went far away into the long ago of Vale
Leston. She could hardly believe that nine years only had passed
since that seven-years' honeymoon. She was a woman of the fewest
possible words, and her husband generally answered her face instead
of her voice.

Vale Leston had promised to be an ample provision when Edward
Underwood had resigned his fellowship to marry the Rector's niece and
adopted daughter, his own distant cousin, with the assurance of being
presented to the living hereafter, and acting in the meantime as
curate. It was a family living, always held conjointly with a
tolerably good estate, enough to qualify the owner for the dangerous
position of 'squarson,' as no doubt many a clerical Underwood had
been ever since their branch had grown out from the stem of the elder
line, which had now disappeared. These comfortable quarters had
seemed a matter of certainty, until the uncle died suddenly and with
a flaw in his will, so that the undesirable nephew and heir-at-law
whom he had desired to exclude, a rich dissipated man, son to a
brother older than the father of the favourite niece, had stepped in,
and differing in toto from Edward Underwood, had made his own son
take orders for the sake of the living, and it had been the effort of
the young wife ever since not to disobey her husband by showing that
it had been to her the being driven out of paradise.


ASSISTANT CURACY.--A Priest of Catholic opinions is needed at a town
parish. Resident Rector and three Curates. Daily Prayers. Choral
Service on Sundays and Holy-days. Weekly Communion.--Apply to
     P. C. B., St. Oswald's Rectory, Bexley.


Every one knows the sort of advertisement which had brought Mr.
Underwood to Bexley, as a place which would accord with the doctrines
and practices dear to him. Indeed, apart from the advertisement,
Bexley had a fame. A great rubrical war had there been fought out by
the Rector of St. Oswald's, and when he had become a colonial Bishop,
his successor was reported to have carried on his work; and the
beauty of the restored church, and the exquisite services, were so
generally talked of, that Mr. Underwood thought himself fortunate in
obtaining the appointment. Mr. Bevan too, the Rector, was an
exceedingly courteous, kindly-mannered man, talking in a soft low
voice in the most affectionate and considerate manner, and with good
taste and judgment that exceedingly struck and pleased the new
curate. It was the more surprise to him to find the congregations
thin, and a general languor and indifference about the people who
attended the church. There was also a good deal of opposition in the
parish, some old sullen seceders who went to a neighbouring
proprietary chapel, many more of erratic tastes haunted the places of
worship of the numerous sects, who swarmed in the town, and many more
were living in a state of town heathenism.

It was not long before the perception of the cause began to grow upon
Mr. Underwood. The machinery was perfect, but the spring was failing;
the salt was there, but where was the savour? The discourses he heard
from his rector were in one point of view faultless, but the old
Scottish word 'fushionless' would rise into his thoughts whenever
they ended, and something of effect and point was sure to fail; they
were bodies without souls, and might well satisfy a certain excellent
solicitor, who always praised them as 'just the right medium, sober,
moderate, and unexciting.'

In the first pleasure of a strong, active, and enterprising man, at
finding his plans unopposed by authority, Mr. Underwood had been
delighted with his rectory ready consent to whatever he undertook,
and was the last person to perceive that Mr. Bevan, though objecting
to nothing, let all the rough and tough work lapse upon his curates,
and took nothing but the graceful representative part. Even then, Mr.
Underwood had something to say in his defence; Mr. Bevan was
valetudinarian in his habits, and besides--he was in the midst of a
courtship--after his marriage he would give his mind to his parish.

For Mr. Bevan, hitherto a confirmed and rather precise and luxurious
bachelor, to the general surprise, married a certain Lady Price, the
young widow of an old admiral, and with her began a new regime.

My Lady, as every one called her, since she retained her title and
name, was by no means desirous of altering the ornamental
arrangements in church, which she regarded with pride; but she was
doubly anxious to guard her husband's health, and she also had the
sharpest eye to the main chance. Hitherto, whatever had been the
disappointments and shortcomings at the Rectory, there had been free-
handed expenditure, and no stint either in charity or the expenses
connected with the service; but Lady Price had no notion of taking on
her uncalled-for outlay. The parish must do its part, and it was
called on to do so in modes that did not add to the Rector's
popularity. Moreover, the arrangements were on the principle of
getting as much as possible out of everybody, and no official failed
to feel the pinch. The Rector was as bland, gentle, and obliging as
ever; but he seldom transacted any affairs that he could help; and in
the six years that had elapsed since the marriage, every person
connected with the church had changed, except Mr. Underwood.

Yet perhaps as senior curate, he had felt the alteration most
heavily. He had to be, or to refuse to be, my Lady's instrument in
her various appeals; he came in for her indignation at wastefulness,
and at the unauthorised demands on the Rector; he had to feel what it
was to have no longer unlimited resources of broth and wine to fall
back upon at the Rectory; he had to supply the shortcomings of the
new staff brought in on lower terms--and all this, moreover, when his
own health and vigour were beginning to fail.

Lady Price did not like him or his family. They were poor, and she
distrusted the poor; and what was worse, she knew they were better
born and better bred than herself, and had higher aims. Gentle Mrs.
Underwood, absorbed in household cares, no more thought of rivalry
with her than with the Queen; but the soft movement, the low voice,
the quiet sweep of the worn garments, were a constant vexation to my
Lady, who having once pronounced the curate's wife affected, held to
her opinion. With Mr. Underwood she had had a fight or two, and had
not conquered, and now they were on terms of perfect respect and
civility on his side, and of distance and politeness on hers. She
might talk of him half contemptuously, but she never durst show
herself otherwise than civil, though she was always longing to bring
in some more deferential person in his place, and, whenever illness
interfered with his duties, she spoke largely to her friends of the
impropriety of a man's undertaking what he could not perform.

One of her reductions had been the economising the third curate,
while making the second be always a neophyte, who received his title
for Orders, and remained his two years upon a small stipend.

The change last Easter, which had substituted a deacon for a priest,
had fallen heavily on Mr. Underwood, and would have been heavier
still, but that the new comer, Charles Audley, had attached himself
warmly to him. The young man was the son of a family of rank and
connection, and Lady Price's vanity was flattered by obtaining his
assistance; but her vexation was proportionably excited by his
preference for the Underwood household, where, in truth--with all its
poverty--he found the only atmosphere thoroughly congenial to him in
all the parish of St. Oswald's.

Speedily comprehending the state of things, he put his vigorous young
shoulder to the wheel, and, full of affectionate love and admiration
for Mr. Underwood, spared himself nothing in the hope of saving him
fatigue or exertion, quietly gave up his own holidays, was always at
his post, and had hitherto so far lightened Mr. Underwood's toil,
that he was undoubtedly getting through this summer better than the
last, for his bodily frame had long been affected by the increased
amount of toil in an ungenial atmosphere, and every access of cold
weather had told on him in throat and chest attacks, which, with
characteristic buoyancy, he would not believe serious. He never
deemed himself aught but 'better,' and the invalid habits that crept
on him by stealth, always seemed to his brave spirit consequent on a
day's extra fatigue, or the last attention to a departing cough.
Alas! when every day's fatigue was extra, the cough always
depart_ing_, never depart_ed_.

Yet, though it had become a standing order in the house, that for an
hour after papa came in from his rounds, no one of the children
should be in the drawing-room, except poor little lame Geraldine, who
was permanently established there; and that afterwards, even on
strong compulsion, they should only come in one by one, as quietly as
possible, he never ceased to apologise to them for their banishment
when he felt it needful, and when he was at ease, would renew the
merriment that sometimes cost him dear.

The children had, for the most part, inherited that precious heirloom
of contentment and elasticity, and were as happy in nooks and corners
in bedroom, nursery, staircase or kitchen, as they could have been in
extensive play-rooms and gardens.

See them in full council upon the expenditure of the annual gift that
an old admiral at Vale Leston, who was godfather to Felix, was wont
to send the boy on his birthday--that third of July, which had seemed
so bright, when birthdays had begun in the family, that no name save
Felix could adequately express his parent's feelings.

Mr. and Mrs. Underwood had fancies as to nomenclature; and that
staircaseful of children rejoiced in eccentric appellations. To begin
at the bottom--here sat on a hassock, her back against the wall, her
sharp old fairy's face uplifted, little Geraldine, otherwise Cherry,
a title that had suited her round rosiness well, till after the first
winter at Bexley, when the miseries of a diseased ancle-joint had set
in, and paled her into the tender aliases of White-heart, or Sweet-
heart. She was, as might be plainly seen in her grey eyes, a clever
child; and teaching her was a great delight to her father, and often
interested him when he was unequal to anything else. Her dark
eyebrows frowned with anxiety as she lifted up her little pointed
chin to watch sturdy frank-faced Felix, who with elaborate slowness
dealt with the envelope, tasting slowly of the excitement it created,
and edging away from the baluster, on which, causing it to contribute
frightful creaks to the general Babel, were perched numbers 4, 6, 7,
and 8, to wit, Edgar, Clement, Fulbert, and Lancelot, all three
handsome, blue-eyed, fair-faced lads. Indeed Edgar was remarkable,
even among this decidedly fine-looking family. He had a peculiarly
delicate contour of feature and complexion, though perfectly healthy;
and there was something of the same expression, half keen, half
dreamy, as in Geraldine, his junior by one year; while the grace of
all the attitudes of his slender lissome figure showed to advantage
beside Felix's more sturdy form, and deliberate or downright
movements; while Clement was paler, slighter, and with rather
infantine features, and shining wavy brown hair, that nothing ever
seemed to ruffle, looked so much as if he ought to have been a girl,
that Tina, short for Clementina, was his school name. Fulbert, stout,
square, fat-cheeked, and permanently rough and dusty, looked as if he
hardly belonged to the rest.

The four eldest were day-scholars at the city grammar-school; but
Lancelot, a bright-faced little fellow in knickerbockers, was a pupil
of whoever would or could teach him at home, as was the little girl
who was clinging to his leg, and whose name of Robina seemed to have
moulded her into some curious likeness to a robin-redbreast, with her
brown soft hair, rosy cheeks, bright merry eyes, plump form, and
quick loving audacity. Above her sat a girl of fifteen, with the
family features in their prettiest development--the chiseled straight
profile, the clear white roseately tinted skin, the large well-opened
azure eyes, the profuse glossy hair, the long, slender, graceful
limbs, and that pretty head leant against the knees of her own very
counterpart; for these were Wilmet and Alda, the twin girls who had
succeeded Felix, and whose beauty had been the marvel of Vale Leston,
their shabby dress the scorn of the day school at Bexley. And forming
the apex of the pyramid, perched astride on the very shoulders of
much-enduring Wilmet, was three years old Angela--Baby Bernard being
quiescent in a cradle near mamma. N.B.--Mrs. Underwood, though her
girls had such masculine names, had made so strong a protest against
their being called by boyish abbreviations, that only in one case had
nature been too strong for her, and Robina had turned into Bobbie.
Wilmet's second name being Ursula, she was apt to be known as 'W.'W.

'Make haste, Felix, you intolerable boy! don't be so slow!'
cried Alda.

'Is there a letter?' inquired Wilmet.

Yes, more's the pity!' said Felix. 'Now I shall have to answer it.'

'I'll do that, if you'll give me what's inside,' said Edgar.

'Is it there?' exclaimed Cherry, in a tone of doubt, that sent an
electric thrill of dismay through the audience; Lance nearly toppling
over, to the horror of the adjacent sisters, and the grave rebuke of
Clement.

'If it should be a sell!' gasped Fulbert.

'Suppose it were,' said Felix gravely.

'Then, said Edgar, 'you can disown the old rogue Chester.'

'What stuff!' interposed Clement.

'I'd cut him out of my will on the spot,' persisted Edgar.

'But it is all right,' said Cherry, looking with quiet certainty into
her brother's face; and he nodded and coloured at the same time.

'But it is not a pretty one,' said little Robina. 'Last year it was
green, and before that red; and this is nasty stupid black and white,
and all thin crackling paper.'

Felix laughed, and held up the document.

'What!' cried Fulbert. 'Five! Why, 'tisn't only five shillings! the
horrid old cheat!'

'It's a five-pound note!' screamed Cherry. 'I saw one when Papa went
to the bank! O Felix, Felix!'

A five-pound note! It seemed to take away the breath of those who
knew what it meant, and then an exulting shout broke forth.

'Well,' said Edgar solemnly, 'old Chester is a brick! Three cheers
for him!'

Which cheers having been perpetrated with due vociferation, the cry
began, 'O Felix, what will you do with it?'

'Buy a pony!' cried Fulbert.

'A rocking-horse,' chirped Robina.

'Punch every week,' shouted Lance.

'A knife apiece,' said Fulbert.

'How can you all be so selfish?' pronounced Clement. 'Now a harmonium
would be good to us all.'

'Then get some cotton, for our ears into the bargain, if Tina is to
play on it,' said Edgar.

'I shall take the note to mother,' said the owner.

'Oh!' screamed all but Wilmet and Cherry, 'that's as bad as not
having it at all!'

Maybe Felix thought so, for it was with a certain gravity and
solemnity of demeanour that he entered the drawing-room, causing his
father to exclaim, 'How now?  No slip between cup and lip? Not
infelix, Felix?'

'No, papa, but it's this and I thought I ought to bring it.'

The dew at once was in the mother's eyes, as she sprang up and kissed
the boy's brow, saying, 'Felix, dear, don't show it to me. You were
meant to be happy with it. Go and be so.'

'Stay,' said Mr. Underwood, Felix will really enjoy helping us to
this extent more than any private expenditure. Is it not so, my boy?
Well then, I propose that the sovereign of old prescriptive right
should go to his menus plaisirs, and the rest to something needful;
but he shall say to what. Said I well, old fellow?'

'Oh, thank you, thank you!' cried Felix ardently.

'Thank me for permission to do as you will with your own?' smiled Mr.
Underwood.

'You will choose, then, Felix?' said his mother wistfully, her
desires divided between port wine for papa and pale ale for
Geraldine.

'Yes, mamma,' was the prompt answer. 'Then, please, let Wilmet and
Alda be rigged out fresh for Sundays.'

'Wilmet and Alda!' exclaimed Mamma.

'Yes, I should like that better than anything, please,' said the boy.
'All our fellows say they would be the prettiest girls in all Bexley,
if they were properly dressed; and those horrid girls at Miss
Pearson's lead them a life about those old black hats.'

'Poor dears! I have found Alda crying when she was dressing for
church,' mused Mrs. Underwood; 'and though I have scolded her, I
could have cried too, to think how unlike their girlhood is to mine.'

'And if you went to fetch them home from school, you would know how
bad it is, Mamma,' said Felix. 'Wilmet does not mind it, but Alda
cries, and the sneaking girls do it the more; and they are girls; so
one can't lick them; and they have not all got brothers.'

'To be licked instead!' said Mr. Underwood, unable to help being
amused.

'Well, yes, Papa; and so you see it would be no end of a comfort to
make them look like the rest.'

'By all means, Felix. The ladies can tell how far your benefaction
will go; but as far as it can accomplish, the twins shall be
resplendent. Now then, back to your anxious clients. Only tell me
first how my kind old friend the Admiral is.'

'Here's his letter, Father; I quite forgot to read it.'

'Some day, I hope, you will know him enough to care for him
personally. Now you may be off.--Nay, Enid, love, your daughters
could not have lived much longer without clothes to their backs.'

'Oh, yes, it must have been done,' sighed the poor mother; 'but I
fancied Felix would have thought of you first.'

'He thought of troubles much more felt than any of mine. Poor
children! the hard apprenticeship will serve them all their lives.'

Meantime Felix returned with the words, 'Hurrah! we are to have the
sovereign just as usual; and all the rest is to go to turn out Wilmet
and Alda like respectable young females.--Hollo, now!'

For Alda had precipitated herself downstairs, to throttle him with
her embraces; while Cherry cried out, 'That's right! Oh, do get those
dear white hats you told me about;' but the public, even there a
many-headed monster thing, was less content.

'What, all in girls' trumpery?' 'That's the stupidest sell I ever
heard of!' 'Oh, I did so want a pony!' were the cries of the boys.

Even Robina was so far infected as to cry, 'I wanted a ride.'

And Wilmet reproachfully exclaimed, 'O Felix, you should have got
something for Papa. Don't you know, Mr. Rugg said he ought to have a
respirator. It is a great shame.'

'I don't think he would have let me, Wilmet,' said Felix, looking up;
'and I never thought of it. Besides, I can't have those girls making
asses of themselves at you.'

'Oh no, don't listen to Wilmet!' cried Alda. 'You are the very best
brother in all the world! Now we shall be fit to be seen at the break
up. I don't think I could have played my piece if I knew every one
was looking at my horrid old alpaca.'

'And there'll be hats for Cherry and Bobbie too!' entreated Wilmet.

'Oh, don't put it into their heads!' gasped Alda.

'No, I'll have you two fit to be seen first, said Felix.

'Well, it's a horrid shame,' grumbled Fulbert; 'we have always all
gone shares in Felix's Birthday tip.'

'So you do now,' said Felix; 'there's the pound all the same as
usual.'

That pound was always being spent in imagination; and the voices
broke out again.

'Oh, then Papa can have the respirator!'

'Felix, the rocking-horse!'

'Felix, do get us three little cannon to make a jolly row every
birthday!'

'Felix, do you know that Charlie Froggatt says he would sell that big
Newfoundland for a pound? and that would be among us all.'

'Nonsense, Fulbert! a big dog is always eating; but there is a
concertina at Lake's.'

'Tina--tina--concertina! But, I say, Fee, there's Whiteheart been
wishing her heart out all the time for a real good paint-box.'

'Oh, never mind that, Ed; no one would care for one but you and me,
and the little ones would spoil all the paints.'

'Yes, resumed Wilmet, from her throne,--'it would be the worry of
one's life to keep the little ones off them; and baby would be
poisoned to a dead certainty.  Now the respirator--'

'Now the concertina--'

'Now Punch--'

'Now the dog--'

'Now the rocking-horse--'

'Now the cannon--'

'I'll tell you what,' said Felix, 'I've settled how it is to be.
We'll get John Harper's van, and all go out to the Castle, with a
jolly cold dinner--yes, you, Cherry, and all; Ed and I will carry
you--and dine on the grass, and--'

A chorus of shouts interrupted him, all ecstatic, and rendered more
emphatic by the stamping of feet.

'And Angela will go!' added. Wilmet.

'And Papa,' entreated Cherry.

'And Mamma too, if she will,' said Felix.

'And Mr. Audley,' pronounced Robina, echoed by Clement and Angela.
'Mr. Audley must go!'

'Mr. Audley!' grunted Felix. 'I want nobody but ourselves.'

'Yes, and if he went we could not stay jolly late. My Lady would make
no end of a row if both curates cut the evening prayers.'

'For shame, Edgar!' cried the three elder girls.

While Wilmet added, 'We could not stay late, because of Papa and the
little ones. But I don't want Mr. Audley, either.'

'No, no! Papa and he will talk to each other, and be of no use,' said
Geraldine. 'Oh, how delicious! Will the wild-roses be out? When shall
it be, Felix?'

'Well, the first fine day after school breaks up, I should say.'

'Hurrah! hurrah!'

And there was another dance, in the midst of which Mr. Underwood
opened the door, to ask what honourable member was receiving such
deafening cheers.

'Here! here he is, Papa!' cried Alda. 'He is going to take us all out
to a picnic in the Castle woods; and won't you come, Papa?'

'O Papa, you will come!' said Felix. And the whole staircase bawled
in accordance.

'Come! to be sure I will!' said his father; 'and only too glad to be
asked! I trust we shall prove to have found the way to get the
maximum of pleasure out of Admiral Chester's gift.'

'If Mamma will go,' said Felix. 'I wonder what the van will cost, and
what will be left for the dinner.'

'Oh, let us two cook the whole dinner,' entreated the twins.

'Wait now,' said Felix. 'I didn't know it was so late, Father.'  And
he carefully helped his father on with his coat; and as a church bell
made itself heard, set forth with him.

When the service was musical, Felix and his two next brothers both
formed part of the choir; and though this was not the case on this
evening, Felix knew that his mother was easier when he or Wilmet
could watch over Papa's wraps.

And Mamma herself, with one at least of the twins, was busy enough in
giving the lesser ones their supper, and disposing of them in bed, so
that the discreet alone might remain to the later tea-drinking.

And 'Sibby' must be made a sharer of the good news in her lower
region, though she was sure to disbelieve in Alda and Wilmet's
amateur cookery.

Sibby was Wilmet's foster-mother. Poor thing! Mr. Underwood had found
her in dire need in the workhouse, a child herself of seventeen with
a new-born babe, fresh from the discovery that the soldier-husband,
as she thought, and who had at least gone before the praste with
her,' and brought her from her Kilkenny home, was previously husband
to another woman.  She was tenderly cared for by Mr. Underwood's
mother, who was then alive, and keeping house for the whole party at
the Rectory; and having come into the Vale Leston nursery, she never
left it. Her own child died in teething, and she clung so
passionately to her nursling, that Mrs. Underwood had no heart to
separate them, Roman Catholic though she was, and difficult to
dispose of. She was not the usual talking merry Irishwoman; if ever
she had been such, her heart was broken; and she was always meek,
quiet, subdued, and attentive; forgetful sometimes, but tender and
trustworthy to the last degree with the children.

She had held fast to the family in their reverses, and no more
thought of not sharing their lot than one of their children. Indeed,
it would not have been much more possible to send her out to shift
for herself in England; and her own people seemed to have vanished in
the famine, for her letters, with her savings, came back from the
dead-letter office. She put her shoulder to the burthen, and, with
one small scrub under her, got through an amazing amount of work: and
though her great deep liquid brown eyes looked as pathetic as ever,
she certainly was in far better spirits than when she sat in the
nursery. To be sure, she was a much better nurse than she was a cook;
but as both could not be had, Mrs. Underwood was content and thankful
to have a servant so entirely one with themselves in interests and
affections; and who had the further perfection of never wanting any
society but the children's; shrinking from English gossips, and never
showing a weakness, save for Irish tramps.  Moreover, she was a
prodigious knitter; and it was her boast that not one of the six
young gentlemen had yet worn stocking or sock, but what came from her
needles, and had been re-footed by her to the last extremity of wear.

Meantime, Felix and Clement walked with their father to the church.
There it was, that handsome church; the evening sun in slanting beams
coming through the gorgeous west window to the illuminated walls, and
the rich inlaid marble and alabaster of the chancel mellowed by the
pure evening light. The east window, done before glass-painting had
improved, was tame and ill-executed, and there was, even
aesthetically, a strange unsatisfactory feeling in looking at the
heavy, though handsome, incrustations and arcades of dark marble that
formed the reredos. It was all very correct; but it wanted life.

Mr. Bevan was not there, he had gone out to dinner, and the
congregation consisted of some young ladies, old men, and three
little children. Mr. Audley read all, save the Absolution and the
Lessons; and the responses sounded low and feeble in the great
church, though there was one voice among them glad and hearty in
dedicating and entrusting the new year of his life with its unknown
burthen.

Felix had heard sayings and seen looks which, boldly as his sanguine
spirit resisted them, would hang in a heavy boding cloud over his
mind, and were already casting a grave shadow there.

And if the thought of his fivefold gift swelled the fervour of his
'Amen' to the General Thanksgiving, there was another deep heartfelt
Amen, which breathed forth earnest gratitude for the possession of
such a first-born son.

'That is a very good boy,' the father could not help saying to Mr.
Audley, as, on quitting the churchyard, Felix exclaiming, 'Papa, may
I just get it changed and ask about the van?' darted across the
street, with Clement, into a large grocer's shop nearly opposite,
where a brisk evening traffic was going on in the long daylight of
hot July; and he could not but tell of the birthday-gift, and how it
was to be spent. 'Res angusta domi,' he said, with a smile, 'is a
thing to be thankful for, when it has such effects upon a lad.'

'You must add a small taste of example to the prescription,' said Mr.
Audley. 'Is this all the birthday present Felix has had?'

'Well, I believe Cherry gave him one of her original designs; but
birthdays are too numerous for us to stand presents.'

The other curate half-sighed. He was a great contrast--a much smaller
man than his senior, slight, slim, and pale, but with no look of ill-
health about him, brown eyed and haired, and with the indefinable
look about all his appointments and dress, that showed he had lived
in unconscious luxury and refinement all his days. His thoughts went
back to a home, where the only perplexity was how to deal with an
absolute glut of presents, and to his own actual doubts what to send
that youngest sister, who would feel slighted if Charlie sent
nothing, but really could not want anything; a book she would not
read, a jewel could seldom get a turn of being worn, a trinket would
only be fresh lumber for her room. Then he revolved the possibilities
of making Felix a present, without silencing his father's
confidences, and felt that it could not be done in any direct manner
at present; nay, that it could hardly add to the radiant happiness of
the boy, who rushed across the road, almost under the nose of the
railway-omnibus horses, and exclaimed--

'He will let us have it for nothing, Father! He says it would be
hiring it out, and he can't do that: but he would esteem it a great
favour if we would go in it, and not pay anything, except just a
shilling to Harris for a pint of beer. Won't it be jolly, Father?'

'Spicy would be more appropriate,' said Mr. Underwood, laughing, as
the vehicle in question drew up at the shop door, with Mr. Harper's
name and all his groceries inscribed in gold letters upon the awning.

'I'm so glad I thought of Harper's,' continued Felix. 'I asked him
instead of Buff, because I knew Mamma would want it to be covered.
Now there's lots of room; and we boys will walk up all the hills.'

'I hope there is room for me, Felix,' suggested Mr. Audley.

'Or,' suggested Mr. Underwood, 'you might, like John Gilpin, "ride on
horseback after we."'

'Felix looks non-content,' said Mr. Audley. 'I am afraid I was not in
his programme. Speak out--let us have it.'

'Why,' said Felix, looking down, 'our little ones all wanted to have
you; but then we thought we should all be obliged to come home too
soon, unless you took the service for Papa.'

'He certainly ought not to go to church after it,' said Mr. Audley;
'but I can settle that by riding home in good time. What's the day?'

'The day after the girls' break-up, if you please,' said Felix, still
not perfectly happy, but unable to help himself; and manifesting
quite enough reluctance to make his father ask, as soon as they had
parted, what made him so ungracious.

'Only, Papa,' said Felix frankly, 'that we know that you and he will
get into some Church talk, and then you'll be of no use; and we
wanted to have it all to ourselves.'

'Take care, Felix,' said Mr. Underwood; 'large families are apt to
get into a state of savage exclusiveness.'

Felix had to bear the drawback, and the groans it caused from Wilmet,
Edgar, and Fulbert: the rest decidedly rejoiced. And Mr. Underwood
privately confided the objection to his friend, observing merrily
that they would bind themselves by a promise not to talk shop
throughout the expedition.

It was a brilliantly, happy week. Pretty hats, bound with dark blue
velvet, and fresh black silk jackets, were squeezed out of the four
pounds, with the help of a few shillings out of the intended hire of
the van, and were the glory of the whole family, both of those who
were to wear them and those who were not.

On Saturday evening, just as the four elder young people were about
to sally forth to do the marketing for their picnic, a great hamper
made its appearance in the passage, addressed to F. C. Underwood,
Esq., and with nothing to pay. Only there was a note fastened to the
side, saying, 'Dear Felix, pray let the spicy van find room for my
contribution to your picnic. I told my mother to send me what was
proper from home.--C. S. A.'

Mrs. Underwood was dragged out to superintend the unpacking, which
she greatly advised should be merely a surface investigation. That
was quite enough, however, to assure her that for Felix to lay in any
provision, except the tea and the bread she had already promised,
would be entirely superfluous. The girls were disappointed of their
cookery; but derived consolation from the long walk with the
brothers, in which a cake of good carmine and a lump of gamboge were
purchased for Cherry, and two penny dolls for Robina and Angela. What
would become of the rest of the pound?

On Sunday, the offertory was, as usual on ordinary occasions, rather
scanty; but there was one half-sovereign; and Mr. Underwood was
convinced that it had come from under the one white surplice that had
still remained on the choir boys' bench.

He stayed in the vestry after the others to count and take care of
the offerings, and as he took up the gold, he could not but look at
his son, who was waiting for him, and who flushed all over as he met
his eye. 'Yes, Papa, I wanted to tell you--I did grudge it at first,'
he said hoarsely. 'I knew it was the tithe; but it seemed so much
away from them all. I settled that two shillings was the tenth of my
own share, and I would give that to-day; and then came Mr. Harper's
kindness about the van; and next, when I was thinking how I could
save the tenth part without stinting everybody, came all Mr. Audley's
hamper. It is very strange and happy, Papa, and I have still
something left.'

'I believe,' said Mr. Underwood, 'that you will find the considering
the tithe as not your own, is the safest way of keeping poverty from
grinding you, or wealth from spoiling you.'

And very affectionately he leant on his son's shoulder all the way
home; while Mr. Audley was at luncheon at the Rectory with my Lady,
and her twelve years old daughter.

'Mamma,' said Miss Price, 'did you see the Underwoods in new hats?'

'Of course I did, my dear. They were quite conspicuous enough; but
when people make a great deal of their poverty, they always do break
out in the most unexpected ways.'

'They are pretty girls' said the Rector, rather dreamily, 'and I
suppose they must have new clothes sometimes.'

'You will always find,' proceeded Lady Price without regard, 'that
people of that sort have a wonderful eye to the becoming--nothing
economical for them! I am sorry for Mr. Underwood, his wife is
bringing up a set of fine ladies, who will trust to their pretty
looks, and be quite above doing anything for themselves.'

'Do you think Wilmet and Alda Underwood so very pretty, Mr. Audley?'
inquired Miss Price, turning her precocious eyes upon him.

'Remarkably so,' Mr. Audley replied, with a courteous setting-down
tone that was the only thing that ever approached to subduing Miss
Price, and which set her pouting without an answer.

'It is a great misfortune to girls in that station of life to have
that painted-doll sort of beauty,' added my Lady; 'and what was it I
heard about a picnic party?'

'No party, my dear,' replied the Rector, 'only a little fresh air for
the family--a day in Centry Park. Felix spends his birthday present
from his godfather in taking them.'

Ah! I always was sure they had rich friends, though they keep it so
close. Never let me hear of their poverty after this.'

Answers only rendered it worse, so my Lady had it her own way, and
not being known to the public in St. Oswald's Buildings, did not
trouble them much. Yet there was a certain deference to public
opinion there, when Alda was heard pouting, 'Felix, why did you go to
that horrid Harper? Just fancy Miss Price seeing us!'

'Who cares for a stuck-up thing like Miss Price!' growled Felix.

'I don't care for her,' said Edgar; 'but it is just as well to have
some notion of things, and Felix hasn't a grain. Why, all the fellows
will be asking which of us is pepper, and which Souchong! I wouldn't
have Froggatt or Bruce see me in it at no price.'

'Very well, stay at home, then,' said Felix.

'You could have had the waggonet from the Fortinbras Arms,' said
Alda.

'Ay--for all my money, and not for love.'

'For shame, Alda,' said her twin sister; 'how can you be so
ridiculous!'

'You know yourself, Wilmet, it is quite true; if any of the girls see
us, we shall be labelled "The Groceries."'

'Get inside far enough, and they will not see you.'

'Ay, but there'll be that disgusting little Bobbie and Lance sitting
in the front, making no end of row,' said Edgar; 'and the whole place
will know that Mr. Underwood and his family are going out for a spree
in old Harper's van! Pah! I shall walk.'

'So shall I,' said Alda, 'at least till we are out of the town; but
that won't do any good if those children will make themselves so
horridly conspicuous. Could not we have the thing to meet us
somewhere out of town, Felix?'

'And how would you get Cherry there, or Mamma! Or Baby!--No, no, if
you are too genteel for the van, you may walk.'




CHAPTER II

THE PICNIC



'There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid
 A damask napkin, wrought with horse and hound;
 Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,
 And, half-cut down, a pasty costly made,
 Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay,
 Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
 Imbedded and injellied; last, with these
 A flask of cider from his father's vats,
 Prime which I knew;--and so we sat and ate.'
                                              TENNYSON.


No. 8 St. Oswald's Buildings was a roomy house, which owed its
cheapness to its situation, this being neither in the genteel nor the
busy part of Bexley. It was tall and red, and possessed a good many
rooms, and it looked out into a narrow street, the opposite side of
which consisted of the long wall of a brewery, which was joined
farther on to that of the stable-yard of the Fortinbras Arms, the
principal hotel, which had been much frequented in old posting days,
and therefore had offices on a large scale. Only their side, however,
was presented to St. Oswald's Buildings, the front, with its arched
'porte cochere,' being in the High Street, as it was still called,
though it was a good deal outshone by the newer part of the town.

The next-door neighbours of No. 8 were on the one hand a carpenter's
yard, the view of which was charming to the children, and the noises
not too obnoxious to their parents, and on the other the rectory
garden, which separated them from the churchyard, now of course
disused. It had no entrance towards their lane, and to reach the
church, it was necessary to turn the corner of the wall, and go in
through the south porch, which opened close upon the High Street.

In this old street lay the two buildings that chiefly concerned the
young Underwoods, i.e. the two schools. That for boys was an old
foundation, which had fallen into decay, and had been reformed and
revivified in nineteenth-century fashion, to suit the requirements of
the town. The place, though in the south of England, had become noted
as a pottery, owing partly to the possession of large fields of a
peculiar clay, which was so bad for vegetable growth as to proclaim
its destiny to become pots and pans, partly to its convenient
neighbourhood to the rising seaport of Dearport, which was only an
hour from it by railway. The old St. Oswald's school had been moulded
under the influence of newcomers, who had upset the rules of the
founder, and arranged the terms on the broadest principles of
liberality, bringing, instead of the drowsy old clerical master, a
very brisk and lively young layman, who had a knack of conveying
instruction of multifarious kinds such as had never occurred to his
predecessor.

Mr. Underwood had a certain liking for the man, and when tolerably
well, enjoyed the breaking a lance with him over his many crude
heterodoxies; but he did not love the school, and as long as he was
able had taught his boys himself, and likewise taken a few day-pupils
of the upper ranks, who were preparing for public schools. But when
his failure of health rendered this impracticable, the positive evil
of idleness was, he felt greater than any possible ones that might
arise from either the teaching or the associations of the town
school, and he trusted to home influence to counteract any such
dangers. Or perhaps more truly he dreaded lest his own reluctance
might partly come from prejudice in favour of gentlemen and public
schools: and that where a course seemed of absolute necessity,
Providence became a guard in its seeming perils. Indeed, that which
he disapproved in Mr. Ryder's school was more of omission than
commission. It was that secularity was the system, rather than the
substance of that secularity.

So Felix and Edgar went to school, and were in due time followed by
Clement and Fulbert; and their bright wits, and the educated
atmosphere of their home, made their career brilliant and successful.
Mr. Ryder was greatly pleased to have got the sons of a man whom he
could not but admire and respect, and was anxious that the boys
should be the means of conquering the antiquated prejudices in favour
of exclusiveness at school.

Felix and Edgar were neck and neck, carrying off all the prizes of
the highest form but one--Felix, those that depended on industry and
accuracy; Edgar, those that could be gained by readiness and
dexterity. Both were to be promoted to the upper form; and Mr. Ryder
called upon their father in great enjoyment of their triumph, and
likewise to communicate his confident certainty that they would do
him and Bexley credit by obtaining the most notable scholarships of
the University. Mr. Underwood was not a little delighted, grateful
for the cordial sympathy, and he fully agreed that his own lads had
benefited by the clear vigorous teaching they had received; but
though he smiled and allowed that they had taken no harm, he said
good-humouredly that 'Of course, he must consider that as the proof
of his own powers of counteraction.'

'Exactly so,' said the schoolmaster. 'All we wish is, that each home
should exercise its powers of counteraction. We do the teaching, you
form the opinions.'

'Oh! are we parents still to be allowed to form the opinions?'

'If you _will_. Your house is your castle, and the dungeons there may
be what you will.'

'Well, I cannot have a quarrel with you to-day, Ryder! As long as I
can show up my boys as tokens of God's blessing on their home, you
are welcome to them as instances of wits well sharpened by thorough
good instruction.'

Mrs. Underwood had likewise had a congratulatory visit that was very
gratifying. The girls' school, a big old red house, standing back
from the road at the quietest end of the town, was kept by two
daughters of a former clergyman, well educated and conscientious
women, whom she esteemed highly, and who gave a real good grounding
to all who came under their hands, going on the opposite principle to
Mr. Ryder's and trying to supply that which the homes lacked.

And they did often succeed in supplying it, though their scholars
came from a class where there was much to subdue, and just at present
their difficulties had been much increased by their having been
honoured by the education of Miss Price. Seven governesses in
succession had proved incapable of bearing with Lady Price; and the
young lady had in consequence been sent to Miss Pearson's, not
without an endeavour on her mother's part to obtain an abatement in
terms in honour of the eclat of her rank.

There her airs proved so infectious, that, as Miss Pearson said, the
only assistance she had in lessening their evil influence was the
perfect lady-likeness of the Underwood twins, and the warm affection
that Wilmet inspired. Alda headed a sort of counter party against
Caroline Price, which went on the principle of requiting scorn with
scorn, but Wilmet's motherly nature made her the centre of attraction
to all the weak and young, and her uprightness bore many besides
herself through the temptation to little arts. Both sisters had
prizes, Alda's the first and best, and Miss Pearson further offered
to let Wilmet pay for her own studies and those of a sister, by
becoming teacher to the youngest class, and supervisor during the
mid-day recreation, herself and her sister dining at school.

It was a handsome offer for such a young beginner, and the mother's
eyes filled with tears of pleasure; and yet there was a but--

'Not come home to dinner!' cried the children. 'Can't it be Alda
instead of Wilmet? We do always want Wilmet so, and Alda would do
just as well at school.'

Alda too was surprised; for was not she more regular and more forward
than her twin sister, who was always the one to be kept at home when
any little emergency made Mamma want the aid of an elder daughter?
And the mother would almost have asked that Alda might be the chosen
governess pupil, if Mr. Underwood had not said, 'No, my dear, Miss
Pearson must have her own choice. It is a great kindness, and must be
accepted as such. I suppose Robina must be the new scholar. My little
pupil will not leave me.'

Geraldine only heard of the alternative, to say, 'I'll be nobody's
pupil but yours, Papa.'

While Robina was proportionably exalted by her preferment, and took
to teasing every one in the house to hear her spelling and her
tables, that she might not fulfil Edgar's prediction by going down to
the bottom of the baby-class; and up and down the stairs she ran,
chanting in a sing-song measure--


          'Twenty pence are one and eightpence,
           Thirty pence are two and sixpence,'


and so on, till her father said, smiling, 'Compensations again,
Mother: the less you teach them the more they are willing to learn.
The mother shook her head, and said the theory was more comfortable
than safe, and that she did not find Lancelot an instance of it.

But there was a general sense of having earned the holiday, when the
grocery van came to the door, on a morning of glorious sunshine.
Edgar and Alda, true to their promise, had walked on so far ahead as
to avoid being seen in the town in connection with it; and Fulbert
had started with them to exhale his impatience, but then had turned
back half-way, that he might not lose the delicious spectacle of the
packing of the vehicle. A grand pack it was: first, the precious
hamper; then a long sofa cushion, laid along the bottom; then
Geraldine lifted in by Sibby and Felix, and folded up with shawls,
and propped with cushions by Mamma, whose imagination foresaw more
shaking than did the more youthful anticipation; then Mamma herself,
not with 'little baby,' but with Angela on her lap, and Angela's feet
in all manner of unexpected places; then a roll of umbrellas and
wraps; then Wilmet, Fulbert, Lance, and Robina--nowhere in
particular, and lastly Papa, making room for Clement between himself
and the good-humoured lad of a driver, who had not long ago been a
member of the choir, while Felix, whom nothing could tire on that
day, dived rapidly down a complication of alleys, declaring he should
be up with the walkers long before they were overtaken by the van.

Next appeared Mr. Audley, with his pretty chestnut horse, offering in
the plenitude of his good-nature to give Lance a ride, whereupon
vociferous '_me toos_' resounded from within the curtains; and the
matter was compounded on ride and tie principles, in which the
Underwood juniors got all the ride, and Mr. Audley all the _tie_--if
that consisted in walking and holding the bridle.

By the time the very long and dull suburbs of Bexley were passed,
with their interminable villas and rows of little ten-pound houses--
the children's daily country walk, poor things! the two elder boys
and their sister were overtaken, the latter now very glad to
condescend to the van.

'Oh, how nice to get beyond our tiresome old tether!' she said,
arranging herself a peep-hole between the curtains. 'I am so sick of
all those dusty black beeches, and formal evergreens. How can you
stare at them so, Cherry?'

But Geraldine was in a quiet trance of delight; she had never spoken
a word since she had first found a chink in the awning, but had
watched with avid eyes the moving panorama of houses, gardens, trees,
flowers, carriages, horses, passengers, nursemaids, perambulators,
and children. It was all a perfect feast to the long-imprisoned eyes,
and the more charming from the dreamy silence in which she gazed.
When Felix came up to the slit through which the bright eyes gleamed,
and asked whether she were comfortable and liked it, her answer was a
long-drawn gasp from the wells of infinite satisfaction, such as set
him calculating how many drives in a bathchair the remnant of his
birthday gift would yet produce.

But there were greater delights, corn-fields touched with amber,
woods sloping up hills, deep lanes edged with luxuriant ferns,
greenery that drove the young folk half mad with delight, and made
them scream to be let out and gather--gather to their hearts'
content. Only Mamma recommended not tiring themselves, but trusting
that Centry Park would afford even superior flowers to those they
passed.

They reached the lodge gate at last. They were known, for the Castle
had been long untenanted, and they, like other inhabitants of Bexley,
had from time to time enjoyed themselves in the Park, but to-day
there was a shadow of demur. The gentleman who was going to buy the
place was looking over it--but surely--

Horror began to spread over the inmates of the van.

'But did you come by appointment, sir?' added the gatekeeper's wife,
coming out; 'the gentleman's name is Mr. Underwood.'

Mr. Underwood was obliged to disclaim any appointment; but he looked
round at the children's blank faces, and saw lips quivering, and eyes
gazing wistfully into the paradise of green shade, and added, 'If the
gentleman has not actually bought it, he could not object. We do not
wish to go near the house.'

'Maybe Mr. Audley, who was standing near the gate, added another more
substantial argument, for 'Oh, certainly, sir,' at once followed; and
the van was allowed to turn down a gravelled road, which skirted an
extensive plantation.

Every one now left it, except Mrs. Underwood, Cherry, and Angela; and
the children began to rush and roll in wild delight on the grassy
slope, and to fill their hands with the heather and ling, shrieking
with delight. Wilmet had enough to do to watch over Angela in her
toddling, tumbling felicity; while Felix, weighted with Robina on his
back, Edgar, Fulbert, Clement, and Lance, ran in and out among the
turf; and Alda, demurely walking by her papa, opined that it was
'very odd that the gentleman's name should be Underwood.'

'Less odd than if it was Upperwood,' said her father, as if to throw
aside the subject; and then, after a few moments' thought, and an odd
little smile, as if at some thought within himself, he began to hand
in flowers to Cherry, and to play with little Angela. Mr. Audley had
gone to put up his horse at the village inn, and did not join the
party again till they had reached what the children called Picnic
Hollow--a spot where a bank suddenly rose above a bright dimpling
stream with a bed of rock, the wood opening an exquisite vista under
its beech trees beyond, and a keeper's lodge standing conveniently
for the boiling of kettles.

Here the van was disposed of, the horses taken out and provided with
food, Cherry carried to a mossy throne under a glorious beech tree,
and the hampers unpacked by Mamma and Wilmet, among much capering and
dancing of the rest of the family and numerous rejected volunteers of
assistance. Felix and Alda were allowed to spread the table-cloth and
place the dishes, but Edgar was only entreated to keep the rest out
of the way.

Meanwhile, Geraldine sat under the silvery bole of her beech tree,
looking up through its delicate light green leaves to the blue sky,
not even wanting to speak, lest anything should break that perfection
of enjoyment. Her father watched the little pale absorbed
countenance, and as Mr. Audley came up, touched him to direct his
attention to the child's expression; but the outcry of welcome with
which the rest greeted the newcomer was too much for even Cherry's
trance, and she was a merry child at once, hungry with unwonted
appetite, and so relishing her share of the magnificent standing-pie,
that Mrs. Underwood reproved herself for thinking what the poor child
would be if she had such fare and such air daily, instead of ill-
dressed mutton in the oppressive smoke-laden atmosphere.

And meantime, Lance was crowing like a cock, and the other boys were
laughing at Robina for her utter ignorance of the white-fleshed biped
she was eating.

'No, Clem, chickens have got feathers and wings, and their long necks
hang down! This can't be one of them.'

'Perhaps it is a robin-redbreast,' said Felix.

'No, nobody kills robin-redbreasts, because they covered the poor
little children with leaves.'

'Will you cover me with leaves, if I am lost, Bobbie?' said Mr.
Audley; but as soon as she found that his attention was gained, she
returned to the charge.

'Please, did it come from your own home? and what is it, really?'

'Why, Bobbie, I am hardly prepared to say whether it is a Hamburg or
a Houdan, or a more unambitious Dorking. Cannot you eat in comfort
without being certified?'

'The species will be enough for her without the varieties,' said her
father. 'You have given us a new experience, you see, Audley, and we
may make a curious study of contrasts--not of Audley and myself
Mother dear, but of the two Underwoods who seem to be in this place
together to-day.'

'Who is it?' was of course the cry, and the inquiry was in Mrs.
Underwood's eyes, though it did not pass her quiet lips. It was to
her that he answered, 'Yes, my dear--Tom; I have little doubt that it
is he. He was a very rich man when last I heard of him.'

'Is that the man at Vale Leston?' whispered Alda to Felix.

'Oh, I hope he is not coming here to insult us.'

'Bosh!' said Felix; 'that man's name is Fulbert. Listen, if you want
to hear.'

'Twenty years ago,' continued Mr. Underwood, 'I thought myself a
prodigiously fine fellow--with my arms full of prizes at Harrow, and
my Trinity scholarship--and could just, in the plenitude of my
presumption, extend a little conceited patronage to that unlucky
dunce, Tom Underwood, the lag of every form, and thankful for a high
stool at old Kedge's. And now my children view a cold fowl as an
unprecedented monster, while his might, I imagine, revel in 'pates
de foie gras.'

'O Papa, but we like you so much better as you are!' cried Geraldine.

'Eh, Cherry!' said Mr. Underwood, 'what say you? Shouldn't you like
me better if I were buying that king beech tree, and all the rest of
it?'

Cherry edged nearer, mastered his hand, and looked up in his face
with a whole soul of negation in her wistful eyes. 'No, no, no--just
as you are,' she whispered.

Some mood of curiosity had come over him, and he turned an
interrogative look elsewhere.

Alda spoke. 'Of course, it would be horrid not to be a clergyman; but
it is a great shame.'

'No,' said Wilmet, 'it can't be a shame for this cousin Tom to have
earned a fortune fairly--if he has; but'--and she pressed her hands
tightly together as she looked at the thin worn faces of her parents-
--'one can't help wishing. Why do things always go hard and wrong?'
and the tears dimmed her bright eyes.

'Because--they _don't_,' said her father, with a half-serious
quaintness that vexed her, and forced her to turn away to let
the tear drop.

Clement said, in his calm voice, 'How can you be all so repining and
foolish!'

And Mr. Underwood, almost in lazy mischief, pursued his experiment.
'Eh, Felix, you are the party most concerned--what say you?'

'Most concerned?' Felix looked up surprised, then recollected
himself. 'I don't care,' he said, with an appearance of gruff
sullenness; but his father could not content himself without
continuing in a semi-teazing tone, 'Don't care--eh? 'Why this Centry
Underwood once belonged to our family--that's the reason Tom is after
it. If I had not scouted old Kedge, you would be prancing about here,
a Harrovian, counting the partridges.'

'Don't!' broke in Felix, with a growl.

'Never fear, Fee'' cried Edgar, with his hand on his brother's
shoulder; if one man got on in life, another may. If one only was
grown up and had the start----' and his blue eyes sparkled.

'I did not know Care's clutch had been so tight,' sighed Mr.
Underwood, half to himself, half to his wife. It is not safe, my
gentle Enid, to try such experiments. Eh!' rousing himself, what's
that? Have the mob there a right to any sentiments?'

'Only,' cried Clement, shouting with laughter, Lance thought you were
wanted to hold a high stool for Jack Ketch.'

'For a green goose!' shouted Lance, indignantly.

'Oh! cried Robina, in the tone of one who had made a scientific
discovery, 'did the goose have a high stool to lay the golden eggs?'

'A most pertinent question, Bobbie, and much more reasonable than
mine,' said Mr Underwood; while his colleague gravely answered, 'Yes,
Bobbie, golden eggs are almost always laid by geese on high stools.'

'I've got a picture of one! It has got a long neck and long legs,
quoth Bobbie.

'It is only a flamingo, you little goose yourself,' cried Clement.

'Here is the golden egg of the present,' said Mr. Underwood,
replenishing the boy's plate with that delicious pie. 'What's that
beverage, Wilmet? Any horrible brew of your own?'

'No, it is out of Mr. Audley's hamper.'

'The universal hamper. It is like the fairy gifts that produced
unlimited eatables. I dreaded cowslip wine or periwinkle broth.'

'No, no, Papa,' sighed Alda, 'we only once made cowslip tea at Vale
Leston.'

'Vale Leston is prohibited for the day.--Master Felix Chester
Underwood, your good health; and the same to the new Underwood of
Centry Underwood.'

'Shall we see him, Papa?' asked Alda.

'If either party desires the gratification, no doubt it will come
about.'

'Shall not you call on him, Papa?'

'Certainly not before he comes. Mother, some of the wonderful bottle-
--ay, you covetous miser of a woman, or I'll make a libation of it
all. Audley, it must have wrung your father's butler's heart to have
thrown away this port on a picnic. What did you tell him to delude
him?'

'Only what was true--that I was to meet a gentleman who was a judge
of the article.'

'For shame!' he answered, laughing. 'What right had you to know that
I knew the taste of Cape from Roriz?'

But his evident enjoyment of the 'good creature' was no small
pleasure to the provider, though it was almost choking to meet the
glistening glance of Mrs. Underwood's grateful eyes, knowing, as she
did, that there were three more such bottles in the straw at the
bottom of the hamper. And when baby Angela had clasped her fat hands,
and, as 'youngest at the board,' 'inclined the head and pronounced
the solemn word,' her father added, 'Gratias Deo, and Grazie a
lei. We must renew our childhood's training, dear Mary--make our bow
and curtesy, and say "Thank you for our good dinner."'

'Thank Felix for our pleasant day,' said Mr. Audley. 'Come, boys,
have a swing! there's a branch too good not to be used; and Ful has
already hung himself up like a two-toed sloth.'

Then began the real festivity--the swinging, the flower and fern
hunting, the drawing, the racing and shouting, the merry calls and
exchange of gay foolish talk and raillery.

Mr. Underwood lay back on a slope of moss, with a plaid beneath him,
and a cushion under his head, and said that the Elysian fields must
have been a prevision of this beech-wood. Mrs. Underwood, with Felix
and Wilmet, tied up the plates, knives, and forks, and then the
mother, taking Angela with her, went to negotiate kettle-boiling at
the cottage. Geraldine would fain have sketched, but the glory and
the beauty, and the very lassitude of delight and novelty, made her
eyes swim with a delicious mist; and Edgar, who had begun when she
did, threw down his pencil as soon as he saw Felix at liberty, and
the two boys rushed away into the wood for a good tearing scramble
and climb, like creatures intoxicated with the freedom of the
greenwood.

After a time they came back, dropping armfuls of loose-strife,
meadow-sweet, blue vetch, and honey-suckle over delighted Cherry; and
falling down by her side, coats off, all gasp and laughter, and
breathless narrative of exploits and adventures, which somehow died
away into the sleepiness due to their previous five-mile walk. Felix
went quite off, lying flat on his back, with his head on Cherry's
little spreading lilac cotton frock, and his mouth wide open, much
tempting Edgar to pop in a pebble; and this being prevented by tender
Cherry in vehement dumb show, Edgar consoled himself by a decidedly
uncomplimentary caricature of him as Giant Blunderbore (a name
derived from Fee, Fa, Fum) gaping for hasty pudding.

'That's a horrid shame!' remonstrated Geraldine. 'Dear old Fee, when
the whole treat is owing to him!'

'It is a tidy little lark for a Blunderbore to have thought of,' said
Edgar. 'Tis a good sort of giant after all, poor fellow!'

'Poor!' said Cherry indignantly. 'Oh, you mean what Papa said--that
he is the greatest loser of us all. I wonder what made him talk in
that way? He never did before.'

'I am sorry for _him_,' said Edgar, indicating his brother. 'He is
famous stuff for a landlord and member of parliament--plenty of wits
and brains--only he wants to be put on a shelf to be got at. Wherever
he is, he'll go on there! Now, a start is all I want! Give me my one
step--and then--O Gerald, some day I'll lift you all up!'

'What's that?' said Felix, waking as the enthusiastic voice was
raised. 'Edgar lifting us all! What a bounce we should an come down
with!'

We were talking of what Papa said at dinner,' explained Cherry. 'What
did you think about it, Fee?'

'I didn't think at all, I wished he hadn't,' said Felix, stretching
himself.

'Why not?' said Cherry, a little ruffled at even Felix wishing Papa
had not.

'There's no use having things put into one's head.'

'O Felix, you don't want to change?' cried Cherry.

'No,' he said; but it was a 'no' in a tone she did not understand.
The change he saw that hardship was working was that from which he
recoiled.

'That's like you, Blunderbore,' said Edgar. 'Now, the very reason I
am glad not to be born a great swell, but only a poor gentleman, is
that so much is open to one; and if one does anything great, it is
all the greater and more credit.'

'Yes,' said Felix, sitting up; 'when you have once got a scholarship,
there will be the whole world before you.'

'Papa got a scholarship,' said Cherry.

'Oh yes!' said Edgar; 'but every one knows what happens to a man that
takes Orders and marries young; and he had the most extraordinary
ill-luck besides! Now, as Ryder says, any man with brains can shine.
And I am only doubting whether to take to scholarship or art! I love
art more than anything, and it is the speediest.'

The conversation was broken, for just then Wilmet was seen peering
about with an anxious, careful eye.

'What is it, my deputy Partlet?' asked her father. 'Which of your
brood are you looking for!'

'I can't see Robina,' said Wilmet anxiously. 'She was swinging just
now, but neither she nor Lance is with the big boys.

'Flown up higher,' said Mr. Underwood, pretending to spy among the
branches. 'Flapsy, come down! Bobbie, where are you!'

A voice answered him; and in another moment Robina and Lance stood
in the glade, and with them a girl newly come to her teens, whom they
pulled forward, crying, 'She says she's our cousin!'

'Indeed,' said Mr. Underwood: 'I am sure you are very much obliged to
her.'

'I am Mary Alda Underwood,' said the girl abruptly; 'and I'm sure
there must be a very naughty boy here. He had put these poor little
things up a tree, and run away.'

'No, no! He only put us up because Tina bothered about it!' screamed
Lance and Robina at once; 'he wasn't naughty. We were being monkeys.'

'Black spider-monkeys,' added Robina.

'And I swung about like a real one, Father,' said Lance, 'and was
trying to get Bobbie down, only she grew afraid.'

'It was ten feet from the ground,' said Mary Alda, impressively, 'and
they had lost their way; but they told me who they were. I'm come
down with my father to see the place.'

Mr. Underwood heartily shook hands with her, thanked her, and asked
where her father was.

'Gone out with the man to see a farm two miles off,' she said. 'He
told me I might stay in the house, or roam where I liked, and I saw
you all looking so happy; I've been watching you this long time.'

'Indeed!' said Mr. Underwood, 'till you captured two of us! Well, we
are obliged for the introduction, especially if you are to be our
neighbour.'

'And my cousins will be friends with me,' continued Mary Alda. 'I'm
all alone, you know.'

'No, I did not know,' said Mr. Underwood. 'Are you the only child?'

'Yes,' she said, looking wistfully at the groups around her; 'and it
is very horrid--oh dear! who is that pretty one? No, there's another
of them!'

Mr. Underwood laughed heartily. 'I suppose you mean Wilmet and Alda,'
he said. 'Come, girls, and see your new cousin--Mary, did you say!--
Your name backward, Alda Mary.'

'Mary,' she repeated. 'Papa calls me Mary, but Mamma wants it to be
Marilda all in one word, because she says it is more distinguished;
but I like a sensible name like other people.'

Mr. Underwood was much amused. He felt he had found a character in
his newly-discovered cousin. She was Underwood all over in his eyes,
used to the characteristic family features, although entirely devoid
of that delicacy and refinement of form and complexion that was so
remarkable in himself and in most of his children, who were all,
except poor little Cherry, a good deal alike, and most of them
handsome. There was a sort of clumsiness in the shape of every
outline, and a coarseness in the colouring, that made her like a bad
drawing of one of his own girls; the eyes were larger, the red of the
cheeks was redder, the lips were thicker, the teeth were irregular;
the figure, instead of being what the French call elance, was
short, high-shouldered, and thick-set, and the head looked too large.
She was over-dressed, too, with a smart hat and spangled feather, a
womanly silk mantle and much-trimmed skirt, from which a heavy
quilling had detached itself, and was trailing on the ground; her
hands were ungloved, and showed red stumpy fingers, but her face had
a bright open honest heartiness of expression, and a sort of resolute
straightforwardness, that attracted and pleased him; and, moreover,
there was something in the family likeness, grotesque as it was, that
could not but arouse a fellow-feeling in his warm and open heart,
which neither neglect nor misfortune had ever chilled.

'I think I should have known you,' he said, smiling. 'Here! let me
introduce you; here is our little lame white-hearted Cherry, and the
twins, as like as two peas. Wilmet, Alda--here!'

'Shall I mend your frock!' was Wilmet's first greeting, as she put
her hand in her pocket, and produced a little housewife.

'Oh, thank you! You've got a needle and thread! What fun!'

'The little ones are very apt to tear themselves, so I like to have
it ready.'

'How delicious! And you mend for them? I wish I had any one to mend
for. Please show me, and let me do it. I tried to tear the nasty
thing off, but it would not come. I wish Mamma would let me wear
sensible print like yours.'

'Are you laughing at us?' said Wilmet rather bluntly.

'No, indeed, not a bit,' said Marilda, or Mary Alda, eagerly. 'If you
only knew how tiresome it all is.'

'What is?'

'Why, being fine--having a governess, and talking French, and
learning to dance, and coming down into the drawing-room. Then
Grandmamma Kedge tells me how she used to run about in pattens, and
feed the chickens, and scrub the floor, and I do so wish I was her.
Can you scrub, and do those nice things?'

'Not a floor,' said Wilmet; 'and we live in the town.'

'So have we done till now; but Papa is going to get this place,
because he says it is family property; and I hope he will, for they
will never be able to screw me up here as they do at home. I say,
which is Fulbert! Won't your father punish him?'

'Oh, no! You should not have told, Marilda. We never tell Papa of
little tricks of the boys.'

But the little darling might have broken her neck.'

'Oh! life in a large family is made up of _might haves_,' said Alda.

'Why, I do declare there's a smaller still! What a little duck!' and
she pounced upon Angela.

'We have a smaller than that, said Wilmet--'Bernard, only we left him
at home.'

'Tell me all your names!' cried Marilda, delighted.

She was perfectly happy, and chattered on in great delight in her
downright voice, as much at ease as if she had known them all her
life. She shared their tea, and wanted Mr. Underwood to come and see
her father at the house; but as she could not promise his early
return, and it was necessary to get the van under weigh before five,
this could not be.

However, she would not leave them till they were all packed into the
van, and then only parted with repeated kisses and auguries of many
future meetings; so that the children looked down a vista of
unlimited enjoyment of Gentry Park. Edgar, little gentleman as he
was, saw her as far back on the way as he could venture.




CHAPTER III

FORTUNATUS' PURSE



'Out, base mechanical churl!'--SHAKESPEARE.


Weeks went on, and nothing more was heard of 'Marilda' except the
wishes and wonderings of the children. Alda decided that she was one
of the heartless fine ladies one heard of in books--and no wonder,
when her father was in trade, and she looked so vulgar; while Wilmet
contended against her finery, and Cherry transferred the
heartlessness to her cruel father and mother, and Robina never ceased
to watch for her from the window, even when Felix and Edgar for very
weariness had prohibited the subject from being ever mentioned, and
further checked it by declaring that Marilda looked like a cow.

There was plenty besides to think of; and the late summer and early
autumn rolled cheerily away. The wonderful remnant of Felix's
birthday gift was partly applied to the hire of a chair for Geraldine
upon every favourable evening; and as the boys themselves were always
ready to act as horses, they obtained it on moderate terms, which
made the sum hold out in a marvellous manner. And not only were these
drives delight unimaginable to the little maid, but the frequent
breaths of pure air seemed to give her vigour; she ate more, smiled
more, and moved with less pain and difficulty, so that the thought of
a partial recovery began to seem far less impossible.

The children trooping about her, she used to be drawn to the nearest
bit of greensward, tree, or copse, and there would occupy herself
with the attempt to sketch, often in company with Edgar; and with a
few hints from her father, would be busied for days after with the
finishing them, or sometimes the idealising them, and filling them
with the personages she had read of in books of history or fiction.
She was a sensitive little body, who found it hard not to be fretful,
when told that it was very ill-natured to object to having her paints
daubed over her drawings by Lance, Robina, and Angel--an accusation
often brought against her by rough, kindly Sibby, and sometimes even
by Wilmet in an extremity: while Mamma's subdued entreaty, that she
would do something to please the little ones, if it could be without
mischief to herself, always humiliated her more than anything else,
and made her ready to leave all to their mercy, save for deference to
Edgar, and gratitude to Felix. Robina would look on soberly enough in
admiration; but Lance's notions of art were comic, and Fulbert's were
arbitrary, and both were imperiously carried out with due contempt
for the inferior sex, and were sure to infect both the little
sisters.

Then, of course, so many holiday boys were hard to keep in order.
Clement had a strong propensity in that direction; he was a grave,
quiet boy, without much sense of the absurd, and was generally the
victim of Edgar's wit; but, on the other hand, he was much in the
habit of objecting to anything Edgar or Fulbert proposed, and thereby
giving forbidden or doubtful amusements double zest. He was never
_in_ mischief, and yet he was never an element of peace.

All this, however, was mitigated when the holidays ended, and Lance
was allowed to follow his brothers to school, while Bobbie
importantly trotted in the wake of her sisters. Mamma and Cherry felt
it no small comfort to have no one at home who did not sleep away two
or three of the morning hours; and the lessons that the little girl
delighted to prepare for her father went on in peace--the arithmetic,
the French, the Latin, and even the verses of Greek Testament, that
he always said rested him.

And he was 'quite well,' he said himself; and though his wife never
confirmed this reply, he was everywhere as usual--in church, in
schools of all kinds, in parish meetings, by sick-beds, or in
cottages, as bright and as popular as ever, perhaps the more so that
he was more transparently thin, and every stranger started at the
sound of his cough, though the Bexley people had grown weary of
repeating the same augury for four or five years, and began, like 'my
Lady,' to call it 'constitutional.'

So came the autumn Ember Week; and Mr. Audley had to go to receive
Priests' Orders, and afterwards to spend the next fortnight with his
parents, who complained that they had not seen him once since he had
settled at Bexley. The last week was the break-up of summer weather,
and Mr. Bevan caught cold, and was rheumatic, there were two funerals
on wet and windy days, and when Mr. Audley, on Lady Price's
entreating summons, wrenched himself from a murmuring home, and,
starting by an early train, arrived half through the St. Michael's
Day Service, it was to see Mr. Underwood looking indeed like some
ethereal ascetic saint, with his bright eyes and wasted features, and
to hear him preach in extempore--as was his custom--a sermon on the
blessedness of angel helps, which in its intense fervour, almost
rapture, was to many as if it came from a white-winged angel himself.
Mr. Audley glided into his own place, and met Felix's look of relief.
The sermon was finished, and the blessing given; but before he could
descend the steps, the cough had come on, and with it severe
haemorrhage. They had to send one startled boy for Mrs. Underwood,
and another for the doctor, and it was an hour before he could be
taken home in a chair. No one ever forgot that sermon, for it was the
last he ever preached. He was very ill indeed for several days, but
still hopeful and cheerful; and as the weather mended, and the calm
brightness of October set in, he rallied, and came downstairs again,
not looking many degrees more wan and hectic than before, with a mind
as alert as usual, and his kind heart much gratified by the many
attentions of his parishioners during his illness.

During the worst, Mrs. Underwood had been obliged to keep one of the
elder girls at home--Wilmet at first, both by her own desire and that
of Alda; but it was soon made a special matter of entreaty by Miss
Pearson, that the substitution might not take place; the little class
was always naughty under Alda, and something the same effect seemed
to be produced on Angela and Bernard. They made so much less
disturbance when entrusted to Cherry, that the mother often sent Alda
to sit by papa, even though she knew he liked nothing so well as to
have his little pupil's soft voice repeating to him the Latin hymns
she loved to learn on purpose. Alda read or sang to him very
prettily, and they were very happy together; but then Wilmet could do
that as well, and also mind the babies, or do invalid cookery, and
supplement Sibby's defects, and set the mother free for the one
occupation she cared for most--the constant watching of that wasted
countenance.

But all was better. He had been able to collect his children for
their evening's Bible lesson and Sunday Catechism, and to resume the
preparation of Edgar and Geraldine for their Confirmation, though it
was at least a year distant, and even had spoken of sending for
others of his catechumens. Wilmet and Alda were both at school, the
two babies out with Sibby, Mamma at work, Papa dreaming over a
Comment on the Epistle to the Philippians, which was very near his
heart, and he always called his holiday work, and Geraldine reading
on her little couch when there was a sharp ring at the bell, and
after an interval, the girl who daily came in to help, announced
'Lady Price.'

Even my Lady had been startled and softened by the reality of Mr.
Underwood's illness, and remorseful for having coddled her husband at
his expense; she had sent many enquiries, some dainties, and a good
many recipes; and she had made no objection to Mr. Bevan's frequent
and affectionate visits, nor even to his making it obvious that
however little his senior curate might do that winter, he would not
accept his resignation for the present.

It was enough to make Mr. Underwood feel absolutely warm and grateful
to his old tormentor, as he rose, not without some effort, held out
his hand to her, and cheerily answered her inquiries for his cough.
She even discussed the berries in the hedges, and the prospects of a
mild winter, in a friendly, hesitating tone; and actually commended
Mr. Underwood's last pupil-teacher, before she began--'I am afraid I
am come upon a disagreeable business.'

Mr. Underwood expected to hear of his own inefficiency; or perhaps
that Mr. Audley had adopted some habit my Lady disapproved, or that
the schoolmaster was misbehaving, or that some Christmas dole was to
be curtailed, and that he would have to announce it because Mr. Bevan
would not. He was not prepared to hear, 'Are you aware that--in
short--perhaps you can explain it, but has not your son Felix been
spending a good deal of money--for him, I mean--lately?'

'Felix had a present from his godfather,' said Mr. Underwood, not at
all moved, so secure was he that this must be an exaggeration.

'Last summer, I heard of that. It was laid out on a picnic,' said
Lady Price, severely.

'It was intended to be so spent,' said the curate; 'but people were
so good-natured, that very little actually went that way, and the
remainder was left in his own hands.'

'Yes, Mr. Underwood, but I am afraid that remainder has been made to
cover a good deal of which you do not know!'

Mrs. Underwood flushed, and would have started forward. Her husband
looked at her with a reassuring smile. My Lady, evidently angered at
their blindness, went on, 'It is a painful duty, Mr. Underwood,
especially in your present state; but I think it due to you, as the
father of a family, to state what I have learned.'

'Thank you. What is it?'

'Have you reckoned the number of times the chair has been hired?' and
as he shook his head, 'That alone would amount to more than a pound.
Besides which, your daughters have been provided with books and
music--fruit has been bought--all amiable ways of spending money, no
doubt; but the question is, how was it procured?'

'Indeed,' said Mr. Underwood, still pausing.

'And,' added the lady, 'the means can, I am afraid, be hardly
doubted, though possibly the boy may have done it in ignorance.
Indeed, one of his sisters allowed as much.'

'What did she allow, Lady Price?'

'That--that it was won at play, Mr. Underwood. You know Mr. Froggatt
gives his boy an absurd amount of pocket-money, and when she was
taxed with this, your daughter--Alda is her name, I believe--allowed
that--'

'Papa, Papa!' breathlessly broke out Cherry, who had been forgotten
on her little sofa all this time, but now dashed forward, stumping
impetuously with her crutch--'Papa, it's all Alda, how can she be so
horrid?'

'What is it, my dear?' said Mr. Underwood. 'You can explain it, I
see. Tell Lady Price what you mean, Geraldine,' he added gravely, to
compose the child, who was sobbing with excitement and indignation.

'O Lady Price!' she cried, facing about with her hair over her face,
'he earned it--he earned every bit of it! How could any one think he
did not?'

'Earned it? What does that mean, little girl!' said Lady Price, still
severely. 'If he did the boy's exercises for him--

'No, no, no,' interrupted Geraldine, 'it was old Mr. Froggatt. He
asked Felix to look over the papers he had to print for the boys'
work at the Grammar School, because it is all Latin and Greek, and
Charles Froggatt is so careless and inaccurate, that he can't be
trusted.'

The faces of the father and mother had entirely cleared; but Lady
Price coughed drily, saying, 'And you did not know of this
arrangement?'

Geraldine's eyes began to twinkle with tears. 'I don't know what
Felix will say to me for telling now,' she said.

'It must have come to light some time, though concealment is always a
proof of shame,' began Lady Price in a consoling tone that filled the
little lame girl with a fresh passion, drawing up her head.

'Shame! Nobody's ashamed! Only Mamma and Felix and Wilmet never will
bear that Papa should know how terribly we do want things sometimes.'

And Geraldine, overpowered by her own unguarded words, ran into her
mother's arms, and hid her face on her shoulder.

'Thank you, Lady Price,' said Mr. Underwood gravely. 'I am glad my
little girl has been able to satisfy you that Felix has honestly
earned whatever he may have spent.'

'If you are satisfied,' returned the lady, 'it is not my affair; but
I must say I should like to know of such transactions among my
children.'

'Sometimes one is glad to have a boy to be perfectly trusted,' said
Mr. Underwood.

'But you will speak to him!'

'Certainly I shall.'

Lady Price felt that she must go, and rose up with an endeavour to
retract. 'Well, it is a relief to Mr. Bevan and me to find your son
not consciously in fault, for it would have been a most serious
thing. And in such a matter as this, of course you can do as _you_
please.'

To this Mr. Underwood made no reply, as none was necessary, but only
saw her out to the door in that extremely polite manner that always
made her feel smallest, and then he dropped into his chair again,
with a curl of the lip, and the murmur, 'not consciously!'

'O Papa, Papa!' cried Cherry.

'Dear Felix!' said the mother, with tears in her eyes; 'but what can
Alda have been saying?'

Cherry was about to speak again, but her father gently put her aside.
A little quietness now, if you please, my dear; and send Felix to me
when he comes in. Let me have him alone, but don't say anything to
him.'

There was no need to send Felix to his father, for he came in of his
own accord, radiant, with a paper containing a report of a public
meeting on Church matters that his father had been wishing to see.

'Thanks, my boy,' said Mr. Underwood; 'where does this come from?'

'From Froggatt's father. It was only fourpence.'

'But, Felix, repeated fourpences must exhaust even that Fortunatus'
purse of Admiral Chester's.'

Felix coloured. 'Yes, Papa, I wanted to tell you; but I waited till
you were better.'

'You will hardly find a better time than the present,' said Mr
Underwood.

'It is only this,' said Felix, with a little hesitation. 'You know
there's a good deal of printing to be done for the school sometimes--
the questions in Latin and Greek and Algebra, and even when Mr. Ryder
does have the proofs, it wants some one who really understands to see
that the corrections are properly done. Old Smith used to do it, by
real force of Chinese accuracy, but he has been ill for some time,
and Mr. Froggatt can't see to do it himself, and Charlie won't, and
can't be trusted either. So one day, when I was reading in the shop,
Mr. Froggatt asked me to see if a thing was right; and it went on: he
asked me after a time to take anything I liked, and I did get some
school books we all wanted; but after that, just when you were ill, I
could not help telling him I had rather have the money. O Father!'
cried the boy, struck by a certain look of distress, 'did I do
wrong?'

'Not in the least, my boy. Go on; what does he give you?'

'Exactly at the rate he gave Smith for doing the same work,' said
Felix: 'it always was an extra for being so troublesome. It was seven
shillings last week--generally it comes to three or four and
sixpence.'

'And when do you do it?'

'I run in after I come out of school for half an hour. Last Saturday
I corrected a sheet of the Pursuivant, because Mr. Froggatt had to
go out, and that made it more. And, Father, Mr. Froggatt says that
poor old Smith will never be fit for work again.'

'Then I suppose these welcome earnings of yours will end when he has
a successor?'

Felix came nearer. 'Papa,' he said, 'Mr. Froggatt told me that if
Charlie would only have taken to the work, he would have done without
another man in Smith's place, and got him gradually into editing the
paper too. He said he wished I was not a gentleman's son, for if I
had not been so I should have suited him exactly, and should be worth
a guinea a week even now. And, Father, do not you really think I had
better take it?'

'You, Felix!' Mr. Underwood was exceedingly startled for the moment.

'You see,' said Felix rather grimly, leaning his head on the
mantelshelf, and looking into the fire, 'any other way I can only be
an expense for years upon years, even if I did get a scholarship.'

His face was crimson, and his teeth set. Mr. Underwood lay back in
his chair for some seconds; then said in a low voice, 'I see you know
all about it, Felix; and that I am going to leave you as heavy a
burthen as ever lad took on willing shoulders.'

Felix knew well enough, but his father had never uttered a word of
despondency to him before, and he could only go on gazing steadfastly
into the fire with an inarticulate moan.

Mr. Underwood opened the first leaf of a volume of St. Augustine,
beside him, a relic of former days, the family shield and motto
within--namely, a cross potent, or crutch-shaped, and the old English
motto, 'UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE.'

'Under wood, under rood,' he repeated. 'It was once but sing-song to
me. Now what a sermon! The load is the Cross. Bear thy cross, and thy
cross will bear thee, like little Geraldine's cross potent--Rod and
Rood, Cross and Crutch--all the same etymologically and veritably.'

'Don't call them a burthen, pray!' said Felix, with a sense both of
deprecation and of being unable to turn to the point.

'My boy, I am afraid I was thinking more of myself than of you. I am
an ungrateful fool; and when a crutch is offered to me, I take hold
of it as a log instead of a rood. I did not know how much pride there
was left in me till I found what a bitter pill this is!'

Felix was more crimson than ever. 'Ought I not--' he began.

'The _ought_ is not on your side, Felix. It is not all folly, I hope;
but I had thought you would have been a better parson than your
father.'

There were tears in the boy's eyes now. 'There are the others; I may
be able to help them.'

'And,' added Mr. Underwood, 'I know that to be a really poor priest,
there should be no one dependent on one, or it becomes "Put me into
one of the priest's offices, that I may eat a piece of bread." It is
lowering! Yes, you are right.  Even suppose you could be educated, by
the time you were ordained, you would still have half these poor
children on your hands, and it would only be my own story over again,
and beginning younger. You are right, Felix, but I never saw the
possibility so fully before. I am glad some inward doubt held me back
from the impulse to dedicate my first-born.'

'It shall be one of the others instead,' said Felix in his throat.

Mr. Underwood smiled a little, and put his finger on the verse in his
beloved Epistle--'Look not every man on his own things but every man
also on the things of others.'

'You really wish this. Do you consider what it involves?' he said.

'I think I do,' said Felix in a stifled voice.

'This is not as if it were a great publisher,' continued Mr.
Underwood, 'with whom there would be no loss of position or real
society; but a little bookseller in a country town is a mere
tradesman, and though a man like Audley may take you up from time to
time, it will never be on an absolute equality; and it will be more
and more forgotten who you were. You will have to live in yourself
and your home, depending on no one else.'

'I can stand that,' said Felix, smiling. 'Father, indeed I thought of
all that. Of course I don't like it, but I don't see how it is to be
helped.'

'Sit down, Felix: let us go over it again. I suppose you don't know
what our subsistence is at present.'

'I know you have 250 pounds a year from Mr. Bevan.'

'Yes, I had 200 pounds at first, and he added the 50 pounds when the
third curate was given up. That goes with me, of course, if not
before. On the other hand, my poor good uncle, the wisest thing he
ever did, made me insure my life for 5000, pounds so there will be 150
pounds a year to depend on, besides what we had of our own, only 2350
pounds left of it now. I have had to break into it for the doctor's
bills, but at least there are no debts. Thank God, we have been saved
from debt! I think,' he continued, 'that probably it will have to be
brought down to twenty-two hundred before you have done with me. On
the whole, then, there will be about 180 pounds a year for you all to
live upon. Are you understanding, Felix?'

For the boy's anxious look had gone out of his face, and given place
to a stunned expression which was only dispelled with a sudden start
by his father's inquiry. 'Yes, yes,' he said recalling himself.

'I have left it all absolutely to your mother,' said Mr. Underwood.
'She will depend more and more on you, Felix; and I have made up my
mind to expect that no help will come to you but from yourselves.
Except that I hope some of you may be educated by clergy orphan
schools, but you are too old for that now. Felix, I believe it may be
right, but it is very sore to break off your education.'

'I shall try to keep it up,' said Felix, 'in case anything should
ever turn up'

'A guinea a week!' said Mr. Underwood, thoughtfully. 'It would make
you all not much worse off than you are now, when I am out of the
way. And yet--' A violent cough came on. 'We must wait, Felix,' he
said, when he had recovered himself. 'I must have time to think; I
will speak to you to-morrow.'

Felix left him, very grave and subdued. He buried himself in his
tasks for the next day, hardly looked up or smiled at little
Bernard's most earnest attempts at a game of play, and had not a word
for even Cherry, only when Wilmet begged anxiously to know if he
thought Papa worse, he answered that he believed not particularly so.

Alda was sent to carry some tea to her father that evening. As she
set it down on the table before him, he said gently, 'My dear, I want
to know what has been passing among you and your school-fellows about
Felix.'

'Oh, nothing, Papa,' said Alda rather hastily. 'Some nonsense or
other is always going on.'

'Very true, no doubt; nor do I wish to be informed of general
nonsense, but of that which concerns you. What have you been saying
or hearing said about Felix?'

'Oh, it's nonsense, Papa. Some of the girls will say anything
disagreeable.'

'You need not have any scruples on Felix's account, Alda; I know
exactly what he has done.' I want you to tell me what is being said--
or you have allowed to be said--about it.'

'That horrible Miss Price!' was all the answer be got.

He sat upright--laid on Alda's wrist a long bony burning hand, whose
clasp she did not forget for weeks, and forcing her to look at him,
said, 'Did you allow it to be believed that your brother Felix was a
gambler?'

'Papa! I never said so!' cried Alda, beginning to sob.

'Command yourself, Alda; I am not fit for a scene, and I may not be
able to speak to you many times again.'

These words--far more new and startling to Alda than to her brother--
appalled her into quietness.

'What did you say, Alda? or was it the deceit of silence?'

She hung her head, but spoke at last.

'I only said boys had ways and means! They did tease and plague so. I
do believe Carry Price counts every grape that goes into this house--
and they would know how I got my new music--and little Robina would
tell--and then came something about Mr. Froggatt; and if they knew--'

'If they knew what?'

'Papa, you have no idea how nasty some of them are.'

'My poor child, I am afraid I have some idea by seeing how nasty they
are making you! Gambling more creditable than honest labour!'

Alda had it on the tip of her tongue to say winning things was not
gambling, but she knew that argument would be choked down; and she
also knew that though she had spoken truth as to her words, she had
allowed remarks to pass without protest on the luck and licence that
the model boy allowed himself, and she was bitterly displeased with
the treachery of Miss Price.

'These old rags of folly don't look pretty on other folk,' he sighed
pleasantly. 'Alda, listen to me. What I have heard today gives me
more fears for you than for any one of my children.  Did you ever
hear that false shame leads to true shame? Never shuffle again!
Remember, nothing is mean that is not sin, and an acted falsehood
like this is sin and shame both--while your brother's deed is an
honour.

Alda was obliged to go away murmuring within herself, 'That's all
true: it is very good of Felix, and I should not have equivocated, I
know; but those stupid girls, how is one to live with them?'

Felix was not quite dressed the next morning when his mother came to
the door of the attic that he shared with Edgar and Fulbert.

'He wants to speak to you before church, Felix. It has been a very
bad night, and the sooner this is settled the better.'

'O Mother, I am very sorry--'

'It can't be helped, my dear boy. I think it will really be a great
relief to him.'

'And you, Mother, do you mind?'

'Dear Felix, all minding, except to have you all well, and fed and
clothed, was worn out of me years ago. I can't feel anything in it
but that it will keep you by me, my dear good helpful boy.'

Felix's heart leapt up, as it had not done for many a long day; but
it soon sank again. The children had never been admitted to their
father's room in the early morning, and Felix thought he must be
suddenly worse when he saw him in bed propped by pillows, pale and
wearied; but the usual bright smile made him like himself.

'All right, old fellow,' he said brightly. 'Don't come up to me. I'm
incog. till I'm up and dressed. Are you in the same mind?'

'Yes, Father.'

'Then ask Mr. Froggatt to do me the favour of coming to speak to me
any time after eleven o'clock that may suit him.  I must understand
what he offers you. The nonsense is conquered, Felix; more shame for
me that it has followed me so far: but the sense remains. I must try
to be sure that this sacrifice of yours is a right one to be
accepted. Any way, my boy, I thank and bless you for it, and God will
bless such a beginning. There's the bell, be off,' he concluded.

And, Papa,' blurted out Felix suddenly, 'would you _please_ be
photographed. I have the money for it.  _Pray--_'

Mr. Underwood smiled. 'Very well, Felix; that is, if I am ever
capable of getting up all the stairs to Coleman's sky-parlour.

'Oh, thank you!' and Felix ran away.

Mr. Froggatt came in due time. He was an elderly portly man, well
shaven and smooth-faced, intensely respectable, having been brought
up to inherit an old hereditary business as bookseller, stationer,
and publisher of a weekly local paper, long before Bexley had broken
out into its present burning fever of furnaces. He was a very good
religious man, as Mr. Underwood well knew, having been his great
comforter through several family troubles, which had left him and his
wife alone with one surviving and woefully spoilt son, who hated the
trade, and had set his heart upon being a farmer--chiefly with a view
to hunting. Mr. Froggatt was conscious of having been too indulgent,
but the mother and son were against him; and the superior tone of
education that the son had received at the reformed grammar school
had only set him above the business, instead of, as had been
intended, rendering him more useful in it.

Good Mr. Froggatt, an old-fashioned tradesman, with a profound
feeling for a real gentleman, was a good deal shocked at receiving
Mr. Underwood's message. He kept a reading-room, and was on terms of
a certain intimacy with its frequenters, such as had quite warranted
his first requests for Felix's good-natured help, and it had been
really as a sort of jesting compliment that he had told the young
gentleman that he wished he would take Smith's place, little
expecting to see how earnestly the words were caught up, how the boy
asked whether he really meant it, and when, on further consideration,
he allowed that it might be possible, begging him to wait till his
father could be spoken to.

Poor as he was, Mr. Underwood had never lost general respect.
Something there was in his fine presence and gentlemanly demeanour,
and still more in his showing no false shame, making no pretensions,
and never having a debt. Doctors' bills had pressed him heavily, but
he had sacrificed part of his small capital rather than not pay his
way; and thus no one guessed at the straits of the household. Mr.
Froggatt had never supposed he would entertain for a moment the idea
of letting his eldest son, a fine clever and studious lad, undertake
a little country business, and yet the old bookseller had come to
wish it very much on his own account. As he explained to Mr.
Underwood, he loved his old business, and knew that with more
education he should have been able to make more of it. His elder son
had died just as intelligence and energy were opening up plans that
would have made both the shop and the newspaper valuable and
beneficial; while Charles's desertion left them decline with his
father's declining years, and in danger of being supplanted by some
brisk new light. Felix Underwood was indeed very young, but he had
already proved his power of usefulness, and a very few years would
make him capable of being a right hand to the old man, and he might
in time make a position for himself. Mr. Froggatt would otherwise ere
long be forced by his own infirmity, to dispose of the business at a
disadvantage, and this would, he confessed, go to his heart. Mr.
Underwood felt greatly reconciled to the project. There was real
usefulness in the work, great means of influencing men for good, and
though there would be much of mechanical employment, for which it was
a pity to give up the boy's education, yet it was a stepping stone to
something better, and it gave present and increasing means of
maintenance. There was less temptation in this way of life than in
almost any that could be devised, and it would give Mrs. Underwood
the comfort of a home with him. The great difficulty for the future
was, that Felix was never likely to have capital enough to purchase,
or become partner in the business; but Mr. Froggatt explained that if
he gained experience in the editing of the Pursuivant, he would be
always able to obtain profitable employment, and that it was possible
that he might eventually take the business, and pay an annual sum out
of the profits to the Froggatt family, unless, indeed, something
should turn up which would keep him in his natural station. Such was
the hope lurking in the father's heart, even while he thankfully
closed with the offer; and Felix was put in the way of studying book-
keeping till the New Year, when he was to enter upon his duties and
his salary.

Mr. Audley was greatly troubled. It was with incredulous vivacity
that he inquired of Mr. Underwood if it were indeed true that Felix
had accepted such prospects.

'Quite true.' said Mr. Underwood. 'You need not argue it with me,
Audley; my own mind has said all you could say seven times over.'

'I should not venture on interference; but could you not let me try
to do--something?'

'And welcome, my dear fellow: there are so many to be done for, that
it is well one can do for himself.'

'But Felix--Felix out of them all!'

'As the voice I want to silence has said a thousand times! No; Felix
seems capable of this, and it is not right to withhold him, and throw
his education upon the kind friends who might be helping the other
boys--boys whom I could not trust to fend for themselves and others,
as I can that dear lad.'

'What he might be--'

'Who knows whether he may not be a greater blessing in this work than
in that which we should have chosen for him? He may be a leaven for
good--among the men we have never been able to reach! My dear Audley,
don't be a greater ass about it than I was at first!'

For the young curate really could not speak at first for a rush of
emotion.

'It is not only for Felix's sake,' said he, smiling at last, 'but the
way you take it.'

'And now, I am going to ask you to do something for me,' added Mr.
Underwood. 'I have left this magnificent estate of mine entirely to
my wife, appointing her sole guardian to my children. But I have
begun to think how much has been taken out of her by that shock of
leaving Vale Leston, and by that wonderful resolute patience that--
that I shall never be able to thank her for. I scarcely dare to let
her know that I see it. And when I look on to the winter that is
before her,' he added, much less calmly, 'I think she may not be long
after me. I must add a guardian. Once we had many good friends. We
have them still, I hope, but I cannot lay this on them. Our cousin
Tom Underwood does not seem disposed to notice us, and his care might
not be of the right kind. Our only other relation is Fulbert
Underwood.'

'Who drove you from Vale Leston?'

'Who did what he had every right to do with his own,' said Mr.
Underwood. 'But he is not the style of man to be asked, even if I
could saddle him with the charge. Probably twelve children to bring
up on seven thousand pounds--a problem never put before us at
Cambridge.'

'Do you honour me by--' asked the younger man, much agitated.

'Not by asking you to solve that problem!  But let me add your name.
What I want is a guardian, who will not violently break up the home
and disperse the children. I believe Felix will be a competent young
head if he is allowed, and I want you to be an elder brother to him,
and let him act.'

'You cannot give me greater comfort.'

'Only, Audley, this must be on one condition. Never let this
guardianship interfere with any higher work that you may be called
to. If I thought it would bind you down to Bexley, or even to
England, I should refrain from this request as a temptation. Mind,
you are only asked to act in case the children should lose their
mother, and then only to enable Felix to be what I believe he can and
will be. Or, as it may be right to add, if he should fail them, you
will know what to do.'

'I do not think he will.'

'Nor I. But there are ways of failing besides the worst. However, I
do not greatly fear this illness of mine taking root in them. It has
not been in the family before; and I am nearly sure that I know when
I took the infection, four or five years ago, from a poor man in
Smoke-jack Alley, who would let no one lift him but me. They are
healthy young things, all but dear little Cherry, and I hope they
have spirits to keep care from making them otherwise. You will say a
kind word to my little Cherry sometimes, Audley. Poor little woman, I
am afraid it may fall sorely on her, she is of rather too highly
strung a composition, and perhaps I have not acted so much for her
good as my own pleasure, in the companionship we have had together.'

So the will was altered, though without the knowledge of anyone but
Mrs. Underwood and the witnesses; and Mr. Audley felt himself bound
to remonstrate no further against Felix's fate, however much he might
deplore it.

Nobody was so unhappy about it as Edgar. The boy was incredulous at
first, then hotly indignant. Then he got a burnt stick, and after
shutting himself up in his attic for an hour, was found lying on the
floor, before an awful outline on the whitewash.

'What is it, old fellow?' asked Felix. 'What a horrid mess!'

'I see, said Lance. 'It is Friday grinning at the savages.'

'Or a scarecrow on the back of a ditch,' said Felix. 'Come, Ed, tell
us what it is meant for.'

Edgar was impenetrable; but having watched the others out of the
house, he dragged Geraldine up to see--something--

'Oh!' she cried. 'You've done it!'

'To be sure! You know it?'

'It is Achilles on the rampart, shouting at the Trojans! O Edgar--how
brave he looks--how his hair flies! Some day you will get him in his
god-like beauty!'

'Do you think he has not got any of it, Cherry?' said Edgar, gazing
wistfully. 'I did see it all, but it didn't come out--and now--'

'I see what you mean,' said Cherry, screwing up her eyes; 'it is in
him to be glorious--a kind of lightning look.'

'Yes, yes; that's what I meant. All majesty and wrath, but no strain.
O Cherry--to have such things in my head, and not get them out! Don't
you know what it is?' as he rolled and flung himself about.

'Oh, yes!' said Cherry from her heart. 'Oh! I should so like to do
one touch to his face, but he's so big! You did him on a chair, and I
could not stand on one.'

'I'll lift you up. I'll hold you,' cried Edgar.

The passion for drawing must have been very strong in the two
children; for Geraldine was most perilously, and not without pain,
raised to a chair, where, with Edgar's arms round her waist, she
actually worked for ten minutes at Achilles' face, but his arm she
declined. 'It is not right, Eddy! look--that muscle in his elbow can
never be so!'

'I can't see the back of mine, but you can,' said Edgar, lifting her
down, and proceeding to take off his coat and roll up his shirt-
sleeve.

'That's the way. Oh! but it is not such an angle as that.'

'Achilles' muscles must have stood out more than mine, you know. I'll
get a look at Blunderbore's. O Cherry, if I were but older--I know I
could--I'd save Felix from this horrible thing! I feel to want to
roar at old Froggy, like this fellow at the Trojans.'

'Perhaps some day you will save him.'

'Yes; but then he will have done it. Just fancy, Gerald, if that
picture was as it ought to be--as you and I see it!'

'It would be as grand as the world ever saw,' said the little girl,
gazing through her eye-lashes at the dim strokes in the twilight. O
Edgar, many a great man has begun in a garret!'

'If it would not be so long hence! Oh! must you go down!'

'I heard some one calling. You will be a great artist, I know,
Edgar!'

It was pleasanter than the other criticism, at bed-time.

'Hollo! Man Friday does not look quite so frightful!' said Felix.

'I'm sure I won't have him over my bed,' said Fulbert, proceeding to
rub him out; and though, for the moment, Achilles was saved by
violent measures of Edgar's, yet before the end of the next day,
Fulbert and Lance had made him black from head to foot, all but the
whites of his eyes and his teeth; Robina and Angela had peeped in,
and emulated the terror of the Trojans, or the savages; and Sibby had
fallen on the young gentleman for being 'so bold' as to draw a
frightful phooka upon their walls just to frighten the darlints.
Indeed, it was long before Angela could be got past the door at night
without shuddering, although Achilles had been obliterated by every
possible method that Felix, Clement, or Sibby could devise, and some
silent tears of Cherry had bewailed the conclusion of this effort of
high art, the outline of which, in more moderate proportions, was
cherished in that portfolio of hers.

Another work of art--the photograph--was safely accomplished. The
photographer caught at the idea, declaring that he had been so often
asked for Mr. Underwood's carte, that he had often thought of begging
to take it gratis. And he not only insisted on so doing, but he came
down from his studio, and took Mr. Underwood in his own chair, under
his own window--producing a likeness which, at first sight, shocked
every one by its faithful record of the ravages of disease,
unlightened by the fair colouring and lustrous beaming eyes, but
which, by-and-by, grew upon the gazer, as full of a certain majesty
of unearthly beauty of countenance.

The autumn was mild, and Mr. Underwood rallied in some measure, so as
sometimes even to get to church at mid-day services on warm days.

It was on St. Andrew's Day that he was slowly walking home, leaning
on Felix's arm, with the two elder girls close behind him, when Alda
suddenly touched Wilmet's arm, exclaiming, 'There's Marilda
Underwood!'

There indeed was the apparition of Centry Park, riding a pretty pony,
beside a large and heavily-bearded personage. The recognition was
instantaneous; Marilda was speaking to her companion, and at the same
moment he drew up, and exclaiming, 'Edward! bless me!' was off his
horse in a moment, and was wringing those unsubstantial fingers in a
crushing grasp. There was not much to be seen of Mr. Underwood, for
he was muffled up in a scarf to the very eyes, but they looked out of
their hollow caves, clear, blue, and bright, and smiling as ever, and
something like an answer came out of the middle of the folds.

'These yours?  How d'ye do'--How d'ye do'--Mary, you don't get off
till we come to the door!--Yes, I'll come in with you! Bless me!
bless me! Mary has been at me ever so many times about you, but we've
been had abroad for masters and trash, and I left it till we were
settled here.'

It was not many steps to the door, and there Wilmet flew on prepare
her mother and the room, while Alda stood by as her cousin was
assisted from her horse by the groom, and the newcomer followed in
silence, while Felix helped his father up the steps, and unwound his
wraps, after which he turned round, and with his own sunny look held
out his hand, saying, 'How are you, Tom? I'm glad to see you--How
d'ye do, Mary Alda? we are old friends.--Call your mother, one of
you.'

The mother was at hand, and they entered the drawing-room, where, as
the clergyman sank back into his arm-chair, the merchant gazed with
increasing consternation at his wasted figure and features.

'How long has this been going on?' he asked, pointing to him and
turning to Mrs. Underwood, but as usual her husband answered for her.

'How long have I been on the sick list? Only since the end of
September, and I am better now than a month ago.'

'Better! Have you had advice?'

'Enough to know how useless it is.'

'Some trumpery Union doctor. I'll have Williams down before you are a
day older.'

'Stay, Tom. Thank you, most warmly, but you see yourself the best
advice in the world could tell us no more than we know already. Are
you really master of old Centry Underwood? I congratulate you.'

'Ay. I'm glad the place should come back to the old name. Mrs.
Underwood and myself both felt it a kind of duty, otherwise it went
against the grain with her, and I'm afraid she'll never take to the
place. 'Twas that kept us abroad so long, though not from want of
wishes from Mary and myself. The girl fell in love with yours at
first sight.'

'To be sure I did,' said the young lady. 'Do let me see the little
ones, and your baby.'

'Take your cousin to see them in the dining-room, Alda,' said the
mother; the order that Alda had been apprehending, for the dining-
room was by many degrees more shabby than the drawing-room; however,
she could only obey, explaining by the way that little Bernard, being
nearly two years old, was hardly regarded as a baby now.

Wilmet was in effect making him and Angela presentable as to the
hands, face, hair, and pinafore, and appeared carrying the one and
leading the other, who never having closely inspected any one in a
riding-habit before, hung back, whispering to know whether 'that man
was a woman.'

Marilda was in raptures, loving nothing so well as small children,
and very seldom enjoying such an opportunity as the present; and the
two babies had almost the whole of the conversation adapted to them,
till Alda made an effort.

'So you have been on the Continent?'

'Oh yes; it was such a horrid bore. Mamma would go. She said I must
have French masters, and more polish, but I don't like French polish.
I hope I'm just as English as I was before.'

'That is undeniable' said Felix, laughing.

'Didn't you care for it? Oh! I should like it so much!' cried Alda.

'Like it? What, to hear French people chattering and gabbling all
round one, and be always scolded for not being like them! There was a
poor dog at the hotel that had been left behind by some English
people, and could not bear the French voices, always snarled at them.
I was just like him, and I got Papa to buy him and bring him home,
and I always call him John Bull.'

'But wasn't it nice seeing places, and churches, and pictures?' asked
Geraldine.

'That was the most disgusting of all, to be bothered with staring at
the stupid things. Mamma with her Murray standing still at them all,
and making me read it out just like a lesson, and write it after,
which was worse! And then the great bare shiny rooms with nothing to
do. The only thing I liked was looking at a jolly little old woman
that sold hot chestnuts out in the street below. Such dear little
children in round caps came to her! Just like that,'--endeavouring to
convert her pocket-handkerchief into the like head-gear for Robina.

'I have always so wanted to come here,' she continued, 'only I am
afraid Mamma won't like the place. She says it's dull, and there's no
good society. Is there?'

'I am sure we don't know,' said Wilmet.

'Lots of people are coming to stay with us for Christmas,' added
Marilda, and you must all of you come and have all the fun with us.'

'Oh, thank you! how charming!' cried Alda. 'If Papa will but be well
enough; he is so much better now.'

'He must come for change of air,' said Marilda. 'You can't think how
pleased my father was to hear I had met you. He talked all the way
home of how clever your father was, and how wickedly Cousin Fulbert
at Vale Leston had served him, and he promised me when I came here I
should have you with me very often. I would have written to tell you,
only I do so hate writing. This is much better.'

Marilda seemed to have perfectly established herself among them
before the summons came to her; and as the children herded to the
door, her father turned round and looked at the boys inquiringly.
'There,' said Mr. Underwood, 'this is Felix, and this is Edgar,
sixteen and fourteen.'

Bless me, what a number, and as much alike as a flock of sheep,'
again exclaimed the cousin. 'One or two more or less would not make
much odds--eh, Edward?--Mary, what kissing all round?--D'ye know them
all?--I'll look in to-morrow or next day, and you'll give me your
answer, Edward.'

They were off, and at Mr. Underwood's sign Felix followed him into
the sitting-room, to the great excitement of the exterior population,
who unanimously accepted Alda's view, that one of them was going to
be adopted. Their notion was not so much out as such speculations
generally are, for Mr. Underwood was no sooner alone with Felix and
his mother, than he said, 'You are in request, Felix; here's another
offer for one of you--the very thing I once missed. What say you to a
clerkship at Kedge Brothers?'

'For one of us, did you say, Father?'

'Yes; the answer I am to give to-morrow is as to which. You have the
first choice.'

'Do you wish me to take it, Father?'

'I wish you to think. Perhaps this is the last time I shall have any
decision to make for you, and I had rather you should make your own
choice; nor, indeed, am I sure of my own wishes.'

'Then,' said Felix decidedly, 'I am sure I had better not. Edgar
would not, and must not, go to my work, there would be nothing coming
in for ever so long, and it would be a shame to throw old Froggy
over.'

'I rather expected this, Felix. I told Tom you were in a manner
provided for, but when he found you had a turn for business, he was
the more anxious to get you.'

'I've got no turn that I know of,' said Felix rather gloomily; 'but
we can't all of us set up for gentlemen, and Edgar is the one of us
all that ought to have the very best! Such a fellow as he is! He is
sure of the prize this time, you know! I only don't think this good
enough for him! He ought to go to the University. And maybe when Mr.
Underwood sees--'

'Not impossible,' said the sanguine father, smiling; 'and, at any
rate, to get put in the way of prosperity early may make his talents
available. It is odd that his first name should be Thomas. Besides, I
do not think your mother could get on without you. And, Felix,' he
lowered his voice,' I believe that this is providential. Not only as
securing his maintenance, but as taking him from Ryder. Some things
have turned up lately when he has been reading with me, that have
dismayed me. Do you know what I mean?'

'A little,' said Felix gravely.

'I know Ryder would be too honourable consciously to meddle with a
boy's faith; but the worst of it is, he does not know what is
meddling, and he likes Edgar, and talks eagerly to him. And the boy
enjoys it.'

'He does,' said Felix, 'but he knows enough to be on his guard. There
can't be any harm done.'

'Not yet! Not but what can be counteracted, if--Felix, you cannot
guess how much easier it makes it to me to go, that Edgar will not be
left in Ryder's hands. As to the younger ones, such things do not
come down to the lower forms. And they will be eligible for clergy
orphans. Audley spoke of a choristership for Clement in the clergy-
house at Whittingtonia. Was there ever such a raising up of friends
and helpers? I am glad to have seen Tom Underwood, hearty, kindly--
sure to be always a good friend to you all. What did you think of the
girl, Felix?'

'She is a jolly sort of girl,' said Felix; 'not like ours, you know,
Father, but not half a bad fellow.'

Mr. Underwood smiled thoughtfully, and asked, 'Have you seen enough
of her to judge how she is brought up?'

It was treating his son so much more as a friend than as a boy, that
Felix looked up surprised. 'I should think her mother wanted to make
her no end of a swell,' he said, 'and that it would not take.'

Mr. Underwood lent back thoughtfully. In truth, his cousin had, in
his outburst of affection and remorse at long unconscious neglect,
declared his intention of taking home one of the girls to be as a
sister to his Mary, and then, evidently bethinking himself of some
influence at home, had half taken back his words, and talked of doing
something, bringing his wife to see about it, etc.

And when Mr. and Mrs. Underwood were again alone, they discussed the
probabilities, and considered whether if the offer were made they
would accept it. Mr. Underwood had only seen his cousin's wife once,
in his prosperous days, when he had been at the wedding, and his
impression was not that of perfect refinement. There was reason to
think from the words of her husband and daughter that there was a
good deal of the nouveau riche about her, and Mrs. Underwood did
not know how to think of trusting a daughter in a worldly, perhaps
irreligious household. But Mr. Underwood was a good deal touched by
his cousin's warmth and regret; he believed that the family kept up
religious habits; he thought that Providence had brought him friends
in this last hour, and his affectionate sanguine spirit would not
hesitate in accepting the kindness that provided for another of the
children he was leaving. She trusted him as sure to know best; and,
after her usual mode, said no more, except 'Wilmet would be safest
there.'

'You could spare her least.'

'Yes, indeed, it would be losing my right hand; but poor Alda--'

Poor Alda! but consider if there is not worse evil in keeping her
among girls who hurt her, if they do not Wilmet. Beauty and wounded
vanity are dangerous in a place like this.'

'Dangerous anywhere!'

'Less so in a great house, with that good honest Mary Alda, and Tom,
who will look after her in the main, than here, or as a governess,
with an inferior education.'

'It may be so. I know I can spare her better than her sister.'

'Wilmet is doing something for herself too--as Alda cannot, it seems.
Justice settles the point, dearest, as it did between the boys--that
is, if we have the offer.'

Perhaps the mother still had a lurking hope that the offer would not
be made. Her instinct was to keep all her brood round her; but,
silent and deferential woman that she was, she said nothing and
resolved to be thankful for what so eased her husband's mind.

The handsome carriage tore up to the door, and violet velvet and
feathers descended, Mary Alda sprang after, and then came her father,
and hampers on hampers of game, wine, and fruits ensued; while
Marilda seized on Alda, and turned of herself into the dining-room,
bearing a box of sweets. 'Where are the little ones? Little Bobbie,
here; and all the rest.'

Not many calls were needful to bring a flock to share the feast, with
cries of joy; but Marilda was not yet satisfied.

'Where's the other of you?' she said to Alda. 'I don't know you well
apart yet.'

'Wilmet's in the kitchen,' thrust in Lancelot, 'ironing the collars
for Sunday.'

'Lance!' uttered Alda indignantly.

'Oh! what fun I do let me go down and see! I should so like to iron.'

'But, Marilda--your Mamma--'

'Oh nonsense, come along, show me the way. That's right, Robins, only
your hands are so sticky. What, down here!--Oh, Wilmet, how d'ye do?
what delicious work! do you always do it?'

'Generally, if Sibby is busy.'

'Do let me try.'

And she did try for ten minutes, at the end of which the mother's
voice was heard calling for Edgar, who, turning crimson, went
upstairs, leaving the others standing about the tidy kitchen, fresh
sanded for Saturday.

What, not you!' said Marilda, pausing in her smoothing operations,
and looking at Felix.

'No,' said he. 'I have got my work.'

'Oh? don't talk of it,' said Alda. 'I can't bear it. I didn't think
he was in earnest, or that Papa would let him.'

Marilda turned full round. 'What, you won't go and be my father's
clerk, and be one of Kedge and Underwood, and make a fortune?'

Felix shook his head.

'And what is your work instead?'

'Printing,' said Felix stoutly. 'It gives present payment, and we
can't do without it.'

Both Marilda's hands seized on his. 'I like you!' she said. 'I wish I
were you.'

They all laughed, and Felix coloured, more abashed than pleased.
Lance--to make up for his ignominious rescue at their last meeting--
performed a wonderful progress, holding on by his fingers and toes
along the ledge of the dresser; and Marilda, setting her back (a
broad one) against the ironing-board, went on talking.

'And do you know what besides?' looking round, and seeing they did
not. 'One of you girls is to come and live with me, and be my sister.
I wanted to have this little darling Angela to pet, but Mamma
wouldn't have her, and I did so beg for Geraldine, to let her have a
sofa and a pony carriage! I do want something to nurse! But Mamma
won't hear of anybody but one of you two great ones, to learn and do
everything with me; and that's not half the use.'

'But is it really?' cried Alda.

'Yes, indeed! You'll be had up for her to choose from--that is, if
she can. How exactly alike you are!'

'She won't choose me,' said Wilmet. 'Hark, there's Edgar coming
down.'

Edgar ran in, with orders to the twins to go into the drawing-room.
Wilmet hung back. 'I will not be the one,' she said resolutely. 'Let
Alda go alone.'

'No,' said Felix, 'it is what you are told that you've got to do now.
Never mind about the rest! Let us all come out of this place.' And it
was he who took off his sister's ironing apron as they went up to the
dining-room together, while Marilda cried eagerly, 'Well, Edgar?'

'Well,' said Edgar, not in the enchanted voice she expected; 'it is
very good of your father, and what must be must.'

'Don't you like it!' said Marilda, half hurt; and Edgar, always a boy
of ready courtesy, answered, 'Yes, yes, I'm no end of grateful. I'll
get rich, and go abroad, and buy pictures. Only I did hope to paint
them.'

'Paint pictures!' cried Marilda. What, rather than be a merchant! do
such stupid useless things, only to bother people with having to
stare at them, when you could be making money?'

'There's no reason one should not make money with pictures,' said
Edgar; 'but I'd rather make delight! But it can't be helped, and I am
very glad to have done with this stupid place.'

Meantime Wilmet and Alda found themselves before a large, florid,
much-dressed lady, with a most good-natured face, who greeted them
with 'Good morning, my dears! Just as Marilda told me, so much alike
as to be quite romantic. Well, no doubt it is a pity to separate
between you, but my Marilda will be a true sister. She has spoken of
nothing else. Are you willing, either of you, my dears?'

'Ay!' chimed in Mr. Thomas Underwood; 'we'll make you happy whichever
it is! You shall be in all respects like our own child; Mary would
see to that, if we didn't.'

As to choice,' said the lady, 'there's none that I can see--pretty
genteel girls both, that will do us credit, unless it is their own
fault. Excellent governess, London masters--you may be assured
everything shall be done for her.'

'Shall we toss up which it shall be?' laughed her husband.

'No,' said Mr. Underwood gently. 'We think that this one,' laying his
hand on Alda's arm, 'will value these advantages, and is not quite
such a home-bird as her sister. I hope you will find a grateful good
child in Alda Mary, and a kind sister to Mary Alda.'

The tears came into Alda's eyes, as her father seemed thus making her
over; a great rush of affection for all at home, and contempt for
Mary Alda in comparison with her own twin, seemed to take away any
elation, as Mr. and Mrs. Tom Underwood kissed her, and welcomed her,
and declared they should like to take her home at once.

'You shall have her soon,' said Mr. Underwood. 'Let me keep her for
Christmas Day.'

And for Christmas Day he did keep her, though at the bottom of Alda's
heart there were strong hopes of invitations to join the festivities
at Centry Underwood. Indeed, such a party was insisted on by Marilda,
one that was to include all the little ones, and make them happier
than ever they had been in their lives. It was to be on Twelfth Day,
but Mrs. Underwood hinted to the twins that they had better not talk
to the younger ones about it, for she scarcely believed they would
go. She had never before spoken out that conviction which had long
crushed her down, and Wilmet's whole soul seemed for the moment
scared away by this fresh intimation of the condition in which their
father stood; while Alda vehemently repeated the old declaration that
he was better. He said he was better. Alas! such a better as it
always was.

'How well you ought to be!' said Mr. Audley one day at the
reiteration, 'better every day!'

'Yes, and best of all at last!' was the reply, with a sweet smile.

For he was very happy. The partial provision for the four eldest
children, two by their own exertions, two through friends, had
evidently been received by him as an earnest of protection and aid
for the rest, even to the babe whom he scarcely expected ever to see
in this world. He said it would be ungrateful not to trust, and he
did trust with all his heart, cheered as it was by the tardy
cordiality of his cousin, and the indefinable love of kindred that
was thus gratified. Thomas Underwood poured in good things of all
kinds on the invalid and his house, fulfilled his promise of calling
in further advice, and would have franked half the family to Torquay
--Nice--Madeira--if the doctors had given the slightest encouragement.
It could be of little ultimate avail; but the wine and soup did give
support and refreshment bodily, and produced much gratitude and
thankfulness mentally, besides lightening some of Mrs. Underwood's
present cares.

No one was more anxious to help than Mr. Ryder; he had been assiduous
in his inquiries and offers of service ever since the attack at
Michaelmas; and it was evident that he really venerated the Curate,
while he was a severe and contemptuous judge of the Rector. But when,
after a brilliant examination, he became aware that he was to lose
both the elder Underwoods at once, his mortification was great, he
came to call, and Mr. Underwood had again to undergo an expostulation
on Felix's prospects, and an offer of keeping him free of expense.
The school-fee was a mere trifle, but Mr. Ryder would willingly have
boarded and lodged the boy himself--for the benefit of his authority,
as he said, over younger boarders.

'I am afraid,' said Mr. Underwood, kind and grateful as usual, 'that
there are too many younger boarders here for Felix to be spared. No,
thank you; I am sincerely obliged to you, but the hard cash is a
necessary consideration.'

'And you can sacrifice such a boy's prospects--'

'Bread and cheese _must_ be earned, even at the cost of prospects. He
cannot afford to wait to make his labour skilled.'

'Forgive me, Mr. Underwood, but I cannot think it is right to throw
away his abilities.'

'You can allow that it is a less wrong than to leave the rest to debt
or starvation.'

'You should trust--'

'I do trust; but I can do so better when I humble what is nothing but
pride and vanity in me, after all. I was foolish enough about it at
first, but I am quite content now that my boy should do his duty,
without being curious as to where it is to be done.'

'You will tell me a schoolmaster's vanity is concerned; and I allow
it is, for I looked to your sons to raise the reputation of the
school; but perhaps it is only put off a little longer. Will you let
me have Clement or Fulbert, on the terms I proposed for Felix?'

'No, Ryder; with many, many thanks, much feeling of your generous
kindness--it cannot be.'

'You do not trust me.' This was said with as much indignation as
could be shown to a man in Mr. Underwood's condition.

No. Your very kindness would make the tone I regret in you more
perilous. Do not think Felix ungrateful, Ryder; the desire is mine--
and remember, it is that of a man who is dying, and who really loves
and values you greatly. It is that the younger boys should, as soon
as may be, go to schools where older systems prevail.'

Mr. Ryder was exceedingly mortified, and though he tried hard to
conceal the full extent of his annoyance, he could not help saying,
'You know how I respect your motives; but let me say that I doubt
your finding any place where the ideas you deprecate are not to be
found. And--pardon me--may not the finding their progress obstructed
by your scruples, the more indispose your sons to them?'

'I hope not,' said Mr. Underwood, calmly. 'I hope it may show them
how strong the approach of death makes that faith--nay, rather
assurance--with which your party are tampering.'

'You are not doing me justice, Mr. Underwood. You know that my faith
and hope are at the core the same as your own. All our question is
what outworks are untenable.' Again he spoke hotly, but Mr.
Underwood's gentleness seemed to silence him.

'And that there should be any such question proves--alas!--the utter
difference between our belief. Ryder, you are a young man, and as I
believe and trust verily in earnest; and some day, I think, you will
understand what faith is. Meantime, your uncertainties are doing more
mischief than you understand--they pervade all your teaching more
than you know. I dread what they may do to such as have not your
moral sense to restrain them and bring them back, as I pray--I hope
ever to pray--it may be with you. Thank you for all your kindness,
actual and intended, to my boys.'

Then rising from his chair, while Mr. Ryder remained uncertain how to
speak, he signed to him to remain still while he sought in his
bookcase and returned with a small old copy of Jeremy Taylor's Holy
Living and Dying; then sitting down again, wrote the schoolmaster's
name in it, above his own 'Under-wode, Under-rode' stamp. 'Keep it,
Ryder! I do not say that you will care for it now, but some day I
think you will, and if I am allowed to know of it, it will be joy.'

Mr. Ryder could only wring the hand that held it out to him, and with
a great effort say, 'Thank you.' He saw that Mr. Underwood was too
much tired to prolong the conversation; but he wrote a note of warm
thanks that evening, promising to do whatever lay in his power for
the boys, that their father would not think dangerous for them; and
he added, that whatever he should for the future think or say, such
an example as he had now seen was a strong weight on its own side. It
was warmly and tenderly put, and like everything that befell him,
gratified Mr. Underwood.

A very happy man he had been, as he sincerely told those who would
have grieved over him, and not without some remorse.

'Yes,' as he said to Mr. Audley, who watched him like a son, 'it is
indeed the LORD who hath led me all my life through. I never had a
want or a care unfulfilled till nine years ago. Then, just as I had
become sluggish and mechanical in fixed habits of easy country work,
came this thorough change, break, and rousing. I tell you, I can
never be thankful enough for the mercy. Not to leave them all
provided for, as the saying is, would I go back to be such a priest
as I was becoming. Happy--yes, I have been much happier here, since
no choice was left me but working up to my strength.'

'And beyond it,' said Mr. Audley, sadly.

'If so--well; so much the better!' he said. 'It is a blessing to be
allowed to be spent in that service. And for the children, I wish
only for work and goodness for them--and for that I may well trust my
good Master.'




CHAPTER IV

TWILIGHT AND DAWN



'Two Angels, one of Life and one of Death,
 Passed o'er the village as the morning broke;
 The dawn was on their faces; and beneath
 The sombre houses capped with plumes of smoke.
                                         LONGFELLOW.


'Don't, Ful!'

'That's nothing to you, Clem.'

'I say, this won't do. I must have some light.'

'Indeed, Ed, we must not light a candle before five o'clock.'

'Pish!'

'Oh please, Edgar, don't stir the fire. If you knew how few coals
there are!'

'Stuff''

'No, I won't have it done if Wilmet says not;' and Felix reared up in
the gloom, and struggled with his brother.

Felix--Edgar--Oh, don't.'

'Hsh--sh-- Now, you girls are worse than all, screaming in that way.'
A few moments' silence of shame. It had been a weary, long, wet day,
a trial under any circumstances to eleven people under seventeen, on
the 4th of January, and the more oppressive in St. Oswald's
Buildings, because not only had their father been in a much more
suffering state for some days past, but their mother, who had hoped
to keep up for some weeks longer, had for the last two days been
quite unlike herself. In the sick-room she was as tender and vigilant
as ever in her silent way, but towards her children a strange fretful
impatience, a jealousy of their coming near their father, and an
intolerance of the least interruption from them even for the most
necessary cause. Moreover, the one friend and helper who had never
failed them before, Mr. Audley, had not been seen since he had looked
in before early service; and altogether the wretchedness and
perplexity of that day had been such, that it was no wonder that even
Felix and Wilmet had scarcely spirits or temper for the only task
that seemed at present left them, the hindering their juniors from
making themselves obnoxious.

'Wilmet, do you think we shall go to the party at Centry Park?'
reiterated Fulbert.

'Do hold your tongue about that. I don't believe there's the least
chance,' said Alda fretfully.

'And I don't know how you can think of such a thing,' added Cherry.

'I want to see Cousin Marilda's Christmas tree,' whined Robina.

'Do ask Mamma again,' entreated another voice.

'I shall do no such thing,' said Wilmet, with absolute crossness in
her tone.

Robina began to cry.

'Come here, Bobbie,' said Cherry's voice in the dark end of the room;
'I'll tell you a story.'

'I know all Cherry's stories, and they're rubbish,' said Fulbert.

'This is quite a new one. There was once a little match-girl--'

'Bosh! I know that little brute, and I hate her,' broke in Fulbert.

'Hold your tongue,' said Clement; 'but--'

'Oh no, don't let us have the match-girl,' cried several voices.

'Why can't you be good? There was once an old giant that lived in a
cave--'

'I hate old giants,' said Cherry's critical public; and her voice
grew melancholy.

'But this one had but one eye. Come, _do_ listen; papa told me. He
was in an island--' but the voice grew mournful, and was broken by a
cry.

'Oh! Fulbert hurt me!'

'Fulbert, for shame! What is it, Angel dear?'

'I only laid hold of her pudding arm,' growled Fulbert. 'Oh! I say,
Felix, that's too bad!'

'Hold your row, I say,' said Felix, after his application of fist
law. 'Hollo! what's that?' and he sprang to his feet with Angela in
his arms, as the door was opened by a hand groping, and Mr. Audley's
voice said, 'Darkness visible.'

There was a general scrambling up all over the floor, and Edgar
rushed across to light a candle. Wilmet alone had not stirred, as
Bernard lay asleep across her lap. The flash of the match revealed a
mass of light disordered heads, and likewise a black figure in the
doorway.

'Here is a kind helper for you, Wilmet,' said Mr. Audley, 'from St.
Faith's, at Dearport. You must call her Sister Constance.'

Wilmet did rise now, in some consternation, lifting her little
brother, whose hand was still in the locks, the tangling of which had
been his solace. There was a sweet warm kiss on her brow, and her
lost net was picked up, her hair coiled into it by a pair of ready
tender hands, but she faltered, 'Oh, thank you. Does Mamma know?'

'She was there when I got a sort of consent from your father,' said
Mr. Audley.

'She has not said a word,' said Alda, half resentfully. 'We have
hardly been in all day except just to fetch and carry.'

'Never mind,' said the Sister, 'it is much better that she did not
think about it. Now, my dear, don't! I won't have anything done for
me. You don't know how we Sisters sleep on nothing when we do sleep.'

'But you'll have some tea,' said Alda, the only smooth-haired one of
the party.

'When you do, perhaps, thank you. Will you come to me, my dear!'
relieving Felix from Angela. 'What is your name?' and the child,
though ordinarily very shy, clung to her at once; while she, moving
over to Cherry, found her in tears, shook up her cushion, arranged
her rug, and made her comfortable in a moment. A sense came over them
all that they had among them a head on whom they might rest their
cares; and as the black bonnet and veil were taken off, and they saw
a sweet fair, motherly face beaming on them from the white plain-
bordered cap, they gathered round with an outpouring of confidence,
small and great, while Mr. Audley went upstairs to announce what he
had done. He presently returned, saying, 'All right! Perhaps you had
better come up at once.'

There they sat, on either side of the hearth, he pillowed up and in a
dressing-gown, more entirely the sick man than he had ever before
given up himself to be. Mrs. Underwood rose, and with tears in her
eyes, mutely held out her hand, while her husband at once recognised
Sister Constance as Lady Herbert Somerville, the wife of the late
rector of Dearport. He had last met her when, some six or seven years
before he had been invited to preach at festivals at Dearport, and
had seen her the sunbeam of her house. He knew that her husband, who
was a connection of Mr. Audley's, had since died of the same malady
as his own, and had left her, a childless widow, together with all
else he had to leave, to the Sisterhood they had already founded in
the seaport town. But his greeting was, 'This is _very_ good in you;
but surely it must be too painful for you.'

'The Superior saw how much I wished it,' she said.

'You are like Alexandrine de la Ferronays,' he said, remembering her
love for tending a consumptive priest for her husband's sake.

'I am always wishing that I were!' she said.

So they perfectly understood each other, and poor Mrs. Underwood, who
had, in her new and extraordinary petulance, fiercely resisted the
doctor's recommendation of a nurse, found herself implicitly relying
on and trusting Sister Constance with a wonderful sense of relief--a
relief perhaps still greater to the patient himself, who had silently
endured more discomforts and made more exertions than she knew,
rather than tire her or vex her by employing even son or daughter,
and who was besides set free from some amount of anxiety.

Indeed the widow had too perfect a sympathy to interfere with the
wife's only comfort. When it could safely be done, she left the two
alone together, and applied herself to winning the hearts and
soothing the spirits of the poor children downstairs, and suggesting
and compounding new nourishing delicacies.

She even persuaded Mrs. Underwood to go to the next room for a
night's rest while she sat up, and learnt--what the silent wife had
never told any one--how trying the nights were even to that spirit!
At first the patient liked to talk, and drew out much of the hidden
treasure of her spirit respecting her husband, who, though ailing for
years, had finally passed away with only the immediate warning of a
week--the final cause being harass from the difficulties from those
above and below him that beset an earnest clergyman of his way of
thinking.

What struck her, as it did all, was Mr. Underwood's perfect absence
of all care, and conviction that all the burthen was taken off his
hands. Her own husband had, as she could not help telling him, found
it hard to resign himself to leaving his plans half carried out to
instruments which he had but half formed. He had wished with all his
might to live, and though he had resigned himself dutifully, it had
been with a real struggle, and a longing for continued service rather
than rest, a hope that he should more efficiently serve, and much
difficulty in refraining from laying all about him under injunctions
for the future.

Mr. Underwood half smiled. 'I am neither head nor principal,' he
said. 'Plans have been over long ago. I am only tired out, too tired
to think about what is to follow. If I live three days longer I shall
have just had my forty years in the wilderness, and though it has
blossomed like a rose, I am glad to be near the rest.'

And then he asked for the Midnight Office; and afterwards came fitful
sleep, half dreamy, half broken by the wanderings of slight
feverishness and great weakness; but she thought her attendance would
not be very brief, and agreed mentally with what Mr. Audley had told
her, that the doctor said that the end might yet be many weeks away.
When in the dark winter's mornings the wife crept back again to her
post, and all that could be done in those early hours had been
effected, Sister Constance went to the half-past seven o'clock
service with Felix and Clement, imparting to them on the road that
the Superior of St. Faith's was expecting to receive some of the
least of the children in the course of the day, to remain there for
the present.

Both boys declared it would be an infinite relief, but they doubted
exceedingly whether either father or mother would consent to lose
sight of them, since the former never failed to see each child, and
give it a smile and kiss, if no more. If they were to be sent, Felix
supposed there was no one but himself to take them; nobody with whom
they would be happy could be spared, nor did he show any repugnance
to the notion of acting pere de famille to three babies on the
railway.

It was quickly settled. Mr. Underwood at once confessed the exceeding
kindness, and declared it to be much better for everybody. 'Do you
not feel it so, Mother?'

She bent her head in assent, as she did to all he said.

'Having them back will be good for you,' he added persuasively; and
again she tried to give a look of response. So they were brought--
Robina, Angela, and Bernard--and each stood for a moment on a chair
at his bedside. The two little ones he merely kissed and blessed, but
to Robina he said a few more words about being good, and minding
Mamma and Felix.

'Oh yes, papa! And they'll have a Christmas tree! and I'll save all
my bon-bons to make your cough well.'

He watched wistfully as the bright heads passed out of sight, and the
long struggling cough and gasping that followed had all the pangs of
parting to add to their burthen. Half the family escorted Felix and
his charge to the station, and in the quiet that followed, Sister
Constance had a good sleep on Wilmet's bed, as much, she said, as she
ever required; and she came from it all freshness and brightness,
making the dinner-time very charming to all the diminished party,
though Wilmet felt greatly lost without the little ones; and
afterwards she earned the warmest gratitude from Edgar and Geraldine
by looking over their drawings and giving them some valuable hints--
nay, she even devised the new and delightful occupation of ship-
building for those three inconvenient subjects, Clement, Fulbert, and
Lancelot. Upstairs or down, all was gentle cheerfulness and patience
wherever she went.

Felix came home about five o'clock, and his mother was persuaded to
go to lie down while he amused his father with the account of the
children's exemplary behaviour, and of their kind welcome at St.
Faith's, where he had been kept to dine, feeling, as he said,
'uncommonly queer' at first, but at last deciding, to the great
diversion of his father, that the sisters were a set of jolly old
girls, but not one equal to '_our_ Sister Constance.' Then he had
seen the church, and was almost bewildered with the beauty of the
decorations; and Mr. Underwood, though saying little, evidently much
enjoyed his boy's refreshment and pleasure. He certainly seemed no
worse, and Mr. Audley was allowed, what he had often asked before, to
sit up with him.

But there was much to render it a long, anxious, restless night of a
sort of semi-consciousness, and murmuring talk, as if he fancied
himself at Vale Leston again. However, when Felix crept in, about
four o'clock in the morning, anxious at the sounds he heard, he found
him asleep, and this lasted for two or three hours; he woke
refreshed, and presently said, 'Epiphany! put back the curtain, that
I may see the bright and morning star.'

The morning star was shining in the delicate dawn full in view, and
he looked at it with quiet pleasure. 'Mother,' he said, then
recollecting himself; 'ah, she is resting! Thank you, Audley.'

At that moment a little cry through the thin wall made him start and
flush.

'Is it so?' he murmured; 'thank God! That is well!' But his chest
heaved grievously as he panted with anxiety, and his two watchers
hesitated what to do, until the door was slightly opened, and before
the intended sign could be made to Felix, the breathless exclamation,
'How? what?' brought Sibby's half-scared mournful countenance
forward.

'How is she, Sibby? don't fear to say,' he said, more collectedly.

'Nicely, sir, as well as can be expected; but--'

'The baby? Alive--I heard--'

'Yes, sir; that is--O Sir, it is two; and it would be a mere mercy if
they are taken, as they look like to be--twins, and coming like
this!' Perhaps Sibby was a little more lamentable, because, instead
of looking shocked, he clasped his hands in eager thanksgiving, as he
looked upwards.

Sister Constance followed at the same moment, saying in a far more
encouraging voice, 'She is doing very well.'

'It is another great mercy,' he said. 'Much better than longer
waiting on me. Will these Twelfth-day gifts live? Or do I take them
with me? At least, let me baptize them--now, at once,' he spoke
earnestly. 'My full twelve, and one over, and on Twelfth-day.'

Sister Constance had better hopes of the babes than Sibby, but this
wish of his was one not to be withstood for a moment; and she went to
make ready, while Mr. Audley went down for the little Parian font,
and Felix and Sibby arranged the pillows and coverings. Mr. Underwood
looked very bright and thankful. 'Birthday gifts,' he said, 'what are
they? You have not told me, Sibby.'

'Boy and girl, sir,' she said, 'poor little dears!'

'Jealous for your old twins, Sibby?' he said, smiling.

'Ah! sir, they came in a better time.'

'Better for them, no doubt, but this is the best for these,' he
answered brightly. 'See, Sibby, can't you be thankful, like me, that
your mistress is sheltered from what would try her? I can bear it all
better without her to see.'

Sibby's only reply was a gush of tears, and presently all was made
ready; Geraldine was quietly helped into the room by Edgar, and
placed in her usual station by the pillow, and the boys stood against
the wall, while the two babes, tiny and scarcely animate things, were
carried, each by one of the elder pair and the father, as whitely
robed as if he had been in his surplice, held out his hands, and
smiled with his kindly lips and clear shining blue eyes full of
welcome.

'Has your mother any wishes about names?' he asked. 'Wilmet--what--?'

'No, Papa, I think not;' but her eyes were brimming over with tears,
and it was plain that something was suppressed.

'My dear, let me hear, I am not to be hurt by such things.'

'It is--it is only--she did say, when we came for them, that we were
the children of joy--these are the children of sorrow,' murmured
Wilmet, uttering the words with difficulty.

'I thought so,' he said; then after a brief pause, 'Now, Audley--'

For Mr. Audley said all the previous prayers, though with a voice as
hard to control as Wilmet's had been. Then Wilmet held her charge
close to her father, for, almost inappreciable as the weight was, he
could only venture to lay one arm round that grasshopper burthen, as
with his long thin fingers he dashed the water. 'Theodore Benjamin, I
baptize thee.' Alda brought the other. 'Stella Eudora.' Then the two
hands were folded over his face, and they all knelt round till he
moved and smiled.

'Give them to me again,' he said.

It was for the father's kiss and blessing now.

'They look life-like,' he said. 'You will keep them. Now mind me.
Charge _her_ never to think of them as children of sorrow, but of
joy. She will remember how nearly you were called Theodore, Felix.
Take him as God's gift and mine--may he be a son of your right hand
to you.'

The boy did take the babe, and with a deep resolve in his heart, that
his duty to these helpless ones should be his first thought on earth.
He did not speak it, but his father saw the steadfast wistful gaze,
and it was enough.

Alda ventured to ask, 'Is Eudora a gift too, Papa?'

'Yes. A happy gift.  For so she is! Let her be a little Epiphany Star
to you all! Tell Mother that I call them a double joy, a double
comfort! Poor little maid!' and he kissed her again, 'will no one
welcome her, but the father who is leaving her?'

'O Papa! You know how we will love them,' sobbed Wilmet.

'I think I do, my dear;' and he smoothed the glossy hair; but with
love comes joy, you know.'

'It is very hard now,' broke from the poor girl.

'Very, he said tenderly; 'but it will if you make the burthen a
blessing--the cross a crutch--eh, my Cherry? Now, a kiss and go, I am
tired.'

He was tired, but not apparently worse.

Edgar and his three juniors started off directly after church in
quest of ice where they might behold skating, and practise sliding;
and Wilmet, with a view to quiet, actually ventured on the
extravagance of providing them with a shilling, that they might
forage for themselves, instead of coming home to dinner.

She regretted Edgar's absence, however, for when Mr. Bevan came in to
hold the Epiphany Feast in the sick chamber, her father asked for
Edgar and Geraldine, and looked disappointed that the boy was gone.
But he murmured, 'Maybe it is best!' and when the little girl came
in, flushed and awe-struck, he took her hand, and said, 'May not I
have this little one--my last pupil--to share the feast with me?
Willing and desirous,' he smiled as he held her, and she coloured
intensely, with tears in her eyes.

There could be no denial, and his judgment at such a moment could
only be accepted by the Rector; and the child herself durst not say
one word of her alarm and awe. Papa knew. And never could she forget
that he held her hand all the time that she leant--for she could not
kneel--by his bed. Her elder brother and sisters were there too, and
he kissed and blessed each tenderly afterwards, and Sister Constance
too knelt and asked his blessing. Then he thanked Mr. Bevan warmly,
and called it a most true day of brightness. They heard him
whispering to himself, 'Arise, shine, for thy Light is come;' and the
peaceful enjoyment seemed so to soothe him, that he was not, as
usual, eager to get up.

It was only towards the early dusk that a restlessness came on, and
an increase of the distress and oppression of breath, which he
thought might be more bearable in his chair; and Mr. Audley, who had
just come in, began with Felix to dress him, and prepare to move him.
But just as they were helping him towards the chair, there was a sort
of choke, a gasping struggle, his head fell on Felix's shoulder, the
boy in terror managed to stretch out a hand and rang the bell; but in
that second felt that there was a strange convulsive shudder, and--

'Felix!' Mr. Audley's low voice sounded strange and far, away. 'I do
believe--'

The figure was entirely prone as they lifted it back to the bed. They
needed not the exclamation of Sibby to reveal the truth. It was only
an exclamation, it would have been a shriek if Felix had not grasped
her wrist with a peremptory grasp. But that bell had been enough;
there had been a sound of dismay in the very tinkle, and Sister
Constance was in the doorway.

'Felix,' she said, understanding all, 'you must go to her. She heard-
--she is calling you. You cannot conceal it; be as quick and quiet as
you can,' she added, as the stunned boy went past her, only hearing,
and that as through a tempest, the feeble voice calling his name. He
stood by the bedside; his mother looked into his white face, and held
out her hands; then as he bent down, clasped both round his neck. 'He
trusted you,' she said.

He sank on his knees as she relaxed her grasp, and hid her head
beneath the clothes. A few holy words of commendation of the soul
departed sounded from the other room; then at Sister Constance's
touch of his hand, he quitted the room.

Presently after, Felix was sitting in the large arm-chair in the
dining-room, with his sister Geraldine on his lap, his arms round
her, her arms tightly clasped round his neck, her hair hanging
loosely down over his shoulder, her head against him, his face over
her, as he rocked himself backwards and forwards with her, each
straining the other closer, as though the mechanical action and
motion could allay the pain. The table was all over baby-things,
which numerous neighbours had sent in on the first news of the twins
that morning, and which the girls had been inspecting; but no one--
nothing else was to be seen when Mr. Thomas Underwood, on his way
from the station, finding his knock unheard, and the door ajar, found
his way to the room.

'What is this? How is your father?'

Felix raised his face, still deeply flushed, and rising, placed his
sister in the chair.

'What, worse! You don't say so,' said Mr. Underwood, advancing.

'He is gone!' said Felix, steadily, but in an unnatural voice. 'Quite
suddenly. Not very long ago,' he began, but he felt unable to guess
for what space of time he had been rocking Cherry there.

'Dead! Edward Underwood! Bless me!' said Mr. Underwood, taking off
his hat, passing his hand over his forehead, and standing horror-
struck. 'I had no idea! You never sent over to say he was worse.'

'He was not; it came on just now,' said Felix, holding by the
mantelpiece.

He groaned. 'Poor Edward! Well,' and he was forced to put his
handkerchief to his eyes. He spoke more gently after that. 'Well,
this is a sudden thing, but better than lingering on. Your poor
mother, would she like to see me?'

'She was confined last night.'

Bless me! bless me! What a state of things! Have you got any one to
be with you?'

'Yes; a lady from Dearport,' said Felix.

'Humph? Which are you? not my boy?'

'No, I am Felix. O poor Edgar!' he added, still bewildered.

It was at this moment that trampling steps were heard, making Felix
spring forward with an instinct to silence them; but the threshold
the sight of his face brought conviction to Edgar, and with a loud
uncontrollable cry, tired and hungry as he was, he seemed to collapse
into his brother's arms, and fainted away.

'_My_ poor boy!' exclaimed his cousin, coming to Felix's help, and
himself lifting Edgar to the sofa. Of the other boys, Clement ran for
water, Fulbert rushed out of sight, and Lancelot laid his head on a
chair choking with tears.

Felix and Clement were, poor children! used enough to illness to
attend to their brother with a collectedness that amazed their
cousin; and without calling for help, Edgar came shuddering and
trembling to himself, and then burst into silent but agonising sobs,
very painful to witness. He was always--boy as he was--the most
easily and entirely overthrown by anything that affected him
strongly; and Mr. Thomas Underwood was so much struck and touched by
his exceeding grief, especially now that he looked on him as his own
property, that after putting in some disjointed sentences of 'There--
there--You'll always have a father in me--Don't, my boy--I tell you,
you are my son now,'--which to Felix's mind made it more intolerable,
he said, 'I'll take him home now--it will be all the better for him
and for every one, poor lad! So many--'

'The three younger ones were sent to Dearport yesterday,' said Felix;
'but Edgar--'

'To Dearport! Eh! To whom?'

'The Sisters,' said Felix.

A gruff sound followed. 'Come, come, my dear lad, 'tis bad enough,
but I'll do my best to make up to you. It will be much the best way
for you to come out of this,' he added, glancing round the dreary
fireless room, which his entrance had reminded Felix to darken.

'Thank you,' began Felix, not in the least supposing Edgar could go;
'but now--'

'It is not like a stranger,' added his relation. 'Be a sensible lad.
One out of the way is something under the circumstances. Stay--whom
can I see? I will give orders for you,' he added.

'Mr. Audley and Sister Constance are seeing about things, thank you,'
said Felix. 'I'll fetch Mr. Audley,' he added, as another trying
grunt at the other name fell on his ear, and he put his arm round
Geraldine, and helped her away.

Mr. Audley came, having just parted with the doctor, who had
explained the sudden termination as what he had of late not thought
improbable, and further shown that it had been most merciful, since
there might otherwise have been weeks, if not months, of much severer
suffering. He had just looked in at the wife, but she had hardly
noticed him, and he saw no dangerous symptoms about her, except an
almost torpid calmness.

Mr. Thomas Underwood saw Mr. Bevan, and made it clearly understood
that he made himself responsible for all expenses, including mourning
for the whole family. He even offered to have the funeral at Vale
Leston, 'if it were only to shame Fulbert Underwood;' but the wife
was in no state to be asked, and the children shrank from the
removal, so it was decided that Edward Underwood should sleep among
those for whom he had spent his life, and where his children's lot
for the present would be cast.

The cousin carried Edgar back to Centry with him; the boy seemed too
unhappy not to be restless, and as if he were ready to do anything to
leave his misery behind him.

The others remained with their preparations, and with such
consolation as the exceeding sympathy and kindness of the whole town
could afford them. Their mother remained in the same state, except
when roused by an effort; and then there was an attention and
presence of mind about her that gave anxiety lest excitement should
be bringing feverishness, but she always fell back into her usual
state of silence, such that it could be hardly told whether it were
torpid or not.

They looked out that half-finished comment on the Epistle to the
Philippians. It stopped at the words--'Yea, and if I be offered upon
the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you
all.'

Mr. Audley took those words for his text on the Sunday, and, not
without breaking down more than once, read as much of the comment as
there was time for, as the happy-hearted message of the late pastor,
for whom indeed there were many tears shed. It seemed to suit with
that solemn peace and nobleness that seemed like the 'likeness of the
Resurrection face,' bringing back all the beauty of his countenance
as he lay robed in his surplice, with a thorny but bright-fruited
cross of holly on his breast, when his children looked their last,
ere parting with what remained of that loved and loving father.

Poor little Geraldine spent that worst hour of her life sitting by
her mother's bed. She had been helped by Felix to that Feast which
had been spread for the mourners in the church in early morning; but
afterwards she was forced to remain at home, while the white-robed
choir, the brother clergy of all the neighbourhood, and the greater
part of the parish met their pastor for the last time in the church.

There the first part of the service took place; and then--Cherry
could just fancy she could hear the dim echo of the Dies Irae, as
it was sung on the way to the cemetery. It was a very aching heart,
poor child! full of the dull agony of a longing that she knew could
never be satisfied again, the intense craving for her father.

She missed him more really than any of them, she had been so much his
companion; and she was the more solitary from the absence of Edgar,
who had always been her chief partner in her pursuits. His departure
had seemed like a defection; and yet she had reproached herself for
so feeling it when he had run upstairs, on arriving with Mr.
Underwood, looking paler, more scared and miserable, than any of
them; and he was sobbing so much when he took his place in the
procession, that Wilmet had made Felix take Alda, that she might
support him. None of his mother's steady reserve and resolute
stillness had descended to him, he was all sensibility and
nervousness; and Geraldine, though without saying this to herself,
felt as if 'poor Edgar' might really have been nearly killed by the
last few days of sadness, he could bear depression so little. She
could hardly have gone through them but for Sister Constance's
kindness, and that rocking process from Felix, which she and he
called 'being his great baby.' And now, when her mother looked up at
her, held out a hand, and called her Papa's dear little Cherry,
drawing her to lay her cheek by hers on the pillow, there was much
soothing in it, though therewith the little girl felt a painful doubt
and longing to know whether her mother knew what was passing; and
even while perfectly aware that she must not be talked to nor
disturbed, was half grieved, half angry, at her dropping off into a
slumber, and awakening only upon little Stella's behalf. Those few
words to Geraldine had been the only sign that day of perception of
any existence in the world save that of the twins.

So the time went by, and the little bustle of return was heard;
Sister Constance came in, kissed Geraldine, and helped her down that
she might be with Edgar, who was to return with the cousin,
whispering to her by the way that it had been very beautiful. It was
a day of bright sunshine, high wind, and scant sparkling feathery
stars of snow, that sat for a moment shining in their pure
perfectness of regularity on the black, and then vanished. 'So like
himself,' Sister Constance said.

Geraldine found her four elders and the three little boys all
together in the dining-room; and while Wilmet anxiously asked after
Mother, the others, in a sort of sad elation, told of the crowds
present, the number of clergy--Mr. Ryder, too, came home from his
holiday on purpose--the sobbing people, and the wreaths of camellias
and of holly, that loving hands had made, and laid upon the coffin.
And then the last hymn had been so sweet and beautiful, they all
seemed refreshed and comforted except Edgar, who, coming fresh back
to the desolation of the house, was in another paroxysm of grief.

'But, Edgar,' said Alda timidly, 'you like being there, don't you?'

'As if one could like anything now!'

'Well! but, Eddy dear, you know what I mean. It is not bad being
there.'

'Not so bad as being at home. Oh!' and a terrible fit of sobbing came
on, which made the other children stand round rather appalled; while
Felix, hesitating, said,

'It is no good going on in this way, Edgar. Father would say it was
not right; and you are upsetting poor little Cherry.'

'It is worse for him, because he has been away, said Cherry fondling
him.

'Yes,' said Edgar between his sobs  'It did not seem _so_ there.'

'And are they kind?'

'Oh, yes. Marilda let me sit in the school-room, and I had books, and
things to copy; such an angel, Cherry, I'll bring it to you next
time--my copy, I mean.'

Here there was a summons from the other room for Felix.

'Yes,' said Edgar, a good deal reinvigorated by having something to
tell; 'I suppose they are going to tell him what is settled. Mr.
Underwood wrote to the man at Vale Leston, and he won't do anything
for us; but they are going to try for the Clergy Orphan for one of
you two little boys.'

'Oh!' there was a great gasp.

'And about me?' asked Alda.

'You are to come when we all go to London--to meet us at the station.
There's a new governess coming, and you will start both together with
her; and I think you'll beat Marilda, for she knows nothing, and
won't learn.'

'I hope she won't be jealous.'

'I don't think it is in her! She's very jolly.'

'But I can't go till Mamma is better.'

Wilmet felt they were falling into a gossiping kind of way that
jarred on her, and was glad of a summons upstairs.

Mr. Thomas Underwood saw Alda before he returned home, told her she
was his other daughter, and should join them on their way to London;
and he further made arrangements about the christening, contingent,
of course, on the mother's consent, and on the possibility of taking
the very small delicate babies to the church. He made very extensive
promises of patronage for the future, with a full and open heart, and
looked as if he should like to adopt the whole family on the spot.

                        ***   ***   ***

For the convenience of our readers we subjoin the first page of the
family Bible.

Edward Fulbert Underwood married August 1st, 1837--Mary Wilmet
Underwood.

    Felix Chester  .  .  .  born, July   3d, 1838.
    Wilmet Ursula )
    Alda Mary     ).  .  .    "   Aug. llth, 1839.
    Thomas Edgar.  .  .  .    "   Oct.  6th, 1840.
    Geraldine.  .  .  .  .    "   Oct. 25th, 1841.
    Edward Clement .  .  .    "   Nov.  23d, 1842.
    Fulbert James  .  .  .    "   Jan.  9th, 1844.
    Lancelot Oswald.  .  .    "   May  16th, 1846.
    Robina Elizabeth  .  .    "   Feb. 20th, 1848.
    Angela Margaret.  .  .    "   Sept.29th, 1851.
    Bernard  .  .  .  .  .    "   Dec.  1st, 1852.
    Stella Eudora    )
    Theodore Benjamin).  .    "   Jan.  6th, 1854.





CHAPTER V

WORKING FOR BREAD



'Parson's lass 'ant nowt, an' she weant 'a nowt when 'e's dead;
 Mun be a guvness, lad, or summut, an' addle her bread.'
                                                    TENNYSON.


'Tell, little one,' said Mr. Rugg, the doctor, as he found Geraldine
on the landing-place outside her mother's room, and spoke to her in a
voice that to her reluctant ears, as well as to those of Sister
Constance, who followed him, sounded all the more vulgar because it
was low, wheedling, and confidential; 'you are always about the
house, you know everything--what accident has your mamma met with?'

Cherry's face grew set.

'She has, then,' said the doctor, looking at Sister Constance. 'I
thought so. Now, be a good child, and tell us all about it.'

'I cannot,' she said.

'Come, don't be silly and sulk. No one will punish you: we know it
was an accident; out with it.'

'My dear,' said Sister Constance, 'this is a pity. Much may depend on
your speaking.'

Cherry began to cry very piteously, though still silently.

'Yes, yes, we see you are sorry,' said Mr. Rugg, 'but there's nothing
for it now but to let us hear the truth.'

She shook her head violently, and brow and neck turned crimson.

Mr. Rugg grew angered, and tried a sharper tone. 'Miss Geraldine,
this is regular naughtiness. Let me hear directly.'

The flush became purple, and something like 'I won't' came from
behind the handkerchief.

'Leave her to me, if you please,' said Sister Constance gently; 'I
think she will tell me what is right to be told.'

'As you please, Lady Somerville,' said Mr. Rugg, who, since he had
discovered her title, was always barbarously misusing it; 'but the
thing must be told. It is doing Mrs. Underwood a serious injury to
let childish naughtiness conceal the truth.'

Constance put her arm round the little girl, a tiny weight for
thirteen years old, and took her into the room where she had last
seen her father.  She was sobbing violently, not without passion, and
the more distressingly because she carefully stifled every sound, and
the poor little frame seemed as if it would be rent to pieces.
'Cherry, dear child, don't,' said Constance, sitting down and
gathering her into her arms; 'do try and calm yourself, and think--'

'He--he--I won't tell him!' sobbed the child. 'He's a bad man--he
tells stories. He said he would not hurt me--when he knew he should
most terribly. Papa said it was very wrong. Papa was quite angry--he
called it deceiving, he did! I won't tell him!'

'My dear child, is there anything to tell? Don't think about him,
think about what is good for your mother.'

'She told me not,' sobbed Cherry, but not with the anger there had
been before. 'No, no, don't ask me; she told me not.'

'Your mother? My dear little girl, whatever it is, you ought to say
it. Your dear mother seems to be too ill and confused to recollect
everything herself, and if it is not known whether she has been hurt,
how can anything be done for her?'

Cherry sat upon her friend's lap, and with a very heaving chest said,
'If Felix says I ought--then I will. Papa said we should mind Felix--
like him.'

'I will call Felix,' said Sister Constance.

Mr. Rugg looked very impatient of the delay; but Felix, who had just
come in to dinner, was summoned. He came at once, and was soon
standing by Geraldine's chair.

'Yes, Geraldine, I think you ought to tell,' he said as the loyal
little thing gazed up at her new monarch. 'What did happen?'

'It was on the day after New Year's Day,' said Geraldine, now
speaking very fast. 'You were all at church, and she came out of--
this room with Bernard in her arms--and called to me that I might
come and sit with--him, because she was going down to the kitchen to
make some beef-tea. And just then she put her foot into a loop of
whip-cord, and fell. She could not save herself at all, because of
Bernard; but she went backwards--against the steps.'

'Did she seem hurt at the time?'

'I did not think so. She pulled herself up by the baluster before I
could get up to help her, and she never let Bernard go all the time--
he did not even scream. She only said, "Now mind, Cherry, do not say
one word of this to Papa or anybody else," and she told me she wasn't
hurt. Oh! was she really?' as the Sister left the room.

'I wonder whose the string was,' said Felix vindictively.

'Oh, never mind! He'll be so sorry! Oh! I hope she won't be very much
vexed at my telling!'

'She will not mind now!' said Felix; 'it was only not to frighten
Papa.'

And Felix had his little sister in that one position where she felt a
sort of comfort--like a baby in his arms to be rocked--when Sister
Constance returned with the doctor. He spoke without either the anger
or the persuasive tone now, and Cherry could bear it better, though
she slipped off her brother's lap instantly, and stood up in dignity.

'So your Mamma told you to conceal this mishap. That is some excuse.
Now, tell me, how far did she fall?'

'Not more than four steps, I am sure--I think three.'

'And backwards?'

'Yes.'

'Do you think she struck her head?'

'Yes, the back of it.'

'Ah! And she spoke and moved at once, not like one stunned?'

'Oh no, not at all. She got up and made the beef-tea.'

'The 2d of January? That must have been about the time you began to
observe that change of manner--the irritability your sister
remarked,' said the doctor, turning to Felix. He nodded, angry as he
had been with Alda for remarking it. All that the doctor further said
was, that he must have another examination now that he knew a little
more about the case; and he went away with Sister Constance, saying
to her, 'Mrs. Underwood is a lady of wonderful fortitude and
resolution, and really they are the worst kind of patients.'

It was now more than a fortnight since that 6th of January which saw
the birth of the twins and the death of their father, and Mrs.
Underwood still lay quiet and almost torpid in her bed, seldom
speaking, hardly ever originating anything, and apparently taking no
interest whatsoever in anything outside her room; and yet there was
no symptom unfavourable to her recovery to be detected. Within the
last day or two they had tried to rouse her; papers had been brought
to her to sign, and she did so obediently, but she did not follow the
subject: she did not refuse, but did not second, any proposal for her
beginning to sit up; and this was the more remarkable, as, being a
woman of much health and energy in her quiet way, she had always
recovered rapidly, and filled her place in the family alarmingly
soon. The nurse had begun to suspect that besides the torpor of mind
there was some weakness of limb; and with the new lights acquired,
Mr. Rugg had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that there was
a slight concussion of the spine, causing excitement at first, and
now more serious consequences; and though he did not apprehend
present danger, he thought complete recovery very doubtful.

'So they are almost worse than orphans,' said Sister Constance, when
the Curate went down from reading to the invalid, and she could tell
him the verdict.

'Do they know?'

'The fact? There is no need to lay the future on the shoulders of the
present.'

'A very dark present. I feel as if a great bright sun, warming and
invigorating, had gone out of my life. Yet I knew him but two years.'

'I can understand it, though I knew him but two days.'

'I hope he may have been the making of me,' sighed Mr. Audley. 'He
ought to be.'

'I think he has been,' said she, smiling. 'There is some difference
between you and the boyish young deacon that came here two years
ago.'

'Who thought life without shooting barely endurable by the help of
croquet! I trust so! He was very patient and tolerant--made holidays
for me that first summer which it cuts me to recollect.'

'To live and share in a great sorrow does make a great step in life,'
said Constance, thoughtfully looking at the much graver and more
earnest brow of her husband's young cousin; 'and you were a comfort
to them all as no one else could be.'

'Must you go?' he said. 'I wanted to consult you. I am thinking of
giving up my present lodgings to this Mowbray Smith, who is coming as
curate, and coming here.'

'Here! My dear Charles!'

'I thought I had heard legends of twelve foot square?'

'Not with thirteen children. Besides, we were seasoned!'

'Stay; you don't understand. There are three rooms on this floor.
Poor Mrs. Underwood will hardly want to occupy these two just yet. I
take them, and put in some furniture--live to myself, but let them
board and lodge me. They may as well have what is to be made by it as
any one else.'

'But can they? And, forgive me, Charles, are you prepared for the
cookery here? Really, some of those children have appetites so small,
that I can't bear to see them at dinner.'

'That's the very point. They all say the invaluable Sibby is as good
a nurse as she is bad as a cook. Now, if they have no help, Wilmet
must stay at home to look after her mother and the twins; and that is
not fit for such a young girl. Now, my coming might enable them to
get some one who knows the use of meat and fires, and would send
upstairs the only woman who would undertake such a charge as that
must be.'

'I don't like to say a word against it. It seems excellent for them.'

'I would not live with them, but I should be there to help. I could
keep Felix up in his Latin, and--'

Only one suggestion more, Charles. If you do not stay here long?'

Well--if not, every week I am here is so much tided over; and just at
this time the charge must be heaviest. Those boys may be disposed of
after a time.'

'I wish we could keep those two little girls at St. Faith's, but
there is no place yet for children of their class. I am wanted there
this day week, and I cannot say but that I shall be glad to leave you
here. Only I recollect your mother's feelings.'

'Mothers must draw in the horns of their feelings when their sons are
ordained,' he said, laughing. 'I shall consult that notable person,
Wilmet.'

'Wilmet started and blushed with pleasure. It would be so much less
dreary; and, poor girl! she was feeling as if she were half rent
asunder at the thought of Alda's going. So good for Felix, too. Only
she must ask Mamma. And she did ask Mamma, and, to her great
pleasure, Mrs. Underwood listened, and said, 'It is very kind.'

'And shall it be, Mamma?'

'I shall like for you to have some one in the house. Yes, my dear, I
think--' then she paused. 'My dear, you and Sibby and Sister
Constance had better talk it over. I do not seem able to consider it.
But Sister Constance will tell you. My dear Wilmet, I am afraid you
must have a great deal laid on you.'

'Oh, never mind, Mamma; I like doing things. Besides, you are so much
better.'

'I'll try to help you more,' added Mrs. Underwood wistfully. 'Which
room did you say?'

And she listened, and even made a few suggestions, as Wilmet
explained how she thought of making a sitting-room upstairs, and
giving the two downstairs front ones to Mr. Audley, using the back
room for the boys and children; she was altogether so much more open
to comprehension, and ready to speak, that Wilmet was full of hope
and assurance that she was really mending.

When Sister Constance came in, the readiness to converse continued.
She consulted her friend on the scheme, and its expedience for Mr.
Audley, saying that she feared he would be uncomfortable; but she
could not reject so great a help for her children. She had even
thought of the advantage of keeping Sibby upstairs to attend on the
babies and herself--work not fit to rest entirely on Wilmet, though
the good girl had fully counted on giving up her work at school.

It was evident that the examination by the doctor and Wilmet's
consultation had thoroughly roused her, and she was as clear-headed
as ever. Indeed, it seemed to Sister Constance that she was a little
excited, and in that mood in which the most silent and reserved
people suddenly become the most unreserved.

She was asked at last what Mr. Rugg thought of her, and Sister
Constance in reply asked whether she remembered her accident. She
thought a little. 'Why--yes--I believe I did slip on the stairs; but
it did not hurt me, and I forgot it. Does he think anything of it?'

'I think he fears you gave yourself a shock.'

'Not unlikely,' she said in an indifferent tone, and did not speak
again for some minutes; then said, 'Yes, I see! I am thankful it did
not tell on me sooner,' and her look brought the tears into
Constance's eyes.

'It told more than you did,' said Constance, endeavouring at a smile.

'Not on the babies,' she said; 'and he never knew it, so there is no
harm done! Thank God!'

She lay a little longer, and Constance thought her going into her
usual state of torpor; but she roused herself to say, 'Would you
kindly look into that desk? You will find a green book.'

'Yes.'

'Please tear out the leaves, and burn it for me. I would not have one
of the children see it on any account.'

Constance began to obey, and saw that it was a diary. 'Are you sure
it ought to be done?' she asked. 'Might it not be better to wait till
you are better?'

'I cannot tell that I shall be much less helpless. I know how things
like this go,' she said.

Constance was still reluctant, and Mrs. Underwood added, 'I will tell
you. It is nothing good, I assure you. When we drove from the door at
Vale Leston, the home of all our lives, he turned to me and said,
"Now, Mary, that page is shut for ever. Let us never speak a word to
make the children or ourselves feel turned out of paradise." And I
never did; but, oh! I wrote it. There are pages on pages of repinings
there--I could not let them see it!'

'Nay, but you were resigned.'

'Resigned! What of that? I held my tongue! It was all I could do! I
never knew things could be worse till I saw it was killing him, and
then all I could do was still to keep silence.'

There was an agony in her voice that Constance had never heard there
before.

Silence was, no doubt--as things were--an exceeding kindness to him,'
said Constance, 'and one that must have cost you much.'

'Once--once, so tenderly, with tears in his eyes, he did beg me as a
favour not to complain, or talk of Fulbert Underwood! I did not; but
I never could be the companion I was before to him. He was always
happy, he did believe me so; but I could often only smile. If I
talked, it could only have been of his health and our cares.'

'You kept him happy by taking the weight so entirely to yourself.'

Perhaps; if he had only known how miserable it made me, we might have
moved to a healthier place; but after that one time, I never could
vex him or trust myself. To hear him console me and grieve for me,
was worst of all.'

Constance began to see how the whole woman, brought up to affluence,
had been suddenly crushed by the change; and almost the more so for
her husband's high and cheerful resolution, which had forced back her
feelings into herself. Her powers had barely sufficed for the cares
of her household and her numerous family, and her endurance had
consisted in 'suffering, and being still.' No murmur had escaped, but
only by force of silence. She had not weakened his energies by word
or look of repining; but while his physical life was worn out by toil
and hardship, her mental life had almost been extinguished in care,
drudgery, and self-control; and all his sweetness, tenderness, and
cheerfulness had not been able to do more than just to enable her to
hold out, without manifesting her suffering. Enid had been a very
suitable name for her; though without a Geraint in any respect to
blame for what she underwent, she had borne all in the same silent
and almost hopeless spirit, and with the same unfailing calm temper:
but outside her own house, she had never loved nor taken real
interest in anything since the day she drove from the door of Vale
Leston; she had merely forced herself to seem to do so, rather than
disappoint her eager husband and children.

And now, how much of her torpor had been collapse, how much the
effect of the accident, could not be guessed. She herself was greatly
roused for the present, dwelt on the necessity of trying to get up
the next day, and was altogether in a state excitable enough to make
the Sister anxious.

Other troubles too there were that evening, which made all feel that
even though Mr. Audley was to live to himself, his presence in the
house would be no small comfort.

Fulbert, never the most manageable of the party, had procured a piece
of wood from the good-natured carpenter, and was making a sparrow-
trap on an improved plan, when Wilmet, impatient to have the room
clear for Mr. Audley to come for the final decision--as he was to do
in the evening--anxious to clear away the intolerable litter, and
with more anxiety for Fulbert's holiday task than for the sparrows,
ordered him to bed ten minutes too early, and in too peremptory a
tone.

Fulbert did not stir.

'Fulbert, I say, clear up that litter, and go to bed.'

'Don't you hear, Fulbert?' said Felix, looking up from his book.

Fulbert gave a pull to the newspaper that was spread under his works
on the table, and sent all his chips and sawdust on the ground.

'O Fulbert! how naughty!' broke out Alda.

'Fulbert, are you going to mind?' asked Wilmet. 'Please remember.'

'I shall go in proper time,' growled Fulbert.

'That is not the way to speak to your sister,' interposed Felix, with
authority.

Fulbert eyed him defiantly all over.

Felix rose up from his chair, full of wrath and indignation. There
was quite difference enough in their size and strength to give him
the complete mastery, for Fulbert was only ten years old; but Wilmet,
dreading nothing so much as a scuffle and outcry, sprang up,
imploring, 'O Felix! remember, Mamma is wide awake to-night. Let him
alone--pray, let him alone.'

Felix was thoroughly angry, and kept his hands off with exceeding
difficulty. 'Little sneak,' he said; 'he chooses to take advantage.'

'He always was a sneak; his nose is the shape of it,' said Edgar.

As Felix and Wilmet had the sense to let this amiable observation
drop, Edgar contented himself with making some physiognomical
outlines of sneaks' noses on a slate; and silence prevailed till the
church clock struck the half-hour, when Clement got up, and taking
the slate, where he had been solacing himself with imitating Edgar's
caricatures, he was about to make it an impromptu dust-pan, and went
down on his knees to sweep up Fulbert's malicious litter, but was
rewarded with a vicious kick on the cheek. It was under the table,
out of sight; and Clement, like a true son of his mother, made no
sign, but went off to bed like a Spartan.

'Fulbert,' said Lance, rising to follow his example, 'it is time
now.'

He still sat on; and Felix, in intolerable wrath and vexation, found
himself making such deep bites into a pencil, that he threw it from
him with shame, just as Mr. Audley's bell sounded, and he ran down to
let him in.

'Now, Ful,' said Wilmet coaxingly, 'please go--or Mr. Audley will
see.'

'Let him.'

Mr. Audley was there in a moment, and the next, Alda, in all the
ruffle of offended dignity, was telling him that Fulbert was in one
of his tempers, and would attend to nobody. Fulbert's back looked it.
It evidently intended to remain in that obstinate curve till
midnight.

'I am sorry,' said Mr. Audley, 'I thought no one would have added to
the distress of the house! What is it, Fulbert?' he added, laying his
hand on his shoulder, and signing to Alda to hold her peace.

'They bother,' said Fulbert, in the sulky tone; but still, as he
regarded the newcomer as less of an enemy than the rest--'I'd have
gone at half-past eight if they would let a fellow alone.'

'Then the fellow had better give them no right to bother,' said Mr.
Audley. 'Come, Fulbert, no ship can sail unless the crew obey. No
mutiny. Here's your captain ready to shake hands and wish you good-
night.'

Fulbert could not face Mr. Audley's determined look, but he was not
conquered. He took up his tools and his trap, gave a final puff to
spread his sawdust farther, and marched off without a single good-
night.

'He has the worst temper of us all,' cried Alda.

'You should be very cautious of provoking him, said Mr. Audley.

'I am afraid it was my fault,' sighed Wilmet.

'Nonsense,' said Felix; 'he is an obstinate little dog. I wish I was
licking him. I hope he is not pitching into Clem!'

'Clem is the biggest,' said Alda.

'Yes, but he is much the meekest,' added Wilmet.

'Tina's meek sauce is aggravation, itself,' observed Edgar. 'I should
hope he was catching it!'

'He is certainly not slow to put in his oar,' said Mr. Audley; 'did
you hear of his performance in the vestry the other day?'

'No. I hope he did not make an unusual ass of himself,' said Felix.

'He and Mowbray Smith had last Tuesday's Evensong nearly to
themselves, when Master Clem not only assisted Smith in putting on
his hood, but expressed his doubts as to the correctness of it
(never, of course, having seen any bachelor's but Oxford or
Cambridge), and further gave him some good advice as to his manner of
intoning.'

'I hope he won't go on in that way at St. Matthew's!' exclaimed
Wilmet.

'It is lucky he is going so soon,' said Mr. Audley. 'I doubt if
Mowbray Smith will ever get over it!'

'Regular snob that he is,' said Edgar; 'just one of my Lady's sort!
What did he do? Go crying to her?'

'O Edgar!' remonstrated Wilmet.

'Well, Mettie, if even our spiritual pastors will be snobs, one must
have the relief of expressing one's opinion now and then.'

'I should say it was better to keep any such fact out of one's mind
as much as might be,' said Mr. Audley, feeling himself unable to deny
what had been so broadly expressed.

'And we, at any rate, had better drop talking of snobs,' said Felix.

'Hollo, Felix! I am sure you for one would not be a snob if you had
turned chimney-sweeper, and let Tom Underwood nail me to his office;
he'll never make one of me!'

'I trust so,' said Felix; 'but it is not the way to keep from it to
throw about the word at other folks.'

'What's that?' cried Alda. 'Really, that boy must be falling upon
some of them.'

It was Lance, in great deshabille, who, opening a crack of the door,
called cautiously, 'Wilmet, please come here.'

Wilmet hastily obeyed, saying anxiously, as the door was shut, 'Never
mind, dear Lance, he's in a horrid mood; but do bear it, and not make
Felix more in a rage.'

'Bosh about Ful,' said Lance unceremoniously. 'It is Cherry; she is
crying so upstairs, and Clem and I can't get a word out of her.'

Cherry, though older than the boys, had to precede them in vanishing
for the night, as her undressing was a long operation dependent upon
Sibby. Wilmet ran up in haste, and did indeed find poor little
Geraldine with her face smothered under the clothes in an agony of
weeping, very serious for so frail a little creature.

'Cherry! Cherry, dear, don't! Are you feeling solitary? Are you
missing him? Oh, don't! Yes, dear, 'tis so sad; but we all do love
you so.'

Wilmet would have kissed and fondled her, but the child almost thrust
her away.

'Not that. Oh, not that! I wish it was.'

'My dear Cherry, you can't have been naughty!'

'Yes, yes! indeed I have. And now--'

'I can't think--O Cherry, if you would only tell me what you mean!'
cried Wilmet, aghast.

And with agonised sobs. Cherry whispered, 'Mr. Rugg--O Mettie--such
things as I said about him to Sister Constance--I made sure I had
forgiven--long ago--and now--now, after _that_.'

If Wilmet had not known how deeply both Geraldine and her father had
resented what Mr. Rugg had meant as a little friendly gloss to save
terror before a painful operation, she would have been utterly at a
loss. And now she found herself incapable by any argument or caress
of soothing her sister's sense of heinous offence; for that rite, of
which she had partaken with her father, had required charity with all
men, and now she found she had been deceitful--she hated Mr. Rugg all
the time. Oh, what should she do! how could she be so wicked!

Wilmet tried to tell her that she had not known how it was at the
time, but this seemed no comfort; and it was plain that that day's
solemnity had lessened the inequality between the two girls so much,
that for Wilmet to console her as a child was vain; and indeed, her
invalid state and constant companionship with her father had rendered
her religions feeling much more excitable, and more developed, than
were as yet Wilmet's; and meantime, this piteous sobbing and weeping
was doing great bodily harm.

Wilmet at last, hearing a door open as if the nurse were taking
Sister Constance's place, ran down to take counsel with that kind
friend on the way. She whispered her trouble on the stairs, and the
Sister was soon kneeling over the little bed; but her comfort was not
persuading the child to think less of the fault, but promising that
she should tell all to Mr. Audley to-morrow.

Nay, seeing that even this was too long hence for the 'weary soul,
and burdened sore,' to look forward to--indeed, that the preparation
for the interview would be sleep-destroying--she said, 'Then you
shall see him at once, my dear.'

Wilmet opened her eyes in dismay. That little attic, bare of all but
beds, was her thought; but Sister Constance, ever an effective woman,
had the little black frock, the shoes and stockings, on in no time,
and throwing a shawl over all, actually gathered the small light
frame up into her arms, and carried her down to the fire in the room
now vacated by the nurses and babies. And there she fetched Mr.
Audley to her. 'It will not do,' she whispered on the way to Wilmet,
'to treat her as a child _now_.'

'He always made so much of her,' sighed Wilmet.

'Yes; and now she is a Communicant.'

They left her to Mr. Audley, and presently, when the door opened
again, it was he who was carrying her upstairs again; and when Sister
Constance had taken possession of her, she whispered, 'Yes, thank
you. He says I may come on Sunday, and I think it is forgiven. I
shall say a prayer about charity always now!' And with a deep sigh,
the worn-out little penitent lay down to her sleep.

'O Mr. Audley, it is plain we cannot do without you,' sighed Wilmet,
as she came down, not without tears in her eyes.

And then came the conference upon ways and means, rooms and
attendance. Mr. Audley had parted with his horse and groom in the
autumn, observing that they ate their heads off; and the terms he now
proposed for lodging, board, and attendance were what Felix and
Wilmet would have known to be wondrously liberal but for their
inexperience, especially as he meant to send in some, at least, of
the furniture. He was to have his meals, at his own times, in his
sitting-room; and Sister Constance had a person in her eye at
Dearport, who was likely to do well in the kitchen, and not quarrel
with Sibby.

Wilmet had made up her mind that she must remain at home all day, and
had even told Miss Pearson so; but that good lady had refused to
accept her resignation, and had come to Mr. Bevan about it: and now
both the Sister and the Curate united in telling her that she ought
not, as long as it was possible, to give up this means of improving
herself, as well as lessening the family burthen. To give up her
education now would be to sink into a housewifely drudge, who would
hardly be able to maintain herself when the younger ones would be
getting out into the world; and as Geraldine must stay at home to be
a companion to her mother, there was no need for her being also
always in attendance, while Sibby was equal to the charge. Indeed,
Mrs. Underwood herself had said something that showed her to
contemplate Wilmet's remaining at school.

'You must,' said Felix decidedly. 'Why, you might as well turn
nursery-girl at once.'

'I should like it,' said Wilmet. 'I shall be miserable at school--
always thinking something is going wrong. And Cherry can never bear
with the babies! Oh! please don't tell me I must.'

'I tell you to begin,' said Sister Constance. 'You can always give it
up if you feel that the need lies at home; but I think the few hours'
change every day--for duty's sake, mind--will give you vigour not to
be worn down by the home cares.'

'But Cherry will have them always! She who cares for books and
drawing so much more than I!'

'Yes; but if you go on learning, you can teach her,' said Sister
Constance.

'Oh!' cried Wilmet; 'Cherry knows more than I do.'

'Little Cherry is the cleverest of us all,' added Felix.

'Still,' said the Sister, 'the mere going over your work with you
will give her change and interest. I do feel strongly convinced; dear
Wilmet, that to shut yourself up with her, without gathering anything
from elsewhere, would be very bad for both.'

'We must see how Mamma is, and how Cherry gets on,' was all that
Wilmet would say, but the arrangement was made, and was to take
effect in ten days' time, when Mr. Mowbray Smith was coming to be
second curate, and Sister Constance must change places with the three
absent children, and Alda would be gone to her adopted home.

Then Mr. Audley took leave; and as Felix went to the front door with
him, he said, 'Forgive me, Felix; but I am a younger brother myself,
and I do hope you do not mean to assert your authority by licking.'

Felix coloured a little; and though he spoke respectfully, it was
with some little annoyance. 'There is nothing else that does with
Fulbert.'

'Stay, Felix; I am not questioning that he may be the sort of boy for
whom flogging may be good from some one.'

'He is!' said Felix. 'He never will behave himself till he has felt
his master! It has been so at school; and once, even my father made
himself quite ill for a week with having to flog Fulbert for
disobedience. It settled him; but he is not like the others--Clem and
Lance are not any trouble; but--I know it will come to it sooner or
later; Ful will never mind me or Wilmet till I have done it once.'

'And when his strength is equal to yours?'

'Then I hope he will have more sense.'

'Yes, Felix; but what if by forcing him into dogged submission by
your bodily strength you have lost his confidence, and have no moral
power over him? Things that can be borne from a father come very
differently from a brother.'

Felix was quite crimson now. 'But what shall I do, Mr. Audley, when
he defies Wilmet, and teases Cherry and the little ones?'

'Try all you can with his better sense, but don't anger him by tones
of authority. What you think needful rule may seem to him
domineering. And if necessary, call me. My blows will not leave the
after rankling that yours will, even if they are necessary.'

Felix sighed. He was not desirous of beating his brother in the main;
but being unhappily master of the house, he was unwilling not to be
so entirely. He wished Mr. Audley good-night, not in his most
perfectly cordial tone.

However, the next morning he had brought himself to thank Mr. Audley.

Thank you, Felix,' said the Curate; 'it is a great relief to me. I
was afraid you thought you were going to bring a meddling fellow in
upon you.'

Felix coloured, and with an effort--for which Mr. Audley liked him
the better--said, 'I know I shall always deserve what advice you give
me, and I hope another time I may take it better than the last.'

Soon after, one train carried away four of the young Underwoods to
begin life elsewhere. The Thomas Underwoods had desired that Alda and
Edgar should meet them at the station, and at Felix's entreaty had
also undertaken to convoy Clement, who, thanks to Mr. Audley, was to
be a chorister, and live in the clergy-house at St. Matthew's,
Whittingtonia. It would have been Fulbert, only unluckily he had no
ear, and so he was left at home, while Lady Price, Mrs. Thomas
Underwood, and all the ladies they could enlist in their service,
canvassed desperately, and made the cards of 'Fulbert James and
Lancelot Oswald, sons of the Rev. Edward Fulbert Underwood, THIRTEEN
children,' a weariness to every friend of a subscriber to clergy
orphan schools. Robina was not quite old enough to stand for the like
election; but Sister Constance had negotiated with a lady who had
devoted herself to educating children of better birth than means, and
the little girl was to be dropped at the nearest station to her
school at Catsacre. It had all been settled in a wonderfully short
time, by Sister Constance and Mr. Audley, with full though helpless
acquiescence from Mrs. Underwood. They felt it well to lessen the
crowd of children in the house, and the responsibilities of the elder
ones, and acted at once.

As to Alda, she was too miserable at home not to be ready to follow
Edgar, though she had at first implored to stay and help Wilmet till
their mother was about again; but the Thomas Underwoods were
unwilling to consent to this--and after all, Alda was more apt to cry
than to be of much real use. Sister Constance saw that she was only
another weight on her sister's hands, and that, terrible as the
wrench would be between the twins, Wilmet would be freer when it was
once over. Poor Wilmet! she had felt as if she could hardly have
lived over these weeks save for fondling the younger twins, and
waiting on her mother. She was almost passive, and ran up and
downstairs, or prepared the wardrobes of the departing children, just
as she was bidden, all in one quiet maze of grief. The tears seemed
to be always in her eyes, very often dropping, and yet they never
hindered her, and she never uttered a word of deprecation or
complaint; only she could not eat, and a kiss would bring down a
whole shower; and at night, the two sisters would hold each other
tight, and cry and kiss themselves to sleep.

So had come the last day--the last for all four. Robina, who had only
just come back from St. Faith's, was grave, puzzled, and awestruck,
clinging chiefly to Lancelot, and exchanging confidences in corners
with him, in which they were probably much less childish than they
showed themselves to the outer world. Clement was very grave and
unhappy; but seemed to be most distressed at parting with Harry Lamb,
a favourite school-fellow of his own quiet stamp, with whom he spent
all available time. Alda and Wilmet were hand in hand at every
possible moment, and if possible cheek to cheek--each felt as if
herself was cut in two.

Then Edgar, who had only come home for that farewell Sunday, had
another of his paroxysms of sorrow at the changes at home, which he
contrived to forget when at Centry. All that was becoming in a manner
usual to the others was a shock to him, and he was so very miserable
the whole day, that he treated every attempt of the others to cheer
him as a mere token of their hardness of heart. He went in to see his
mother, and was so overcome at finding her no better, that he rushed
away, and threw himself on a sofa as if he was going to faint; and
when at church he saw his father's place filled up he fell into such
a fit of sobbing, that half a dozen smelling-bottles were handed
across the seats.

However, he had recovered himself on Monday morning, and made it his
particular request that nobody would come bothering to the station,
to make them look like Fulbert's canvassing-card of the thirteen
children--and as the mention of it always affronted Fulbert deeply,
it was plain that he would be no good company. However, Felix had
been allowed an hour from his business for that very purpose, and he
simply said, 'Nonsense, Edgar, I shall take Robin down.' Wilmet
submitted, though with a great pang. She had no assurance that she
should not break down, and a crying match at the station--oh no! It
might make Bobbie roar all the way.

So Alda clung round her neck and Geraldine's in their own little
parlour, and wished her mother good-bye, scarcely knowing whether it
were with a full understanding how many were parted from the wing
that now seemed unable to shelter them; and then Wilmet went up and
quietly lay down by her mother on her bed, feeling as if there was
nothing she cared for in all life, and as if youth, hope, and
happiness were gone away from her for ever, and she were as much
widowed as her mother. She was even past crying--she could do nothing
but lie still. But then her mother's hand came out and stroked her;
and presently one of the babies cried, and Wilmet was walking up and
down the room with it, and all activity with her outward senses,
though her heart felt dead. Meantime, the luggage went in the
omnibus, the four children walked up together only escorted by Felix,
and were passed on their way by the prancing and thundering carriage
from Centry.

But the sense of usefulness that came gave strength and energy to
Felix and Wilmet Underwood as the first excitement passed away, and
they better understood their tasks.

Of the absent ones they heard good accounts. Alda was altogether one
with her cousin's family, and seemed to be completely on an equality
with Marilda; and Edgar had been sent by Thomas Underwood to acquire
modern languages under the care of an Englishman who took private
pupils at Louvaine, whence Edgar despatched most amusing letters and
clever sketches. Clement was in great favour, both musically and
morally, at St. Matthew's; and little Robina was reported to have
bewailed her home with floods of nightly tears, but to have soon
settled down into the bonnie little pet of the elder girls.

Except for the separation, the cloud had hardly fallen on these, but
their departure had made a great hole in the hitherto unbroken
family; and while Felix and Wilmet, by the loss of their
contemporaries, seemed placed at a point far away from the others,
Geraldine was conscious of much loneliness. The twins had always
consorted together, and regarded her as a mere child, and her chief
companions had been her father and Edgar, so that she seemed left at
an equal distance both from the elder and younger party.

Then the world around her was so busy, and she could do so little.
She slept in a little inner room beyond the large nursery, where
Wilmet kept guard over Angela and Bernard; and long before six
o'clock, she always heard the call pass between the eldest brother
and sister; and knew that as soon as he was dressed, Felix--it must
out--was cleaning the family boots, including those of the lodger,
who probably supposed that nature did it, and never knew how much his
young landlord had done before joining him in his early walk to St.
Oswald's.

Meantime Wilmet conducted the toilette of the two little children,
and gave the assistance that Cherry needed, as well as discharging
some of the lighter tasks of the housemaid; leaving the heavier ones
to Sibby and Martha, a stout, willing, strong young woman, whom
Sister Constance had happily found for them, and who was
disqualified, by a loutish manner and horrible squint, from the
places to which her capabilities might have raised her.

Then Wilmet helped her sister downstairs, and a visit was paid to the
mother and the twins, who were Sibby's charge for the night. Mrs.
Underwood was still in the same state. It was indeed possible to
rouse her, but at the expense of much suffering and excitement; and
in general, she was merely tender, placid, and content, mechanically
busied about her babies, and responding to what was said, but
entirely incapable of any exertion of body, and as inactive in mind
as in limb. Wilmet attended to her while Sibby went to her breakfast,
returning with that of her mistress in time to send Wilmet down to
preside at the family meal, a genuine Irish dish of stir-about--for
which all had inherited a taste from their father's Irish mother.
Only Cherry was too delicate for such food, and was rather ashamed of
her cup of tea and slice of bread.

However, this was one of the few times when she could hope she was
useful; for when Felix was gone to the printing-office, the boys to
the grammar-school, and Wilmet, first to the kitchen, and then to
Miss Pearson's, she remained with bowl and cloth to wash up, in her
own peculiarly slow and dainty way, never breaking but always
dreaming, while Angela carried them one by one, first to her, then to
the kitchen.

'Now, Cherry.'

Mr. Audley's door opened, he would step forward and take the well-
worn books in one hand, and hold the doors open with the other as
Cherry tardily hopped in, and perched herself by the table. Her
confirmation studies had been left in his charge, and then followed a
little Greek, some Latin, a page or two of French, the revision of an
exercise, and some help in Euclid and fractions--all studies begun
with her father, and both congenial and useful to her, as the
occupation that (next to drawing) best prevented her from feeling the
dreary loneliness of her days; for though he could seldom give her
more than an hour, the preparation--after he had helped her upstairs-
--occupied her during the whole period of tranquillity while the
younger children slept. Angela appeared first, and did some small
lessons, cat-and-dog readings, and easy hymns, then was generally
content to sit on the floor in Mamma's room, admiring or amusing the
twins. Then Cherry, according to her sense of duty, drew or worked.
There was a horrible never-ending still-beginning basket of mending
in the family, which Wilmet replenished every Saturday; and though
Mrs. Underwood's instinct for piecing and darning had revived as soon
as she was taken out of bed, her work now always needed a certain
revision to secure the boys from the catastrophe of which Wilmet
often dreamt--appearing in public in ragged shirt-sleeves! Geraldine
knew that every stitch she left undone would have to be put in by her
sister in late evening or early morning, and therefore often wrenched
herself from the pencil and paints that best beguiled her thoughts
from the heartache for her father, and the craving for Edgar, or the
mere craving for light, air, liberty, and usefulness. Her only excuse
to her own conscience for allowing herself her chief pleasure was,
that it was her way of helping an old woman who kept a stall of small
wares on market days, and could sometimes dispose of little pictures
on domestic and Scriptural subjects, if highly coloured, glazed with
gum, and bound with bright paper--pickings and stealings, as Felix
called them, gleaned from advertisements and packing-boxes at Mr.
Froggatt's; but these did not allow much scope for the dreams of her
fancy.

Nor had she much choice when Bernard once awoke and came down, in all
the unreasoning tyranny of two years old, when it was an even chance
whether he would peaceably look at the old scrap-book, play with
Angela, or visit Mamma; or be uproarious, and either coalesce with
Angela in daring mischief, fight a battle-royal with her, or be
violent with and jealous of the twins.

The urchin had found out that when once Cherry's crutch was out of
her reach she could not get at him; and he had ridden off upon it so
often, before committing any of his worst misdemeanours, that Cherry
always lay down on it to secure it. After all, he was a fine,
affectionate, impetuous little fellow, but with a very high, proud,
unmanageable will; and she was very fond and proud of him; but never
more so than when he slept till dinner-time.

That was the hour which brought Felix home to help Sibby to carry his
mother into the sitting-room, pay a little court to the babies, and
enliven Cherry with any chance scrap of news or occupation. Best of
all were the proofs of that unfinished comment on the Epistle to
Philippi, which was being printed by subscription of the
congregation, and the clergy of the diocese. It always did Mrs.
Underwood good to have these read aloud to her by her little
daughter, and she could sometimes find a clue to the understanding of
sentences that had puzzled even Mr. Audley.

The two school-boys never appeared till dinner was imminent; and
then--one unuttered wish of poor Cherry was that Mr. Audley could
have dined with them; but he kept to his own hours, and they were
late.

Whereby dinners on five days of the week were apt to be something on
this fashion. Bell-ringing--Felix helping Geraldine to her seat,
Angela trotting after: a large dish of broth, with meat and rice, and
another of mashed potato; no sign of the boys; Angela lisping grace;
Sibby waiting with a tray.

Felix filled a soup-plate for his mother, and a basin for Bernard.
'We must begin, I suppose,' and he helped his sisters and himself.

'Here, Angel, push over your plate; I'll cut that.--How did you get
on to-day?'

'Very well; the only mistake I made I found out before Smith saw it.
I know all the stationery and steel pens apart now, and haven't made
a mistake for a week. Yesterday Bartlett junior came in. he stood
like a post before Mr. Froggatt till he caught sight of me, and then
he shouted out, "O Blunderbore, you know! What is it that Collis
wants?"'

'And did you?'

'When he said it was a horrid sum-book all little a's and b's.--What
have you been doing, Cherry?'

'I have begun an abstract of the first Punic--'

The door flew open with a bounce, and two hot, wild-locked boys, dust
everywhere except in their merry blue eyes, burst in, and tumbled on
their chairs. 'I say--isn't it a horrid sell? we ain't to have a
holiday for Squire's wedding.--Come, Fee, give us some grub.'

'You have not said grace,' said Cherry.

Lance, abashed, stood up and bowed; Fulbert looked grim, and mumbled
something.

'You have not washed your hands,' added Felix.

'What's the good?' said Fulbert.

'They'll be as jolly dirty again directly,' said Lance.

'But you would be more decent company in the meantime,' said Felix.

At that moment there was a splash in his plate, a skip-jack made of
the breast-bone of a chicken had alighted there with a leap.

'There's Felix's master come after him,' cried Fulbert, and Lance
went off into choking laughter.

'Boys, how can you?' broke out Cherry.

'Look at Blunderbore fishing out his master!' was Fulbert's answer.


     'The frog is in the bog,
      And Felix is squeamish,'

chanted Lance.

'Bad rhyme, Lance,' said Felix, who could bear these things much
better from the younger than the elder. Indeed, he scarcely durst
notice them in Fulbert, lest he should be betrayed into violence by
letting out his temper.

'I say!' cried Lance, struck by a new idea, 'what prime stuff it is
for making a fort!' and he began to scrape the more solid parts of
his plateful to one side.

'Oh, I say, isn't it?' echoed Fulbert: 'but I've eaten up the best
part of my castle;' and he grasped at the ladle.

'No, I thank you,' said Felix, putting it on the other side. 'While I
am here, you don't play tricks with that.'

Fulbert swallowed a spoonful in a passion, but a bright thought
struck Lance, who always cared much more for fun than for food. 'I
_say_, we'll empty it all into one, and eat it down.'

'You horrid boys!' plaintively exclaimed Cherry, almost crying--for
this return to savage life was perfect misery to her. 'I can't bear
it.'

'I will not have Cherry tormented,' said Felix, beginning to be very
irate.

'We ain't doing anything to Cherry,' said Lance, amazed.

'Don't you know it spoils Cherry's appetite to see you so
disgusting?'

'Then she'll have the more next time,' said Fulbert. 'Get along,
Captain--you've splashed my face!'

'Hurrah! the red-hot shot! The rice is the cannon-balls! Where's some
bread?'

'O Lance!' entreated Cherry; 'no waste--think of Wilmet and the
bills.'

'We'll eat it every bit up,' asseverated Lance; but Fulbert growled,
'If you bother any more, I shall crumble the whole lot out at
window.'

'It is wicked to waste bread,' lisped Angela, and Martha at that
moment appeared to fetch the tureen for the kitchen dinner.

'Can't you eat any more, Cherry ?' asked Felix gloomily.

'Not a bit, thank you,' she said.

'We've not done!' shouted the boys, seizing on her scarcely-tasted
and half-cold plate.

'You must finish after. Come, Cherry!' Then, as they left the room,
and she laid her head on his shoulder--'Little ruffians!' he said
under his breath.

'Oh, never mind, Felix. I don't--at least I ought not to mind--they
don't mean it.'

'Lance does not, but I think Fulbert does. He'll make me thrash him
within two inches of his life before he has done. And then there's no
one to take me in hand for it. It is horridly bad for them, too, to
live just like young bears.'

But he smoothed his brow as he came into the room where his mother
was, and amused her till his time was up.

Mr. Froggatt had explained to his father long ago that Felix's work
would not be that of a clerk in a great publishing house, but
veritably that belonging to the country bookseller and printer, and
that he must go through all the details, so as to be thoroughly
conversant with them. The morning's work was at the printing-house,
the afternoon's at the shop. The mechanical drudgery and intense
accuracy needed in the first were wearisome enough; and moreover, he
had to make his way with a crusty old foreman who was incredulous of
any young gentleman's capabilities, and hard of being convinced that
he would or could be useful, but old Smith's contempt was far less
disagreeable to him than the subdued dislike he met with from
Redstone, the assistant in the shop, a sharp, half-educated young
man, who had aspired to the very post of confidence for which Felix
was training--and being far less aware of his own utter unfitness for
it than was Mr. Froggatt, regarded the lad as an interloper; and
though he durst not treat him with incivility, was anxious to expose
any deficiency or failure on his part. Having a good deal of
quickness and dexterity, he could act as a reporter, draw up articles
of a certain description for the newspaper, and had, since the death
of Mr. Froggatt's eldest son, been absolutely necessary to him in
carrying on the business; and now, it was a matter of delicate
discretion on the master's part to avoid hurting the feelings of the
assistant, whom a little more would have made his tyrant, and a dread
of the appearance of favouritism made it needful to keep Felix
thoroughly in a subordinate post, till real superiority of mind and
education should assert itself over elder years and mere familiarity
with detail. This reserved ill-will of Redstone's had much increased
the natural discomfort of appearing behind the counter to former
acquaintance, and had rendered the learning the duties there doubly
troublesome and confusing; though, in recalling the day's doings,
there was some amusement in contrasting the behaviour of different
people, some--of whom Mr. Ryder was the type--speaking to him freely
in his own person, others leaving him as an unrecognised shop-boy;
and a third favouring him with a horrid little furtive nod, which he
liked least of all. But though awkward and embarrassed at first, use
soon hardened him, and made the customers indifferent, so that by the
spring he had begun to be useful, and to feel no particular
excitement about it.

The worst of his business was that it kept him so late, that he had
but a very short evening, and no time for exercise. He was on his
feet most of the day, but indoors, and his recreation chiefly
consisted in choir-practice twice a week. Not that he missed more
positive amusement; the cares of life and Edgar's departure seemed to
have taken the boyish element of frolic out of him; and left him
gravely cheerful indeed, but with no greater desire of entertainment
than could find vent in home conversation, or playing with the little
ones.

Wilmet and the two boys were at liberty full two hours before him.
The latter generally stayed out as long as light and hunger
permitted. Mr. Audley continually stumbled on them playing at
marbles, racing headlong in teams of pack-thread harness with their
fellows, upsetting the nerves of quiet folk--staring contentedly at
such shows as required no outlay, or discontentedly at the outside of
those that demanded the pennies they never had. They were thorough
little street-boys; and all that he could do for them was to enforce
their coming in at reasonable hours, and, much to their sister's
relief, cause their daily lessons to be prepared in his room.
Otherwise their places in their classes would have been much less
creditable.

Wilmet's return was always Geraldine's great relief, for the
afternoon of trying to amuse her mother, and keep the peace between
the children, was almost more than she was equal to; though, on fine
days, Sibby always took out the two elder babies, with an alternate
twin, for an hour's air, and Mr. Audley daily visited the invalid.
Mr. Bevan did so twice a week, with a gentle sympathising tone and
manner that was more beneficial than Lady Price's occasional
endeavours to make her 'rouse herself.' Miss Pearson and a few
humbler friends now and then looked in, but Mrs. Underwood had been
little known. With so large a family, and such straitened means, the
part of the active clergyman's wife was impossible to her; she had
shrunk from society, and most people knew nothing more of her than
that the faded lady-like figure they used to see among her little
flock at church, was Mrs. Underwood.

Wilmet's coming home was always a comfort; and though to her it was
running from toil to care, the change was life to her. To have been
either only the teacher or only the house-wife might have weighed
over-heavily on her, but the two tasks together seemed to lighten
each other. She had a real taste and talent for teaching, and she and
her little class were devoted to one another, while the elder girls
loved her much better since Alda had been away. The being with them,
and sharing their recreation in the middle of the day, was no doubt
the best thing to hinder her from becoming worn by the depressing
atmosphere around her mother. She always brought home spirits and
vigour for whatever lay before her, brightening her mother's face,
dispelling squabbles between Angela and Bernard, and taking a load of
care from Geraldine.

There was sure to be some anecdote to enliven the home-keepers, or
some question to ask Cherry, whose grammar and arithmetic stood on
firmer foundations than any at Miss Pearson's, and who was always
pleased to help Wilmet. The evening hours were the happiest of the
day, only they always ended too soon for Cherry, who was ordered up
by Sibby as soon as her mother was put to bed, and had, in
consequence, a weary length of wakeful solitude and darkness--only
enlivened by the reflection from the gas below--while Felix and
Wilmet sat downstairs, she with her mending, and he either reading,
or talking to her.

On Saturday, which she always spent at home, and in very active
employment in the capacities of nurse, housemaid, or even a slight
taste of the cook and laundress, the evening topic was always the
accounts--the two young heads anxiously casting the balance--proud
and pleased if there were even a shilling below the mark, but serious
and sad under such a communication as, 'There's mutton gone up
another halfpenny;' or, 'Wilmet, I really am afraid those boots of
mine cannot be mended again;' or again, 'See what Lance has managed
to do to this jacket. If one only could send boys to school in
sacking!'

'Are not there a few pence to spare for the chair for Cherry? She
will certainly get ill, if she never goes out now spring is coming
on.'

'Indeed, Felix, I don't know how! If there is a penny over, it is
wanted towards shoes for Bernard; and Cherry begs me, with tears in
her eyes, not to let her be an expense!'

Poor Geraldine! the costing anything, and the sense of uselessness,
were becoming, by the help of her nightly wakefulness, a most
terrible oppression on her spirits. Her father was right. His room
had been a hot-bed to a naturally sensitive and precocious character,
and the change that had come over her as time carried her farther and
farther away from him, affected her more and more.

Her brother and sister, busy all day, and scarcely ever at home,
hardly knew what was becoming a sore perplexity to Mr. Audley.

A young tutor, not yet twenty-six, could not exactly tell what to do
with a girl not fourteen, who fell into floods of tears on the
smallest excuse.

'No, no, Cherry--that is not the nominative.'

The voice faltered, struggled to go on, and melted away behind the
handkerchief. Then--'O Mr. Audley, I am so sorry--'

'That's exactly what I don't want you to be, Cherry.'

'Oh, but it was so careless,' and there was another flood.

Or, 'Don't you see, Cherry, you should not have put the negative sign
to that equation. My dear Cherry, what have I said?'

'Oh, oh--nothing. Only I did think--'

'We shall have you a perfect Niobe, if you go on at this rate,
Cherry. Really, we must not have these lessons, if they excite you so
much.'

'Oh! that would be the worst punishment of all!' and the weeping
became so piteously violent, that the Curate looked on in distressed
helplessness.

'I know it is very tiresome of me; I would help it, if I could--
indeed I would.' And she cried the more because she _had_ cried.

Or, as he came in from the town, he would hear ominous sounds, that
his kind heart would not let him neglect, and would find Cherry
sitting on the landing-place in a paroxysm of weeping. She always
crept out of her mother's room on these occasions, for the sight of
tears distressed and excited Mrs. Underwood; and the poor child,
quite unable, in her hysterical condition, to drag herself alone up
that steep stair, had no alternative but to sit, on what Mr. Audley
called her stool of repentance, outside the door, till she had sobbed
herself into exhaustion and calm--or till either Sibby scolded her,
or he heard her confession.

She had been 'so cross' to Bernard, or to Angel--or, once or twice,
even to Mamma. She had made an impatient answer when interrupted in
her lessons or in a dream over a drawing, she had been reluctant to
exert herself when wanted. She had scolded fretfully--or snatched
things away angrily, when the little ones were troublesome; and every
offence of this sort was bewailed with an anguish of tears, that, by
weakening her spirits and temper, really rendered the recurrence more
frequent. 'The one thing they trust to me, I fail in!'

He was very kind to her. He did not yield to the mannish loathing for
girlish tears that began to seize on him, after the first two or
three occasions. He thought and studied--tried comfort, and fancied
it relaxed her--tried rebuke, and that made it worse; tried the
showing her Francois de Sales' admirable counsel to Philothee, to be
'doux envers soi,' and saw she appreciated and admired it; but she
was not an atom more douce envers soi when she had next spoken
peevishly.

At last he fairly set off by the train, to lay the case before Sister
Constance.

'What is to be done, when a child never does anything but cry?'

Sister Constance listened to the symptoms, and promptly answered,
'Give her a glass of port wine every day, before you let her out of
your room.'

'If I can!'

'Tell her they are my orders. Does she eat?'

'I imagine not. I heard Felix reproaching her with a ghoul's dinner
of a grain of rice.'

'Does she sleep?'

'She has told me a great deal of midnight meditation on her own
deficiencies.'

'She must be taken out of doors somehow or other! It is of no use to
reason with her; the tears are not temper, or anything else! Poor
Charlie! it is an odd capacity for you to come out in, but I suppose
no one else can attend to her.'

'No, poor child, she is rather worse than motherless! Well--I will
find some excuse for taking her out for a drive now and then; I don't
know how to speak to the others about having the chair for her, for
they are barely scraping on.'

'Poor children! Well, this year is probably the worst. Either they
will get their heads above water, or there will be a crisis. But they
do scrape?'

'Yes. At Lady-day there was great jubilation, for the rent was paid,
the taxes were ready, there was not a debt; and there was sevenpence
over, with which Felix wanted to give Cherry a drive; but Wilmet, who
is horribly prudent, insisted that it must go to mend Fulbert's
broken window.'

'Well--poor Wilmet! one can't blame her. How does she treat Cherry's
tears?'

'I don't think she has much pity for them. Felix does much better
with Cherry; he rocks her and pets her; though, indeed, she hardly
ever breaks down when he is there; but even his Sundays are a good
deal taken up--and I always hunt him out for a walk on the Sunday
afternoons.'

'Is he still in the choir and teaching at the Sunday school?'

'Yes--though it is not Mowbray Smith's fault.'

'What, is your colleague what you apprehended?'

'My Lady could not have found a curate more to her mind, or more
imbued with her dislike to all that bears the name of Underwood. I
own it is hard to have one's predecessor flung constantly in one's
teeth, and by the very people who were the greatest thorns to dear
Underwood himself. Then Clem, who was a born prig, though a very good
boy, gave some of his little interfering bits of advice before he
went away, and it has all been set down to Felix's account! One
Sunday, Smith made a complaint of Felix having the biggest boys in
the school. It was the consequence of his having taken them whenever
his father could not, till it came to his having them entirely. He
always took great pains with them, and there was a fellow-feeling
between him and them that could hardly be with an older person. I
said all this--too strongly, most likely--and the Rector put in a
mild word, as to his goodness in coming at all. Smith thought there
was nothing wonderful in liking what ministered to his conceit; and
at last it came out that a baker's boy had met Felix and Smith
consecutively in the street, and only touched his hat to one, and
that the wrong one.'

'I should have been only thankful that he touched his hat to
anybody.'

'That is the very remark by which I put my foot in it, but my Lady
was horrified, and the consequence was, that it fell to me to advise
Felix to resign the class. I never hated a piece of work so much in
my life, for he had worked the lads well, and we both knew that there
would be an end of them. Moreover, Felix has some of the true Briton
about him, and he stood out--would give up the class if the Rector
ordered him, but would relinquish Sunday-school altogether in that
case; and the two girls were furious; but, after one Sunday, he came
to me, said that he found hostility poisoned his teaching, gave up,
and accepted the younger ones.'

'Of course the boys deserted.'

'Which has not softened Smith, though it has made him tolerate Felix
in the choir. His voice is of very little use at present; but he is
such an influence, that we should be glad of him if he could not sing
a note, and he clings to it with all his heart. I believe music is
about the only pleasure he has, and it excites his mother too much to
have any at home. We have little Lance in the choir now, with a voice
like a thrush in a dewy morning.'

Mr. Audley acted on the port-wine prescription, to the horror and
dismay of Cherry, who only submitted with any shadow of philosophy on
being told that the more she cried the more necessary she rendered
it; but on the Saturday, Sister Constance suddenly knocked at Mr.
Audley's door. She had been talking the matter over with the
Superior; and the result was, that she had set off on a mission to
see for herself, and if she thought it expedient, to bring Geraldine
back with her. She had chosen Saturday as the time for seeing Wilmet,
and was prepared to overlook that the stairs were a Lodore of soap,
this being Sibby's cleaning day, while Wilmet kept guard over the
mother and the twins.

Geraldine was in the sitting-room, writing a Latin exercise, with a
great pucker in her forehead whenever Angela looked up from her
wooden bricks to speak to her. And though the sharp little pinched
face was all one beam of joy as the visitor came in, Sister Constance
saw at once that the child's health had deteriorated in these last
months. She sat down, and with Angela on her lap, questioned
anxiously. Cherry had no complaints--she always was like this in the
spring. How was her foot? As usual, a falter. Was it _really_? Well,
yes, she thought so. And then, as the motherly eyes looked into hers,
there came a burst of the ready tears; and 'Oh, _please_ don't talk
about it--_please_ don't ask.'

'I know what you are afraid of,' said Sister Constance, remembering
her horror of the Bexley medical attendant, 'but is it right to
conceal this, my dear child?'

'I don't think I do,' said Cherry pitifully. 'You know Sibby _does_
it every night, and it only aches a little more now. And if they did
find it out, then they would have _him_, and there would be a
doctor's bill, and, oh! that would be dreadful!'

Sister Constance saw that the question of right or wrong would be
infinitely too much for Geraldine, and drew off her mind from it to
tell of the good accounts of Robina from Catsacre, and Clement from
Whittingtonia; but when presently Wilmet was so far free as to come
in with _only_ the boy-baby in her arms, and take the guest up to
take off her bonnet, it was the time for entering on the subject.

'Cherry? do you think her looking ill? She always is poorly in the
spring, you know.'

'I do not like what I hear of her appetite, or her sleep, or her
spirits.'

'Oh! but Cherry is always fanciful, you know. Please, please don't
put things in her head.'

'What kind of things do you mean?'

'Fancying herself worse, I mean, or wanting things. You know we must
be so careful, and Mamma and the babies--'

'My dear, I know you have many to care for, and it is hard to strike
the balance; but somehow your voice sounds to me as if Geraldine were
the one you most willingly set aside.'

Wilmet did not like this, and said a little bit hastily, 'I am sure
Geraldine has everything we can give her. If she complains, it is
very wrong of her.'

'She has not said one word of complaint. Her grief and fear is only
of being a burden on you. What brought me here was, that Mr. Audley
was anxious about her.'

Wilmet was silent, a little abashed.

'Did you know that her ankle is painful again?'

'Sister Constance,' said Wilmet, 'I don't think you or Mr. Audley
know how soon Cherry fancies all sorts of things. She does get into
whiny states, and is regularly tiresome; and the more you notice her,
the worse she is. I know Mamma thought so.'

'My dear, a mother can venture on wholesome neglect when a sister's
neglect is not wholesome. I am not accusing you of neglect, mind;
only you want experience and sympathy to judge of a thing with a
frame like Cherry's. Now, I will tell you what I want to do. I am
come to take her back with me, and get her treated by her kind doctor
for a month or so, and the sea air and rest will send her back, most
likely, in a much more cheery state.'

'Indeed!' cried Wilmet, startled; 'it is very good, but how could we
do without her? Mamma and the children! If she could only wait till
the holidays.'

'Let her only hear you say that, Wilmet, and it will do her more good
than anything.'

'What--that she is of use? Poor little thing, she tries to be; but if
Marilda could have had her way, and taken her instead of Alda, it
would have been much better for her and all. Ah! there's Felix. May I
call him in?'

Felix, dashing up to wash his hands, smooth his hair, and dress
himself for the reading-room work instead of the printing-office, had
much rather these operations had been performed before he was called
to the consultation in the nursery; but he agreed instantly and
solicitously, knowing much better than Wilmet what the dinners were
to Cherry, and talking of her much more tenderly.

'Yes, poor little dear, she always breaks down more or less in the
spring; but I thought she would mend when we could get her out more,'
he said. 'Do you think her really so unwell, Sister Constance?'

'Oh, no, no!' cried Wilmet, fearfully.

'Not very unwell, but only so that I long to put her under our good
doctor, who comes to any one in our house, and who is such a fatherly
old gentleman, that she would not go through the misery the thought
of Mr. Rugg seems to cause her.'

'Dr. Lee?' asked Felix. 'Tom Underwood sent him to see my father
once. I remember my father liked him, but called it waste for
himself, only longed for his opinion on Cherry. Thank you, I am sure
it is the greatest kindness.'

'But, Felix, how can she before the holidays?' cried Wilmet.

'Well, Mamma does not want her before dinner; and as to the kids, why
can't you take Angel to school with you? Oh, yes, Miss Pearson will
let you. Then Mr. Audley, or Mr. Bevan, is always up in the
afternoon, and you come home by four.'

'Perhaps I could earlier on days when the girls go out walking,' said
Wilmet. 'If it is to do Cherry good, I don't like to prevent it.'

Wilmet had evidently got all her household into their niches, and the
disarrangement puzzled her. A wonderful girl she was to contrive as
she did, and carry out her rule; but Sister Constance feared that a
little dryness might be growing on her in consequence, and that, like
many maidens of fifteen or sixteen, while she was devoted to the
little, she was impatient of the intermediate.

So when they went down, and Cherry heard of the scheme, and implored
against it in nervous fear of leaving home and dread of new faces,
Wilmet, having made up her practical mind that the going was
necessary, only made light of that value at home which was Cherry's
one comfort, and which made herself feel it so hard to part with her,
that this very want of tact was all unselfishness.

Felix was much more comfortable to Cherry when he made playful faces
at the bear-garden that the dining-room would become without her, and
showed plainly that he at least would miss her dreadfully. Still she
nourished a hope that Mamma would say she should not go; but Mamma
always submitted to the decrees of authority, and Wilmet and Felix
were her authorities now. Sister Constance felt no misgiving lest
Wilmet were hardening, when she heard the sweet discretion and
cheerful tenderness with which she propounded the arrangement to the
sick mother, without giving her the worry of decision, yet still
deferentially enough to keep her in her place as the head of the
family.

Yet it was with unnecessarily bracing severity that Wilmet observed
to Geraldine, 'Now, don't you go crying, and asking questions, and
worrying Mamma.'

'I suppose no person can be everything at once, far less a girl of
fifteen,' thought Sister Constance, as she drove up to the station in
the omnibus with Cherry, who was too miserable and bewildered to cry
now; not that she was afraid of either the Sister or the Sisterhood,
but only because she had never left home in her life, and felt
exactly like a callow nestling shoved out on the ground with a broken
wing.

In two months more the omnibus was setting her down again, much
nearer plumpness, with a brighter face and stronger spirits. She had
been very full of enjoyment at St. Faith's. She had the visitor's
room, with delightful sacred prints and photographs, and a window
looking out on the sea--a sight enough to fascinate her for hours.
She had been out every fine day on the shore; she had sat in the
pleasant community-room with the kind Sisters, who talked to her as a
woman, not a baby; she had plenty of books; one of the Sisters had
given her daily drawing lessons, and another had read Tasso with her;
she had been to the lovely oratory constantly, and to the beautiful
church on Sunday, and had helped to make the wreaths for the great
May holidays; she had made many new friends, and among them the
doctor, who, if he had hurt her, had never deceived her, and had
really made her more comfortable than she had ever been for the last
five years, putting her in the way of such self-management as might
very possibly avert some of that dreadful liability to be cross.

But with all this, and all her gratitude, Geraldine's longing had
been for home. She was very happy, and it was doing her a great deal
of good; but Mamma, and Felix, and Wilmet, and Sibby, and the babies,
were tugging at her heart, and would not let it go out from them. She
was always dreaming that Felix's heels were coming through his
stockings, that Mamma was calling and nobody coming, or that Bernard
was cutting off the heads of the twins with the blunt scissors. And
when Dr. Lee's course of treatment was over, and Felix had a holiday
to come and fetch her home, it is not easy to say which was happiest.
For she was so glad to be at home amid the dear faces, troubling and
troublous as they often were, and so comfortable in the old wheel-
ruts of care and toil, that it really seemed as if a new epoch of joy
had begun. Felix openly professed how sorely he had missed her, and
she clung to his arm with exulting mutual delight; but it was almost
more triumphant pleasure to be embraced by Wilmet with the words:
'Dear, dear Cherry, there you are at last. You can't think how we
have all wanted you! I never knew how useful you are.'

'I suppose,' said Felix quaintly, 'the world would rather miss its
axis, and yet that does not move.'

'Yes, it does,' said Cherry, 'it wobbles. I suppose Wilmet says
rotates, just about as much as I am going to do now I have got back
into my own dear sphere again.




CHAPTER VI

THE CACIQUE



'Devouring flames resistless glow,
 And blazing rafters downward go,
 And never halloo, "Heads below!"
 Nor notice give at all.'
                 Rejected Addresses.


It was a warm night in September, and Wilmet had laid herself down in
bed in her nursery with a careful, but not an oppressed heart. About
many matters she was happier than before. Her mother had revived in
some degree, could walk from her bed-room to the sitting-room, and
took more interest in what was passing; and this the hopeful spirits
of the children interpreted into signs of recovery. Geraldine's
health and spirits had evidently taken a start for the better.
Fulbert, too, was off her mind--safe gone to a clergy-orphan
foundation; and though Lancelot had not yet been elected, owing, Mr.
Audley imagined, to Lady Price's talk about their fine friends,
Wilmet could not be sorry, he was such a little fellow, and the house
would be so dull without his unfailing merriment and oddities. And
though there had been sore disappointment that Mrs. Thomas Underwood
had chosen to go to Brighton instead of coming home, there was the
promise of a visit from Alda before Christmas to feed upon. Little
Robina had come home for the summer holidays, well, happy, and
improved, and crying only in a satisfactory way on returning to
school. Moreover, Wilmet's finances had been pleasantly increased by
an unexpected present of five pounds at the end of the half year from
Miss Pearson, and the promise of the like for the next; increasing as
her usefulness increased; and she was also allowed to bring Angela to
school with her. The balance of accounts at Midsummer had been
satisfactory, and Felix had proudly pronounced her to be a brick of a
housekeeper. And thus altogether Wilmet did not feel that the weight
of care was so heavy and hopeless as when it first descended upon
her; and she went to bed as usual, feeling how true her father's
words of encouragement and hope had been, how kind friends were, how
dear a brother Felix was, and above all, how there is verily a Father
of the fatherless. And so she fell fast asleep, but was ere long
waked by a voice from the inner room where Cherry slept with the door
open.

'Wilmet, Wilmet, what is it?'

Then she saw that the room was aglow with red light from the window,
and heard a loud distant hubbub. Hurrying out of bed, she flew to the
window of Cherry's room, and drew up the blind. 'O Wilmet, is it
fire?'

'Yes,' low and awe-struck, said Wilmet. 'Not here. No. There's
nothing to be frightened at Cherry. It is out--out there. I think it
must be the Fortinbras Arms. Oh, what a sight!'

'It is dreadful!' said Cherry, shrinking trembling to the foot of her
little bed, whence she could see the window. 'How plain one can see
everything in the room! Oh! the terrible red glow in the windows! I
wonder if all the people are safe. Wilmet, do call Felix.'

'I will,' said Wilmet, proceeding in search of her clothes; but her
hands shook so that she could hardly put them on. They longed for
Felix as a protection, and yet Cherry could hardly bear to let her
sister go out of sight!

'I only hope Mamma does not hear,' said Wilmet.

'How lucky her room looks out the other way! but, oh! Wilmet, don't
fires spread?'

'Felix, and Mr. Audley will see about us in time, if there is any
fear of that,' said Wilmet trembling a good deal as she wrapped a
shawl round Cherry, who sat in a heap on her bed, gazing fascinated
at the red sky and roofs. Felix slept at the back of the house; her
knock did not waken him, but her entrance startled both him and
Lance.

'Felix, the Fortinbras Arms is on fire.--Hush, Lance; take care; the
little ones and Mamma! O Felix, do come to our room.'

They followed her there in a few seconds, but they had only glanced
from the window before they simultaneously rushed away, to the
increased dismay of their sisters, to whom their manly instinct of
rushing into the fray had not occurred.

'I'll go down. I'll try to catch them,' said Wilmet; and she too was
gone before Cherry could call to her. She found that Felix and Mr.
Audley were in the act of undoing the front door, and this gave her
just time to fly down with the entreaty that Felix would not leave
them. It was a great deal more to ask of him than she knew.

'To the end of the street I must go, Wilmet,' he said.

'Oh! but Cherry is so frightened! and if Mamma wakes,' she said,
gasping.

'It is all quiet in her room,' said Felix.

'Tell Cherry there is no danger at all here now,' said Mr. Audley;
'but if it makes her happier you may dress her. Don't disturb your
mother. If needful, we will carry her out in her bed; but I do not
think it will be.'

'We can only see out in the street,' added Felix, opening the door as
he spoke; and that moment out flew Lance, before anybody had thought
of stopping him, and the necessity of pursuing the little fellow into
the throng, and keeping him out of danger, made both Felix and Mr.
Audley dash after him; while Wilmet, abashed at the men hurrying by,
could not even gaze from the door, but fled upstairs in terror lest
the two little ones should be awake and crying at the appalling red
light and the din, which seemed to her one continuous roar of 'Fire!
fire!'

To her great relief, they were still asleep, but Cherry was in a
chilled agony of trembling prayer for the 'poor people,' and the
sisters crouched up together shivering in each other's arms as they
watched the rush of flames streaming up into the sky over the brew-
house opposite to them.

Presently Wilmet heard feet again downstairs. 'Cherry dear, I must go
down, they may want me. Indeed, I don't think there is real danger as
long as that brew-house is safe.'

There was a scuffle of feet that frightened her very much. She
remembered it last Michaelmas when her father was brought home from
church, and as she stood on the stairs--one choking petition in her
heart, 'Let it not be Felix!' she saw that the figure, whatever it
was, was carried by Mr. Audley and a strange man. And so great a
horror came over her, that, regardless of her toilette, and the hair
that had fallen over the jacket on her shoulders, she dropped at once
among them as they were bearing the senseless form into Mr. Audley's
bed-room, with a low but piteous cry, 'Felix! Felix! oh, what has
happened?'

'It is not Felix, my dear,' said Mr. Audley; 'he is safe--he is gone
for the doctor. This poor boy has fallen from a window. You can help
us, Wilmet; call Martha, and get some water made hot. The fire is
getting under.'

Wilmet needed no second hint. She was up, reassuring Cherry at one
moment; then breaking into Martha's heavy slumbers, impressing upon
her the necessity of not shrieking, then downstairs again, reviving
the dying kitchen fire, and finding that, as usual, there was some
water not yet cold. For, as she now saw, it was not yet one o'clock.
She durst not go to her mother's room, where ready means of heating
food were always to be found. As she brought the jug to the door,
Felix came in with Mr. Rugg, who, living in a street out of sight,
and having ears for no sound but his own night-bell, had been ready
at once to obey the call. Felix told his sister the little he knew.

'It was a terrible sight. Just as we got to that one big window--a
passage one, I believe, which looks out into this street--we saw this
poor boy and a black man up on the sill, with all the glare of light
behind them, screaming out for help.'

'But where was everybody?'

'In the High Street, round the corner. Crowds there; and here in our
street only ourselves and a few men that hurried up after us. Mr.
Audley shouted to them that we would get a ladder, but whether they
could not hold on any more, or they thought we were going quite away--
O Wilmet! I didn't see; but there was the most horrible thump and
crash on the pavement.'

'What! down from that window?'

'Yes,' said Felix, leaning against the wall, and looking very pale.
'And there was that good black man, he had got the boy in his arms,
as if he had wound himself round to keep him from harm.'

'Oh! And he?'

'Killed--quite killed. Don't ask me about it, Wilmet. It is much too
dreadful to hear of;' and he shuddered all over.

'But this boy's head was safe at least, and as there seemed no one to
attend to anything, Mr. Audley said he would bring him here, and I
went for Mr. Rugg.'

'And where's Lance? Did he go with you?'

'Lance! Is not he in? I never saw or thought of him, I must go and
seek for him,' exclaimed Felix, darting off in haste and alarm at the
thought of little nine-year-old Lance alone among the midnight crowd,
just as Mr. Audley opened the door to try to find a messenger to Mr.
Rugg's surgery. He paused to tell Wilmet that it was a lad about
Felix's age, moaning some word that sounded like Diego, and with a
broken leg and ribs, and then, as Martha was in attendance, she felt
herself obliged to return to Cherry, whom indeed she could not leave
again, for though the fire had sunk, and only thick clouds of smoke
showed the play of the engines, the effects of the terror were not so
quickly over in the tender little frame, which was in a quivering
hysterical state, so deadly cold, that Wilmet was frightened, and
went once more down to warm some flannel; and get some hot drink for
her. She intended tea, but meeting Mr. Audley again, he sent up a
glass of wine. Even with this in hot water, Cherry could hardly be
warmed again, and Wilmet lay down, clasping her round, and not daring
to let her know of her own continued anxiety about the two brothers.
At last, however, when the red light had almost faded quite away, the
cautious steps were heard coming up the stairs, and Felix called into
the room in a low voice--

'All right, Wilmet.'

'Oh! come in,' the sisters called. 'Where did you find him, Fee? Is
he safe?'

'O Cherry, you never saw such a lark!' cried Lance in a gusty
whisper. 'Wouldn't Fulbert have given his ears to have seen it? To
see the engines pouring down, and the great hose twining about like
jolly old sea-serpents spouting.'

'Hush, Lance; how can you? How could you! Does Mr. Audley know he is
safe?'

'Yes,' said Felix, 'he opened the door, and said he might have known
Lance was too much of a gamin to come to grief.'

'What's a gamin?' said Lance.

'A street ragamuffin at Paris,' said Wilmet. 'But really, Lance, it
was a terrible thing to do.'

'And where do you think I found him?' said Felix. 'In between little
Jacky Brown and that big old coal-heaver who was so impudent about
the blanket-club, hanging like a monkey upon the rails of the
terrace, and hallooing as loud as they.'

''Twas the coal-heaver that helped me up,' said Lance. 'He's a jolly
good fellow, I can tell you. He said, "You be one of Parson
Underwood's little chaps, baint you? A rare honest gentleman of the
right sort war he--he war!" and he pulled down another boy and put me
up instead, and told me all about the great fire at Stubbs's factory.
You can't think what fun it was. Roar, roar, up went the flame.
Swish, wish, went the water--such a bellowing--such great clouds of
smoke!'

'Was everybody saved?' whispered Cherry's tremulous murmur.

There was a silence, then Lance said, 'Weren't they?' and Cherry had
another shuddering fit.

'Who?' Wilmet asked.

'Poor Mr. Jones's youngest child and his nursemaid were in an attic
room where nobody could get at them,' said Felix in a hurried and
awe-struck voice, causing Cherry to renew that agony of trembling and
sobbing so convulsive and painful that her elder brother and sister
could only devote themselves to soothing her, till at last she lay
still again in Wilmet's arms, with only a few long gasps coming
quivering up through her frame. Then Wilmet implored Felix to go away
and make Lance go to bed, and finding this the only means of reducing
the little excited fellow to quiet, he went. And though all were sure
they should not sleep, they overslept themselves far into Sunday
morning, except Wilmet, who was wakened by the clamours of the
undisturbed Angela and Bernard, and succeeded in dressing them
without disturbing the other three.

Very tired and stiff, and very anxious she felt, but she was obliged
to go down as soon as she was dressed, since she always took charge
of her mother before breakfast on Sunday while Sibby went to mass. It
was so late that she could only listen in vain at the top of the
stairs before she went into the room, where she found Sibby very
indignant at having missed all the excitement of the night past. 'As
if she could not have been trusted not to have wakened the mistress.
She believed they would have let her alone till they all were burnt
in their beds!'

It was not till breakfast, which took place unusually late, that
Wilmet heard much. Felix and Lance had just come downstairs, rather
ashamed of having overslept themselves, and Mr. Audley came in and
begged for a cup of tea.

He told them that the father and uncle of the boy had arrived. They
were American merchants or speculators of some kind, he thought,
named Travis, and they had gone on business to Dearport the day
before, meaning to dine there, and return by the mail train in the
night, and leaving the boy with the black servant in the unfortunate
hotel.

On arriving, at about three o'clock, not long after Felix had brought
Lance home, they had telegraphed to Dearport for a doctor and nurse,
who were momentarily expected to arrive. The patient was only half
conscious, and though he knew his father, continued to murmur for
Diego. Martha was sitting with him whenever she could, for his father
did not seem to understand nursing, and it would be a great relief
when a properly-trained person arrived.

She came, and so did the doctor, but not till close upon church-time,
and little but stray reports from the sick-room reached the
population upstairs all that day, as Mr. Audley, whenever he was not
at church, was obliged to be in attendance on his strange guests. All
that reached the anxious and excited young people was the tidings of
the patient being not unlikely to do well, though he was in great
pain and high fever, and continually calling for the poor negro who
had saved his life at the expense of his own.

This was the last bulletin when the household parted to go their
several ways on Monday morning, not to be all collected again and
free to speak till seven o'clock in the evening, when they met round
the table for tea.

'Mamma looks cheery,' said Felix, coming into the little back room
where Wilmet was spreading bread and butter.

'Yes,' said Wilmet, 'I think she has cared to hear about the fire. So
many people have come in and talked, that it has enlivened her.'

'And how is the boy?'

'A little better, Martha heard; but he keeps on talking of Diego, and
seems not to care about any one else.'

'No wonder. His father must be an unmitigated brute,' said Felix. 'He
came to the inquest, and talked just as if it had been an old
Newfoundland dog; I really think he cared rather less than if it had
been.'

Tell us about the inquest, Felix,' said Lance. 'I wish they'd have
wanted me there.'

'I don't see why, Lance,' said Felix gravely; 'it was a terrible
thing to see poor Mr. Jones hardly able to speak for grief, and the
mother of that poor young nurse went on sobbing as if her heart was
breaking.'

'Nobody knows the cause of the fire, do they?' asked Cherry.

'Lady Price said it was the gas.'

'No; no one knows. Way, the waiter, saw a glare under the door of the
great assembly-room as he was going up very late to bed, and the
instant he opened the door the flame seemed to rush out at him. I
suppose a draught was all it wanted. He saw this poor Diego safe
downstairs once, but he must have gone back to save his young master,
and got cut off in coming back. Poor fellow! he is a Mexican negro,
belonging to an estate that came to Mr. Travis's wife, and he has
always clung to her and her son just like a faithful dog.'

'But he could not be a slave in England,' said Cherry eagerly.

'No; but as this Travis said, his one instinct was the boy: he did
not know how to get rid of him, he said, and I do believe he thinks
it a lucky chance.'

'I wish it had been he!' said Lance.

'Sibby has asked leave to go to the burial,' added Wilmet.

'I hope you gave it,' said Felix. 'Mr. Macnamara came and asked if he
were not a Roman Catholic, and those two Travises laughed a little
offensively, and said they guessed he was so, as much as a nigger was
anything; and the Papists were welcome to his black carcase, only
they would not be charged for any flummery. "I won't be made a fool
of about a nigger," one said. And then, I was so glad, Mr. Audley
begged to know when the funeral would be, and said he would go
anywhere to do honour to faithfulness unto death.'

'Well done, Mr. Audley!' cried Lance. 'Won't we go too, Fee!'

'It will be at nine to-morrow,' said Felix; at which Lance made a
face, since of course he would be in school at the time.

'Maybe I shall have to go,' added Felix; 'for only think, as my good
luck would have it, Redstone went on Saturday night to see his mother
or somebody, and only came back this morning; and Mr. Froggatt
himself was "out at his box," as he calls it, so he told me this
morning to write the account of the fire for the paper, and he would
pay me for it extra, as he does Redstone.'

'Well, and have you done it?'

'I was pretty much at sea at first, till I recollected the letter I
began to Edgar yesterday night, and by following that, I made what I
thought was a decent piece of business of it.'

'Oh, did you put in the way they threw the things out at window at
Jessop's without looking what they were!' cried Lance; 'and the jolly
smash the jugs and basins made, and when their house was never on
fire at all: and how the coal-heaver said "Hold hard, frail trade
there!"'

'Well,' said Felix quaintly, 'I put it in a different form, you see.
I said the inhabitants of the adjacent houses hurled their furniture
from the windows with more precipitation than attention to the
fragility of the articles. And, after all, that intolerable ass,
Redstone, has corrected fire every time into "the devouring element,"
and made "the faithful black" into "the African of sable integument,
but heart of precious ore."'

'Now, Felix!'

'Bald, sir, bald,' he said, with such a face. '"Yes, Mr. Underwood,"
even good old Froggy said, when he saw me looking rather blue, "you
and I may know what good taste and simplicity is; but if we sent out
the Pursuivant with no mouth-filling words in it, we should be cut
out with some low paper in no time among the farmers and mechanics."'

'Is he so led by Mr. Redstone?' asked Wilmet.

'Not exactly; but I believe there's nothing he dreads more than
Redstone's getting offended and saying that I am no use, as he would
any day if he could. O, Mr. Audley, are you coming to stay?'

'Will you have a cup of tea?' said Wilmet.

'Thank you, yes; I've got to dine with these fellows at the Railway
Hotel at eight, but I wanted to speak to you first, Wilmet,' said Mr.
Audley, sitting down as if he were weary of his day.

'How is the boy?'

'Better. He has been quite sensible ever since he woke at twelve
o'clock to-day, only he was dreadfully upset about poor Diego--about
whom his father told him very abruptly--without the least notion he
would feel it so much.'

'I wish I had the kicking of that father,' observed Felix, driving
the knife hard into the loaf.

'He is not altogether such a bad fellow,' said Mr. Audley
thoughtfully.

'Not for an American, perhaps.'

'He is not an American at all. He was born and bred in my own
country, and took me by surprise by calculating that I was one of the
Audleys of Wrightstone Court, and wanting to know whether my father
were Sir Robert or Sir Robert's son. Then he guessed that I might
have heard of his father, if I was not too young, and by-and-by it
dawned on me that whenever there is any complication about business
matters, or any one is in bad circumstances, my father always
vituperates one Travis, who, it seems, was a solicitor greatly
trusted by all the country round, till he died, some twenty years
ago, and it appeared that he had ruined everybody, himself included.
These men are his sons. They went out to America, and got up in the
world. They told me the whole story of how they had knocked about
everywhere, last evening, but I was too sleepy to enter into it much,
though I daresay it was curious enough; successful speculations and
hair's-breadth escapes seemed to come very thick one upon another,
but all I am clear about is that this poor boy, Fernando's mother was
a Mexican heiress, they--one of them, I mean--managed to marry, her
father English, but her mother old Spanish blood allied to the old
Caciques, he says; whether it is a boast I don't know, but the boy
looks like it--such a handsome fellow; delicate straight profile,
slender limbs, beautifully made, inky-black hair and brows, pure
olive skin--the two doctors were both in raptures. Well, they thought
affairs in Mexico insecure, so they sold the poor woman's estate and
carried her off to Texas. No; was it? I really can't remember where;
but, at any rate, Diego stuck to her wherever she went, and when she
died, to her child; nursed him like an old woman, and-- In short, it
was that touching negro love that one sometimes hears of. Now they
seem to have grown very rich--the American Vice-Consul, who came over
this morning from Dearport, knew all about them--and they came home
partly on business, and partly to leave Fernando to be made into an
English gentleman, who, Mr. Travis says, if he has money to spend,
does whip creation. He's English enough for that still. Well, they
have got a telegram that makes them both want to sail by the next
steamer.'

'That's a blessing. But the boy?

'He cannot be moved for weeks. It is not only the fractures, but the
jar of the fall. He may get quite over it, but must lie quite still
on his back. So here he is, a fixture, by your leave, my lady
housekeeper.'

'It is your room, Mr. Audley,' said Wilmet. 'But can his father
really mean to leave him alone so very ill, poor boy?'

'Well, as his father truly says, he is no good to him, but rather the
reverse; and as the Travis mind seems rather impressed by finding an
Audley here, I am to be left in charge of him now, and to find a
tutor for him when he gets better. So we are in for that!'

'But what is to become of you?' asked Wilmet. 'The nurse has got the
little back study.'

'I have got a room at Bolland's to sleep in, thank you,' he answered;
'and I have been representing the inconvenience to the house of this
long illness, so that the Travises, who are liberal enough--'

'I thought them horrid misers,' said Felix.

'That was only the American conscience as to negroes. In other
matters they are ready to throw money about with both hands; so I
hope I have made a good bargain for you, Wilmet. You are to have five
guineas a week, and provide for boy and nurse, all but wine and beer,
ice and fruit.'

'Five guineas!' murmured Wilmet, quite overpowered at the munificent
sum.

'I am afraid you will not find it go as far as you expect, for he
will want a good deal of dainty catering.'

'And your room should be deducted,' said Wilmet.

'Not at all. Mrs. Bolland said she did not take lodgers, but should
esteem it a favour if I would sleep there while her son is away. It
is all safe, I think. He has given me orders on his London banker,
and they say here at the bank that they are all right. It is a
strange charge,' he added thoughtfully; 'we little thought what we
were taking on ourselves when we picked up that poor fellow, Felix;
and I cannot help thinking it will turn out well, there was something
so noble about the poor lad's face as he lay insensible.'

It was about three weeks later, that one Sunday evening, when Mr.
Audley came in from church, Felix followed him to his sitting-room,
and began with unusual formality. 'I think I ought to speak to you,
sir.'

'What's the matter?'

'About Lance, and him in there. I have had such a queer talk with
_him_!'

'As how?'

'Why he wanted us to stop from church, asked me to let off the poor
little coon; and when I said we couldn't, because we were in the
choir, wanted to know what we were paid, then why we did it at all;
and so it turned out that he thinks churches only meant for women and
psalm-singing niggers and Methodists, and has never been inside one
in his life, never saw the sense of it, wanted to know why I went.'

'What did you tell him?'

'I don't know; I was so taken aback. I said something about our duty
to God, and it's being all we had to get us through life; but I know
I made a dreadful mess of it, and the bell rang, and I got away. But
he seems a sheer heathen, and there's Lance in and out all day.'

'Yes, Felix, I am afraid it is true that the poor lad has been
brought up with no religion at all--a blank sheet, as his father
called him.'

'Wasn't his father English?'

'Yes; but he had lived a roving, godless life. I began, when I found
the boy must stay here, by asking whether he were of his father's or
his mother's communion, and in return heard a burst of exultation
that he had never let a priest into his house. His father-in-law had
warned him against it, and he had carried his wife out of their reach
long before the child's birth; he has not even been baptized, but you
see, Felix, I could not act like Abraham to the idolater in the
Talmud.'

Felix did not speak, but knocked one foot against the other in
vexation, feeling that it was his house after all, and that Mr.
Audley should not have turned this young heathen loose into it to
corrupt his brother, without consulting him.

'I told Travis,' continued the Curate, 'that if I undertook the
charge as he wished, it must be as a priest myself, and I must try to
put some religion into him. And, to my surprise, he said he left it
to me. Fernando was old enough to judge, and if he were to be an
English squire, he must conform to old-country ways; besides, I was
another sort of parson from Yankee Methodists and Shakers or Popish
priests--he knew the English clergy well enough, of the right sort.'

'So he is to learn religion to make him a squire?'

'I was thankful enough to find no obstruction.'

'And have you begun?' asked Felix moodily.

'Why--no. He has been too ill and too reserved. I have attempted
nothing but daily saying a short prayer for him in his hearing,
hoping he would remark on it. But you know the pain is still very
absorbing at times, and it leaves him exhausted; and besides, I fancy
he has a good deal of tropical languor about him, and does not notice
much. Nothing but Lance has roused him at all,'

'I would never have let Lance in there by himself, if I had known,'
said Felix. 'He is quite bewitched.'

'It would have been difficult to prevent it. Nor do I think that much
harm can be done. I believe I ought to have told you, Felix; but I
did not like denouncing my poor sick guest among the children, or its
getting round all the town and to my Lady. After all, Lance is a very
little fellow; it is not as if Edgar or Clem were at home.'

'I suppose it cannot be helped,' sighed Felix; 'but my father--' and
as he recollected the desire to take his brothers away from Mr.
Ryder, he felt as if his chosen guardian had been false to his trust,
out of pity and enthusiasm.

'Your father would have known how to treat him,' sighed Mr. Audley.
'At any rate, Felix, we must not forget the duties of hospitality and
kindness; and I hope you will not roughly forbid Lance to go near
him, without seeing whether the poor fellow is not really
inoffensive.'

'I'll see about it,' was all that Felix could get himself to say; for
much as he loved Mr. Audley, he could not easily brook interference
with his brothers, and little Lance, so loyal to himself, and so
droll without a grain of malice, was very near to his heart. 'A young
pagan,' as he thought to himself, 'teaching him all the blackguard
tricks and words he has learnt at all the low schools in north or
south!' and all the most objectionable scenes he had met with in
American stories, from Uncle Tom onwards, began to rise before his
eyes. 'A pretty thing to do in a fit of beneficence! I'll order Lance
to keep away, and if he dares disobey, I'll lick him well to show him
who is master.'

So he felt, as he swung himself upstairs, and halted with some
intention of pouring out his vexed spirit to Wilmet, because Mr.
Audley had no business to make it a secret; but Wilmet was putting
her mother to bed, and he went on upstairs. There he found all the
doors open, and heard a murmuring sound of voices in Geraldine's
room. In a mood to be glad of any excuse for finding fault, he strode
across the nursery, where Angela and Bernard slept, and saw that
Lance, who ought to have gone at once to bed on coming in, was
standing in his sister's window, trying to read in the ray of gas-
light that came up from a lamp at the brew-house door.

'Go to bed, Lance,' he said; 'if you have not learnt your lessons in
proper time, you must wake early, or take the consequences. I won't
have it done on Sunday night.'

Lance started round angrily, and Cherry cried, 'O Felix, it is no
such thing! Only would you tell us where to find about the king and
his priests that defeated the enemy by singing the "mercy endureth
for ever" psalm?'

'In the Bible!' said Felix, as if sure it was a blunder. 'There's no
such story.'

'Indeed there is,' cried Lance, 'for Papa (the word low and
reverently) took out his blue poly-something Bible and read it out in
the sermon. Don't you remember, Fee, a hot day in the summer, when he
preached all about those wild robbers--horrid fellows with long
spears--coming up in the desert to make a regular smash of the Jews?'

'Lance!' cried Cherry.

'Well, he did not say that, of course, but they wanted to; and how
the king sent out the priests without a fighting man, only all in
white, praising God in the beauty of holiness, and singing, "His
mercy endureth for ever." I saw him read that, though he told us all
the rest without book; how all the enemy began to quarrel, and all
killed one another, and the Jews had nothing to do but to pick up the
spoil, and sing another psalm coming back.'

'I remember now,' said Felix, in a very different tone. 'It was
Jehoshaphat, Lancey boy. I'll find it for you in the book of
Chronicles. Did you want it for anything?'

Lance made an uneasy movement.

'It was to show poor Fernando Travis, wasn't it?' said Cherry; and as
Lance wriggled again, she added, 'He seems to have been taught
nothing good.'

'Now, Cherry,' broke out Lance, 'I told you to say not a word.'

'I know a little about it, Lance,' said Felix, sitting down on the
window-seat and lifting Lance on his knee, as he said, in a tone very
unlike his intended expostulation, 'You must not let him do you harm,
Lance.'

'He wouldn't; but he does not know anything about anything,' said the
little boy. 'They never taught him to say his prayers, nor sing
hymns, nor chant, and he thinks it is only good for niggers. So I
told him that singing psalms once beat an army, and he laughed; and I
thought Cherry was sure to know where it was--but girls will always
tell.'

'Indeed you never told me not,' said Cherry, humbly.

'She has done no harm,' said Felix. 'Mr. Audley has just been talking
to me about that poor boy. He really is as untaught as that little
scamp at the potteries that we tried to teach.'

'He's a stunning good fellow,' broke in Lance; 'he has seen an
alligator, and ridden mustangs.'

'Never mind that now, Lance; I dare say he is very amusing, but--'

'Don't hinder me from going to him,' broke in the younger boy
vehemently.

'If,' said Felix gravely, 'you can be quite sure my Father would not
mind it.'

Lance was nestling close up to him in the dark, and he was surprised
to find that round face wet with tears. 'Papa would not let him lie
dull and moped all day long,' he said. 'O Fee, I can't keep away; I
am so sorry for him. When that terrible cramp comes, it is of no use
to say those sort of things to him.'

'What sort of things?'

'Oh, you know; verses such as Papa used to have said to him. They
weren't a bit of good. No, not though I did get the book Papa marked
for Cherry.'

'You did!' gasped Cherry, who little thought that sacred possession
of hers was even known to Master Lance.

'You'd have done it yourself, Cherry,' said the little boy, 'if you
had only seen how bad he was; he got quite white, and had great drops
on his forehead, and panted so, and would not let out a bit of a cry,
only now and then a groan; and so I ran to get the verse Papa used to
say over and over to you when your foot was bad. And I'm sure it was
the right one, but--but--it did him no good, for, oh! he didn't know
who our Saviour is;' and the little fellow clung to his brother in a
passion of tears, while Felix felt a pang at the contrast.

'Have you been telling him, Lancey?' he asked.

'I wanted him to ask Mr. Audley, but he said he was a parson, and his
father said that there would be no parsons if men were not fools.
Now, Fee, I've told you, but don't keep me away.'

'It would be hard on a poor sick fellow,' said Felix, thoroughly
softened. 'Only, Lance, you know I can't be with you; will you
promise to go away if ever you think Papa would wish it?'

'Oh yes, one has to do that, you know, when our own fellows get
blackguardly,' said little Lance, freely; whereat Cherry shuddered
somewhat. 'And, Fee,' he added, 'if you would only come and make him
understand about things.'

'Mr. Audley must do that,' said Felix; 'I can't.'

'You teach the boys in the Sunday-school,' said Lance. 'And he'd mind
you, Blunderbore. He says you are the grandest and most splendiferous
fellow he ever did set eyes on, and that he feels something like,
when you've just looked in and spoken to him.'

'You little ass, he was chaffing you.'

'No, no, _indeed_ he wasn't. I told him all about it, because he
liked your face so much. And he does care so very much when you look
in. Oh! _do, do_, Fee; he is so jolly, and it is so lonely and horrid
for him, and I do so want Papa for him;' and the child cried
silently, but Felix felt the long deep sobs, and as Geraldine, much
moved, said, 'Dear little Lancey,' he carried him over to her as she
sat up in bed, and she kissed and fondled him, and murmured in his
ear, 'Dear Lance, I'm sure he'll get good. We will get Mr. Audley to
talk to him, you know, and we will say a prayer every day for him.'

Lance, beginning to recover, put his arms round Cherry's neck, gave
her a tremendous hug, released himself from his brother's arms, and
ran off to bed.  Felix remained a few moments, while Cherry
exclaimed, 'Oh! the dear good little fellow!'

'Better than any of us,' said Felix. 'I was quite savage with Mr.
Audley when I found out about it. I must go down and tell him. I
never thought all that was in the little chap! I'm glad he came to
you, Cherry. Good-night.'

'And you will try to teach this poor boy, Felix?'

'I don't say that. I don't in the least know how; but I shall not
dare to hinder Lance, now I see how he goes on.'

On his way down he heard voices in the sitting-room, where, in fact,
Mr. Audley had joined Wilmet, to explain to her how vexed he was to
have so much annoyed Felix, and perhaps also something of his own
annoyance at the manner in which Felix took it. Wilmet, partly from
her 'growing on the sunny side of the wall,' partly from her early
authority, was in some ways older than her brother, and could see
that there was in him a shade of boyish jealousy of his prerogative;
and as she sat, in her pretty modest gravity, with her fair hair and
her Sunday frock, she was softly but earnestly telling Mr. Audley
that she was sure Felix would not mind long, and that he was very
sorry for the poor boy really, only he was so anxious about Lance,
and he did like to be consulted. Both looked up, startled, as Felix
opened the door, and they saw that his eyes were full of tears. He
came up to Mr. Audley, and said, 'I beg your pardon, sir; I'd no
business to grumble, and that little fellow has been--'

'Beforehand with us?' asked Mr. Audley, as Felix broke down. 'The
nurse has been just telling me how he sat on his bed saying bits of
psalms and verses to him when he had that bad fit of cramp, "so
pretty," she said; but I was afraid it must have been rather like a
spell.'

Felix told his story, feeling it too much not to make it lame, and
with the tearfulness trembling in his voice and eyes all the time.

'Our little gamin has the most of the good Samaritan in him,' said
Mr. Audley. ''Tis not quite the end I should have begun at, but
perhaps it may work the better.'

'Dear little boy, that he should have remembered that sermon!'
exclaimed Wilmet.

'I am afraid it is more than I do,' said Felix; 'all last summer the
more I tried to listen, the more I saw how he was changing. Do you
remember it, Wilmet?'

'Yes; the text was, "The joy of the Lord is your strength," and he
said how praising God, and going on thinking about His goodness and
thankfulness, was the way to make our adversaries dissolve before us,
and never trouble us at all, just like the bands of the Moabites and
Ammonites before Jehoshaphat.'

'I recollect it well, and how I thought it such a likeness of
himself,' said Mr. Audley; 'he was walking over his troubles,
scarcely seeing them, as if they could not dim the shine of his
armour while he went on looking up and being thankful. I fancy little
Lance has a good deal of that kind of bright fearless way.'

'He has,' said Felix in a grave thoughtful tone that made the Curate
look at him and sigh to think how early care and grief had come to
make that joyous buoyancy scarce possible to the elder boy, little
more than seventeen though he was.

'He is very idle, though,' added Wilmet; 'such caricatures as there
are all over his books! Edgar's were bad enough, but Lance puts pig-
tails and cocked hats to all Edgar's.'

So Lance's visits to the sick stranger remained unobstructed. He had
no notion of teaching him; but the foreign boy in his languor and
helplessness curiously fascinated him, perhaps from the very contrast
of the passive, indolent, tropical nature with his own mercurial
temperament. The Spaniard, or perhaps the old Mexican, seemed to
predominate in Fernando, as far as could be guessed in one so weak
and helpless. He seemed very quiet and inanimate, seldom wanting or
seeking diversion, but content to lie still, with half-closed eyes;
his manner was reserved, and with something of courteous dignity,
especially when Lady Price came to visit him; and the Yankeeisms that
sometimes dropped from his tongue did not agree with the polish of
the tone, and still less with the imperious manner in which he
sometimes addressed the nurse. He seemed, though not clever, to be
tolerably well cultivated; he had been at the schools of whatever
cities his father had resided in, and his knowledge of languages was
of course extensive.

However, he never talked freely to Mr. Audley. He had bitterly
resented that gentleman's interference, one day when he was
peremptorily commanding the nurse to place him in a position that had
been forbidden, and the endeavour to control him had made him
fearfully angry. There was a stormy outbreak of violent language,
only checked by a severe rebuke, for which he did not forgive the
Curate; he was coldly civil, and accepted the attentions he could not
dispense with in a grave formal manner that would have been sulky in
an English lad, but had something of the dreary grandeur of the
Spanish Don from that dark lordly visage, and made Mr. Audley half
provoked, half pitying, speak of him always as his Cacique. He only
expanded a little even to Lance, though the little boy waited on him
assiduously, chattering about school doings, illustrating them on a
slate, singing to him, acting Blondin, exhibiting whatever he could
lay his hands on, including the twins, whom he bore down one after
the other, to the great wrath of Sibby, not to say of little Stella
herself, while Theodore took the exhibition with perfect serenity.

As to Felix, he was, as Lance said, the subject of the sick lad's
fervent admiration. Perhaps the open, fair, cheerful, though grave
countenance, fresh complexion, and strong, steadfast, upright bearing
had something to do with the strange adoration that in his silent way
Fernando paid to the youth, who looked in from time to time, bringing
a sort of air of refreshment with his good-natured shy smile, even
when he least knew what to say. Or else it was little Lance's fervent
affection for Felix which had conduced to the erection of the elder
brother into the idol of Fernando's fancy; and his briefest visit was
the event of the long autumnal days spent in the uncurtained iron bed
in the corner of the low room. The worship, silent though it was, was
manifest enough to become embarrassing and ridiculous to the subject
of it, whose sense of duty and compassion was always at war with his
reluctance to expose himself to it. Not another word passed on any
religious subject. Mr. Audley was not forgiven enough to venture on
the attempt; the Rector was shy and frightened about it, and could
make no beginning; and Mr. Mowbray Smith, who found great fault with
them for their neglect, had been fairly stared down by the great
black eyes, which, when the heavy lids were uplifted, proved to be of
an immense size and force; and Felix was so sure that it could not be
his business while three clergymen were going in and out that he had
never done more than describe the weather, or retail any fresh bit of
London news that had come down to the office.

At last, however, one November day, he found Fernando sitting up in
bed, and Lance, perched on the table, talking so earnestly as not to
perceive his entrance, until Fernando broke upon his words: 'There!
it's no use!'

'Yes, it is,' cried Lance, jumping down. 'O Fee, I am glad you are
come; I want you to tell him the rights of it.'

'The rights of what, Lance?'

'Tell him that it is all the devil's doing, and the men he has got on
his side; and that it was the very thing our Saviour came for to set
us free, only everybody won't,' said Lance clinging to his brother's
hand and looking up in his face.

'That's about right, Lance,' said Felix, 'but I don't quite know what
you are talking about.'

'Just this,' said Fernando. 'Lance goes on about God being merciful
and good and powerful--Almighty, as he says; but whatever women may
tell a little chap like that, nobody can think so that has seen the
things I have, down in the West, with my own eyes.'

'Felix!' cried Lance, 'say it. You know and believe just as I do, as
everybody good does, men and all.'

'Yes, indeed!' said Felix with all his heart.

'Then tell me how it can be,' said Fernando.

Felix stood startled and perplexed, feeling the awful magnitude and
importance of the question, but also feeling his own incompetence to
deal with it; and likewise that Wilmet was keeping the tea waiting
for him. He much wished to say, 'Keep it for Mr. Audley,' but he
feared to choke the dawning of faith, and he likewise feared the
appearance of hesitation.

'Nobody can really explain it,' he said, 'but that's no wonder. One
cannot explain a thunderstorm, but one knows that it is.'

'That's electricity,' said Fernando.

'And what's electricity?'

'A fluid that--'

'Yes; that's another word. But you can't get any farther. God made
electricity, or whatever it is, and when you talk about explaining
it, you only get to something that is. You know it is, and you can't
get any farther,' he repeated.

'Well, that's true; though science goes beyond you in America.'

'But no searching finds out _all_ about God!' said Felix reverently.
'All we know is that He is so infinitely great and wise, that of
course we cannot understand why all He does is right, any more than a
private soldier understands his general's orders.'

'And _you--you_,' said Fernando, 'are content to say you don't
understand.'

'Why not?' said Felix.

There was a silence. Fernando seemed to be thinking; Lance gazed from
one to the other, as if disappointed that his brother was not more
explicit.

'And how do you know it is true?' added Fernando. 'I mean, what Lance
has been telling me! What makes you sure of it, if you are?'

'_If_ I am !' cried Felix, startled into indignation. 'To be sure I
am!'

'But how?'

'I _know_ it!' said Felix.

'How?'

'The Bible!' gasped Lance impatiently.

'Ay; so you have said for ever,' broke in Fernando; 'but what
authenticates that?'

'The whole course of history,' said Felix. 'There is a great chain of
evidence, I know, but I never got it up. I can't tell it you,
Fernando, I never wanted it, never even tried to think about the
proofs. It is all too sure.'

'But wouldn't a Mahometan say that?' said Fernando.

'If he did, look at the Life of our Lord and of Mahomet together, and
see which must be the true prophet--the Way, the Life, the Truth.'

'That one could do,' said Fernando thoughtfully. 'I say' as Felix
made a movement as if he thought the subject concluded, 'I want to
know one thing more. Lance says it is believing all this that makes
you--any one I mean--good.'

'I don't know what else should,' said Felix, smiling a little; the
question seemed to him so absurd.

'Is it really what makes you go and slave away at that old boss's of
yours?'

'Why, that's necessity and my duty,' said Felix.

'And is it what makes this little coon come and spend all his play-
hours on a poor fellow with a broken leg? I've been at many schools,
and never saw the fellow who would do that.'

'Oh! you are such fun!' cried Lance.

'All that is right comes from God first and last,' said Felix
gravely.

'And you--you that are no child--you believe all that Lance tells me
you do, and think it makes you what you are!'

'I believe it; yes, of course. And believing it should make me much
better than I am! I hope it will in time.'

'Ah!' sighed Fernando. 'I never heard anything like it since my
father said he'd take the cow-hide to poor old Diego, if he caught
him teaching me nigger-cant.'

They left him.

'Poor fellow!' sighed Felix; 'what have you been telling him, Lance?'

'Oh, I don't know; only why things were good and bad,' was Lance's
lucid answer; and he was then intent on detailing the stories he had
heard from Fernando. He had been in the worst days of Southern
slavery ere its extinction, on the skirts of the deadly warfare with
the Red Indians; and the poor lad had really known of horrors that
curdled the blood of Wilmet and Geraldine, and made the latter lie
awake or dream dreadful dreams all night.

But the next day Mr. Audley was startled to hear the two friends in
the midst of an altercation. When Lance had come in for his mid-day
recreation, Fernando had produced five shillings, desiring him to go
and purchase a Bible for him; but Lance, who had conceived the idea
that the Scriptures ought not to be touched by an unchristened hand,
flatly refused, offering, however, to read from his own. Now Lance's
reading was at that peculiar school-boy stage which seems calculated
to combine the utmost possible noise with the least possible
distinctness; and though he had good gifts of ear and voice, and his
reciting and singing were both above the average, the moment a book
was before him, he roared his sentences between his teeth in horrible
monotony. And as he began with the first chapter of St. Matthew, and
was not perfectly able to cope with all the names, Fernando could
bear it no longer, and insisted on having the book itself. Lance
shook his head and refused; and matters were in this stage when Mr.
Audley, not liking the echoes of the voices, opened the door. 'What
is it?' he asked anxiously.

'Nothing,' replied Fernando, proudly trying to swallow his vexation.

'Lance!' said Mr. Audley rather severely; but just then, seeing what
book the child was holding tight under his arm, he decided to follow
him out of the room and interrogate.

'What was it, Lance?'

'He ought not to touch a Bible--he sha'n't have mine,' said Lance
resentfully.

'Was he doing anything wrong with it?'

'Oh no! But he ought not to have it before he is christened, and I
would have read to him.'

Mr. Audley knew what Lance's reading was, and smiled.

'Was that all, Lance? I like your guardianship of the Bible, my boy;
but it was not given only to those who are Christians already, or how
could any one learn?'

'He sha'n't touch mine, though,' said Lance, with an odd sturdiness;
stumping upstairs with his treasure, a little brown sixpenny S. P. C.
K. book, but in which his father had written his name on his last
birthday but one.

Mr. Audley only waited to take down a New Testament, and present
himself at Fernando's bedside, observing gladly that there was much
more wistfulness than offence about his expression.

'It was a scruple on the young man's part,' said Mr. Audley, smiling,
though full of anxiety; 'he meant no unkindness.'

'I know he did not,' said Fernando quietly, but gazing at the purple
book in the clergyman's hands.

'Did you want this?' said Mr. Audley; 'or can I find anything in it
for you?'

'Thank you;' and there was a pause. The offended manner towards Mr.
Audley had been subsiding of late into friendliness under his
constant attentions, and Fernando's desire for an answer prevailed at
last. 'Felix told me to read the Life of Christ,' he said, not
irreverently, 'and that it would show me He must be True.'

'I hope and trust that so it may be,' said Mr. Audley, more moved
than he could bear to show, but with fervour in his voice far beyond
his words.

'Felix,' said Fernando, resting on the name, 'Felix does seem as if
he must be right, Mr. Audley; can it be really as he says--and Lance-
--that their belief makes them like what they are?'

'Most assuredly.'

'And you don't say so only because you are a minister?' asked the boy
distrustfully.

'I say so because I know it. I knew that it is the Christian faith
that makes all goodness, long before I was a minister.'

'But I have seen plenty of Christians that were not in the least like
Felix Underwood.'

'So have I; but in proportion as they live up to their faith, they
have what is best in him.'

'I should like to be like him,' mused Fernando; 'I never saw such a
fellow. He, and little Lance too, seem to belong to something bright
and strong, that seems inside and outside, and I can't lay hold of
what it is.'

'One day you will, my dear boy,' said Mr. Audley. 'Let me try to help
you.'

Fernando scarcely answered, save by half a smile, and a long sigh of
relief: but when Mr. Audley put his hand over the long brown fingers,
they closed upon it.




CHAPTER VII

THE CHESS-PLAYER'S BATTLE



'Dost thou believe, he said, that Grace
 Itself can reach this grief?
 With a feeble voice and a woeful eye--
 "Lord, I believe," was the sinner's reply,
 "Help Thou mine unbelief."'
                               SOUTHEY.


By the beginning of the Christmas holidays, Fernando Travis was able
to lie on a couch in Mr. Audley's sitting-room. His recovery was even
tardier than had been expected, partly from the shock, and partly
from the want of vigour of the tropical constitution: and he still
seemed to be a great way from walking, though there was no reason to
fear that the power would not return. His father wrote, preparing for
a journey to Oregon, and seemed perfectly satisfied, and he was
becoming very much at home with his host.

He was much interested in that which he was learning from Mr. Audley,
and imbibing from the young Underwoods. The wandering life he had
hitherto led, without any tenderness save from the poor old negro,
without time to make friends, and often exposed to the perception of
some of the darkest sides of human life, in the terrible lawlessness
of the Mexican frontier, had hitherto made him dull, dreary, and
indifferent, with little perception that there could be anything
better; but first the kindness and then the faith he saw at Bexley,
had awakened new perceptions and sensations. His whole soul was
opening to perceive what the love of God and man might be; and the
sense of a great void, and longing to have it satisfied, seemed to
fill him with a constant craving for the revelation of that inner
world, whose existence had just dawned upon him.

After a little hesitation, Mr. Audley decided on reading with
Geraldine in his presence after he had come into the sitting-room,
explaining to her how he thought it might be helpful. She did not
much like it, but acquiesced: she used to hop in with her sweet
smile, shy greeting, and hand extended to the invalid, who used to
lie looking at her through his long eyelashes, and listening to her
low voice reading or answering, as if she were no earthly creature;
but the two were far too much in awe of one another to go any
farther; and he got on much better with Wilmet, when she looked in on
him now and then with cheery voice and good-natured care.

Then Fulbert and Robina came home; and the former was half
suspicious, half jealous, of Lance's preoccupation with what he chose
to denominate 'a black Yankee nigger.' He avoided the room himself,
and kept Lance from it as much as was in his power; and one day Lance
appeared with a black eye, of which he concealed the cause so
entirely, that Felix, always afraid of his gamin tendencies,
entreated Fulbert, as a friend, to ease his mind by telling him it
was not given in a street row.

'I did it,' said Fulbert; 'he was so cocky about his Yankee that I
could not stand it.'

'Why shouldn't he be kind to a poor sick fellow?'

'He has no business to be always bothering about Fernando here--
Fernando there--Fernando for ever. I shall have him coming up to
school a regular spoon, and just not know what to do with him.'

'Well, Fulbert, I think if you had a broken leg you'd wish some one
to speak to you. At any rate, I can't have Lance bullied for his good
nature; I was very near doing it myself once, but I was shamed out of
it.'

'Were you--were you, indeed?' cried Fulbert, delighted at this
confession of human nature; and Felix could not help laughing. And
that laugh did much to bring him down from the don to the brother. At
any rate, Fulbert ceased his persecution in aught but word.

Robina, always Lance's companion, followed him devotedly, and only
hung about the stairs forlorn when he went to Fernando without her;
or if admitted, she was quite content to sit serenely happy in her
beloved Lance's presence, expecting neither notice nor amusement,
only watching their occupation of playing at draughts. Sometimes,
however, Lance would fall to playing with her, and they would roll on
the floor, a tumbling mass of legs, arms, and laughter, to the
intense diversion of Fernando, to whom little girls were beings of an
unknown order.

So came on Christmas, with the anniversaries so sweet and so sad, and
the eve of holly-dressing, when a bundle of bright sprays was left by
some kind friend at No. 8, and Lance and Bobbie were vehement to
introduce Fernando to English holly and English decking.

Geraldine suggested that they had better wait for either Mr. Audley
or Wilmet to come in, but for this they had no patience, and ran down
with their arms full of the branches, and their tongues going with
the description of the night's carols, singing them with their sweet
young voices as they moved about the room. Fernando knew now what
Christmas meant, but the joy and exhilaration of the two children,
seemed to him strange for such a bygone event. He asked them if they
would have any treat.

'Oh no! except, perhaps, Mr. Audley said he should drink tea one
day,' said Robina. And then she broke out again, 'Hark! the herald
angels,' like a little silver bell.

Suddenly there was a cry of dismay. She had been standing on a chair
over the mantelpiece, sticking holly into the ornaments, behind and
under which, in true man's fashion, a good many papers and letters
had accumulated. One of these papers--by some unlucky movement--fell,
and by a sudden waft of air floated irrevocably into the hottest
place in the fire.

'O dear! oh dear!' wailed Robina.

'That's a pretty go,' cried Lancelot.

'That comes of your open fires,' observed Fernando.

'What was it?' asked Lance.

'I don't know. I think it was a list of names! Oh! how vexed he'll
be, and Wilmet; for she told me never to get on a chair over the
fender, and I forgot.' Bobbie's round face was puckering for a cry.

'No, no, don't cry, Bob; I told you to get up, and I'll say so,' said
Lance, smothering her in his arms after the wont of consoling
brothers.

'I dare say he'll not miss it,' said Fernando good-naturedly; 'he
very seldom meddles with those things.'

Bobbie's great round gray eyes came out over Lance's shoulder, and
flashed amazement and wrath at him. 'I'm not going to tell stories,'
she said stoutly.

'No,' said Lance, equally scandalised; 'I thought you had learnt
better, Fernando.'

Robina, be it observed, was ignorant of Fernando's untaught state.

'I only said you could hold your tongue,' was of course Fernando's
rejoiner.

'That's just as bad,' was the little girl's response.

'But, Lance, you held your tongue about your black eye.'

'That's my affair, and _nobody else's_,' said Lance, flushing up and
looking cross at the allusion.

'And Fulbert told!' added Robina.

'Will they punish you?' asked Fernando.

'I think Wilmet will, because it was disobedience! I don't think
she'll let me have any butter at tea,' Bobbie nearly sobbed. 'Mr.
Audley won't punish! But he'll look--' and she quite cried now.

'And do you like that better than not telling?' said Fernando, still
curious.

She looked up, amazed again. 'I must! I don't like it! But I couldn't
ever have a happy Christmas if I didn't tell! I wish they would come
that I might have it over.'

The street door opened at the moment, and Mr. Audley and Wilmet came
in together from Lady Price's convocation of the parish staff.
Fernando heard the sobbing confession in the passage, and Lance's
assurance that he had been art and part in the disobedience, and
Wilmet gravely blaming the child, and Mr. Audley telling her not to
think so much about the loss as the transgression; and then the door
was shut, and he heard no more, till Mr. Audley came in, examined the
chimney-piece, and performed the elegy of the list in a long low
whistle.

'Is much harm done?' Fernando asked.

'Not much; only I must go and get another list made out, and I am
afraid I shall not be able to come in again before church.'

'I hope they have not punished her?'

'Wilmet recommended not taking the prize prayer-book to church, and
she acquiesced with tears in her eyes. A good child's repentance is a
beautiful thing--


        "'O happy in repentance' school
          So early taught and tried."'


These last words were said to himself as he picked up his various
goods, and added, 'I must get some tea at the Rectory. I am sorry to
leave you, but I hope one of them will come down.'

They did not, except that they peeped in for a moment to wish him
good-night, and regretted that they had not known him to be alone.

As Felix was going out to begin the Christmas Feast in the darkness
of morning, he looked in as he usually did, since Mr. Audley,
sleeping out of the house, never came in till after early church. The
nurse, who still slept in the room, was gone to dress; there was only
a flickering night-light, and the room looked very desolate and
forlorn, still more so the voice that called out to him, 'Felix! oh,
Felix! is that you?'

'Yes. A happy Christmas to you,' said Felix.

'Happy--! there was a sort of groan.

'Why, what's the matter? have you had a bad night? Aren't you so
well?'

'I don't know. Come here, I must speak to you.'

Felix was, as usual, in a great haste, but the tone startled him.

'Felix, I can't stand this any longer. I must let you know what a
frightful, intolerable wretch I've been. I tried to teach Lance to
bet.'

'Fernando!' He was so choked with indignation, he could not say more.

'He wouldn't do it. Not after he understood it. It seems he tried it
with another little boy at school, and one of the bigger ones boxed
his ears and rowed him.'

'Ay; Bruce promised me to look after him.'

'So he refused. He told me he was on his honour to you not to stay if
I did anything your father would have disapproved. He did leave me
once, when I would not leave off.'

'But how could you?'

'I was so bored--so intolerably dull--and it is the only thing on
earth that one cares to do.'

'But Lance had nothing to stake.'

'I could lend him! Ah! you don't know what betting is; why, we all do
it--women, boys and all!' His voice became excited, and Felix in
consternation broke in--'When did you do this?'

'Oh! weeks ago. Before I was out of bed. When I found my dice in my
purse; but I have not tried it since, with him!'

'With whom, then?'

'Why--don't fall on him--with Fulbert. He knew what it meant. Now,
Felix, don't come on him for it. Come on me as much as you please.
I've been a traitor to you. I see it now.'

'Anything but that!' sighed Felix, too much appalled for immediate
forgiving, dejected as was the voice that spoke to him.

'Yes, yes, I know! I see. The worst thing I could do,' said Fernando,
turning his face in on the pillow, in so broken-hearted a manner that
Felix's kindness and generosity were roused.

'Stay, don't be so downcast,' he said. 'There's no harm done with
Lance, and you being so sorry will undo it with Fulbert! I do thank
you for telling me, _really_, only it upset me at first.'

'Upset! Yes, you'll be more so when you hear the rest,' said
Fernando, raising his head again. 'Do you know who set that inn on
fire?'

'Nobody does.'

'Well, I did.'

'Nonsense! You've had a bad night! You don't know what you are
talking about,' said Felix, anxiously laying hold of one of the hot
hands--perceiving that his own Christmas Day must begin with mercy,
not sacrifice, and beginning to hope the first self-accusation was
also delirious.

'Tell me. Didn't the fire begin in the ball-room? Somebody told me
so.'

'Yes, the waiter saw it there.'

'Then I did it; I threw the end of a cigar among the flummery in the
grate,' cried Fernando, falling back from the attitude into which he
had raised himself, with a gesture of despair.

'Nobody can blame you.'

'Stay. It was after father and uncle had gone! I was smoking at the
window of our room, and the landlord came in and ordered me not,
because some ladies in the next room objected. He told me I might
come down to the coffee-room; but I had never heard of such meddling,
and I jawed him well; but he made me give in somehow. Only when I saw
that big ball-room all along the side of the building, I just took a
turn in it with my cigar to spite him. Poor Diego came up and begged
me not, but you know the way one does with a nigger. Oh!'

Felix did not know; but the voice broke down in such misery and
horror, that his soul seemed to sink within him. 'Have you had this
on your mind all this time?' he asked kindly.

'No, no. It didn't come to me. I think I've been a block or a stone.
The dear faithful fellow, that loved me as no one ever did. I've been
feeling the kiss he gave me at the window all to-night. And then I've
been falling--falling--falling in his black arms--down--down to hell
itself. Not that he is there; but I murdered him, you know--and some
one else besides, wasn't there?'

'This is like delirium, really, Fernando,' said Felix, putting his
arms round him to lay him down, as he raised himself on his elbow. 'I
must call some one if you seem so ill.'

'I wish it was illness,' said Fernando with a shudder. 'Oh! don't go-
--don't let me go--if you can bear to touch me--when you know all!'

'There can't be any worse to know. You had better not talk.'

'I must! I must tell you all I really am, though you will never let
your brothers come near me, or the little angels--your sisters. I'd
not have dared look at them myself if I had known it, but things
never seemed so to me before.'

Felix shivered at the thought of what he was to hear, but he gave
himself up to listen kindly, and to his relief he gathered from the
incoherent words that there was no great stain of crime, as he had
feared; but that the boy had come to open his eyes to the evils of
the life in which he had shared according to his age, and saw them in
their foulness, and with an agonised sense of shame and pollution.
Felix could not help asking whether this had long dwelt on his
thoughts.

'No,' he said, 'that's the wonder! I thought myself a nice,
gentlemanly, honourable fellow. Oh!' with a groan. 'Fancy that! I
never thought of recollecting these things, or what they have made
me. Only, somehow, when those children seemed so shocked at my
advising them to hold their tongues about their bit of mischief--I
thought first what fools you all were to be so scrupulous, and then I
recollected the lots of things I have concealed, till I began to
think, Is this honour--would it seem so to Lance--or Felix? And then
came down on me the thought of what you believe, of God seeing it
all, and laying it up against one for judgment; and I know--I know it
is true!' and there came another heavy groan, and the great eyes
shone in the twilight in terror.

'If you know that is true,' said Felix, steadfastly and tenderly,
'you know something else too. You know Whom He sent into the world
for our pardon for these things.'

There was a tightening of the grasp as if in acquiescence and
comfort; but the nurse came back to tidy the room, and still Fernando
clung to Felix, and would not let him go. She opened the shutters,
and then both she and Felix were dismayed to see how ill and spent
her patient looked; for she had slept soundly through his night of
silent anguish and remorse--misery that, as Felix saw by his face,
was pressing on him still with intolerable weight.

By the time the woman had finished Mr. Audley came in, and seeing at
once that Felix's absence was accounted for by Fernando's appearance,
he stepped up at once to the bed, full of solicitude. Felix hardly
knew whether to reply or escape; but Fernando's heart was too full
for his words not to come at once.

'No, I am not worse, but I see it all now.--Tell him, Felix; I cannot
say it again.'

'Fernando thinks--' Felix found he could hardly speak the words
either--'Fernando is afraid that it was an accident of his own--'

'Don't say an accident. It was passion and spite,' broke in Fernando.

'That caused the fire at the Fortinbras Arms,' Felix was obliged to
finish.

'Not on purpose!' exclaimed Mr. Audley.

'Almost as much as if it had been,' said Fernando. 'I smoked to spite
the landlord for interfering, and threw away the end too angry to
heed where. There!' he added grimly; 'Felix won't tell me how many I
murdered besides my poor old black. How many?'

'Do not speak in that way, my poor boy,' said Mr. Audley. At least,
this is better than the weight you have had on your mind so long.'

'How many?' repeated Fernando.

'Two more lives were lost,' said Mr. Audley gently, 'Mr. Jones's baby
and its nurse. But you must not use harder words than are just,
Fernando. It was a terrible result, but consequences do not make the
evil.'

He made a kind of murmur, then turning round, uneasily said, 'That is
not all; I have seen myself, Mr. Audley.'

Mr. Audley looked at Felix, who spoke with some difficulty and
perplexity. 'He has been very unhappy all night. He thinks things
wrong that he never thought about before.'

Mr. Audley felt exceedingly hopeful at those words; but he was
alarmed at the physical effect on his patient, and felt that the
present excitement was mischievous. 'I understand in part,' he said.
'But it seems to me that he is too restless and uncomfortable to
think or understand now. It may be that he may yet see the joy of to-
day; but no more talk now. Have you had your breakfast?'

He shook his head, but Felix had to go away, and breakfast and
dressing restored Fernando to a more tranquil state. He slept, too,
wearied out, when he was placed on his couch, while Felix was at
Christmas service, singing, as he had never sung before,--


     'Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
      God and sinners reconciled.'


Oh! was the poor young stranger seeing the way to that
reconciliation? and when Lancelot's sweet clear young notes rose up
in all their purity, and the rosy honest face looked upwards with an
expression elevated by the music, Felix could not help thinking that
the boy had verily sung those words of truth and hope into the poor
dark lonely heart. Kindness, steadfastness, truth, in that merry-
hearted child had been doing their work, and when Lance marched away
with the other lesser choristers, the elder brother felt as if the
younger had been the more worthy to 'draw near in faith.'

Fernando was more like himself when Felix came in, but he was a good
deal shaken, and listened to the conventional Christmas greeting like
mockery, shrinking from the sisters, when they looked in on him, with
what they thought a fresh access of shyness, but which was a feeling
of terrible shame beside the innocence he ascribed to them.

'I wish I could help that poor boy,' sighed Wilmet. 'He does look so
very miserable!'

And Geraldine's eyes swam in tears as she thought of the loneliness
of his Christmas, and without that Christmas joy that even her
mother's dulled spirit could feel--the joy that bore them through the
recollections of this time last year.

Lance's desire to cheer took the more material form of acting as
Fernando's special waiter at the consumption of the turkey, which Mr.
Audley had insisted on having from home, and eating in company with
the rest, to whom it was a 'new experience,' being only a faint
remembrance even to Felix and Wilmet; but Fernando had no appetite,
and even the sight of his little friend gave him a pang.

'Do you want any one to stay with you!' asked Lance. 'If Cherry
_would_ do--for Felix said he would take Fulbert and me out for a
jolly long walk, to see the icicles at Bold's Hatch.'

'No, I want no one. You are better without me.'

'I'll stay if you do want it,' said Lance, very reluctantly. 'I don't
like your not having one bit of Christmas. Shall I sing you one
Christmas hymn before I go?' And Lance broke into the 'Herald Angels'
again.


     'Mild He lays His glory by,
      Born that man no more may die;
      Born to raise the sons of earth,
      Born to give them second birth.'


Fernando's face was bathed in tears; he held out his arms, and to
little Lance's great amazement, somewhat to his vexation, he held him
fast and kissed him.

'What did you do that for?' he asked in a gruff astonished voice.

'Never mind!' said Fernando. 'Only I think I see what this day can
be! Now go.'

Presently Mr. Audley came softly in. The lad's face was turned in to
his cushion, his handkerchief over it; and as the young priest stood
watching him, what could be done but pray for the poor struggling
soul? At last he turned round, and looked up.

'I saw it again,' he said with a sigh.

'Saw what!'

'What you all mean. It touched me, and seemed true and real when
Lance was singing. What was it--"Born to save the sons of earth"? Oh!
but such as I am, and at my age, too!'

And with a few words from Mr. Audley, there came such a disburthening
of self-accusation as before to Felix. It seemed as if the terrible
effects of his wilfulness at the inn--horrified as he was at them--
were less oppressive to his conscience than his treachery to his host
in his endeavour to gamble with the little boys. He had found a pair
of dice in his purse when looking for the price of a Bible, and the
sight had awakened the vehement hereditary Mexican passion for
betting, the bane of his mother's race. His father, as a clever man
of the world, hated and prohibited the practice; but Fernando had
what could easily become a frenzy for that excitement of the lazy
south, and even while he had seen it in its consequences, the intense
craving for the amusement had mastered him more than once, when
loathing the dulness and weariness of his confinement, and shrinking
from the doctrines he feared to accept. He knew it was dishonourable-
--yet he had given way; and he felt like one utterly stained,
unpardonable, hopeless: but there was less exaggeration in his state
of mind than in the early morning,  and when Mr. Audley dwelt on the
Hope of sinners, his eyes glistened and brightened; and at the
further words that held out to him the assurance that all these sins
might be washed away, and he himself enabled to begin a new life, his
looks shone responsively; but he shook his head soon--'It went away
from him,' he said; poor boy! 'it was too great and good to be true.'

Then Mr. Audley put prayer before him as a means of clinging even
blindly to the Cross that he was barely beginning to grasp, and the
boy promised. He would do anything they would, could he but hope to
be freed from the horrible weight of sense of hopeless pollution that
had come upon him.

For some days he did not seem able to read anything but the Gospels
and the Baptismal Service; and at length, after a long silence, he
said, 'Mr. Audley, if your sermon is finished, can you listen to me?
May I be baptized?'

Then indeed the Curate's heart bounded, but he had to keep himself
restrained. The father's consent he had secured beforehand, but he
thought Fernando ought to write to him; and it was also needful to
consult the Rector as to the length of actual preparation and
probation.

Then, when the question came, 'Can I indeed be like Felix and
Lancelot' the reply had to be cautious. 'You will be as entirely
pardoned, as entirely belonging to the holiness within and without,
as they; but how far you will have the consciousness, I cannot tell;
and it is very probable that your temptations may be harder. Guilt
may be forgiven, while habits retain their power; and they have been
guarded, taught self-restraint, and had an example before them in
their father, such as very few have been blessed with.'

Fernando sighed long and sadly, and said, 'Then you do not think it
will make much difference.'

'The difference between life and death! But you must expect to have
to believe rather than feel. But go on, and it will all be clear.'

The Rector was at first anxious to wait for definite sanction from
the father; but as Mr. Audley was sure of the permission he had
received, and no letter could be had for several months, he agreed to
examine the lad, and write to the Bishop--a new Bishop, who had been
appointed within the last year, and who was coming in the spring for
a Confirmation.

Mr. Bevan was really delighted with the catechumen, and wrote warmly
of him. The reply was, that if the Baptism could take place the day
before the Confirmation, which was to be in a month's time, the
Bishop himself would like to be present, and the youth could be
confirmed the next day. There was much that was convenient in this,
for it gave time for Fernando to make progress in moving about. He
had made a start within the last week or two, was trying to use
crutches, and had been out on fine days in a chair; and once or twice
Lady Price had taken him for a drive, though she had never thought of
doing so by Geraldine. The doctor said that change of air would
probably quite restore his health; and he had only to wait to be a
little less dependent before he was to go to a tutor, an old friend
of the Audley family.

Everything promised well; but one wet afternoon, in the interim
between the end of Lance's and that of Fulbert's holidays, Mr.
Audley, while coming down from a visit to Mrs. Underwood, fancied he
heard an ominous rattle, and opening the door suddenly, found
Fernando and Fulbert eagerly throwing the dice and with several
shillings before them.

Both started violently as he entered, and Fulbert put his arm and
hand round as if to hide the whole affair; while Fernando tried to
look composed.

All that the Curate said in his surprise was one sharp sentence.
'Fernando Travis, if you are to renounce the devil, you will have to
begin by throwing those dice into the fire.'

Fernando's eyes looked furious, and he swept the dice and the money
into his pocket--all but three shillings. Fulbert stole out of the
room quietly. No doubt these were his winnings, which he did not dare
to touch.

Mr. Audley took up a book and waited, fully expecting that sorrow
would follow; but Fernando did not speak; and when at length he did
on some indifferent matter, it was in his ordinary tone. Well, there
must be patience. No doubt repentance would come at night! No; the
evening passed on, and Fernando was ready for all their usual
occupations. Perhaps it would come with Felix, or in the dawn after a
troubled night. Alas! no. And moreover, Felix, to whom it was
necessary to speak, was exceedingly angry and vexed, and utterly
incredulous of there being any good in the character that could be so
fickle, if not deceitful and hypocritical. His own resolute temper
had no power of comprehending the unmanliness of erring against the
better will; he was absolutely incapable of understanding the
horrible lassitude and craving for excitement that must have tempted
Fernando, and he was hard and even ashamed of himself for having ever
believed in the lad's sincerity.

This anger, too, made him speak with such a threatening tone to
Fulbert as to rouse the doggedness of the boy's nature. All that
could be got out of Fulbert was that 'his going there was all Felix's
doing,' and he would not manifest any sign of regret, such as would
be any security against his introducing the practice among the clergy
orphans, or continuing it all his life. He was not a boy given to
confidences, and neither Wilmet nor Cherry could get him beyond his
glum declaration that it was Felix's fault, he only wanted to keep
out of the fellow's way. They could only take comfort in believing
that he was really ashamed, and that he suffered enough within to be
a warning against the vice itself.

As to Fernando, he made no sign, he went on as if nothing had
happened; and nothing was observable about him, but that he showed
himself intensely weary of his present mode of life, put on at times
the manners that were either those of the Spanish Don or of the
Indian Cacique, and seemed to shrink from the prospect of the English
tutor. Yet he continued his preparation for baptism, and Mr. Bevan
was satisfied with him; but Mr. Audley was perplexed and unhappy over
the reserve that had sprung up between them, and could not decide
whether to make another attempt or leave the lad to himself.

One afternoon, only ten days from the time fixed for the Bishop's
visit, Mr. Audley returned from a clerical meeting to find an
unexpected visitor in the room--namely, Alfred Travis, Fernando's
uncle, a more Americanised and rougher person than his brother. He
rose as he entered. 'Good morning, Mr. Audley; you have taken good
care of your charge. He is fit to start with me to-morrow. See a
surgeon in town--then to Liverpool--'

'Indeed!' Mr. Audley caught a deprecating look from Fernando. 'Do you
come from his father?'

'Well--yes and no. His father is still in the Oregon; but he and I
have always been one--and opening the boy's letters, and finding him
ready to move, I thought, as I had business in England, I'd come and
fetch him, and just settle any claim the fellow at yonder hotel may
have cheek enough to set up, since Fernan was green enough to let it
out.'

'May I ask if you have any authority from his father?'

'Authority! Bless you! William will be glad to see his boy; we don't
go by authority between brothers.'

'Because,' continued Mr. Audley, 'I heard from your brother that he
wished Fernando to remain with me to receive an English education.'

'All sentiment and stuff! He knew better before we had sailed! An
English squire in this wretched old country, forsooth! when the new
republic is before him! No, no, Mr. Audley, I'll be open with you. I
saw what you were up to when I got your letter, and Fernan--Got his
lesson very well, he had. And when I came down, a friend in London
gave me another hint. It won't do, I can assure you. That style of
thing is all very well for you spruce parsons of good family, as you
call it in the old country; but we are not going to have a rising
young fellow like this, with a prospect of what would buy out all
your squires and baronets in the old country, beslobbered and
befooled with a lot of Puseyite cant. You've had your turn of him; it
is time he should come and be a man again.'

Mr. Audley was dizzy with consternation. Fernando was no child. He
was full sixteen, and he was so far recovered that his health formed
no reason for detaining him. If he chose to go with his uncle, he
_must_. If not--what then? He looked at Fernando, who sat uneasily.

'You hear what your uncle says?' he asked.

'I told him,' said Fernando, 'I must wait for a fortnight.' He spoke
with eyes cast down, but not irresolutely.

His uncle broke out--He knew what that meant; it was only that he
might be flattered by the Bishop and all the ladies, and made a
greater fool of than ever. No, no, he must be out again by May, and
he should just have time to take Fernan to one of the gay boarding-
houses at Saratoga, and leave him there to enjoy himself.

'I have letters from my father,' said Fernando, looking up to Mr.
Audley, 'before he went to Oregon. He said nothing.'

'Do you wish to stay?' said Mr. Audley, feeling that all depended on
that, and trying to hide the whirl of anxiety and disappointment he
felt.

The answer was not what he expected. Fernando sat upright in his
chair, looked up to him and then at his uncle, and said low but
resolutely, 'I will stay.'

'Then you shall stay,' said Mr. Audley.

'You have worked upon him, I see, sir, with your old-world prejudiced
superstition,' said Alfred Travis, evidently under the delusion that
he was keeping his temper. 'A proper fool my brother was to leave him
to you. But you do it at your peril. I shall see if there's power
even in this old country to keep a boy from his own relations. You'll
see me again, Fernan. You had better make ready.'

The words were not unaccompanied with expletives such as had never
been personally uttered to Charles Audley before, and that brought
the hot colour to his cheek. When he looked round, Fernando's face
was covered with his hands. 'Oh! Mr. Audley,' he cried, as his uncle
hastily shut the door, 'is he going to send for the police?'

'I do not believe he can do any such thing,' said Mr. Audley, seeing
that Fernando was in great nervous agitation. 'I have authority from
your father, he has none; and you are old enough to make your own
decision. You really mean and wish to stay?' he added.

'I told him so from the first,' said Fernando.

'Then he has no power to force you away.'

Fernando was silent. Then he said, 'If I could have gone after my
Baptism.'

'Would you have wished that?' said Mr. Audley, somewhat disappointed.

The tears were now on the long black lashes.

'Oh, don't think me ungrateful, or-- But this English life does come
over me as intolerably dull and slow. No life nor go in it. Sometimes
I feel sick of it; and going back to books and all, after what I have
been used to. If my uncle could wait for my Baptism, or,' more
hesitating, 'if I could be baptized at once. Men do lead Christian
lives out there. I would try to keep from evil, Mr. Audley. I see
your face! Is this another temptation of the devil?'

'I think it is an attempt of his,' said Mr. Audley, sadly. 'Even here
you have not been able to abstain entirely from giving way to your
old passion, when you had little temptation, and felt your honour
bound. What will it be when you have comparatively no restraint?'

'I am resolved not to go unbaptized,' said Fernando. 'I said so from
the first, but he will not wait! Yet if my father sends for me, I
must go.'

'Then it will be your duty, and you will have more right to look for
help. Besides, a summons from your father could not come for three or
four months, and in that time you would have had time to gain
something in Christian practice and training.'

'Oh, there is the bell! Must you go, Mr. Audley? He will come back!'

'I wish I could stay, but Smith is gone to Dearport, and I do not
know whether the Rector is in. Besides, this must be your own doing,
Fernan, not mine. I shall pray for you, that you well know. Pray for
yourself, for this is a real crisis of life. God bless you, my dear
boy.' He laid his hand on the head, and Fernando looked up
gratefully, then said, 'You never did that before. May Lance come to
me, if he has not gone?'

'I will call him,' said Mr. Audley, seeing that he really dreaded
being alone. The little boy was on the stairs with something in his
hand. 'Go in to Fernan,' he was told, 'he wants you. What have you
got there?'

'This queer drawing. Cherry found it in an old portfolio, and has
been copying it.'

It was Ketzsch's outline of the chess-player, and it almost startled
Mr. Audley by its appropriateness. He went out to Evensong, and never
was more glad to get back to reinforce the feeble garrison.

Lance opened the front door to him. 'I'm so glad you are come!' he
said. 'Mr. Bruce is there.'

'Not the uncle?'

'No, only Mr. Bruce.'

Mr. Bruce was a lawyer, and a very respectable man, in whom Mr.
Audley felt confidence. He rose at the clergyman's entrance, and
asked to speak to him in another room, so he was taken into the
little back dining-room, and began--'This is a very unpleasant
business, Mr. Audley; this gentleman is very much annoyed, and
persuaded that he has a right to carry off his nephew; but as I told
him, it all turns upon the father's expressions. Have you any written
authority from him?'

Mr. Audley had more than one letter, thanking him, and expressing
full satisfaction in the proposed arrangements for Fernando; and this
Mr. Bruce thought was full justification, together with the youth's
own decided wishes. The words were likewise clear, by which William
Travis had given consent to his son's Baptism, but there was no
witness of them. Mr. Bruce explained that Alfred Travis, who seemed
to regard Fernando as the common property of the brothers, had come
to him in what he gently termed 'a great state of excitement,'
complaining of a Puseyite plot. He had evidently taken umbrage at the
tone of the letters he had opened for his brother, and had been
further prejudiced by some Dearport timber merchant he had met at
Liverpool, who had told him how the parson had got hold of his
nephew, and related a farrago of gossip about St. Oswald's. He was
furious at the opposition, and could not understand that law in the
old country was powerless in this case, because he was neither father
nor guardian. In fact he seemed to be master of his brother; and Mr.
Bruce told Mr. Audley that it was quite to be considered whether
though law was on his side now, the father might not be brought over
to the brother's side, be very angry at the detention of the boy, and
refuse the payment, which, while he was in America, could not be
forced from him. Of that Mr. Audley could happily afford to run the
risk; and Mr. Bruce said he had also set before the young gentleman
that he might have to suffer much displeasure from his father for his
present refusal, although his right to make it was incontestable. To
this Fernando had likewise made up his mind; and Mr. Bruce, who had
never seen him before, thought he looked utterly unfit for a long
journey and sea voyage, so that the uncle had taken nothing by his
application to the law.

Fernando was flushed and panting, but more resolute, for resentment
at the attempt at force had come to back him up, and rouse the spirit
of resistance. Not half an hour had elapsed before there was another
ring at the door. The uncle and lawyer were come together now. It was
to make a last offer to Fernando; Mr. Alfred Travis offered to take
him up to London the next day, and there to have advice as to the
safety of the voyage, in the meantime letting him be baptized, if
nothing else would satisfy him, but by some London clergyman--not one
of the Bexley set whom the uncle regarded with such aversion.

Fernando drew himself up, and stood, leaning on the end of the sofa.
'Thank you, uncle,' he said, 'I cannot. I am obeying my father now,
and I will not leave those to whom he trusted me.'

There followed a volley of abuse of his English obstinacy and Spanish
pride and canting conceit, which made Mr. Bruce stand aghast, and
Fernando look up with burning cheeks and eyes glowing like hot coals;
but with the Indian impassibility he did not speak till Alfred Travis
had threatened him not only with his father's displeasure, but with
being cast off by both, and left to his English friends' charity.

'My father will not!' said Fernando. 'If he sends for me I will
come.' But there his strength suddenly collapsed, and he was forced
to sit down and lean back.

'Well, Fernan,' said his uncle, suddenly withdrawing his attempt when
he found it vain, 'you seem hardly in marching order, so I'm off by
the night train; but if you change your mind in the next week, write
to me at Peter Brown's--you know--and I'll run down. I will save you
the coming out by yourself. Good-bye.'

Mr. Bruce tarried one moment to aver that he was unprepared for his
client's violence, and that he thought the nephew had done quite
right.

The door was shut, and Mr. Audley came back holding out his hand, but
Fernando did not take it. He was occupied in supporting himself by
the furniture from the sofa to the fireplace, where, holding by the
mantelpiece with one hand, he took his dice from his pocket with the
other, and threw them into the reddest depth. Then he held the hand
to Mr. Audley, who wrung it, and said, 'It has been a hard fight, my
boy.'

Fernando laid his weary head on his shoulder, and said, 'If my father
is not poisoned against me!'

'Do not fear that, Fernando. You are where he left you. You have
given up something for the sake of your new Lord and Master; you will
have his armour another time.'

Fernando let himself be helped to sit down, and sighed. He was
thoroughly worn out, and his victory was not such as to enliven his
spirits. He took up the drawing that lay on the table, and gazed on
it in a sort of dreamy fascination.

'You have checked him this time,' said Mr. Audley.

'Here or there, I will never bet again,' said Fernan solemnly.

'God help me to keep the resolution! It is the one thing that I care
for, and I know I should have begun the first day I was away from
you.'

'I think that with those tastes you cannot make too strong a
resolution against it,' said Mr. Audley.

Their dinner was brought in, but Fernando had no appetite. He soon
returned to his chess player, and seemed to be playing over the game,
but he was too much tired for talk, and soon went to bed; where after
a short sleep feverishness set in, bringing something approaching to
delirium. The nurse had gone a fortnight previously; but as he was
still too helpless to have no one within call, Felix slept on the bed
in the corner of the room.

When he came down the opening of the door was greeted by 'Don't let
him come! Is Mr. Audley there!'

'Yes, he is not gone.'

Then he knew Felix, but soon began again to talk of the game at
chess, evidently mixing up his uncle with the personage with the long
feather.

'He has been checked once. I've taken one piece of his. He is gone
now. Will he come back after my Baptism? No; I shall go to him.'

This lasted till past midnight, when, as they were deliberating
whether to send for Mr. Rugg, he fell soundly asleep, and awoke in
the morning depressed, but composed and peaceful; and this state of
things continued. The encounter with his uncle, and the deliberate
choice, had apparently given some shock to his nerves; and whenever
night recurred, there came two or three hours of misery, and
apparently of temptation and terror. It took different forms.
Sometimes it was half in sleep--the acting over again of one or two
horrible scenes that he had partly witnessed in the Southern States,
when an emancipator had been hunted down, and the slaves who had
listened to him savagely punished. In spite of his Spanish blood, the
horror had been ineffaceable; and his imagination connected it with
the crowd of terrors that had revealed themselves to his awakened
conscience. He seemed to think that if he lost in the awful game of
life, he should be handed over to that terrible slave-master; and
there were times when Diego's fate, and his own lapses, so fastened
on his mind, as to make him despair of ever being allowed to quit
that slave-master's dominions; and that again joined with alarm lest
his uncle should return and claim him.

Sometimes, likewise, the old wandering life, with the flashes of
rollicking mirth and excitement, rather glimpsed at and looked
forward to than really tasted, would become so alluring a contrast to
the flat and tasteless--nay, as it seemed to him, tedious and
toilsome--future sketched out for him, and the restraints and
constant watchfulness of a Christians life appeared so distressing a
bondage, that his soul seemed to revolt against it, and he would talk
of following his uncle at once to London while yet it was time, and
writing to him the next morning. This state was sure to be followed
by a passion of remorse, and sheer delirious terror lest he should be
given up to the enemy, who seemed now to assume to his fancy the form
of his uncle. A great deal was no doubt delirious, and this betrayed
the struggles which he had been for weeks fighting out in silence and
apparent impassiveness; but it was impossible not to feel that
therewith was manifested the wrestling with the Prince of Darkness,
ere his subject should escape from his territory, and claim the
ransom of his manumission. Mr. Audley--after the second night--would
not let Felix remain, but took the watch entirely on himself, and
fought the battle with the foe by prayer and psalm. Sleep used to
come before morning; and by day Fernando was himself again, very
subdued and quiet, and, in fact, having lost a good deal of ground as
to health.

Strange to say, the greatest pleasure he had at this time was sitting
in the upstairs parlour. The custom had begun in consequence of his
nervous shuddering at being left alone lest his uncle should return,
and Felix and Geraldine had then proposed taking him to their mother,
who was rather interested than annoyed by his presence, and indeed
all her gentle motherly instinct was drawn out by his feebleness and
lameness; she talked to him kindly and quite rationally, and he was
wonderfully impressed and soothed by her tenderness. It was so
utterly unlike anything he had ever even seen, that he watched her
with a sort of awe; while Cherry worked, read aloud, or drew, and
felt proud of being able to fetch what was beyond the capacity of her
little errand boy, Bernard.

The children, too, entertained him; he was a little afraid of
Bernard's roughness, but delighted in watching him, and he and little
Stella were intensely admiring friends. She always knew him, cooed at
him, and preferred the gold of his watch-chain to all things in
nature or art. Then when Wilmet, Angela, and Lance came home, and
family chatter began, the weary anxious brain rested; and even in
that room, so sad to most eyes, Fernando began to realise what
Christian peace and cheerfulness could be.




CHAPTER VIII

THE HOME



'Within those walls each fluttering guest
 Is gently lured to one safe nest;
 Without, 'tis moaning and unrest.'
                               KEBLE.


A great delight came to Wilmet and Geraldine the day of the Bishop's
visit, no other than Alda's being able to spend a week with them.
Miss Pearson spared Wilmet that whole afternoon, that she might go up
to meet her at the station, whither she was escorted by a maid going
down to Centry.

There she was, in her pretty black silk, with violet trimmings,
looking thoroughly the grown young lady, but clinging tight to her
twin in an overflow of confused happiness, even while they stood
together to get their first glance of the Bishop, who came down by
the same train, and was met by Mr. Bevan with the carriage.

'I'm glad it is so nice and warm; it is better for Fernan, and Cherry
can go!' said Wilmet, ready for joy about everything.

'Nice and warm! 'Tis much colder than in London,' said Alda, with a
shiver. 'Has Cherry kept well this winter?'

'Quite well. She walks much better. And Marilda?'

'Oh, Marilda is always well. Rude health, her mother calls it. What
do you think she has sent you, Wilmet? A darling little watch! just
like this one of mine!'

'O Alda, you should not have let her. It is too much. Fernan wanted
to give Lance a watch, but Felix would not let him.'

'Yes, but he is not like Uncle Thomas, and it makes you like me.'

'That we shall never be quite again,' sighed Wilmet.

'Oh! a little setting off, and trimming up! I've brought down lots of
things. Aunt Mary said I might. What is this youth like, Wilmet--is
he a boy or a young man?'

'I don't know,' said Wilmet; 'he is younger than Felix, if that helps
you.'

'Well, Americans are old of their age. I have met some at Mr.
Roper's. Oh, and do you know, Mrs. Roper told Aunt Mary that these
Travises are quite millionaires, and that this youth's mother was a
prodigious Mexican heiress. Aunt Mary wants to ask him to Kensington
Palace Gardens, when he comes up to town! I'm glad I am in time for
the christening. Doesn't he have godfathers and godmothers?'

'Yes; he would have nobody but Felix and Mr. Audley, and Lady Price
chose to be his godmother; indeed, there was nobody else.'

'You could not well be, certainly,' laughed Alda. 'Oh! and I've
brought a dress down. I thought some of us might be asked to the
Rectory in the evening.'

'My dear Alda, as if such a thing ever happened!'

'Ah! you see I have been so long away as to forget my Lady's
manners.'

'Mr. Audley is going, and Fernan was asked, but he is not anything
like well enough. So when Mamma and the little ones go to bed, we are
to come down and spend the evening with him.'

'Fancy, Wilmet, I have quite been preparing Marilda for her
Confirmation. She had hardly been taught anything, and never could
have answered the questions if she had not come to me. She is always
asking me what Papa said about this and that; and it is quite
awkward, she will carry out everything so literally, poor dear girl.'

'She must be very good.'

'Oh! to be sure she is! But just fancy, she keeps a tithe of her
pocket-money to give to the Offertory so scrupulously; she would
really not buy something she wanted because it would have been just a
shilling into her tenth. I'm so glad she is confirmed. I never knew
what to do at church before. I couldn't go home by myself, and now a
servant always waits for us. Oh! how fast the poor hotel is building
again! It will brighten our street a little! Dear me, I did not know
how dingy it was!'

Nothing could look dingy where two such fair bright faces were; but
Alda's became awe-struck and anxious as she went up to her mother's
room. Indeed Mrs. Underwood looked up at her rather confused, and
scarcely knowing the fashionable young lady, and it was only when the
plumed hat was laid aside, and the two heads laid together, their
fair locks mingling, that she knew she had her elder twins again, and
stroked their faces with quiet delight.

There was scarcely more than time to kiss the little ones, and
contend with Stella's shyness, before first Lance hurried in and then
Felix, excused from his work two hours earlier. He could only just
run up and dress before he convoyed Geraldine to church, she having
the first turn of the chair, helped her to her seat near the Font,
and then came back for Fernando, who was under his special charge.

Fernando sat looking very pale, and with the set expression of the
mouth that always made Cherry think of Indians at the stake His
little new prayer-book was in his hand, and he was grasping it
nervously, but he said nothing, as Felix helped him up and Lance held
his crutch for him. It was his first entrance into a place of
worship. They had intended to have accustomed him a little to the
sights and sounds, but the weather and his ailment had prevented
them. He was drawn to the porch, and there Felix partly lifted him
out and up the step, while Lance took his hat for him, and as they
were both wanted for the choir procession that was to usher the
Bishop into church, they had to leave him in his place under
Geraldine's protection.

He had not in the least realised the effect of the interior of a
church. St. Oswald's was a very grand old building, with a deep
chancel a good deal raised, seen along a vista of heavy columns and
arched vaults, lighted from the clerestory, and with a magnificent
chancel-arch. The season was Lent, and the colouring of the
decorations was therefore grave, but all the richer, and the light
coming strongly in from the west window immediately over the
children's heads, made the contrast of the bright sunlight and of the
soft depths of mystery more striking, and, to an eye to which
everything ecclesiastical was absolutely new, the effect was almost
overwhelming. That solemnity and sanctity of long centuries, the
peaceful hush, the grave beauty and grandeur, almost made him afraid
to breathe, and Cherry sat by his side with her expressive face
composed into the serious but happy look that accorded with the whole
scene.

He durst not move or speak. His was a silent passive nature, except
when under strong stimulus, and Cherry respected his silence a great
deal too much to break upon it by any information. She was half sorry
when the noise of steps showed that the congregation were beginning
to drop in, chiefly of the other young Confirmation candidates. Then
presently Alda came, and whispered to her that Wilmet could not leave
Mamma; and presently after, Lady Price bustled in with her daughter,
looked severely at Alda under the impression that she was Wilmet very
improperly tricked out, and pressed Fernando's hand before going on
to her own place. Then came the low swell of the organ, another new
sensation to one who had only heard opera music; then the approaching
sound of the voices. Geraldine gave him the book open at the
processional psalm, and the white-clad choir passed by, one of the
first pair of choristers being Lance, singing with all his might, and
that merry monkey-face full of a child's beautiful happy reverence.
And again could be recognised Felix, Mr. Audley, Mr. Bevan, all whom
the poor sick stranger had come to love best, all to his present
perception glorified and beautiful. They had told him it would be all
faith and no sight, but he seemed to find himself absolutely within
that brighter better sphere to which they belonged, to see them
walking in it in their white robes, to hear their songs of praise,
and to know whence came that atmosphere that they carried about with
them, and that he had felt when it was a riddle to him.

And so the early parts of the service passed by him, not so much
attended to or understood as filling him with a kind of dreamy
rapturous trance, as the echoes of the new home, to which he, with
all his heavy sense of past stain and present evil propensity, was
gaining admission and adoption. For the first time he was really
sensible of the _happiness_ of his choice, and felt the compensation
for what he gave up.

When the Second Lesson was ended, and the clergy and the choir, in
their surplices, moved down to encircle the Font, it was as if they
came to gather him in among them. Felix came and helped him up. He
could stand now with one support, and this was his young godfather's
right arm, to which he held tightly, but without any nervous
convulsiveness--he was too happy for that now--during the prayers
that entreated for his being safely gathered into the Ark, and the
Gospel of admission into the Kingdom. He had an impulse to loose his
clasp and stand alone at the beginning of the vows, but he could not;
he had not withdrawn his hand before he was forced again to lean his
weight upon the steady arm beside him.

Nothing had been able to persuade Lady Price that she was not to make
all the vows as for an infant, but luckily nobody heard her except
her husband and the other sponsors, for it was a full, clear,
steadfast voice that made reply, 'I renounce them all!' and as the
dark deep eyes gazed far away into the west window, and Felix felt
the shudder through the whole frame, he knew the force of that
renunciation; and how it gave up that one excitement that the lad
really cared for. And when that final and carefully-guarded vow of
obedience was uttered, the pressure on his arm seemed to show that
the moral was felt of that moment's endeavour to stand alone.

The sound of prayer, save in his own chamber, was so entirely new,
that no doubt the force of the petitions was infinitely enhanced, and
the entreaty for the death of the old Adam had a definite application
to those old habits and tastes that at times exerted their force. The
right hand was ready and untrembling when the Rector took it; the
stream of water glittered as it fell on the awe-struck brow and jetty
hair, and the eyes shone out with a deep resolute lustre as
'Ferdinand Audley' was baptized into the Holy Name, and sworn a
faithful soldier and servant.

He had begged to be baptized by the English version of his name; the
Spanish one had grown up by a sort of accident, and had always been
regretted by his father. He had wished much to take the name of
Felix, but they were so certain that this would not be approved, that
they had persuaded him out of it. He was soon set down again by
Geraldine's side, and she put out her hand and squeezed his hard,
looking up into his face with tearful eyes of welcome.

When the last sounds of the voluntary had died away, and the
congregation had gone, she ventured again to look up at him and say,
'I am so glad!'

'Why did you never tell me it was like this?' he said. 'I should
never have hung back one moment. Now nothing can touch me, since I
belong to _this_.'

'Nothing can _really_,' said Geraldine softly. 'Above all, when it is
sealed to us to-morrow.'

Then there came a movement from the vestry, and the Rector and Mr.
Audley were seen following the Bishop, who came down to where the two
lame children still sat together, and putting his hand upon
Ferdinand's head with the hair still wet, gave him his blessing
before he spoke further. It was only a word or two of congratulation,
but such as to go very deep; and then, seeing that the boy looked not
excited, but worn and wearied, he added, 'You are going home to rest.
I shall see you to-morrow after the Confirmation;' and then he shook
hands with him and with Geraldine, asking if she were the little girl
of whom he had been told.

'She is very young,' said Mr. Bevan, strongly impressed with the
littleness of the figure;' but she has been a Communicant for more
than a year, and she is--a very good child.'

'I can believe so,' said the Bishop, smiling to her. 'I have heard of
your father, my dear, and of your brother.'

Cherry coloured rosy red, but was much too shy to speak; and the
Rector and Bishop went away, leaving only Mr. Audley.

'Are you very much tired, Fernan?'

'I don't know,' he half smiled.

'I think he is; he is too happy to know it,' said Geraldine.

'Please let him go home first.'

So Mr. Audley helped him out to the chair, where Felix, Alda, and
Lance were waiting; and he said, 'Thank you,' and held out his hand,
while Lance eagerly shook it, saying, 'Now it is right at last; and
here's Alda--isn't she a stunner?'

'I thought it was Wilmet,' said Fernan; and Alda went into church to
keep Cherry company, thinking how curiously blind the male sex were
not to distinguish between her dress and poor dear Wilmet's.

Mr. Audley was more than satisfied, he was surprised and comforted.
He had prepared to meet either disappointment or excitement in his
charge; he found neither--only a perfect placid content, as of one
who had found his home and was at rest. The boy was too much tired,
after his many bad nights and the day's exertion, to say or think
much; all he did say was, 'I shall mind nothing now that I know what
it is to be one of you.'

Mr. Audley tried to remember that there must be a reaction, but he
could not bring himself to fear or to warn, or do anything but enjoy
the happiest day of his three years' ministry.

He had to go to the Rectory dinner-party, and leave his neophyte to
the tendance of the Underwoods. Felix sat with his friend in a great
calm silence, while the rest were taken up by the counter-attraction
upstairs, where Alda was unpacking an unrivalled store of presents
from herself and Marilda, useful and ornamental, such as seemed a
perfect embarras de richesses to the homely, scantily-endowed
children. That little gold watch was the prize and wonder of all. It
was the first in the family, except that Felix wore his father's, and
Alda knew how an elder girl was scorned at school if she had none;
but Wilmet, though very happy with hers, smiled, and would not agree
to having met with disrespect for want of it. Then there were
drawing-books for Cherry, and a knife of endless blades for Lance,
and toys for the little ones; and dresses--a suit for Wilmet like
Alda's plainest Sunday one, and Alda's last year's silk for
Geraldine, and some charming little cashmere pelisses--Aunt Mary's
special present to the two babies--things that would lengthen
Wilmet's purse for many a day to come; and a writing-case for Felix;
and all the absent remembered, too. Uncle Thomas had given Alda a
five-pound note to buy presents, and Marilda had sent every one
something besides, mostly of such a matter-of-fact useful type that
Alda stood and laughed at them. And Mrs. Underwood was pleased with
the exhibition, and smiled and admired, only her attention was tired
out at last, and she was taken early to her own room.

The elder ones went down to sit round the fire in Mr. Audley's room,
where Ferdinand insisted on leaving his sofa to Geraldine, and
betaking himself to the easy-chair, where he leant back, content and
happy to watch the others through his eye-lashes. Alda was a little
on her company manners at the first, but all the others were at
perfect ease, as they sat in the dim light. Felix on the floor by
Cherry, who delighted in a chance of playing fondling tricks with his
hair and fingers; the twins in Mr. Audley's big chair, where they
could lean against each other; and Lance cross-legged on the hearth-
rug roasting chestnuts, of which a fellow chorister had given him a
pocketful, and feeding every one in turn.

Geraldine gave a sigh to the wish that poor dear Edgar were there.

'He is very happy!' said Alda.

'Oh yes, but I wish he had not missed being here to-morrow. I wonder
when he will come home.'

'I cannot guess; Aunt Mary wants to go down the Rhine next summer
(only she is not quite sure it is not the Rhone), and if so, I
suppose he would join us there.'

'It is a whole year since we have set eyes on him,' said Felix.

'But I believe he writes more to Cherry than anybody, does not he?'

'Oh yes, and sends me lovely photographs to copy. Such a beauty of
himself! Have you seen it?'

'I should think I had! They have set it up in a little gold frame on
the drawing-room table, and everybody stands and says how handsome it
is; and Aunt Mary explains all about him till I am tired of hearing
it.'

'And Clem?'

'Oh, Clem came to luncheon yesterday. He is very much grown, and
looks uncommonly demure, and as much disposed to set everybody to
rights as ever.'

But Alda did not enter much more into particulars; she led away the
conversation to the sights she had seen in their summer tour; and as
she had a good deal of descriptive power, she made her narratives so
interesting that time slipped quickly past, and the young company was
as much surprised as Mr. Audley was when he came home and found them
all there, not yet gone to bed. They were greatly ashamed, and afraid
they had done Ferdinand harm, and all were secretly very anxious
about the night; but, though the wakeful habit and night feverishness
were not at once to be broken through, yet the last impression was
the strongest, and the long-drawn aisle, the 'dim religious light,'
and the white procession, were now the recurring images, all joyful,
all restful, truly as if the bird had escaped out of the snare of the
fowler. Real sleep came sooner than usual, and Fernan rose quite
equal to the fatigue of the coming day, the Confirmation day, when
again Geraldine had to sit beside him--this newly admitted to the
universal brotherhood, instead of being beside that dear Edgar of her
own, for whom her whole heart craved, as she thought how their
preparation had begun together beside her father's chair.

Their place was now as near the choir as possible, and they were
brought in as before, very early, so that Fernan gazed with the same
eager, unsated eyes into the chancel and at the altar, admitted as he
was farther into his true home.

The church was filled with candidates from the villages round as well
as from the town, and the Litany preceded the rite which was to seal
the young champions ere the strife. The Bishop came down to the two
lame children, and laid his hands on the two bent heads, ere he gave
his final brief address, exhorting the young people to guard
preciously, and preserve by many a faithful Eucharist, that mark
which had sealed them to the Day of Redemption, through all this
world's long hot trial and conflict.

There was holiday at both schools, and Felix had been spared to take
his place in the choir, but Mr. Froggatt could not do without him
afterwards, as the presence of so many of the country clergy in the
town was sure to fill the reading-room and shop; and he was obliged
to hurry off as soon as he came out of church. Now, the Bishop had
the evening before asked Lady Price 'whether that son of poor Mr.
Underwood's' were present among the numerous smart folk who thronged
her drawing-room, to which my lady had replied, 'No; he was a nice,
gentlemanly youth certainly, but, considering all things, and how
sadly he had lowered himself, she thought it better not. In fact,
some might not be so well pleased to meet him.'

The Bishop took the opportunity of trying to learn from the next
person he fell in with, namely, Mr. Ryder, how Felix had lowered
himself; and received an answer that showed a good deal of the
schoolmaster's disappointment, but certainly did not show any sense
of Felix's degradation. And what he said was afterwards amplified by
Mr. Audley, whom the Bishop took apart, and questioned him with much
interest upon both Ferdinand Travis and the Underwood family, of whom
he had only heard, when, immediately after his appointment, his vote
for the orphan school had been solicited for the two boys, and he had
been asked to subscribe to the Comment on the Philippians. Mr Audley
felt that he had a sympathising listener, and was not slow to tell
the whole story of the family--what the father had been, what Felix
now was, and how his influence and that of little Lancelot had told
upon their young inmate. The Bishop listened with emotion, and said,
'I must see that boy! Is the mother in a state in which she would
like a call from me?' but there an interruption had come; and when
the country clergy came in the morning, Mr. Audley had thought it
fittest not to swell the numbers unnecessarily, and had kept himself
out of the way, and tried to keep his fellow-curate.

So he had seen no more of the Bishop, until, some little time after
he and Fernan had lunched, and were, it must be confessed, making up
for their unrestful nights by having both dropped asleep, one on his
chair, the other on the sofa, there came a ring to the door, and
Lance, who had a strong turn for opening it, found himself face to
face with the same tall gray-haired gentleman at whom he had gazed in
the rochet and lawn-sleeves. He stood gazing up open-mouthed.

'I think I have seen you in the choir, and heard you too,' said the
Bishop, kindly taking Lance's paw, which might have been cleaner, had
he known what awaited it. 'Mr. Audley lives here, I think.'

Lance was for once without a word to say for himself, though his
mouth remained open. All he did was unceremoniously to throw wide Mr.
Audley's door, and bolt upstairs, leaving his Lordship to usher
himself in, while Mr. Audley started up, and Ferdinand would have
done the same, had he been able, before he was forbidden.

There was a kindly talk upon his health and plans, how he was to
remain at Bexley till after Easter and his first Communion, and then
Mr. Audley would take him up to London to be inspected by a first-
rate surgeon before going down to the tutor's. The tutor proved to be
an old school-fellow and great friend of the Bishop; and what Fernan
heard of him from both the friend and pupil would have much
diminished his dread, even if he had not been in full force of the
feeling that whatever served to bind him more closely to the new
world of blessing within the Church must be good and comfortable.

This visit over the Bishop asked whether Mrs. Underwood would like to
be visited, and Mr. Audley went up to ascertain. She was a woman who
never was happy or at rest in an untidy room, or in disordered
garments, and all was in as fair order as it could be with the old
furniture, that all Wilmet's mending could not preserve from the
verge of rags. Her widow's cap and soft shawl were as neat as
possible, and so were the little ones in their brown-holland,
Theodore sitting at her feet, and Stella on Wilmet's lap, where she
was being kept out of the way of the more advanced amusement of a
feast of wooden tea-things, carried on in a corner between Angela and
Bernard, under Lance's somewhat embarrassing patronage.

Alda sprang up, stared about in consternation at the utter unlikeness
to the drawing-room in Kensington Palace Gardens, and exclaimed, 'Oh!
if Sibby had only come to take the children out! Take them away,
Lance.'

'Sibby will come presently, or I will take them to her,' whispered
Wilmet. 'I should like them just to have his blessing.'

'So many,' sighed Alda, but meantime Mr. Audley had seen that all
was right at the first coup d'oeil, had bent over Mrs. Underwood,
told her that the Bishop wished to call upon her, and asked her leave
to bring him up; and she smiled, looked pleased, and said, 'He is
very kind. That is for your Papa, my dears. You must talk to him, you
know.'

The Bishop came up almost immediately, and the perfect tranquillity
and absence of flutter fully showed poor Mrs. Underwood's old high-
bred instinct. She was really gratified when he sat down by her,
after greeting the three girls, and held out his hands to make
friends with the lesser ones, whom their sisters led up, Angela
submissive and pretty behaved, Bernard trying to hide his face, and
Stella in Wilmet's arms staring to the widest extent of eyes. The
sisters had their wish--the fatherless babes received the pastoral
blessing; and the Bishop said a few kind words of real sympathy that
made Mrs. Underwood look up at him affectionately and say, 'Indeed I
have much to be thankful for. My children are very good to me.'

'I am sure they are,' said the Bishop. 'I cannot tell you how much I
respect your eldest son.'

The colour rose in the pale face. 'He is a very dear boy,' she said.

'I should like to see him before I go. Is he at home?'

'Lance shall run and call him,' said Alda; but the Bishop had asked
where he was, and Wilmet had, not unblushingly, for she was red with
pleasure, but shamelessly, answered that he was at Mr. Froggatt's,
offering to send Lance in search of him.

'I had rather he would show me the way,' said the Bishop. 'Will you,
my boy?'

The way to Mr. Froggatt's was not very long, but it was long enough
to overcome Lance's never very large amount of bashfulness; and he
had made reply that he went to the Grammar School, and was in the
second form, that he liked singing in the choir better than--no, not
than _anything_--anything except--except what? Oh a jolly good snow-
balling, or a game at hockey. Did he like the school? Pretty well, on
the whole; but he did not suppose he should stay there long, his
brother at the Clergy Orphan said there was such a lot of cads, and
that he was always grubbing his nose among them; but now, 'do you
really think now that cads are always such bad fellows?'

His Lordship was too much diverted to be easily able to speak, but he
observed that it depended on what was meant by a cad.

'That's just it!' exclaimed Lance. 'I'm sure some that he calls cads
are as good fellows as any going.'

'And what does your eldest brother say?'

'Felix! Oh! he does not mind, as long as one does not get into a real
scrape.'

'And then?'

'Oh, then he minds so much that one can't do it, you know.'

'What, does he punish you ?'

'N--no--he never licks any of us now--but he is so horridly sorry--
and it bothers him so,' said Lance. 'Here's old Froggatt's,' he
concluded, stopping at the glass door. 'My eyes! what a sight of
parsons!' (Lance had pretty well forgotten whom he was talking to.)
'There, that's Felix--no, no, not that one serving Mr. Burrowes,
that's Redstone; Felix is out there, getting out the sermon paper for
that fat one, and that's old Froggy himself, bowing away. Shall I go
and call Felix? I suppose he will not mind this time.'

'No, thank you, I will go in myself. Good-bye, my little guide, and
thank you.'

And Lance, when his hand came out of the Bishop's, found something in
it, which proved to be a tiny Prayer-book, and moreover a half-
sovereign. He would have looked up and thanked, but the Bishop and
that 'fat one' were absorbed in conversation on the step; and when he
turned over the leaves of the little blue morocco book, with its
inlaid red cross, he found full in his face, in the first page, the
words, 'Lancelot Underwood, March 15th, 1855,' and then followed an
initial, and a name that utterly defeated Lance's powers, so that
perceiving the shop to be far too densely full of parsons for him to
have a chance there, he galloped off at full speed to Cherry, who
happily could interpret the contracted Latin by the name of the See,
and was not _quite_ so much astonished as Lance, though even more
gratified.

Meantime, the Bishop had made his way to the bowing Mr. Froggatt and
asked to speak with him in his private room, where he mentioned his
kindness to young Underwood, and was answered by a gratified
disclaimer of having done anything that was not of great advantage to
himself. The good man seemed divided between desire to do justice to
Felix and not to stand in his light, and alarm lest he should have to
lose an assistant whom he had always known to be above his mark, and
who was growing more valuable every month; and he was greatly
relieved and delighted when the Bishop only rejoiced at his character
of Felix, and complimented the Pursuivant by being glad that a
paper of such good principles should be likely to have such a youth
on its staff; it had been well for the lad to meet with so good a
friend. Mr. Froggatt could not be denied an eulogium on the father,
for whose sake he had first noticed the son; and when the Bishop had
expressed his sorrow at never having known so bright a light as all
described the late Curate to have been, he courteously regretted the
interruption on a busy day, but he begged just to see the young man.
He had little time himself, but if he could be spared to walk up to
the station--'

Mr. Froggatt bustled out with great alacrity, and taking the charge
of the customer on himself, announced, for the benefit of all who
might be within earshot, 'Mr. Underwood, his Lordship wishes to speak
with you. He wishes you to walk up to the station with him. You had
better go out by the private door.'

Felix was red up to the ears. His eight years' seniority to Lance
were eight times eight more shyness and embarrassment, but he could
only obey; and at his first greeting his hand was taken--'hoped to
have seen you sooner,' the Bishop said; 'but you had always escaped
me in the vestry.'

'I had to go to help my sister, my Lord,' said Felix.

'And your friend, said the Bishop. 'That is a good work that has been
done in your house.'

Felix coloured more, not knowing what to say.

'I wish to see you,' continued the Bishop, 'partly to tell you how
much I honour you for the step you have taken. I wish there were more
who would understand the true uprightness and dutifulness of thinking
no shame of an honest employment. I am afraid you do sometimes meet
with what may be trying,' he added, no doubt remembering Lady Price's
tone.

'I do not care now, not much. I did at first,' said Felix.

'No one whose approval is worth having can consider yours really a
loss of position. You are in a profession every one respects, and you
seem to have great means of influence likely to be open to you.'

'So my father said, when he consented,' said Felix.

'I shall always regret having just missed knowing your father. Some
passages in that book of his struck me greatly. But what I wished to
say was to ask whether there is any way in which I can be useful to
you in the education of any of the younger ones, or--'

'Thank you, my Lord,' said Felix. 'I think you kindly voted for my
brothers last year for the Clergy Orphan school. Only one got in, and
if you would vote again for little Lancelot--'

'My droll little companion, who Mr. Audley tells me did so much for
that poor young American.'

'Indeed he did,' said Felix. 'I doubt if any of us would have got at
him but for Lance, who did not mean anything but good-nature all the
time.'

'He is just the boy I want for our Cathedral school.' And then he
went on to explain that a great reformation was going on. There was a
foundation-school attached to the Cathedral, with exhibitions at the
University, to which the Cathedral choristers had the first claim.
There had been, of course, a period of decay, but an excellent
Precentor had been just appointed, who would act as head master; and
the singing-boys would be kept on free of expense after their voices
became unavailable, provided that by such time they had passed a
certain examination. Such a voice as Lance's was sure to recommend
him; and besides, the Bishop said with a smile, he wanted to raise
the character of the school, and he thought there was the stuff here
that would do so.

Felix could only be thankful and rejoiced; but it was a pang to think
of Lance being as entirely separated from home as was Clement; with
no regular holidays, and always most needed at his post at the great
festivals. There was something in his tone that made the Bishop say,
'You do not like to part with him?'

'No, my Lord; but I am glad it should be so. My father was not happy
about--things here, and charged me to get my brothers away when I
could.'

'And as to holidays, you are near at hand, and most of the choir are
of our own town. I think he may generally be spared for a good term
at each holiday time. The organist is very considerate in giving
leave of absence, even if he should turn out to have a dangerously
good voice for solos. I will let you know when to send him up for
examination, which he will pass easily. Good-bye. You must write to
me if there is anything for me to do for you. One month more, and
your father would have been one of my clergy, remember.'

Felix went back, flushed with gratification, and yet, to a certain
degree, with confusion, and not exactly liking the prospect of being
interrogated as to what the Bishop had said to him: indeed, he never
told the whole of it to any one but Cherry. Somehow, though Wilmet
was his counsellor and mainstay, Geraldine was the sharer of all
those confidences that came spontaneously out of the full but
reserved heart.

Besides, Wilmet was at present in such a trance of enjoyment of her
twin sister, that she seemed scarcely able to enter into anything
else. She went through her duties as usual, but with an effort to
shake off her absorption in the thought of having Alda at home; and
every moment she was not in sight of her darling seemed a cruel
diminution of her one poor fortnight. Indeed it was tete-a-tetes
that her exclusive tenderness craved above all; and she was often
disappointed that Alda should be willing to go and visit Fernan
Travis when they might have had a quarter of an hour together alone.
How much more selfish she must have grown than Alda in this last half
year!

Alda's talk was indeed full of interest, and gave a much better
notion of her way of life than her letters did. She seemed to have
been fully adopted as a daughter of the house, and to enjoy all the
same privileges as Marilda; indeed, she had a good deal more credit
with all varieties of teachers, since she learnt rapidly and eagerly;
and Marilda, while encouraging her successes, without a shade of
jealousy, made no attempt to conquer her own clumsiness and
tardiness. Even 'Aunt Mary,' as Alda called Mrs. Thomas Underwood,
often had recourse to Alda for sympathy in her endeavours to be
tasteful, and continually held her up as an example to Marilda.

'And poor dear good woman,' said Alda, 'she has such a respect for
Underwood breeding and our education, that I believe I could persuade
her into anything by telling her it was what she calls "comifo."
Even when she was going to get the boudoir done with apple-green
picked out with mauve, enough to set one's teeth on edge, and Marilda
would do nothing but laugh, she let me persuade her into a lovely
pale sea-green.'

'Is not sea-green too delicate for her?' asked Cherry.

'Why, it was very wicked of Edgar, to be sure, but he said that it
was to suit the nymph reining in the porpoises. He made a sketch, and
Marilda was delighted with it; she really is the most good-natured
creature in the world.'

'She must be!' ejaculated Wilmet; 'but surely she ought not to like
laughing at her mother.'

'Oh, everybody laughs at Aunt Mary, and she hardly ever finds it out,
and when she does, she does not mind! Even old Mrs. Kedge, her
mother, does nothing but laugh at her for trying to be fine. Old
Granny is not a bit by way of being a lady, you know; she lives in a
little house in the city with one maid, and I believe she rubs her
own tables. I am sure she goes about in omnibuses, though she has
lots of money; and Marilda is so fond of her, and so like her, only
not so clever and shrewd.'

'But why does she live in such a small way?'

'Because she never was used to anything else, and does not like it.
She hates grand servants, and never will come to Kensington Palace
Gardens; but she really is good-natured. She told Clement to drop in
on her whenever he likes, and bring any of his friends; and she
always gives them a superb piece of plum-cake, and once she took them
to the Tower, and once to the Zoological Gardens, for she thinks that
she cannot do enough to make up to them for being bred up to be
little monks, with cords and sandals, and everything popish.'

'You don't let her think so?'

'Well, really when she has got a thing into her head nothing will
uproot it; and, after all, they do carry things very far there, and
Clement goes on so that I don't wonder.'

'Goes on how?'

'Why, just fancy, the other day when Uncle Thomas fetched him in his
brougham because I was coming home, there he sat at luncheon and
would not eat a scrap of meat.'

'Ah! it was a Wednesday in Lent,' said Cherry.

'Only a Wednesday, you know; and _there_, with four or five strange
people, too. One of them asked if he was a Catholic, and of course
Clement looked very wise, and greatly pleased, and said, "Yes, he
was;" and that brought down Aunt Mary with her heavy artillery.
"Bless me, Clement, you don't say so. Is Mr. Fulmort really gone
over?" "Yes," said Clem. (I know he did it on purpose.) "He is gone
over to preach at St. Peter's." And then one of the gentlemen asked
if Clem meant Mr. Fulmort of St. Matthew's, Whittingtonia, and when
he said "Yes, he lived in the clergy house," he began regularly to
play him off, asking the most absurd questions about fasts and feasts
and vigils and decorations, and Clem answered them all in his prim
little self-sufficient way, just as if he thought he was on the high-
road to be St. Clement the Martyr, till I was ready to run away.'

'Couldn't you have given him a hint?' asked Wilmet.

'My dear, have you lived twelve years with Clem without knowing that
hints are lost on him?'

'Dear Clem, he is a very good steady-hearted little fellow,' said
Cherry. 'It was very nice of him.'

'Well, I only hope he'll never come to luncheon again in Lent. There
are times and seasons for everything, and certainly not for display!
And to make it worse, Marilda is the most literal-minded girl.
Fasting was quite a new mind to her, for she never realises what she
does not see; and she got Clem into a corner, where I heard him going
on, nothing loth, about days of abstinence, out of Mr. Fulmort's last
catechising, I should think; and ended by asking what Cousin Edward
did, so that I fully expected that I should find her eating nothing,
and that I should be called to account.'

'And what did you tell her then?'

'Oh, you know I could say quite truly that he did not.'

'I don't think that was quite fair,' said Wilmet gravely. 'You know
it was only because he really could not.'

'You don't know how glad I was to have an answer that would hinder
the horrid commotion we should have had if Marilda had taken to
fasting. And, after all, you know, Papa would have said minding her
mother was her first duty.'

'Why did not you tell her that?'

'I have, dozens of times; but you know there are mothers and mothers,
and nobody can always mind Aunt Mary, good soul! Marilda has just
made herself, with her own good rough plain sense. I wish she was a
man; she would be a capital merchant like her father; but it is hard
to be a great heiress, with nothing she really likes to do. She is
always longing to come down to Centry, and tramp about the lanes
among the cottages.'

'Oh! I wish they would!'

'I don't think Aunt Mary will ever let them, she hates the country;
and though she likes to have a place for the name of the thing, she
does not want to live there, especially where there are so many of
us; and then, Felix's situation!'

'For shame, Alda!'

'Well, I did not say anything myself. It is only Aunt Mary--it is
very foolish of people, but, you see, they _will_. As to Marilda, I
believe she would like to stand behind the counter with him this
minute.'

'Marilda is the oddest and best girl I ever heard of!'

'You may say that. And so ignorant she was! She had a great velvet-
and-gold Church Service, and hardly guessed there was any Bible or
Prayer-Book besides. I am sure Felix cannot have had more work to
teach that youth than I have had with Marilda. Such a jumble as she
had picked up! She really had only little baby prayers to say, till
she saw my book.'

'What a blessing you must be to her!' said Wilmet, fondly looking at
her sister.

'Well, I do hope so. You must know she was regularly struck with dear
Papa. I am sure he is the first saint in her calendar, and everything
is--"What did Cousin Edward say?" And when once she has made up her
mind that a thing is right, she will blunder on through fire and
water, but she will do it.'

'Then,' said Cherry, 'she ought to try and learn, and not to be
awkward because of obedience.'

Alda burst out laughing. 'People can only do what they can. Marilda
trying to be graceful would be worse than Marilda floundering her own
way. But she really is the best and kindest girl living, and she gets
on much better for having me to keep her out of scrapes.'

Wilmet went to bed that night thankful to have Alda's head on the
pillow beside her, and most thankful for the tokens that she watched
among her brothers and sisters, which showed how much her father's
influence was extending beyond his short life.




CHAPTER IX

THE THIRTEEN



'They closed around the fire,
 And all in turn essayed to paint
 The rival merits of their saint;
 A theme that ne'er can tire
 A holy maid, for be it known
 That their saint's honour is their own.'
                                     SCOTT.


The thirteen Underwoods did not meet again in the same house for many
a long day, and when they did, it was on a grey misty morning in the
Christmas week of the year following; and the blinds were down, and
the notes of the knell clashing out overhead, as the door was opened
to Edgar, Alda, and Clement, as they arrived together, having been
summoned late on the previous night by a telegram with tidings that
their mother had been struck by a paralysis. They knew what to expect
when Felix, with one of the little ones on his arm, came quietly down
the stairs and admitted them. All they had to ask, was 'when,' and
'how,' and to hear, that the long living death had ended in peaceful
insensibility at last. Then they followed him upstairs to the room
where the others sat, hushed, over their pen or their books, where
Wilmet, her eyes gushing with quiet tears, held Alda in her embrace,
and Geraldine, after her first eager kiss, gazed wistfully at Edgar
as though there must be comfort in the very sight of him, if she
could only feel it; while the very little ones opened their puzzled
eyes on the newcomers as strangers.

And so they were: Clement had indeed been at home in September, but
Alda not for a year and three-quarters, nor Edgar since he first left
it three years before. The absence of the two latter was not by their
own choice, a doctor who had ordered Mrs. Thomas Underwood to spend
the summer months, year after year, at Spa was partly the cause, and
moreover, during the autumn and winter of 1856 Bexley had been a
perfect field of epidemics. Measles and hooping-cough had run riot in
the schools, and lingered in the streets and alleys of the potteries,
fastening on many who thought themselves secured by former attacks,
and there had been a good many deaths, in especial Clement's chief
friend, Harry Lamb. Nobody, excepting the invalid mother, throughout
the Underwood household, had escaped one or other disorder, and both
fell to the lot of the four little ones, and likewise of Mr. Audley,
who was infinitely disgusted at himself, and at the guarded childhood
for which he thus paid the penalty pretty severely. When matters were
at the worst, and Felix was laid up, and Wilmet found herself
succumbing, she had written in desperation to Sister Constance, whose
presence in the house had made the next three weeks a time of very
pleasant recollections. Finally she had carried off Geraldine,
Angela, and Bernard, to the convalescent rooms at St. Faith's, where
their happiness had been such that the favourite sport of the little
ones had ever since been the acting of Sisters of Mercy nursing sick
dolls. The quarantine had been indefinitely prolonged for the
proteges of Kensington Palace Gardens; for the three at school,
though kept away till all infection was thought to be over, had
perversely caught the maladies as soon as they came home for the
summer holidays; and indeed the whole town and neighbouring villages
were so full of contagion, that Mrs. Thomas Underwood had not far to
seek for a plea for avoiding Centry.

All this time, from day to day, the poor mother had been growing more
feeble, and it had been fully purposed that on Edgar's return at
Christmas, on the completion of his studies at Louvaine, he and Alda
should make some stay at home; but the brother and sister were both
so useful and ornamental that their adopted home could not spare them
until after a series of Christmas entertainments; and Clement had
been in like manner detained until the festival services at St.
Matthew's no longer required him. Indeed, when he had been at home in
the autumn, he had been scarcely recognised.

For the last week, however, Mrs. Underwood had been much clearer in
mind, had enjoyed the presence of her holiday children, and had for a
short time even given hopes that her constitution might yet rally,
and her dormant faculties revive. She had even talked to Mr. Audley
and Geraldine at different times as though she had some such
presentiment herself, and had made some exertions which proved much
increased activity of brain. Alas! though their coming had thus been
rendered very happy, the brightening had been but the symptom and
precursor of a sudden attack of paralysis, whence there was no
symptom of recovery, and which in a few hours ended in death.

For the present, the hopes that had been entertained gave poignancy
to the sudden disappointment and grief, and the home children could
not acquiesce in the dispensation with the same quiet reasonableness
as those who had been so long separated from them as not to miss the
gentle countenance, or the 'sweet toils, sweet cares, for ever gone.'
Indeed Wilmet was physically much exhausted by her long hours of
anxiety, and went about pale-cheeked and tear-stained, quietly
attending to all that was needful, but with the tears continually
dropping, while Geraldine was fit for nothing but to lie still,
unable to think, but feeling soothed as long as she could lay her
hand upon Edgar and feel that he was near.

So the whole thirteen were together again; and in the hush of the
orphaned house there was a certain wonder and curiosity in their
mutual examination and comparison with one another and with the
beings with whom they had parted three years ago, at the period of
their first separation. All were at a time of life when such an
interval could not fail to make a vast alteration in externals. Even
Geraldine had gained in strength, and though still white, and with
features too large for her face, startlingly searching grey eyes, and
brows that looked strangely thick, dark, and straight, in contrast
with the pencilled arches belonging to all the rest, she was less
weird and elfin-like than when she had been three inches shorter, and
dressed more childishly. As Edgar said, she was less Riquet with a
tuft than the good fairy godmother, and her twin sisters might have
been her princess-wards, so far did they tower above her--straight as
fir-trees, oval faced, regular featured, fair skinned, blue eyed, and
bright haired. During those long dreary hours, Edgar often beguiled
the time with sketches of them, and the outlines--whether of
chiselled profiles, shapely heads, or Cupid's-bow lips--were still
almost exactly similar; yet it had become impossible to mistake one
twin for the other, even when Alda had dressed the tresses on
Wilmet's passive head in perfect conformity with her own. Looking at
their figures, Alda's air of fashion made her appear the eldest, and
Wilmet might have been a girl in the schoolroom; but comparing their
faces, Wilmet's placid recollected countenance, and the soberness
that sat so well on her white smooth forehead and steady blue eyes,
might have befitted many more years than eighteen. There were not
nearly so many lights and shades in her looks as in those of Alda and
Geraldine. The one had both more smiles and more frowns, the other
more gleams of joy and of pain; each was more animated and sensitive,
but neither gave the same sense of confidence and repose.

As usually happens when the parents are of the same family, the
inventory of the features of one of the progeny served for almost all
the rest. The differences were only in degree, and the prime
specimens were without doubt the two elder twins and Edgar, with like
promise of little Bernard and Stella.

Edgar had grown very tall, and had inherited his father's advantages
of grace and elegance of figure, to which was added a certain
distinguished ease of carriage, and ready graciousness, too simple to
be called either conceit or presumption, but which looked as if he
were used to be admired and to confer favours. Athletics had been the
fashion with him and his English companions, and his complexion was
embrowned by sun and wind, his form upright and vigorous: and by
force of contrast it was now perceived that Felix seemed to have
almost ceased growing for the last three years, and that his indoor
occupations had given his broad square shoulders a kind of slouch,
and kept his colouring as pink and white as that of his sisters. Like
Wilmet, he had something staid and responsible about him, that, even
more than his fringe of light brown whiskers, gave the appearance of
full-grown manhood; so that the first impression of all the newcomers
was how completely he had left the boy behind him, making it an
effort of memory to believe him only nineteen and a half. But they
all knew him for their head, and leant themselves against him. And in
the meantime, Edgar's appearance was a perfect feast of enjoyment,
not only to little loving Geraldine, but to sage Felix. They
recreated themselves with gazing at him, and when left alone together
would discuss his charms in low confidential murmurs, quite aware
that Wilmet would think them very silly; but Edgar was the great
romance of both.

Edgar observed that Clement had done all the growth for both himself
and Felix, and was doing his best to be a light of the Church by
resembling nothing but an altar-taper. When they all repaired to the
back of the cupboard door in Mr. Audley's room to be measured, his
head was found far above Edgar's mark at fourteen, and therewith he
was lank and thin, not yet accustomed to the length of his own legs
and arms, and seeming as if he was not meant to be seen undraped by
his surplice. His features and face were of the family type, but a
little smaller, and with much less of the bright rosy tinting;
indeed, when not excited he was decidedly pale, and his eyes and hair
were a little lighter than those of the rest. It was a refined,
delicate, thoughtful face, pretty rather than handsome, and its only
fault was a certain melancholy superciliousness or benignant pity for
every one who did not belong to the flock of St. Matthew's.

Regular features are always what most easily lose individuality, and
become those of the owner's class; and if Clement was all chorister,
Fulbert and Lancelot were all schoolboy. The two little fellows were
a long way apart in height, though there were only two years between
them, for Lance was on a much smaller scale, but equally full of
ruddy health and superabundant vigour; and while Fulbert was the more
rough and independent, his countenance had not the fun and sweetness
that rendered Lance's so winning. Their looks were repeated in
Robina, who was much too square and sturdy for any attempt at beauty,
and was comically like a boy and like her brothers, but with much
frank honesty and determination in her big grey darkly-lashed eyes.
Angela was one of the most altered of all; for her plump cherub
cheeks had melted away under the glow of measles, and the hooping
process had lengthened and narrowed her small person into a demure
little thread-paper of six years old, omnivorous of books, a pet and
pickle at school, and a romp at home--the sworn ally, offensive and
defensive, of stout, rough-pated, unruly Bernard. Stella was the
loveliest little bit of painted porcelain imaginable, quite capable
of being his companion, and a perfect little fairy, for beauty,
gracefulness, and quickness of all kinds. Alda was delighted with her
pretty caressing ways and admiration of the wonderful new sister. She
was of quieter, more docile mood than these two, though aspiring to
their companionship; for it was startling to see how far she had left
Theodore behind. He was still in arms, and speechless, a little pale
inanimate creature, taking very little notice, and making no sound
except a sort of low musical cooing of pleasure, and a sad whining
moan of unhappiness, which always recurred when he was not in the
arms of Sibby, Wilmet, or Felix. It was only when Felix held out his
arms to take him that the sound of pleasure was heard; and once on
that firm knee, with his shining head against that kind heart, he was
satisfied, and Felix had accustomed himself to all sorts of
occupations with his little brother in his left arm. Even at night,
there was no rest for Theodore, unless Felix took him into his room.
So often did the little fretting moan summon him, that soon the crib
took up his regular abode beside his bed. But Felix, though of course
spared from the shop, could not be dispensed with from the printing-
house, where he was sub-editor; and in his absence Theodore was
always less contented; and his tearless moan went to his sister's
heart, for the poor little fellow had been wont to lie day and night
in his mother's bosom, and she had been as uneasy without him as he
now was without her. All her other babes had grown past her helpless
instinctive tenderness, and Theodore's continued passiveness had been
hitherto an advantage, which had always been called his 'goodness and
affection.'

Alda was the first to comment on the wonderful interval between the
twins, when Wilmet accounted for it by Theodore's having been quite
kept back for his mother's sake, and likewise by his having been more
reduced by measles and hooping-cough than Stella had been; but to
fresh observers it was impossible to think that all was thus
explained, and Edgar and Alda discussed it in a low voice when they
found themselves alone.

'The fact is plain,' said Edgar; 'but I suppose nothing can be done,
and I see no use in forcing it on poor Wilmet.'

'I don't understand such blindness.'

'Not real blindness--certainly not on Felix's part. He knows that
load is on his back for life. Heigh-ho! a stout old Atlas we have in
Blunderbore; I wonder how long I shall be in plucking the golden
apples, and taking a share.'

'I thought it was Atlas that gathered the apples.'

'Don't spoil a good simile with superfluous exactness, Alda! It is
base enough to compare the gardens of the Hesperides to a merchant's
office! I wonder how many years it will take to get out of the
drudgery, and have some power of enjoying life and relieving Felix.
One could tear one's hair to see him tied down by this large family
till all his best days are gone.'

'Some of the others may get off his hands, and help.'

'Not they! Clem is too highly spiritualised to care for anything so
material as his own flesh and blood; and it is not their fault if
little Lance does not follow in his wake. Then if Ful has any brains,
he is not come to the use of them; he is only less obnoxious than
Tina in that he is a boy and not a church candle, but boys are
certainly a mistake.'

If ever the mature age of seventeen could be excused for so regarding
boyhood, it was under such circumstances. All were too old for any
outbreaks, such as brought Angela and Bernard to disgrace, and
disturbed the hush of those four sad days; but the actual loss had
been so long previous, that the pressure of present grief was not so
crushing as to prevent want of employment and confinement in that
small silent house from being other than most irksome and tedious.

Clement would have done very well alone; he went to church, read,
told Angela stories, and discoursed to Cherry on the ways of St.
Matthew's; but, unfortunately, there was something about him that
always incited the other boys to sparring, nor was he always
guiltless of being the aggressor, for there was no keeping him in
mind that comparisons are odious.

Church music might seem a suitable subject, but the London chorister
could not abstain from criticising St. Oswald's and contemning the
old-fashioned practices of the Cathedral, which of course Lance
considered himself bound to defend, till the very names of Gregorians
and Anglicans became terrible to Cherry as the watchwords of a
wrangling match. Fulbert, meantime, made no secret of his contempt
for both brothers as mere choristers instead of schoolboys, and
exalted himself whenever he detected their ignorance of any choice
morceau of slang; while their superior knowledge on any other point
was viewed as showing the new-fangled girlish nonsense of their
education.

This Lance did not mind; but he was very sensitive as to the dignity
of his Cathedral, and the perfections of his chosen friend, one Bill
Harewood; and Fulbert was not slow to use the latter engine for
'getting a rise' out of him, while Clement as often, though with less
design, offended by disparagement of his choir; nor could Edgar
refuse himself the diversion of tormenting Clement by ironical
questions and remarks on his standard of perfection, which mode of
torture enchanted Fulbert, whenever he understood it. Thus these four
brothers contrived to inflict a good amount of teasing on one
another, all the more wearing and worrying because deprived of its
only tolerable seasoning, mirth.

Clement had indeed a refuge in Mr. Audley's room, where he could find
books, and willing ears for Mr. Fulmort's doings; but he availed
himself of it less than might have been expected. Whether from
inclination to his brothers' society, desire to do them good, or
innate pugnacity, he was generally in the thick of the conflict; and
before long he confided to Felix that he was seriously uneasy about
Edgar's opinions.

'He is only chaffing you,' said Felix.

'Chaff, _now_!' said Clement.

'Well, Clem, you know you are enough to provoke a saint, you bore so
intolerably about St. Matthew's.'

The much disgusted Clement retired into himself, but Felix was not
satisfied at heart.

_One_ was lacking on the cold misty New Year's morning, when even
Geraldine could not be withheld from the Communion Feast of the
living and departed. Each felt the disappointment when they found
themselves only six instead of seven, but it was Clement who, as the
boys were waiting for breakfast afterwards, began--

'Have not you been confirmed, Edgar?'

'How should I?'

'I am sure there are plenty of foreign Confirmations. I see them in
the British Catholic.'

'Foreign parts isn't all one,' said Edgar; and the younger boys
sniggled.

'If one took any trouble,' persisted Clement.

'Yes, but _one_,' dwelling with emphasis on the awkward impersonal,
'one may have scruples about committing an act of schism by
encouraging an intruding bishop performing episcopal functions in
another man's diocese. Has not your spiritual father taught you that
much, Tina?'

'I--I must find out about that,' said Clement thoughtfully; 'but, at
any rate, the Lent Confirmations are coming on in London, and if I
were to speak to the Vicar, I have no doubt he would gladly prepare
you.'

'Nor I,' answered Edgar.

'Then shall I?' eagerly asked Clement.

'Not at present, thank you.'

Clement stood blank and open mouthed, and Fulbert laughed, secure
that the joke, whatever it might be, was against him.

'Of course,' burst out Lance, 'Edgar does not want you to speak for
him, Clem; he has got a tongue of his own, and a clergyman too, I
suppose.'

Clement proceeded to a disquisition, topographical and censorial,
upon the parish and district to which Edgar might be relegated, and
finally exclaimed, 'Yes, he is not much amiss. He has some notions.
He dines with us sometimes. You can go to him, Edgar, and I'll get
the Vicar to speak to him.'

'Thank you, I had rather be excused.'

'You cannot miss another Confirmation.'

'I can't say I am fond of pledges, especially when no one can tell
how much or how little they mean.

Whether this were in earnest, or a mere thrust in return for
Clement's pertinacity, was undecided, for Wilmet came in, looking so
sad and depressed that the brothers felt rebuked for the tone in
which they had been speaking.

Mr. Thomas Underwood soon arrived, having come to Centry the night
before; and after a few words had passed between him and Edgar, the
latter announced his intention of returning with him to London that
evening.

'Very well,' said Felix, much disappointed at this repetition of
Edgar's willingness to hurry from the house of mourning, 'but we have
had very little of you; Clement must go on the day after Twelfth Day,
and we shall have more room. It will be a great blow to Cherry.'

'Poor little Cherry! I'll come when I can see her in greater peace,
but I must buckle to with the beginning of the year, Fee.'

There was no further disputing the point, but Edgar was always a
great loss. To every one except Clement he was so gentle and
considerate that it was impossible not to think that the strange
things reported of him were not first evoked and then exaggerated by
the zeal of the model chorister: and indeed he led Geraldine to that
inference when he went to her in the sitting-room, where, as before,
she had to remain at home.

'My Cherry, I find I must go back with old Tom. Don't be vexed, my
Whiteheart, I am not going back to Belgium, you know: I can often run
down, but my work ought to begin with the year.'

'You cannot even stay over the Epiphany!'

'Well, I would have made an effort, but I am really wanted; and then
if I am long with that light of the church, Tina, he will get me into
everybody's black books. Never mind, old girl. I'll be for ever
running down. Is any one going to stay with you?'

'Bernard is coming presently; I must try to make him recollect
something about it.'

'You don't mean that child Angel is going.'

'She wishes it, and it seems right.'

'Right to leave a black spot in her memory! If children could but
believe people were sublimated away!'

'Children can believe in the Resurrection of the body as well as we,'
said Cherry reverently.

'Better, too, by a long chalk,' he muttered; then perceiving her
dismayed expression, he added, 'No, no--I'm not talking to Tina, only
he has put me in the humour in which there is nothing he could not
make me dispute--even my Cherry being the sweetest morsel in the
world. There, good-bye for the present, only don't afflict that poor
little Bernard and yourself into too great wretchedness, out of a
sense of duty.'

'No, I do not really grieve,' said Cherry. 'Tears come for
thankfulness. The real sorrow came long ago; we grew up in it, and it
is over now.'

'Right, little one. The mortal coil was very heavy and painful these
last years, and no one can help being relieved that the end has come.
It is the conventionalities that are needlessly distressing. What
earthly purpose can it serve save the amusement of the maids and
children of Bexley, that nine of us should present ourselves a
pitiful spectacle all the way up to the cemetery in veils and
hatbands?'

'Don't talk so, Edgar; you do not know how it jars, though I know you
mean no disrespect.'

'Well, it must be a blessed thing to end by drowning or blowing up,
to save one's friends trouble.'

'Edgar, indeed I cannot bear this! Recollect what a treasure that
dear shattered earthen vessel has held. What a wonderful life of
patient silent resignation it was!'

'Indeed it was,' said Edgar, suddenly softened. 'No lips could tell
what the resolution must have been that carried her through those
years, never murmuring. What must she not have spared my father! Such
devotion is the true woman's heritage.'

Cherry was soothed as she saw the dew on his eye-lashes, but just
then Felix came in to fetch him, and, stooping down, kissed her, and
said in his low and tender but strong voice, 'We leave her with him,
dear child. Recollect--


     '"The heart may ache, but may not burst:
       Heaven will not leave thee, nor forsake."'


Much as Geraldine had longed for Edgar, his words brought vague
yearning and distress, while Felix's very tone gave support. How
could Edgar say patient, silent, self-devotion was not to be found
except in woman?

So the worn-out body that once had been bright smiling Mary Underwood
was borne to the church she had not entered since she had knelt there
with her husband; and then she was laid beside him in the hillside
cemetery, the graves marked by the simple cross, for which there had
been long anxious saving, the last contribution having been a quarter
of the Bishop's gift to Lancelot. The inscription was on the edges of
the steps, from which the cross rose--


            UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE.

           EDWARD FULBERT UNDERWOOD,

       NINE YEARS CURATE of THIS PARISH,

               EPIPHANY, 1855,

                  AGED 40.

      'Thy Rod and Thy Staff comfort me.'


There was room enough for the name of Mary Wilmet, his wife, to be
added at the base of the Rood, that Cross which they had borne, the
one so valiantly, the other so meekly, during their 'forty years in
the wilderness.'

Many persons were present out of respect not only to the former
Curate, but to his hard-working son and daughter, and not only the
daughter's holly-wreath, but one of camellias sent by Sister
Constance, lay upon the pall. When the mourners had turned away, Mr.
Audley saw a slender lad standing by, waiting till the grave was
smoothed to lay on it a wreath of delicate white roses and ferns.
There was no mistaking the clear olive face; and indeed Mr. Audley
had kept up a regular correspondence with Ferdinand Travis, and knew
that the vows made two years ago had been so far persevered in, and
without molestation from father or uncle. He had written an account
of Mrs. Underwood's death, but had received no answer.

'This is kind, Ferdinand,' he said, 'it will gratify them.'

'May I see any of them?' the youth asked.

'Felix and Lance will be most glad.'

'I only received your letter yesterday evening. Dr. White forwarded
it to me in London, and I persuaded my father to let me come down.'

'You are with your father?'

'Yes; he came home about a fortnight ago. I was going to write to
you.  O Mr. Audley, if you are not in haste, can you tell me whether
I can see my dear Diego's grave?'

'The Roman Catholic burial-ground is on the other side of the town. I
think you will have to go to Mr. Macnamara for admittance. Come home
with me first, Fernan.'

'Home!' he said warmly. 'Yes, it has always seemed so to me! I have
dreamt so often of her gentle loving face and tender weak voice. She
was very kind to me;' and he raised his hat reverently, as he placed
the flowers upon the now completed grave. 'I saw that all were here
except the little ones and Geraldine,' he added. 'How is she?'

'As well as usual. Wilmet is a good deal worn and downcast, but all
are calm and cheerful. The loss cannot be like what that of their
father was.'

'Will they go on as they are doing now?'

'I trust so. I am going down to the family consultation. The London
cousin is there.'

'Then perhaps I had better not come in,' said Ferdinand, looking
rather blank. 'Shall I go down to Mr. Macnamara first?'

'Had you rather go alone, or shall I send Lance to show you the way?'

'Dear little Lance, pray let me have him!'

'It is a longish walk. Is your lameness quite gone?'

'Oh yes, I can walk a couple of miles very well, and when I give out
it is not my leg, but my back. They say it is the old jar to the
spine, and that it will wear off when I have done growing, if I get
plenty of air and riding. This will not be too much for me, but I
must be in time for the 3.30 train, I promised my father.'

'Is he here alone?'

'Yes, my uncle is in Brazil. My father is here for a month, and is
very kind; he seems very fairly satisfied with me; and he wants me to
get prepared for the commission in the Life Guards.'

'The Life Guards!'

'You see he is bent on my being an English gentleman, but he has some
dislike to the University, fancies it too old-world or something;
and, honestly, I cannot wish it myself. I can't take much to books,
and Dr. White says I have begun too late, and shall never make much
of them.'

'If you went into the Guards, my brother might be a friend to you.'

'My back is not fit for the infantry,' said Ferdinand, 'but I can
ride anything; I always could. I care for nothing so much as horses.'

'Then why not some other cavalry regiment?'

'Well, my father knows a man with a son in the Life Guards, who has
persuaded him that it is the thing, and I don't greatly care.'

'Is he prepared for the expensiveness?'

'I fancy it is the recommendation,' said Ferdinand, smiling with a
little shame; 'but if you really see reason for some other choice
perhaps you would represent it to him. I think he would attend to you
in person.'

'Have you positively no choice, Fernan?'

'I never like the bother of consideration,' said Ferdinand, 'and in
London I might have more chance of seeing you and other friends
sometimes. I do know that it is not all my father supposes, but he
thinks it is all my ignorance, and I have not much right to be
particular.'

'Only take care that horses do not become your temptation,' said Mr.
Audley.

'I know,' gravely replied Ferdinand. 'The fact is,' he added, as they
turned down the street, 'that I do not want to go counter to my
father if I can help it. I have not been able to avoid vexing him,
and this is of no great consequence. I can exchange, if it should not
suit me.'

'I believe you are right,' said the Curate; 'but I will inquire and
write to you before the application is made. Wait, and I will send
out Lance. But ought you not to call at the Rectory?'

'I will do so as I return,' said Ferdinand; and as Mr. Audley entered
the house, he thought that the making the Cacique into an English
gentleman seemed to have been attained as far as accent, mind, and
manner went, and the air and gesture had always been natural in him.
His tone rather than his words were conclusive to the Curate that his
heart had never swerved from the purpose with which he had stood at
the Font; but the languor and indolence of the voice indicated that
the tropical indifference was far from conquered, and it was an
anxious question whether the life destined for him might not be
exceptionally perilous to his peculiar temperament of nonchalance and
excitability.

Consideration was not possible just then, for when Mr. Audley opened
the door, he found that he had been impatiently waited for, and
barely time was allowed to him to send Lance to Ferdinand Travis,
before he was summoned to immediate conference with Thomas Underwood,
who, on coming in, had assumed the management of affairs, and on
calling for the will, was rather displeased with Felix's protest
against doing anything without Mr. Audley, whom he knew to have been
named guardian by his father. The cousin seemed unable to credit the
statement; and Wilmet had just found the long envelope with the black
seal, exactly as it had lain in the desk, which had never been
disturbed since the business on their father's death had been
finished.

There was the old will made long before, leaving whatever there was
to leave unconditionally to the wife, with the sole guardianship of
the children; and there was the codicil dated the 16th of October
1854, appointing Charles Somerville Audley, clerk, to the
guardianship in case of the death of the mother, while they should
all, or any of them, be under twenty-one, and directing that in that
contingency the property should be placed in his hands as trustee,
the interest to be employed for their maintenance, and the capital to
be divided equally among them, each receiving his or her share on
coming of age. All this was in Edward Underwood's own handwriting,
and his signature was attested by the Rector and the doctor.

Thomas Underwood was more 'put out,' than the management of such an
insignificant sum seemed to warrant. He was no doubt disappointed of
his cousin's confidence, as well as of some liberal (if domineering)
intentions; and he was only half appeased when Edgar pointed to the
date, and showed that the arrangement had been made before the
renewal of intercourse. 'It was hardly fair to thrust a charge upon a
stranger when there was a relation to act. Poor Edward, he ought to
have trusted,' he said. There was genuine kindness of heart in the
desire to confer benefits, though perhaps in rather an overbearing
spirit, as well as disappointment and hurt feeling that his cousin
had acquiesced in his neglect without an appeal. However, after
asking whether Mr. Audley meant to act, and hearing of his decided
intention of doing so, he proceeded to state his own plans for them.
The present state of things could not continue, and he proposed that
Wilmet and Geraldine should go as half boarders to some school, to be
prepared for governesses. Felix--could he write shorthand? 'Oh yes;
but--' Then he knew of a capital opening for him, a few years, and he
would be on the way to prosperity: the little ones might be boarded
with their old nurse till fit for some clergy orphan schools; if the
means would not provide for all, there need be no difficulty made on
that score.

Mr. Audley saw Felix's start of dismay and glance at him, but knowing
as he did that the lad was always more himself when not interfered
with, and allowed to act for himself, he only said, 'It is very kind
in you, sir, but I think Felix should be consulted.'

'It is impossible!' began Felix hastily.

'Impossible! It is quite impossible, I would have you to understand,
that a lot of children like you should keep house together, and on
such an income as that. Quite preposterous.'

'As for that,' said Felix, still unsubmissively, 'it is only what we
have been doing, except for the name of the thing, for the last three
years on the same means.'

'You don't mean to tell me that you have kept things going on such
means without a debt?'

'Of course we have! We never let a bill run,' said Felix, slightly
indignant.

'Now mind, I'm not insulting you, Felix, but I know what the women
are and what they tell us. Are you sure of that? No debts--honour
bright?'

'None at all!' said Felix, with an endeavour at calmness, but glowing
hotly. 'I help my sister make up her books every Saturday night. We
always pay ready money.'

'Humph,' said Mr. Underwood, still only half convinced. 'Living must
be cheap at Bexley.'

'You had better explain a little, Felix,' said Mr. Audley.

Felix did bring himself to say, 'I am sub-editor now, and get 100
pounds a year, besides being paid for any article I write. Wilmet has
25 pounds a year and her dinner, and Angela's at school, so there are
only five of us constantly dining at home, and with Mr. Audley's two
guineas a week we can do very well.'

'What, you lodge here?'

'Did not you know that?' said Felix surprised.

Mr. Underwood gave a whistle, and the Curate felt his cheeks growing
redder and redder, as he perceived that seven-and-twenty was not
considered as so very much older than eighteen. Edgar understood and
smiled, but Felix only thought he was suspected of making a good
thing of his lodger, and was beginning something awkward about, 'It
is all kindness,' when Mr. Audley broke in--

'Of course nothing is settled yet, but--but I believe I shall change
my quarters. A smaller house would be better for them; but I think
the children should keep together. Indeed, my dear friend said he
chiefly appointed me that Felix might be kept at their head.'

Thereupon Mr. Underwood began to expostulate against the sacrifice of
position and talent that Felix was making for the sake of bearing the
burthen of a family that would have pressed heavily on a man double
his age. It was what Felix already knew, much better than when at
sixteen he had made his first venture. He had experienced the effects
of change of station, as well as of exertion, drudgery, and of the
home hardship that no one except Mr. Audley had tried to sweeten. He
saw how Edgar had acquired the nameless air and style that he was
losing, how even Clement viewed him as left behind; and, on the other
hand, he knew that with his own trained and tested ability and
application, and his kinsman's patronage, there was every reasonable
chance of his regaining a gentleman's position, away from that half-
jealous, half-conceited foreman, who made every day a trial to him,
and looked at him with an evil eye as a supplanter in the post of
confidence. But therewith he thought of his father's words, that to
him he left this heavy burthen, and he thought what it would be to
have no central home, no place of holiday-meeting, no rallying-point
for the boys and girls, and to cast off the little ones to hired
service, this alternative never seriously occurred to him, for were
they not all bound to him by the cords of love, and most closely the
weakest and most helpless? Yet his first reply did not convey the
weight of his determination. It was only 'Geraldine is too delicate.'

'Well, well, good advice and treatment might make a change. Or, if
she be fit for nothing else, would not that Sisterhood at Dearport
take her on reasonable terms? Not that I can away with such nonsense,
but your father had his fancies.'

'My father wished us not to break up the home.'

'That was all very well when your poor mother was alive. You have
been a good son to her, but it is impossible that you and your
sister, mere children as you are, should set up housekeeping by
yourselves.  Mr. Audley must see it cannot be suffered; it is the
bounden duty of your friends to interfere.'

Mr. Audley did not speak. He knew that Felix could reckon on his
support; and, moreover, that the youth would show himself to greater
advantage when not interfered with. So after pausing to see whether
his guardian would speak, Felix said, 'Of course we are in Mr.
Audley's power, but he knows that we have made some trial, and except
in name we have really stood alone for these three years. Wilmet can
quite manage the house, and it would be misery for ever to us all to
have no home. In short--' and Felix's face burnt, his voice choked,
and his eyes brimmed over with hot indignant tears, as he concluded,
'it shall never be done with my good will.'

'And under the circumstances,' said Mr. Audley, 'I think Felix is
right.'

'Very well,' said Thomas Underwood, much displeased. 'I have no power
here, and if you and that lad think he can take charge of a house and
a dozen children, you must have it your own way. Only, when they have
all gone to rack and ruin, and he is sick of being a little tradesman
in a country town, he will remember what I said.'

Felix forced back his resentful feelings, and contrived to say, 'Yes,
sir, I know it is a great disadvantage, and that you only wish for
our good; but I do not think anything would be so bad for the
children as to be all cast about the world, with no place to go to,
and becoming strangers to one another; and since there is this way of
keeping them together, it seems right.'

The steadiness of his manner struck Mr. Underwood, and the reply was
not unkind.

'You are a good boy at bottom, Felix, and mean well, and I am only
sorry not to be able to hinder you from throwing yourself away for
life by trying to do what is morally impossible, in a foolish spirit
of independence. Do not interrupt. I warn you that I am not to be
appealed to for getting you out of the difficulties you are plunging
into; but of course your brother and sister will be mine as before;
and as I promised myself to do the same by your mother as by your
father--my near cousins both--here is to cover necessary expenses.'

It was a cheque for 150, pounds the same as he had given on the former
occasion; and though Felix had rather not have taken it, he had
little choice, and he brought himself to return cold but respectful
thanks; and Mr. Underwood did not manifest any more displeasure, but
showed himself very kind at the meal that was spread in Mr. Audley's
sitting-room, and even invited Wilmet to accompany Alda, when she
joined the family in a week's time at Brighton, so as to have sea air
for the remainder of her holidays.

Nothing could be more reluctant than was Wilmet at first, but there
was a chorus of persuasions and promises; and the thought of being a
little longer in Alda's presence made her waver and almost consent.

Ferdinand Travis came in, but had only time for a greeting and a
hasty meal, before Mr. Underwood's carriage came round; and, nothing
loth, he gave a lift to the Mexican millionaire to the station with
him and Edgar. So, for the last time, had all the thirteen been at
home together.




CHAPTER X

THE FAMILY COBWEB ON THE MOVE



'Oh! the auld house, the auld house,
   What though the rooms were wee;
 Oh! kind hearts were dwelling there,
   And bairnies full of glee.'
                           Lady Nairn.


Every one except Edgar would, it was hoped, stay at home till after
the Epiphany, that most marked anniversary of birth and death.

Clement at first declared it impossible, for St. Matthew's could not
dispense with him on the great day; and Fulbert grinned, and nudged
Lance at his crest-fallen looks, when he received full leave of
absence for the next three weeks.

But Lance was bursting with reverse troubles. The same post had
brought him a note from his organist; and that 'stupid old Dean' as
he irreverently called him, had maliciously demanded 'How beautiful
are the feet,' with the chorus following, and nobody in the choir was
available to execute the solo but Lance. He had sung it once or twice
before; and if he had the music, and would practise at home, he need
only come up by the earliest train on the Epiphany morning; if not,
he must arrive in time for a practice on the 5th; he would be wanted
at both the festival and Sunday services, but might return as early
as he pleased on Monday the 9th.

Lance did not receive the summons in an exemplary spirit. It is not
certain that he did not bite it. He rolled on the floor, and
contorted himself in convulsions of vexation; he 'bothered' the Dean,
he 'bothered' the Precentor, he 'bothered' the Organist, he
'bothered' Shapcote's sore throat, he 'bothered' Harewood's wool-
gathering wits, he 'bothered' his own voice, and thereby caused
Clement to rebuke him for foolish murmurs instead of joy in his gift.

'A fine gift to rejoice in, to make one be whipped off by an old
fogey, when one most wants to be at home! I thank my stars I can't
sing!' said Fulbert.

'I should thank mine if Bill Harewood had any sense,' said Lance,
sitting up in a heap on the floor. 'He can go quite high enough when
he pleases; only, unluckily, a goose of a jackdaw must needs get into
the cathedral just as Bill had got to sing the solo in "As pants the
hart;" and there he stood staring with his mouth wide open--and no
wonder, for it was sitting on the old stone-king's head! Wasn't Miles
in a rage; and didn't he vow he'd never trust a solo to Harewood
again if he knew it! Oh, I say, Wilmet--Fee, I know! Do let me bring
Bill back with me on Monday morning; and he could go by the six
o'clock train. Oh, jolly!'

'But is he really a nice boy, Lance?' asked Wilmet, doubtfully.

'Oh, isn't he just? You'll see! His father is a Vicar-choral, you
know, lives in our precincts; his private door just opposite ours,
and 'tis the most delicious house you ever saw! You may make as much
row as you please, and nobody minds!'

'I know who Mr. Harewood is. Librarian too, is he not?' said Felix.
'I have heard people laughing about his good-natured wife.'

'Aren't they the people who were so kind to you last year, Lance,'
asked Cherry, 'when you could not come home because of the measles?'

'Of course. Do let me bring him, Fee,' entreated Lance; 'he is no end
of a chap--captain of our form almost always--and such a brick at
cricket! I told him I'd show him the potteries, and your press, and
our organ, and everything--and it is such a chance when we are all at
home! I shall get the fellows to believe now that my sisters beat all
theirs to shivers.'

'Can you withstand that flattering compliment, Wilmet?' said Felix,
laughing. 'I can't!'

'He is very welcome,' said Wilmet; 'only, Lance, he must not stay the
night, for there really is not room for another mouse.'

The little girls had heard so much about Bill Harewood, that they
were much excited; but their sympathy kindly compensated for the lack
of that of the elder brothers. Fulbert pronounced that a cathedral
chorister could never be any great shakes; and Clement could not
forgive one who had been frivolous enough to be distracted by a
jackdaw; but Lance, trusting to his friend's personal attractions to
overcome all prejudice, trotted blithely off to the organist-
schoolmaster, to beg the loan of the music, and received a promise of
a practice in church in the evening. Meantime, he begged Clement to
play the accompaniment for him on the old piano. Neither boy knew
that it had been scarcely opened since their father's hand had last
lingered fondly upon it. Music had been found to excite their mother
to tears; Geraldine resembled Fulbert in unmusicalness, and Wilmet
had depended on school, the brothers on their choir-practice, so that
the sound was like a new thing in the house; nor was any one prepared
either for the superiority of Clement's playing, or for the exceeding
beauty and sweetness of Lance's singing. No one who appreciated the
rare quality of his high notes wondered that he was indispensable;
Geraldine could hardly believe that the clear exquisite proclamation,
that came floating as from an angel voice, could really come from the
little, slight, grubby, dusty urchin, who stood with clasped hands
and uplifted face; and Clement himself--though deferring the
communication till Lance was absent, lest it should make him vain--
confided to Wilmet that they had no such voice at St Matthew's, and
it was a shame to waste him on Anglicans.

Wilmet hardly entered into this enormity. She had made a discovery
which interested her infinitely more. Little Theodore, hitherto so
inanimate, had sat up, listened, looked with a dawning of expression
in the eyes that had hitherto been clear and meaningless as blue
porcelain, and as the music ceased, his inarticulate hummings
continued the same tune. Could it be that the key to the dormant
senses was found? His eyes turned to the piano, and his finger
pointed to it as soon as he found himself in the room with it, and
the airs he heard were continually reproduced in his murmuring
sounds; that 'How beautiful!' which had first awakened the gleam--his
own birthday anthem--being sure to recur at sight of Lance; while a
doleful Irish croon, Sibby's regular lullaby, always served for her,
and the 'Hardy Norseman' for Felix, who had sometimes whistled it to
him. Wilmet spent every available moment in awaking the smile on the
little waxen face that had never responded before; it seemed to be
just the cheering hope she needed to revive her spirits, only she was
almost ready to renounce her journey with Alda for the sake of
cultivating the new-found faculty.

No one would permit this; and indeed, so far from waiting to be
exhibited to Lance's friend, the two sisters received their billet
de route on the very day he was expected; and there was no appeal,
since a housekeeper was to travel from Centry, who would take charge
of them to London, whence they would go down with Mr. Underwood. Poor
Wilmet was much dismayed at leaving Geraldine to what they both
regarded as the unprecedented invasion of a strange boy; indeed, the
whole charge made Cherry's heart quail, though she said little of her
fears, knowing the importance of Wilmet's having and enjoying her
holiday; and Mr. Audley promised extra aid in keeping order among the
boys.

But as they came in that evening from the practice at the church, to
which Clement had insisted on their coming to hear Lance, Mr. Audley
beckoned Felix to his room with the words, 'There's a thing I want to
talk over with you.'

Felix recollected those ominous words to Mr. Underwood, and stood
warming his hands in dread of what might be coming. It was all he
feared.

'I wanted to say--I wanted to tell you--' began Mr. Audley. 'I would
not have chosen this time, but that I think it may save Wilmet
something to be able to tell her friends that the present arrangement
is to cease.'

'Wilmet!' exclaimed Felix; then bethinking himself. 'Was _that_ what
Tom Underwood meant? But you will not trouble yourself about such
rubbish.'

'Well, you see,' began the Curate, with heightening colour, 'it can't
be denied that your sister _has_ grown up, and that things are
changed.'

'Mrs. Froggatt _did_ ask me if you were going on here,' said Felix,
still unconvinced; 'but can't we leave people to be _stoopid_ without
interfering with us?'

'Felix, you ought to be a better protector to your sisters. You would
not like to have my Lady remonstrating--nay, maybe writing to my
mother: she is quite capable of it.'

Felix's cheeks were in a flame. 'If people would mind their own
business,' he said; 'but if they _will_ have it so--'

'They are right, Felix,' said the Curate quietly; 'appearances must
be carefully heeded, and by you almost more than by any one. Your
slowness to understand me makes me almost doubtful about my further
design.'

'Not going away altogether!'

'Not immediately; but things stand thus--Dr. White, my old tutor, you
know, and Fernan's, is nearly sure of the new Bishopric in Australia,
and he wants me.'

Felix hardly repressed a groan.

'Any way I should not go immediately; but when your father spoke to
me about the guardianship, he made me promise not to let it stand in
the way of any other call. I fancied he had mission work in his mind,
and it disposes me the more to think I ought not to hold back; but
while your dear mother lived, I would not have gone.'

'Yes, you have been very good to us,' was all Felix could say. 'But
when?'

'Not for some time; but I am not going this moment. Three months'
notice Mr. Bevan must have, and if he requires it, six; I must spend
some time at home, and very like shall not be off till you are of
age--certainly not if I find there is any difficulty in handing the
management of things over to you. How long I remain with you must
depend on circumstances. How much notice must you give before leaving
this house?'

'I do not know--half a year, I fancy. You think we ought to give it
up? I suppose it is too large for us now.'

'And you could take no lodger but one of the old-lady type.'

'Horrid!' said Felix. 'Well, we will see; but it will be a great
stroke on poor Cherry--she can remember nothing before this house.'

'It will be very good for her to have no old associations to sit
brooding over.'

'My poor little Cherry! If I saw how to cheer up her life; but
without your lessons it will be more dreary for her than ever!'

'Give her all you can to do, and do not be over-careful to keep your
anxieties from her knowledge. She is very much of a woman, and if you
leave her too much to herself, she will grow more introspective.'

'Wilmet and I have always wanted to shelter her; she never seems fit
for trouble, and she is so young!'

'Compared with you two venerable people!' said Mr. Audley, smiling.
'But her mind is not young, and to treat her as a child is the way to
make her prey upon herself. I wish her talent could be more
cultivated; but meantime nothing is better for her than the care of
Bernard and Stella. I hope you will not be in a hurry to promote them
out of her hands.'

'Very well; but she will miss you sorely.'

'I hope to see her brightened before I am really gone, and I am not
going to decamp from this house till some natural break comes. To do
that would be absurd!'

There was a silence; and then Felix said with a sigh, 'Yes, a smaller
house, and one servant. I will speak to Wilmet.'

'Perhaps you had better, so that she may have an answer in case she
is attacked.'

Wilmet was aghast at first, but a hint from Alda made her acquiesce,
not with blushing consciousness, but with the perception that the way
of the world was against the retention of the lodger; and sorry as
she was to lose Mr. Audley, her housewifely mind was not consoled,
but distracted, by calculations on the difference of expenditure.
Again she tried to beg herself off from her visit, in the dread that
Felix would go and take some impracticable house in her absence--some
place with thin walls, no cupboards, and no coal-hole; and she was
only pacified by his solemn promise to decide on no house without
her. She went away in an avalanche of kisses and tears, leaving
Geraldine with a basketful of written instructions for every possible
contingency, at which the anxious maiden sat gazing anxiously, trying
to store her mind with its onerous directions.

'Shall I give you a piece of advice, Cherry?' said the Curate, as he
saw the dark eyebrows drawn together.

'Oh, do!' she earnestly said.

'Put all that in the fire!'

'Mr. Audley!'

'And go by the light of nature! You have just as many senses as
Wilmet, and almost as much experience; and as to oppressing yourself
with the determination to do the very, thing she would have done
under all circumstances, it is a delusion. People must act according
to their own nature, not some one else's.'

'Certainly,' said Geraldine, smiling. 'I could never walk stately in
and say, "Now, boys!"--and much they would care for it if I did.'

'It seems to be a case for "Now, boys!" at this moment,' said Mr.
Audley; 'what can all that row be?'

'Oh, it must be that dreadful strange boy, Lance's friend,' sighed
Geraldine, almost turning pale. Then, trying to cheer up, 'But it is
only for the day, and Lance wished it so much.'

As she spoke, the shout of 'Cherry, here's Bill!' came nearer, and
the whole of the younger half of the family tumbled promiscuously
into the room, introducing the visitor in the midst of them. To the
elders, 'no end of a chap' appeared, as Mr. Audley said, to mean all
ends of shock hair, and freckles up to the eyes; but when Fulbert and
Lance had whirled him out again to see the lions of Bexley, Robina
and Angela were overheard respectfully pronouncing that he was nice
and spotty like the dear little frogs in the strawberry-beds at
Catsacre, and that his hair was just the colour Cherry painted that
of all the very best people in her 'holy pictures.'

The object of their admiration was seen no more till the middle of
dinner, when all three appeared, immoderately dusty; and no wonder,
for the organist had employed them to climb, sweep fashion, into the
biggest organ-pipe to investigate the cause of a bronchial affection
of long standing,--which turned out to be a dead bat caught in a
tenacious cobweb.

Shortly after, the guest was found assisting Angela in a tableau,
where a pen-wiper doll in nun's costume was enacting the exorcism of
the said bat, in a cave built of wooden bricks.

Clement was undecided whether to condemn or admire; and Geraldine, to
whom Edgar had lent some volumes of Ruskin, meditated on the
grotesque.

Before there had been time for the fanciful sport to become rough
comedy, Lance had called off his friend to see the potteries; and to
poor Cherry's horror, she found that Robina had been swept off in the
torrent of boyhood. Clement, pitying her despair and self-reproach,
magnanimously offered to follow, and either bring the little maid
back, or keep her out of harm's way; and for some time Cherry reposed
in the conviction that 'Tina was as good as a girl any day.'

But at about a quarter to six, a little tap came to Mr. Audley's
door, and Angela stood there, saying, with a most serious face,
'Please, Mr. Audley, Cherry wants to know whether you don't think
something must have happened.' And going upstairs, he found the poor
young deputy in a nervous agony of despair at the non-return of any
of the party, quite certain that some catastrophe had befallen them,
and divided between self-reproach and dread of the consequences.

'The very first day Wilmet had gone!' as she said.

It was almost time for Harewood's train, which made it all the more
strange. Mr. Audley tried to reassure her by the probability that the
whole party were convoying him to the station, and would appear when
he was gone; but time confuted this pleasing hypothesis, and Cherry's
misery was renewed. She even almost hinted a wish that Mr. Audley
would go out and look for them.

'And then,' he said, smiling, 'in an hour's time you would be sending
Felix to look for me. No, no, Cherry, these waiting times are often
hard, no doubt; but, as I fear you are one of those destined to
"abide by the tents" instead of going out to battle, you had better
learn to do your watching composedly.'

'O Mr. Audley! how can I? I know it must be very wrong, but how can I
not care?' And verily the nervous sensitive girl was quivering with
suspense.

'"He will not be afraid of any evil tidings, for his heart standeth
fast and believeth in the Lord,"' answered Mr. Audley. 'I see that
does not tell you how not to be afraid; but I imagine that a few
trusting ejaculations in the heart, and then resolute attention to
something else, may be found a help.'

Cherry would have sighed that attention was the most impossible thing
in the world; but before she had time to do so, Mr. Audley had begun
to expound to her his Australian scheme. It excited her extremely;
and as a year and a half seemed an immense period of time to her
imagination, the dread of losing him was not so immediate as to damp
her enthusiasm. They had discussed his plans for nearly an hour
before Cherry started at the sound of the door, and then it was only
Felix who entered. He was irate, but not at all alarmed; and
presently the welcome clatter of steps approached, and in dashed the
whole crew, mired up to the eyes, but in as towering spirits as ever.

Their delay had, it appeared, been caused by a long walk that ensued
upon the visit to the potteries, and a wild venture of Will Harewood
upon impracticable ice, which had made him acquainted with the depths
of a horse-pond. There was none of the dignity of danger, for the
depths were shallows and the water only rose to his waist; but the
mud was above his ankles, and he had floundered out with some
difficulty. He wanted to walk back with no more ceremony than a
water-dog; but the Underwoods had made common cause against him, and
had dragged him to a cottage, where he had the pleasing alternative
of an old woman's blankets and petticoats while his garments were
drying. He was as nearly angry as a Harewood could be, Lance
observed, declaring that they should never have got him into the
cottage without fighting him, if Tina had not been so tall, and if
Robin had not nearly cried; while he, throwing off all responsibility,
ascribed all his lateness to his friend's 'maggots.' No more trains
stopped at Bexley till after midnight, but as to his absence causing
any uneasiness at home, he laughed at the notion, and was corroborated
by Lance in averring that they had too much sense; listening with
undisguised amazement to the elaborate explanations and apologies about
Robina, which Clement was scrupulously pouring forth to his brother and
sister, saying that he would have brought her home at once, but that he
really did not like to trust those boys alone.

Whereat Lance held up his hands with a dumb show of amazement that
convulsed Fulbert, Bill Harewood, and Robina herself, with agonies of
half-suppressed merriment. The boy had come in, prepared to be grave
and quiet, as knowing how lately affliction had come to the family,
and having been warned by Lance, that 'as to going on as we do in the
precincts, why it would make Cherry jump out of her skin.'

But by some extraordinary influence--whether it were the oddity of
William Harewood's face, or the novelty of his perfect insouciance
in the household whither care had come only too early--some infection
seized on the young Underwoods, and before the end of the evening
meal, if the 'goings on' were not equal to those in the precincts,
they were, at any rate, not far short of it.

Lance presently incited his friend to show 'how he had mesmerised
Lucy.' Clement made a horrified protest; and Geraldine looked alarmed
at her eldest brother, who began, 'Indeed, Lance, we can have nothing
of that sort here.'

'But, Felix, I do assure you there is no harm.'

'Upon my word and honour, there's not a spice of anything the
Archbishop of Canterbury could stick at,' added Will Harewood.

'It is impossible there should not be harm,' interposed Clement; but
the boys, including Fulbert, were in such fits of laughter, that
Felix began to suspect the seriousness of the performance; and when
Lance sprang at him, exclaiming, 'I'll go to Mr. Audley! Fee--Cherry-
--will you be satisfied if Mr. Audley says we may?' Felix and Cherry
both consented; and Lance rushed off to make the appeal, and returned
not only with full sanction, but with Mr. Audley himself, come to see
the operation. This perfectly satisfied Felix, who even consented, on
the entreaty of his brothers, to become the first subject; and Cherry
knew that where the Curate and Felix had no scruples, she need have
none; but, for all that, she was more than half frightened and
uncomfortable--above all, when Clement, amid shouts of mirth from the
three schoolboys, indignantly marched away to shut himself up in his
cold bedroom.

By and by, after some unseen preparation--all the more mystifying
because carried on in the kitchen, where Sibby always used to keep
Theodore in a cradle till Felix was ready for him--Will Harewood
caused Felix to stand exactly opposite to him and to the spectators,
with a dinner-plate in his hand, and under injunctions to imitate the
operator exactly. Armed with another plate, William rubbed his own
finger first on the under side of the plate, and then, after some
passes and flourishes, on his own forehead, entirely without effect
so far as he himself was concerned; but his victim, standing meekly
good-natured and unconscious, was seen by the ecstatic audience to
be, at each pass, painting his own face with the soot from a flame
over which his plate had been previously held. The shrieks of
amusement redoubled at the perplexity they occasioned him, till they
penetrated the upper rooms: and suddenly a cry of horror made all
turn to the door and see a little white bare-footed figure standing
there, transfixed with fright, which increased tenfold when Felix
hurried towards it, not yet aware of the condition of his visage,
until a universal shout warned him of it; while Lance, darting in
pursuit, picked up Bernard, and by his wonderful caressing arts, and
partly by his special gift of coaxing, partly as the object of the
little fellow's most fervent adoration, made the scattered senses
take in that it was 'all play,' and even carried back the little
white bundle, heart throbbing and eyes staring, but still secure in
his arms, to admire Felix all black, and then to be further relieved
by beholding the restoration of the natural hue at the pump below
stairs.

Then amid Sibby's scoldings and assurances that the child would catch
his death of cold, Bernard was borne upstairs again by Felix, who
found Clement in the nursery comforting the little girls, and
preventing them from following the example of their valiant pioneer.
Felix, now thoroughly entering into the spirit of the joke,
entertained for a moment the hope of entrapping Clement; but of
course Bernard could not be silenced from his bold and rather
doubtful proclamation, that 'The funny boy made Felix black his own
face, and I wasn't afraid.'

'Naughty boy!' commented Stella. 'Poor Fee!'--and she reared up to
kiss him, and stroke the cheeks that had suffered such an indignity.

'What! It was only a trick?' said Clement slowly, as if half
mystified.

'Of course,' said Felix; 'could not you trust to that?'

'I don't know. Cathedrals are very lax, and it had a questionable
name.'

'O Clem! if it had not been in you before, I should wish you had
never gone to St. Matthew's. Come down now, don't let us disturb the
little ones any longer. --Good-night, Angel; good-night, little star;
we'll not make a row to wake you again.'

Clement, in a severe mood, followed Felix downstairs; but some
wonderful spirit of frolic was on all the young people that night--a
reaction, perhaps, from the melancholy that had so long necessarily
reigned in that house, for though the fun was less loud, it was quite
as merry: a course of riddles was going on; and Clement, who really
was used to a great deal of mirth among the staff of St. Matthew's,
absolutely unbent, and gloried in showing that even more conundrums
were known there than by the house of Harewood. He was not strong in
guessing them; but then Will Harewood made such undaunted and
extraordinary shots at everything proposed, that the spirit of
repartee was fairly awakened, and Cherry's bright delicate wit began
to play, so that no one knew how to believe in the lateness of the
hour, and still less that this was the same house that grave Wilmet
had left that morning.

'Poor dear little Cherry!' said Felix to Mr. Audley, after helping
her upstairs, 'she is quite spent with laughing; indeed my jaws ache,
and she is ready to cry, as if it had been unfeeling.'

'Don't let her fancy that. We certainly were surprised into it to-
night; but I only wish for her sake--for all your sakes--that you
could keep the house merrier.'

Felix sighed. He too felt as if he had been betrayed into unbecoming
levity; and though he would not dispute, his heart had only become
the heavier. However, he did not forget, and when Cherry again
breathed a little sigh as to what Wilmet would think of their first
day, he stoutly averred that there was no use in drooping, and no
harm in liveliness, and that no one had ever been so full of
joyousness as their father.

She owned it. 'But--'

And that _but_ meant the effects of the three years that she had
spent as the companion of her mother's mournful widowhood, and of the
cares of life on her elder brother and sister.

It was true, as Mr. Audley said, that the associations of the rooms
were not good for her spirits in her many lonely hours and confined
life; and this reconciled Felix more than anything else to the
proposed change. He was keeping his promise to Wilmet of not seeking
a house till her return, when Mr. and Mrs. Froggatt, whose minds had
been much relieved by hearing that the lodger would consult the
proprieties, communicated to him their own scheme of taking up their
residence at a village named Marshlands, about two miles from Bexley,
where they already spent great part of the summer in a pleasant
cottage and garden which they had bought and adorned. Mr. Froggatt
would drive in to attend to the business every day, but the charge of
the house was the difficulty, as they did not wish to let the rooms;
and they now proposed that the young Underwoods should inhabit them
rent-free, merely keeping a bedroom and little parlour behind the
shop for Mr. Froggatt, and providing firing in them. With much more
diffidence, at his wife's earnest suggestion, the kindly modest old
man asked whether Miss Underwood would object to his coming in to
take a piece of bread and cheese when he was there in the middle of
the day.

It was an excellent offer, and Felix had no hesitation in gratefully
closing with it, even without consulting Wilmet. Her reply showed
that a great weight was taken off her mind; and she was only longing
to be at home again, contriving for the move, which was to take place
at Lady Day. She was burning to study the new rooms; nevertheless, as
by kind Marilda's contrivance, she was taking lessons in German every
day from a superior Fraulein who had once been her cousin's
governess, and was further allowed to inspect the working of a good
school, her stay was extended, by Miss Pearson's entreaty, a full
fortnight beyond what had been intended. Nor had anything gone wrong
in her absence. Even the overlooking of the boys' linen, which she
had believed impossible without her, was safely carried on by Cherry,
and all were sent off in sound condition. No catastrophe occurred;
and the continual occupation and responsibility drove away all the
low spirits that so often had tried the home-keeping girl. She _did_
enjoy those tete-a-tete evenings, when Felix opened to her more
than he had ever done before; and yet it was an immense relief to
have the day fixed for Wilmet's return, and how much more to have her
walking into the room with all the children clinging about her in
incoherent ecstacy, which had not subsided enough for much
comprehension when Felix came joyously in. 'Hurrah, Wilmet! Mr.
Froggatt sent me home a couple of hours before time!'

'How very good! I met him in the street, just now. Really, he is the
kindest old gentleman in the world!'

'I believe you dazzled him, Mettie; he says he did not know you till
you spoke to him, and if he had realised what a beautiful and
majestic young lady you were, he should hardly have ventured to
propose your taking up your abode under his humble roof.'

'That must be the effect of living with Alda,' said Wilmet merrily;
'but, oh! I am glad to be at home again!'

'And I never was so glad of anything in my life,' said Geraldine
eagerly.

'I am longing to go over the house, and know what to do about
furniture,' continued Wilmet.

'There! now W. W. is herself again!' said Felix.

'Mrs. Froggatt came and called on me,' said Geraldine. 'She talked of
leaving us the larger things that will not go into the cottage.'

'Which is well,' said Felix; 'for how much of ours will survive the
shock of removing is doubtful.'

'All the things that came from Vale Leston are quite solid,' said
Wilmet, bristling up.

'That carpet is solid darn,' said Felix. 'We tried one evening, and
found that though the pattern of rose-leaves is a tradition, no one
younger than Clem could remember having seen either design or
colour.'

'You should not laugh at it, Felix,' said Wilmet, a little hurt: for
indeed her mother's needle and her own were too well acquainted with
the carpet for her to like to hear it contemned.

Felix and Cherry both felt somewhat called to order, as if their
mistress had come home again; and Cherry was the first to break
silence by inquiring after Wilmet's studies at Brighton.

'Oh yes,' said Wilmet, 'I do hope I am improved. That was all
Marilda's kindness. She quite understood how I missed everybody and
everything; and at last, one day, when I was wishing I could
pronounce German like Alda, and that Alda had time to give me some
lessons--'

'Alda hasn't time!'

'Oh, you don't know how useful she is! She writes all the notes.
Marilda devised getting this Fraulein--such a good-natured woman! and
when she heard what I wanted, she got leave for me to come every day
to study the working of the school. I do believe I shall teach much
better now, if only I were not so ignorant. I never had any notion
before how little I knew!'

However, Wilmet's value had really risen so much in consequence of
these instructions, that Miss Pearson arranged that she should lay
the French and German foundations, and prepare the scholars, and
should receive half a sovereign a half year from each girl whom she
thus instructed, being the moiety of 'extra.' Moreover, the head
teacher talked of retiring, and her succession was promised to
Wilmet--a brilliant prospect, that the sight of Alda's grandeur did
not make her contemn.

Wilmet's anxious mind was well satisfied by her inspection of the new
quarters, which, among other conveniences, had that of shortening by
ten minutes her walk to school. The family apartments were all
upstairs, the space below being entirely taken up by the business,
and the kitchens were under ground. The chief sitting-room upstairs
was unfortunately towards the street, and had a northern aspect; it
was a spacious room, with three large windows filled with boxes of
flowers, and contained a big table and two sofas, which, with the
carpet and curtains, would remain well covered up. Folding-doors led
into a smaller room, with a south window towards the little garden,
where Mrs. Froggatt generally sat, and which had been used for the
dining-room. There were two bedrooms besides on the same floor, one
of which would remain untouched for Mr. Froggatt; and above these,
there was a large nursery, and more rooms than had been ever
furnished. Rent, rates, taxes, and repairs, all off her mind! Wilmet
felt as if prosperity were setting in; and she was the first to make
the audacious statement that they need not part with Martha, and
indeed, that the house could not be kept in order, nor dinners cooked
fit for Mr. Froggatt, by Sibby single-handed. And Cherry made up her
mind that they were like a family of caterpillars moving their cobweb
tent; Angela, seeing such an establishment of young tortoise-shells,
in their polished black, under their family web, had asked, 'Which
was their brother Felix?' and the name was adopted.

So a time of much business and excitement set in, and the lengthening
spring evenings were no sinecure to Wilmet, as the flitting day
approached, being rather hurried on by the old bookseller, who wanted
to be at Marshlands in time to admire his hyacinths and sow his
annuals. Mr. Audley would take rooms at the Fortinbras Arms for the
remainder of his stay at Bexley; and indeed, there was a good deal to
break the old habit of constantly depending on him, for his brother's
young wife was slowly dying in London, and the whole family seemed
instinctively to turn to him for comfort and advice, so that he was
obliged to be continually going backwards and forwards.

On the 24th of March, when he came down by an afternoon train, he
found the house door open, the steps scattered with straw, and after
looking in and seeing his own parlour intact, and with a cheerful
fire, he pursued his way upstairs, and there found the sitting-room
bare except for a sort of island consisting of the sofa, on which
Geraldine lay rolled in cloaks and shawls, trying to amuse the twins
by a feeble attempt to sing


     'Weel may the boatie row,'


while making paper boats for Stella to drag by strings upon the
smooth boards.

'Eh, Cherry, are you the Last Man, or the Last Rose of Summer ?'

'The last of the caterpillars,' said Cherry, smiling, but with
effort. 'Do you see Stella's fleet--just thirteen?'

'Making omens, foolish child!' but though Stella was eagerly pointing
and explaining, 'Tat Tella's boat--tat Tedo's--tat brothers--tat
Angel,' and so on, the word _foolish_ was not directed to the little
one, but to the gray eyes heavy with unshed tears, that rested
wistfully upon a wreck that had caught upon a nail and lay rent and
ragged.

'Pray don't look which it is,' said she.

'Certainly not; I hate auguries.'

'Do you think there is nothing in them?'

'I think there is nothing in this room but what ought to be in mine.
Do you expect me to stand discussing superstition in this horrible
raw emptiness? Here,' picking up Theodore, 'I'll come back for you.'

'Oh no, thank you, let me get down by myself; he cannot be left alone
in a room.'

'Come, Stella, and take care of him.'

'That's worse, she leads him into mischief. We are fox, goose, and
cabbage. Please give me my crutch; Wilmet put it out of reach because
she said I was destroying myself.'

'You are tired to death.'

'Oh no; but one can't sit still when so much is going on. Oh, how
delicious!' as after an interval she arrived, and found Mr. Audley
winding up a musical box, which Theodore was greeting with its own
tunes, and Stella with a dance and chant of 'Sing box--sing box;' and
then the two sat listening to the long cycle of tunes which would
hold Theodore entranced for any length of time.

After a short inquiry and a reply as to the sister-in-law's state,
and a few words on the progress of the flitting, there was a silence
while Mr. Audley read the letters that had come for him in his
absence, and Cherry's face became more and more pensive. At last,
when Mr. Audley laid down his letters, and leant against the
chimneypiece, she ventured to say, 'Is it wrong?'

'Is what wrong?' said the Curate, who had quite forgotten the
subject.

'To care about omens.'

'That depends. To accept them is sometimes necessary; to look out for
them is generally foolish and often wrong.'

'Sometimes necessary?' said Cherry eagerly.

'Sometimes experience seems to show that in good Providence a
merciful preparation is sent not so much to lead to anticipations, as
to bring the mind into keeping with what is coming, and, as it were,
attune it.'

'So that little things may be constantly types of great future ones?'

'My dear Cherry, I said not constantly.'

'Just let me tell you. Sibby says that the very day we all came into
this poor old house, just as the omnibus stopped, there was the knell
ringing overhead, and a funeral coming up the street. She knew it was
a token, and burst out crying; and dear Mamma, who you know never
shed tears, turned as white as a corpse, as if she was struck to the
heart.'

'And your father?'

'Oh! Sibby said he just stood in the doorway, lifted his hat as the
funeral passed and then well-nigh carried Mamma, with the baby (that
was Fulbert) in her arms, over the threshold, and smiled at her,
saying, "Well, mother, what better than to have found our home till
death!" So you see he did believe in it.'

'I see he wanted to cheer her spirits, not by saying "stuff and
nonsense," but reminding her that there are worse things than death.
Have you an omen on your mind, Cherry? Have it out; don't let it sink
in.'

'Only please don't laugh at me. Indeed, it was not my own doing, but
Stella's fancy to have a boat for each of us, when she was launching
them; and I could not help recollecting how we are all starting out
and away from our first home.'

'Stella's was not a very perilous ocean.'

'That was a comfort at first; and Stella tried to draw all the
thirteen lines together, but they tangled, and one thread broke, and
that boat was left behind; and one poor crooked ill-made thing fell
over, and was left at home because hindering all the rest, and even
Stella knew that was me, and--'her voice quivered, 'one was caught on
a nail, and torn into a wreck! Now, can I help thinking, though
you'll just call them newspaper-boats, dragged by a baby on a dry
dusty floor?'

'Watched by a weary fanciful damsel,' said Mr. Audley, sitting down
by her, 'who does not know a bit more than she did before, that all
are launching on a sea, and if it is a rougher one, there's a better
Guiding Star than Stella Eudora to lead them, and they have compasses
of their own--ay, and a Pilot. And if there are times when He seems
to be asleep in the ship--why, even the owner of the unseaworthy boat
left at home can show the Light, and pray on till the others are
roused to awaken Him.

'I wish there had not been that wreck,' she sighed.

'What seems a wreck need not be really one,' said Mr. Audley. 'It may
be the very way of returning to the right course. And by and by we
shall see our Master standing on the shore in the morning light.'

At that moment there was a sound at the door--Felix had accompanied
Cherry's chair, to bring her and Theodore to the new home. There was
too much haste for the wistful last looks she intended: she was
deposited in the chair with Theodore on her knee, Stella trotting
after, with Felix and Mr. Audley who was coming to see the
inauguration. St. Oswald's Buildings were left behind, and she was
drawn up to the green private door, beside the shop window; Wilmet
hurried down and took Theodore from her; Felix helped her out, and up
the narrow steep staircase, which certainly was not a gain, but when
landed in the drawing-room, the space seemed to her magnificent. And
their own furniture, the two or three cherished portraits brought
from Vale Leston, their father's chair, their mother's sofa, the silk
patchwork table-cover that had been the girl's birthday present to
Mamma, the bookcase with Papa's precious books, made it seem home-
like.

'The mantelpiece is just the same!' cried Cherry, delighted, as she
recognised all the old ornaments.

The next moment her delight was great at the flower-stands, which Mr.
Froggatt had kindly left full of primulas, squills, and crocuses; and
when she looked out from the back room into the little garden, where
Mr. Froggatt's horticultural tastes had long found their sole
occupation, and saw turf, green laurels, and bunches of snowdrops and
crocuses, she forgot all Stella's launch!




CHAPTER XI

THE CHORAL FESTIVAL



'And with ornaments and banners,
 As becomes gintale good manners,
 We made the loveliest tay-room upon Shannon shore.'
                                             THACKERAY.


'Of course, after _this_,' said Lady Price, 'Miss Underwood did not
expect to be visited.'

Otherwise the gain was great. The amusement of looking out of window
into the High Street was alone a perpetual feast to the little ones,
and saved Geraldine worlds of anxiety; and the garden, where they
could be turned out to play, was prized as it only could be by those
who had never had any outlet before. It was a pleasant little long
narrow nook, between the printing-house on the west, and such another
garden on the east, a like slip, with a wall masked by ivy and
lilacs, and overshadowed by a horse-chestnut meeting it on the south.
It was not smoky, and was quite quiet, save for the drone and stamp
of the steam-press; there was grass, a gum-cistus and some flower-
beds in the centre, and a gravel-walk all round, bordered by narrow
edgings of flowers, and with fruit trees against the printing-house
wall, and a Banksia and Wisteria against that of the house. Mr.
Froggatt was quite touched at the reverence with which Angela and
Stella regarded even the daisies that had eluded his perpetual spud;
and when he found out the delight it was to Cherry to live with
flowers for the first time in her life, he seldom failed to send her
a bunch of violets or some other spring beauty as soon as he arrived
in the morning, and kept the windows constantly supplied with plants.

The old bookseller was at first very much afraid of his new inmates.
To Felix he was used, but he looked on the sisters as ladies, and to
ladies, except on business-terms, he was much less accustomed than to
gentlemen. Besides, being a thorough gentleman himself at heart, he
had so much delicacy as to be afraid of hurting their feelings by
seeming at home in his own house, and he avoided being there at
luncheon for a whole week, until one afternoon Felix ran up to say
that he was sure Mr. Froggatt had a cold, and would be glad if a cup
of tea appeared in his parlour. Gratitude brought him in to face the
enemy; and after he had been kept at home for a day or two by the
cold, his wife's injunctions and Felix's entreaties brought him to
the dinner.

It happened to be one of Wilmet's favourite economical stews; but
these were always popular in the family, though chiefly composed of
scraps, pot-liquor, rice, and vegetables, and both for its excellence
and prudence it commanded Mr. Froggatt's unqualified approbation. All
that distressed his kind heart was to see no liquor but water, except
Cherry's thimbleful of port; he could not enjoy his glass of porter,
and shook his head--perhaps not without reason--when he found that
his young assistant's diet was on no more generous scale, and was not
satisfied by Felix's laughing argument that it was impossible to be
more than perfectly healthy and strong. 'False economy,' said the old
man in private; but Felix was not to be persuaded into what he
believed to be an unnecessary drain on the family-finances, and was
still more stout against the hint that if Redstone discovered this
prudential abstinence, it might make him 'disagreeable.' Felix had
gone his way regardless of far too many sneers for poverty and so-
called meanness to make any concession on their account, though the
veiled jealousy and guarded insolence of that smart 'gent' the
foreman had been for the last three years the greatest thorn in his
side. And at least he made this advance, that the errand-boy cleaned
the shoes!

Geraldine, though shy at first from the utter seclusion in which she
had lived, put forth a pretty bashful graciousness that perfectly
enchanted Mr. Froggatt, who was besides much touched by her patient
helplessness. He became something between her grandfather and her
knight, loading her with flowers, giving her the run of the
circulating library, and whenever it was fine enough, taking her for
a mile or two in his low basket-carriage either before or after his
day's business in the shop. It was not exactly like being with her
only other friend, Mr. Audley; but he was a thoroughly kind, polite,
and by no means unlettered old man; and Geraldine enjoyed and was
grateful, while the children were his darlings, and were encouraged
to take all manner of liberties with him.

Among the advantages of the change was the having Felix always at
hand; and though she really did not see him oftener in the course of
the day than at St. Oswald's Buildings, still the knowing him to be
within reach gave great contentment to Cherry. The only disadvantage
was that he lost his four daily walks to and fro, and hardly ever had
sufficient fresh air and exercise. He was indeed on his feet for the
most of the day, but not exerting his muscles; and all taste for the
active sports in which his kind old master begged him to join seemed
to have passed away from him when care fell upon him. He tried not to
hold his head above the young men of his adopted rank, many of whom
had been his school-fellows; but, except with the members of the
choir and choral society, he had no common ground, and there were
none with whom he could form a friendship. Thus he never had any real
relaxation, except music, and his Sunday walks, besides his evenings
with his sisters and of play with the children. It was not a natural
life for a youth, but it seemed to suit with his disposition; for
though not given to outbursts of animal spirits, he was always full
of a certain strong and supporting cheerfulness.

Indeed, though they did not like to own it to themselves, the young
people had left behind them much of the mournfulness of the widowed
household, which had borne down their youthful spirits; and though
the three elders could never be as those who had grown up without
care or grief, yet their sunshine could beam forth once more, and
helped them through the parting with their best friend. For Mr.
Audley's sister-in-law died in the beginning of June, and his father
entreated him to go abroad with his brother, so that he was hurried
away directly after midsummer, after having left his books in Felix's
charge, and provided for the reception of the dividends in his
absence.

His successor was a quiet amiable young Mr. Bisset, not at all
disinclined to cultivate Felix as a link with the tradesfolk; only he
had brought with him a mother, a very nice, prim, gentle-mannered,
black-eyed lady, who viewed all damsels of small means as perilous to
her son. Had she been aware that Bexley contained anything so white
and carnation, so blue-eyed and straight-featured, so stately, and so
penniless as Wilmet Underwood, he would never have taken the Curacy.
She was a kind woman, who would have taken infinite pains to serve
the orphan girls; and she often called on them; but when the Rector's
wife had told her that such a set had been made at Mr. Audley that he
could bear it no longer, it was but a natural instinct to cherish her
son's bashfulness.

That autumn Wilmet came home elevated by the news that the head
teacher was going to retire at Christmas, and that she was to be
promoted to her place of forty pounds a year. Her successor was
coming immediately to be trained, being in fact the daughter of Miss
Pearson's sister, who had married an officer in the army. She had
been dead about three years, and the girl had been living in London
with her father, now on half pay, and had attended a day-school until
he married again, and finding his means inadequate to his expenses,
and his wife and daughter by no means comfortable together, he
suddenly flitted to Jersey to retrench, and made over his daughter of
seventeen to her aunts to be prepared for governess-ship.

This was the account Miss Pearson and Miss Maria gave to Wilmet, and
Wilmet repeated to Geraldine, who watched with some interest for the
first report of the newcomer.

'She is rather a nice-looking little thing,' was the first report,
'but I don't know whether we shall get on together.'

The next was, 'Miss Maria has been begging me to try to draw her out.
They are quite distressed about her, she is so stiff and cold in her
ways with them, and they think she cries in her own room.'

'Poor thing, how forlorn she must be! Cannot you comfort her,
Mettie?'

'She will have nothing to say to me! She is civil and dry, just as
she is to them.'

'I think she can talk,' said Angela.

'How do you know anything about it, little one? said Wilmet.

'I heard her talking away to Lizzie Bruce in the arbour at dinner-
time. Her face looked quite different then from what it does in
school.'

'Then I hope she is settling down to be happier,' said Wilmet
thoughtfully; but, having watched Angela out of hearing, she added,
'Not that I think Lizzie Bruce a good friend; she is rather a weak
girl, and is flattered by Carry Price making a distinction between
her and some of the others.'

'When is Carry Price ever going to leave school?'

'When she can play Mendelssohn well enough to satisfy Mr. Bevan. I
wonder Lady Price does keep her on here, but in the meantime we can
only make the best of her.'

A day or two later, Wilmet and Angela came in from school eager,
indignant, and victorious.

'You did manage it well! the younger was saying. 'I was so glad you
saw for yourself.--Just fancy, Cherry, there were Carry Price and
Lizzie Bruce turning out all the most secret corners of Miss
Knevett's work-box, laughing at them, and asking horrid impertinent
questions, and she was almost crying.'

'And you fetched Wilmet?'

'She was sitting out in the garden, showing some of the little ones
how to do their crochet--it was the play-time after dinner--and I
just went to her and whispered in her ear, and so she strolled
quietly by the window.'

'Yes,' added Wilmet, 'and before I came to it Edith was saying to
Jane Martin, on purpose for me to hear, that she thought it would be
a good thing if Miss Underwood would look into the school-room. So
Angel was not getting into a scrape.'

'I should not have minded if I had,' said Angel; 'it was such a
shame, and she looks such a dear--'

'There she was,' said Wilmet, 'her fingers shaking, and her eyes full
of tears, trying to do some work, while Carry Price went on in her
scoffing voice, laughing over all the little treasures and jewels,
and asking who gave them to her, and what they cost. All I could do
was to put my hand on her shoulder and say I saw she did not like it;
and then Lizzie Bruce looked ashamed, but Miss Price bristled up, and
declared that Miss Knevett had unlocked the  box herself. Then the
poor child burst out that she had only said she would show her
Maltese cross; she had never asked them to turn everything out, and
meddle with it; and Carry tossed her head, just like my Lady, and
said, "Oh, very well, they did not want to see her trumpery, since
she was so cross about it. I suppose you mean to show the things one
by one to the little girls! A fine exhibition!" She cried out,
"Exhibit! I don't mean to exhibit at all; I only showed it to you as
my friend!" Whereupon Carry Price flounced off with, "As if I were
going to make a friend of an underteacher!" and she went into a
tremendous fit of crying, like what you used to have, Cherry, except
that it was more passionate!'

'I'm sure I never had anything like that to cry for. What did you do
with her? How lucky she had you!'

'Why, when she went on sobbing, "I'll not stay here," "I won't be
insulted." "I'll tell my aunts," my great object was to get her
upstairs, and to silence her, for I was sure Miss Pearson would
dislike nothing so much as having a regular complaint from her about
Carry; and, besides that, all the girls, who pity her now, would be
turned against her, and think her a mischief-maker. I did get her up
at last, and, oh dear! what a scene we had! Poor thing, I suppose she
has been a spoilt child, going to a lady's fashionable institute, as
she calls it, where she was a great girl, and rather looked up to,
for the indulgences she got from her father--very proud, too, of
being a major's daughter. Then came the step-mother; what things she
said about her, to be sure! No end of misery, and disputes--whose
fault, I am sure I don't know; then a crisis of debts. She says it
was all Mrs. Knevett's extravagance; but Miss Pearson told me before
that she thought it had been going on a long time; and at last, when
the father and his wife and her child go off to Jersey, this poor
girl is turned over to the aunts she never saw since her mother died,
twelve years ago.'

'I dare say it is the best thing for her.'

'If she can only think so; but she fancies the being a teacher the
most horrid thing in the world.'

'Oh, Wilmet!' interrupted Angela; 'why, you like teaching: and Robin
means to be a real governess, and so do I, if I am not a Sister!'

'Me too,' called out Stella.

'But you see this unlucky girl can't understand that teaching may be
a real way of doing good; she fancies it a degradation. She says she
and her friends at her institute hated and despised the teachers, and
played all manner of tricks upon them.'

'How foolish the teachers must have been!'

'She did say something about their being low and mean. She did me the
favour to say not like me, and that she was quite shocked to find I
was one of this dreadful race. It was quite amazing to her when I
told her how Robina's dear Miss Lyveson keeps school without
necessity, only to be useful. You may imagine what it is to her to be
plunged all on a sudden into this unhappy class. She began by trying
to take her old place as an officer's daughter, and to consort with
the girls; but I think if she and Carry Price were left to one
another, she would very soon sink as low as any of the poor hounded
teachers she describes.'

'She must be very silly and conceited.'

'No, I think she is sensible, and loving too, at the bottom,' said
Wilmet, 'only every one is strange here. I think she will understand
better soon; and in the meantime she has quite forgiven me for being
a teacher. She clung about me, and called me all sorts of pretty
names--her only friend, and so forth.'

'Perhaps she can forgive you for being a teacher, in consideration of
your being a twin,' said Cherry.

'There, Cherry, you understand her better already than I do! I'll
bring her to you, I have not time for such a friendship.'

'Poor thing! I should like to try to comfort her, if she is strange
and dreary; but I think she must be rather a goose. What's her name?'

'Alice; but in school Miss Pearson is very particular about having
her called Miss Knevett. We have exchanged Christian names in
private, of course.'

'You horrid old prosy thing of four U's,' said Geraldine. 'You are
sitting up there, you great fair creature, you, for the poor child to
worship and adore, and not reciprocating a bit!'

'Of course,' said Wilmet, 'if she can't be happy without being
petted, I must pet her, and let her be nonsensical about me; but I
think it is all great stuff, and that you will suit her much better
than I ever shall.'

'Do you never mean to have a friend, Mettie?'

'Oh no, I haven't time; besides, I've got Alda.'

Geraldine had, however, many dreams about the charms of friendship.
She read of it in the books that Felix selected for her; and Robina
had a vehement affection for a schoolfellow whose hair and whose
carte she treasured, and to whom she would have written daily
during the holidays but for the cost of stamps. The equality and
freedom of the letters she received always made Cherry long for the
like. Since Edgar had left her, she had never been on those equal
terms with any one; Wilmet was more like mother or aunt than sister;
and though Felix had a certain air of confidence and ease when with
her, and made her his chief playfellow, he could not meet all her
tastes or all her needs; and there was a sort of craving within her
for intimacy with a creature of her own species.

And though Wilmet's description of Alice Knevett did not sound
particularly wise, Cherry, in her humility, deemed her the more
secure of being on her own level, not so sensible and intolerant of
little dreams, fancies, and delusions as those two sensible people,
the twin sisters. So she watched impatiently for the introduction;
and at last Wilmet said, 'Well, she is coming to tea to-morrow
evening. Little ridiculous chit, she bridled and doubted, but as you
were an invalid, she supposed she might, only it was not what she had
been used to, and Papa "might object."'

'What? To the shop? Well, I really think she had better not come!
I'll have nobody here that thinks it a favour, and looks down on
Felix.'

'My dear, if she contrives to look down on Felix after she has seen
him, she will deserve anything you please. Just now, I believe the
foolishness is in her school, and not in herself.'

Nevertheless, Geraldine's eagerness underwent a great revulsion.
Instead of looking forward to the visit, she expected it with dread,
and dislike to the pert, conceited, flippant Londoner, who despised
her noble brother, and aspired to the notice of Carry Price. Her
nervous shrinking from strangers--the effect of her secluded life--
increased on her every moment of that dull wet afternoon; her feet
grew cold, her cheeks hot, and she could hardly find temper or
patience for the many appeals of Bernard and Stella for her
attention.

Her foolish little heart was palpitating as if a housebreaker were
entering instead of Wilmet, conducting a dainty cloud of fresh lilac
muslin, out of which appeared a shining black head, and a smiling
sparkling face, with so much life and play about the mouth and eyes
that there was no studying their form or colour, and it was only
after a certain effort that it could be realised that Alice Knevett
was a glowing brunette, with a saucy little nose, retrousse, though
very pretty, a tiny mouth full of small pearls, and eyes of black
diamond.

In spite of her gracious manner, and evident consciousness of her own
condescension, the winsomeness of the dancing eyes fascinated Cherry
at once. Indeed, the simplicity and transparency of her little
dignities disarmed all displeasure, they were so childish; and they
vanished in a moment in a game at play with Bernard and Stella. When
Wilmet brought out Geraldine's portfolio, her admiration was
enthusiastic if not critical.

A sketch of Wilmet and Alda enchanted her; she had never seen
anything so lovely or so well done.

'No, no,' said Cherry, rather shocked, 'you must have seen the Royal
Academy.'

'Oh, but I am sure this ought to be in the Royal Academy; I never saw
anything there that I liked half so much. How clever you must be!'

Cherry could not but laugh at the extravagant compliment. 'My brother
Edgar draws much better than that,' she said, producing a capital
water-colour of a group of Flemish market-women.

'I shall always like yours best. Oh! and what is this?'

'I did not know it was there,' said Cherry, colouring, and trying to
take it away.

'Oh, let me look. What! Is it a storm, or a regatta, or fishing
boats? What is that odd light? What is written under? "The waves of
this troublesome world." Why, that is in the Bible, is not it?'

'Thirteen boats, Cherry,' said Wilmet; 'is that a device of your
own?'

'What, not copied? Oh dear! I wish I was so clever!'

'It is the sea of this life, isn't it?' said Angela, coming up. 'Is
it ourselves, Cherry, all making for the golden light of Heaven, and
the star of faith guiding them?'

'She reads it like a book,' exclaimed Alice. 'And those two close
together--that means love, I suppose!'

'Love and help, the weak and the strong,' said Geraldine, in her
earnest dreamy voice.

'Do pray make a picture of my boat on a nice smooth sea of light; I
don't like rocks and breakers, such as you have done there.'

'There always must be a last long wave,' said Cherry.

'Oh, but don't let us think about horrid things. I like the summer
sea. Aren't there some verses--


     '"Youth at the prow, and pleasure at the helm?"'


'That would not be a pleasant augury,' said Cherry. 'Do you know what
this is meant for, bad as it is? Longfellow's verses--'

'The phantom host that beleaguered the walls of Prague? How can you
draw such things?'

'So I say,' observed Wilmet.

'They come and haunt me, and I feel as if I must.'

'Who is this kneeling on the wall? He looks like a knight watching
his armour.'

'So he is,' said Cherry.

'But there is nothing about him in the poem. Did you make him for
yourself?'

'Why, he is Ferdinand Travis!' exclaimed Wilmet.

'What, is it a real man? I thought it was somebody in a story.'

'I see! said Angela quietly. 'He is watching his armour the night
before he was baptized.'

For the child had never forgotten the adult baptism, though she had
been little more than four years old at the time; but she was one of
those little ones to whom allegory seems a natural element, with
which they have more affinity than with the material world.

However, the mention of Ferdinand Travis led to the history of the
fire at the hotel, and of his recovery, Alice declared that
'everything nice' seemed to happen at Bexley, and was laughed at for
her peculiar ideas of niceness; but there was something in the
feminine prattle that was wonderfully new and charming to Geraldine,
while, on the other hand, the visitor was conscious of a stimulus and
charm that she had never previously experienced; and the eager
tongues never flagged till Felix came in. He had evidently taken
pains with his toilette, in honour of the unusual event; and the
measured grave politeness of his manners renewed Alice's scared
punctilious dignity of demeanour, and entire consciousness that she
was a major's daughter and he a bookseller.

But Felix had brought in some exciting Eastern news; and Alice put on
an air capable, as one connected with India and the army, but she
soon found out the deficiency of her geography, and was grateful for
the full clear explanations, while her amour propre was gratified
by finding that her familiarity with a few Indian terms was valuable.
Before the end of the evening all were at ease, and she was singing
with Felix and Wilmet at the old piano.

No sooner had the door shut on her when the maid came to fetch her,
than a storm fell on Wilmet.

'So that's what you call rather nice-looking?'

'Well, she is under-sized and very brown, but I did think you would
have allowed that she was rather pretty.'

'Rather!' exclaimed Cherry indignantly.

'That's what it is to be a handsome woman!' said Felix.

'Do you mean to say that you think her anything remarkable?' said
Wilmet.

'Say no more, my dear W. W.,' laughed Felix. 'I never understood
before why negroes don't admire white people.'

'I am sure I don't know what you are talking about,' said Wilmet,
betaking herself to her darning with great good-humour. 'Alice
Knevett is prettier than I thought she was when she was all tears and
airs; but I can't see any remarkable beauty to rave about.'

'No, _you_ can't,' said Geraldine merrily. 'You look much too high
over her head, but you see I don't; and such a little sparkling
diamond beetle is a real treat to me.'

And Geraldine often enjoyed the treat.

In a very short time the green door and steep stairs were as familiar
to Alice as to the Underwoods themselves, for her aunts were thankful
to have her happy and safe, and she was rapturously fond of
Geraldine, reflecting and responding to most of her sentiments. Most
of the Underwoods had the faculty of imprinting themselves upon the
characters of their friends, by taking it for granted that they felt
alike; and Alice Knevett had not spent six weeks at Bexley before she
had come to think it incredible that she had thought either teaching
or the Underwoods beneath her. She was taking pains to do her work
well, and enjoying it, and was being moulded into a capital
subordinate to Wilmet; while with Geraldine she read and talked over
her books, obtained illustrations for the poetry she wrote out in her
album, and brought in a wholesome air of chatter, which made Cherry
much more girl-like than she had ever been before. It was an
importation of something external, something lively and interesting,
which was very refreshing to all; and even Felix, in his grave
politeness and attention to his sister's friend, manifested that so
far from being in his way, as they had feared, he found her a very
agreeable element when she joined the home party or the Sunday walk.

Indeed, there was a certain tendency to expansion about the life of
the young people; the pinch of poverty was less griping than
previously, and their natural spirits rose. In January Lance was
allowed to bring his friend Harewood to a concert of the choral
society; and on the following evening Alice Knevett came to tea, and
there was a series of wonderful charades, chiefly got up by Clement
and Robina, and of comic songs by Lance and Bill Harewood--all with
such success, that Alice declared that she had never seen anything so
delightful in all her experience of London Christmases!

The young people really seemed to have recovered elasticity enough
that year to think of modest treats and holidays as they had never
ventured to do since that memorable sixteenth birthday of Felix's.
Here was his twenty-first not very far off; and when it was announced
that this identical 3rd of July had been fixed on for a grand choral
meeting at the Cathedral, at which the choir of Bexley was to assist,
there was such a spirit of enterprise abroad in the family, that
Geraldine suggested that Wilmet might take Robina to see the
Cathedral and hear Lance.

'Lance will be just what will not be heard,' said Felix. 'They will
not show off their solos; but the Robin ought to have the pleasure,
if possible; and as I go in two capacities, press and choir, I hope
we can manage it for her.'

He came in full early for the evening. 'All right,' he said. 'Two
tickets are come for the Pursuivant, and Mr. Froggatt says he would
not go at any price; and besides, each of the choir may take a
friend--so that's three.'

'Am I to be reporter or friend?' asked Wilmet.

'Reporter, I think, for you will have to do audience.'

'Nay, Cherry ought to be the gentleman connected with the press,'
said Wilmet, for in fact Geraldine did sometimes do copying and
correcting work for her brother; 'and, indeed, I do not see why she
should not. We could go home directly after morning service, and
leave you there.'

'Oh no, impossible,' said Geraldine, 'it would never do; it would
only spoil everybody's pleasure, and be too much for me.'

'I think you are wise,' said Felix; and somehow it struck her with a
prick that he had rather the proposal had not been made. 'There is
sure to be a great crush, and I may be obliged to be with the choir.'

'I am quite able to take care of her, I can always lift her,' said
Wilmet, surprised.

'I would not go on any account,' protested Cherry. 'I should be like
the old woman in that Servian proverb, who paid five dollars to go to
the fair, and would have paid ten to be safe at home again.'

'There might be no getting a bench fit for you to sit upon,' added
Felix, who, as a gentleman of the press, was not devoid of
experience. 'I could not be easy about you, my dear; it is much safer
not.'

'Perhaps so,' owned Wilmet, disappointed; 'but Angel is too little
for such a long day, and Cherry is so much stronger, that I
thought--'

'Oh, but could not Alice Knevett go?' put in Cherry.

'A very good suggestion,' said Felix. 'She hardly ever has any
amusements. Well thought of, Whiteheart!'

I believe he thought of it from the first, felt Geraldine, angry with
herself that this conviction gave a prick like the point of a needle.
She threw her energies into the scheme, and was begging Wilmet to go
and make the proposal, when there was a sudden peal of the bell, a
headlong trampling rush, a dash open of the door--Theodore began to
hum the anthem 'How beautiful,' the other three small ones hailed
'Lance' at the top of their voices, and his arms were round the neck
of the first sister who came in his way.

'What, Lance! how came you here?'

'Our organ is tuning up its pipes--man comes to-morrow--Prayers in
the Lady Chapel and not choral, and it's a holiday at school, so I
got off by the 5.20, and need not go back till the 6.10 to-morrow. We
are practising our throats out to lead you all on the 3rd. You know
yon are coming, the whole kit of you.'

'Do we?' said Wilmet. 'It is only for the last ten minutes that we
have known that any of us were coming.'

'All right; that's what I'm come about. Robina must be got home.

'She will be come. She comes on the 1st.'

'That's right; then there's to be a great spread in Bishop's Meads
between services. Everybody sends provisions, and asks their friends;
but Cherry is to go and rest at the Harewoods'. The governor will get
her in through the library into the north transept as quiet as a
lamb, no squash at all. It is only along the cloister--a hop, step,
and lump; and Miles has promised me the snuggest little seat for her.
Then the Harewood sofa--'

'It is too much, Lance,' began Cherry. 'Mrs. Harewood--'

'Don't be absurd; she wishes it with all her heart. She won't want a
ticket if Mr. Harewood smuggles her in, but I can get as many as you
want. How many--Wilmet, Cherry, Robin, Angel, and Miss Knevett.
She'll come, won't she?'

'We were thinking of going to ask her.'

'I'll do it; I've brought my own ticket for a friend for her; here it
is, with L. O. U. in the corner. I'll run down with it before any one
else cuts in.'

'Hold hard,' said Felix; 'we shall not get her if you set about it in
that wild way!'

'Oh, but I'll promise Wilmet shall take her in tow, and if anything
will pacify the old girls, that will.'

'You had better let me come with you,' said Wilmet.

'Look sharp then. Is it a practising night? Yes, that's well; Miles
is in a state of mind at the short notice, and has crammed me choke-
full of messages; he says it will save his coming down; come along,
then, W. W., and soft-sawder the venerable aunts.'

No more of this operation was necessary than the assurance that Miss
Underwood was going, and that Mrs. Harewood would be a sort of
chaperon. Alice Knevett was happy and grateful; and if anything were
wanting to the universal enthusiasm of anticipation, it was supplied
by Lance. The boy, with his musical talent, thorough trustworthiness
and frank joyous manners, was a favourite with the organist, and was
well versed in the programme; and his eagerness, and fulness of
detail, were enough to infect every one. Geraldine thought it was
great proof of his unspoilableness, that he took quite as much
pleasure in bringing them to these services, where he would be but a
unit in the hundreds, as if it had been one of the anthems, of which
every one said, 'Have you heard little Underwood?' In the charm of
the general welcome and the congratulation on Lance's arrangement,
Geraldine had quite forgotten both her alarms and her tiny pang of
surprise at not having been Felix's prime thought. Lance, by dint of
a judicious mixture of hectoring and coaxing, obtained leave for
Angela to be of the party, though against Wilmet's judgment; and
Bernard and Stella were to spend the day with Mrs. Froggatt, which
they regarded as an expedition quite as magnificent as that to St.
Mary's Minster.

Mr. Froggatt was almost as eager about this pleasure for 'his young
people,' as he called them, as they could be. He came in early to
drive Geraldine to the station, and looked with grandfatherly
complacency at the four sisters, who had ventured on the extravagance
of white pique and black ribbons, and in their freshness looked as
well-dressed as any lady in the land.

He entertained Cherry all the way with his admiration of Wilmet's
beauty and industry, and when arrived at the station, waited there
with her till first the three girls came up with Alice Knevett, white
with pink ribbons, and then the choir arrived, marching with the
banner with the rood of St. Oswald before them, each with a blue
satin bow in his button-hole, and the bag with his surplice under his
arm, the organist, the schoolmaster, and the two curates, bringing up
the rear. Mr. Bevan, my Lady, and Miss Price, whirled up in the
carriage, the omnibus discharged the friends of the choir, and two
waggon loads of musical talent from the villages came lumbering and
cheering in! The very train roared and shrieked in with a sound of
cheering from its vertebrae, and banners were projecting from the
windows, amid nodding heads and waving handkerchiefs of all colours;
the porters ran about distracted, and Geraldine began to be alarmed,
and to think of the old woman of Servia, but behold, Felix had her on
one side, Mr. Froggatt on the other, a solid guard held open the
door, and protected her from the rush, and before she well knew what
they were doing with her, she was lying on the seat of the carriage,
with her sisters and Alice all in a row in front of her; the recently
crowded platform was empty of all but a stray porter, the
stationmaster, and Mr. Froggatt kissing his hand, and promising to
come and fetch her on her return.

The train seemed hardly to have attained its full speed before it
slackened again, and another merry load was disposed of within its
joints. Another start, another arrival; and before the motion was
over, a flash of sunny looks had glanced before the sisters' eyes.
There was Lance, perfectly radiant, under his square trencher cap--
hair, eyes, cheeks, blue bow, boots, and all, seeming to sparkle with
delight as he snatched open the door.

'Hurrah! there they are. Give her out to me, Wilmet!' (as if she had
been a parcel).

'Stay, wait for Felix. You can't---'

Felix rushed up from his colleagues of the choir, and Geraldine was
set on her foot and crutch. 'Come along! I've got Ball's chair for
you, and Bill Harewood is sitting in it for fear any one should bone
it. Where's your ticket?'

'Lance, take care! Don't take her faster than she can go!' as he
whisked her over the platform; and Wilmet was impeded by the seeking
for Alice's parasol and Angela's cloak. They were quite out of sight
when Lance had dragged Cherry through the crowd at the door, and
brought her to the wheeled chair just in time to find Bill Harewood
glaring out of it like the red planet Mars, and asseverating that he
was the lame young lady it was hired for.

In went Geraldine, imploring to wait for Wilmet, but all in vain; off
went the chair, owner and escort alike in haste, and she was swept
along, with Lance and Will with a hand holding either side of the
chair, imparting breathless scraps of information, and exchanging
remarks: 'There goes the Archdeacon.' 'The Thorpe choir is not come,
and Miles is mad about it.' 'That's the Town Hall.' 'There's where
Jack licked a cad for bullying.' 'There's a cannon-ball of Oliver
Cromwell's sticking out of that wall.' 'That's the only shop fit to
get gingerbeer at!' 'That old horse in that cab was in the Crimea.'
'We come last in the procession, and if you see a fellow like a sheep
in spectacles, that's Shapcote.' 'Hurrah! what a stunning lot! where
is it from?' 'Bembury? My eyes, if that big fellow doesn't mean to
bawl us all down. Down that way--that's the palace. Whose carriage is
it stopping there! Now, here's the Close.'

'Is that the Cathedral? Oh!'

'You may well say so! No, not that way.' And on rattled poor amazed
Geraldine through an archway, under some lime trees, round a corner,
round another comer, to another arched doorway, with big doors
studded with nails, with a little door for use cut out of one of the
big ones.

'You must get out here,' said Lance, 'we are close by,' and he helped
her out, and paid and thanked the man with the chair. 'Here's our
domain,' he continued, as he introduced Cherry through the open
doorway into a small flagged court, with two houses, gray and old-
fashioned, forming one side, and on the other an equally old long low
building with narrow latticed arched windows. Opposite to the
entrance was a handsome buttressed Gothic-looking edifice, behind
which rose the gable of the north transept of the Cathedral,
beautiful with a rose window, and farther back, far, far above, the
noble tower.

Already everything was very wonderful to Geraldine. 'That's our
kennel,' said Lance, pointing to the low buildings to the right.
'School's behind; but we boarders are put up in one of the old monks'
dormitories, between court and cloister.'

'Is it really!' exclaimed Geraldine.

'So my father says,' said Will. 'Here's our door.' Another stone-
arched passage, almost dark, with doors opening on either side,
seemed common to both houses; and Will was inviting them to enter,
but Lance held back. 'No time,' he said; 'better call your father.'

'The others,' sighed Geraldine.

'Bother the others! That's right: here he is!'

'Halloo, Father!' cried Will; 'we've got Cherry.'

'By which unceremonious designation I imagine you to mean to
introduce Miss Underwood,' said a figure, appearing from beneath the
archway, in trencher cap, surplice, and hood, with white hair, and a
sort of precision and blandness that did not at all agree with
Cherry's preconceived notions of the Harewood household. 'I am very
glad to see you. My ladies, as usual, are unready. Will you have a
glass of wine? No?--What do you say, Lancelot?--Very well, we will
take you in at once. You will not object to waiting there, and this
is the quiet time. --Boys, you ought to be with the choir.'

'Oceans of time, Dad,' coolly answered Will; 'none of the fellows up
there are under weigh.'

Mr. Harewood offered his arm, but perceived that Cherry preferred
Lance and her crutch; advancing to the door opposite that by which
they had entered, he unlocked it, and Geraldine found herself passing
through a beauteous old lofty chamber, with a groined Tudor roof, all
fans, and pendants, and shields; tall windows stained with armorial
bearings, parchment charters and blazoned genealogies against the
walls, and screens upon screens loaded with tomes of all ages,
writing-tables and chairs here and there, and glass-topped tables
containing illuminations and seals. 'Here is my paradise,' said the
librarian, smiling.

'I think it must be,' said Geraldine, with a long breath of wonder
and admiration.

'Ah! would you not like to have a good look, Cherry?' said Lance.
'That's Richard Coeur de Lion's seal in there.'

'Don't begin about it--don't set him on,' whispered Willie, with a
sign of his head towards his father, who was fitting the key into the
opposite door, 'or we shall all stay here for the rest of the day.'

This low door open, Mr. Harewood and the boys bared their heads as
they entered, and Geraldine felt the strange solemn sensation of
finding herself in a building of vast height and majesty, full of a
wonderful stillness, as though the confusion of sounds she had been
in so recently were far, far off.

'Where now, Lancelot?' asked Mr. Harewood, in a hushed voice; 'do you
want me any further?'

'No, thank you, sir, I'll just take her across the choir to Mr.
Miles, and then join the rest of us at the vestry.'

'Good-bye for the present, then,' said Mr. Harewood kindly. 'You are
in safe hands. Your brother comes round every one. _I_ could not do
this.'

Through the side-screen, into the grandly beautiful choir, arching
high above, with stall-work and graceful canopies below, and rich
glass casting down beams of coloured light--all for 'glory and for
beauty,' thought Geraldine.

'You must not stop; you must look when you are settled. That's my
side,' pointing to one of the choristers' desks. 'It will be only we
that sing in here; the congregation is in the nave--a perfect sea of
chairs. I'll come for you when it is over. Here is Mr. Miles. My
sister, sir.'

A pale gentleman in spectacles, with a surplice and beautiful blue
hood, was here addressed. He too greeted Geraldine, very shyly but
kindly, and she found herself expected to ascend some alarming-
looking stone steps. The organ was on the choir screen, and to the
organist's little private gallery was she to ascend. It was a
difficult matter, and she had in her trepidation despairingly
recognised the difference between Lance's good will and Felix's
practised strength; but at last she was landed in an admirable little
cushioned nook, hidden by two tall painted carved canopies--exactly
over the Dean's head, her brother told her--and where, as she sat
sideways, she could see through the quatrefoils into the choir on the
right hand, and the nave on the left. 'Delightful! Oh, thank you, how
kind! If I am only not keeping any one out.'

'No,' said Lance, smiling, and whispering lower than ever, 'he has no
one belonging to him. He hates women. Never a petticoat was here
before in his reign. Have you a book?'

'They are robing, Underwood,' said the misogynist in the organ-loft;
and Lance hurried away, leaving Geraldine alone, palpitating a good
deal, but almost enjoying the solitude, in the vast structure, where
the sanctity of a thousand years of worship seemed to fill the very
air, as she gazed at the white vaultings and bosses carved with
emblems above, at the vista of clustered columns terminating in the
great jewelled west window, or at the crown-like loveliness that
encompassed the sanctuary. All was still, except a deep low tone of
the organ now and then. Mr. Miles looked in after the first, to hope
she did not feel it uncomfortably, and to assure her that though she
was too near his organ, she need not fear its putting forth its full
powers; it was to be kept in subordination, and only guide the
voices. This was great attention from a woman-hater, and Geraldine
ventured to reiterate her thanks; at which he smiled, and said, 'When
one has such a boy as your brother, there is pleasure in doing
anything he wishes. You are musical?'

'I never was able to learn to play.'

'But you can read music?'

'Oh yes,' for she had often copied it.

So he brought her whole sheets of music, and put her in the way of
following and understanding, perceiving, as he went, that she was
full of intelligence and perception.

When he went back to his post, a few groups, looking very small, were
creeping in by transept doors--by favour, like herself: then a little
white figure flitted across to the desks, opened and marked the
books, took up something, and disappeared; and in another moment
Lance, in his broad white folds, was at her side. 'Here's the music.
Oh, you have it! I've seen Fee,' he whispered; 'they are at Mrs.
Harewood's, all right!' and he was gone.

Here she sat, her attention divided between the sacred impressions of
the place, its exceeding beauty, and the advance of the multitude
into the nave, as the doors were open, and they surged up the space
left in the central aisle, and occupied the ranks of chairs prepared
for them. Then came a long pause; she scanned each row in search of
her sisters, and only was confused by the host of heads; felt lost
and lonely, and turned her eyes and mind to the silent grandeur to
the east, rather than the throng to the west.

At last there came the sweet floating sound of the chant, growing in
power like the ocean swell as it approached, and the first bright
banner appeared beneath the lofty pointed archway; and the double
white file came flowing on like a snowy glacier, the chant becoming
clear and high as the singers of each parish marched along to their
places, each ranked under a bright banner with the symbol of their
church's dedication. St. Oswald's rood helped Geraldine to make out
that of Bexley better than their faces, though she did make out her
eldest brother's fair face, and trace him to his seat. The cathedral
singers came at last, and that kenspeckle red head of Will Harewood's
directed her to the less conspicuous locks belonging to Lance, whose
own clear thrush-like note she could catch as he passed beneath the
screen. Then came the long train of parish clergy, the canons, the
Dean, and lastly the Bishop, the sight of whom recalled so much.

The unsurpliced contribution had meantime been ushered in by the side
doors, and filled seats in the rear of the others, so as to add their
voices without marring the general effect--the perfection of which
Geraldine enjoyed--of the white-robed multitude that seemed to fill
the whole chancel.

The sight seemed to inspire her whole soul with a strange yearning
joy, as though she were beholding a faint earthly reflex of the great
vision of the Beloved Disciple; and far more was it so at the sound,
which realised in a measure the words, 'As the voice of mighty
waters, and as the voice of thunder.'

These were the very words that had been selected for the Second
Lesson, and the First consisted of those verses in which we hear of
David's commencement of the continual chant of psalms at the
sanctuary; and both, unwonted as they were, gave a wonderful thrill
to the audience, as though opening to them a new comprehension of
their office as singers of the sanctuary.

There is no need to dwell on the wonderful and touching exhilaration
derived from the harmony of vast numbers with one voice attuned to
praise. It is a sensation which is so nearly a foretaste of eternity,
that participation alone can give the most distant perception
thereof. To the entirely unprepared and highly sensitive Geraldine it
was most overpowering, all the more because she was entirely out of
sight, and without power of taking part by either gesture or posture--
she was passive and had no vent for her emotion.

Lance, who made his way to her round through the transept the moment
he had disrobed, found her pale, panting, tearful, and trembling,
with burning cheeks, so that his exaltation turned to alarm. 'Are you
done up, Cherry? It is too hot up here? Ill try to find Felix or
Wilmet, which?'

'Neither! I am quite well, only--O Lance, I did not know anything
could be so heavenly. There seemed to be the sweeping of angels'
wings all round and over me, and Papa's voice quite clear.'

'I know,' said Lance; 'it always does come in that Te Deum.'

The sister and brother were silent, not yet able for the critical
discussion of single points; only, as he put his arm round her to
help her to rise, she said, with a sigh, 'O Lance, it is a great
thing to be one of them! Thank you. I think this is the greatest day
of all my life.'

The getting her down, what with Lance's inexperience and want of
height and strength, was anxious work; and just as it had been safely
accomplished, the rest of their party were seen roaming the aisle in
distress and perplexity. Geraldine was very glad of Felix's
substantial arm, but she had rather he had omitted that rebuke for
venturesomeness in dealing with her, which would have affronted
Fulbert, but never seemed to trouble Lance, who was only triumphant
in his success; and her perfect contentment charmed away the vexation
which really arose from a slight sense of having neglected her.

The others had been perfectly happy in their several ways, and made
eager comments on their way to the house of Harewood, whither Lance
piloted them--this time by the front way, through the garden, which
lay behind the close--entering, in spite of the mannerly demurs of
the elder ones, through the open door, into a hall whence a voice of
hearty greeting at once ensued. 'Here you are at last; and how's the
poor darling your sister! not over-tired?'

And Cherry, before she was aware, found herself kissed, and almost
snatched away from Felix, to be deposited on a sofa; and while the
like kisses were bestowed on the two little girls, and hospitable
offers showered on all, she was amused by perceiving that good Mrs.
Harewood was endowed with exactly the same grotesque order of
ugliness as her son William; but she was even more engaging, from an
indescribably droll mixture of heedlessness, blundering, and tender
motherliness.

'There, now, you'll just leave her to me, the poor dear; and Lance
will take you down to the Mead, and find Papa and the girls for you.'

'Oh, thank you, I could not think of your staying. Now pray--'

'Now prays' were to no purpose; Mrs. Harewood professed only to want
an excuse for staying at home--she did not want to be done up with
running after her girls to the four ends of the Mead, when it was a
long step for her to begin with. Off with them.

So when Wilmet was satisfied that Geraldine was comfortable, the five
moved off--Felix and Alice, Angel in Wilmet's hand, and Lance's and
Robina's tongues wagging so fast that the wonder was how either
caught a word of what the other was saying.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Harewood, tossing her bonnet and gloves aside, in
perfect indifference to the exposure of the curious structure of red
and gray hair she thus revealed, lavished meats and drinks upon her
guest, waiting on her with such kindness, that in spite of all
weariness and craving for quiet after these deep and wonderful
impressions, it was impossible not to enjoy that warmth of heart.
There was exactly the tender motherliness that even Wilmet and Sister
Constance could not give.

It was charming to hear how fond Mrs. Harewood was of Lance, and how
the having such a companion had made it possible to keep her Willie
at the cathedral school, where the mixture of lads was great, but the
master first-rate. He thought highly of the promise of both; 'but to
tell the truth,' said Mrs. Harewood, as she sat and fanned herself
with her husband's trencher cap, looking more than ever like a frog
in a strawberry bed, 'though my Willie is the cleverest boy in the
school, little good his cleverness would have done him, and he would
have been harum-scarum Bill more than ever, if it were not for Lance.
So say his father and brother Jack; so that they will not be for his
going to a public school unless Lance were sure of it too.'

'Will not they be able to stay on here?'

Mrs. Harewood explained that the year that the barristers--choristers
she meant--were sixteen, when their voices were usually
unserviceable, they, together with those of like age in the school,
were subjected to an examination, and the foremost scholar obtained
an exhibition, in virtue of which he could remain free of expense for
another two years, and then could try for one of the Minsterham
scholarships at one of the colleges at Cambridge. Those who failed,
either had to pay like the ordinary schoolboys, or left the school.

Dear Mrs. Harewood was a perfect Malaprop, and puzzled Geraldine by
continually calling the present occasion the rural meeting, and other
like slips, uncommonly comical in a well-educated woman with the
words she knew best.

All this, and a great deal more--about the shy woman-hating organist,
and the unluckiness of the dissenter--no, precentor--having a sick
wife, and the legal difficulties that prevented building a better
house for the boarders than the queer long room where they lodged,
between the cloister and the Bailey--the proper name of the little
court by which Geraldine had come--was poured out; and kind as it
was, there was a certain sense of having been talked to death.

A whole flood of Harewoods, Underwoods, and untold numbers besides,
swept into the room as the bell began to ring for Evensong. Most
sincere were Cherry's entreaties that she might be left alone. She
could not go back to her coign of vantage, 'it had been too beautiful
for her to bear more,' she said; and she severally declined offers of
companionship from three female Harewoods and two sisters, telling
Wilmet at last that all she wanted was to be still and alone.

Alone she was, but not still, for there was nothing to hinder the
magnificent volume of sound that surged around the Cathedral from
coming to her; and she could trace the service all along--in chant,
pealing mighty Amens, with the hush between, in anthem, and in
jubilant hymn. She was more calmly happy than in the oppressive
grandeur of the morning, as she lay there, in the cool drawing-room,
with the open window veiled by loose sprays of untrimmed roses, and
sacred prints looking down from the walls.

The solitude lasted rather too long, when she had heard the hum and
buzz of the host pouring out of the Cathedral, and still no one came.
They were to go home by the 5.10 train, and every time she counted
the chimes she became more alarmed lest they should be too late.
Minutes dragged on. Five! It was five! Was she forgotten? Should she
be only missed and remembered at the station, too late? Tired,
nervous, unused to oblivion, she found tears in her eyes, and was too
sorrowful and angry with her own impatience even to think of the old
woman of Servia. Hark! a trampling? Had they remembered her? But oh,
it would be late for the train!

In burst Lance, in his cap and little short quaint black gown.

'O Lance, I shall be too late!'

'You don't go by this train.'

'Oh dear! oh dear! Mr. Froggatt was to meet me;' and the tears
started from her eyes. 'How could Felix forget?'

'Never mind, there's sure to be a fly or something.'

'Yes, but Mr. Froggatt waiting!'

'Never mind,' repeated Lance, ''tis a fine evening to air the old
boss.'

'Don't, Lance; you none of you have any proper regard for Mr.
Froggatt;' which, as far as Lance was concerned, was unjust, and it
was well for Cherry that it was not addressed to either of the
brothers who better deserved it.

What Lance did was to execute one of his peculiar summersaults, and
then, making up a dismal face, to say, 'Alas! I commiserate the
venerable citizen disappointed of the pleasure of driving my Lady
Geraldine home from the wash as well as hisself.'

She was past even appreciating the bathos. 'It is no laughing matter,
she said; 'it is so uncivil, when he is so kind. I can't imagine what
Felix is thinking of?'

'Croquet,' said Lance briefly, then seeing the flushed, quivering,
mortified face, he added, 'Wilmet has not forgotten you one bit,
Cherry; but Alice Knevett and Robin did so want to see the fun in the
mead--there's running in sacks, and all sorts of games--that there's
no getting any one away; and the W's are in charge, and can't leave
them to their own devices, so she said perhaps you would be more
rested by lying still than rattling home.

'Oh, I dare say Wilmet is as sorry as anybody,' said Cherry rather
querulously, for the needle point was pricking her again.

'And as to your dear old Froggy,' continued Lance, 'she says he told
her he did not in the least expect you back by this train, and if you
did not come by it, he'll stay in town for the 8.50.'

'How very good of him!' said Cherry, beginning to be consoled. 'And
Felix at croquet!'

'Alice is teaching him. You never did see such a joke as old
Blunderbore screwing up his eyes at the balls, and making at them
with his mallet like a sledge-hammer. He and Alice and Robin and that
Bisset curate are playing against Bill, two of the girls, and
Shapcote--Bexley against Minsterham, and little Bobbie's a real out-
and-outer. She'll make her side win by sheer cool generalship.'

'And poor little Angel?' The needle point was a pang now.

'Oh, Angel is happier than ever she was in her life. The Bishop's
daughter has a turn for little kids, and has got all the small ones
together in the pleached alley, playing at all manner of things.'

'Run back, Lance, to the fun. I shall do very well,' said poor
Geraldine.

'I should think so, when I get you so often!' scornfully ejaculated
Lancelot, drawing a dilapidated brioche from under the sofa, and
squatting on it, with his dancing eyes close to her sad ones.

An effusion of spirits prompted her to lay her hands on his
shoulders, kiss him on each cheek, and cry, 'O Lance, you are the
very sweetest boy!'

'Sweetest treble, you mean,' said Lance quaintly; 'if you had only
heard me! You should see how the old ladies in the stalls peep and
whisper, and how Bill Harewood opens his mouth rather wider than it
will go, and they think it is he.'

'Not for fun, Lance?'

'Well, I believe all their jaws are hung on looser than other
people's. But I say, ain't you dying of thirst?'

'Perhaps Mrs. Harewood will give us some tea when she comes in.'

'If you trust to that--'

'O Lance!' she cried, alarmed at seeing him coolly ring the bell.

'Bless you, she's forgotten all about you and tea and everything!
They are drinking it by the gallon in the tents; and by and by she'll
roll in, ready to cry that you've had none, and mad with herself and
me for giving you none; and the fire will be out, and the kettle will
boil about ten minutes after you are off by the train. We'll have
some this minute.'

'But, Lance--'

'But, Cherry, ain't I a walking Sahara with roaring at the tiptop of
my voice to lead the clod-hoppers? How they did bellow! I owe it as a
duty to the Chapter to wet my whistle.'

'One comfort is, nobody knows your coolness. Nobody comes for all
your ringing.'

'Reason good! Every living soul in the house is in the Bishop's
meadow, barring the old cat; I seen 'em with their cap-strings
flying. But that's nothing. I know where Mother Harewood keeps her
tea and sugar;' and he pounced on a tea-caddy of Indian aspect.

'Lance, if you did that to Mettie--'

'Exactly so. I don't;' and he ran out of the room, while Cherry sat
up on her sofa, her petulance quite banished between amusement and
desperation at such proceedings in a strange house. He came back
presently with two cups, saucers, and plates, apparently picked up at
hap-hazard, as no two were alike. 'My dear Lance, where have you
been?'

'In the kitchen. Such a jolly arched old hole. Bill and I have done
no end of Welsh rabbits there. Once when we were melting some lead,
Bill let it drop into the pudding, and the Pater got it at dinner,
and said it was the heaviest morsel he ever had to digest.'

'But wasn't it poison?'

'I suppose not, for you see he isn't dead. Another time, when we were
melting glue, we upset a whole lot of fat, and the chimney caught
fire; and wasn't that a go? Bill got a pistol out of Jack's room, and
fired it up the chimney to bring the soot down; and down it came with
a vengeance! He was regularly singed, and I do think the place would
have been burned if it had not been too old! All the Shapcotes ran
out into the court, hallooing Fire! and the engine came, but there
was nothing for it to do. Oh, the face Wilmet would make to see that
kitchen. Kettle's biling--I must run.'

He came back with an enormous metal tea-pot in one hand, and a
boiling kettle in the other, a cloud of vapour about his head.

'You appear in a cloud, like a Greek divinity,' said Cherry,
beginning to enter into the humour of the thing.

'Bringing nectar and ambrosia,' said Lance, depositing the kettle
amid the furbelows of paper in the grate, and proceeding to brew the
tea. 'Excuse the small trifles of milk and cream, and as to bread, I
can't find it, but here are the cakes you had for luncheon, shunted
off into the passage window. Sugar, Cherry! Fingers were made before
tongs. Now I call this jolly.'

'I only hope this isn't a great liberty.'

'If you fired off a cannon under Mrs. Harewood's nose, she would not
call it a liberty.'

'So it appears. But Mr. Harewood does not look--like that.'

'Oh, he's well broken in. He is the pink of orderliness in his own
study and the library, but as long as no one meddles there, he minds
nothing. It just keeps him alive; but I believe the Shapcotes think
this house a mild lunatic asylum.'

'Who are the Shapcotes?'

'He's registrar. They live in the other half of this place--the old
infirmary, Mr. Harewood calls it. Such a contrast! He is a tremendous
old Turk in his house, and she is a little mincing woman; and they've
made Gus--he's one of us, you know--a horrid sneak, and think it's
all my bad company and Bill's. By-the-by, Cherry, Gus Shapcote asked
me if my senior wasn't spoony about--'

'I nope you told him to mind his own business!' cried Geraldine, with
a great start of indignation.

'I told him he was a sheep,' said Lance. 'But, I say, Cherry, I want
to know what you think of it.'

'Think? I'm not so ready to think nonsense!'

'Well, when the old giant was getting some tea for _her_, I saw two
ladies look at one another and wink.'

'Abominably ill-mannered,' she cried, growing ruddier than the
cherry.

'But had you any notion of it?'

'Impossible!' she said breathlessly. 'He is only kind and civil to
her, as he is to everybody. Think how young he is!'

'I'm sure I never thought old Blunderbore much younger than
Methuselah. Twenty-one! Isn't it about the age one does such things?'

'Not when one has twelve brothers and sisters on one's back,' sighed
Geraldine. 'Poor Felix! No, there can't be anything in it. Don't let
us think of foolish nonsense this wonderful day. What a glorious hymn
that was!'

Lance laid his head lovingly on the sofa-cushion, and discussed the
enjoyment of the day with his skilled appreciation of music.
Geraldine's receptive power was not inferior to his own, though she
had none of that of expression, nor of the science in which he was
trained. He was like another being from the merry rattle he was at
other times; and she had more glimpses than she ever had before of
the high nature and deep enthusiasm that were growing in him.

'Hark! there's somebody coming,' she cried, starting.

'Let him come. Oh, it is the Pater.--Here is some capital tea, Mr.
Harewood. Have some? I'll get a cup.'

'You are taking care of your sister. That is right. A good colonist
you would make.--Come in, Lee,' said Mr. Harewood, who, to Cherry's
increased consternation, was followed by another clergyman. 'We are
better off than I dared to expect, thanks to this young gentleman.
Miss Geraldine Underwood--Mr. Lee.--You knew her father, I think.'

'Not poor Underwood of Bexley? Indeed! I knew him. I always wished I
could have seen more of him,' said Mr. Lee, coming up and heartily
shaking hands with Cherry, and asking whether she was staying there,
etc.

Meantime Lance had fetched a blue china soup-plate, a white cup and
pink spotted saucer; another plate labelled 'Nursery,' a coffee-cup
and saucer, one brown and the other blue, and as tidily as if he had
been lady of the house or parlour-maid, presented his provisions, Mr.
Harewood accepting with a certain quiet amusement. His remarkable
trim neatness of appearance, and old-school precision of manner, made
his quiet humorous acquiescence in the wild ways of his household all
the more droll. After a little clerical talk, that reminded Cherry of
the old times when she used to lie on her couch, supposed not to
understand, but dreamily taking in much more than any one knew--it
appeared that Mr. Lee wanted to see something in the Library, and Mr.
Harewood asked her whether she would like to come and see Coeur de
Lion's seal.

She was fully rested, and greatly pleased. Lance's arm was quite
sufficient now, and she studied the Cathedral and its precincts in a
superexcellent manner. Mr. Harewood, who had spent almost his whole
life under its shadow, and knew the history of almost every stone or
quarry of glass, was the best of lionisers, and gave her much
attention when he perceived how intelligent and appreciative she was.
He showed her the plan of the old conventual buildings, and she began
to unravel the labyrinth through which she had been hurried. The
Close and Deanery were modernised, but he valued the quaint old
corner where he lived for its genuine age. The old house now divided
between him and Mr. Shapcote had been the infirmary; and the long
narrow building opposite, between the Bailey and the cloister, had
been the lodgings either of lay-brothers or servants. There being few
boarders at the Cathedral school, they had always been lodged in the
long narrow room, with the second master in a little closet shut off
from them. Cherry was favoured with a glance at Lance's little
corner, with the old-fashioned black oak bedstead, solid but unsteady
table and stool, the equally old press, and the book-case he had made
himself with boards begged from his friend the carpenter. A
photograph and drawing or two, and a bat, completed the plenishing.
She thought it very uncomfortable, but Lance called it his castle;
and Mr. Harewood, pointing to the washing apparatus, related that in
his day the cock in the Bailey was the only provision for such
purposes. The boys were safely locked in at eight every night when
the curfew rang, and the Bailey door was shut, there being no other
access to the rooms, except by the Cathedral, through the Library,
and the private door that led into the passage common to the
Harewoods and Shapcotes.

The loveliness of the Cloister, the noble vault of the Chapterhouse,
the various beauties and wonders of the Cathedral, and lastly the
curiosities of the Library--where Mr. Harewood enthroned her in his
own chair, unlocked the cases, brought her the treasures, and turned
over the illuminated manuscripts for her as if she had been a
princess--made Geraldine forget time, weariness, and anxiety, until,
as the summer sun was at last taking leave, a voice called at the
window, 'Here she is! I thought Papa would have her here!' and the
freckled face of a Miss Harewood was seen peering in.

There the truants were, eager, hurried, afraid for the train, full of
compunction, for the long abandonment: Alice, most apologetic;
Wilmet, most quiet; Felix, most attentive; Robina, still ecstatic;
and Angela, tired out--there they all were. It was all one hasty
scramble to the crowded station, and then one merry discussion and
comparison of notes all the way home, Geraldine maintaining that she
had enjoyed herself the best of all; and Alice incredulous of the
pleasure of sitting in a musty old library with an old gentleman of
at least sixty; while Felix was so much delighted to find that she
had been so happy, that he almost believed that the delay had been
solely out of consideration for her.

Mr. Froggatt was safe at the station in his basket, full of delight
at the enjoyment of his young people, and of anecdotes of Bernard and
Stella; and Geraldine found herself safely deposited at home, but
with one last private apology from Wilmet as she was putting her to
bed. 'I did not know how to help it,' she said; Alice was so wild
with delight, that I could not get her away; and Felix was enjoying
his holiday so thoroughly, I knew that you would be sorry it should
be shortened.'

'Indeed I am very glad you stayed. It would be too bad to encumber
you.'

'I wanted to come and see after you, but I had promised Miss Pearson
not to lose sight of Alice. And then Lance offered to take care of
you.'

'O Wilmet, I never half knew what a dear boy Lance is! What boy would
have come, when all that was going on, to stay with a lame cross
thing like me? And how nice for him to have such kind friends as the
Harewoods!'

'They seem very fond of him,' said Wilmet; 'but I wish he had taken
up with the Shapcotes. I never saw such a house. It is enough to ruin
all sense of order! But they were very kind to us; and if you were
well off, it was all right. I never saw Felix look so like his bright
old self as to-day; and it is his birthday, after all.'

So Wilmet was innocent of all suspicions--wise experienced Wilmet!
That was enough to make Cherry forget that little thorn of jealousy,
especially as things subsided into their usual course, and she had no
more food for conjecture.




CHAPTER XII

GIANT DESPAIR'S CASTLE



'Who haplesse and eke hopelesse all in vaine,
 Did to him pace sad battle to darrayne;
 Disarmd, disgraste, and inwardly dismayde,
 And eke so faint in every ioynt and vayne,
 Through that fraile fountaine which him feeble made.'
                                                   SPENSER.


Felix's majority made no immediate difference. His thirteenth part of
his father's small property remained with the rest, at any rate until
his guardian should return from his travels in the East; but in the
course of the winter his kind old godfather, Admiral Chester, died,
and having no nearer relation, left him the result of his small
savings out of his pay, which would, the lawyer wrote, amount to
about a thousand pounds, but there was a good deal of business to be
transacted, and it would be long before the sum was made over to him.

Wilmet and Geraldine thought it a perfect fortune, leading to the
University, and release from trade; and they looked rather crestfallen
when they heard that it only meant 30 pounds per annum in the funds,
or 50 pounds in some risky investment. Mr. Froggatt's wish was that he
should purchase such a share in the business as would really give him
standing there; but Wilmet heard this with regret; she did not like
his thus binding himself absolutely down to trade.

'You are thinking for Alda,' said Felix, smiling. 'You are
considering how Froggatt and Underwood will sound in her ears.'

'In mine, too, Felix; I do not like it.'

'I would willingly endure it to become Redstone's master,' said
Felix, quietly.

'Is he still so vexatious?' asked Geraldine: for not above once in
six months did Felix speak of any trials from his companions in
business.

'Not actively so; but things might be better done, and much ill blood
saved. I cannot share W. W.'s peculiar pride in preferring to be an
assistant instead of a partner.'

'Then this is what you mean to do with it?'

'Wait till it comes,' he said, oracularly. 'Seriously, though, I
don't want to tie it all up. The boys may want a start in life.'

Neither sister thought of observing that the legacy was to one, not
to all. Everybody regarded what belonged to Felix as common property;
and the 'boys' were far enough into their teens to begin to make
their future an anxious consideration. Clement was just seventeen,
and though he had outgrown his voice, was lingering on as a sort of
adopted child at St. Matthew's, helping in the parish school, and
reading under one of the clergy in preparation for standing for a
scholarship. He tried for one in the autumn, but failed, so much to
his surprise and disgust, that he thought hostility to St. Matthew's
must be at the bottom of his rejection; and came home with somewhat
of his martyr-like complacency at Christmas, meaning to read so hard
as to force his way in spite of prejudice. He was very tall, fair,
and slight; and his features were the more infantine from a certain
melancholy baby-like gravity, which music alone dispersed. He really
played beautifully, and being entrusted with the organ during the
schoolmaster's Christmas holidays, made practising his chief
recreation. That Lance would often follow him into church for a
study, and always made one of the group round the piano when Alice
Knevett came to sing with them, was a great grievance to Fulbert, who
never loved music, and hated it as a rival for Lance's attention.

These two were generally the closest companions, and were alike in
having more boyishness, restlessness, and enterprise than their
brothers. This winter their ambition was to be at all the meets
within five miles, follow up the hunt, and be able to report the
fox's death at the end of the day. Indeed, their appetite for
whatever bore the name of sport was as ravenous as it was
indiscriminate; and their rapturous communications could not be
checked by Clement's manifest contempt, or the discouraging
indifference of the rest--all but Robina, who loved whatever Lance
loved, and was ready to go to a meet, if Wilmet had not interfered
with a high hand.

Before long Felix wished that his authority over the male part of the
family were as well established as that in her department.

One hunting day the two brothers came in splashed up to the eyes,
recounting how they had found a boy of about their own age in a
ditch, bruised and stunned, but not seriously hurt, how with
consolation and schoolboy surgery they had cheered him, and found he
was Harry Collis, whom they had known as a school-fellow at Bexley;
how they had helped him home to Marshlands Hall, and had been amazed
at the dreariness and want of all home comfort at the place, so that
they did not like to leave him till his father came home; and how
Captain Collis had not only thanked them warmly, but had asked them
over to come and shoot rabbits the next day.

There was nothing to blame them for, but Felix had much rather it had
never happened. Captain Collis was one of a race of squires who had
never been very reputable, and had not risen greatly above the
farmer. He had been in the army, and had the bearing of a gentleman;
but ever since his wife's death, he had lived an unsatisfactory sort
of life at the Hall, always forward in sport, but not well thought
of, and believed to be a good deal in debt. His only child, this
Harry Collis, had been sent somewhat fitfully to the St. Oswald's
Grammar School, and had been rather a favourite companion of Lance's;
but separation had put an end to the intimacy, and this renewal was
not at all to the taste of their eldest brother.

'It can't be helped this time,' he said, when he heard of the
invitation; 'I suppose you must go to-morrow, but I don't fancy the
concern.'

Fulbert's bristles began to rise, but Lance chatted gaily on. 'But,
Fee, you never saw such a place! Stables for nine hunters. Only
think! And a horse entered for the Derby! We are to see him to-
morrow. It is the jolliest place.'

'Nine hunters!' moralised Clement; 'they cost as much as three times
nine orphans.'

'And they are worth a dozen times as much as the nasty little
beggars!' said Fulbert.

On which Angela put in the trite remark that the orphans had souls.

'Precious rum ones,' muttered Fulbert; and in the clamour thus raised
the subject dropped; but when next morning, in the openness of his
heart, Lance invited Clement to go with them to share the untold joys
of rabbit-shooting, he met with a decisive reply. 'Certainly not! I
should think your Dean would be surprised at you.'

'Oh, the Dean is a kind old chap,' answered Lance, off-hand;
'whenever he has us to sing at a party, he tips us all round, thanks
us, and tells us to enjoy ourselves in the supper-room, like a
gentleman, as he is.'

'Do you know what this Collis's character is?'

'Hang his character! I want his rabbits.'

And Lance was off with Fulbert; while Clement remained, to make
Geraldine unhappy with his opinion of the temptations of Marshlands
Hall, returning to the charge when Felix came in before dinner.

'Yes,' said Felix briefly, 'Mr. Froggatt has been telling me. It must
be stopped.'

'Have you heard of the mischief that--'

'Don't be such a girl, Tina. I am going to do the thing, and there is
no use in keeping on about it.'

Felix had not called Clement Tina since he had been head of the
family, and irritability in him was a token of great perplexity; for
indeed his hardest task always was the dealing with Fulbert; and he
was besides very sorry to balk the poor boys of one of their few
chances of manly amusement.

He would have waited to utter his prohibition till the excitement
should have worked off, but he knew that Clement would never hold his
peace through the narrative of their adventures; so, as they had not
come in when his work was over, he took Theodore on his arm, and
retreated to the little parlour behind the shop, where he lay in
wait, reading, and mechanically whistling tunes to Theodore, till he
heard the bell, and went to open the door.

The gas showed them rosy, merry, glorious, and bespattered, one
waving a couple of rabbits, and the other of pheasants, and trying to
tickle Theodore's cheeks with the long tails of the latter, of course
frightening him into a fretful wail.

'Take Theodore upstairs, if you please, Lance,' said Felix, 'and then
come down; I want you.'

'The Captain was going to dine at Bowstead's,' said Fulbert, 'so he
drove us in his dog-cart. If the frost holds, we are to go out and
skate on Monday.'

Felix employed himself in putting away his papers, without answering.

'I had very good luck,' continued Fulbert, 'four out of six;
wonderful for so new a hand, the Captain said.'

'Such a lovely animal you never saw,' said Lance, swinging himself
downstairs. 'You must walk out and see it, Fee, for you'll have it in
the Pursuivant some Saturday.'

'Lance, I am very sorry,' said Felix, standing upright, with his back
to the exhausted grate. 'Just attend to me, both of you.'

'Oh!' said Lance, hastily, 'I know there's a lot of old women's
gossip about Collis; but nobody minds such stuff. Harry is as good a
lad as ever stepped; and there was no harm to be seen about the
place;--was there, Ful?'

'The old Frog has been croaking,' hoarsely muttered Fulbert.

Boys of sixteen and fourteen were incapable of coercion by a youth of
one-and-twenty, and the only appeal must be to conscience and reason,
so Felix went on speaking, though he had seen from the first that
Fulbert's antagonism rendered him stolid, deaf, and blind; and
Lancelot's flushed cheeks, angry eyes, impatient attempts to
interrupt, and scornful gestures told of scarcely repressed passion.

'You may have seen no harm, I find no fault' (Fulbert scowled); 'but
if I had known what I do now I should not have let you go to-day. My
father would rather have cut off his right hand than have allowed you
to begin an acquaintance which has been ruinous to almost all the
young men who have been in that set.'

'But we are not young men,' cried Lance, 'it is only for the
holidays; and we only want a little fun with poor Harry, he is so
lonely--and just to go out rabbiting and skating. It is very hard we
can't be let alone the first time anything worth doing has turned up
in this abominable, slow place.'

'It is very hard, Lance. No one is more concerned than I; but if this
intimacy once begins, there is no guessing where it will lead; and I
do not speak without grounds. Listen--'

'If it comes from old Frog, you may as well shut up,' said Lance.
'There's been no peace at Marshlands since he took that cottage--a
regular old nuisance and mischief-maker, spiting the Captain because
one of the dogs killed his old cock, and bothering Charlie to no end
about him.'

'I have heard from others as well,' said Felix; and he briefly
mentioned some facts as to the scandals of the dissipated household,
some of the imputations under which Captain Collis lay, and named two
or three of the young men whose unsatisfactory conduct was ascribed
to his influence.

He saw that both lads were startled, and wound up with saying,
'Therefore it is not without reason that I desire that you do not go
there again.'

With which words, he opened the door, turned off the gas, and walked
upstairs, hearing on the way a growl of Fulbert's--'That's what comes
of being cad to a stupid brute of an old tradesman;' and likewise a
bouncing, rolling, and tumbling, and a very unchorister-like
expletive from Lance, but he hurried up, like the conclave from the
vault at Lindisfarn, only with a sinking heart, and looks that made
his sisters say how tired he must be. The boys were seen no more, but
sent word by Bernard that they were wet through, they should not
dress, but should get some supper in the kitchen, and go to bed.

On Sunday Lance had recovered himself and his temper, but in the
evening he made another attempt upon Felix in private. His heart was
greatly set upon Marshlands, and he argued that there was no evil at
all in what they had been doing, and entreated Felix to be content
with the promise both were willing to make, to take no share in
anything doubtful--not even to play at billiards, or cards--if that
would satisfy him, said Lance, 'but we will promise anything you
please against playing, or betting, or--'

'I know, Lance, you once made such a promise, and kept it. I trust
you entirely. But before, it would have been cruel to keep you from
that sick boy; now this would be mere running into temptation for
your own amusement.'

'Harry is not much better off than Fernan was,' said Lancelot,
wistfully.

'Poor fellow! very likely not; but it would be more certain harm to
yourself than good to him. Any way, no respectable person would
choose to be intimate there, or to let their boys resort there; and
it is my duty not to consent.'

'Ful is in such an awful way,' said Lance, disconsolately. 'Fee, you
don't know how hard it is, you always were such a muff.'

'That is true,' said Felix, not at all offended, 'and I had my father
and Edgar; but indeed, Lance, nothing ever was so hard to me to do as
this. I cannot say how sorry I am.'

'You do really order me not?' said Lance, looking straight up at him.

'I do. I forbid you to go into Captain Collis's grounds, or to do
more than exchange a greeting, if you meet him.'

'I will not. There's my word and honour for it, since--since you are
so intolerably led by the nose by old Frog;' and Lance flung away,
with the remains of his passion worked up afresh, and was as glum as
his nature allowed the rest of the evening; but Felix, though much
annoyed, saw that the boy had set up voluntarily two barriers between
himself and his tempted will--in the command and the promise.

But the command that was a guard to the one, was a goad to the other;
for Fulbert had never accepted his eldest brother's authority, and
could not brook interference. Still his school character was good,
and there was a certain worth about him, which made him sometimes
withdraw his resistance, though never submit; and Felix had some hope
that it would be so in the present case, when, while speeding to
church in the dark winter Monday morning, he overheard Lance say to
Clement, 'I say, Clem, 'tis a jolly stinging frost. If you'll take
your skates and give us a lesson, we'll be off for the lake at
Centry.'

One of the Whittingtonian curates had taken the boys to the ice in
the parks, and taught them so effectively, that Clement was one of
the best skaters in Bexley; but he was too much inclined to the
nayward not to reply, 'I have to practise that anthem for Wednesday.'

'Oh, bother the practice!'

(Which Felix mentally echoed.)

'I can play that anthem, if that's all,' said Lance; 'and I believe
you know it perfectly well. Now, Clem, don't be savage; I think, if
you will come, we might put that other thing out of Ful's head.'

'Well, if you think it is to be of use----'

'That's right! Thank you,' cried Lance. 'And you won't jaw us all the
way? He can't stand that, you know.'

Clement winced; but in compensation, apparently, for this forbidden
lecture, he observed, 'I am glad you at least take it properly, Lance,
though it would be worse in you than in him, considering your--'

'Bother it!' unceremoniously broke in Lance; and the words of wisdom
were silenced.

Lance did his best to organise his party, but it was a failure;
Fulbert said he had made an engagement, and would not break it; he
was not bound to toady old Froggy, nor in bondage to any old fogeys
of a dean and chapter; and he walked off the faster for Clement's
protest, leaving Lance to roll on the floor and climb the balusters
backwards to exhale his desire to follow. He was too much upset even
to follow Clement to the organ, or to settle to the drawing which
Cherry was teaching him, and was a great torment to himself and his
sisters till dinner-time, when Clement had done his organ and his
Greek, and was ready for a rush for the ice; and Robina went joyously
with them. 'Between two young ladies one can't well run into harm's
way,' said Lance.

So things went on for a fortnight. Fulbert never shuffled, he went
openly to Marshlands Hall; and though not boasting of his
expeditions, did not treat them as a secret. Wilmet and Geraldine
each tried persuasion, but were silenced rudely; and Felix, unable to
enforce his authority, held his tongue, but was very unhappy, both
for the present and for the future. He did not believe much harm was
doing now, but the temptation would increase with every vacation as
the boys came nearer to manhood; and he seemed to have lost all
influence and moral power over Fulbert.

Good old Mrs. Froggatt gave a small children's party, to which, with
many apologies, she invited the lesser Underwoods, under charge of
Wilmet. They were to sleep at the cottage, and Wilmet having offered
to help in dressing the Christmas-tree, they set out early in the day
to walk, escorted by the three brothers. That the trio did not return
to tea did not alarm Felix and Geraldine, who suspected that the
dislike the two elder expressed to the whole house of Froggatt had
melted before the pleasure of working at the tree.

The evening was taken up in the discussion of a letter of Edgar's,
more than usually discontented with his employment; and another of
Alda's, who had been laid under orders to write to her eldest
brother, and desire him to remonstrate with Edgar on his inattention,
laziness, and pleasure-seeking. The anxiety had long been growing up;
Felix had come to write his difficult letter by the light of
Geraldine's sympathy, and they were weighing what should be said,
when the door-bell rang, some sounds puzzled them, and just as Felix
was getting up to see what was the matter, Fulbert put his head in at
the door, and said, low but earnestly, 'Step here, Felix, please.'

He thought there must have been some terrible accident; but when from
the top of the stairs he beheld Clement's aspect under the gas in the
passage, and heard the thick tones in which he was holding forth
according to instinct, his consternation was almost greater than at
any injury. Fulbert looked pale and astounded. 'I can't get him
upstairs,' he said.

However, sense enough remained to Clement to give effect to his
eldest brother's stern words, 'Be quiet, and come up;' and they
dragged him stumbling upstairs without more words.

'Where's Lance?' then asked Felix.

'Stayed at the Froggatts'. I wish he hadn't. He will walk home by and
by.'

'Now, Ful, run and tell Cherry that nobody is hurt. Do not let her
get frightened.'

Felix spoke resolutely, but he felt so full of dismay and horror,
that he hardly knew what he was doing till Fulbert had returned, and
repressing all poor Clement's broken moralities, they had deposited
him safely in bed, and shut the door on him. Then Fulbert gazed up at
Felix with eyes full of regret and consternation, and he gathered
breath to enter his own room, and say, 'What is the meaning of this?'

'His head must be ridiculously weak: or there was some beastly trick.
Nobody else was the least queer!'

'Marshlands Hall?'

'Well, he had gone on at me so, that when Lance let himself be
persuaded into staying to hang up the lamps, it struck me what a lark
it would be to take Tina across the Hall lands, and then tell him he
had been on the enemy's ground. So I told him of the old chantry that
is turned into a barn, and of course he must go and see it, and take
sketches of the windows for his clergy. While he was doing it, up
comes young Jackman. You know young Jackman at the Potteries--a
regular clever fellow that knows everything?'

'Yes, I know him.'

'Well, they got into early pointed, and late pointed, and billets and
dog-tooths, and all the rest, and Clem went on like a house on fire;
and by that time we had got to the big pond, where Collis and half a
dozen more were, and he had got his skates, and I believe he did
surprise them; they called it first rate.'

'Did he know where he was?'

'Not at the beginning of the skating. I only wanted to get him down
from his altitudes, and never thought it would come to this. You
believe that, Felix?'

'Yes, I do. Go on.'

'It was fine moonlight, and we stayed on ever so long, while Jackman
and Clem and two more danced a quadrille on the ice; and when it was
over everybody was horribly cold, and Captain Collis said we must all
come in and have something hot; and Jackman said he was going to
drive home to dinner at eight, and would take us, but every one got
talking, and it was half-past eight before we started. It was all in
such a scramble, that I had no notion there was anything amiss till
Clem began to talk on the way home.'

'What were they drinking?'

'Various things--brandy-and-water chiefly. I don't like it, and had
some ale; but I was playing with Harry's puppies, and not much
noticing Clem.'

'Do you think it was a trick?'

'I can't tell. He is so innocent, he would have no notion how stiff
to make it. If any one meant mischief, it was Jackman; and I did
think once or twice he had found out Tina, and was playing him off.
On the way home, when I was trying to hinder poor Clem from falling
off, he went on chaffing so, that I longed to jump off, and lay the
whip about his ears.'

'Poor Clem!' said Felix, more grieved and shocked than angry, and not
insensible to Fulbert's being even more appalled, and quite
frightened out of his sulkiness.

'It is a bad business,' he sighed. 'It was all Lance's fault for
letting himself be lugged into that baby party.'

Even this was a great admission, and Felix would not blight it by a
word.

'It is well the girls are not at home,' was all he said.

'I only told Cherry that Clem wasn't well. I can't face her; I shall
go to bed. I would not have had this happen for the world.'

'I shall say nothing to her,' said Felix, dejectedly, turning to
leave the room, under a horrible sense of disgrace and stain on the
whole family; but at the door he was caught hold of by Fulbert, who
looked up at him with a face quite unlike anything he had ever seen
in the lad.

'Felix, I never was so sorry in my life. I wish you would give me a
good rowing.'

Felix half smiled. 'I could not,' he said. 'You did not know what you
were doing. Good-night.'

Fulbert gazed after him as he went downstairs, and went back, with a
groan, to his own room.

Felix had never before felt so hopeful about Fulbert; but still he
was too much overset to talk to Cherry, and hurried her off to bed,
soon following her example, for he had not the heart to see Lance
that night.

Of course, the first hours of the morning had to be spent in
attending on the victim, whose misery, mental and bodily, was
extreme, and was aggravated by his engagement to the organ. Lance
could supply his place there, and was sent off to do so, but looking
as subdued and guilty as if he had been making Fulbert's confession
instead of hearing it, and stumbling uncomfortably over the
explanation that Clement was not well, and that Felix could not leave
him.

For there was a fragility about Clement's long lank frame that made
any shock to it very severe, and he was ill enough to alarm his
happily inexperienced brothers, and greatly increase Fulbert's
penitence; but by the time Mr. Froggatt drove the sisters home, and
Wilmet wondered that she could not go out for a night without some
one being ill, he had arrived at a state which she could be left to
attribute to Mrs. Froggatt's innocent mince-pies.

He burrowed under his blankets, and feigned sleep and discomfort
beyond speech, whenever she came into the room, begging only that the
light might be kept out, and that nobody would speak to him. He was
too utterly miserable for anger with Fulbert, but only showed a sort
of broken-hearted forgiveness, which made Fulbert say in desperation
to Lance, 'I wish you would just fall upon me. I shall not be myself
again till I've been blown up!'

'I suppose you are doing it for yourself, and that is worse,' said
Lance.

'And you know it was all your doing, for going to that disgusting old
Philistine's tea and cake.'

'What, you and Clem wanted me to lead you about, like two dogs in a
string?' said Lance.

'No; Tina would have kept the baby-bunting out of harm's way.'

'More likely he would have bored me into going. Poor Tina! I should
almost like to hear him jaw again! After all, you and he never
promised, and I did.'

'I wish I had,' said Fulbert; 'I am awfully afraid they are getting
hold of it in the town.'

'So am I. Mowbray Smith looked me all over, and asked me after
Clement, when I met him just now in the street, as if he had some
malice in his head.'

'What did you tell him?'

'I said he was in a state of collapse, and that serious fears were
entertained for his life and reason; and then he warned me against
the nineteenth-century manners, and I thanked him and made a bow, and
now I suppose he is gone to tell my Lady.

When Felix was free in the evening, he found Clement dressed, and
sitting over the fire in his room--so well indeed, that he might have
been downstairs, but that he shrank from every one; and that fire had
been the fruit of such persevering battles of Wilmet and Sibby with
the smoke and soot, that it would have been a waste of good labour to
have deserted it.

'Well, Clem, you are better?'

'Yes, thank you.'

'Headache gone?'

'Nearly,' with a heavy sigh.

Felix drew an ancient straw-bottomed chair in front of the fire
backwards, placed himself astride on it, laid his arms on the top and
his forehead on them, and in this imposing Mentorial attitude began,
'After all, Clem, I don't see that you need be so desperately broken-
hearted. It was mere innocence and ignorance. Water-drinkers at home
are really not on a level with other people. I always have to be very
guarded when I have to dine with the other reporters.'

'No,' said Clement, sadly; 'I do not regard the disgrace as the sin
so much as the punishment.'

It was more sensible than Felix had expected. He was conscious of not
understanding Clement, who always seemed to him like a girl, but if
treated like one, was sure to show himself in an unexpected light.

'You did not know where you were going?'

'Not at first. I found out long before I came off the ice; and then,
like an absurd fool as I was, I thought myself showing how to deal
courteously and hold one's own with such people.'

'You are getting to the bottom of it,' said Felix.

'I have been thinking it over all day,' said Clement, mournfully. 'I
see that such a fall could only be the consequence of long continued
error. Have I not been very conceited and uncharitable of late,
Felix?'

'Not more than usual,' said Felix, intending to speak kindly.

'I see. I have been treating my advantages as if they were merits,
condemning others, and lording it over them. Long ago I was warned
that my danger was spiritual pride, but self-complacency blinded me.'
And he hid his face and groaned.

Felix was surprised. He could not thus have discussed himself, even
with his father; but he perceived that if Clement had no one else to
preach to he would preach to himself, and that this anatomical
examination was done in genuine sorrow.

'No humility!' continued Clement. 'That is what has brought me to
this. If I had distrusted and watched myself, I should have perceived
when I grew inflated by their flattery, and never--egregious fool
that I was--have thought I was showing that one of our St. Matthew's
choir could meet worldly men on their own ground.'

Felix was glad that his posture enabled him to conceal a smile; but
perhaps Clement guessed at it, for he exclaimed, 'A fit consequence,
to have made myself contemptible to everybody!'

'Come, Clem, that is too strong. Your censorious way was bad for
yourself, and obnoxious to us all, and it was very silly to go to
that place after what you had heard.'

'After telling Lance it was unworthy of a servant of the sanctuary,'
moaned Clement.

'Very silly indeed,' continued the elder brother, 'very wrong; but as
to what happened there, it is not reasonable to look at it as more
than an accident. It will be forgotten in a week by all but Fulbert
and yourself, and you will most likely be the wiser for it all your
lives. I never got on so well with Ful before, or saw him really
sorry.

Clement only answered by a disconsolate noise; and Felix was becoming
a little impatient, thinking the penitence overstrained, when he
broke silence with, 'You must let me go up to St. Matthew's!'

'Really, Clement, it is hardly right to let you be always living upon
Mr. Fulmort now your occupation is ended, and it would be braver not
to run away.'

'I do not mean that!' cried Clement. 'I will not stay there. I would
not burthen them; but see the Vicar I _must_! I will go third class,
and walk from the station.'

'The fare of an omnibus will not quite break our backs,' said Felix,
smiling. 'If this is needful to settle your mind, you had better go.'

'You do not know what this is to me,' said Clement, earnestly; 'I
wish you did.' Then perceiving the recurrence to his old propensity,
he sighed pitifully and hung his head, adding, 'It is of no use till
Saturday, the Vicar is gone to his sisters.'

'Very well, you can get a return ticket on Saturday--that is, if the
organist is come back.'

'Lance must play; I am not worthy.'

'You have no right to break an engagement for fancies about your own
worthiness,' said Felix. 'Rouse yourself up, and don't exaggerate the
thing, to alarm all the girls, and make them suspicious.'

'They ought to know. I felt myself a wicked hypocrite when Wilmet
would come and read me the Psalms, and yet I could not tell her. Tell
them, Felix; I cannot bear it without.'

'No, I shall not. You have no right to grieve and disgust them just
because you "cannot bear it without." Cannot you bear up, instead of
drooping and bemoaning in this way? It is not manly.'

'Manliness is the great temptation of this world.'

'You idiot!' Felix, in his provocation, broke out; then getting
himself in hand again, 'Don't you know the difference between true
and false manliness?'

'I know men of the world make the distinction,' said Clement; 'I am
not meaning any censure, Felix. Circumstances have given you a
different standard.'

Felix interrupted rather hotly: 'Only my father's. I have heard him
say, that if one is not a man before one is a parson, one brings the
ministry into contempt. The things the boys call you Tina for are not
what make a good clergyman.'

'I don't feel as if I could presume to seek the priesthood after
that.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' cried Felix. 'If no one was ordained who had
ever made a fool of himself and repented, we should be badly off for
clergy. You were conceited and provoking, and have let yourself be
led into a nasty scrape--that's the long and short of the matter; but
it is only hugging your own self-importance to sit honing and moaning
up here. Come down, and behave like a reasonable being.'

'Let me stay here to-night, Felix, I do need it,' said Clement, with
tears in his eyes; 'if I am alone now, I think I can bring myself to
bear up outwardly as you wish.'

The affected tone had vanished, and Felix rose, and kindly put his
hand on his shoulder, and said, 'Do, Clem. You know it is not only my
worldliness--mere man of business as I am--that bids us to hide grief
within, and "anoint the head and wash the face."'

Just then an exulting shout rang through the house, many feet
scuttled upstairs, knocks hailed upon the door, and many voices
shouted, 'Mr Audley! Felix, Clem, Mr. Audley!'

'Won't you come, Clem?'

'Not to-night; I could not.'

Clement shut the door, and Felix hastened down among the dancing
exulting little ones. 'I thought you were at Rome!' he said, as the
hands met in an eager grasp.

'I was there on Christmas Day; but Dr. White's appointment is
settled, and he wants me to go out with him in June. My brother is
gone on to London, and I must join him there on Saturday.'

'I am glad it is to-day instead of yesterday,' said Wilmet. 'We were
all out but Felix and Cherry, and poor Clement was so ill.'

'Clement ill? Is he better?'

'He will be all right to-morrow,' said Felix.

Mr. Audley detected a desire to elude inquiry, as well as a meaning
look between the two younger boys, and he thought care sat heavier on
the brow of the young master of the house than when they had parted
eighteen months before.

His travels were related, his photographs admired, his lodging
arranged in Mr. Froggatt's room, and after the general goodnight, he
drew his chair in to the fire, and prepared for a talk with his ex-
ward.

'You look anxious, Felix. Have things gone on pretty well?'

'Pretty fairly, thank you, till just now, when there is rather an
ugly scrape,'--and he proceeded to disburthen his mind of last
night's misadventure; when it must be confessed that the narrative of
Clement's overweening security having had a fall provoked a smile
from his guardian, and an observation that it might do him a great
deal of good.

'Yes,' said Felix, 'if his friends do not let him make much of his
penitence, and think it very fine to have so important a thing to
repent of.'

'I don't think they will do that. You must not take Clement as
exactly the fruit of their teaching.'

'There's no humbug about him, at least,' said Felix. 'He is really
cut up exceedingly. Indeed all I have been doing was to get him to
moderate his dolefulness. I believe he thinks me a sort of heathen.'

'Well,' said Mr. Audley, laughing, 'you don't seem to have taken the
line of the model head of the family.'

'The poor boys were both so wretched, that one could not say a word
to make it worse,' said Felix. 'This satisfies me that Fulbert is all
right in that way. He would not have been so shocked if he had ever
seen anything like it before; but though he is very sorry now, I am
afraid it will not cut the connection with those Collises.'

'You do not find him easier to manage?'

'No; that is the worst. He is not half a bad boy--nay, what is called
a well-principled boy--only it is his principle not to mind me. I do
not know whether I am donnish with him, or if I bullied him too much
when he was little; but he is always counter to me. Then he is one of
those boys who want an out-of-door life, and on whom the being shut
up in a town falls hard. The giving up sporting is real privation to
him and to Lance, and much the hardest on him, for he does not care
for music or drawing, or anything of that sort.'

'How old is he?'

'Just sixteen.'

'Suppose I were to take him out to Australia?'

'Fulbert!'

'Yes; I always intended to take one if I went, but I waited till my
return to see about it, and I thought Clement was of a more
inconvenient age, but you must judge.'

'Poor Tina!' said Felix, smiling, 'he would hardly do in a colony. He
is heart and soul a clergyman, and whether he will ever be more of a
man I don't know; but I don't think he could rough it as a
missionary.'

'Is he going to get a scholarship!'

'He has tried at Corpus, and failed. He is full young, and I suppose
he ought to go to a tutor. I am afraid he learnt more music than
classics up at that place.'

'Can the tutoring be managed!'

'I suppose a hundred out of that thousand will do it.'

'Is that thousand to go like the famous birthday five?'

'Five hundred is to be put into the business; but the rest I meant to
keep in reserve for such things as this.'

'If all are to be helped at this rate, your reserve will soon come to
an end.'

'Perhaps so; but I have always looked on Clement as my own
substitute. Indeed, I held that hope out to my father, when it
distressed him that I should give it up. So Clem is pretty well
settled, thank you. Besides I am not afraid of his not going on well
here; but I do believe Fulbert will do the better for being more
independent, only it seems to me too much to let you undertake for
us.'

'They are all my charge,' said Mr. Audley; 'and as I am leaving you
the whole burthen of the rest, and my poor little godson is not
likely to want such care, you need have no scruple. One of the
Somervilles is going out to a Government office at Albertstown, and
perhaps may put me in the way of doing something for him.'

Felix mused a moment, then said, 'The only doubt in my mind would be
whether, if it suited you equally, it might not be an opening for
Edgar.

'Edgar! Surely he is off your hands?'

'I am greatly afraid his present work will not last. He always hated
it, and I believe he always had some fancy that he could persuade Tom
Underwood into making a gentleman of him at once, sending him to the
University or the like, and they petted and admired him enough to
confirm the notion. Mrs. Underwood makes him escort her to all her
parties; and you know what a brilliant fellow he is--sure to be
wanted for all manner of diversions, concerts, private theatricals,
and what not; and you can fancy how the counting-house looks to him
after. Tom Underwood declares he requires nothing of him but what he
would of his own son; and I believe it is true; but work is work with
him, and he will not be trifled with. Here is a letter about it, one
of many, I was trying to answer last night; only this affair of poor
Clem's upset everything.'

'Six brothers are no sinecure, Felix.'

'They are wonderfully little trouble,' said Felix, standing on their
defence. 'They are all good sound-hearted boys, and as to Lance,
there's no saying the comfort that little fellow always is. He has
that peculiar pleasantness about him--like my father and Edgar--that
one feels the moment he is in the house; and he is so steady, with
all his spirits. The other two both say all this could not have
happened with him.'

'High testimony.'

'Yes, as both are inclined to look down on him. But think of that
boy's consideration. He has never once asked me for pocket-money
since he went to the Cathedral. He gets something when the Dean and
Canons have the boys to sing, and makes that cover all little
expenses.'

'What do you mean to do with him?'

'If he gets the scholarship, a year and a half hence, he will stay on
two years free of expense. Unluckily, he says that young Harewood is
cleverer than he, and always just before him: but I have some hope in
the hare-brains of Master Bill. If he do not get it--well, we must
see, but it will go hard if Lance cannot be kept on to be educated
properly.'

Mr. Audley took the letters, and presently broke into an indignant
exclamation; to which Felix replied--

'The work is not good enough for him, that is the fact.'

'If you are weak about any one, Felix, it is Edgar. I have no
patience with him. His work not _good_ enough, forsooth, considering
what yours is!'

'Mine has much more interest and variety; and he is capable of much
more than I am.'

'Then let him show it, instead of living in the lap of luxury, and
murmuring at a few hours at the desk.'

'I ascribe that to his temperament, which certainly has a good deal
of the artist; that desk-work is peculiarly irksome.'

'Very likely; but it is his plain duty to conquer his dislike. No,
Felix; I wish I could take him away with me, for I am afraid he will
be a source of trouble.'

'Never! Edgar is too considerate.'

'But he is exactly what Australia is over-stocked with already--a
discontented clerk. If he be spoilt by luxury here, do you think he
would bear with a rude colony? No. Fulbert is a gruff, obstinate boy,
but not idle and self-indulgent; and I am not afraid to undertake
him, but I should be of Edgar.'

Felix had flushed up a good deal, for his love for Edgar was less
paternal and more sensitively keen than that for any of the others;
but he was more reasonable, and had more control of temper now, than
when Mr. Audley had last crossed him; and he made answer, 'I believe
you are right, and that Edgar could not be happy in a colony. Any
way, you are most kind to Fulbert. But I am afraid I must go now, or
Theodore will wake.'

'Do you still have him at night?'

'He is not happy with any one else. You have not seen him yet? I am
sure he is improving! There's his voice! Good-night.' And Felix
hurried away, leaving Mr. Audley feeling that though here and there
the young pillar of the house might be mistaken, the daily
unselfishness of his life was a beautiful thing, and likewise
impressed by his grave air of manly resolution and deliberation.

By the morning, Clement had recovered his tone, so as not to obtrude
his penitence or to be much more subdued in manner than usual. Mr.
Audley made him bring his books to the dining-room after breakfast,
and the examination quite exonerated the authorities at Oxford from
any prejudice except against inaccuracy, and showed that a thorough
course of study was needful before he could even matriculate; and
Clement in his present lowliness was not incredulous of any
deficiency at St. Matthew's, but was only meek and mournful.

'What shall I do?' he asked. 'Perhaps some school would take me to
teach and study at the same time. Or I might get an organist's place,
and read so that I might be ordained as a literate at last. It would
come when I was fit, I suppose.'

Mr. Audley only said he would inquire, and talk to Felix; and Clement
pleased him by answering that he could not bear to be an expense to
Felix. The good principle in the boys was quite to be traced, when
presently after it was necessary to put Fulbert to a severe trial. On
going to pay his respects at the Rectory, Mr. Audley found Mr.
Mowbray Smith there, and after some preliminaries, he was asked
whether he knew how the young Underwoods had been going on of late;
of course, though, it would be concealed from him: but it was right,
etc. Then Mr. Bevan feebly suggested that he did not believe there
was any truth in it, and was sharply silenced; and Miss Caroline
observed that she was always sure that Clement Underwood was a great
humbug; whereupon, between the mother, daughter and curate, the
popular version of the Marshlands Hall affair was narrated--or rather
versions, for all were beautifully entangled and contradictory.

Some one had been in the street, and had seen poor Clement's exit
from young Jackman's dog-cart, and reported indiscriminately that it
was 'young Underwood.' Lance had not been able to put a sufficiently
bold face on his morning's report of Clement's indisposition and
Felix's absence; and this, together with the boys' hunting
propensities, and Fulbert's visits to Marshlands, had all been
concocted into a very serious accusation of the whole of the
brothers, including Felix, of having entered into a dangerous
friendship with Captain Collis, and underhand enjoying the
dissipations of the Hall, which had been the bane of many a young man
of Bexley.

There were different measures of indignation. Miss Price expected a
grand series of denunciations--to Mr. Froggatt--to Miss Pearson,
'whose niece was always there--most imprudent;'--nay, perhaps to the
Dean, and to the Vicar of St. Matthew's. The least excitement she
expected, was Felix Underwood's expulsion from the choir.

Lady Price merely believed it all, and thought the friends ought to
interfere, and save the poor young things while there was time for
any of them. She would never mention it so as to injure them, but
nothing else could be expected.

Mr. Mowbray Smith supposed there must be some exaggeration, but he
had been surprised at Lancelot's manner, and he did not think Felix's
absence accounted for; he did seem steady--but-- And there was
something unnatural in the way of life at St. Matthew's, that would
make him never trust a lad from thence.

Yes; and even Mr. Bevan did not like St. Matthew's (because it was
not slack or easy), and he too could believe anything of Clement. No
doubt poor Felix found those great brothers getting too much for him.

Mr. Audley was standing by the window. He saw Fulbert with Lance and
little Bernard going down the street, and by one of the sudden dashes
that had often puzzled the Rectory, he flew out at the door, and the
next moment had his hand on Fulbert's shoulder.

'Fulbert, they have made a terrible scandal of this affair at
Marshlands Hall. They fancy Felix had something to do with it.'

'Felix! I should like to punch their heads.'

'You can do better. You can contradict it.'

'But, Sir--'

However, Fulbert, while still following to plead with Mr. Audley,
found himself where he never recollected to have been in his life
before, among the cushions, arm-chairs, and tables covered with
knick-knacks, of the Rectory drawing-room. Mr. Bevan in an easy-
chair; Mr. Smith standing before the fire; Lady Price at work,
looking supercilious; and her daughter writing notes at a davenport.

Mr. Bevan half rose and held out his hand, the others contented
themselves with a nod, while the big, stout lad stood rather like a
great dog under the same circumstances, very angry with everybody,
and chiefly with Mr. Audley--to whom, nevertheless, he trusted for
getting him safe out again.

'Fulbert,' said Mr. Audley, 'Mr. Bevan would be better satisfied if
he could hear what intimacy there has been between your brothers and
the Collises.'

'None at all,' said Fulbert, bluntly.

'My boy,' said the gentle Rector, deprecatingly, 'nobody ever
suspected your eldest brother.'

'I should think not!' exclaimed Fulbert, with angry eyes. 'All he
ever did was to warn us against going. More fools not to mind him!'

'Then,' said my Lady, 'it has been the insubordination and wilfulness
of you younger boys that has nearly involved him in so grave an
imputation.'

'Of nobody's but mine,' returned Fulbert. 'The others would have
nothing to do with it.'

'That cannot be the literal fact,' said Mr. Smith, in a low voice, to
Lady Price. 'There were certainly two of them.'

Fulbert heard, and turning to the Rector, as if he thought every one
else beneath his notice, said, 'The long and short of it is this:
Lance and I picked young Collis out of a ditch, and took him home.
Then Captain Collis asked us rabbit-shooting. Lance never went again,
because Felix did not choose it. I did; and, just by way of a joke, I
took Clement there without his knowing what place it was. We fell in
with them skating, and went into the house, the day before yesterday.
That is,' said Fulbert, concluding as he had begun, 'the long and
short of it. Whatever happened was my fault, and no one else's.'

'A very honest confession!' said kind Mr. Bevan, pleased to have
something to praise.

'And I hope it will act as a warning,' said Lady Price.

'But,' said Mr. Smith, partly incited by Carry's looks, 'it was true
that you--two of you were brought home by young Jackman.'

'Yes,' said Fulbert, growing crimson, 'he drove Clement and me home!'

'And,' said Mr. Audley, 'it was Clement's great distress that kept
Felix at home the next morning.'

'Yes,' said Fulbert, 'there was nobody else but me, and Clem could
hardly bear the sight of me, because I had led him into it. We
thought no one in the house would know it--and I don't believe they
do.'

'Ah!' said Lady Price, 'it is false kindness to attempt concealment.'

'From lawful authority it is,' said Mr. Audley; 'but in this case it
was only from children and servants. However, Fulbert, I think you
have fully satisfied Mr. Bevan as to the amount of intercourse
between your brothers and Marshlands.'

'Entirely,' said Mr. Bevan, 'in fact, you may assure your brother
that I never believed anything to his discredit.'

'I shall say nothing about it, said Fulbert, not choosing to see the
hand held out to him. 'I should be ashamed!--May I go now, Sir?' to
Mr. Audley; and with an odd sort of circular bow, he made his escape,
and Mr. Audley, having remained long enough to ascertain that the
worst that could be said of him was that he was a cub, and that it
was a terrible thing to see so many great hulking lads growing up
under no control, took his leave, and presently came on the three
boys again, consulting at the ironmonger's window over the knife
on which Bernard was to spend a half-crown that Mrs. Froggatt had
given him.

'Can Lance and Bernard settle that? I want you a moment, Fulbert. Not
to confront the Rectory again,' he added, smiling. 'It was a horrid
bore for you, but there was no helping it.'

'I suppose not,' said Fulbert, gloomily, as if he did not forgive the
unpleasant moments.

'It was not about that I wanted to speak to you, though,' said Mr.
Audley. 'I wanted to know whether you have any plans or wishes for
the future.'

'I?' said Fulbert, looking up blank.

'Yes, you. You are growing up, Fulbert.'

'I suppose I must take what I can get,' said Fulbert, in the same
sulky, passive voice.

'That may be a wise determination, but have you really no choice?'

'Well, when I was a little chap, and knew no better, I used to think
I would be a soldier or a farmer--but that's all nonsense; and I
suppose I must have some abominable little clerkship,' said Fulbert,
with a certain steadiness for all the growl of his tone.

'Well, Fulbert, have you a mind to try whether the other side of the
world would suit you better?'

Fulbert looked up. 'You don't mean that you would take me out?'

'Yes, I do, if you are inclined to come and try for work at
Albertstown.'

Fulbert, instead of answering, quickened his pace to a walking run,
dashed on, nearly upsetting half a dozen people, and was only checked
by a collision with a perambulator. Then he stood still till Mr.
Audley came up to him, and then again muttered under his breath, 'Go
out to Albertstown!'

They walked on a little way, and then the boy said, 'Say it again,
please.'

Mr. Audley did say it again, in more detail; and Fulbert this time
exclaimed, 'It is the very thing! Thank you, Mr. Audley;' and his
face clearing into a frank, open look, he added, 'I'll try to do my
best there. I wonder I never thought of it before. I would have
worked my way out as a cabin boy if I had. Where is Lance? Does Felix
know?'

There was no sentiment about Fulbert. He jumped at the offer as
instinctively as a young swallow would prepare to migrate, seemed to
brighten all over, and shake off his dull, defiant mood, and gave no
sign of feeling about brother or sister--except that he said he
believed Felix would get on better without him; and that he told
Lance that they would have splendid fun together when he was big
enough to come out and ride a buck-jumper.




CHAPTER XIII

PEGASUS IN HARNESS



'Fear not on that rugged highway
   Life may want its lawful zest,
 Sunny glens are on the mountain,
   Where the weary heart may rest.'
                          CHARLES GAVAN DUFFY.


There was much relief and comfort in that visit of Mr. Audley's. For
one thing, Geraldine was able to pour out all her troubles, as she
had been used to do ever since her father had left her in his charge
--her repentance for the stirrings of her naturally fretful, plaintive
temper, for her fits of impatience and her hard judgments, and, what
surprised him chiefly, for jealousy.

'Yes,' she repeated, at his word of surprise, 'I am jealous!'

'Indeed!'

'I never knew it till the choral festival. I used to be very fond of
her, but-- I'm sure it is jealousy; I don't like to see her more
eagerly attended to than myself. Not that there is anything to
complain of. He never neglected me in his life.'

Mr. Audley smiled. 'People would tell you it is the natural lot of
sisters.

Then she saw that he knew all about it; for, in fact, Felix had,
rather to the general surprise, observed that the Miss Pearsons would
like to meet Mr. Audley, and the trio had spent a musical evening
with the Underwood party.

'Oh,' she cried, 'is it all my own horridness? Or is it really--'

'My own horridness or my own discernment?' said he, taking the words
out of her mouth. 'My dear, such an affair as this would be generally
the family jest.'

'Oh!'

'It is just as well it should not be so here,' continued Mr. Audley,
'for nonsense is not always a cure, and the talk would be
mischievous; besides, I think both are unconscious.'

'He is, I believe,' said Cherry.

'At any rate, he is more than ordinarily full of sense and self-
control, and may safely be trusted to do nothing imprudent. She is
pretty and attractive, and of course he likes to be with her; but I
should think it very unlikely it would go farther. Has any one else
observed it?'

'Not Wilmet, only Lance.'

'And has not made fun of it? That speaks well for Master Lance's
discretion. Yet you all feel the weight of life too heavily. I had
rather have found you amused by these little prepossessions, than
weighing them seriously, and wearing yourself to fritters.'

'I _will_ try not to mind, but I can't help being afraid for him! It
must be very wrong to be almost turned against her because he likes
her; and yet, what is all very well as my friend does not seem enough
for Felix.'

'Nor will it be. My dear Cherry, such things come on and go off
twenty times in a man's life. You will treat the symptoms more
lightly before you have done with your seven brothers. Meantime,
don't fret your conscience over fancies, unless you have spoken or
acted unkindly or fretfully.'

'O Mr. Audley, what shall I do when you are quite gone? All this time
I have felt as if I were without my pilot.'

Mr. Audley, too, had been thinking this over, and wished to put her
more formally under the spiritual charge of Mr. Willoughby of St.
Faith's, feeling that the morbid and sensitive nature needed external
support, and that it was not right to deprive it of what the Church
sanctions.

Her only doubt was Felix's approval. His nature did not readily
accept progress beyond that to which he had been bred up; and in
border lands like these, an unfavourable medium made much difference
to the clearness of the sight. Clement's contempt for what had
satisfied his father annoyed him: and his mind was self-reliant, his
soul accustomed to find its requirements met by the system around
him, and his character averse to intermeddling, so that it was
against the grain with him that spiritual guidance should be sought
outside the family, or, at any rate, outside the parish. He thought
such direction weakened the nature, and Mr, Audley, after warning him
against taking the disease for the effect of the remedy, had to laugh
at him as a British householder. After all, he yielded, because he
thought Mr. Audley had a certain right over Geraldine, and that it
was proper to defer to his judgment; while his guardian trusted to a
sight of St. Matthew's for the overthrowal of the prejudices that
Clement had managed to excite.

Before leaving England, Mr. Audley was resolved that little Theodore
should be shown to some London physician. The child was five years
old, but looked no more than three. He could totter in an uncertain
run, and understood a few simple sentences, but came no nearer to
language than the appropriation of a musical sound to every one whom
he knew. There was nothing unpleasant about him, except his constant
purring and humming; he was perfectly docile, loved music, and could
be amused by simple recurring games. His affections seemed to have
gone out chiefly to Felix and to Sibby; and as to his twin-sister, he
seemed lost without her, and she seemed to view him as the complement
of herself--like a sort of left hand, giving him things to hold in
his feeble grasp, saying her lessons to him, and talking as if to a
doll. There was something sad in the very resemblance; for their eyes
were of the same shade of deep blue, their long soft hair of the same
flaxen tint, their faces equally fair, but while hers was all
colour, light, and life, his was pale and vacant, and scarcely ever
stirred into expression.

Mr. Audley thought it right to ascertain whether treatment could be
of any use; and finding that his father's London house was only
occupied by his brother the Captain, he arranged that Felix should
come up to town with the child and Sibby, when the law business could
be arranged, and there would be an opportunity of his seeing
something of the world.

He had never had a holiday before, and Mr. Froggatt rivalled his
guardian in his desire that it should not be too short. The first
call was by appointment on the doctor. He was not used to have
patients like Theodore brought by youths of Felix's age, and was
touched by the care and tenderness of the young man, as he tried to
overcome the alarm that was rendering the little one impracticable,
when it was desirable to exhibit his slender store of
accomplishments. His nearest approach to his natural state was when
perched on his brother's knee, with his back to the strange faces,
listening as Felix whistled the tunes he loved best.

After all, little was gained by the consultation, except the
assurance that the poor little fellow was as well situated as was
possible. A few directions for treatment and discipline were given,
but very little hope was held out of any important change for the
better.

The verdict disappointed Felix to an extent that surprised Mr.
Audley, who had better understood the hopelessness of the case. Of
all the family, Felix had the most of the parental instinct for the
most helpless; and while he warmly thanked his friend, he looked so
mournfully at the child who clung to him, that Mr. Audley said in a
voice of sympathy, 'It is a burthen, but one that will never bring
the sting of sin.'

'Not a burthen,' said Felix. 'No; as my father said when he gave him
to me, he is the Gift of God, the son of my right hand. May it always
be able to work for you!' he murmured, as he bent his head over the
little one.

'And I think the gift will bring a blessing!' said Mr. Audley.

Theodore was sent home with Sibby, thus restoring Stella to herself,
for she had been greatly lost without her speechless companion: but
Felix remained in London for a week of business and pleasure. Captain
Audley was very good-natured and friendly, and abetted his brother in
all his arrangements for showing Felix as much of life as was
possible in a week, assuring him that every new experience was a duty
to the Pursuivant--a plea that Felix, with his lover-like devotion
to every detail of his paper, admitted with a smile. Edgar was of
almost all their expeditions, and dined with them nearly every day.
That young gentleman's peculiar pleasantness had very nearly averted
the remonstrances with which his brother and his guardian had come up
armed. There he was, finding his work real, and not a royal road to
immediate wealth, idling, lounging, and gratifying his taste for art
and music; and when his employer stormed and threatened, listening
with aggravating coolness, and even sweetness, merely hinting that
his occupation was a mistake; and living all the time as a son of the
house, with a handsome allowance, and free access to society and
amusement. Thus, when Mr. Audley talked to him, he smiled with a
certain resignation, and observed that he was concerned for poor old
Tom, to have been unlucky enough to have drawn such a fellow as
himself. Probably it was a judgment on him for not having come
forward sooner, when he might have had Felix! And when Mr. Audley
upheld Felix as an example of hearty sacrifice of taste and
inclination, it was to obtain an enthusiastic response. Nobody
breathed equal to dear old Fee, and it was the most ardent desire of
Edgar's heart to take some of the burthen from his shoulders! When it
was hinted that such an allowance as Tom Underwood gave afforded the
opportunity, Edgar smiled between melancholy and scorn, saying,
'Times must have altered since your time, Mr. Audley.--No, I forgot.
Expense is the rule in our line. Swells can do as they please.'

However, there things rested; Mr. Underwood treated him exactly like
an idle son, storming at him sometimes, but really both fond and
proud of him, and very gracious to Felix, whom he invited once to a
very dull and dazzling dinner, and once sent to the opera with his
ladies.

Felix's Sunday was chiefly spent at St. Matthew's, which he was very
glad to see without Tina's spectacles. He was amazed to find so much
more good sense and reality than the effect on Clement had led him to
expect; and Mr. Fulmort, who struck him as one of the most practical-
looking men he had ever seen, spoke in high terms of Clement's
steadiness and wish to do right; but added, 'I am afraid we have
rather spoilt him. He came up to us so unlike the kind of boy we
generally get, that we may have made rather too much of him at
first.'

Felix smiled. 'Perhaps we had knocked him about, and made too little
of him at home,' he said.

'Besides, esprit de corps in so small a place as this is apt to
become so concentrated as not to be many removes from egotism. I
daresay we have been a terrible bore to you.'

Felix laughed. 'We have always been very grateful to you, Sir.'

'I understand. I am glad he is going farther a-field. He will be much
improved by seeing other places, and having his exclusiveness and
conceit shaken out of him; but we shall always regard him as the
child of the house, and I only hope he may end by working among us.'

'Poor fellow! Conceit has been pretty well shaken out for the
present,' said Felix.

'I hope it may last. He was rather hurt at my not making his
misfortune of more importance: but it seems to have been accident,
all except the priggish self-confidence that led to it.'

Felix increased much in cordiality towards Mr. Fulmort, and at the
same time mounted many stages in Clement's estimation on the
discovery that, however behindhand his ecclesiastical advantages
might be, the Vicar was exceedingly impressed by his excellence.

A day or two after Felix's arrival, Ferdinand Travis was first
encountered riding a spirited horse in the park, looking remarkably
handsome, though still of the small-limbed slender make that recalled
his Indian blood. His delight in the meeting was extreme, and he
seemed to be as simple and good as ever. He was in deep mourning,
having newly heard of his father having been killed in an American
railway accident, and though his uncle seemed proud of him, and
continued his liberal allowance, the loss and blank were greatly
felt--all the more that he had not found it easy to make friends
among his brother officers in the Life Guards. His foreign air was
somehow uncongenial; he had no vivacity or cleverness, and being
little inclined to some of the amusements of his contemporaries, and
on his guard against others, he seemed to find his life rather dull
and weary. He did not seem to have anything to love except his
horses, especially the creature he was then riding, Brown Murad. He
had obtained it after such competition, that he viewed the purchase
as an achievement; while Felix heard the amount with an incredulous
shudder, and marvelled at Mr. Audley's not regarding it as wildly
preposterous. It was a dangerous position; and though Mr. Audley
certified himself, through his soldier brother, that Travis was
steadiness itself--neither betted, gamed, nor ran into debt--yet
while he seemed personally acquainted with all the horses that ran,
and apparently entered into no literature but the Racing Calendar,
it was impossible not to be anxious about him, even though he seemed
perfectly happy to be allowed to be with his two godfathers, and
followed them everywhere, from the Houses of Parliament to St.
Matthew's.

This was not the last expedition Felix had to make to London that
spring. After many appointments of the time, and as many delays, a
telegram suddenly summoned him in the beginning of May to bring
Fulbert up to London, when the business would be wound up, and
Captain Audley would take his brother and the boy in his yacht to
Alexandria, there to join the overland passengers.

So Fulbert's farewells were made in the utmost haste, and mixed up
with Wilmet's solicitous directions for his proper use of all her
preparations for his comfort on the voyage; and Lance could only be
seen for the brief moments of halt at the Minsterham Station, during
which neither spoke three words, but Lance hung on the step till the
train was in motion, and then was snatched back, and well shaken and
reprimanded, by a guard; while Fulbert leant out after him at even
greater peril of his life, long after the last wave of the trencher
cap had ceased to be visible.

Felix believed that this parting was more felt than that with all the
other eleven, and while Fulbert subsided into his corner, the elder
brother felt much oppressed by the sense that it was his duty to give
some good advice, together with great perplexity what it should be,
how it should be expressed, and whether it would be endured. He would
have been thankful for some of Clement's propensity for preaching
when he found himself tete-a-tete with Fulbert in a cab; but while
he was still considering of the right end by which to take this
difficult subject, he was startled by his beginning, 'Felix, I say,
I'm glad you are going to get shut of me.'

'I believe it is for your good,' said Felix.

'You'll get on better without me,' repeated Fulbert; then, with an
effort, 'Look here. It isn't that I don't know you're a brick and all
that, but somehow nothing riles me like your meddling with me.'

'I know it,' answered Felix. 'I wish I could have helped it; but what
could be done, when there was nobody else?'

'Ay,' responded Fulbert, 'I know I have been a sulky, nasty brute to
you, and I should do it again; and yet I wish I hadn't.'

'I should be as bad myself if I were a junior,' was the moral
reflection Felix produced for his brother's benefit. 'Only, Ful, if
you try that on with Mr. Audley out there, you'll come to grief.'

'I don't mean to,' said Fulbert.

'And you'll keep in mind what my father meant us to be, Ful--that we
have got to live so as to meet him again.'

Fulbert nodded his head emphatically.

'It is his name you have to keep unstained in the new country,' added
Felix, the fresh thought rising to his lips; but it was met by a gush
of feeling that quite astonished him.

'Ay, and yours, Felix! I do--I do want to be a help, and not a drag
to you. I _really_ don't think so much of any of them--not even
Lance--as of you. I _hope_ I shouldn't have been better to my father
than I have been to you; and when--when I'm out there, I do hope to
show--that I do care.'

The boy was fighting with very hard sobs, and for all the frightful
faces he made the tears were running down his cheeks. Felix's eyes
were overflowing too, but with much of sudden comfort and
thankfulness.

'I always knew you were a good fellow, Ful,' he said, with his hand
on his brother's knee, 'and I think you'll keep so, with Mr. Audley
to keep you up to things, and show you how to be helped.'

All after this was bustle and hurry. Fulbert had to be sent alone to
take leave of Alda, while his brother and Mr. Audley transacted their
business. Edgar came back with him; and after some hurried rushings
out in search of necessaries forgotten, the last farewells were
spoken, and Fulbert, with the two Audley brothers, was out of sight;
while Felix, after drawing a long, deep sigh, looked at his watch,
and spoke of going to see Alda.

'Don't run your head into a hornet's nest,' said Edgar; 'it's all up
with me there. Come this way, and I'll tell you all about it.'

'All up with you!'

'There are limits to human endurance, and Tom and I have overpassed
each other's. I don't blame him, poor man; he wanted raw material to
serve as an importer of hides and tallow, but you, the genuine
article, were bespoken, and my father was not in a state for the
pleading of personal predilections.'

'What is it now?'

'Only a set of etchings from Atalanta in Caledon. That was the straw
that broke the camel's back,' said Edgar, so coolly as to make Felix
exclaim--

'How much or how little do you mean?'

'Separated on account of irreconcilable incompatibility.'

'Impossible!'

'Possible, because true.'

'Why did you not tell before Mr. Audley was gone?'

'It would have been bad taste to obtrude one's own little affairs,
and leave him with vexatious intelligence to ruminate on his voyage.
Nay, who knows but that he might have thought it his duty to wait to
compose matters, and so a bright light might have been lost to the
Antipodes.'

'You actually mean me to understand that you have broken with Tom
Underwood?'

'The etchings were the text of an awful row, in which the old
gentleman exposed himself more than I am willing to repeat, and
called on me to choose between his hides and tallow and what he was
pleased to call my tomfoolery.'

Felix groaned.

'Exactly so. You are conscious that his demand was not only
tyrannical but impracticable. One can't change the conditions of
one's nature.'

'Are you absolutely dismissed?'

'Nothing can be more so.'

'And what do you mean to do?' demanded Felix, stung, though to a
certain degree reassured, by his tranquillity.

'Study art.'

'And live--?'

'On my own two hundred. You will advance it? I only want sixteen
months of years of discretion, and then I'll pay it back with more
than interest.'

'I must know more first,' said Felix. 'I must understand what terms
you are on with Tom Underwood, and whether you have any reasonable or
definite plans.'

'Spoken like an acting partner! Well, come to Renville, he will
satisfy you as to my plans. I am to be his pupil; he teaches at the
South Kensington Museum, and is respectability itself. In fact, he
requires my responsible brother to be presented to him. Come along.'

'Stay, Edgar. I do not think it right by Tom Underwood to see any one
before him. I shall go to him before anything else is done.'

'Do not delude yourself with the hope of patching up matters like
Audley last winter, losing me five months of time and old Tom of
temper.'

'How long ago was this?'

'The crisis was yesterday. I was just packing to come home when
Fulbert burst upon the scene.'

Nothing could be worse news, yet Edgar's perfect self-possession
greatly disarmed Felix. Never having thought his brother and the work
well suited, he was the less disposed to anger, especially as the
yoke of patronage was trying to his character; but he persisted in
seeing Thomas Underwood before taking any steps for Edgar's future
career, feeling that this was only due to the cousin to whom his
father had entrusted the lad. So Edgar, with a shrug, piloted him to
the Metropolitan Railway, and then to the counting-house where, in
the depths of the City, Kedge and Underwood dealt for the produce of
the corrals of South America.

Edgar, as he entered the office full of clerks, nodded to their bald-
headed middle-aged senior in a half-patronising manner. 'Don't be
afraid, Mr. Spooner; I'm not coming back on your hands, whatever this
good brother of mine may intend. Is the Governor in?'

'Mr. Underwood is in his room, Mr. Edgar,' was the very severe
answer; 'but after this most serious annoyance, I would not answer
for the consequences.'

'Wouldn't you indeed?' said Edgar quietly, in a nonchalant tone that
made the younger lads bend down to sniggle behind their desks, while
he moved on to the staircase.

Mr. Spooner and he were visibly old foes; but the senior devoured his
wrath so far as to come forward and offer a chair to Felix,
repeating, however, 'Mr. Underwood is very seriously annoyed.'

Before Felix could attempt an answer, Edgar had re-descended,
newspaper in hand. 'Go up, Felix,' he said, threw himself into the
chair, and proceeded to read the paper; while Felix obeyed, and found
the principal standing at his door, ready to meet him.

'What, Felix Underwood! Glad to see you. This intolerable affair
can't have brought you up already, though?'

'No, Sir; I was telegraphed for late last night, to bring up my
brother Fulbert to start with Mr. Audley.'

'Oh, ay. Well, I hope he'll have a better bargain of him than I've
had in Edgar. You've heard his impudence?'

'I am exceedingly sorry--'

Then Mr. Underwood broke out with his account of Edgar's folly and
ingratitude, after all the care and expense of his education. He had
taken up with a set of geniuses for friends, was always rehearsing
for amateur performances with them, keeping untimely hours; and
coming late to the office, to cast up accounts, or copy invoices in
his sleep, make caricatures on his blotting-paper, or still worse,
become 'besotted' with some design for a drawing or series of
drawings, and in the frenzy of execution know no more what was said
to him than a post. Finally, 'the ladies' being as mad as himself, as
Mr. Underwood said, had asked him to draw for a bazaar, and in his
frenzy of genius over the etchings he had entirely forgotten an
important message, and then said he could not help it. On being told
that if so he was not fit for his profession, he merely replied,
'Exactly so, the experiment had been unsuccessful;' and when his
meekness had brought down a furious tempest of wrath, and threats of
dismissal, he had responded, 'with his intolerable cool insolence,'
that 'this would be best for all parties.'

'This is the offence?' anxiously asked Felix.

'Offence? What greater offence would you have?'

'Certainly nothing can be much worse as to business,' said Felix.
'But when he told me what had happened, I was afraid that he might be
running into temptation.'

'Oh! as to that, there's no harm in the lad--Spooner allows that--
nothing low about him.'

'And his friends?'

'How should I know! Raffs those fellows always are, sure to bring him
to the dogs!'

'Did you ever hear of an artist named Renville?'

'Ay?' meditatively. 'He was the master the girls had at one time,
wasn't he?'

'Then he is respectable! I ask because Edgar wants to study under
him.'

'Eh! what!' demanded Mr. Underwood, in manifest astonishment. 'Is the
lad gone crazy?'

'I thought you had dismissed him, Sir.'

'Well, well, said Mr. Underwood, taken aback, 'I told him only what
he deserved, and he chose to take it as final. I thought you were
come to speak for him.'

'You are very kind, Sir, but I doubt whether he would resume his work
here, or indeed if it would not be an abuse of your kindness to
induce him.'

'Eh! what?' again exclaimed Thomas. 'You give in to his ungrateful
folly! Felix Underwood, I thought you at least were reasonable!'

The imperious passionate manner, rather than the actual words, made
Felix side the more with the wayward genius, and feel that having
sacrificed himself for the good of the family, he might save his
brother from the gloomy office and piles of ledgers and bills below-
stairs. 'Sir,' he said, 'I am sorry Edgar has not been better fitted
to return the timely help you have given us, but I am afraid that
such unwilling work as his could never be of service to you.'

'Why on earth should it be unwilling? Better men than he have sat at
a desk before now! I've no patience with young men's intolerable
conceit. There have I done everything for this young fellow, and he
is unwilling, _unwilling_ indeed, to give his mind to the simplest
business for six hours a day.'

'It is wrong,' said Felix, 'but his powers lie in such a different
line.'

'Fiddling and daubing! Pah! If anything could be more
incomprehensible than his not being able to cast up an account or
take a message; it is your backing him up!'

'I am afraid he is too old for coercion.'

'No coercion like having not a penny in the world. Pray, how is he to
live?'

'His own means will help him through his studies.'

'His own--200 pounds! About as much as he has made ducks and drakes
of in a year. Besides, he is not of age.'

'No; but I have something of my own to advance for him.'

Wherewith there began a fresh storm. Thomas Underwood was greatly
mortified at the desertion of one brother, and still more at the
acquiescence of the other. He would no doubt have been ready to
retain the handsome engaging youth, grumbling and enduring, as a sort
of expensive luxury; and in his wrath, disappointment, and sense of
ingratitude at finding that his restive protege was not to be driven
back to him, he became so abusive, that Felix could hardly keep his
tongue or temper in check; but when he declared that if any support
were given to Edgar's lunatic project, the whole family except Alda
should be left to their own resources for the rest of their lives, it
was with quiet determination that the reply was made, with studied,
though difficult, respectfulness:--

'Sir, we are much obliged for what you have done for us, but we hope
to be able to work for ourselves and for one another without becoming
dependent. You cannot suppose that such a consideration would affect
my opinion respecting Edgar.' (N.B.--If Mr. Underwood _had_ supposed
it, he felt as if it were impossible, as all his cousin Edward's high
spirit glowed in that young man's eyes, and strengthened the
studiously calm voice.) 'I think,' continued Felix, 'that no one can
be doing right whose work is not thorough. If Edgar cannot or will
not apply himself in earnest to your business, he will be doing
better by studying art with a will than in pretending to work here,
and abusing your forbearance. That would be so improper towards you,
and so wrong in him, that it would be simply unjustifiable in me to
try to persuade you into allowing it.'

Somehow, Mr. Underwood had not at all expected such a reply; and as
luckily want of breath had forced him to wait and really hear it, a
sensation came over him of old times when Edward Underwood had argued
with him; and it was with much less heat that he returned, with an
effort at irony, 'And so you take the bread out of the mouths of the
others to support my fine gentleman in his absurd nonsense?'

'No, Sir; what I advance is entirely my own.'

'Oh, ay; didn't I hear something about a legacy?'

'Yes, from Admiral Chester. A thousand pounds. It has only just been
paid to me.'

'That you may throw it away on this young scamp's fancies?'

'No, Sir, I hope not. Half of it goes into the business at Bexley. We
sign the deed of partnership next week. It will make a great
difference to me. The rest is ready for emergencies.'

'Tomfooleries,' muttered Mr. Underwood. 'Pray, what are the plans for
this making a new Michael Angelo? Am I expected to give him the run
of my house? I shall do no such thing!'

'No, Sir, it would not be proper to ask it. This Renville takes
pupils for the Royal Academy, and Edgar would board and lodge there;
but I hope you will still be good enough to allow him to call on
Alda, and not let him be entirely left to himself. He is much to
blame, but it is not as if he had run into bad dissipation.'

'That's true,' said Mr. Underwood. 'A terrible disappointment that
young dog has been to me, Felix Underwood; but as you put it, there's
an honesty in the thing! Where is my fine gentleman?'

'Downstairs, Sir.'

Mr. Underwood breathed through a mysterious tube, and Edgar appeared,
with his usual easy grace, and with a sharp glance at Felix as if to
inquire whether there were to be any attack on his newly-found
liberty.

'Look here, Edgar,' was the address. 'Your brother--a much better one
than you deserve--'

'Thrue for you,' muttered Edgar between his teeth.

'--Says what has some sense in it, that "nothing is so ruinous as
doing things by halves," and that you ought to be ashamed of hanging
about here doing nothing--'

A quick glance passed between the brothers.

'--So he is for letting you have your way; and if he chooses to
support you, and you choose to rob him--for I think it nothing less
than robbery--why there--I can't help it. So I put it to you for the
last time: will you buckle steadily to your work here like a rational
being, or cast yourself loose to live as a beggarly artist on what
your brother can give you by pinching the rest?'

'Thank you, Sir; I hope the sooner to help him to feed the rest, by
taking the plunge you think so desperate,' said Edgar, with more
gravity than usual.

'Oh, indeed!' sneered Mr. Underwood. 'Remember, not a farthing of
mine goes to such folly! I don't understand it. I thought once you'd
have been as good as a son to me,' he added in a very different tone,
as he looked at the fine young man in whom he yearned to take pride.

'I wish I could, Sir,' said Edgar, with real feeling. 'I wish you had
hit upon any one of us but my unlucky self. You've been very good to
me, but what a man can't do, he can't; and if I gave in now, it would
only be the same over again. But we don't part in anger, Uncle, he
continued, with a trembling of voice.

'Anger! No, my boy. I'm only vexed at the whole thing; but I don't
want to lose sight of you altogether. You'll stay with us till you've
found decent lodgings, and you'll be welcome to look in on a Sunday.'
Mr. Underwood spoke in a tone between asking and granting a favour.

'Thank you, Sir, with all my heart,' said Edgar.

'And you'll come to dine and sleep?' he added to Felix. 'You've not
seen your sister.'

'No, thank you, Sir, I cannot to-day; I must be at home tonight.'

They shook hands cordially: but as Edgar crossed the counting-house,
he paused to open his own desk and pocket some of the contents,
saying lightly as he did so, 'There's promotion in store for some of
you youngsters--I congratulate you, Mr. Spooner; you're free of a
burthen to your spirit.'

'Indeed, Mr. Edgar, I'm very sorry if--'

'Don't throw away your sorrow, Mr. Spooner; I was foredoomed your
soul to cross, and I bear no malice to you for having been crossed.
Shake hands, and wish me success as a painter.'

'I wish you success, Mr. Edgar; but it will not be met with in any
profession without application and regularity.'

Edgar forbore from any reply but a low and deferential bow, such as
to provoke another smothered laugh from the other young clerks, to
whom Felix suspected, as he looked round, the favoured kinsman was
subject of jealousy, admiration, or imitation, according to
character. However, Edgar shook hands with each, with some little
word of infinite but gracious superiority, and on coming out
exclaimed, 'Ban, ban, Caliban! You who are emancipated from a
Redstone, congratulate me!'

Felix neither observed on the vast difference between the excellent
confidential Spooner and pettily jealous Redstone, nor on the
extremely dissimilar mode of emancipation. He was more occupied with
the momentous responsibility of having assisted to cut his brother
loose from the protection to which his father had confided him. Mr.
Audley's warning that he was inclined to be weak where Edgar was
concerned, came before him. Yet the life of luxury and unfulfilled
duties was in his eyes such a wrongful course, that he felt justified
in having put an end to it; and his heart warmed with hope and
exultation as he recollected how Etty's success had been owing to his
brother's aid, and felt himself putting Edgar's foot on the first
round of the ladder, and freeing his ascent from all that had
hitherto trammelled it. Such bright visions haunted him when talking
was impossible on the omnibus, outside which Edgar had exalted him--
he did not well know why till on descending at Charing Cross, he
found he was to have an interview with Mr. Renville, who was copying
a picture in the National Gallery, and whom he found, to his great
relief, to be no wild Bohemian, but a simple painstaking business-
like man, who had married a German hausfrau, and lodged a few art
students with unexceptionable references. Knowing Edgar already, he
had measured his powers, and assured Felix that his talent was
undoubted, though whether that talent amounted to genius could only
be decided when the preliminary studies were accomplished; but even
if it were not of the very highest order (a supposition that rather
hurt Felix's feelings), the less aspiring walks of the profession
would afford sufficient security of maintenance to justify the
expense of the study. He talked with sense and coolness; and his
charges, though falling severely on such funds as were at the
disposal of the young pillar of the house, were, Edgar declared, and
Felix could well believe, very moderate. The time was to be further
decided after reference to Mrs. Renville.

'Will you not come home first?' asked Felix, as they descended the
steps.

'Not in the character of the discarded! Who knows the effect it might
have on old Froggy? By the by, I hope this advance does not make any
difference to the terms of your bondage.

'Nothing important.'

'Draw bills to any amount on the R.A. of the future!'

The light hopeful tone contrasted with Clement's grave thankfulness,
and sorrow at being an expense; but Felix really preferred it, as far
less embarrassing.

'Could you come down in a month's time?' he continued. 'Lance is to
be confirmed at the Cathedral, and it might be an opportunity for
you.'

'I cannot lose this month's work at the Academy, it is the most
important in the year.'

'It might be arranged for you to come down for the day. You could see
any one you pleased here.'

'Has Tina excited you to consign me to the Whittingtonian Fathers?'

'No.' Felix had almost rested there, but presently added, gravely, 'I
constantly feel the impossibility of getting through this world and
keeping straight without help--the help that is provided for us,' he
added, lamely enough.

'Dear old Blunderbore,' said Edgar, affectionately; 'what comes
naturally to you, No. 1, letter A, in a flock of girls and boys,
can't be the same when one has got out into this wicked world. Go on
in your own groove, and leave me to my aberrations. Don't vex
yourself, old fellow. A popular journalist must have got far enough
to know that men don't concern themselves about these little affairs
in one another.'

'Brothers do.'

'Not unless they partake of the sister. Come! You have had no
sustenance since breakfast at six o'clock, have you? Come in here,
and learn what soup means.'

'There's no time. The train is at five.'

'Time! You don't mean to walk?'

'I do; and get something to eat at the station.'

'I declare, Fee, your unsophistication would be refreshing if it were
not a disgrace to your profession. Why are you not reporter to the
Teetotal Times? No wonder if the Pursuivant has a flavour of weak
tea!'

Felix smiled rather sadly, aware that this was meant to lead him away
from the last subject. He perceived that the door between his
favourite brother's soul and his own was closed, and that knocking
would only cause it to be bolted and barred. It might be true, as Mr.
Audley had told him, that Edgar's was not so much real scepticism as
the talk of the day, and the regarding the doubts of deeper thinkers
as a dispensation from all irksome claims; but this was poor solace,
while his brother rattled on: 'My dear Blunderbore, the hasty-pudding
on which you characteristically breakfast is a delusion as to
economy. Renville's little Frau will keep us better and at less
expense than ever Wilmet conceived. You wrap yourself in your virtue,
and refuse to spend a couple of shillings, as deeming it robbery of
the fry at home. You wear out at least a shilling's worth of boot
leather, pay twopence for a roll and fourpence for a more villainous
compound called coffee; come home in a state of inanition, cram down
a quartern loaf and a quarter of a pound of rancid butter, washed
down with weak tea; and if self-satisfaction and exhaustion combined
are soporific, it is only to leave you a prey to nightmare. Then, to
say nothing of poorness of blood producing paucity of ideas, it is
fearful to think of the doctor's bill you are laying up!'

'Nonsense, Edgar; I am in perfect health.'

Edgar went off into a learned dissertation on the qualities of food
and liquor, and the expedience of enriching the blood, and giving
substance to the constitution. He was, in fact, much more robust and
athletic, as well as much taller than his brother, who looked like
one who led an indoor life without cultivating his strength, but had
no token of lack of health or activity. Always of small appetite, he
did not care how long he fasted, and was so much used to be on his
feet, that the long walk through the streets seemed to fatigue him
less than Edgar, who nevertheless kept with him, as finding real
pleasure in his company.

The only pauses were at the sight of an accordion in a shop window
labelled at so low a price, that Felix ventured on it for Theodore;
and again when Edgar insisted on stuffing his pockets with bon-bons
for the babes, as antidotes, he said, to the Blunderbore diet.

'I beg to observe, it was not Blunderbore that lived on hasty-
pudding. That was the Welsh giant,' said Felix.

'Ay! Blunderbore had three heads, and was buried up to the neck,
completing the resemblance! Well, some day I'll give you all a hoist,
old fellow, and then you'll be immortalised for having developed the
President of the Royal Academy out of his slough of hides and
tallow.'

Felix went home through the summer twilight, tired and heavy-hearted,
to find Wilmet sitting up over a supper not much less rigorously
frugal than Edgar had foretold. Telling Wilmet was perhaps the worst
of it to Felix. True, she forbore to reprove or lament when she
understood that the deed was actually accomplished, and saw that he
was fatigued and out of spirits; but her 'Indeed! Oh! Felix!' and her
involuntary gesture and attitude of dismay, went as far as a volume
of reproach and evil augury. He was weary beyond vindicating himself
or Edgar; but the next morning, when Wilmet and Angela had started
for school, there was a sense that the cat was away, and Geraldine
looking up under her long black eyelashes, whispered, 'Oh! it is so
nice in you to have let him loose, dear Fee! It was such cruel waste
to pin him down there!'

'It was mockery for him to pretend to work there against the grain,
and live in all that ease and luxury,' said Felix, greatly
appreciating her sympathy. 'That must be so clearly wrong, that the
more I think it over, the more I trust I did right in not trying to
make it up again, as Mr. Audley did.'

'It was only a pity he did!' said Cherry; 'but of course it was for
your sake, that you might not have him thrown back on your hands.'

'And for Edgar's own protection too,' said Felix; 'but I cannot think
lazy insufficient work, and constant amusement, otherwise than so
unworthy, that I am sure Mr. Audley would think it more honest and
right to put an end to them, even at some risk.'

'Risk!' said the little sister, ruffling up her feathers; 'he is sure
to succeed, and you know it.'

'I did only mean risk in that sense,' said Felix, gravely; 'but I
hope he is safely and satisfactorily placed. Renville seems an
excellent person, and more trustworthy perhaps because he only
commits himself to Edgar's capability.

'Capability!' contemptuously repeated Cherry. 'No one but you and I
really understand what Edgar can do!'

'I could have shaken the fellow for his coldness,' said Felix,
smiling; 'but no doubt it was right of him, and Edgar will soon
show--'

'That he will! Only look at the beauty and freedom of this outline,'
as she opened her portfolio.

'Don't beguile me, Cherry; I can't stay. I've all yesterday's work to
make up.'

'Here are all the proofs, ready. Only just look at the sentence I
marked for you. O Felix, how lucky Edgar has you for a brother, to
save him from being blighted and crushed!'

'Is that head yours or his? Yours! I should say he was lucky to have
such an unenvious sister. You would draw as well as he if you only
had the teaching.'

'Oh no, don't say that! It spoils his! Though I do wish my drawing
could be of some use.'

'Never mind about use. You are our pleasure,' as he saw her
dissatisfied; 'besides, what would Pur (the household abbreviation
of Pursuivant) do without the sub?'

This was much pleasanter! Cherry smiled at his kiss, and he ran
downstairs, exulting--like herself--in their artist brother's future
fame.

When he returned to the sitting-room in the evening twilight, the
first voice he heard, through Theodore's humming, was Wilmet's, as in
mitigation--'I daresay he is well educated, and not vulgar.'

'Oh! but the sound of it!' cried Alice Knevett's voice. 'A mere
tradesman!'

'Who is the unfortunate?' asked Felix, coming forward.

'O Mr. Underwood, how you do steal upon one! Yes, I'm furious! Here's
my old friend Florence Spelman--the dearest girl in the world, and so
pretty--gone and engaged herself to young Schneider, of Schneider and
Co'., on the tailor's advertisements, you know! It is one of the
first houses in London, and he's very rich and handsome and all that;
but isn't it dreadful? All her friends will have to drop her! And I
was so fond of her.'

'Is it trade itself, or the kind of trade, that outrages your
feelings?' asked Felix, in a tone of raillery.

'Oh, a tailor is too horrible! As if all trade wasn't bad enough,'
said Alice, laughing, then recollecting herself she turned, blushing
and confused, to Cherry--'At least--I mean--your brother makes one
forget. He isn't in the least like _that_!'

'I never wish to forget anything he is!' said Cherry, proudly looking
up to him.

'Ah! you don't know what is in my pocket!' said Felix, leaning his
back against the mantleshelf.

'Oh! what!' cried Alice and Geraldine both together; while Wilmet
looked at him as if she wished to put him in mind of the presence of
a stranger.

'Guess!' he said.

'Somebody has left you a fortune! Oh! delightful!' cried Alice,
clasping her hands.

'Mr. Thomas Underwood will take Edgar's art study on himself,'
exclaimed the more moderate Geraldine.

'You burn, Cherry. It comes from that quarter. Here's a letter by the
evening's post to offer me, if I have not closed with Mr. Froggatt,
to invest in Kedge and Underwood's concern, and begin with 300 pounds
a year as clerk.'

'It can't be possible,' said Wilmet, the only one to speak, as the
other two girls looked rather blank.

'Just so far that the deed of partnership here is not signed.'

'What is the business?' asked Alice.

'He is a South American merchant, and deals with Rio for hides and
tallow, if you prefer that to books and stationery,' said Felix, in a
would-be light tone.

'Oh, but a South American merchant! That sounds quite delightful!'
cried Alice. 'And you'll have to live in dear, dear London! How I
envy you!'

'That must be the effect you had upon him, Felix,' said Cherry,
proudly.

'Well, I thought I had been a specimen of the obstinate,' observed
Felix. 'Here is his letter.'

He gave it as of right to Wilmet, but other eyes remarked the address
to F. C. Underwood, Esquire, an unusual thing, since, as Mr. Froggatt
had never aspired to the squirehood, Felix made all his brothers and
sisters write only the Mister, and thus entirely deprived himself of
the pleasure of Alda's correspondence.

'Where will you live? Oh! you'll let me come and stay with you
sometimes!' cried Alice.

Felix smiled as he answered, 'I'm afraid our house is not built yet.'

'Miss Pearson's maid for Miss Alice,' said Martha, at the door. 'Oh
dear, how tiresome! but you'll tell me all about it tomorrow. How
horrid it will be here when you are all gone!'

'We are not gone yet,' said Wilmet, repressively. 'And if you please,
Alice, do not talk of this.'

'No,' said Felix, 'it must be entirely a family matter. I know we can
trust to you.'

'Thank you. I'm so glad I was there. It is so nice to have a secret
of yours--and this is a beauty! Why, you'll be a great man with a
house in London, just like Mr. Underwood of Centry.'

'Pleasing ambition,' Cherry could not help muttering, with an
ironical smile, as Alice laughed and nodded herself away.

'Ready sympathy is a pleasant thing,' returned Felix.

'You don't mean that you think this feasible?' said Wilmet, with a
negative inflection in her voice.

'I think it ought to be considered before it is absolutely too late.'

Both were surprised, having always thought that he considered his
destiny as fixed; and as Geraldine looked on while the other two
discussed pounds, shillings, and pence, it was plain to her that he
had an inclination to the change. The probability of rising, the
benefit of lodging Edgar, the nearness to Alda, the probable openings
for the younger lads, were advantages; but against these Wilmet set
the heavy London house-rent, rates and taxes--from which they were
free--the expense of living, the loss of her present situation, the
dangers of deterioration of health. As to Edgar, his habits must be
formed, he was already in a respectable family, and Lance and Bernard
ought not to be risked for his sake. In fact Wilmet looked on London
with a sage country girl's prudent horror of the great and wicked
capital; and when that experienced man of the world, Felix, tried to
prove that she did it injustice, he was met with a volley of alarming
anecdotes. He hinted that ladies' schools might need teachers there,
but was met by the difficulty of forming a new connection; and when
he suggested that Cherry's talent might be cultivated, Wilmet hotly
exclaimed, 'She could never go about to classes and schools of art!'

'Not alone, certainly, said Cherry,' wistfully.

'Edgar is as good as nobody, and I should be of no use in places like
that,' added Wilmet.

'I'm afraid you don't look very chaperonish,' said Felix,
contemplating the fair exquisitely-moulded face, the more Grecian for
the youthful severity that curved the lip and fixed the eye. 'If we
could only turn her inside out, Cherry, she would be a dozen duennas
in one!'

'And then the Pursuivant. You would not like to desert poor Pur,'
added Cherry.

'I could do that better in town in some ways.'

'Mr. Underwood would think that as bad as Edgar's drawing,' said
Wilmet. 'No, no, Felix, you have learnt one business thoroughly, and
it would be foolish to begin a fresh one now. Besides, how about Mr.
Froggatt?'

'Of course I should do nothing in such haste as to inconvenience Mr.
Froggatt,' said Felix;' and no one is more anxious for our real
benefit, if this were possible.'

'But you see it won't do,' reiterated Wilmet.

'Perhaps not,' he answered, with more of a sigh than his sisters
expected.

Rather nettled, Wilmet set to work with pencil and paper to calculate
expenses, Geraldine looked up at Felix, who had taken up a book, and
began to whistle, 'For a' that, an' a' that.'

Presently Wilmet, by way of making assurance sure, went off for her
account-book; when he looked up and said,' How should you have liked
this, Cherry?'

'I don't know. I've not thought. Did you?'

'I hadn't time before our Pallas Athene settled it; and I believe she
is right, if she would not lay it in quite so hard. It only seemed a
pity to lose our last chance of a lift in life without at least
considering it.'

'I thought you did not care about lifts in life.'

'I ought not. But when it is brought home that we have slipped down
two degrees in the social scale, it is tempting to step up one again!
However, it plainly cannot be.'

Yet when Wilmet mustered her irrefragable figures to prove how much
poorer they would be in London than on their present income at
Bexley, he would not go into details, saying that he wanted to hear
no more about it, in a tone that a little hurt her. He was so
uniformly gentle and gracious, that what would have passed unnoticed
in most brothers, was noticed anxiously in him; and as Wilmet darned
his shirt sleeve, a glistening came between her eyes and her needle,
as she felt the requital of her prudence rather hard. Must all men
pant to be out in the world, and be angry with women for withholding
them?

Nor was Geraldine devoid of the old prick, when she thought of the
degrees in the social scale in connection with the words about
tradesmen and merchants.

Wilmet was not quite happy without knowing that the letter of refusal
was written, and was more vexed than she liked to show when Felix
laughed at her for supposing he could have made time to write it on a
busy Saturday, even if there had been any London post to send it by.
Poor Alice Knevett got a considerable snubbing for bursting in to ask
the decision, and lamenting over it when she had heard it; but she
stood her ground with a certain pertinacity of her own: and so late
in the evening, that Wilmet had gone up to put Stella to bed, Felix
came up with the letter in his hand. It was so carefully expressed,
that Cherry could not help saying saucily that it was worthy of the
editor of the Pursuivant; while Alice, much impressed by the long
words, enthusiastically broke out, 'It is a most beautiful letter,
only it ought to have said just the other thing!'

'Why, what would you have done without Cherry?' said Felix.

'I'd have come to stay with her! And it is such a pity! A merchant is
a gentleman, and I am sure you could get to be anything--a member of
Parliament, or a baronet, or--' as if her imagination could not go
farther; but she looked up at him with a dew of eagerness glistening
in her bright hazel eyes. 'I was telling Cherry it does seem such a
dreadful horrible pity that you should be nailed down in this little
hole of a place for life.'

Felix smiled--a man's superior, gratified, but half melancholy smile
--as he answered, 'At any rate, you won't lose the pleasures of
imagination or of pity.'

'But I want to see you have the spirit to try,' cried Alice, eagerly.
'I know you could.'

'It would not be right,' said Felix, sitting down by her, and in full
earnest gentleness and gravity setting before her the reasons that
Cherry had hardly thought it worth while really to explain--namely,
the impossibility of their being able to pay their way and meet the
needful expenses, and the evils of the young, inexperienced household
residing in London, resigning security for dependence.

Alice, flattered by being treated as a sensible person, said, 'Yes,'
and 'I see,' at all the proper places; then drew a sigh, saying, 'It
is very good in you.'

'I knew you would see it in the right light,' replied Felix.

'Oh!' but the sigh recurred. 'I can't help being sorry, you know.'

'There is nothing to be sorry for,' he said gratefully. 'I was
disappointed at first myself; but for sheer usefulness to one's
neighbour, I believe that this present position, if I have sense to
make use of it rightly, is as good as any; and the mere desire of
station and promotion is--when one comes to look at it properly--
nonsense after all.'

She opened her eyes in amazement, and made a little exclamation.

'They may be well when they come,' said Felix in answer: 'but I have
thought it over well to-night, and I see that to do anything
doubtfully right for their sake would be a risk for all that I have
no right to run.'

Alice hung her head, overcome by the pure air of the region where he
was lifting her; and in a sort of shyness at the serious tone in
which he had spoken, he added, smiling,

'Then you'll forgive the "sound of it."'

'O Mr. Underwood,' she said, in the simplest and most earnest voice
that Cherry had ever heard from her, 'I'm ashamed to recollect that
nonsense!'




CHAPTER XIV

WHAT IT MAY LEAD TO



'I never was so berhymed since I was an Irish rat,
 which I can scarcely remember.'--As You Like It.


'Dim memories haunt the child,
 Of lives in other beings led--
   Other, and yet the same.'
                         KEBLE.


In the autumn Alda made a visit at home. She had, as usual, gone with
Mr. and Mrs. Underwood to their German baths, and had there fallen in
with a merry set of her intimates in London, who had persuaded her to
join them in an expedition to the Tyrol, which lasted till the end of
September. On her return, she was dropped at Bexley, where her
sisters were greatly edified by her sketch-book, a perfect journal in
clever scenes and groups, like the 'Voyage en zig-zag.' Two of the
gentlemen seemed always in waiting on the graceful outline that did
duty for Alda; and indeed, she gave Wilmet to understand that only
the skill that played them off one against the other had averted an
offer from each, hundreds of miles from home, when it would have been
so very inconvenient! Every morning Wilmet considered how her dinner
would appear if one or both should suddenly drop in to pursue his
courtship.

Even Felix, though he had pooh-poohed the mysterious whisper from his
sisters, was startled at the apparition of a picturesque figure; in
Tyrolese hat, green knickerbockers, belt, knapsack, loose velvet
coat, and fair moustache, marching full into the shop; and while the
customers who were making it a rendezvous gazed in doubt between
gamekeepers and stage banditti, holding out a hand too fair and
dainty for either character, and exclaiming, 'How are you, Mr.
Froggatt! Hollo, Felix!'

Mr. Froggatt was amazed beyond measure, and it was only on hearing
the ring of the mirthful laugh that he exclaimed, 'Mr. Edgar  This is
an alteration. You will find the young ladies up-stairs.'

Felix was disengaged at the moment, and could take him through the
parlour, too glad to have him there at all to utter the faintest wish
that he would have rung at the private door; and he ushered him into
the drawing-room with the words, 'Here's the artist who has begun
with himself;' and then retreated.

'Edgar! oh, you wonderful boy!' cried happy Geraldine, as he threw
his arms round her; while Alda asked: 'Is that the thing now,
Edgar?'

'Quite comifo,' he answered. 'Ha, little ones, have you forgotten
me?'

'Stella says you're the clarionet in the brass band,' said Bernard.
'What have you got in that pack?'

'Munitions of war!' he answered, unstrapping his bag, and producing
packets of French bon-bons, bought on his way home, from the
sketching tour Mr. Renville always made with sundry of his pupils in
early autumn. 'Gobble them up, little mice, before the cat comes
home.'

Stella paused with a dutiful 'May I?' and Cherry had to interfere
between the little maiden's scruples, Bernard's omnivorous
inclination, and Theodore's terror at any new article of food; while
Alda and Edgar exchanged eager question and answer:

'You've been at home. You've seen them all?'

'I dined there on Sunday--might do so any day; they can't do without
me, that's a fact.'

'Nor me, I imagine,' said Alda. 'I suppose I am to go back with you?'

'So Madam proposed; but the fact is, that Molly has done uncommonly
well without you this time.'

'What do you mean ?' asked Alda, sharply.

'What think you of a friend of Cherry?'

'I haven't got any friends.'

'Think again! Not the great convert, the Cacique of all the Mexicos?'

'Ferdinand Travis! You don't mean it?'

'_I_ don't; but the elders mean it, and the youngers will do it.'

'Do tell me! I can't understand,' cried Alda, much excited. 'We have
never met him.'

'The uncle or father--which?

'The uncle.'

'Well, the uncle has been in England, and fraternised with our
governor at Peter Brown's; there was a banqueting all round, and his
nephew was carried at his chariot wheels. If I am not much mistaken,
gold and timber jingled to silver and bullock-hide, and concluded a
prospective union in the persons of my nephew and my daughter. I'm
sorry. I have long been persuaded that a very small effort on the
part of our respected Blunderbore might have redeemed the family
fortunes in the person of Polly.'

'How could you think of anything so absurd?' said Alda.

'As if my uncle would consent!'

'If Tom has any sentiment, it is for my father and the name of
Underwood,' said Edgar. 'You remember he was sorely disappointed that
Felix would not step into my shoes.'

'And very angry and hurt,' said Alda, 'as well he might be.'

'Yes; but that anger proved the vastness of his good intentions.
Besides there's something about our old giant--steadiness and
breeding, I believe--that uniformly makes Tom knock under to him; and
there's a peculiar affinity of good sense between him and Marilda,
that ought to have ripened under favourable circumstances.'

'And is he really cut out!' said Alda. 'I don't know how to believe
this! How far has it gone?'

'Hanger on and oyster in love,' promptly answered Edgar.

'Honest Polly has the most comical look of anxious coyness on her
jolly face, and holds her elbows squarer than ever; and a few paces
off stands Montezuma, magnificent and melancholic; and Edgar assumed
the posture.

'Melancholy, no wonder,' said the conscious beauty; 'Edgar he must be
over head and ears in debt.'

'So it struck me; but he must have managed it uncommon quietly, for
they call him the Mexican Muff, he's hand and glove with all their
holinesses up at Clement's shop, and the wildest orgie he has been
detected at was their magic-lantern.'

'Then it is real goodness that draws them together!' exclaimed
Cherry, looking up from her presidency over the comfits.

'Goodness and a balance,' said Edgar.

'Did you know,' said Cherry, 'that as soon as he came of age, he paid
the Insurance all the money for the Fortinbras Arms? The agents were
quite overwhelmed, and wanted to put it in the Pursuivant.'

She was cut short by the return of Wilmet and Angela, accompanied by
Miss Knevett. The effect of Edgar's appearance was startling. Alice
gave a little scream of surprise, Angela crept behind her sisters,
and Wilmet stood for a moment like a stag at gaze; then, as he said,
'Well, Mettie, are you going to send for the police?' exclaimed,
'You, Edgar! What a figure you have made of yourself!'

'See how our eldest crushes me!' said Edgar. 'Such a face as yours,
Mettie, ought not to be wedded to the commonplace.'

'I suppose it is like German artists,' said Wilmet, trying to resign
herself.

'It is such a beautiful becoming dress,' whispered Alice to
Geraldine; while Edgar rattled on--'No wonder there is a
deterioration in taste from living in the very tents of the
Philistines. Why, Cherry, how do you bear existence surrounded by
such colours as these?'

'The paper?' asked Wilmet, surprised. 'It is rather a large pattern,
to be sure.'

'I call it cruelty to animals to shut Cherry up among the eternal
abortive efforts of that gilded trellis to close upon those blue
dahlias, crimson lilacs, and laburnums growing upwards, tied with
huge ragged magenta ribbons. They would wear out my brain.'

'Well, I think when you remember our old paper, you might be
thankful!' said Wilmet.

'Precisely what I do, and am not thankful. What our paper may have
been in its earlier stages of existence, I am not prepared to say,
but since I can remember, that hateful thing, the pattern, could only
be traced by curious researches in dark corners, and the wall
presented every nuance of purplish salmon or warm apricot.'

'Dear old paper!' cried Cherry. 'Yes, wasn't it soft, deepening off
in clouds and bars, sunsets and storm-clouds, to make stories about?'

'Where it was most faded and grimy,' said Wilmet. 'It is all
affectation not to be glad to have clean walls.'

'Clean!' cried Edgar, in horror. 'Defend me from the clean! Bare,
bald, and frigid, with hard lines breaking up and frittering your
background. If walls are ornamented at all, it should not be in a
poor material like paper, but rich silk or woollen tapestry
hangings.'

'We couldn't have tapestry now,' said Alice, in a puzzled voice.

'Then,     '"Comrades, take warning by my fall,
             And have it strong or not at all."'

'Not walls,' laughed Cherry.

'Let them be of natural, or, at any rate, uniform tint; and cover
them with your own designs of some character and purpose, not
patterns bought by the yard.'

'Oh! I see what you would be at,' said Wilmet quaintly.

'You are bewailing the loss of your great Man Friday.'

'Achilles, I beg your pardon.'

'He never would come out,' said Angela; 'he came through the
whitewash after the measles.'

'I wonder what the present inhabitants think of him,' said Cherry.
'One comfort is, if he is a bogy now, they may show him some day as
an early effort of Sir Edgar Underwood, President of the Royal
Academy.'

'Oh dear! I must go!' cried Alice. 'I only came to fetch a pattern
for Aunt Maria, and she is waiting for it; but you are all so
delightful here.'

'What pretty little thing have you picked up there?' asked Edgar, as
she went.

'Have we not told you of Miss Pearson's niece?'

'You should take her likeness, Cherry, as a relief from the
classically severe.'

Cherry opened her portfolio, and showed two or three water-coloured
drawings of the graceful little head and piquant features. Edgar
criticised, and promised a lesson; and the sitter, nothing loth,
though rather coy, was caught. She blushed and smiled, and took
exception at little personalities, and laughed her forgiveness, going
through a play of countenance very perplexing to the pupil, but much
relished by the master, as he called up the pout and smile by turns,
and played with her little airs.

He took Alda back on Monday, but promised to come home for Christmas,
and kept his word. Perhaps the Renville wirthschaft afforded less
contrast with home than did the Underwood menage; and, in spite of
the Philistine furniture, the rooms in the High Street agreed better
with his tastes than the old house in St. Oswald's Buildings. He was
above objecting to the shop; and whereas Clement carefully avoided
the public precincts, he was often there, hunting up books, reading
newspapers, gossiping with Mr. Froggatt or with Redstone, and always
ensuring himself a welcome by the free bright sweetness of his manner
and his amusing talk.

It was a prosperous winter; Felix, as partner and acknowledged
editor, was in a more comfortable position both as to income and
authority. Other matters were going well. Fulbert, to the general
surprise, turned out a capital letter-writer, and sent home excellent
accounts of himself, working heartily in a situation in the post-
office, which Mr. Audley's Somerville interest had managed to secure
for him. Moreover, all close scholarships had not been abolished, and
Felix's opportunities in the newspaper line had enabled him to
discover one at St. Cadoc's, a small college at Cambridge, to be
competed for by the natives of the county where Clement had
fortunately been born. A letter to the parish clerk of Vale Leston,
to ask for the baptismal register of Edward Clement Underwood,
produced a reply from a well-remembered old Abednego Tripp, who
declared himself 'horned and rejoiced' at hearing from Master Felix,
and at being able to do anything for one of the Reverend Mr. Edward's
sons. The competition was not very severe; Clement obtained the
scholarship, and therewith his maintenance for three years to come;
and he was at the same time able to exercise a bit of patronage on
his sisters' behalf, more gratifying to his own feelings than theirs.
Mr. Fulmort's unmarried sisters had lived in the country with a
former governess, until on the death of the elder, the survivor
decided on employing her very considerable fortune in establishing a
school where girls of small means might be prepared for becoming
first-rate governesses, with special openings for the daughters of
poor clergy and of missionaries.

One of the first families thought of was that of the favourite
chorister; so Angela, now ten years old, was nominated at once, to
the relief of Wilmet, who did not think her romping intimacies with
the girls at Miss Pearson's very desirable. Moreover, after a
correspondence between Miss Fulmort and Miss Lyveson, it was decided
that Robina should be transferred to the new school at Brompton with
her sister, partly by way of infusing a trustworthy element, and
partly that her studies might be perfected by London masters. Robina,
whose allegiance to Miss Lyveson was most devoted, was greatly
grieved, but she was a reasonable, womanly little being, aware that
governess-ship was her profession, and resolute to qualify herself;
so though she came home with tell-tale spots under her eyes, she
replied to all condolences with, 'I know it's right what must be
must;' and her spirits rose when Lance came home, bound only to
return during the holidays on two or three special days when his
voice was indispensable at the cathedral.

Edgar and he together kept the house in continual merriment, so that
the sober pillars of the house found themselves carried along, they
knew not whither.

'I have had a serious application,' said Felix one evening. 'A solemn
knock came to the office door, and an anxious voice came in--"Please,
brother, I want to speak to you." There stood the little Star! I
thought at least she had broken the chandelier, but no such thing. It
was, "Please, brother, mayn't I have a birthday?"'

'Poor little darling!' cried some voices.

'What could have put it into her head?' said Wilmet.

'She said all little girls had birthdays, and Ellen Bruce had told
Angel all about the dance in honour of hers.'

'Ah!' said Wilmet, 'we'll have Angel out of the way of that kind of
chatter.'

'Poor little maid! of course I had to quench her,' said Felix, as far
as her own day was concerned. I told her more about it than she had
ever heard, but then she took me aback by saying Father was happy,
and she thought he would like her to be happy.'

'You didn't consent!' exclaimed Wilmet.

'I represented that it was Theodore's birthday as well, and that
strangers would make him miserable. She was really very good, and I
want you just to consider whether we could not do something--of
course on a different day--but in the course of the holidays, by way
of treat. Surely you could invite some of Miss Pearson's pupils.'

'I don't like to begin, Felix,' said Wilmet; 'there would be
reciprocity, and no one knows where it might lead to.'

'A few white muslin frocks--eh, W. W.? I think we could stand them.'

'That is not all I mean,' said Wilmet; 'it is the sort of style of
thing. It would be all very well to have a few little girls here, but
they would all ask us again, and I could not answer for what might
happen at their homes.'

'It is out!' said Edgar. 'Now we know the sort of style of thing it
might lead to. Minerva under a mistletoe bough.'

'Hurrah!' burst out Lance, in convulsions of mirth, which infected
Felix and Cherry; while Wilmet, as simple as she was discreet,
blushed up to the tips of her ears, and tried to defend herself.

'They tell me of doings at their parties that are what I should not
like for our little girls, and I don't think you would, Felix.'

'Forfeits, to wit?' asked Edgar. 'Or cards, or waltzing. You may as
well be explicit, Mettie.'

'No, no,' said Felix, 'Mettie shall not be teased: she is right in
the main.' But his tone was that he always used when her prudence was
too much for him.

'And the family refinement is to be secured by sitting in ashes all
Christmas,' said Edgar. 'Slightly unchristian, it strikes me.'

'But,' continued Felix, 'out of these domestic ashes, we must get up
some sport for the children. I stand committed to Stella.'

'Shall I get Bill Harewood, and do Box and Cox?' suggested Lance.

'Might we not get up something they could take part in themselves?'
said Cherry; 'Cinderella, or some such little play?--Edgar, you know
how to manage such things.

'Wilmet doesn't know where they would lead to,' gravely responded
Edgar.

'To Lance's going off with a circus,' said Felix.

'I always had a great mind to do so,' responded Lance. 'To sing comic
songs on one leg on a spotted horse's back, and go about day and
night in a yellow van drawn by elephants--I call that life!'

'Secure a berth for me as scene-painter!' cried Edgar. 'See how I'd
draw a house by the very outline of Mazeppa outside!'

'And Felix will print all our advertisements gratis!'

'Oh!' broke in Cherry, 'I have a notion. Couldn't we make a play of
the conjuror in disguise? It is Dr. Knowall in German popular tales,
Robin the Conjuror in English.'

'Nothing foolish, I hope?' seriously asked Wilmet.

'Oh no. Don't you recollect? The story is, that a set of thieves
steal a jewel, a man comes shamming conjuror and offering to find it
for the owner, intending to trust to chance, and feast at her expense
as long as he is not found out.'

'I remember!' exclaimed Lance, you used to tell us the story.
Somebody suspects him, and brings a creature shut up in a covered
dish to ask him to tell what it was--and it happens to be a robin; so
when he cries out, "Oh, poor Robin!" thinking himself done for, out
hops the bird, and the enemy is sold.'

'Yes; and then he counts his dinners every day, and the thieves who
have come to look on think he is counting them, and throw themselves
on his mercy.'

'It has capabilities,' said Edgar.

'But the moral!' said Wilmet.

'What! Not the lesson against dealing with conjurors? demanded Edgar.
'I'll undertake to arm your pupils against spirit-rapping for ever.'

'In that point of view--' said Wilmet doubtfully.

'In that point of view,' said Felix, laughing, 'it has my vote.'

'I don't like deception to succeed,' said Wilmet; 'but at least
there's none of the worst sort of nonsense.'

Lance leapt up and performed a pas seul, insisting that Bill
Harewood must come and be a robber; and Edgar and Cherry instantly
had their heads together as playwrights and managers.

'Never mind, Wilmet,' said Felix at their bedroom doors that night.
'Remember, Father never was a man for all work and no play.'

'I don't mind play, but I don't know what this may lead to;' then, as
Felix laughed merrily at the repetition, she followed him into his
room, saying, 'I mean, I have no trust in Edgar's discretion, or
Lance's either, and all sorts of things may be put into the
children's heads.'

'You can't keep children's heads a blank,' said Felix, 'and Edgar's
good taste ought to be trusted in his own home, for his own sisters.
Even you might stretch a few points to keep him happy and occupied
with Cherry. Besides, I believe we do live a duller life than can be
really good for any one. It can't be right to shut up all these young
things all their holidays without any pleasure.'

'I thought,' said Wilmet, her eyes growing moist, 'it was pleasure
enough to be all at home together.'

'So it is, to staid old fogies like you and me,' said Felix, kissing
her; 'but the young ones want a lark now and then, and I confess I
should be immensely disappointed if this fun didn't come off. No, no,
W. W., I can't have you an old cat; you are much too young and
pretty.'

The levity of this conclusion shocked Wilmet beyond remonstrance. Was
Felix falling from his height of superiority, or was her strictness
wearisome?

Meantime, Geraldine's brain was ringing with doggrel rhymes, and
whirling with stage contrivances, in the delight of doing something
with Edgar, whether versifying or drawing; and as Felix said, to keep
him happy at home for Christmas was no small gain, even though it
brought a painful realisation that their feast was not his feast.

Geraldine suffered in silence, for a word from her was always put
down by some tender jest, avowing as much inferiority in goodness as
superiority in intellect. As to Clement, Edgar's sport was to startle
him with jokes, dilemmas, and irreverences, and then to decline
discussion on the ground that he never argued with _sisters_, and
that Clement would understand when he went to Cambridge. Otherwise,
the subject was avoided at home, but Edgar consorted a good deal with
Mr. Ryder, calling him the only person in the town, except Cherry,
who knew the use of a tongue, and one day, when Felix was assisting
his old master in a search through old newspapers in the reading-
room, Mr. Ryder said, 'By-the-by, your brother Edgar has a good deal
more of the talk of the day than you can be prepared for.'

'I am afraid so, sir,' said Felix; 'but he does not put it forth much
at home.'

'So I hoped. It would have startled your father a good deal; but I
believe myself acting in the spirit of his wishes in letting him talk
out his crudities.'

'Thank you, sir,' said Felix, not quite knowing how to take this.

'It is a phase to be passed through,' said Mr. Ryder. 'Indeed, a good
deal of it is fashion and vanity.'

'Mr. Audley thinks so,' replied Felix. 'He said he thought poor Edgar
did not think enough to have real doubt, but that he considered other
people's a dispensation from attending to the subject at all.'

'Exactly,' said Mr. Ryder, 'except so far as repeating what he has
caught up seems to him knowing, and according to the spirit of the
time, fit to dazzle us down here. Whatever may deepen him will
probably change all that--I do not say into what you or your father
would wish; but what is jargon now will pass away into something more
real, for better or--'

'For worse?' asked Felix anxiously, as he paused.

'I do not say so,' returned Mr. Ryder. 'Perhaps what I chiefly wished
at this moment was to clear myself in your eyes of treachery to your
father.'

'No, sir, that I never could suspect.'

But the conversation might well leave heaviness behind it. Was it
come to Edgar's views being such as to startle Mr. Ryder! who, for
that matter, had of late shown much less laxity of opinion than in
his younger and more argumentative days; and there was little comfort
in supposing that these were not real honest doubts at all, only
apologies for general carelessness and irreligion.

Yet with even this trouble in the recess of the heart, this was the
merriest winter the Underwood household had known since their
father's time.

Edgar chose to frame the play upon the Italian form of the story,
where the impostor is a starveling poet, nicknamed Signor Topo, or
Master Ratton, because his poverty had brought him to live in a hay-
loft. This character he assumed, and no doubt it fitted him better
than either the English cobbler or the German doctor; besides, as he
said, sham court costume is always the easiest to contrive: but
Cherry was by no means prepared to find the Rat-like poet the secret
admirer of a daughter of the Serene Highness who owned the jewel.

'Such a monstrous interpolation,' quoth Geraldine.

'Interpolations are the beauty of the thing. It would be as flat as a
pancake without.'

'And Wilmet won't like it.'

'Wilmet must be brought to the level of ordinary human nature.'

'I don't feel as if this were using her well. You know she expressly
consented to this "because there was no nonsense in it."'

'I.e. if it had been Cinderella, it would have been improper; if the
Sleeping Beauty, highly scandalous. Eh, Cherie?'

'You know I think Mettie _does_ carry her scruples pretty far,' said
Geraldine, trying not to laugh, 'but I won't be a party to cheating
her; and if this young princess is to come in, she must be told of
it.'

'Or she will take out her Gorgon's head in the midst, and petrify her
subjects! Maybe it will be safest to prepare her. You see, such
discipline reigns here, that a poor Bohemian like me doesn't know
where to be.'

Accordingly, Edgar said in his airy way, 'O Mettie, by-the-by, we
have put in a part for little Miss Knevett.'

'Indeed! I thought it was to be all among ourselves. Have you spoken
to her?'

'Of course; and she is in the ecstatic state of preparation of
spangles and coronets.'

'I wish you had spoken before. It would be hard to disappoint her
now. What is she to be?'

'Nothing less than heroine. There must be some sort of conventional
catastrophe, or the whole concern falls flat.'

'I don't see why it should not fall flat,' said Wilmet, with a sober
air that drove Cherry into an uncontrollable convulsion of laughter;
'it would amuse the children just as well.'

'The children of six, maybe,' said Edgar gravely, 'but hardly the
children of sixteen. Have you no mercy on them, my venerable sister?'

Wilmet had arrived at such a pass of resignation as to perceive that
'a fuss' on her part might be more mischievous than any 'nonsense' in
which Edgar was likely to indulge in public, especially with
Geraldine as his coadjutor. She tried to obtain some reassurance that
there was 'nothing more silly than needful in this play of yours.'

'No, indeed. There is just a little mock courtship; but as that is
the case with nine-tenths of the stories in the world, I don't think
you gain much by turning it out.'

'I did hope for once in a way we ourselves might be quit of it.'

'It is hard on you,' said Cherry, smiling; 'but it would make a great
uproar to disturb all now.'

'At any rate, I have found the old receipt for tea-cakes,' responded
Wilmet, whose mind was almost as much preoccupied with the
entertainment of the body as her sister's with that of the mind.

She had relented so far as to invite two little girls and their
widowed mother, from whom there was no danger of reciprocities, Lance
had prevailed to have Will Harewood as one of the robbers; and the
Miss Pearsons were coming to behold their niece; besides which,
Stella having imparted the great secret to Mr. Froggatt, Felix found
the good old gentleman and his wife burning to have an invitation.
Thus the party would be the largest Wilmet had ever contemplated; and
the mysteries of tea and supper were so congenial to her housewifely
soul, that she did not distress herself about the frequent rehearsals
in Miss Pearson's empty school-room, the transformations of garments
under the needles of Cherry and Robina, nor even the wildness and
ecstacy of all the children from Lance downwards, all bursting with
secrets, and letting them out at every corner of their grinning
mouths.

It must soon be over, and Felix seemed to be enjoying it thoroughly;
and Wilmet could tolerate a great deal when either Felix or Alda
enjoyed. He was much too busy with Christmas accounts to undertake
any part that needed learning, but he was pressed into the service as
a courtier, only with a dispensation from either speaking or
rehearsing; while Wilmet utterly scouted any idea of taking any share
in the drama, having enough to do in her own character.

And in that character she was left alone to entertain the guests, for
even Cherry was in request as prompter and assistant dresser--nay,
with the assistance of Theodore's accordion, formed the whole band of
musicians at the ball which opened the performance, and which
required the entire corps dramatique. Robina, as the Elderly
Princess, demonstratively dropped her bracelet, with a ruby about as
big as a pigeon's egg (being the stopper of a scent-bottle), and
after the dancers had taken some trouble not to step on it, they
retired, and it was stolen by the gang of robbers, cloaked up to
their corked eyebrows and moustaches.

Then appeared in his loft--supplied with straw culled from packages
at the printing-house--the poet, well got up in his knickerbockers
and velvet smoking-cap, scarf and guitar, soliloquising in burlesque
rhyme on his fallen state and hopeless admiration, and looking very
handsome and disconsolate, until startled by the cry behind the
scenes--


     'O yes! O yes! O yes!
      By command of her Highness!
      Lost, stolen, or strayed,
      Gone to the dogs or mislaid,
      Her Highness' splendid ruby.
      Whoso finds it--wit or booby,
      Tinker, tailor, soldier, lord--
      Let him ask what he will, he shall have his reward.'


Thereupon the poet, communicating his designs in a stage soliloquy,
disguised himself in a tow wig and beard, and a railway rug turned up
with yellow calico; and the scene shifting to the palace, he
introduced himself to the Elderly Princess as the greatest of
spiritualists--so great, that--


     'Detective police are an ignorant fable:
      No detective can equal a walnut-wood table.'


But he required as a medium a maiden fair and lovely, but with a
heart as yet untouched, otherwise the spirits might be offended. The
only lady who was available was, of course, the youthful princess
Fiordespina, whose alarm and reluctance had been contrived so as to
be highly flattering to the disguised poet.

The dinner scenes, at which the robbers presented themselves in turn,
and imagined that they heard themselves counted, went off in due
order; also the test, when the courtiers tried to pose the
spiritualist with making him divine what they brought him in a
covered dish, and were disconcerted by his sighing out,


     'Alas! alas! see envy batten
      On the unhappy Master Ratton!'


while the rat leaped out from beneath the lid!

Then came the avowal by the robber: but the conclusion was so far
varied, that the jewel having been judiciously hidden, the poet made
use of his voice and his guitar to throw the Lady Fiordespina into a
mesmeric sleep before the court, and then to cause a table to rap out
the letters, which she interpreted so as to lead to the spot.

It was the prettiest scene of all, his music and song were so
graceful; and in spite of some suppressed giggling, the attitude and
countenance of Fiordespina were so very pretty in her trance. Nothing
more was left save the restoration of the ruby, the claiming of the
reward, and the final tableau, in which Ratton and Fiordespina, in
their native good mien, had their hands joined by the benignant
Elderly Princess; while, to the equal amusement and confusion of all,
good old Mrs. Froggatt fairly burst out crying with excitement and
admiration!

Mrs. Vincent, the young widow, was likewise enchanted, and so was
Miss Maria Pearson; but Wilmet could not quite fathom the tone of the
elder and graver sister, or decide whether it were her own
dissatisfaction that made her think Miss Pearson had not expected to
see such a role bestowed upon her niece.

The doors between the drawing-room and the theatre were opened again;
the boys handed round negus and lemonade; and Felix, standing over
Cherry, said, 'Lance's circus speculation would not be a bad one.
There's plenty of dramatic talent in the family.'

'Did you like it, Felix!'

'I could tell exactly which parts were yours and which Edgar's,' was
the ambiguous answer, as he turned to secure the Princess Fiordespina
for the dance that was to crown the performance.

'O Mr. Underwood! Oh yes, thank you! but--'

'Is it part of the programme that wizard and medium should dance
together?'

'Oh no! Only it seems so funny to think of your dancing.'

'What, you thought a stationer must be stationary?'

'O Mr. Underwood, what a shocking pun!' and she was led off sparkling
with pretty laughter; while the conjuror muttering,


     'The gouty oak began to move
      And flounder into hornpipes,'


turned graciously on little Susie Vincent, and scared as much as he
elevated her, by claiming her as his partner.

Will Harewood, dashing across the room, and looking earnestly with
his bold and now flushed face up to Wilmet, blurted out, 'Miss
Underwood, now please, let me dance with you.'

'Thank you,' she said graciously; 'but I believe I must play for
them.'

'I'll do that,' said Clement, over her head.

'The Dead March in Saul?' murmured Edgar.

'Nonsense!' broke out Mrs. Vincent, starting up; 'what am I good for
but to play?'

So Clement, who thought he had found an escape, was reduced to the
necessity of asking the other little Vincent; and Wilmet's smile of
consent so elated Bill Harewood, that he could not help flying across
to that very happy and well-matched pair, the Elderly Princess and
First Robber, to tell them, 'I've got her.'

'Who?'

'Why, your sister.'

'You've never been and made up to Wilmet!' said Lance, as if this
instance of valour crowned his merits.

'Yes, I have; and she will. You see there ain't another gentleman out
of the family except the old Froggy, and the little one has got him.
Well, I always wished beyond anything to dance with Miss Underwood!'

'Did you?' said Robina. 'I never should have thought of that.'

'Most likely not,' said Bill; 'but she is the most beautiful woman I
ever did or shall see in all my life;' and he flew back to her side.

'Is she?' said Robina, altogether amazed.

'Well, perhaps,' said Lance; 'you know one might go a long way
without finding any one so handsome.'

'Then I wish people wouldn't say so. It seems making our Wilmet
common, like any other girl, to care for her being pretty.'

'So Froggy's dancing with Stella,' observed Lance. I declare I'll try
if Mrs. Frog won't stand up with me. Some one ought. You'll not mind
waiting, Bobbie. It is not often one has the chance to dance with a
cap like that.'

Bobbie resigned herself amicably, and Lance, with his bright arch
face, made his bow and half polite, half saucy addresses to Mrs.
Froggatt in her magnificent head-gear, making her laugh herself
almost to tears again as she declined. He held the Miss Pearsons in
greater awe, and ventured on neither; so that Robina had him for Sir
Roger de Coverley, where the sole contretemps arose from Angel and
Bear being in such boisterous spirits that Wilmet decreed that they
must not be partners again. Of the rest, some had a good deal of
dancing-master experience; Mrs. Harewood's impromptu merry-makings
had afforded plenty of practice to the two choristers; even Clement
had had a certain school-feast training; and Felix, with a good ear,
ready eye, and natural ease of movement, acquitted himself to Miss
Knevett's eagerly expressed admiration.

'Take care, Master Ratton will be jealous,' said Edgar, as he claimed
her for the next dance, a quadrille.

'Jealous! oh no! Some people one never thinks of complimenting.'

Cherry caught the words, and wondered what they meant.

A few more dances, and then came Wilmet's anxiously contrived supper.

'I say,' observed Will Harewood to Lance, 'why can't we have things
like this at home?'

''Tisn't their nature to,' judiciously responded Lance.

'This cream is quite up to the grub we get after a crack let-off in
the Close,' added Will; for requisitions for their voices at private
concerts had made the choir connoisseurs in the relics of feasts.

'Better, I should say,' returned Lance. 'Mettie doesn't make it of
soap, or arsenic, or verdigris, like old Twopenny.'

'What! you don't mean that she made it herself!'

'Of course! who else should?'

'My eyes! And to see her looking like that!' Then, with a deep sigh,
'If I could only book her for my wife on the spot!'

Whence it may be inferred, that Stella's birthday party was not only
a brilliant success, but might, in Wilmet's phrase, 'lead to
something.' All it seemed to have led to at present was a discovery
on the part of the good Miss Pearsons, that the household they had
been wont to pity as small orphan children, now contained three fine
young men.

At least Geraldine connected this with the desire they expressed that
Alice might enjoy the same opportunities as Robina of giving her
acquirements a final polish, up to diploma pitch. A correspondence
commenced, resulting in Miss Knevett being engaged as teacher, being
remunerated by lessons in languages and accomplishments. The
arrangement gave universal satisfaction; Cherry could not detect any
regret on the part of Felix; Alice would still spend her holidays
with her aunts; and the sense that her departure was near made the
intercourse between the two houses more frequent and familiar than it
had ever yet been.

One evening Cherry, while looking up a quotation for Felix in
Southey's Doctor, lit on his quaint theory of the human soul having
previously migrated through successive stages of vegetable and animal
life, and still retaining something characteristic from each
transmigration. Her brothers were a good deal tickled with the idea;
and Lance exclaimed, 'I know who must have been rhubarb, queen-wasp,
and a hen-harrier.'

'Oh, that's too bad!' cried Robina.

'Why a hen-harrier?' asked Felix, recognising, like almost all the
others.

'One of the birds of prey where the female is bigger than her mate,'
drily observed Edgar.

'Besides,' said Cherry,' recollect the hen-harrier's countenance in
pictures, with beady eyes, and a puffed supercilious smile about the
beak.'

'Why, that's Lady Price!' chimed in Alice, making the discovery at
last.

Lengthily and gravely Edgar uttered the words, 'Puzzle-monkey,
praying mantis, sacred stork, howler.'

Lance and Robin roared with merriment, and after one glance at
Clement's half virtuous, half offended countenance, Felix and Cherry
fell into like convulsions; while Alice exclaimed, 'But who is it?'
and Angel shouted the sufficiently evident answer, 'Clement, oh! the
howler, the black preaching monkey in a natural surplice!'

'I can't think how you do it!' exclaimed Alice.

'I object to the mantis,' Cherry struggled to say. 'Nasty
hypocritical creature that eats things up.'

'Praying for its living, eh, Cherry?' said wicked Edgar. 'If you had
ever seen the long thin animal, with head back, hands joined, and
pious attitude, you couldn't doubt.'

And as he spoke he sketched his mischievous likeness, at which the
mirth grew more furious; while Cherry, always the most easily
excited, uttered in a strangled voice, 'A parsnip, a barn-door hen, a
dilapidated Guernsey cow, an old mother whale.'

'O Cherry, Cherry, you've immortalised yourself!' shouted Lance. 'How
did you hit off the parsnip? the very thing that had stumped me.'

'The colour, and the odd sort of sweetness,' said Cherry.

'Won't we have fun with it when I go back!' cried Lance.--'Not tell?
Nonsense! Why, no one will enjoy it like Mother Harewood herself.'

'Only don't say I made it. There, Edgar has got one.'

'Touch-me-not balsam, blister-fly, bantam-cock (full strut), black
terrier.'

He did not caricature this time except with the muscles of his face,
and with these he contrived to put on four different aspects, each so
exactly like Mr. Mowbray Smith that not even Alice required the
proclamation of the name; and Wilmet gravely said, 'I do not think
this is a proper sort of game. It must be ill-natured or irreverent.'

'That depends,' said Geraldine, now thoroughly in the swing.-- Here!
Hawthornden apple-tree, stickleback, goldfinch, beaver.'


     'The hardy Norseman's house of yore
      Was on the foaming wave,'


sang out Lance, recalling Theodore's substitute for Felix's name.

'Exactly like--figures, tastes, and all,' said Edgar, scanning Felix's
clear, bright, fresh face, glossy hair, and rather short figure, at
once trim and sturdy. 'The goldfinch hit him off exactly, but I don't
see the force of the apple-tree.'

'You would,' said Cherry, 'if you were properly acquainted with our
three trees and their individualities. The Hawthornden is a resolute
looking fellow, but it indulges in the loveliest pink and white
blossoms, and waxen, delicate, peachy fruit.'

'Uncommonly sour! Thank you, Cherry,' said Felix.

'Not in a pie,' suggested Alice.

'Properly treated and sweetened, eh ?' asked he, smiling on her.

'But why is Felix like a stickleback?' said Angela.

'Don't you know?' said Cherry; 'a beautiful bright little fish, and
the good male one swims up and down taking care of the nest.'

'I do like the beaver,' allowed Wilmet. 'It always was my favourite
beast.'

'It hits off the respectable householder element,' added Edgar.
'Three flaps of his broad tail rule beaverdom like Jupiter's nod.'

'I have one,' interposed Robina.--'Bella-donna lily, working bee,
menura--'

'Hold hard!' called Lance; 'is a menura fish, flesh, or fowl?'

'Fowl: the lyre-tailed pheasant, that makes a shelter for its nest
with its own tail.'

'Decided liar tale,' muttered Edgar.

'Go on, Bobbie,' Felix encouraged her. The pheasant suits both the
twins as well as the bella-donna. Any more?'

'Perhaps the leading stag of the herd.'

'Don't make us like that proud, cowardly, tyrannical beast,'
exclaimed Wilmet.

'I have seen you look exactly like one,' said Geraldine. 'That and
the pheasant both give the notion of your neck.'

'Such a set of trumpery gaudy things!' grumbled Wilmet. 'Nothing but
the bee is tolerable.'

'I did think of a speckled Hamburg hen, and a nice quiet she-goat,'
said Robina; 'but they are all dowdy, and would not suit Alda.'

'There's something in the theory,' said Edgar. 'That belladonna
approves itself perfectly--so delicate and stately, and yet so
essentially unpoetical.'

'That Mettie takes as a compliment,' said Felix, 'only she would
rather have been a potato, or a cabbage.'

'Now,' said Cherry, 'you will all know--bell-heather, the
grasshopper, the lark, and the squirrel.'

'Is this the lark's crest, or the squirrel's tail!' said Felix,
giving an elder brother's pull to the boy's highest wave of hair.

'Or the grasshopper's leap?' cried Lance, springing on him for a bout
of buffeting and skirmishing; in the midst of which Alice was heard
wondering how the riddles, as she thought them, were either made or
guessed.

'They come,' said Geraldine. 'I am only afraid we shall fall into a
trick of making them for everybody.'

'I wonder what you would make for me.'

Geraldine had it on her tongue's end that Alice would be difficult,
for want of anything distinctive, but Felix and Edgar were both
jotting something down, and Robina was before-hand with either--
'Scarlet pimpernel, tortoiseshell butterfly, budgerigar, marmoset.'

No one answered, for Felix had pushed a slip of paper over to Alice,
on which she read--"'Forget-me-not, ladybird, linnet, kitten." I
don't think I ever saw a linnet. Isn't it a little brown bird?'

'With a rich glow of red, and a beautiful song,' said Felix, smiling;
and the red glowed redder on her cheek, as she said, laughing,
'Kitten for mischief, eh? For shame, Mr. Underwood!--What, another!
Dear me, I shall not know myself!'

This had been slipped into her hand; and Cherry suspected that her
exclamation had been a mistake of which she was conscious, as the
colour deepened on her already blushing cheeks, and her eyes were
cast down, while a demure smile played on her lips. The incautious
exclamation had betrayed her, and the young ones clamoured to hear
Edgar's view of her transmigration; but there was a little coy
struggle of 'Oh no, she wouldn't, and she couldn't.'


     'She smiled and blushed, and oft did say
          Her pretty oath by yea or nay.'


And in the midst came the message that the maid was arrived to take
her home; and this being a cross stiff personage, who might never be
kept waiting, she had to hurry away; and had no sooner gone than
Angela burst out with, 'Here it is! I've got it! Listen to it: "Say,
Lady--"'

'Stay, Angela,' interrupted Felix. 'You have no business with that.'

'Not Edgar's fun!' she exclaimed. 'Why, where is he?'

'Surely he is not going home with her!' said Wilmet in some dismay.

'Oh, but it is such fun,' went on Angela, 'only I can't make it out.
You read it, Lance.'

'Did she give it you?' said Felix.

'No, I whipped it up when she dropped it. There's something about
Ratton in it.'

Felix quietly took the paper out of her hand, folded it, and put it
into an envelope. 'You take it back to her the first thing to-
morrow,' he said. 'Now go to bed.'

Angela durst not oppose that tone, so unusually serious and
authoritative; but she contrived to prolong her good-nights, and the
putting away of her goods, with a kind of half droll, half sullen
resignation; and just as Wilmet was hurrying her off, Edgar returned.
He always spoilt Angela a little, and she sprang to him with a kind
of droll pout. 'You'll not be cross, Edgar. You'll let us hear
Alice's transmigrations. Look! here's Felix bottled them up in an
envelope, and won't let us peep at them! But you'll let me hear. You
won't order me off to bed.'

Cherry fancied she saw a disconcerted look on his face when he saw
the envelope held up to him; but if so, it instantly gave place to
the mischievous entertainment of defeating a lesson on discretion.--
'The heads of the family must assert themselves sometimes, my dear,
even about nothing,' he said consolingly.

'Indeed,' said Wilmet, bristling in defence of Felix, 'of course we
knew it was nothing. It was only very ill-mannered and wrong of
Angela to go prying into what was not meant to be shown.

'I'm sure,' said Edgar most ungratefully, 'it might be posted on the
church door for what I care, except for its intrinsic vileness.'

'Oh, let's have it! let's have it!' burst out Lance and Robina, who
had been burning with curiosity all the time.

'Don't let us have them murdered, whatever they are,' said Edgar,
taking them into his own hand. 'Pity the sorrows of a poor wretch
seduced into one of your horrid jeux d'esprit--a lady's excuse for
fishing for compliments that sound more than they mean. Here goes,
then:--


     'Say, Lady, what existence past
      Thine essence hath enfolded;
      What humble antecedent cast
      Thy present self hath moulded.

      The hawthorn bush, with blossom white
      Veiling her branches pricking;
      The painted lady, fluttering light,
      The rash pursuer tricking.

      Grass paraquit, who loves to sit
      In clustering rows and chat on;
      Caressing, purring, traitor kit,
      Fatal to Master Ratton.


There, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are satisfied,' he concluded,
letting his performance float into the fire; 'the metaphors, to say
the least, are startling, but that is the fault of the game.'

'I don't enter into it all,' said Cherry.

'Not likely another of the grass paraquits would, my dear,' said
Edgar.

'And it is exactly what Robin made her,' said Angela; 'both that and
the butterfly; and Felix, the kitten. You didn't borrow of course.
How funny!'

'But I didn't make her inconstant,' said Robin; 'that is not fair.'

'Not when you made her a butterfly, and the shepherd's weather-glass
too!'

'I never thought of that, only their being both bright, dark,
sparkling things; and Felix has the forget-me-not, by way of
antidote.'

'I do not think such things are wise,' pronounced Wilmet.

'And, by the by, Edgar, it has always been the custom that nobody
should walk home with Alice. Miss Pearson would not like it, and it
would make a talk.'

Edgar laughed. 'Dear W. W., let it not trouble you! What it may lead
to is a bugbear to you. You can't think how much younger and more
agreeable you will be when you have learnt that there can be passages
that lead to nothing.'

Geraldine went to bed uncomfortable and perplexed. Before she was
dressed in the morning, Alice darted in. 'Cherry, I'm so vexed; I
dropped that paper. Do you think it is here?'

'No; Angel picked it up, and Edgar read us the verses, and then threw
them into the fire.'

'Burnt them!'

'Yes; he said the worst of such games was that they force one to pay
compliments that may be taken to mean more than they do.'

Cherry spoke under a stern sense of virtue doing a service to Alice;
and when the quick answer came, 'He didn't say that, I'm sure it was
Wilmet,' she asseverated, 'Indeed he did. I don't confuse in that
way. It is a very good warning not to dwell on what gentlemen may say
in mere play.'

'Who told you I did?' said Alice sharply. 'You've no business to say
such things!'

Happily there was an interruption. Cherry felt as if she had had a
taste of the claws; but she feared she had been malicious, and she
was penitent.




CHAPTER XV

WHAT IT LED TO



'Then out and spak the popinjay.'--Old Ballad.


Geraldine was hard at work on a drawing. Edgar's teaching had
improved her so much that, under a sore longing to obtain some good
studies, she had ventured to place in the shop one of her best
imaginary groups, and to her surprise and delight, it had brought her
in fifteen shillings, and an order for a companion.

Vistas of hope began to rise before her, only obscured by her
consciousness of the want of knowledge and skill. It took some
resolution not to attend exclusively to her art, and she was forced
to make it a rule never to touch a pencil till the lessons of Bernard
and Stella were both over for the day.

They were finished, the children in the garden, and Cherry was in
that world of joy and something like inspiration known to spirits
imbued with any of the constructive poetry of art, always
endeavouring to fulfil an ideal, never indeed satisfying themselves,
but never so at rest as in the effort.

Presently she was startled by a step on the stairs. Nothing short of
the Fall of Delhi had ever been known to bring Felix upstairs in
business hours; and he was especially bound to his work at present,
since Mr. Froggatt was detained at home by a serious attack of
rheumatism. She looked up amazed at the eager question, 'Is there a
letter from Alda?'

'I believe there is, waiting for Wilmet. What is the matter?'

'The most astonishing thing. Here is Ferdinand Travis writing to tell
me of his engagement to Alda.'

'To Alda?'

'To Alda! I looked twice to be sure that there was no confusion
between the names, but it is my sister Alda beyond a doubt.  He would
not ask my consent if it were Marilda. Here's the letter, as good and
nice as possible, dear good fellow.'

'Then what Edgar told us must have been pure imagination.'

'Not the old folks' wishes, most likely. For the rest, Edgar can make
a good story. One can't wonder at the preference, and there's no
denying that it is a brilliant chance for Alda.'

'And what a blessing that he should be so good!'

'Infinite! No one could be so welcome! How pleased Mr. Audley will
be! But I must go, and try not to look too much disposed to stand on
the counter and crow.'

Whatever Felix did below, upstairs Cherry found drawing impossible.
Ferdinand a brother! The pleasure was enhanced by the affectionate
simplicity of his letter, the outcome of so good a heart, greatly in
love, but very conscientious, and utterly unpresuming on his wealth,
but showing all his old affection and reverence for Felix. What a
delightful wonder that Alda should bring in a connection so faithful
to Felix!

Yet, what would not Cherry have given to be as unsuspicious as Felix
or Wilmet? Why would misgivings come into her head such as never
troubled theirs? Why must she be haunted by Alda's intimations about
her travelling companions, and her manner, half scornful, half
nettled, when Edgar described the terms on which Mr. Travis stood?

She read Ferdinand's letter a second time, and was convinced that he
looked at the whole with such artless seriousness as to preclude all
notion of his having been consciously playing fast and loose; but she
was ready to torture herself for the involuntary doubt whether her
own sister were equally to be trusted.

However, when Wilmet came home, her genuine wholesome overflow of
undoubting rapture could not but sweep Cherry along in the tide.
Ferdinand combined the apparently impossible advantages of being
thoroughly one of themselves, and yet of being able to give Alda the
luxuries to which she had become accustomed; and Wilmet's joy was
beyond expression. The contrast between the twins--one admired,
praised, followed, esteemed, as one of the brightest ornaments of
London society; the other toiling in an obscure poverty-stricken
home, a teacher in a small third-class school, her beauty unheeded or
viewed as a real disadvantage--all this never occurred for one moment
to Wilmet, she only felt elevated in her sister.

Two days passed before more letters were received, and these came by
the first instead of the second post, before breakfast was over.
Four--besides one unheeded, being only in Robina's childish
handwriting--Alda to Wilmet, Thomas Underwood and Ferdinand both to
Felix, Edgar to Geraldine. There was a simultaneous opening of the
letters, then a general starting and looking into one another's eyes,
and Geraldine faintly murmured,

'Then it was really so!'

'So? what do you mean?' broke forth Wilmet. 'These selfish people are
treating my poor Alda most cruelly among them; and Felix must go and
fetch her home to be married from her own brother's house as she
ought to be.'

'I shall have to fetch her home,' said Felix thoughtfully; 'but I
wish I were quite clear that she has been dealing kindly by Marilda.'

'You are not believing that man Thomas rather than your own sister!'
cried Wilmet. 'If Alda does happen to be prettier than his daughter,
she can't help it. I'm sure I should be glad enough not to be pretty,
but it is a trial, and one must do the best one can.'

'That is just what I fear Alda has been doing,' said Felix between
his teeth, as he frowned over his letter.

'Read her letter, poor dear girl,' cried Wilmet, 'and see if you
aren't ashamed of such a judgment! No. Some is only meant for me, but
listen--"Your letter of sisterly joy has come on troubled waters. I
always knew I was the poor relation upon sufferance, but I have been
taught to feel it now." She does not know how she could bear it, but
for the security of Ferdinand's strength; and they will not let her
see him--say she must give him up or them--Mrs. Underwood's violence
inconceivable, and all because of a chimerical fancy.'

'What does Ferdinand himself say?' asked Cherry, as Wilmet looked on
for further selections.

'He says,' said Felix, reading, 'that our greeting was especially
welcome, from the contrast to what he met with from Mr. Underwood.
The angry opposition took him by surprise, having always thought they
regarded Alda as a daughter; but of course nothing makes any
difference to him, and he would much rather come to us for her than
to a stranger. His uncle is at New Orleans, and he is writing to him;
he is afraid they ought to wait for the answer, though there can be
no doubt about it, and he owes him no obedience.--Now, Cherry, there
is just time for Edgar's account before we go our several ways.'

'O Felix,' cried Wilmet, 'aren't you going to fetch her home, poor
dear?'

'Not possible to-day, Mettie. I shall have much ado to get away to-
morrow. Don't be so unhappy, you know she could come alone or with
Edgar, if it were so very dreadful; or if you are so fierce, you had
better go yourself and encounter "Man Thomas."'

Wilmet looked so much hurt, that Geraldine thought to defend Felix by
reading aloud at once.


'MA CHERIE--Such a bear-garden never was seen! Madame furious, Tom
abusive, Alda injured innocence, Montezuma heroism, and poor Polly
magnanimous--though the least said about her, the soonest mended. I
saw when I went back that the crisis could not be far off. The fact
is, that our dear sister cannot see any one else treated as "an
object," and has so persuaded herself that she is the proverbial
maltreated poor relation, as to think everything fair.'


'Geraldine!' exclaimed Wilmet, 'how can you read? Felix, how can you
listen to such things about your own sister?'

'It is only what she said herself,' said Felix drily. 'Go on,
Cherry.'


'It must be owned that it was hard, when for once Polly had fallen in
with something alike palatable to self and parents, and able to
swallow her broad visage! If Madame had had any wit, she would have
kept Alda away till the fish was hooked, when, it is my belief, he
would have had no eyes for aught beyond; but the good creature is too
sure of the charms of her own goose, to dread the admission of any
swan whatsoever to her pond. While the Cacique being yet uncommitted,
small blame to him if he saw the differ, especially as he attaches to
Alda all the sanctity of Bexley, which is to him at the least what
St. Matthew's is to Clem. To have been reared on the other--or indeed
either side of the Atlantic, our intended brother-in-law is curiously
simple. He accepted the intimation that Alda's face is her fortune
with superb indifference; whether it will be the same with his uncle,
remains to be seen; and I am afraid he is a good deal dependent on
him, his mother's Mexican property having been speculated away. I
don't like the look of the business; but if any one can do any good
it is Marilda herself. Tom is in a towering rage, and his wife worse--
neither perceiving that the noise they make is small mercy to their
daughter. She looks all manner of colours, but stands out gallantly
that she is glad, and that all is as it should be; and I believe
that, left to herself, she will set things straight. Felix had better
keep out of the fray except upon compulsion.'

'Here is compulsion,' said Felix. 'Tom Underwood summons me; I can't
say I like the errand.'

'You ought not to let yourself be led by Edgar's unkind joking way!'

'We ought to be off now, at any rate,' said Felix, glad to close the
discussion. 'I'll write to get Fernan to meet me at the station to-
morrow.'

Accordingly, when he arrived, there was Ferdinand Travis driving a
magnificent horse, the whole turn--out very far from looking like a
connection of Froggatt and Underwood. He had certainly developed into
a splendidly handsome fellow, though still lithe and slight rather
than robust, and his dignified bearing giving the idea of greater
height than his inches testified to. His greeting was warmly
affectionate, with all his old wishful reverence towards his young
godfather, and even with a sort of doubt of his thinking him worthy
of his sister. As to the disturbance created by the avowal of the
object of his attentions, he seemed amazed at it, and entirely
unconscious of any supposed change on his part.

'I knew my uncle wished me to be an intimate with the family,' he
said, 'and I was rejoiced to fall in with any one who bore your name,
and knew how to appreciate you; but I had reason to think that--that
there were other views--for--' and here the olive cheeks grew
crimson, and he stammered himself into a hopeless entanglement,
whence Felix recalled him charitably to an account of the explosion
as it had affected himself.

It appeared that his proposal had not been mentioned to the family
till Felix's answer had been received, Ferdinand feeling that no one
ought to hear of it before the eldest brother. The lovers had met
that night at a ball, and their consultation over the letters had
taken place in the conservatory, where they had been surprised, and
partly overheard, by Mrs. Underwood. When Ferdinand arrived the next
morning, he was received with denunciations of underhand ways, and
his explanation only made matters worse. A thunderstorm about
ingratitude and treachery was launched forth, and he was told that
the connection was so contrary to any intentions of his uncle, that
Mr. Underwood could not hear of it, and that Alda must renounce it
entirely, on peril of being cast off by the family. That Ferdinand
regarded her brother as the true head of her house, was only
additionally provoking; and Mr. Underwood had given him warning,
which he only hinted at to Felix, that the engagement could not be
carried on with impunity.

Therewith they reached Kensington Palace Gardens, and being in a
measure forbidden the house, Ferdinand drove about waiting for Felix,
who on giving his name, found himself ushered into the room where the
whole party were finishing breakfast.

Alda, looking meek and pensive, but very lovely, exquisitely dressed
in white and blue ribbons, flew into his arms as if her protector
were come; Mr. Underwood, without getting up, acknowledged him by a
grunt, and hand held out; Marilda came round, and put a cold hand
into his, clasping it tight; and her mother greeted him with, 'So,
Felix Underwood, you are come up about this unlucky business?'

'There is no reason it should be anything but a very happy one,' said
Marilda stoutly. 'Come, Mamma, we had better leave Papa and Felix;'
and she set the example, but Mrs. Underwood did not stir.

'You hear the dear girl!' she said. 'It ought to go to Alda's heart!'

'It is of no use talking before the ladies,' said Mr. Underwood,
getting up. 'That is, unless you have the good sense to join with me
in telling Alda that she must give up this wild affair. The fellow
has next to nothing of his own, and his uncle would see him at
Jericho before he consented to a match like this!'

'I am hardly prepared to do that, Sir,' said Felix, as Alda clung to
his arm, and looked appealingly in his face, 'unless the objection
were more personal.'

'Objection!' burst forth the lady of the house, 'when he has been
making his way underhand--deceiving us all along.'

'Alda, my dear,' said Felix in her ear, 'don't you think you had
better go upstairs?'

But Alda seemed as little disposed as Mrs. Underwood to quit the
scene of conflict. 'O Felix, I don't know what she means, nor what we
have been doing, for them all to turn against me.'

'Don't tell me, Miss Innocence,' retorted Mrs. Underwood, the
artificial polish giving way, and the native scolding Polly Kedge
breaking out in a storm of words. 'Wasn't the young man doing just as
his uncle meant him, and my poor dear girl fancying him as I never
saw her do any one before, till you came home with your sly, artful
ways--you that owed us the very clothes on your back?'

'Hush, Mary!' ejaculated her husband; but he might as well have tried
to stop a torrent. 'Ay, I know. She comes round every man of you with
her smooth tongue and pretty face, till you--you are ready to take
her part against your own child, Underwood. When my poor girl's laid
in her coffin, then you will know what a serpent you've been
fostering.'

To Felix's surprise and annoyance, Alda must needs answer: 'I'm sure
it's very hard! If people will look at me, I can't help it; and I've
as much right to be spoken to as Marilda. She that has got
everything, and poor me--'

Luckily her tears stopped her voice.

'Come along, Felix,' said the master of the house, opening the door;
and he, perceiving that escape alone could put an end to this most
humiliating scene, whispered again his recommendation to Alda to go
to her room, and saw her hurrying up the stairs before his kinsman
shut the door of his private room with a bounce, exclaiming, 'There!
Now we are out of the way of the women's tongues, we can hear
ourselves speak. I am afraid it is an awkward business, Felix
Underwood.'

'I am afraid it is, Sir.'

'And the ladies make it worse by making such a din about it,' said
Tom, who after all was an Underwood, and whose better breeding had
come to the perception how these ravings compromised his daughter's
dignity. 'How far any one is to blame, I can't tell. The truth is,
that it would have been very satisfactory both to Alfred Travis and
to me if the lad and my girl could have made it up together, and they
seemed ready enough to like each other. My girl has got rather a turn
for your new-fashioned sort of saints, and he seemed just her style.
Everything does go contrary at times; and when your sister came home,
with her pretty face and way, my wife declares now she saw a change
from the first, but to tell the truth I never did, and I doubt her
doing so; but you may guess how amazed we were when she came on them
whispering together, and it came out that he had been writing to you
to sanction his proposing for Alda, as if he were ashamed to come to
me, who had always been a father to her.'

'He meant no slight to you, Sir,' said Felix, eagerly; 'but you know
we were his first acquaintance, and he had a feeling that an elder
brother came nearest. I am sure he felt no shame; he was conscious of
no change of intention.'

'Well, well, he is a little bit of an ass. Between ourselves, Felix, I
don't blame him half as much as Alda. The girl is sharp enough; she
has swarms of lovers; men come about her like wasps to a lump of
sugar; and there's 5000 pounds ready for her the day she marries; but
when there was one my poor Mary liked for once, we liked for her, and
was in the way of liking her--Mary, who has shared everything with her
like a sister--she might have let him alone. Indeed, her aunt gave her
a hint, but it only served to make her carry it on on the sly.'

Felix wished he had not known of Alda's hearing Edgar's report. He
could only say sadly, 'If so, she is quite indefensible.'

What would Wilmet have thought of his fight with 'Man Thomas?'

'Of course,' proceeded that gentleman, 'we know the less we say of
that part of the story the better. Some day, Mary will know she's
well rid of a coxcombical foreign-looking fellow. She can afford to
look farther, but for your sister, this is the maddest thing in the
world. William Travis made a regular mull with his wife's fortune,
and depend on it, the young man has next to nothing, and would come
to beggary if he offended his uncle. There is nothing for it but for
them to give one another up!'

'I do not think there is much chance of their doing so,' replied
Felix.

'Not as they are now, in the height and fury of the thing, but you
are a sensible lad, Felix; you will do your best to show them the
utter folly of the thing.'

'We do not know whether Ferdinand can afford it yet,' said Felix.

'Don't delude yourself with fancying Alfred Travis will swallow this!
Not he! Why, he's set on that young Spanish don making a great match-
--hardly thought my Mary's hundred thousand good enough.'

'Very likely he will refuse consent,' returned Felix; 'but, in the
meantime, I see nothing to be done but for Alda to go home with me
and wait.'

'To very little purpose,' ejaculated Mr. Underwood, 'except that
maybe a taste of your way of life may bring her to her senses, and
serve her right. I must say,' he added, 'it is hard that both this
boy and girl should be thrown back on your hands for no fault of
yours. I wish I could help it, but you see there wouldn't be a
moment's peace if Alda stayed here without giving him up.'

'It is not fit that she should,' said Felix.

'I like the girl, too, indeed, she's almost like my own,' continued
Mr. Underwood; 'the house will be dull without her, and I believe
those pretty young women can't help flirting, and think one another's
beaux fair game. Eh? Well, we'll send for her and put it to her--will
she give up Travis and stay here, or hold him to it and go home with
you?'

Felix could make no objection, though he had no question what the
decision would be; so the bell was rung, Alda was summoned, and soon
appeared with burning cheeks and moist eyes.

'Now, Alda,' said her adopted uncle, 'your brother and I have talked
it over, and I am ready to overlook what has gone by--that is, if
your aunt will--and to let all be as it was before, on this one
condition, that you break off this foolish concern. Listen to me. You
will find that he has little enough to call his own, and his uncle
can cut off his allowance any day. It is mere insanity to think he
will consent to such a match as you would be; and you would be doing
the best thing for the young man and yourself to tell him it is all
nonsense, and you've thought better of it.'

'O Uncle, I couldn't do that!'

'If not--you have the choice--I can't abet what Travis never
intended, your aunt couldn't stand it either. There's nothing for it
but that you should leave this house. Choose between us and him!'

'That can't help being done, Uncle,' said Alda, with streaming eyes
and a choked voice. 'You have been very good to me, but he must come
first;' and she moved towards Felix, who put his arm round her
kindly, and kissed her, saying,

'Then, Alda, I will leave you to prepare; I must go and see the
children and Edgar. I will come back for you in time for the half-
past five train.'

Alda's tears flowed too fast again for words, and she turned to leave
the room.

'I shall see you again,' said Mr. Underwood. 'Can I give you a lift
anywhere, Felix?'

'No, thank you, Sir; Travis is waiting for me.'

'Ay, ay, very fine with his thorough-bred; but when his allowance is
docked, how is he to live on his pay?'

The brougham had long been waiting for Tom Underwood, and he left
them together. Alda hung on her brother. 'O Felix, is it not
dreadful?'

'I thought him very kind and forgiving,' said Felix.

'Is that what you call forgiving? And oh! if you could hear Aunt
Mary! You little think what I have gone through!'

'It will be over soon,' said Felix, kindly. 'You are going home, you
know, and Wilmet is wild to have you.'

'But, Felix, you don't think they mean to do more than frighten me?
Ferdinand must have a real right to his own father's money; and
besides, he can't properly object to me; Uncle Tom promised me my
5000 pounds whatever happened!'

'I cannot stay to discuss that now, Alda,' said Felix. 'I have a
great deal to do, and Fernan is waiting for me. I shall come back in
time.'

'Oh, I wish I could come with you now! Dear Fernan! Tell him I have
borne it all for his sake, but it is such an age since I saw him!'

'No doubt he will meet us at the station,' said Felix, escaping at
last, and finding Ferdinand not many yards off in the road outside.

'Well, Fernan, to Brompton, if you please. Mr. Underwood is really
much kinder than I expected; but as things stand, you can't carry it
on in their house, so Alda comes home with me to-night.'

'Then the dear girl is really banished for my sake! I mean, no place
is like Bexley to me. But it is very noble of her!' exclaimed
Ferdinand, curiously divided between regard for Felix and sense of
Alda's sacrifice.

'It is the proper place in which for her to wait for your uncle's
answer,' said Felix; 'but indeed, Fernan, it is a question whether we
ought to let you risk all your prospects.'

Ferdinand's vehement demand what Felix took him for, and equally
eager protest that his uncle must know he had no right to withhold
the means that were in all equity due to him, lasted through all the
brief transit to the farther end of Brompton, where a great old house
and grounds, once quite in the country, had been adapted and
revivified by Miss Fulmort.

'Might I not come in and see the little girls?' asked Ferdinand,
wistfully.

'I should rather suppose not,' said Felix, smiling. 'Life-Guardsmen
are not exactly the visitors expected in establishments for young
ladies. You had better not wait for me; I cannot give the children
less than an hour.'

'I would wait if it were ten hours.'

'But how about your horse? He isn't in love!'

Ferdinand would not, however, be denied; and when at length a
rendezvous was agreed on, Felix, free of the dashing equipage, of
which he was, to tell the truth, slightly ashamed, rang at the gates,
arrived at the house door, announced himself as Mr. Underwood, asked
to see his sisters; and after a long labyrinth of matted passages,
found himself in a pretty countrified room, where a wiry, elderly,
sensible lady, with grey hair and a keen face, gave him a friendly
reception, drew a favourable, but not enthusiastic, picture of
Robina's steadiness and industry, and said that Angela was a more
difficult character. By this time Robina came into the room with her
hat on, eagerly, but with her face flushed and her eyes rather
frightened, and as she received her brother's kiss, she said, 'The
little ones are not come in yet.--May I take my brother into the
garden, Miss Fennimore?'

Permission was given, and Robina held his hand with an unusually
tight grasp as she led him to the wide, square, walled garden, with a
broad gravel-walk around an old-fashioned bowling-green. He thought
the round face looked anxious and perplexed, and was rather uneasy as
he began by saying, 'I hope not to lose Angel. Do you always walk so
early in the day?'

'On Herr Muller's days, because he only comes in the afternoon,' said
Robina; 'but I am rather glad; I wanted to speak to you, Felix.'

'Is anything wrong?' said Felix, seeing that the child's face had
become crimson, and hearing effort in her voice. 'You are happy here?
Don't be afraid to tell me anything, my dear. Remember, there is no
one so bound to watch over you.'

'I know,' said Robina, looking up into those kind eyes. 'I want to
tell you--' but she panted, and he encouraged her by putting his
other hand over hers caressingly. 'Edgar comes every Sunday,' came
out at last.

'And what of that? Isn't it a pleasure?'

'It--it would be--but he and Alice ought not to send each other notes
and messages.'

'What?' very low.

'Indeed they do; and I can't tell what to do.'

'What sort of notes and messages?' asked Felix, in a half reproving
voice, as though he thought the solemnity of thirteen was taking
alarm needlessly.

'O Felix, love notes,' half whispered the girl, hanging her burning
head.

'Nonsense, child; you have misunderstood some joke.'

'No,' said Robina, looking full in his face with sturdy offended
dignity. 'They both were in earnest when they told me about it.'

'About what?' said he, still severely, as he sat down on a bench,
unheeding February damp.

'About--' she was not far from tears, as she faltered out, 'their
engagement.'

'Theirs! he wrung the hand that he still retained; 'Edgar and--'

'And Alice Knevett,' said Robin. 'I would not promise not to tell. I
hope it is not treachery!'

'How long?' asked Felix, hoarsely.

'Ever since the holidays. They used to walk together when Miss
Pearson thought she was with us, but none of us ever knew it then.'

'You are certain? Remember, this is a graver matter than perhaps you
understand.'

'I think I do understand, and it is that which makes me so unhappy;
but, indeed, it can't be fancy. I have seen her ring, emerald and
amethyst, for Edgar and Alice, and the locket with their hairs
twisted together. The very first Sunday we were here, he gave me a
note for her, and when I told him it was not allowed, he tried
quizzing me at first, and at last told me I was a silly child who did
not know what was proper between engaged people. So I said,'
continued Robina, with dignity, 'that I could allow much to be proper
in that case, but I wanted to know whether this was only kept from me
because I was a baby, and was known to you and the grown-up people.'

'Right, Robin,' muttered Felix, feeling that she needed
encouragement.

'Then he laughed at me more than ever about expecting things to be
proclaimed on the market-cross, and tried to puzzle me out of my
senses, till I could only stick to one thing, that I couldn't take
his notes unless somebody knew. And after all I found the thing in my
jacket pocket. He must have put it in when I was not looking.'

'And what did you do with it!'

'Oh! the dreadful thing! I felt as if it would bite me all the week
long, but I didn't think it would be honourable to tear it or burn
it, and I kept it. Luckily Alice didn't ask if I had a note, only
whether he had said anything; and when she found I knew, she told me
all about it, and said all sorts of things about my being unkind and
mean to stand out, but I never promised to keep the secret.'

'Are you still keeping this note!'

'No. I gave it back to Edgar on Sunday, and told him to play no such
tricks. I thought he would have been in a rage, but he was--oh! so
provoking! just as if he didn't care for a little spite in a naughty
child.'

'Then is this intercourse checked!'

'No, that's the worst of it. When I would not, they took to Angel.
You know she got very fond of Edgar in the winter, and was always
running after him and waiting on him. So she did what he told her
quite innocently at first, till I found out what was going on, and
tried to stop her; but she doesn't care for me as she does for Edgar,
and thinks it grand to be in all their secrets, when I am too cross.
And then there's a class that goes to the South Kensington Museum,
and Alice is one of them, and Edgar is about there. I'm sure Miss
Fulmort ought not to be deceived as they are doing; it's all nonsense
about school-mistresses being designed by nature to be hoodwinked. It
makes me so miserable, I don't know what to do; and when I heard you
were come, it was as if you had been sent on purpose to help me.'

'Poor child!' said Felix, with a heavy sigh. 'You have kept this all
to yourself.'

'I could not tell any one. I could have told Miss Lyveson, because
she is one's friend; but it would only be being a tell-tale and
informer here. And one's own brother, too! And I could not write, for
they look over all the letters that are not to fathers and mothers.

'They must make an exception for me!' said Felix, in an indignant
tone.

'I knew you would say so. O Felix, tell them so! I do feel like
having Papa now I have you.'

'If you only had!' sighed Felix. 'My poor Bob, it is a grievous
business, but you have been very upright and considerate, as far as I
can see.'

'I'm so glad you don't want me to have told!' she said, with a sigh
of relief, as unlike his as that of one who throws off a burden is to
that of him who takes it up.

'Not if it can be helped. It would be a mischievous and cruel
exposure, and would be hard on one who has been led into it,' he
said, with breaks and pauses, half for breath, half for considering.
'It is most reckless, most unjustifiable, in Edgar!' He knit his
brows, so that she gazed at him in awe and wonder, as having
something in his countenance that she did not comprehend. Then, after
a silence, he said, 'Robin, I will speak to Edgar, and if you do not
find that this is stopped after one communication, which of course
there must be, write to me. These ladies must make an exception in
favour of such as we are!'

'O Felix, it is so nice to hold you and feel you! Only I wish I had
not had to grieve you so much!'

'Dishonourable conduct is not what I was prepared for!' he said,
setting his teeth.

'And will you speak to Angel? I hear them coming in,' said Robina.

'Yes. Let me have her alone at first. Come back in ten minutes'
time.'

He was still sitting on the bench, with his elbows on his knees, and
his hands over his brow, when Angela came towards him. She was of the
same long-limbed make as Clement, was nearly as tall as the square
sturdy Robina nearly three years older, and had Clement's small,
almost baby mould of features, relieved only by such arch deep blue
eyes as shone in Edgar's face. She looked such a mere child, that
when her step and exclamation caused Felix to raise his head, it
seemed absurd to imagine her to be knowingly engaged as go-between in
a clandestine correspondence, and with a sort of pity and compunction
for the blame he had intended, he held out his arms to her.

'O Felix, how cold you are! Your face is like marble. Now if I was to
sit there, in this weather, wouldn't they be at me like wild cats?'

Thus reminded, Felix rose, and certainly shivered after the exercise
of his privilege. 'Are you happy here, Angel?' he asked in a
constrained tone.

'Yes, it is jollier than Miss Pearson's. There are more girls, and we
do have such fun!'

'I hope you are good and steady, and very careful of all the rules.'

Angela fidgeted, as if she didn't like the style of the conversation.

'You know,' he continued, 'there may be rules that you may not see
the use of, but that must be obeyed for all that.'

'What a tiresome dry old Blunderbore you are!' broke out Angela, with
ill-assured sauciness; 'this isn't the way Edgar goes on when he
comes to see us.'

Felix could not check a sort of groan or grunt; and Angela, whose
pertness was defensive, quailed a little. She had driven him out of
the due sequence of his discourse, but he resumed it. 'Angel, I must
tell you; if anybody asks you to break rules--by giving letters--you
must not'

Angela kicked pebbles about.

'Have you ever been asked to do so?'

She hung her head, and a pout came over her face.

'Angel,' he said, in a voice from the sadness of his heart, 'I will
not ask any questions, in case you have made promises not to betray
secrets; but you must never make such promises again. Tell me you
will never do--this thing again.'

She was silent.

'Angela!' he said, reprovingly.

'I don't know why I should promise you more than Edgar,' broke out
Angela, petulantly. 'He is my brother too, and he isn't cross; and I
love him, and _will_ keep his secret.'

Between this flat defiance of his authority, and his scruple about
interfering with the child's sense of honour, Felix was in no slight
perplexity even as to this interview with his little sister. His
disclaimer came first. 'I ask about no one's secret,' he said, 'but,
Angel, I must have you understand this. If you break the rules that
forbid the giving of notes from any person outside the school, it
will be doing more harm than you can understand. I shall put a stop
to it at once, and most likely you will be sent away in disgrace.'

She was somewhat awed, but she did not speak.

'Whatever any one may say to you,' said Felix, 'recollect that it is
dishonesty and treachery to do anything underhand, and the greatest
possible mischief to those you wish to be kind to. Don't you see, it
is no kindness to help any one to do wrong?'

She began to cry. 'They don't want to do wrong. It is very nasty and
mean of Bobbie to have told.'

'You will know some day how good and trustworthy it is in Bobbie,'
said her elder brother. 'You cannot understand the rights and wrongs
in such a manner as this, at your age, Angel.' (To tell the child
this was a mistake, if he had but known it.) 'You must be satisfied
with knowing that whatever breaks rules and must be kept secret is
necessarily disobedient and deceitful, and may have terrible
consequences. Do you believe me? Then give me your word to have no
more to do with it.'

She muttered something among her tears like 'I won't,' and Felix was
satisfied, for the exaction of promises had necessarily been the
chief mode of government with the two youthful pillars of the house,
who spent so much time apart from their dominions; and it was almost
unprecedented that such a promise was not observed.

Robina was lingering near, and as they joined her Felix found that
his time was up. He was taken back to the drawing-room, where he
found himself in presence of the lady he had seen, and of a much
younger smaller person, with a slight cast in her eye, and a peculiar
jerking manner such as he could well believe would frighten away a
young girl's confidence. When he made his request for free
correspondence from his little sisters, there was no demur; only Miss
Fulmort said, half vexed, 'It ought to have been mentioned before;
she did not know why the children had not told her.' And then she
made a point of ascertaining Felix's individual address; for she
said, 'A great deal of undesirable stuff may be scribbled to brothers
and sisters.'

Felix possessed no card, unless such might be reckoned the
announcement of photographs and stationery, etc., which was wont to
be put up with parcels for strangers; and when he tried to write 'Mr.
F. C. Underwood,' the shivering chill so affected his fingers that he
could hardly guide the pencil. He took leave, and soon found the
assiduous Ferdinand, who presently asked, shyly, 'What the little
ones thought of it?'

Felix bethought himself. 'Really, Fernan, it was put out of my head;
and, moreover, perhaps it had better not be known more widely than
needful.'

'You do not doubt--'

All the ground that had been gone over before was argued out once
again by the eager Mexican before they reached the National Gallery,
the appointed place of meeting with Edgar. He was not within, but
without, and, throwing away his cigar, hailed them as Fernan drew up
his horse.

'At last! The storm must have been pitiless, to judge by the effects!
You are blue with cold, Felix.'

'Ferdinand, thank you,' said Felix, getting out. 'I am sorry, but I
must have Edgar alone a little while.'

'Look here, Travis,' said Edgar, seeing his blank look, 'we'll give
you the honour of giving us a spread. You go on and order it at --'s,
and I'll walk this fellow there. Curry soup that will astonish him,
and warm the cockles of his heart, mind.'

Ferdinand nodded, and drove off, perfectly satisfied with this
compensation.

'Let's see if we can walk a little life into you,' said Edgar, taking
his brother's arm. 'Bless thy five wits, Tom's a cold! Was it Madame!
I always thought she could not be many generations from
Billingsgate.'

'I have been to Brompton.'

'That tragical hoarseness would lead me to conclude something. Eh!
has that Robin been chirping out her fancies? And do you mean to say
that you are struck all of a heap by the awful discovery of a
boarding-school mystery?'

'It is naturally distressing to find you acting such a part.'

'Then I am afraid you have a good deal to go through in the course of
your life. If every little flirtation on the part of your
Geschwister is to produce this effect, there won't be much left of
you by the time it comes to Stella.'

'What meaning do you attach to the words "little flirtation?"'

'When the head of the family puts the question in that solemn tone,
how is it to be answered? Bless me, Blunderbore, such a countenance
can only proceed from being smitten yourself! To be sure, when there
was only one girl you ever spoke to, it was no wonder. Poor old
fellow! I'd never have poached on your manor, but how was I to
imagine a pillar of the house giving way to such levities?'

'This is mere bravado, Edgar,' was the grave answer, in a tone not
disconcerted, but full of repression, and with a pale but steady
countenance. 'Gloss it over as you will, a correspondence such as you
have begun is unjustifiable. It risks damaging for ever the
prospects, at once not only of--of the object--but those of your
little sisters.'

'O Felicissimo mio, how green a spot is Bexley! As though secrets and
mysteries were not the elixir of life to the boarding-school.'

'Have you ever considered what a discovery must involve?'

'I need not, it seems, since you had not the sense to box that
child's ears for a meddlesome tell-tale. Did the scene equal Madame's
performance?'

'You do not imagine that I mentioned it.'

'Oh! The revered prop of the state soars so far above my head that I
did not know what he might regard as his duty.'

'You shall know it now, Edgar. There are two choices. If you are
really engaged to this young lady' (Edgar made a nod of impatient
scornful acquiescence, but certainly of acquiescence), 'then ask her
honourably from her friends, and let whatever you do be open!
Otherwise, give it up as an impossible imprudence, but drop all
attempt at what is clandestine. Unless you do one or other of these,
I warn you that I shall speak to Miss Pearson.'

'If you were a reasonable and experienced paterfamilias, instead of
only a poor conscientious over-harassed prig of a boy, with more
brothers and sisters than he knows what to do with, I'll tell you, in
candid unprejudice, what you would do. Just let it alone! There are
as many of such little affairs going as there are midges in a
sunbeam; and they never do any one any harm, unless the higher powers
make an unadvised hubbub.'

'Am I to understand that as an avowal that you know yourself to be
trifling?'

'I know nothing about it. I don't live in the heroics, like some of
my friends. In the rural seclusion of Bexley I saw a pretty lively
girl, who, not to put too fine a point upon it, made quite as much up
to the romantic young artist as ever the young artist did to her. Of
course, there was an exchange of prettinesses, and life on either
side became a blank when she was immured at Brompton, and the only
solace left was the notes that so outrage your and Bobbie's united
sense of propriety.'

'And what is to follow?'

'Is it to lead to?' he corrected, with a mimicry of Wilmet's tone.
'That depends. If you make the explosion, I shall have to rise to the
occasion--keep the slip-knot ready and patent, and as soon as I get
my head above water, have a wife and family on my back to keep me
down, and hinder me from coming to your rescue. If not--why, it will
take its chance, and we shall have a reasonable chance of trying
whether we get tired of one another--the best thing that could happen
to us, by the by--though she is such a saucy little darling, that
were that picture of mine painted, I should be fool enough to marry
her to-morrow.'

'And why--may I ask--seeing these things so clearly, did you draw the
poor child into an engagement!

Edgar shrugged his shoulders. 'You had better ask why she drew me. If
you didn't know it before, my dear Felix, "'Tis human natur to be
fools."'

'Allowing it to be folly, you do not mean to persist?'

'As if a poor fellow must always have a meaning! Life is not worth
having if one is to be always so awfully in earnest.'

'I have the misfortune to be in earnest,' said Felix, with the
formality of one past patience, but resolved to keep his temper in
hand, 'when I warn you, that if I find that this intercourse is
continued, unless you choose to ask her properly of her father, it
will be my duty to let Miss Pearson know.

'So be it,' was the answer, in a tone of half mocking, half
compassionate submission, that was more provoking than all, except
for the sudden change to the gay kindliness that followed, as Edgar
threw aside his own affairs, to laugh over Ferdinand Travis's honest
simplicity of adoration of Alda and all her household, declaring that
it had been as much for his delight, as to be rid of him, that he
himself had devised that commission of the luncheon. 'What a spread
it will be!' Edgar chuckled to himself; 'and how it will be thrown
away on the present company! not that there ever was a man who wanted
it more!' he added, as he saw how white his brother's face was.
'You've been and got a chill!'

Felix did not deny it; and if his unsophisticated palate did not
appreciate all that Ferdinand had ordered on the principle that
nothing could be too good for him either in his individual capacity
or as Alda's brother, he at least submitted to what his two
companions required of him in the way of hot soup, and even of one
glass of wine, before he grew restive, and insisted on carrying the
head that their solicitude had succeeded in rendering heated and
flushed to burning pitch, to do the business in the City that always
sprang up whenever any one had to go to town.

Edgar bade him adieu; and the faithful Ferdinand drove him wherever
he had to go, and finally to Kensington Palace Gardens, where he was
ushered into the drawing-room, to find Marilda, resolved upon
unconsciousness, but only succeeding in a kind of obstreperous
cordiality and good will, which, together with the hot room, made him
quite dizzy; and his answers were so much at random, that he sent
Fulbert to an examination at Cambridge, and Clement prospecting in
Australia. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Underwood made their appearance; but
when Felix spoke of getting a cab, Marilda said the carriage was
ordered. Then Alda was explicit about the boxes that were to follow,
but on the whole she was behaving very prettily and unobtrusively.
Marilda kissed her warmly, and detained Felix a moment to say, 'This
will blow over, and then she will come back, unless things have
settled themselves better. If I can do any good, write to me.'

So Alda quitted her adopted home; but the change might be lightened
to her by being handed out of the carriage at the station by a
military-looking figure, who announced that he wanted to see a fellow
at Aldershot, and meant to dine there. It was not his fault that he
got out at Farnborough.




CHAPTER XVI

THE WINTER OF DISCONTENT



'Peace, brother, be not exquisite,
 To cast the fashion of uncertain evils;
 For, grant they be so, while they rest unknown,
 What need a man forestall his date of grief?'
                                           MILTON.


Wilmet was so devoted to Alda and her hopes and fears, that she let
Felix escape with less reproof than usual, for the cold that sat
heavily upon him after the last day's chill. He did not give way to
it. There might have been some temptation to sit over the fire if
Geraldine had been alone there; but Alda, when Wilmet was out of
reach, engrossed Cherry's ears with descriptions of her feelings, and
cravings for sympathy in her suspense, treating every other subject
as futile, and the interruption of the children's lessons as an
insult. No one might talk of anybody but Ferdinand; and Cherry did
not wonder that Felix looked wearied and harassed, and always
betrayed some anxiety to come first into possession of the morning
post. One day, nearly a fortnight after his visit to London, he
called Wilmet away from the breakfast table into the sitting-room:
'Wilmet,' he said, 'I must go and see Miss Pearson before school
hours.'

'You! Is there anything the matter with Alice?' asked Wilmet,
startled at his tone.

'Had they--had you--any notion of anything between her and Edgar?'

'No! Miss Pearson has taken to saying, "My dear, your brothers are
quite grown into young men," and I thought she did not like the
play.'

'Ah! that play! It threw them together!'

'Is it really so? I suppose nothing is too foolish and provoking for
Edgar!'

'The fact of admiration is not wonderful,' said Felix, rather in a
tone of defence; 'but the worst of it is, that he has been trying to
communicate with her through those poor girls at school.'

Wilmet's horror was surpassing; and when she found that he had known
it all this fortnight, she was so indignant, that to his reply that
it was not fair to leave both parties the chance of acting
honourably, she replied with scorn for his weakness in expecting
anything from Edgar, and exposing the children to the chance of
expulsion, which might be a lasting blight, such as merely in thought
put her into a perfect agony. Nevertheless, angry and excited as she
was, she flew at him when he gave her the letters, and was off to
Miss Pearson's--'Go there without breakfast, in the sleet, sitting
and still with that bad cold not half gone!' and she dragged him back
reluctantly to the other room, where, ignominiously ordering off
Bernard and Stella to finish their stir-about elsewhere, she insisted
on his breakfasting while she told the story. She was far too loyal
to blame him except tete-a-tete, but she burst on him now and then.

'You are not eating, Felix!'

'A cup of tea, then, please, Cherry. No one can swallow stir-about in
hot haste but Wilmet herself.' He spoke good-humouredly, but with a
force upon himself that Cherry detected, and she further saw that he
took nothing but that one cup and a fragment of bread, and then
hurried off, saying that he must catch Miss Pearson for the little
girls' sake.

The letters he had left were Robina's and another enfolding it
containing these words:


Dear Sir--According to my promise, I have refrained from opening this
letter, though I own that the discovery of the purpose for which free
correspondence was asked, has been no small amazement to me. In the
first shock, I will not trust myself to say more, until after
consultation with my brother; but you shall hear from me again
respecting your sisters.--I remain, your obedient servant,
                                                    R. M. FULMORT.


The letter within was--


MY DEAR FELIX--It has all come out. There is a dreadful uproar, and
nobody will believe me. If only Miss Lyveson was here! This was the
way. Edgar came yesterday and took us for a long walk in Kensington
Gardens, and afterwards I saw Angela going towards Alice Knevett's
room; and as we are not allowed to run into other people's bedrooms,
I stopped her and put her in mind of what you said; but she began to
cry and struggle with me, and Alice came out, and made a fuss to get
the note Angel had for her, till I got into a passion, and spoke so
loud that Miss Fennimore came out upon us. Angel did not know what
she was about by that time, and cried, saying that I was unkind, and
was hurting her; and Alice took her part, accusing me of tyrannising
and being jealous, so that I faced round and told all on the spot.
Miss Fennimore took us all straight down to Miss Fulmort, and it was
a dreadful business. They are frightfully angry with us all, and me
the most, for having told you instead of them. They cannot understand
the difference between you and any common brother. They think I have
not told the whole truth, and it is very hard. Nobody ever distrusted
me before. We are just living on sufferance till Mr. Fulmort comes to
see about it, and then I think we shall be sent away. I hope so, for
I know my own dear Miss Lyveson will believe me and take me back to
justice and confidence. Here the girls are as angry with me for
telling as the ladies are for not telling; they have no idea of such
loyalty and love as we had at Catsacre. There is a report that Miss
Pearson has been sent for. If we are sent home with her, it will be a
horrid shame and injustice; but I shall not be able to be sorry one
bit, for I know you will stand by me.--Dear, dear brother Felix, your
affectionate sister,                                BOBBIE.


When the three sisters had made out all that could be understood,
Geraldine owned herself less amazed than Wilmet; and Alda laughed at
both for not being aware that Edgar was a universal flirt. All that
surprised her was his having let it proceed to such dangerous
extremities; but of course that was the girl's own fault--he would
give it up when it came to the point.

'Why should you expect Edgar to be more inconstant than Ferdinand?'
asked Cherry.

Both twins turned on her, and told her she was a child and knew
nothing about it--their favourite way of annihilating her; and then
Alda, in her excitement, walked with Wilmet to the school, leaving
Cherry, as usual, to wash up the breakfast things. She felt a
conviction that all this accounted for the weary oppressed look,
broken by occasional starts of vivacity, which ever since Felix's day
in London had been laid to the score of the cold he had brought home.

She was glad she was still alone, when Felix looked in for a moment
to say, 'Miss Maria goes up by the 11.30 train. I am going to send a
letter by her, and I think she will save Robin. Angel is so mere a
child, that it matters less.'

'How can they all be so unjust?'

'They have not had time to know the child.'

'I did not mean Robina, but you.'

'I don't mind that,' he said, with a smile, 'though I am glad there
is one lady who does not scold me;' and he bent down to kiss her.

'Did the Miss Pearsons?'

'They allowed that I meant to act for the best, and you know what
that means. However,' he added,' they are earnest to save the little
girls, which is more to the purpose. Wilmet or I would have gone up,
but Miss Maria thinks she can do better than either, and I believe
they are more likely to trust an old schoolmistress, who is the
injured party besides. I must write my letter. Shall I help you into
the other room?'

'No, thank you; I have the lessons here, for they tease Alda. If you
would only send Theodore to me as you go.'

'Does Alda never help you?'

'Only by criticising my French pronunciation. She is much too
restless. O Felix, what a cough! You have made your throat worse.'

'It is only this black east wind.'

'You ought to stay upstairs and be taken care of. Can't you, and let
Redstone call if you are wanted?'

'I _am_ wanted. It is quite as warm in the office as here, when the
door is shut. What I want is, only to be twenty years older. Good-
bye.

Cherry's ponderings were divided between that sigh and the possible
sighs of the wind if that door were not shut, until her own door was
opened by Felix's hand, to admit a little figure still in petticoats,
with the loose flaxen curls, tottering feet, limp white fingers, and
vacant blue eyes, whom she daily put through a few exercises to train
his almost useless fingers and tongue. The sight of this, Alda
declared, made her ill; though the little boy was as docile as he was
helpless; but it was quite true that to nerves and ears not inured
from the first, Theodore's humming and his concertina were a trial
from their perpetuity.

Late that evening came a message to beg Mr. and Miss Underwood would
step up; and they stepped, though the east wind was blacker than
ever. They found that in great tribulation Miss Maria had brought
Alice Knevett home, and sent her to bed all tears and exhaustion, but
that Robina and Angela were forgiven--a word so offensive to Felix as
relating to the former, that he sorely lamented that prudence forbade
their removal, but was somewhat consoled by a letter that Miss Maria
brought him from the Vicar of St. Matthew's, who had had a private
investigation of the whole subject. He wrote to Felix that his sister
was new to the management of the girls, and was a good deal annoyed
at the secrecy observed towards herself, not making full allowance
for Robina's exceptional circumstances; but that, for his own part,
he was convinced of the girl's genuine uprightness and unselfish
forbearance; and though he feared her position must be unpleasant
just now, he thought it would be for the good of all if she had the
patience to live it down, and earn the good opinion he was sure she
deserved. Miss Maria reported that Miss Fennimore had been brought
round by his opinion, though Miss Fulmort remained persuaded that
Robina had 'come over him' in some way; and while yielding to his
stringent desire that, as he said, 'one of the worthiest of her girls
should not be unjustly expelled,' only let the child herself know
that she was tolerated in consideration of her youth, her orphanhood,
and her relationship to Clement. Poor Robin! No one could help
grieving for the tempest that had fallen on her guiltless head, and
hope that all would result in her final good; but the sorrows of an
absent school-girl could hardly occupy even her dearest friends, in
the full and present crisis of two love affairs.

For Edgar and Major Knevett both arrived, the lover as dispassionate
as the father was the reverse. Edgar did, however, as he had
undertaken, rise to the position. He joked at it a little in private,
to the annoyance and perplexity of Cherry, and, even of Felix; but he
was perfectly steady in maintaining his perfect right to address Miss
Knevett, in avowing his engagement, and in standing by it.

To Major Knevett, the affair appeared outrageous impudence on the
part of a beggarly young painter out of a country bookseller's shop,
encouraged by the egregious folly of the aunts. What was said of
clergyman's sons and good old family went for absolutely nothing; and
Edgar's quiet assurance of success in his profession was scoffed at
with incredulity not altogether unpardonable. In the encounter that
Felix had the misfortune to witness, since it took place in his own
office-parlour, he could not help thinking that Edgar, with his
perfect temper, unfailing courtesy, calm self-respect, and steady
sense of honour towards the young lady, showed himself the true
gentleman in contrast with the swaggering little Major, who seemed to
expect that he could bluster the young man out of his presumption,
and was quite unprepared for Edgar's cool analysis of his threats.
But instead of, like Tom Underwood, cooling down into moderation and
kindness so soon as his bolt was shot, the finding it fall short only
chafed him the more, and rendered him the more inveterate against all
conciliation.

There was an appeal all round to Felix, but he was not so practicable
as the universal compliments to his good sense showed to be expected.
He had expressed his opinion that it was a rash engagement, hitherto
improperly carried on; but he could not be brought to advise his
brother to break it off on his side while the lady held to it on
hers. It might be best to give it up by mutual consent; but as long
as one party was bound, so was the other; and he thoroughly sided
with Edgar in not being threatened out of it whilst Alice persisted.
Still more flatly did he refuse Miss Pearson's entreaty that he would
see the wilful girl, and persuade her how hopeless was her
resistance, and how little prospect of the attachment being
prosperous. Nothing but despair and perplexity could have prompted
the good aunts to try such a resource, but they were at their wits'
end. They really loved their niece, and they dreaded the tender
mercies of her father, who had indeed petted Alice as a young child,
but had made her mother suffer greatly from his temper. If she would
yield, they hoped to procure for her a home at York, with their
brother's widow, and to save her from a residence in Jersey with the
step-mother; but Alice, upheld by a secret commerce of notes
ingeniously conveyed, felt herself a heroine of constancy, and kept
up her spirits by little irritations to whoever tried to deal with
her. She could deftly insinuate, on the one hand, that her aunts had
always preached up the Underwood perfections; and on the other, hint
to her father that if her home had still remained what it was, she
should never have looked out of it; and whenever he flew into a rage,
or used violent language, she would look up under her eyelids and
whisper something about 'real gentlemen.' Those thorns and claws that
had figured in the scale of her transmigration were giving a good
many little scratches, which did her feelings some good, but her
cause none at all, by the vexation they produced. 'If she could only
be made to understand,' said poor Miss Pearson, 'how little she gains
by irritating her father, and that he is really a very dreadful
person when he is thoroughly offended! Poor child! my heart aches for
her.'

So Wilmet was turned in upon her, and before she could utter a word
was hugged and kissed all over because she was the very image of
darling Edgar, and his dear violet eyes were exactly the same colour.

Unsentimental Wilmet extricated herself, saying, 'Eyes can't be
violet coloured. Don't let us go into that silly talk, Alice; things
are too serious now.'

'You are come to help me and be a dear!' cried Alice, clasping her
hands. 'How does he look? the dear boy!'

'The same as usual,' said Wilmet, coolly. 'But, Alice, if you think
that I am come to--'

'Does he--really and truly? I saw him out of the little passage
window, and I thought he looked quite thin! And Lizzie Bruce said
Mrs. Hartley asked who that handsome young man was who looked so
delicate.'

'He is particularly strong and healthy. Alice, I want to set it all
before you as a reasonable being--'

'Only do tell me; has he got his appetite? For you know he is used to
live where everything is recherche, and when one's out of spirits
_things_ do make a difference--'

Was that the claw in the velvet paw?

'He eats three times as much as Felix any day,' said Wilmet, with a
certain remembrance of the startling nudity of the bone of
yesterday's leg of mutton. 'He is doing very well. You need not be
afraid for him; but it seems to me that you should consider whether
it can be right--'

'Come, Wilmet, you were my first friend; you can't help being kind to
me.'

'I want to show you true kindness.'

'True kindness means something horridly cross! Now don't, Wilmet. I
get ever so much kindness as it is! I know what you are going to say.
It is very naughty of people to like each other when neither of them
has got a sixpence; but if they can't help it, what then? Must they
leave off liking, eh?'

'They ought to try to prevent their liking from leading to
disobedience and concealment.'

'Ah! but if they can't?'

'People always can.'

'Were you ever tried?' asked Alice, slyly, for all the simplicity.

'I hope never to be, if deceiving my friends and making others
deceive is to be the consequence.'

'Well, luckily there isn't much chance,' crept out of the demure
lips. It was intended as the thorn beneath the mayflower, but it was
no such thing. Wilmet was quite ready to accept the improbability as
very fortunate.

'That has nothing to do with it,' she said. 'The question is, what it
is right to do now. It seems hard for me to say so, being your friend
and his sister--'

'Oh, never mind that. People's sisters never do like the girls they
are fond of.'

Decidedly Wilmet could not get on. Her mouth was stopped either by a
little rapture about Edgar, or a little velvet-pawed scratch to
herself, whenever she tried in earnest to set the matter before
Alice; and when, being a determined person, she at last talked on
through all that Alice tried to thrust in, and delivered her mind of
the remonstrance she had carefully thought over, and balanced between
kindness, prudence, and duty, and all the time with the conviction
that not one word was heeded! If it was not English malice it was
French malice that pointed the replies and sent Wilmet away as much
provoked as pitying, and not at all inclined to be examined by Edgar
on her interview, and let him gather that she had not had the best of
it. Poor Alice! what were these little triumphs of a sharp tongue in
comparison with the harm she did herself by exacerbating whoever
tried to argue with her? There was one person she did profess to wish
to see, namely, Geraldine; but the flying rheumatic pains, excited by
the black east wind with sleet upon its blast, could not be trifled
with; and Major Knevett's wrath put an effectual stop to Alice's
entering the house during the Saturday and Sunday of his stay at
Bexley. Perhaps Cherry was not sorry. She could not have pleaded
against Edgar, in spite of her disapprobation of both; and moreover,
the thought at the bottom of her heart was, 'How could any one who
had been the object of such tones of the one brother's voice be won
by the showy graces of the other? Edgar could easily have thrown off
a disappointment; but Felix came first--and oh! can he shake it off
in the same light way?'

She had not the comfort of talking it over. Felix made no sign, and
Edgar's line was to treat the whole complication as a matter of
pleasantry, pretending that he had only gone into it to please Felix!
and yet, as came to their knowledge, privately exchanging billets and
catch-words with Alice, while he openly declared his engagement and
resolution to work his way up and lay his laurels at her feet.

He went away the very same morning as Major Knevett carried off his
daughter to Jersey, audaciously following them to the station, where
he exchanged a grasp of the hand with her in the very sight of the
'grey tyrant father,' who actually gnashed his teeth, in his
inability either to knock him down or give him in charge.

There was no time to breathe between the departure of this pair of
lovers and the arrival of Alda's splendid Life Guardsman, who, horses
and all, took up his abode at the Fortinbras Arms, and spent his days
in felicity with Alda. A very demonstrative pair they were. To
Geraldine, often unwillingly en tiers, they seemed to spend their
time chiefly in sitting hand in hand, playing with one another's
rings and dangles, of which each seemed to possess an inexhaustible
variety. Ferdinand's dressing-case and its contents were exquisite in
their way, and were something between an amusement and a horror to
Wilmet, who could not understand Felix's regard for so extravagant
and wasteful a person, who gave away sovereigns where half-crowns
would have been more wholesome, half-crowns instead of shillings,
shillings instead of pence, and who moreover was devoted to horse-
flesh. His own favourite steed, Brown Murad, had been secured at a
fabulous price; and the possession of him seemed to be the crowning
triumph over a certain millionaire baronet in the same corps,
evidently his rival. What was even more alarming was that every
detail about races and horses in training was at his fingers' ends,
so that he put Felix up to a good deal of knowledge useful to the
racing articles in the Pursuivant; but he declared that he never
betted. His was a perilous position, homeless and friendless as he
stood; and this rendered him doubly grateful for the brotherly
welcome he received. Yet the days would have been long to any but
lovers, in spite of the rides and walks, one even to Minsterham to
see Lance. Ferdinand liked to recur to the old remembrances of his
convalescence; but in these Alda had no part, and they seemed to jar
on her. She might sometimes seem half fretted by his impetuous
southern love, but she could not bear a particle of his attention to
be bestowed on aught save herself; and when Geraldine would have
utilised his fine straight profile as an artistic study, the monopoly
was so unpleasing that the portrait had to be dropped. The odd thing
was that Alda should have a lover whose most congenial spirit was
Clement. He was a great frequenter of St. Matthew's, and had no
interest save in kindred subjects. Felix always found them alike
difficult to converse with, from a want of any breadth of sympathy
with subjects past or present, such as would have occupied him even
without the exigencies of his profession. They seemed to talk, not
church, but shop, as if they did not look beyond proximate
ecclesiastical details, which they discussed in technical terms
startling to the uninitiated; and yet Felix trusted that Clement's
soul was a good deal deeper and wider than his tongue, and that
Ferdinand's, if narrow, was thoroughly resolute, finding in his
enthusiasm for these details a counterpoise for the temptations of
his position.

His seemed to be a nature that would alternate between apathetic
indolence and strong craving for excitement. He could go on for days
with a patient, almost silent, round of mechanical occupations
performed well, nigh in his sleep, and then, when once stirred up
became possessed with a vehement restlessness, as if there were still
a little about him of the panther of the wilderness.

At first he awaited his letter from his uncle much more
philosophically than did Alda, but when it tarried still, he became
so eager that he made two journeys to London to meet the mail, and
pestered every one with calculations as to time and space.

The letter came, and was all that every one else had expected. Alfred
Travis had always detested the family into which his nephew had been
thrown by his accident, and the tidings that the heiress had been
rejected for the sake of one of these designing girls could not be
welcome. So he gave notice that nothing more could be expected from
him if his nephew stooped thus low. This, however, did not much
concern Ferdinand. He curled his black moustache, and quietly said
his uncle would not find that game answer. The affairs of the
brothers had always been mixed together, and Ferdinand had been
content to leave the whole in his uncle's hands, only drawing for his
own handsome allowance; but the foundation had been his mother's
fortune, and he had only to claim his own share of the capital, and
disentangle it from the rest, either to bring his uncle to terms at
once, or to be able to dispense with his consent. The delay was
vexatious, but it could be but brief; and in the meantime Bexley was
felicity. Yes, in spite of the warning he received at the Rectory,
which my Lady followed up by a remonstrance to Felix--over the
counter, for in vain he tried to get her into the office. He could
only tell her that he much regretted Edgar's conduct, but as to Alda,
there was no disobedience, and the young man's character was high. He
was just as impracticably courteous as his father and Lady Price
shrugged her shoulders and hoped. 'For, Felix Underwood,' she said,
'I am convinced that after all you are a very well-meaning young
man.'

This was her farewell, for Mr. Bevan had been more ailing than usual,
and had obtained permission to leave his parish for a year, to be
spent partly in the south of France, partly at the German baths.

Well was it for those who could get away! Never had the spring been
sourer; Easter came so early as itself to seem untimely, and the
Wednesday of its week was bleakness itself, as Lance and Robina stood
on the top of the viaduct over the railway, looking over the parapet
at the long perspective of rails and electric wires their faces
screwed up, and reddened in unnatural places by the bitter blast.
Felix had asked at breakfast if any one would be the bearer of a note
to Marshlands; Lance had not very willingly volunteered, because no
one else would; then Robina joined him, and they had proceeded
through the town without a syllable from either of the usually lively
tongues, till as they stood from force of habit watching for a train,
the following colloquy took place, Robina being the first speaker.

'What is it?'

'What is what?'

'What is the matter?'

'What is the matter with what?'

'With it all?'

There came a laugh, but Robina returned to the charge. 'Well, but
what is it? Is it east wind?'

'Something detestable--whatever it is,' grunted Lance.

'You've found it so too,' said Robina; for Lance had only come home
after evening cathedral the day before.

'Haven't I, though!'

He said no more, being a boy of much reserve as to his private
troubles; and Robina presently said,--

'I say, Lance, did Alda use to be nice, or is it love?'

'Never nice, like Wilmet or Cherry.'

'I am sure,' proceeded the girl, 'I thought love was the most
beautiful and romantic thing--too nice to be talked about, for fear
it should turn one's head, but here it seems to be really nothing but
plague and bother and crossness.'

'Poor Bob!' said Lance, 'you got the worst of it up at Brompton.'

'I got it every way,' said Robina. 'There was Edgar treating me like
a little contemptible baby, and Alice sometimes coaxing me and
sometimes spiting me, and Angel poisoned against me; and when I
thought I must be acting for the best in telling Felix, somehow that
turned out altogether horrid.'

'I suppose a girl must be telling some one,' said Lance; 'and if it
was to be done, Felix was the right one.'

'So I made sure,' said poor Robin; 'but Miss Fulmort and Miss
Fennimore seemed to think it no better than if I had told you. They
say I am forgiven, but I hate their forgiveness. I've done nothing
wrong, and yet they don't like or trust me; and they seem to grudge
me all my marks and prizes. "For proficiency, not for conduct," they
say, in that hard cold voice. And then the girls nod and whisper.
Angel and all, think me a nasty spiteful marplot. Alice set half of
them against me before she went!'

'Poor Bob. And you can't have a good set to, and punch their heads
all round! That's the way to have it out, and get comfortable and
friendly.'

'For choir boys? O Lance!'

'Choir boys ain't girls, I thank my stars.'

'Well,' continued Robina, glad to pour out her troubles, even for
such counsel as this, 'when I came home last week, I did think it
would be made up.'

'Well,' said Lance, as Robin grew rather choky, and drew the back of
a woolly glove across her eyes, not much to their benefit.

'Clem looks black, because he says his sisters were meant to raise
the tone of the school.'

'Confound the tone of the school! I know what that is! But who cares
for Tina?'

'Then Wilmet says I ought to have asked leave to write to her, and
she could have managed it quietly, and kept everybody out of a
scrape.'

'Whew--w--w--' whistled Lance; but at the melancholy tone, he
absolutely took his red hand out of its comfortable nest in his
pocket, to draw his sister's arm into his. It was well, for her voice
was far more trembling now. 'I could bear it all if it were not for
Felix himself. I know he is angry with me, but he won't talk, nor
tell me how; he only said, "We both meant to act for the best; but it
is a painful affair, and we had better not discuss it," and then he
began to whistle to Theodore. If any one did know how I hate being
told I meant to act for the best!'

'Something is come over Felix,' said Lance. 'I never knew him give
such a jaw as he has to me. To be sure, he was set on to it.'

'Set on?'

'Yes, by Wilmet for one! You should have seen the way she was in--as
if I hadn't a right to do what I please with my own money.'

'What?'

'My violin! Ferdinand Travis tipped me when he rode over to the
Cathedral, and by good luck it was the day before the auction at old
Spicer's. Bill and I went in to see the fun, and by all that is
lucky, there was a violin routed out of an old cupboard. Nobody bid
against me but Godwin, the broker, and it was knocked down to me for
twenty-two and six. Bill lent me the half-crown; and Poulter, our lay
vicar, who is at a music-shop, says 'tis a real bargain, he's mad to
have missed it himself, but he showed me how to put my fingers on it,
and I can play Mendelssohn's "Hirtenlied." You shall hear by and by,
Robin. Well; Wilmet comes on it when she was unpacking my shirts. I'm
sure I wish she'd let me unpack them myself, instead of poking her
nose there; and if she wasn't in a way! Wasting my money, when I
ought to be saving it up to buy a watch; and wasting my time and all
the rest of it--till one would think 'twas old Scratch himself I'd
brought home!'

'Oh don't, Lance. And did she set on Felix?'

'Ay; and then, you know, our new Precentor, Beccles, isn't one
quarter the man Nixon was; and he has been and written a letter to
Fee that any schoolmaster in creation should be licked for writing,
to go and pison a poor chap's home--all about those cards.'

'What cards?'

'The pack Jones found in the middle of the north transept ten days
ago.'

'Of the Cathedral! How shocking! But why should he write to Felix?'

'Because the big-wigs make sure some one out of the Bailey must have
dropped them, getting into the town through the Cathedral at night'

'But they don't suspect you?'

'No; but Beccles got into an awful way, and swears--'

'You don't mean really swears!'

'No, no--stuff--vows--that unless he gets to the bottom of it, not
one of us shall have the good-conduct prize. Now I did think I might
have had that--though I'm not a church candle like Tina--for I never
was had up for anything; and it is precious hard lines! Such a
beauty, Robin, the Bishop gives it--all the Cathedral music, bound in
red morocco; and this beggar hinders us all this very last chance!
And then, he is dirty enough to write and tell Felix to get out of me
who has been getting out through the Cathedral, and dropping the
cards.'

'Do you know?'

'Hold your tongue; I thought you had a little sense! Felix had that;
he saw I could not tell him, and said it must be as I pleased about
that; but then he rowed me, as he never did before, for wasting time,
and not mugging for the exhibition--as if that was any use.'

'Why shouldn't t you get the exhibition?'

'Put that out of your head,' said Lance, angrily; 'Harewood is sure
of that! A fellow that construes by nature--looks at a sentence, and
spots the nominative in a moment--makes verses--rale, superior,
iligant articles.'

'But I thought he wasn't always accurate. Can't you catch him out? O
Lance, don't look so fierce! I only said so because he can't want the
exhibition as much as you. He can go to some other school, or be paid
for.'

'Not conveniently,' said Lance, 'they are not at all well off, and
Jack helps them. Besides, I wouldn't get the thing in a sneaking way;
and besides, Bill could no more make a mull in construing out of
carelessness than I could a false note--it's against nature. I can't
beat him, except in arithmetic. My birthday comes at such an unlucky
time. I should get another year if I'd only been born in July instead
of June! I might be second, for Shapcote is only dogged by his
father; but that's no good for the exhibition: and then there's an
end of Cathedral and all!'

'What should you do then, Lance?'

'Whatever costs least! I'd as lief work my way out to Fulbert, if
this is to go on.'

'Oh, don't! don't do that, whatever you do!' cried Robina, clinging
to his arm.

'I don't see why not, if everybody is to be as savage as a bear when
one comes home. One always trusted to Felix to see sense, if nobody
else did; but what with his jawing one about the exhibition, and
Wilmet about the tin and every spot on one's clothes, and Alda
growling at whatever one does in the parlour, I'm sure I wish I'd
stayed at Bexley.'

The boy and girl had never before been tried by want of sympathy, and
what seemed to them injustice, when they had thus descended into the
perturbed atmosphere of what they were used to regard as a happy
home. There was a long mutual communication of grievances--irritable
speeches--inattention from their elders--fancies and complaints of
Alda's enforced peremptorily by Wilmet--appeals to Felix either
quashed or unheeded; the strange thing was, in how short a time so
much had managed to go wrong with them, except that they added the
vexations of the last quarter to the present discomfort, real or
fancied; and though they were both good children, each had the strong
feeling that there was not as much encouragement as usual to
goodness, and that it could not have been much worse if they had been
seriously to blame. One had expected to be caressed for her endurance
in a good cause; the other had not expected to be severely rebuked
for what he scarcely viewed as faults. It was the first time this
younger half of the family had ever suffered anything approaching to
neglect or injustice from their seniors, and the moment was perilous.
The discussion was forming their discontents into a dangerously
avowed state, if it had the beneficial effect of raising their
spirits by force of sympathy. At any rate, they were in no gloomy
mood when they reached the tidy little villa, with its beds of open-
hearted crocuses defying the cold wind, and admitting the sun to the
utmost depths of their purple and golden bosoms, as they laughed
their cheery greeting.

No less cheerful was the welcome from kind old Mrs. Froggatt, who met
them at the door. 'Master Lancelot, Miss Robina, this is an unlooked-
for pleasure, to be sure! My dear Miss Robina!' as the girl gave her
hearty embrace.

They were the prime favourites next to Felix, and were the more
gladly hailed that Mr. Froggatt was anxious about the business on
which they came, and had been trying to get leave from his wife to
peril his rheumatics by coming in to Bexley about it. They must stay
to luncheon; and while Mr. Froggatt went off to answer his note, they
were made much of over the fire, in the way that had of late become
so abhorrent to Bernard, with difficulty avoiding a pre-luncheon or
nooning of cake and wine within an hour of the meal of the day.

'And how is Mr. Underwood?' asked Mrs. Froggatt, when Robina had been
divested of her wraps, placed close to the fire, screened and
footstooled, and when Lance had transferred the big white cat from
the arm-chair to his own knee.

'Oh, very well, thank you,' said Robina, rather surprised that the
lengthy catechism on the family health did not as usual start from
'poor dear Miss Geraldine.'

'He was looking so thin, and had such a cough, I was quite concerned
when he walked out here on Good Friday afternoon,' continued Mrs.
Froggatt. 'I hope he is taking care.'

'Wilmet is always at him about it,' said Lance.

'That is right. And I hope he minds to keep the office-door shut. It
is such a draughty place! Does he wear flannel, do you know, my
dear?'

'I think so,' said Robina. 'Sister Constance told Wilmet he ought,
when he had that long cough after the measles.'

'Ay. You know--you'll excuse me, my dears, a cough is not to be
trifled with in your dear family.'

'You should write to the clerk of the weather-office, Mrs. Froggatt,'
said Lance, rather gruffly.

And as Mrs. Froggatt was not good at understanding jokes, but was
always ready to accept Mr. Lance's, she thought he meant Admiral
Fitzroy; and much explanation and banter followed, which the children
made the louder from dread of the subject. Mrs. Froggatt was by no
means the cultivated person her husband was; but, being of a good old
plain farmer stock, she was quite as unassuming, and her manners with
the young Underwoods were a good deal like those of a superior old
housekeeper, only perhaps less authoritative and familiar; but she
was not to be kept away from the subject of her real anxiety. 'I wish
I could see your sister, and speak to her; he ought to have some
advice rather than let it run on in this way. I'm sure Mr. Froggatt
would be willing to do anything. It has been a great concern to him
to have to leave such a heavy charge to him this spring, and with all
the family cares on his head too, at his age. Miss Alda's wedding put
off too--is it? And is the young gentleman here still?'

'No; his leave was over last Monday,' said Robina, 'a week after I
came home.'

'I should like to have seen him! Your brother says he is grown up
such a fine-looking young man, and quite got over his lameness. A
handsome couple they will be! I did see them ride through the place,
but Miss Alda didn't see me.'

'You saw his horse?' broke in Lance, who considered Brown Murad as a
superior specimen to either of the lovers, and Mrs. Froggatt, whose
father had bred horses, and whose son was much more addicted to them
than was for his good, was a much more intelligent auditor of the
perfections now dilated on than could have been expected.

Yet nothing could keep off the dreaded subject, and even at table,
Lance's disappointing deficiency in schoolboy voracity became the
cause of a lamentation over his brother's small appetite, and an
examination of Robina, resulting in her allowing that Felix seldom
gave himself time to do more than snatch a crust of bread in the
middle of the day, and did not always make up for it at tea-time. Mr.
Froggatt shook his head and looked distressed, and his good lady went
on discoursing about the basin of soup she always used to keep
prepared for him, evidently longing, though not quite daring, to send
a lecture to Wilmet on taking care of her brother. But what made more
impression on both the children was, that after they had been into
Mr. Froggatt's little conservatory with him, and had received into
their charge a basket of camellias, violets, and calycanthus, with a
pot of jonquils in the middle for Geraldine, the old gentleman said,
as he bade them good-bye, 'Tell your sister, that if she thinks a day
or two of laying by would be good for your brother, I should be ready
and glad to change places with him. A little change might take away
his cough; and I don't like his looks--no, I don t. He ought to be
careful;' this to himself, with a long sigh.

Then the children got out into the garden, and with the natural
impatience of the evil omen, exclaimed at the same moment--


     'Croak, croak, croak, went the frogs,'

and

     'Were there ever such a pair of good old coddles?'


But then they walked on for a full quarter of a mile before either
said another word; and then it was, 'You don't think Felix looking
ill, do you, Lance?'

'I never thought about his looks at all,' said Lance.

'No more did I,' said Robina, 'but he does cough; I hear him through
the wall in the morning. Do you think there is anything in it,
Lance?'

'How long has it been going on?'

'Ever since he came up to London. He got a chill in our garden when I
was telling him about--' said Robina, stopping short of what she
hated to mention.

'Then that's it!' said Lance, turning round with a face of one who
had made a great discovery.

'It? What is the matter with him?'

'Yes,' said Lance. 'Hold your tongue, Robina; but Cherry and I
thought long ago that he fancied that little Knevett himself. Then I
made sure it was all a mistake; but now, depend upon it, that's what
he is so cut up about''

It carried conviction to the hearer, perhaps because it fitted in
with a girl's love of romance. 'Then that's why he won't talk to me!'

'Of course!'

And then they began putting together all the tokens of inclination
which their small experience and large imagination could suggest,
till they had pretty well decided the point in their own belief, and
had amused themselves considerably; but the anxiety came back again.

'Do people get over such things, Lance? There was Ophelia, and there
was Wilfred in Rokeby--only she was a woman, and he was pipy. Did
you ever know of anybody really and truly?'

Lance meditated, but his experience reached no farther than the
surgeon's assistant at Minsterham, who was reported to be continually
in love, but who did not look greatly the worse for it.

And then Robina suggested that she did not remember that either
Wilfred or Ophelia had a cough.

'But my father had,' said Lance in the depths of his throat. 'Don't
you know, Robin, it was hard work and trouble and poverty that--_did
it_?'

'Was it?' awe-struck, for she had been so young as to have no clear
ideas.

'I've heard it told often enough. My Lady cut off the third curate;
and that--and all the rest of it--helped to bring on the decline.'

'But, Lance! At least, that wasn't--love.'

'Nonsense, Robin! Don't you see, whatever takes the heart and spirit
out of a man, makes him ready for illness to get hold of?' Lance
plucked desperately at the hazels in the hedge, and his eyes were
full of tears.

'O Lance, Lance, what can we do?'

'I don't know! I'd let him pitch into me from morning till night if
that would do him any good!'

'I'm sure I am very sorry I grumbled. We'll give Wilmet Mr.
Froggatt's message, and see what she thinks.'

Poor children! their consternation was such, that they must judge by
their own eyes of Felix without loss of time; so they both marched
into the shop with Mr. Froggatt's note, and there felt half baffled
to see Felix looking much as usual, very busy trying to content a
lady with nursery literature, and casting a glance at Robin as if she
had no business there.

Wilmet received Mr. Froggatt's message without excitement. She
thought it would be a very good thing, but she did not believe Felix
would consent; and Alda broke out, 'Then we should have Mr. Froggatt
inflicted on us all the evening!'

Nor did Felix consent. He said it was very kind, but his cold was
almost gone, and he did not need it. Moreover he had his private
doubts whether Alda would be decently gracious to Mr. Froggatt; and
Wilmet, whose one object in life was to keep her sister contented and
happy at home, could press nothing so disagreeable to her.
Altogether, the reception of their hints at home was so prosaically
placid, that they were both rather ashamed of the alarm into which
they had worked themselves up. Even when Robina privately asked
Cherry whether she thought Felix looking well, the answer was eager.

'Oh, very--very well! He looked pulled down when his cold was bad,
but he is quite well now.'

'Mrs. Froggatt thought--'

'Oh, you've been talking to Mrs. Froggatt! She thinks nothing so kind
as to say one is looking poorly. I said, "How well you are looking,
Mrs. Froggatt," one day, and I assure you she only swallowed it by an
act of Christian forgiveness. She is fondest of Felix, so of course
he looks the worst.'

Robina got no more out of Geraldine, whose fears at that moment were
in the form of utterly denying themselves. Commonplace life greatly
reassured the two young things, and of the alarm there chiefly
remained a certain shame at their own former discontent, and doubly
tender feeling towards their fatherly elder brother. Now that they
guessed something to be amiss with him, they had no irritation for
him--and indeed he gave them no cause for any; the discomfort was
partly indeed occasioned by the lack of his usual quiet mirth, but
far more by Alda's fastidiousness, and Wilmet's vigilance lest she
should be annoyed. This caused restrictions that weighed more heavily
on the younger ones than on Lance and Robina, and had the effect of
making Angela and Bernard rebellious. They had neither the principle
nor the consideration of their two seniors; to them every one seemed
simply 'cross,' and against this crossness there was a constant
struggle, either of disobedience or of grumble.

Both were at rather an insubordinate age. Angela, having begun school
life with getting into a scrape greater than she understood, had
acquired a naughty-girl reputation, of the kind that tempts the young
mind to live up to it; and her high spirits, boisterous nature, and
'don't care' system made her irrepressible by any one but Wilmet,
whose resolute hand might be murmured at, but was never relaxed.
While Bernard, hitherto very fairly amenable to Cherry, and a capital
little scholar, became infected with the spirit of riot and
insubordination. Whatever fastidiousness the children took for fine-
ladyism in Alda they treated unmercifully, and resented in their own
fashion her complaints, and Wilmet's enforcement of regard to her
tastes: nor was Lance always blameless in the tricks played upon her.

It was strange to see the difference made by one incongruous element.
A few sneers at Cherry's pronunciation, an injudicious laugh when she
was rebuking, and a general habit of making light of her, on Alda's
part, upset all Bernard's habits of deference to the sister who had
taught him all he knew. His lessons grew into daily battles--miseries
to himself and far greater miseries to his teacher, and sufficient
misery to the spectator to induce her to do that which the other
sisters could scarcely have brought themselves to do on any
provocation, namely to complain to Felix, and by and by make a
representation, for the general good, she said, that it was a mere
farce to leave the boy under Cherry's management.

Cherry, with bitter tears, was forced to own that she could no longer
keep him in order nor make him learn, and there was no alternative
but to send him to Mr. Ryder's. He had no voice nor ear, so that he
could not follow in Lance's steps; and for the present, Bexley was
the only resource.

Of course Cherry charged the whole of this upon her poor little self;
and some amount of the trouble certainly was due to her incapacity
not to show in voice and manner when she was under fret, anxiety, or
depression; and now, poor child! all three at once had come upon her.
Whether Alda's conversation or the children's naughtiness fretted her
most, it would be hard to tell; she was in a continual state of
unuttered, vague, and therefore most wearing anxiety on Felix's
account, and the physical discomfort of the ungenial spring told on
her whole frame and spirits. Alda's talk, when good-humoured, opened
such vistas of brightness, amusement, conversation, and above all of
beautiful scenes, that they awoke longings and cravings that Cherry
had hardly known before. The weariness of the grinding monotony of
home seemed to have infected her. She knew it for discontent, and was
the more miserable over her want of power to control it, because of
the terror that hung over her lest repinings might bring on them all
the judicial punishment of a terrible break-up of the home she loved,
even while the tedium of the daily round oppressed her. Alternate
plaintiveness and weary sharpness of course aggravated both Alda and
Bernard, and they knew nothing of the repentant wretchedness that
rather weakened than strengthened her.

Little Stella's unfailing docility and sweetness were her great
solace. Even Alda was exceedingly fond of Stella, and would have
spoilt her if the child had not been singularly firm in her intense
love and loyalty to the heads of the family. Angel and Bear were too
rough for her, and alarmed her sense of duty; but Lance was her hero;
and the happiest moments of those holidays were spent in a certain
loft above a warehouse in the court of the printing-office, only
attainable by a long ladder. Here, secure that none but favoured ears
could hear, Lance practised on his beloved violin, at every hour he
could steal, emulating too often Mother Hubbard's dog 'fiddling to
mice,' but his audience often including his three younger sisters. He
had had scarcely any hints, but his was the nature that could pick
music out of anything; and Angela, much more than Robin, was ecstatic
in all that concerned the sixth sense, and watched and criticised
with rapture, wanted to learn, and pouted at being told that it was
not fit for a woman. Among those stacks of paper in the dusty loft,
with the stamp and thud of the press close at hand, it was possible
to forget, in creating sounds and longing to fulfil the dream of the
spirit, that Alda was exacting and trying, Wilmet blind to the
annoyances she caused, Cherry striving hard, and not always
successfully, with the fretfulness of anxiety, and Felix--they durst
not think in what state. That loft and that violin made their fairy-
land, and one that rendered it most unusually hard for Lance to learn
his holiday task.

'I'll tell you what, Lance,' said Robina at last, when he had vainly
been trying to repeat it to her, with his eye on a sheet of music all
the time, 'you can't do two things at once. If I were you, I would
lock up that violin till the summer examination is over.'

He turned on her quite angrily. 'Very fine talking! Lock up all the
pleasure I have in life! Thank you!'

'I'm quite sure you'll never get the exhibition if you have your head
in this.'

'I shan't get the exhibition any way.'

'But if you do your utmost for it?'

'I shall do my utmost!'

'You can't if you have these tunes always running in your head, and
are always wild to be picking them out.'

'Well, Robin, I sometimes think I should do more good with music than
anything else.'

'Maybe,' said Robina, a sensible little woman; 'but you'll do no good
by half and half. If you don't do well in the examination, Felix will
be horribly vexed, and you'll always hate the thought of it.'

'I tell you I shall be as dull as ditch-water, and as stupid as
Shapcote, if I don't have any pleasure.'

'I only don't want you to be stupider.'

Lance chucked up a pen-wiper and caught it.

'The fact is,' said Robina, 'all we've got to do is our best. If we
don't, it is wrong in us, and it makes us more a weight on Felix; and
I think it is our real duty to keep everything out of the way that
hinders us, if it is ever so nice.'

'Is that Cock Robin, or Parson Rook with his little book?' said
Lance, throwing the pen-wiper in her face.

But the week after, when Robina was at school again, she was called
to receive a letter which had something hard in it.

'Did you leave a key behind you?' she was asked a little
suspiciously, for there was nothing about it in the brief note.

'No, Miss Fennimore; but my brother has sent it to me to keep for
him. It is the key of his violin-case, and he is not going to touch
it till he is past his examination.'

From that time Miss Fennimore entertained a better opinion of Robina
Underwood; but little recked Robina. She only felt secure that after
this act of heroism Lance could not but gain the exhibition.




CHAPTER XVII

MIDSUMMER SUN



'For Phoebus' awful self encountered him
 Amid the battle throng invisible,
 In thickest darkness shrouded all his face;
 He stood behind, and with extended palm
 Dealt on Patroclus' neck and shoulder broad
 A mighty buffet.'
                        Iliad, Book xvi. (EARL OF DERBY.)


Warmer weather came at last, and brought Mr. Froggatt back to his
daily work, lifting a weight of responsibility from his young
partner's shoulders.

The cough mended too, but did not entirely cease; and when June came
in with an unusual access of summer heat, there were those who felt
it as trying as the sharp wind had been. One evening, when the home
party had been sitting in the garden, and the fall of the dew sent
Cherry indoors, Felix, as usual, gave her his arm, and lifted her
step by step up the stairs. She felt, all over her frame, that what
used to be almost nothing to the boy was a severe exertion to the
man.

'You should not do it!' she said, as they both stood resting at the
top, he leaning back against the wall, and wiping his forehead, where
the big blue V of the veins stood out prominently.

'Having so often carried the calf--I should be able to carry--the
cow,' he said, the smile not disguising the panting of his voice.

'You are to be at the agricultural meeting at Dearport tomorrow. I
wish you would just go and see Dr. Lee.'

'I think I shall.' And there they were interrupted.

Poor Geraldine! What worlds of apprehension were founded on that
quiet assent, his first intimation that he believed himself unwell!
She kept absolute silence. She could not have uttered her terrors for
ten thousand worlds.

She was on her couch under the apple-tree, in the late afternoon,
trying to force her thoughts out of miserable possibilities, when she
saw Felix come out of the house, flushed, heated, dusty, tired; but
somehow she gathered hope from his air, as he threw himself down on
the grass by her side, saying, 'Mr. Froggatt sent me out to cool.'

'Stella, dear,' to the little one, who had her story-book at hand,
'run and ask Sibby to bring Felix out a cup of tea.' Then she tried
to guess at his face, but durst not look at him fully. 'Are you very
tired?'

'Rather! That place was a mere oven of roaring! Well, Cherry,'
pulling off his neck-tie, and settling himself, with an elbow on her
couch, and his back against the tree, 'there's nothing amiss with my
lungs.'

She shuddered all over, and almost bounded; then put her hand
tenderly on his shoulder.

'Your doctor is a clever man, I can see,' he continued. 'He seemed to
guess about me directly. He sounded my chest, and says it is all
right now, but that there had been a little damage; he thought the
long cough I had after the measles had left traces that this winter
has told upon.'

'Ah!' A great gasp.

'But there's no active disease--none at all; nor likely, if I can
shake off this remnant of cough, and get into condition before the
winter.'

Cherry sighed again at the white hand, and the network of blue veins
on both it and the temple that was propped against it. 'You must
_indeed_!' she wistfully said.

'I _must_,' said Felix, sighing too, as with little mind for the
struggle. 'I've brought home a detestable bottle of cod-liver oil on
the spot, and am to take to all the good living I can swallow. Won't
that delight Mr. Froggatt s good old soul? Then the worst of it is
that I am to go away to some sea place for the hottest of the
weather.'

'Oh, I'm so glad!'

'He taxed me with not taking food enough; and when I allowed that I
had no turn for eating, insisted on this sea plan: but he laughed me
to scorn when I asked whether I might not get a room at Dearport, and
run backwards and forwards. "Ay," he said, "you have a good deal on
your mind;" and I fell into the trap, and told him my partner had
been ill, and we had a great deal to work up. And he went on to ask
if I had not the charge of the family, and was not apt to get anxious
about them; and he turned round on me, and ordered me to get a
thorough holiday, and turn my back on everybody and everything; for
there's nothing the matter with me but overwork and harass--'
Something that did not amount to _and_ finished the sentence.

'O Felix, I know, I have felt,' she said, the tears standing in her
eyes, and the colour rushing into her face at this first venture.

'Have you--little foolish thing?' he answered, but shifting hand and
elbow so that nothing of his face could be seen but a bit of brow and
temple, and that was crimson to the roots of his hair. 'Don't take it
for more than it ever was,' he muttered.

'It was enough to hurt you grievously,' whispered the sister.

'It ought not,' he said. 'It was only the putting out of a vain
foolish hope I had no right to indulge. Eh, Cherry!' as she made a
little sound, 'tell me one thing; was it all imagination and folly
that she--she could have--liked me?' He bent his head with almost as
much suppressed emotion as if it had been a matter of present hope.

'Certainly not,' said Cherry. 'She liked your--your attentions; and I
thought sometimes you were quite pulling her up to your level. If no
one else--'

'I did not imagine it was visible,' he interrupted. 'I tried to be
very guarded, but one does not know--'

'You were. Somehow one feels more than one sees.'

'And you thought she did? Then at least I was not quite a fool? I
fancied that there was response enough to what seems to have shown in
spite of me to warrant the dream that if ever a time came--!'

'If she had had depth enough!'

'But, of course,' said Felix in a tone of defence, 'she never really
knew; he guessed still less.'

'No, I am sure he never guessed. There is that comfort,' said Cherry.

'It is the greatest I have had all along,' said Felix. 'For the rest,
it was no wonder.'

'No,' said Cherry; 'but it all managed to fall in the very hardest
way on you. No wonder it was too much for you!'

'It is odd,' mused Felix, 'how this one dream has seemed to take all
the heart and soul out of one; there seemed no elasticity to meet
other things. I must say all this doctor's advice has been seeming an
amazing amount of trouble for what is not very well worth having in
the end.'

'O Felix, Felix you will--'

'My Cherie, you don't think I'd drop off the coach while you are in
it if I can help it, to say nothing of the rest! I suppose every one
has something of the sort in his turn, and I'll take good care not to
be let in for it again. Thank you, Cherry,' he added presently, and
now looking at her, 'I am very glad to have had this out with you. I
think I can make a fresh start now. What, silly little thing! crying,
when I thought I had brought you good news!'

'You are quite sure you have told me all Dr. Lee said?' she demanded,
holding his hands tight, and gazing into the face, which certainly,
with the still heightened colour, looked both delicate and weary.
'You have been so much worse than you told!'

'No, indeed, I have felt very little but weariness and want of
energy; but I am better now than I have felt for weeks. And what is
more, Cherry, I don't feel like getting worse. I mean to set myself
to live to get through the work my father left me.'

'Taking care of all of us! Is that all you care to live for, Felix?'

'All, just now. Don't look shocked, Cherry. You know it is all very
fresh' ('Five months--poor Felix!' thought she), 'and there is the
continual pain of knowing how wretched those people make the poor
child. When she is happier, perhaps the shade will lighten. Don't be
afraid, you dear little thing' (he was answering her piteous eyes),
'there's plenty of time to recover it. I suppose I am really very
young still.'

'Not quite three and twenty! Oh, Felix! I am sure God will give you
back happiness, you are so good and patient! Where will you go, and
when?'

'How I wish you could go with me! Dr. Lee said he should like to send
me to Switzerland; but as he might as well have said the moon, he
said any sea place would do. Rest and good air are all that
signifies; so I thought of Ewmouth, and then I might see Vale Leston
again. I believe you want it as much as I. You are a little washed-
out rag.'

'I shall be all right when I know you are better.' Then as Sibby
brought out the tea, and Stella the toast she had insisted on making,
he began to look at his short-hand notes. 'Never mind those. You are
to rest, you know.--Stella, little one, run to the office, and if Mr.
Froggatt is not busy, get him to come and have some tea.'

This was always a mission to Stella's taste; and Mr. Froggatt was
soon installed in the only basket-chair that would hold him, and was
professing his relief and satisfaction that Mr. Underwood had been
wise enough to take advice at last. He had better go any day, the
sooner the better; and even his desire to take the newspaper work
with him would have been overruled, but for the simple fact that
there was nobody else capable of it, in the present state of Mr.
Froggatt's eyes.

Alda had been lying down in her own' room. Her cup of tea--an
institution that for any one else Wilmet would have deemed sinful
waste--had been rung for, when she saw from the window that Mr.
Froggatt was one of the party in the garden, and whereas Sibby did
not choose to hear or attend to her whims, she came down full of
wrath and indignation, as soon as she saw that Cherry was left alone
under her tree, and Wilmet coming out to her with the step of one who
was glad her day's work was over.

'Really, Sibby's inattention was shameful! Not choosing to bring the
tea upstairs when it was rung for!'

'You forget how much Sibby has to do, Alda.'

'You have quite spoilt Sibby. I would not have such a servant on any
account. I'm sure I don't know why the tea was so early, either.
Cherry ordered it, I believe.'

'Yes,' said Cherry, 'because Felix came in so hot and tired.'

'He could have waited, I suppose,' began Alda; but Wilmet was asking
anxiously, 'Is he so very tired? Where is he? I was afraid he would
be knocked up, he looked so pale when he set off.'

'He is gone to write out his notes,' said Cherry; 'I think he is
rested now. And, Mettie,' she added, knowing that he had rather not
have to begin the subject again,' I am glad to say he has been to see
Dr. Lee. And he says that his lungs are all safe, only he must be
careful, and go away for a change.'

'Just as I say,' exclaimed Alda; 'no one can be well, living in such
a hole! When are we to go?'

'My dear Alda,' said Wilmet, 'you forget. No one can possibly go but
Felix; and it will be hard enough to manage for him.'

'Then I do think it is very selfish in him,' said Alda, 'when every
one of us wants change! I'm as languid as possible; and look at
Cherry.'

Felix selfish! Even Wilmet could not stand that, and answered with
her most severely gentle manner, 'Nothing but necessity will induce
Felix to do so. I beg you will say nothing of the sort again.'

Cherry was alarmed lest Wilmet might not be convinced of the
necessity, and might think more of present pounds than future health;
but in fact, Wilmet was as much relieved as Cherry herself by the
medical opinion, for she had charged the failure of health entirely
to the constitution instead of the heart, and moreover never was
troubled with misgivings and heart-sinkings for the future. So, as
for a needful and infallible cure, she set herself to arrange,
writing again to Abednego Tripp, the Vale Leston clerk, whose
possession of a market boat kept him conversant with Ewmouth, and who
recommended rooms in the house of a former servant at the Rectory who
had married a sailor.

Felix only waited to put his business in train, and make over
Theodore to the care of Clement, who had just come home from
Cambridge. The quantity of work and bustle had not been beneficial,
and his sisters did not feel at all happy in sending him off by
himself; while Alda was inclined to think the time a particularly
cruel one, just as all the most unquiet spirits of the household
would be coming home for the holidays, and his authority would be
most wanted.

However, Wilmet was free first of all, and she was a more efficient
guardian of the peace than ever Felix could be downstairs. Lance was
to come on the evening of the 26th of June, after the examination for
the exhibition, which, as he had told every one, he was quite sure
not to gain. And then what was to be done with him, small and boyish
as he still was?

The question was sighed over on that day by the three sisters as they
sat endeavouring to be cool, and looking out at the glowing street
where the few passengers seemed to be crawling like flies on a
window-pane.

Presently a rather hesitating knock at the door was followed by the
entrance of Mr. Froggatt, ushering in no other than Mr. Harewood.

In the moment of shaking hands, Cherry had foreboded enough to set
her pulses throbbing so violently as to deafen her ears. Lance had
failed, had run away in despair, to go to Fulbert rather than be a
burthen; Felix would go in search of him--break a blood-vessel--and--

Nay--what was it? Lance! It really was Lance! Was not Wilmet talking
of going! Mr. Harewood saying something about trains? She made a
great effort to clear her senses, and the first thing she really
distinguished was Wilmet saying, 'Thank you, I will put a few things
together.'

Then she hurried away, and Cherry found Mr. Froggatt standing over
her, saying kindly, 'Dear Miss Geraldine, don't be alarmed. There is
often no bad result.'

'How was it? I don't understand,' said Alda.

Mr. Harewood owned himself not perfectly informed, but he feared the
trouble had been in great part occasioned by his own poor boy
William's carelessness. The two boys had strolled out the evening
before, along the bank of the river, and had compared the copies of
verses which were to be shown up at the examination. Afterwards they
had bathed, and Will had left his verses meantime in the hollow of a
tree, never remembering them till he found himself in his place in
the Cathedral on the very morning of the examination. When he came
out, not only did his duties as senior chorister chain him to the
spot, but he had put off to the last moment the fair copying of his
algebraic exercises, and his chance of the exhibition was as good as
lost (the very loop-hole that Robina had predicted his carelessness
would make), had not Lance, whose preparations were all made, as soon
as he understood the difficulty, dashed headlong off, bare-headed as
he stood at the school door, without waiting to fetch his cap, and
laid the verses on his rival's desk just in time for them to be shown
up. He had been absent about twenty minutes, and had scarcely been
missed; but when his turn came, a few moments later, to bring his
papers to the examiners, as soon as he stood up, he staggered, gazed
round, cried out, and fell forward on his desk insensible. A doctor,
who like Mr. Harewood himself had been present to hear a son's
performance, had helped to raise him, and pronounced it to be a case
of sunstroke; nor, when, half an hour later, the librarian set off to
fetch his sister, had there been any sign of consciousness.

Mr. Harewood tried to be calm, but he was evidently in great
distress; and Mr. Froggatt could not restrain large tears from
dropping.

As to Cherry, she could only tremble, unable to speak or cry; and Mr.
Froggatt called out to Alda to do something for her, when Alda said
she would call Wilmet, which made Cherry burst out with 'Don't,
don't!' and shudder the more with tearless sobs; but happily, Clement
coming down, fetched her remedies, and did more by whispering a few
kind words of hope and comfort.

He was going with Wilmet, who was as usual the self-possessed one;
and while passively allowing Mr. Froggatt to give her biscuits and
even wine, she left her few parting directions. 'Alda, take care of
them all.--Stella, try to keep Tedo happy.--Cherry, don't give way
and fancy things.--Above all, don't write to Felix! He must not be
hurried home without necessity. I could telegraph if there was--' and
there her steady voice faltered, she drew down her veil and turned to
walk to the station, Clement carrying her bag, and Mr. Froggatt
accompanying them to the train.

Very little was said on the way, before they reached the town whose
last associations were so joyous. Mr. Harewood would have given
Wilmet his arm, dreading the tidings that might meet her; but she was
walking straight on, with head erect, as though neither needing nor
seeking support.

They reached the low wicket-door of the Bailey, and as they entered
the little court and passed the window, they saw that people were
still standing about the bed in the corner. Everything was open, to
admit such air as might stir that sultry heat. Some one came to the
door, and said, 'No change.'

Then Wilmet and Clement advanced to the narrow old dark oak bed, and
Mrs. Harewood made way for them, fresh tears starting at their
presence. There he lay, their bright agile boy, with eyes half closed
and fixed, and circled half way down his cheeks with livid purple,
like bruises, the purple lips emitting a heavy breath, his crest of
sunny hair hanging dank with the melting of the ice on his head.

Clement's lips trembled, and he dropped on his knees, hiding his face
and stifling his sobs in his hands. Wilmet, after looking for
permission to a gentleman at the foot of the bed, whom she took for
the doctor, laid her hand on the helpless fingers, and bent to kiss
the brow, saying softly and steadily, 'Lance, dear Lancey!'

The eyelids moved, the hand closed, there was a struggling stifled
utterance: 'Wilmet, Wilmet, bring me back! Oh, bring me back!'

She looked up, and read in the watchers' faces that they were glad.
'Yes, dear Lance,' she said, in her soft steady voice, 'I am here.
You will soon be better.'

He clung to her, as if blindly struggling with some terrible
oppression, and the effort ended in violent sickness, exhausting him
into unconsciousness again; but just then the real doctor came in,
having been summoned by a message at the first symptom of change from
the state of stupor. At the same time the Cathedral bell began to
ring for evening prayer, and Lance at once was roused to endeavour to
obey it, and when he was gently held back, murmured on about finding
the places, and seeing Bill was not late. Mr. Harewood had to go, but
whispered that he would ask the prayers of the congregation. It was
comfortable to remember that Lance was thought of there, when, as the
deep roll of the organ vibrated round the building, psalm, chant,
anthem, and response came thronging thick and confusedly on those
unconscious lips.

Dr. Manby, however, told Wilmet not to be too much alarmed at this
delirium, for the most immediate danger had passed when the lethargy
had given way, and that though fever was probably setting in, there
was fair hope that so healthy a boy would be able to struggle through
it without permanent harm. There was a gentleness and consideration
in his manner quite new to her after her dealings with Mr. Rugg, and
she felt at the same time that he was not concealing the truth from
her. She told how it was with her eldest brother, asking whether he
ought to be sent for; and it was a great lightening of present fear
to be told that there was now no need for haste, and that any change
for the worse would give full time to bring him; moreover, that new
faces were to be avoided. Should a nurse be sent from the hospital?
Wilmet raised her steady sensible eyes, and said she could manage,
she was well used to nursing.

'I see you are,' he answered, well satisfied, since there were
besides the Precentor's housekeeper, who was used to act as matron to
the boarding choir-boys, and apparently an unlimited power of
Harewoods.

As to the place, Lance had at first been carried to his own bed, and
even if there had been a regular infirmary, he was in no state to
bear being moved. The other boys' goods had been removed, and they
all were going home that evening; so that it was as cool and as quiet
a place as could be had, since there was no doubt that the sounds
from the Cathedral would be hushed for so critical a case.

Indeed, just as Dr. Manby had said this, both the Dean and the
Precentor were seen coming through the Bailey on the way out of
church to ask after the patient; and the former promised Wilmet that
the bells and organ should both be silenced, and that the daily
service should be in the Lady Chapel.

It appeared there had been little but the instrumental music that
evening, and strangers who had heard the praises of the Minsterham
choir must have been disappointed; for the psalms so entirely
overcame the senior chorister that he could do nothing but sob, and
at last was fain to stuff half the sleeve of his surplice into his
mouth to hinder a howl such as the least of the boys actually burst
out with. Most of the other lads were far past singing, and even two
or three of the men, and such voices as did uplift themselves were
none of the best or clearest.

That poor senior chorister--he crept back after his father into the
room. It was his first entrance, for he had been kept all day at the
examination, with what power of attention may be guessed; and when
some half-recognition of him set the sufferer off into wanderings
that showed habitual vigilance over his carelessness, he was so much
distressed that he rushed out, and was heard crying so piteously in
the court, that his mother went out to hush and comfort him. Never
strong, the shock, anxiety, and exertion had so worn her out, that
her family would not let her come back; but their attention to the
nurses did not relax--they were viewed as guests both by Mr. Beccles
and the Harewoods; and when it was found that neither would come away
to another house to dine, a little table was prepared in the court,
close to the door, and the sister and brother, coaxed one by one, and
made to eat and drink; while, as Clement could not bear to go home, a
note was written, the delivery of which to the sisters Mr. Beccles
undertook to secure. All the evening, Mr. Harewood or his eldest son,
the engineer captain, the same whom Wilmet had taken for the doctor,
sat at the other end of the room; while Lance lay, sometimes babbling
school tasks mixed with anthems and hymns, sometimes in something
between sleep and torpor, but always moaning and fevered.

This strange temporary infirmary, of which Wilmet was made free,
consisted of two long narrow rooms, each with a row of quaint black
oak beds and presses, between the double row of narrow lattice
windows, looking into the court on one side, and the cloister on the
other. There was a smaller room dividing these two chambers, and
opening into both, which the under-master had vacated, and where the
matron installed Miss Underwood's little bag.

Clement was a good deal impressed with the place, in the grand quiet
shadow of the old Cathedral; and the room itself told much of his
brother's daily life, in his own little section of it. The deep
window-seat and old oak chest were loaded with piles of Punch,
sheets of music, school-books, and grotesque sketches; bat, hockey-
stick, and fishing-rod were in the corner; trencher cap and little
black gown hung on their peg on the white-washed walls, and pinned
beside them lists of the week's music, school-work, etc. In the
corner by the press was a little rough deal table, covered with an
old white shawl that Clement remembered as his mother's; and on it
lay Lance's old brown Bible, the Prayer-book given him by the Bishop,
Steps to the Altar, and Ken's Manual; over it hung the photograph
of his father, and next above, an illumination of Cherry's, 'The joy
of the LORD is your strength;' while above was a little print of the
Good Shepherd. Nor was it a small testimony to the boy who had been
senior in the room, that Clement found one or two other such little
tables, evidently for private prayer. He had never believed such
things could be out of St. Matthew's, nor where the books were not
more of his own exclusive type than were Lance's; and perhaps there
was some repentance for harsh judgment in his spirit as he knelt on
by that little table long after Mr. Harewood, near midnight, had read
a few prayers and gone to his house.

When Clement stood up, his sister made him lie down, as well as his
long legs would permit, on one of the other beds, where he soon fell
asleep; while she sat on, where she could see the spire rising aloft
into the pale blue of the summer night's sky, while the perfect
stillness was only broken by the quarterly chiming of the clock, re-
echoed from its fellow in the town-hall. Every window and door was
open, but the air was heated and oppressive till the early dewy
coolness before dawn crept in, making her bend over Lance to cover
him less slightly. Then she met his eyes, heavy and bloodshot, but
with himself in them.

'Wilmet, is that you?' he said, in a wondering tone.

'Yes, here I am, dear Lance.'

'Is it night or morning?'

'Morning. There, it is striking three-quarters past two.'

'Oh!' a long sigh. 'I'm so thirsty!'

She brought some drink; but as he tried to raise his head, the
distressing sickness returned in full force, and in the midst the
gasping cry, 'My head, my head!'

'Some more ice, Clem,' said Wilmet; but Clement looked up from the
ice-pail in despair, for all was melted; and she could only steep
handkerchiefs in the water and in eau-de-cologne, and lay them on the
head, while Clement wondered if he could find a shop; but where was
the use at three in the morning? and poor Lance rolled round wearily,
sighing, 'Oh, I did not know one's head could ache so!'

Just then a step crossed the court, and a low voice said, 'Is he
awake? I have brought some more ice.'

'O Jack, thank you!' faintly breathed Lance.

'Thank you!' fervently added Wilmet; 'we did not know what to do for
some more!'

'I thought you must want some by this time. I have a little ice-
machine for Indian use,' he added, as Clement looked at him like a
sort of wizard.

He was small, sandy, and freckled after the Harewood fashion, and was
besides dried up by Eastern suns, but one who brought such succour
could not fail to be half celestial in the sister's eyes; and as he
said, 'You are getting better,' her response was fervent in its
quietness, though poor Lance, conscious only of oppression and
suffering, merely replied with a groan, and seemed to be dozing again
into torpor in the relief the ice had given.

Clement and Captain Harewood besought Wilmet to rest--the latter
declaring himself to be too much of an East Indian to sleep at dawn;
and she consented to lie down in the little room, where she had
enough of wakeful slumber to strengthen her for the heat of the day,
when the fever ran high, and all the most trying symptoms returned.

The doctor continued to forbid despondency, building much on the
lucid interval in the cool of the morning, and ascribing much of the
excitement of brain to the excessive, almost despairing, study that
Lance had been attempting in the last weeks before the examination.
There had, too, been a concert given by one of the great ladies of
the Close, for which there had been a good deal of practice, harassed
by certain amateur humours, and the constant repetition of one poor
little shallow song in the delirious murmur greatly pained the
Precentor, and made him indulge in murmurs that boded ill to the
ladies' chances with the choir-boys. The sultry weather was likewise
a great enemy, and could hardly be mitigated by the continual fanning
kept up chiefly by poor Bill Harewood, who seemed to have no comfort
except in working the fan till he was ready to drop, and his brother
or Clement took it from him.

Mrs. Harewood was quite knocked up, and her daughters were curiously
inefficient people. Their father came and went all day; but the
serviceable person was the engineer, with his experience of sun-
strokes, his devices for coolness, and his cheerful words, stilling
the torrent of rambling restlessness, so that Wilmet depended upon
him as much as on the doctor himself.

On Saturday, the third day of the fever, which had rather increased
than diminished, Wilmet begged Clement to go home for the night, to
carry a report to the sisters, and fetch some things she wanted. He
lingered, grieving and reluctant; while the heated atmosphere was
like a solid weight on the sufferer, who lay, now and then murmuring
some distressed phrase, as though labouring with some forgotten task;
and Wilmet shunned touching the pulse again lest the reckoning should
be higher than the last, and strove to construct a message conveying
the hope that seemed to faint in the burthen of the day, insisting,
above all, that guarded accounts should be sent to Felix, keeping
carefully to Dr. Manby's report.

'I can be here before nine,' said Clement; 'I wish I could help
going. I feel as if something must happen!'

'A thunderstorm,' said Captain Harewood in a reproving voice, as he
plied the fan, with heat-drops on his brow; 'a thunderstorm, which
will prove the best doctor. Take care, you will miss the train.'

Clement stooped to kiss the unconscious face, as though he had never
prized his little brother before, and as some association of the
touch of the lips awoke the murmur, 'Mamma, Mamma!' he sped away with
eyes full of tears.

Before he could have reached the station, the storm was coming--great
rounded masses of cloud, with silver-foamed edges and red lurid
caverns, began to climb slowly up the sky, distant grumbles of
thunder came gradually nearer, a few fitful gusts of wind came like
sirocco, adding to the stifling heat, and were followed by exceeding
stillness, broken by the first few big drops of rain, the visible
flashes, and the nearer peals of thunder, till a sudden glare and
boom overhead startled Lance into a frightened bewildered state, that
so occupied Wilmet that she hardly heard the roaring, pattering hail-
drops on the roofs and pavements; but when a sweet fresh wind blew
away the hail, the weary head was more at rest, the slumber more
tranquil, the breathing freer and softer than it had been since that
Wednesday.

Some two hours later she saw him looking at her with a sort of
perplexed smile and the first words upon his tongue were, 'Is Bill
first?'

'Nothing is settled till the Bishop comes home,' Captain Harewood
answered.

'What time is it?' then asked Lance.

'Half-past eight.'

'It seems always half dark, said the boy, dreamily, 'and yet there's
no curfew.'

'They have been so kind as not to ring the bells,' said Wilmet.

'Not ring the bells!' repeated Lance, in a feeble voice of amazement.

'No, nor play the organ,' said Wilmet; 'you have had to be so quiet,
you know.'

'No organ! and for me!' repeated Lance, impressed almost as if the
'unchanging sun his daily course' had 'refused to run;' but it rather
frightened him, for he added, 'Am I very ill, then?'

'Not now, I hope,' said Wilmet, tenderly, and possessing herself of
his wrist; 'you are so much better to-night.'

He looked wistfully into her face. 'What's the matter with me?' he
said. 'What does make my head go on in this dreadful way?'

'Dear Lance! It was that running in the hot sun.'

'Oh!' (a sort of sigh of discovery) 'I hope he had the verses.'

'Yes, indeed you gave them.'

'Then he must be first,' said Lance; and then, as his thankful nurses
were preparing to give him some nourishment, he spoke again. 'Mettie,
please come here;' and as she bent over him, 'is this being very
ill?--like dying, I mean.'

'Not now, dearest,' said Wilmet, kissing him. 'You must be through
with the worst, thank God.'

He asked no more, for his voice was low and faint, the pain and
dizziness still considerable; and the being fed without raising
himself occupied him till the doctor came for his evening visit, and
confirmed the sister's comfort in his improvement. She sat gazing as
he fell asleep again, till Captain Harewood reminded her that her
letter to Ewmouth must be sent before the mail closed. She turned to
the window, where still lay her anxiously-worded bulletin, not yet
closed; but as she took the pen, the blinding tears fell thick and
soft as the summer rain outside.

'This will be a happy ending,' said John Harewood, as he saw her
silently striving to clear her sight.

'Would you be so very kind as to write it for me?' she answered,
pointing to the paper, with a lovely smile through her tears. 'He
will believe it all the more.'

And as he took the pen, she retreated in quiet swiftness to her
little room; but came back as he finished the few freshly hopeful
lines; then going to the door with him, looked up with the same sweet
tremulous smile. 'Thank you! What thankfulness it is! What a merciful
rain this is! If you knew the relief it is to send this report to
Felix! You cannot guess what this dear little fellow is to him.'

'I think I can, a little,' said John Harewood, with his heart in his
voice; and Wilmet smiled again, her stately but usually rather severe
beauty wonderfully softened and sweetened by emotion.

The improvement continued when Clement arrived on the Sunday morning;
and though fevered, confused, and beset by odd fancies, especially
about the silence of the Cathedral, Lance knew his brother, smiled at
him, and returned his greeting. Clement had a more cheerful task than
usual in what seemed to be his day's work--answering inquiries at the
door, and taking in presents of fruit. All the Chapter and half the
town seemed to call, or send, at least once a day; and little boys
used to hang about the court, too shy to come to the door, but
waiting to collect tidings from the attendants, and mutually using
strong measures upon one another when either was betrayed into noise.

Clement called his sister aside to ask whether she could spare him,
since she had the help of the matron and the Harewoods. 'I should be
very glad to stay,' he averred, 'but somebody is really wanted at
home.'

Wilmet had not been so much accustomed to consider Clement in the
light of 'somebody,' as greatly to care whether he went or stayed,
and only said, 'I can get on very well. No one is of so much use as
Captain Harewood.'

'Just so,' said Clement; 'and I think I am doing more good at home.
Imagine my finding all the windows open in that pouring rain, and
Cherry sitting shivering.'

'Very foolish of Cherry,' said Wilmet.

'Poor Cherry! she could not help herself, and was only thankful when
I had the courage to shut them in Alda's face. Then they don't know
what to do with Theodore.'

'Poor Tedo--that's the worst of it!'

'You see he is used to a man's hand and voice. He is very good with
me, but Sibby has had dreadful work with him every night till I came
home. And, Wilmet, couldn't you send a message who is to be mistress
while you are away?'

'Alda, of course.'

'Alda doesn't seem to understand, and she will not let Cherry tell
her.'

'Cherry always does bother Alda. I can't help it, Clem, they must rub
on somehow  and if you can make Theodore happy, the rest does not so
much signify.'

Not signify! Clement did not know whether he was standing on his head
or his heels, and never guessed that not only was she too much
absorbed in the present thoroughly to realise the absent, but that
she would not venture to send orders based on his report, which in
her secret soul she qualified by his love of importance and
interference. However, he went away, and was not seen again all the
ensuing week--the early part of which was very trying, for the fever
recurred regularly about noon and midnight, and always brought
rambling, which since that conversation with Wilmet, had taken the
turn of talking about being buried in a surplice, and of continually
recurring to the 134th Psalm, which, it was now remembered, Lance had
shortly before taken part in, over the grave of an old lay-vicar,
who, boy and man, had served the Cathedral for nearly sixty years.
Often, too, the poor little fellow seemed struggling with some sense
of demerit--whether positive disgrace, or suspicion, or the general
Christian feeling of unworthiness, Wilmet and John Harewood could
never make out; and they did not choose to speak of these wanderings
either to Will or to Mr. Beccles. In the intervals of consciousness,
the thought of danger and death seemed to be lost in the weakness of
exhaustion, and the dread of whatever brought back the pain, from
which there was no respite except in cool air and perfect quiet. The
least movement intensified it, and brought on the sickness that
showed the brain to be still affected; and still worse was any
endeavour to attend to the shortest and simplest devotions, when Mr.
Harewood attempted them. Yet all the time there was amendment; the
fever was every day less severe, the intervals longer, the sleep
calmer, the doctor more securely hopeful; and by the end of a week
from the time of the accident, recovery was beginning sensibly to set
in.

Clement, meanwhile, did not appear; nor was he seen till the ensuing
Monday, when he stood on the threshold of the open door at the
Bailey, bewildered at the emptiness of the bed where he had last seen
his brother--till a weak voice said, 'Here, Clem,' and he saw on
another of the little old beds a small figure, in a loose soft white
silk Indian robe de chambre, the face shrunken into nothing but
overhanging brow and purple haloed eyes, though the eyes themselves
were smiling welcome in all their native blueness and clearness, and
two thin white hands were held out.

'Out of bed, Lance! That is getting on!'

'Yes. They thought I should be cooler, and sleep better for it.'

'And are you all alone?' said Clement, hanging over him.

'The maids are about somewhere. Wilmet is gone to the Cathedral,
while Jack got me up.'

'Then you must be a great deal better.'

'Oh yes; I haven't had any of that horrid fever since Friday.'

'And the pain?'

'Better, if I lie quite still and it is not hot, but I couldn't stand
a bit when I tried. I hardly know how Jack carried me here.'

'You are little and light enough,' said Clement; 'but I'll help to
carry you back. I am sorry not to have been here more, Lance, but I
was so much wanted at home.'

'Thank you, I didn't want any one. Jack is such a fellow; and Wilmet--
-somehow, Clem, I never seem to have cared enough about W. W.'

'Nor I, till I saw what home is like without her,' murmured Clement.

'And isn't she beautiful, too?' added Lance; 'it is quite nice to lie
and look at her at work. Don't you think her much better looking than
Alda?'

'If handsome is that handsome does,' said Clement. 'You wouldn't like
me to stay with you instead of Mettie, old chap?'

The helplessly alarmed look of illness came into Lance's eyes. 'Oh
no, no; I couldn't spare Wilmet yet. She doesn't want to go?'

'No; I have said nothing to her; but Cherry is not well, and
everything is at sixes and sevens; but there, never mind,' as the
tears started into the sick boy's eyes, 'we'll manage; I should not
have said anything about it.'

'Please don't,' said Lance. 'If she ought to go, let her, and don't
tell me. I can't help it, Clem; I'm afraid to think if it ought to
be, or I should make my head rage, and I should begin to talk
nonsense again, and that s worst of all.'

'Do you know when you are talking nonsense?' said Clement, surprised,
and eager to lead off from the subject he felt he ought not to have
broached.

'Oh, yes, I know that it is not the right thing, and the right thing
won't come; and the worst of it is,' lowering his already feeble
voice, 'saving one's prayers is hardest of all; I can't remember what
I know best. I couldn't so much as go through the Magnificat if you
were to shoot me.'

'But holloa! They don't generally come out of the Cathedral this way,
do they?'

'Who?'

'The Bishop! Ay, and the Dean! Speaking to Wilmet. I believe they are
coming here. Lie still, Lance.'

'I must,' he acquiesced, after half raising himself and falling back.
'Oh, can it be about the prize? Some of that stuff on my forehead,
please, Clem.'

Wilmet came in first, ascertained that all was ready, put an
arranging touch to Lance's pillows, and ushered in the two
dignitaries, who shook his languid hand, and asked after him kindly.

'You have put the Chapter into great difficulties by disabling
yourself and Harewood,' said the Bishop. 'What! did you not know that
the poor fellow entirely broke down?' as the eager eyes inquired.

'Nobody would tell me anything about it,' said Lance.

'It could not be helped,' continued the Bishop, 'but the examiners
said they felt it a great cruelty when they saw how utterly astray
distress rendered him.  However, his papers and yours were both so
good--his verses especially, and your arithmetic--that it was
impossible to reject them, so the decision was put off till my return
on Saturday.'

'We think,' said the Dean, who was very old, very gentle, and very
slow of speech--'we think, my little fellow, that though there is no
doubt that Shapcote did best in the examination, and ought to have
the exhibition, yet under the peculiar circumstances, you and
Harewood can be retained as choir scholars for another year, so as to
try again. You don't look sixteen, I'm sure, and we should be sorry
to lose your voice.'

'I'm only just turned sixteen,' said Lance, 'only on the 14th of
June. Thank you, sir;--thank you, my Lord;' and his face beamed joy,
though his words faltered.

'Moreover,' proceeded the Bishop, 'I have the greatest pleasure in
giving the good-conduct prize where, so far as I am able to judge, it
has been well deserved.'

A perilous flush of joy overspread the pale face; he started up on
his elbows, and his eyes danced rapture, as some one at the door
handed in the beautiful red morocco quarto of the Cathedral music;
and the Bishop, with a fatherly hand making him lie down again, laid
the book beside him, as he gasped out something like thanks.

'We are quite convinced that you have deserved it,' repeated the
Dean, again shaking hands with him, and then taking leave; but the
Bishop remained, talking kindly to Clement about Cambridge, and
inquiring for Felix; while Wilmet helped Lance's feeble fingers to
turn the thick creamy pages on which he durst not fix his eyes.

Presently the Bishop sat down again, and said, 'I have acted on my
own judgment in giving you this, my boy. I have seen enough of our
choir these six years to know that what caused so much displeasure
was certainly not to be laid to your charge.'

Lance made an uneasy movement, became alarmingly red, and said in a
choked voice, 'I don't know but what it might, my Lord.'

'You mean that you knew of this custom of getting out at night
through the Cathedral!'

'Yes, my Lord; I found out the way.'

There was a silence.

Then the Bishop said, 'After this, I can only leave it to your own
conscience whether you ought to keep this book; but I think you would
do wisely to let me know, remembering that I have no authority in the
school.'

Lance brightened, and he answered, 'My Lord, I did get out once, but
only once, and I don't think I did wrong. It was a long time ago--in
the autumn.'

'Last autumn! Was it not then that there was a report of a chorister
in his shirt sleeves being seen at the Green Man at eleven o'clock at
night?'

'That was I, my Lord.'

Clement was ready to start forward, under the impression that Lance
was talking his 'nonsense;' but the Bishop said, 'You were named, but
nobody believed it for a moment.'

'One of our little fellows was very ill, my Lord,' said Lance,
excitement restoring something of his natural briskness. 'We thought
he was going to have the cholera, and I went to get something for
him. The chemists' shops were shut, so I went in there.'

'May I ask the question,' said the Bishop, rather as if taking a
liberty, 'why did you not call up Mr. Stokes?'

'We couldn't, my Lord, for it was all Mr. Shapcote's swans' eggs. He
caught them--three of our least fellows, I mean--jumping at the
branches that hung over the river wall, and he blackguar--abused them
so that they got into a rage and vowed he shouldn't have a plum left
on the tree. We seniors knew nothing about it; but they got over the
wall at dark, and one ate eighty-five and the other eighty-one; but,
little Dick--one of them, I mean--could only get down nineteen, and
brought the rest in his pockets. It was the first time such a thing
had happened, and it put me in a proper rage. The little one was the
one I found out first; and I thought he was sulky, so I licked him
till he howled, so that I was afraid I'd done him some dreadful harm,
like a regular brute; and when I found it was his inside instead of
his outside, I was so glad, I could have done anything for him. But
we couldn't call Stokes, or the poor little chap would have suffered
for it three times over.'

'That would have been hard measure! And did your remedy succeed?'

'Yes; I think a good deal was fright. He went to sleep on the brandy,
and was all right next day.'

'And the gentlemen with 'the eighty-five and eighty-one suffered no
inconvenience, of course!' said his Lordship, much amused. 'May I
hear how you got out?'

'With Mr. Harewood's key,' said Lance. 'He used to keep it on a nail
inside the study door, which opens into the passage leading into this
court, and is never locked.'

'That is the key of the Cathedral library.'

'Yes, my lord; it unlocks the outer door, and the door into the north
transept.'

'And after that--'

'You can shoot the bolt on the inside of the little side-door at the
west front, and climb over the railing.'

'Boys are animals not to be kept in, that is certain! So you were
pioneer! But you had nothing to do with those cards?'

'No, my Lord. But I ought not to have told how I got out, for there
were some who would do it afterwards. However, those cards were none
of ours.'

'Whose were they!'

'Walter Shapcote's, my Lord. He is gone now, so it does not signify.'

'That nephew Mr. Shapcote had in his office?'

'Yes, my Lord; he had got the command of poor Gus, because he had
lent him money for some debt that Gus was afraid to let his father
know of, and made him get the key, and let him out and in.'

'You all knew of this?'

'Yes, my Lord; but poor Gus was sure that his father would be so
dreadful, that we durst not let out a word. Mr. Shapcote makes every
soul afraid of him.'

'The young man is gone?'

'Yes, my Lord, to London.'

'And there is no danger of the like with Gus?'

'Oh no, my Lord. He's too like a sheep! and now his debt is paid--
after the last concert--he's sure not to get into the same scrape
again.'

'Thank you very sincerely,' said the Bishop. 'It is a great relief to
me to know all this; and it is safe with me. I am only afraid I have
made you talk more than is good for you.'

'And may I keep this, my Lord?' he wistfully asked.

'Indeed you may, my dear boy. If you have transgressed the letter of
discipline, you have kept the spirit of charity. I am glad to keep
you, as well as your voice. But I have tired you out.'

And laying a hand of blessing on his brow, the Bishop took leave,
Wilmet going to the door with him, to answer his fears that the
interview had been too much for her patient, with assurances that the
relief and gratification must do good in the end.

He told her that the threat of the withholding of the prize had not
been made by his authority, and that he had much regretted it. Just
as the tidings of the sun-stroke and its cause had reached him, he
had been with Mr. Nixon, the former Precentor, who had spoken warmly
of Lance, saying that the whole tone of the boys had improved since
his coming, though he was too much of a pickle ever to get the
credit. Wilmet's pleasure was great; but before she could get back,
Lance was nervously calling for her. The excitement was still great,
his head was aching violently, and yet he could not leave off eager
talking, which, as feverishness came on, began to degenerate into
such rambling as terribly frightened Clement lest a relapse should be
coming on. He wanted to hurry off to the doctor at once; but Wilmet,
well knowing he would not be at home, repressed him, and quietly said
she had some draughts ready, and knew what to do. While she was out
of sight, preparing them, a great alarm came over the patient lest
she should have left him; and all the rest of those noonday hours
were spent in a continual restless desire to keep her in view, hold
her hand, and elicit her assurances that she was not going home, nor
going to leave him--no, not on any account. The very presence of his
brother seemed to increase the uneasiness; and in the deepest
humiliation and despair, Clement allowed himself to be invited away
by Captain Harewood to see the process of ice-making, and be so far
comforted that the Bishop's visit was probably far more likely to
have done the mischief than his own rash suggestion, and that there
was no reason to fear it would last many hours. In fact, Lance was
recovering favourably, and had had few drawbacks. 'So I tell
everybody,' said John Harewood, 'especially poor Bill, who is still
ready to break his heart every time Lance has a headache, and would
chatter him to death when he is better. And that's the way with them
all! There seems no one that can be tender and reasonable both at
once, except your sister.'

Clement did full justice to that tenderness, when, out of sight
himself, he had watched Wilmet's soothing firmness and patient
reassuring softness, at last calming the feverish agitation into a
sleep, which he was allowed to see for himself was gentle and
wholesome. Only then--towards four o'clock--could Captain Harewood
persuade her to let him keep guard, while she went to take the food
that had been long waiting for her, and over which she could hear
Clement's penitent explanation of his own unlucky proposal.

'I thought he seemed so well--able to get up and all; and they do
think me a good nurse at St. Matthew's. I nursed Fred Somers almost
entirely when he had the scarlet fever.' (Wilmet looked as if she
pitied St. Matthew's.) 'But of course I see now that it is out of the
question.'

'Entirely so,' said Wilmet, too kind to remind him of the
qualifications he had evinced.

'And you cannot guess when he can come home?'

'Not in the least. Even if he could be moved, think of the noisiness
of our house!'

Clement groaned. 'It was very wrong in me to speak to him before you,
Wilmet,' he said; 'but I should be thankful if you could tell me what
is to be done! Cherry was thoroughly chilled that evening of the
thunderstorm, and has been very poorly ever since.'

'She always feels changes of weather.'

'That's what Alda tells you. She won't believe there is anything the
matter; but poor Cherry has had rheumatic pain all over her, and her
bad ankle seems to have a bit of bone coming out. Sibby thinks so.
Now, ought she not to have her doctor?'

'Well! if--I wish I could be quite sure! It is such an unlucky thing
that she has that dislike to Mr. Rugg.'

'Wilmet! You are as bad as Alda!'

'Clement,' she answered gently, 'you do not know what it is to have
to reckon the expense. There is Felix's journey; and what this
illness may cost, I cannot guess; and now Cherry! It is not that I
grudge it; but I don't see what is to become of any of us if we spend
unnecessarily--or necessarily either, for that matter.'

'I thought her doctor didn't charge.'

'He did not when she was at St. Faith's, but at home it is a
different thing; but, of course, if it be really needful it cannot be
helped.'

'And you couldn't come home and see--even for one hour?'

'Not yet, most certainly.'

'I think I had better write to Sister Constance!'

'If you really do find it impossible to get on, and Cherry is more
than just ailing, and--and fractious' (the word came out at last); 'I
don't like always calling for help, it seems presuming on kindness,
and Robina will be helpful when she comes home; but no doubt Alda
does not know what to do,' she added, in a deliberating tone.

'Then you authorise me?'

'I don't know what you mean by authorising.'

'Only that Alda will neither do anything herself, nor let any one
else do it.'

'Poor Alda! It is a hard time for her, and she is not used to it. I
am afraid she is out of her element among you all. Don't be vexed,
Clem; you all ought to make allowances for her.'

'I make allowances from morning to night,' said Clement. 'I wonder
how many Travis will have to make!'

Wilmet had finished her hasty meal, and wanted to get back to her
patient, so she only protested by a reproving look and shake of the
head; while Clement stood disconcerted, but less surprised than if he
had not been familiar with the part of the family Cassandra.




CHAPTER XVIII

BY THE RIVER



'And Lancelot look'd, and was perplext in mind;
 And being weak in body, said no more.'
                                  TENNYSON.


It was a lovely afternoon, and the sun shone outside the green
tracery of a hornbeam alley in the Deanery garden, leading from the
cloister to the river. Here lay Lancelot, on the long cushion of a
sofa, while Wilmet sat stitching at the last of the set of collars
that would always bring so many recollections. For this was a
Saturday afternoon, and on the Monday Lance was to go to Ewmouth to
join Felix, who was to have his holiday extended another month on
that account. Alda, who had had a quarter's allowance from her uncle,
had made this possible; and Wilmet was doubly gratified by its having
been her twin's gift and thought.

Wilmet would of course go home, and she found herself almost
regretting the close of a time that had of late been very pleasant.
She had not felt, as Geraldine would have done, the romance of living
in the old monastic buildings, in the calm shadow of the grand old
minster; yet something of the soothing of the great solemn quiet
rested upon the spirit that had--since six years old--never known
freedom from responsibility, and--since fifteen--had borne the
burthen of household economies and of school teaching. It was a
strange novelty to have meals provided without care of her own, no
shortcomings of servants to make up, no claimant for her attention
save a solitary patient, and that one with Lance's temper. Wilmet had
undergone a good deal from Alda's clashes with the rest, even Felix's
was only a temper well in hand, and alternate fretfulness and
penitence were regarded by her as part and parcel of Geraldine's
ailments; so that it was almost a surprise that her present
convalescent never visited his discomforts upon her, but was always
patient and good-humoured, smiling whenever he could, like his father
before him, as if, according to the pretty Spanish saying, the sun
had shone on his cradle at his birth. His unselfish nature had made
him a little uneasy when with cooler senses he remembered Clement's
hint, while love and instinct alike made him feel utterly unable to
dispense with his motherly sister, but when she had assured him that
nothing could make him leave him as yet, and when Sister Constance
was known to be at Bexley, he threw it from his mind, and was
perfectly happy and contented.

He could still exert no attention, could neither read nor be read to,
nor occupy himself in any way; but he was amused by talk around him,
and companionship was never lacking. Wilmet, whose forte had never
been conversation, found herself in a stream of small talk with
inquiring friends of all degrees in the hierarchy; but was most at
her ease when the female Harewoods were prattling good-humoured
inconsequent chatter. Willie lying on the grass murmuring with Lance,
or John lured into stories of Indian surveying adventures in the
cause of the Ordnance Map. And when she was carried off to have her
meals with the family, she had put herself so entirely at the mercy
of circumstances, that she never seemed scandalised by their crazy
unpunctuality, their wonderful free and easy ways, and customs of
putting things to every use but the right, did not censure Grace or
Lucy for dawdling and gossiping whole mornings away, and took it
naturally when their mother inquired after her eldest brother by the
alternate names of Festus and Frank, and when she mentioned Lance's
disaster as his coup d'etat. And here was the last of these pleasant
afternoons, full of still sweet sounds, midsummer hum above, the soft
ripple of the water close by, the cawing of the rooks in the Close--
all such peace, that her heart quailed as she looked forward to the
din of the High Street at Bexley, and she strangled a sigh half way
up her throat.

The click of the cloister door was heard, and Lance awoke from a
doze, saying, 'Is that Bill?--You've not been here since morning, you
vagabone.'

'See what I've got for you,' said Bill. 'What do you say for that,
now?'

For Lance, with sparkling eyes, was rising to his feet. 'Hurrah!
Robin herself! O Robin a Bobbin, isn't this jolly?' and Robina was
entangled in that wonderful embrace peculiar to their own two selves,
too ecstatic for a word between them, though as she received her
sister's kiss, she spoke rather pleadingly--'Cherry and Sister
Constance said I might, Wilmet; and Mrs. Harewood was so very kind as
to send Willie to fetch me to spend Sunday. Do you mind, Wilmet?'

'Mind! Of course she doesn't,' said Lance. 'I was hungry to see you,
Bob.'

'It was very kind in Mrs. Harewood,' said Wilmet. 'I must go and
thank her. Only, first, how is Cherry?'

'Much better. She has been out for a drive with Mr. Froggatt. It will
be all right now you are coming home, Mettie! Oh! and Dr. Lee is
delighted to hear of Lance's going to Ewmouth to make Felix stay
longer there. Oh! if ever anything was so delightful as this place!
only I must see your prize, Lancey.'

As the two children linked their arms round one another's waists to
walk along the alley, all-sufficient to one another, maybe there shot
a little pang across Wilmet's breast. No one had raptures for her.
She was Felix's housekeeper, and represented mother to all; but since
Alda had been taken from her, she had ceased to be any one's perfect
equal and delight. She might be valued, but only like air, or bread,
or any other necessary of life, but she was foremost with no one.
Lance had been everything to her, and she to Lance, for full four
weeks; but she should never awaken the look on his face she had seen
for Robin. Such thoughts as these had never troubled her before; it
had been quite enough to know herself indispensable to all, and there
was no time for sentiment; but this strange time of nursing had
inspired a new sensation of yearning, a softness and melancholy, that
she strove against vainly as weak and unnatural.

The change had not been unperceived by Lance; for as his little
sister, looking at his sunken cheeks, and feeling his thin bony hand,
poured out her pity, he answered, 'I've had rather a jolly time of it
of late; Mettie is so delicious, you can't think how her very voice
and eyes seemed to do me good. I'm sure that the bella-donna lily,
cold hard painted thing, was a mistake; she must have been something
much sweeter. What do you think of a honeysuckle? That's bright red
and white, and its leaves come out when nothing else does.'

'But it trails about, and doesn't stand alone.'

'It has got a good stout hard stem, that can make a bush of its own
when it hasn't anything to twine upon. I say, Robin, that's just what
you women-folk should be, always ready to twine, and yet able to
stick up for yourselves when you've got nothing to hang upon.'

'Well, if Wilmet was the honeysuckle, I'm sure Alda wasn't. O Lance,
it has been so horrid coming home without any one I wanted, and all
so queer and uncomfortable. I would as soon have been at school, or
sooner, for there I had home to think about.'

'The last holidays weren't first-rate,' said Lance.

'No; but then I'd got you!'

'I wish Dr. Manby would prescribe you to come with me,' said Lance.

'It's something to have this little sight! And here! I wanted to give
this back, Lance.'

'Ah!' as he took the key of the violin-case, 'We'll take a look at
her, Robin, to see if she's quite well; but I couldn't make her
speak, it would be like sticking daggers through my head.'

'Poor little key! I looked at it so often when you were so bad, and
grieved to think you had missed all that pleasure. Only it was a
comfort to know you had been so good about it.'

'I am glad you took it, Robin; I know I should have grown idle if I
had had it. Depend on it, 'twas that gave me this year of grace and
the Bishop's prize.'

'Oh! come and show me that! I hope it is not packed up.'

'No; I wanted to take it to show Felix, but Mettie says it is too
big, and would come to grief. What prizes have you, Robin?'

'Three. General good marks, catechism, and history--beautiful books.'

'Then the avenging harpies have forgiven you?'

'Pretty well; and they were very kind when you were ill, and the
girls are much nicer; I am glad we stayed on, except for Angel's
sake. Do you know, Lance, I really am afraid she is going in for
naughtiness.'

'Give a dog an ill name--' quoted Lance. 'Is that it?'

'I do believe it is that! She is such a Tom-boy! Fancy! One
afternoon, there was an awful uproar, and her class were all found
playing at races, some riding astride with handkerchiefs round the
forms, which they had named after the real horses; and the others
pretending to bet on them, with their books in their hands, shouting
out at the top of their voices.'

'Go it, Angel,' said Lance, laughing; 'that's the way Clem's sisters
improve the tone of the school.'

Robina still looked distressed, but that was soon forgotten in
visiting Lance's quarters, and admiring his books, peeping
respectfully at his silent violin, and being lionised as far as his
strength would permit. They were hand in hand the whole evening, till
be was sent to bed, and his sisters were claimed by the Harewoods.

The Cathedral was resuming its usual voices on the Sunday morning,
and when the early bell brought Wilmet from her room, she found Lance
up and dressed, his little black gown on, and his trencher cap in his
hand.

'That's nice!' he said in admiration, as she advanced in her fresh
white pique and blue ribbons. 'O Mettie, I'm so glad this isn't my
last time here!' and he added, as she bent over him and kissed him,
not quite able to speak, 'Please, Mettie, I beg your pardon for all
the times I have been tiresome or cross.'

'My dear little boy--' She broke down, and finished with another
kiss, for Robina was at hand, shy in her thankfulness, and clinging
to Lance's hand; but as Will Harewood followed, grave and subdued,
Lance went up to him, and put his arm into his. Mr. Harewood, the
Captain, and Lucy, were all likewise there; but the greetings were
silent, and then Mr. Harewood led them all through the library, and
was followed by the two boys to the sacristy; for though the
celebration was not choral, all those of the choir who were present
were always robed. Wilmet hardly liked not to keep her boy beside
her, but she could not be sorry when she saw the two friends once
more heading the little procession together; and with such happy
grave faces, though so different: one broad, ruddy, sandy; the other
fair, wasted, delicate, the hollow cheeks scarcely more coloured than
the white linen, and yet with a pure fresh air of bright hope and
recovery.

The Cathedral was nobly and calmly beautiful in the summer morning;
the sunbeams high up in the slender brilliant windows that crowned
the east, and the voice sounding low and solemn in the distance at
the Altar. To Wilmet and Robina it was a great deal more than the
joyous festival they had last shared in there, even though then they
had exulted in their brother's jubilant notes; and now he scarcely
breathed a faint response, left his book unopened, and knelt in the
dreamy passiveness of one incapable of actions of the mind, but too
simply happy and thankful to doubt of his welcome. In his place,
Clement would have distressed himself and his advisers over this
inability to perform his usual mental exercises of devotion; but
Lance never seemed to question but that he ought to lay himself
before the Altar in thankfulness as soon as he was able, as certain
of being welcomed there, as by the kind hands that shook his in the
sacristy.

He came to breakfast afterwards at the Harewoods', to put an end to
his invalid ways; but the clatter soon was too much for him; and he
spent the chief part of the day lying on his bed, able now to follow
dreamily the echoes from the minster, the full glories of which his
sisters were enjoying. There was afterwards a rush of his choir mates
to shake hands with him; and little Dick Graeme, a delicate, sallow,
black-eyed boy, in whom Wilmet believed she recognised the hero of
the swans' eggs, could not be got rid of the whole day. He lived at a
farm three miles off, and had been sent in to take his part on the
Sunday; indeed, he had often been at the door to inquire, but had
only been allowed momentary glimpses of Lance, whom he followed about
like a little dog, till at last, late in the evening, the proposal
was started of walking him down to the river, along which lay the
path leading to his home.

It was a charming summer evening when they set forth; the three
Underwoods, the two Harewood brothers, and little Graeme, slowly
moving along, Robina in ecstasies with the loose-strife and forget-
me-nots, and the boys absorbed in fish and water-rats, till Bill,
holding Robin a little back, pointed to a pollard, and told her in a
low hoarse voice, 'That was where I left those verses.'

'There!' Robina tried to measure with her eye the distance, which
looked immense for such a run. She could not speak; but little Dick
turned--

'Ay, 'twas a jolly run in the time. Spyers and I tried it, and both
got blown; but nobody runs like Underwood.'

'Well, it does look a goodish distance,' said Lance. 'And Robin, do
you know, it all came of this fellow being too good a poet. He
thought it was the Tiber, you know.'

'The subject was the Tiber, wasn't it?'

'Ay; and Bill here got to spouting about Horace Cocles till he didn't
know, nor I either, whether we were heathen Romans or not. It was a
mercy he didn't go home in Cocles' costume.'

Bill did not laugh. He seemed to forget everything, bystanders and
all, and threw his arm round his friend's neck. 'O Lancey, don't say
a word more. If you only could guess what--what this month has been
like to me! And now to see you standing here, like your dear old self
again! Oh! if I could only--' and he broke off and rushed away behind
the tree, where they heard him sobbing.

Lance shrugged his shoulders. 'Poor old Bill! he _will_ treat himself
as if he did it on purpose, but he'll be better now he's had it out.
But d'ye see, I can't go no farther now. So you, Dick, be off. Spare
the feelings of your dutiful parents, and get home in Christianable
time.'

'I say please, Underwood, may I have the bed by yours next half?'

'That's not as it pleases Underwood, but Mrs. Drake; but look here,
Graeme, there's a little brat of a new treble coming into our
dormitory. You stand his friend, and speak to Harewood if Bolt takes
to bullying him.'

'But you'll be back?' said the child, his face all consternation.

'I hope so; but for fear of accidents, you know. Good night, Dick,
and thank your mater for those stunning raspberries.'

'That's a good dodge,' said Will Harewood, emerging, 'to keep the
little ape from bullying the little one himself. But you will be able
to come back, Lance; 'tis as dull as ditch-water without you.'

'I shall be glad enough to come back,' said Lance, 'and make the most
of this year. I didn't know how I cared for this place. There's
nothing like it!' and he leant against a tree, looking back at the
Cathedral, where the sunbeams were 'weaving a parting crown' for the
tall tower, and the soft grey of the exquisite stone-work of the
chapter-house contrasted with the fresh green of the trees, rising up
from the sparkling river and emerald meadows. Presently he burst out,
'You beautiful old thing, and did you hush your grand glorious old
voice only for me? I should like to be your own, and to serve you for
ever!'

The other two felt a little awed at the outburst, and possibly Lance
a little ashamed, for he suddenly started from his tree trunk,
crying, 'I'm sure we ought to go home. However there are Jack and
Mettie on beyond ever so far.' And he elevated his voice in a coo-ee,
after what he believed to be Australian fashion; but his weakness
prevailed, and he laughed at his own want of power to shout much
above his breath. 'You do it, Bill.'

'Not I! Coo-ee indeed? 'Tis coo-coo there, river and moonlight and
all.'

At one and the same moment, Lance exclaimed, 'Jack and Mettie!
Thunder and ages!' and Robina, 'For shame, Willie!' while that
personage cut a caper, at once expressive of affirmation and
amusement at their surprise.

'After all,' sagaciously observed Lance, 'I'm not so much surprised.
I think I've made a pretty good Cupid.'

'You believe it, then?' cried Robina.

'Bless you,' affirmed Willie, 'we've been roasting Jack about it for
the last fortnight--only the pater was so awfully afraid of your
sister's hearing it, that he said any one who breathed the ghost of a
joke near her should be shipped off to old Aunt Grace that instant.'

'Well, they have my consent and blessing,' said Lance.

'Amen,' responded his friend.

'Ho!' continued Lance, 'that's the meaning of old W. W. being so
jolly. I wondered whether it was only that I thought so because I had
nothing to do but to look at her.'

'Oh, you know she is a real true beauty and no mistake,' said Bill,
beginning to feel a personal pride in her; 'there's Miles raving
about her, and every one runs about saying, "Have you seen little
Underwood's handsome sister?" Half the folks that came to ask after
you did it to get a look at her; and if she stayed a week longer, she
might have a dozen offers, only luckily Jack cut in first.'

'Well, I'm glad she is even with Alda,' was Lance's next sentiment.

'That's the one that is booked for the Red Indian you converted,
ain't it?' asked Bill. 'Fact, Robina; we heard a new fellow was
coming who had converted a Cherokee, and that the Bishop had
christened him in his war paint and feathers. Mrs. Shapcote sent out
invitations to a missionary tea in honour of him.'

'What, of the Cherokee?'

'No, no, of the little brute of a missionary chap, and we made up our
minds to tar and feather him before he converted us; but long before
we had found out which of the new trebles was the model Christian,
old Shapcote had caught us two pitching into one another, because I
said Bexley was a snobbish place full of pots and pans.'

'And that founded your friendship?'

'No, not quite, for we had a worse fight because I shut his Bible up
in his face when he tried to look over the Lessons in the Cathedral.'

'Why, you all do,' said Robina.

'Yes, now; but before Nixon came we were a horrid set of little
ruffians. Do you remember, Lance, how Roper offered you a bull's-eye
in the Cathedral, and thrashed you afterwards because you wouldn't
have it?'

'O Lance! but that was persecution!' cried Robina. 'Who would have
thought you went through things like that?'

'Ay,' said Bill, 'you believed in the little cherub chorister boys,
that sing and look out of their great violet eyes, till they die of
declines.'

'Ah!' said Lance, who was leaning on his arm rather wearily, 'Jack
will do for himself if he tells Wilmet her eyes are violet; it is
like a red rag to a bull.'

'Yes,' said Robina, 'she says nobody ever had eyes the colour of
violets, and they would be hideous if they were.'

'I have seen them,' said Willie, gravely.

'Oh! where?' cried Robina. 'Darker blue than Edgar's?'

'It's generally only one at a time.'

'After a cricket match, eh?' suggested Lance.

'But, depend upon it,' said Bill, while Robina was recovering her
laughing disgust, 'he may tell her her eyes are any colour he pleases
by this time.'

'How do you know that?' sharply protested Robin; 'as if she would
care for him more than for all of us, who can't spare her either!'

'I thought you were thick and plenty up the country?'

'Not of that sort,' said Lance.

'I don't believe it,' insisted Robina; 'why, she had never seen him a
few weeks ago; she can't have had time to get to like him.'

'That's your simplicity,' said Bill. 'Now ain't that oracular--I mean
ocular--demonstration? There they are, very moral of people making
fools of themselves in books.'

I wish they'd have done with it, then,' sighed Lance; 'my legs won't
hold out much longer.'

'Yes, you must go in,' said Robin, bringing her sturdy shoulders for
his other arm to rest on.

'But those two!' said Lance. 'Some one must stay to make it
respectable. Don't laugh, you vagabone, you shake up the marrow of my
bones; I'm her brother, and bound to see to her.'

'I'll stay out with Willie if that will make it right,' said Robina,
'only you must go to bed, and you have to be up so early too.'

So they saw him to the Bailey door, beyond which he declined further
assistance, saying he could tumble into bed alone, and leaving them
to their pleasant task of making propriety.

It was made after this sort. Bill delivered himself of a deep sigh,
and observed, 'Well! if she's done for, I suppose I must take up with
you; and after all, you're the jolliest.'

'I shall never be jolie, like Wilmet, if that's what you mean,'
said Robina, not quite understanding whether it were jest or earnest.

'Well, if you ain't a regular stunner like her, it doesn't much
matter. I never did see a face that I liked better than your round
one, and I know I shall like it more and more. Won't you have me,
Robina, one of these days?'

'O Willie! oughtn't one to wait till we are old enough to think about
it?'

'I don't see why. I shall always be thinking I'm working for you, and
I don't see why you shouldn't think the same of me. Won't you?' again
he repeated. 'At least, of course I shall do all the work for you.'

'Oh no! I should not like that. I had rather be doing something for
you, Willie. Look here, I am learning all I can now, and when I go
out--'

'Go out?'

'For a governess.'

'Murther! I'll hinder that!'

'But, Willie, you can't make a fortune in five years, and I shall go
out at eighteen. I think I shall begin the fortune soonest;' and she
laughed merrily.

'Mother didn't make a fortune.'

'I didn't mean that exactly; but I'm learning all the superior
branches, and if I got a hundred a year! Think of that, Will! If I
went on with that till you are a clergyman and have a living, how
nice it would be! There would be plenty to give away; and if we were
poor, I would take girls to teach.'

'Do you think I shall ever let you do all the work that way?' said
Will, strong in boyhood's infinite possibilities. 'I don't know how
it's to be, but I'll keep you out of slaving, though you're a dear
girl to think of it. Any way, Robin, you and I will hold together--
always.'

'I am sure I shall never like anybody half so much,' said Robin.

'Shall we break a sixpence and keep the halves? That's the thing,
ain't it? I believe I've got one--or fourpence, which is all the
same.'

'No, no,' said Robina, backing; 'I don't think Mettie would like it.
It doesn't seem right.'

'But aren't you in earnest. Robin?'

'Oh yes, indeed, indeed I am;' from the depths of a very earnest
childish heart that little knew to what it pledged itself.

'And so am I! I'll never care for any one else, Robina--never.'

'Nor I, William. Here they come!'

The other two had not got near so far, though Captain Harewood was
talking, and Wilmet listening, as would never have been the case
without the influence Willie asserted; but the special charm that
enchained Wilmet was entirely unapprehended by her, till just as the
first star brightened, and the hues faded from the landscape, she
bethought her of her patient, and perceived that he had gone in. 'How
late it must be! I must go and see after him. I hope he is equal to
the journey.'

'I will come and bring you an account of him on my way home, if I
may.'

'Oh, thank you; but it is taxing your goodness too--too much.'

'Cannot you believe how glad I am to have a good excuse?' and the
tone gave Wilmet a sudden thrill, so that she answered not; and he
continued, 'I am going to beg leave to be sometimes at Bexley.'

'When Felix is at home,' faltered Wilmet.

'I can hardly afford to wait. My time at home is so short. I shall, I
hope, make friends with him to-morrow, and perhaps you will neither
of you forbid me to come again. I am asking nothing now, only
opportunity to try to make you--'

'Oh, don't!' hurriedly broke in Wilmet, standing still in
consternation.

'Nay,' he said in a pleading voice, 'I know it would be presumption
to think so short an acquaintance could suffice, but you see I have
so little time, and all I want is leave to use it in coming to see
you.'

'Oh, don't!' she repeated. 'Indeed you had better not. It would be
only pain. I couldn't! and I can't have Felix worried,' and there was
a startled sob in her voice; but he answered with the strength and
sweetness that had upheld her in Lance's most suffering moments.

'I would not distress you or Felix for more than words can utter! I
would not have breathed a hint of this most earnest wish of my heart
till you had had some preparation, if it were not so impossible
otherwise to have any chance of being with you and striving--'

'Please,' entreated Wilmet, 'that is just what should be avoided; it
can never come to anything, and the sooner it is stopped the better.'

'Why should it never come to anything?' he asked, encouraged by
detecting tears in her voice.

'Because you know--no, you don't know, or you never could think of
such a thing--how wrong and impossible it would be for me!'

'No, I don't know. That is what I want to have the opportunity of
knowing.'

'I can tell you before,' she answered, faintly. 'Oh, if you would but
take my word for it, it would save so much--'

'No, that I cannot do,' he repeated. 'I must see for myself your
preciousness at home.'

She broke in again. 'Please, please, I'm saying what I ought not; but
it is to hinder distress. Don't want to let us get to like each other
any better, for as yet it can't be more than what could be got over,
and it is only making pain to let it grow.'

'That I deny. So far as I am concerned, the thing is done. If you
wanted to save me that pain, you should have turned me out the moment
I saw you call the boy back to life. A month like this is not so
easily got over.'

Wilmet dropped her head, and made no answer.

'So, since you see,' he continued, 'you will spare me nothing by
holding me aloof, will you not let me come and gladden myself while I
may in your presence? And then when my time is up it may be more
possible to judge--' (there was a faint 'Oh no,' but he heeded it
not) '--whether you can bear such an ugly fellow enough to let him
look to the time when home claims may be less pressing. I look for no
answer. I only want to be able to ask for one three months hence, and
I shall beg your brother to put it into my power so to do.'

'Ah! but to have Felix disturbed and worried is just what must not
be. It has made him ill already; and if he thought--'

'I promise not to harass him,' said Captain Harewood, gently. 'You
may trust me to take care that what I shall say will not cause him
any very trying perplexity.'

'If you knew--' sighed Wilmet.

'I hope to know,' he replied. 'I do know enough already to be aware
that you stand in no common relation to the rest; and if you have my
heart, Wilmet, it must follow that somehow I share in your self-
devotion. Do not fear my trying to make you less yourself. I want not
to take you away from your burthens, but to share them.'

'Yes, you--that is your goodness; but would it be right in us?' she
faltered.

'Leave your brother and me to judge of that,' he said.

They were already at the Bailey door, in the shadow of the buildings,
the flood of moonlight lying on the tower above, and one little
mysterious lamp under the deep brow of the archway of the passage. No
more passed but one 'good-night' from each, he had not even seen her
face, under her shady hat; while she hastened to her little room,
glad to ascertain that Lance was fast asleep, and with a rush of new
sensations bursting on her, against which she was strengthening all
the dykes of her resolute nature. 'He--he--that it should be he! how
good! how generous! how kind! Oh, it would be so happy! It _will_
make me happy that he only just thought of it, but it won't do, it is
no use. I'm not in love with him; I won't be, I'm not, I'm not!'

And as ardently as Wilmet had ever prayed for Lance's life and reason
by that little bed, did she beseech not to be tempted to desert her
duties; and all night she lay between sleep and waking, ever
repeating to herself. 'I'm not in love, I'm not, I'm not!'




CHAPTER XIX

THE HOUSE WITHOUT PILLARS



'And who save she could soothe the boy,
 Or turn his tears to tears of joy?'
                             SAMUEL ROGERS.


Lance's train was at six o'clock, and that by which the sisters were
to return to Bexley so little later, that they would await it at the
station, so the household was betimes more or less afoot. There was a
frenzied scramble of maids and young ladies in hasty toilette; yet
breakfast was only forthcoming by personal exertion on the part of
the Captain, who made the coffee, boiled the eggs, and sent his
brother foraging into the kitchen. Then a message came that mother
must see the sweet girl to bid her good-bye; and Wilmet was dragged
up to find the paddy good natured face in bed, in an immense frilled
nightcap, whence two horn-like curl papers protruded. She was kissed,
cried over, and told she was the dearest girl, and Jack the best boy,
in the four kingdoms; and while her head was turning round between
dizziness at all that this cordiality implied, and a governess's
confusion whether these were the four kingdoms of Ireland, or
England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, a demand followed for the
darling boy; but when she had gravely told the Captain that his
mother wanted him, the result was to send him down laughing. 'No, no,
I'm not the only darling boy in the world! 'Tis you, Lance. You know
the way.'

Between finding her in bed, and being powerfully embraced, Lance's
sense of decorum brought him down with his blanched cheeks so rosy
red, that the family were choking with suppressed mirth when the
omnibus called for the luggage, and the party set forth to walk to
the station, Lance in a grass hat, enfolded by the Captain's hands in
an ample puggery, and provided with a natty blue umbrella, presented
by the Librarian, 'as a shield against the far-darting Apollo.'

'If this had been in my day,' he said, 'some wit would have produced
a neat epigram on Phoebus playing his old tricks out of jealousy of
Will's verses, but dainty feats of scholarship are gone out of date.
Well, Patroclus, when we have you back again, I think we shall none
of us mourn over the effects of your generous action.'

Wilmet was near enough to hear, and colour. She had imagined the last
night's conversation unknown to all; but Underwood reticence was so
incapable of guessing at Harewood communicativeness, that it never
entered her brain to suspect the topic of conversation between the
three juniors as they walked up the drowsy street.

Thanks to the difficulties of getting under weigh from the Harewood
house, there was barely time for John and Lance to take their places,
while Mr. Harewood got their tickets, and they were whirled off,
leaving the others to promenade the platform, just then a complete
solitude.

Mr. Harewood, with the attention of the old school, backed by
something warmer, gave Wilmet his arm. He and his son John never
seemed to belong to so ramshackle a household as the rest, and he was
so gentle and fatherly, that when Wilmet found him aware of all, it
was a relief to tell her objections without being answered by a
lover. After all, she could only repeat that leaving home was so
impossible for her, that, as she murmured, 'He had better not get to
like me any more, it would be such a pity for him.'

'That,' said Mr. Harewood, with his air of old-fashioned gallantry,
'depends on the esteem in which wealth or merit is held.'

'And station,' said Wilmet, in an undertone.

'For that, my dear, one would be a fool not to honour you and your
brother; besides, it may make you more at ease to hear that my father
was an apparitor, and I went to Oxford as a servitor, so that in
birth you have the advantage of us. Of course, I do not mean that
every one does not in the abstract prefer prosperous matches, but
John has a fair independent competence, and can afford to do as he
pleases; and, for my part, I should be very sorry if this were not
what he pleased.'

'You are so very kind, but surely if--even if--it must be such long
waiting, and you would not like that for him.'

'Let us arrive at the _if_ before we settle about the waiting,' said
Mr. Harewood. 'In truth, I have long looked on John as so much the
most sensible person in my house, that all I feel called on to do is
to hope for his success. I know both you and he will be wise enough
not to be either selfish or unselfish in the wrong place.'

Wilmet did not quite understand, but she carried away the conviction
that she need have no scruple as to the parents' cordial approbation;
and she had had her cure from yesterday's sense of want of individual
affection. As to the future? Of course it swelled her heart to think
of such love and generous kindness, but she tried to believe that she
was as much touched by the goodness of the father as by that of the
son, and she would be on her guard against herself unless she saw
some reasonable hope that home would ever dispense with her. Dear
Wilmet; would she not at any other time have thought it an outrage to
think of such a possibility? At any rate, she thought, nobody but
Felix need ever know.

Little guessed she, as Robina sat opposite, kept silent by the
presence of two stout old females, that the child was revolving the
question whether she might tell Cherry. She knew that Wilmet would
not like her affairs to be discussed without her own permission; but
it seemed unfair that when all the Harewoods were open-mouthed, her
own sister should know nothing. After all, much would depend on the
chances of a tete-a-tete.

At the station stood Clement: 'That's right! I thought you would come
by this train. What a comfort! How is Lance?'

'Almost well. How are you getting on?'

'You will soon see for yourself,' in an ominous tone.

Just then she was accosted by Mr. Ryder, who was waiting for his own
train; and after courteous and anxious inquiries, said, 'I was
thinking of writing to your eldest brother, but perhaps a word from
you would do as well.'

'About Bernard?'

'Why, yes, I don't quite see my way about him. He is a sharp little
fellow, and very well taught; in fact, he can afford to do nothing
but waste time. Somehow, a boy will now and then seem to come into
school with the wrong foot foremost.'

'Has he fallen in with idle boys?'

'So I fear. I placed him in a form high for his age, but where the
lags have got hold of him, and make him think idleness the thing. So
I gather. I conclude he is not to remain here?'

'Do you mean that you wish him to be taken away?' asked Wilmet, in
consternation.

'No, no; don't understand it in that sense,' said Mr. Ryder,
anxiously. 'I only meant that he is doing no good here, and that
possibly a change, or the stimulus of preparing for an examination,
might rouse him. Good-bye.'

And there Mr. Ryder had to rush off to secure his seat.

'Oh! good morning, Miss Underwood!' This was from Mr. Mowbray Smith,
a few steps beyond the station. 'I am glad to see you back. So your
patient is gone to join your eldest brother? But we shall have you
here on Sunday? Then there's the less occasion to name it; but some
notice should be taken of the behaviour yesterday evening.'

'It was very sad,' interposed Clement, 'but when once set off by the
christening, they could not stop themselves.'

'Scarcely a valid excuse,' said Mr. Smith, severely, as he made his
parting bow. 'You know this was not all.'

Clement shrugged his shoulders, exclaiming, 'So he made that into a
personality! You must know there was an unusually squalling baby,
whose godmother went on giving its name as Huggeny; and there was a
five minutes' exchange of "What?" on Mr. Smith's side, and Huggeny on
hers, till a whisper came all along--forwarded from the mother, I
suppose--"Same as they does their 'air"; and then Mr. Smith looked
more mystified than ever; some one suggested, "Same as the Empress of
the French."'

'Something might be excused on such provocation,' owned Wilmet,
laughing.

'If that had been all,' said Clement; 'but Angel and Bernard choose
to go and sit by themselves, and I could see, from Felix's place in
the choir, that they were tittering long after. I shook my head, but
Nares must needs make up an odious imitation; and Bernard not only
touches Angel to make her look, but grins impudently at me. I found
myself growing burning hot with shame, and whenever they looked at me
their heads went down and their shoulders worked.'

'Naughty children,' said Wilmet, but with more than usual lenience to
the combined effects of Huggeny and of Clement's severe countenance
in producing one of those paroxysms of giggle that seem invincible in
proportion to their unbecomingness. The door was reached and
instantly opened, Stella springing into her arms in ecstasy.
'Sister's come!--O Sister, Sister, Sister, don't ever go away any
more.'

There was a great deal of confused kissing and embracing as she made
her way upstairs. 'But oh, my Tedo, what has happened?' for she
beheld a fine sample of Bill Harewood's violet eye.

'It was Bernard's stick went into his eye when we were playing at
hockey,' said Stella. 'He did cry terribly, but Sister Constance put
such nice stuff--'

'Sister Constance! oh, thank you! but hockey in the garden?'

'I thought it rather a remarkable proceeding,' quietly observed the
Sister.

'I must hear more about it,' said Wilmet. 'My poor dear little man,
can't he let Sister go for one instant?--Cherry dear, how are you?'

'All right now you are come. But dear little Lance, how is he
looking?'

'Not much worse than you do, my Cherry,' said Wilmet, as she saw that
the wizened old fairy look was come back. 'You have been worse than I
knew.'

'Oh, I am all right now; and I have had such a treat of Sister
Constance.'

'I want to take her back with me,' said the Sister. 'Dr. Lee would
like to have her under his eye; and if you can spare her, I would
write to-day, and she could go with me to-morrow.'

'It is very kind; it might be better for her.'

'Of course,' interrupted Alda, 'it is good for any one to be away
from this horrid smell of baked earth, and all these riotous
children.'

'Ah!' said Wilmet; 'didn't I see the shade of the lamp in the
landing-place broken? How was that!'

'Oh! the children, of course,' said Alda.

But neither child spoke; and Wilmet perceived that only the twins
were in the room, both hanging upon her, while she swallowed her
hurried second breakfast.

'No one will tell,' said Clement. 'It was done the day I went over to
Minsterham. I did all I could to find out.'

'Yes; and made them more obstinate than before,' said Alda.

Another catastrophe here suddenly struck Wilmet, namely, a long and
very badly-mended rent in Stella's spotted pink frock, which, to say
the truth, did not look as if it were Monday morning.

'Yes,' said Stella, 'I did try to mend it as well as I could, Sister,
but there wasn't another work-a-day frock clean.'

'Your mending!' exclaimed Wilmet; 'but how did you tear it?'

'When I tumbled into the brambles, and was lost.'

'Lost, my dear? What does she mean?'

'It is quite true,' said Cherry. 'Angela and Bernard took her out
fishing to Ball's hatch on Saturday, and lost her, only luckily we
did not know anything about it till she was safe at home again, dear
little darling!'

'But, Stella, how was it?' cried the horrified Wilmet, clasping her
the closer.

'I could not bear to see the poor worms,' said Stella. 'Bear would
cut them up to stick on his hook, so I got away out of sight of them,
and gathered the dear little wild roses and honeysuckles; and when I
wanted to find them again I couldn't, and nobody heard me when I
called, and a robin looked at me, and I thought he wanted to bury me,
and I ran away, and a great bush caught hold of me and scratched my
legs, and tore out a great piece of the rim of my hat; and just then
a good lady came by, and helped me up and to look for them, but we
could not see them anywhere; so she took me to her house--such a dear
little house all over roses--and she mended my hat, and I mended my
frock, and she gave me some tea and plum-cake, and two dear little
ponies came to the door, and a carriage, and she brought me home.'

'Who was she?'

'Miss Crabbe; she is new to the place,' said Cherry. 'Mr. Froggatt
said she had only been once in the shop before. Tell Sister how you
told her about yourself, Stella.'

'She asked my name,' said the child, 'and she said it was a very
funny one, and she could not understand it; and then she wanted to
know whose little girl I was, and I said, "Brother Felix's;" and then
she said, "Have you no papa or mamma?" So I told her I hadn't a papa
or mamma, but a father and mother up in heaven, and she said, "I
should think so, poor little dear, if there is no one to take more
care of you." I really did think she wanted to take me and keep me
for an adopted child, so I told her that I had lots of dear good
brothers and sisters that wanted me very much indeed, and I must go
home to H. Froggatt and F. C. Underwood, High Street, Bexley.'

'I fancy,' said Cherry, 'that she thought Mr. Froggatt was Stella's
grandfather, for she made him quite a speech about the neglect of the
child--"such a nice-mannered little girl," she said; but she would
not come in, nor let Alda be called.'

'Nor should I have gone down if Mr. Froggatt had thought proper to
call me,' said Alda. 'Imagine me in his office!'

'I can't imagine not going anywhere to thank the person that brought
home my little Star,' said Wilmet, holding her arm close round the
child, and kissing her repeatedly. 'But what became of the other
two?'

'I went out after them,' said Clement, 'and found them rushing wildly
about after her, afraid to come home. To do them justice, I believe
they were almost out of their minds, thinking she must have tumbled
into the river.'

'Oh, indeed,' said Alda. 'That's your account of it.'

'Yes,' said Cherry eagerly, 'all that pretending not to care, and
that it was a trick of Stella's, was nothing but reaction. And then,
you know, Clem, you _did_ improve the occasion.'

'There!' exclaimed Alda,' you see how it is, Wilmet; nothing but
vindication of those two intolerable children! Now, just come,
Wilmet, and see if they are to be backed up in this.'

But as Wilmet, perfectly bewildered, and feeling no hope of
comprehension among so many, followed Alda from the room and up the
stairs, Stella came plunging after, with a cry, 'Alda, Alda, don't
hurt them!' just as from a housemaid's closet half way up, Alda was
bringing to light a basin containing a dozen tadpoles twirling their
shadowy tails.

'Now, Wilmet,' she solemnly said, 'do you approve of all those horrid
brutes swimming in my bath?'

'They aren't in the well, I hope,' said Wilmet.

'How can you be so absurd, Wilmet? That's the way those children
showed their sorrow that Clement talks about. I'll never believe but
he helped them.'

'To weep them,' said a voice above; and Angela's face was seen
looking out of her bush of hair over the balusters of the top storey.
'They _are_ just like black heraldic tears.'

'You don't mean that they put them in?' asked Wilmet.

'What else should I mean?'

'And didn't she squall?' shouted Bernard; and then came a duet--


     'Dame, dame, what makes your ducks to squall,
      Duck to squall, duck to squall, duck to squall?
      Meeting o' pollywogs! Meeting wi' pollywogs?'


'Hush, children, this is shocking,' said Wilmet, in the low
impressive voice by which she could always still a tumult. 'How could
you take advantage of my absence to do this?'

'Because Alda deserved it,' cried Angela, bouncing downstairs.
'There, Alda! I said I should tell of you if you told of us.'

'Angela, that is not the way to speak to your elder sister.'

'She isn't like an elder sister!' exclaimed Angel. 'Stella would be
ashamed to do like her, eating up the strawberries Mr. Froggatt
brought for poor Cherry when she was ill.'

'I'm sure you had your share!' retorted Alda.

'You would have them in for dessert, and you helped us, only Sister
Constance and Clem left all theirs for Cherry, and then you went by
yourself and ate them all up.'

The very fact of shouting out such a charge showed a state of
insubordination such as might make Wilmet's hair stand on end, and
she simply disbelieved so childish an accusation against her own
equal in age. 'You should not say such things, Angela,' she answered,
in her low tone of reproof; 'there must be a mistake.'

'I am afraid it is quite true,' said Clement's quiet voice, as he
stood arrested on his way by the block upon the landing-place.

'The children make such an uproar,' said the exasperated Alda. 'I'm
sure I thought Geraldine's had been taken long before, and in this
parching weather fruit is quite a necessity to me.'

Wilmet was too much aghast at the admission to speak. It was a
strange tangle: Clement standing straight and still on the landing-
place; Wilmet, with Theodore humming to himself, as innocent of the
fray as the tadpoles that Stella was cherishing in the cupboard
doorway; Alda, flushed and angry; and on the upper flight, Angela and
Bernard dancing and roaming in vehement excitement between anger and
alarm. 'Well that Lance was not in this hubbub! thought deafened and
amazed Wilmet.

'What has this to do with the tadpoles?' she asked, in an endeavour
to comprehend.

'We said she should be served out,' sung Bernard, 'with a polly--
polly--pollywog bath.'

'But, Bernard, hush!--Angel! don't you see it was no business of
yours if Alda did forget?'

She was unprepared for the outbreak this brought on her. 'You, too,
Wilmet! Every one backs up those children in their behaviour to me!
Lady Herbert Somerville, and Clement, and all! If only Ferdinand saw
it!'

'Just step up, Wilmet,' said Clement gently, 'and see whether the
children are in league with me.'

He followed Wilmet up to the door of the barrack, an attic that he
shared with Lance and Bernard, and showed the long beam that crossed
it pasted with a series of little figures cut out in paper,
representing a procession in elaborate vestments; and at the end a
long-backed individual kneeling before the chair of a confessor, who
bore a painful resemblance to the Vicar of St. Matthew's.

'We only wanted to make Tina feel at home,' giggled Angela.

'It would be no matter,' pursued Clement, 'if it were merely quizzing
myself. I am used to that; but this is trenching on sacred ground.'

'Bless me, your old white beam!' exclaimed Angela, with an affected
start.

'It is exceedingly improper and irreverent,' said Wilmet. 'I am
ashamed that such a thing should have been done in this house.'

'Really,' said Alda, 'it seems to me very droll and clever, with no
harm in it at all; only people like Clement never can take a joke.'

'You can't mean to justify such a one as this,' said Wilmet; but, to
her still greater astonishment, Alda broke out,

'There! You are turning against me! You are taking Clement's part,
though you didn't care what they did to me--not if it had been snakes
and adders!'

This, decidedly in Mrs. Thomas Underwood's style, elicited a peal of
laughter from the two naughty children, and the corners of Clements
mouth relaxed, bringing Alda to a gush of tears. 'You never used to
be like this to me, Wilmet.'

'I never saw you like this, dear Alda,' said Wilmet, low and gently,
but in decided repression. 'Come into our room, and let me try to
understand.'

So began a morning of mutual complaints, as if everybody were against
everybody, agreeing in nothing but in appealing to the elder sister.
First, there was Alda's story. Never had there been such a miserable
time--with Geraldine interfering, fussy, fretful, fault-finding;
Clement intolerable in primness and conceit, only making the children
worse when he pretended to keep them in order, and making such a fuss
about Geraldine, when nothing ailed her but change of weather,
incurring the expense of the Dearport doctor, and bringing down the
Sister upon them, so awkward to have her in the drawing-room in that
dress, but Sisters always thrust themselves into families. She hoped
she had shown my Lady that she was not to be overawed by a title--
such affectation, not using it! No consideration for her; the
servants regularly spoilt, both of them; Martha a vulgar insolent
creature, and Sibby disgustingly familiar and slovenly, no good at
all, not even to keep Theodore out of the way. At which Theodore,
knowing no more than his own name and Alda's displeasure, set up a
dismal howl; and as Wilmet chose to coax and fondle him into silence
instead of scolding and turning him out, Alda went off in a huff,
muttering about asylums and proper places; and Wilmet descended to
the kitchen, the little weak hand clasped tight into hers.

A sore sight awaited her below; the bills of this month for luxuries
of sinful extravagance in her economical eyes! Chicken and asparagus,
ducks and peas, even in the height of their season, were enormities
to such housekeeping as hers, and had raised the sum total to four
times the amount that her foreboding soul had dreaded. It exceeded
her present supplies, and was a grave addition to the expenses of the
two illnesses, that were serious enough already.

Martha was eloquent, not to say defiant, in self-defence. 'You see,
Miss Underwood, if I'd been let alone, or Miss Cherry had been the
one to take my orders from, which we could have made it out to your
satisfaction; but with Miss Halder, which expects everything to be
just like what it was in the fammerly up in London, which it stands
to reason as it can't; which she hasn't got no more notion than a
baby of prices, nor seasons, nor nothink; which is very determined,
too, which won't suffer a word from nobody; which if you hadn't been
coming home, Miss Underwood, I'd have given warning, which have
always given you satisfaction.'

Wilmet's satisfaction was not increased when she encountered Sibby.
'Ah, my darling Missie dear, ye're the jewel that's been longed for!
The whole house has been mad entirely, and lost widout you; the
children rampaging and playing pranks, and Miss Cherry dwining and
pining to a skeleton, so that but for Master Clem and that holy
woman, the Sisther, 'tis scarce alive ye'd have found her. Miss Alda,
she's the very wonder of the worruld for jealousy and unfeelingness.
I up and told her at last there was well-nigh as much differ between
you and she, as between Stella and this blessed lamb that she spites;
for if you have not carried off all the wit and understanding, sure
'tis you that has got all the heart, and the head, and the hands.'

'And the partial old nursey, Sibby! You see I had no time nor thought
but for poor Lance, and Alda was so new to it.'

'Ah, Missie dear, you were always the one to vindicate her, but 'tis
no use! Newness! 'Twasn't newness that makes her turn the back of her
hand to this darling innocent, till he cries if he's left a moment
with her.--Ay, my precious, what would have become of you and me but
for Masther Clem?--I tell you, Miss Wilmet, I never thought that long
boy the aquil of his brothers till I saw him in time of need. Yer
father himself--Heaven be his bed!--couldn't have been tenderer with
Theodore nor Miss Cherry, by night or by day, an' never a cross word
when he was bothered past his life with Miss Alda's ugliness an' the
children's boldness.

'Oh, those children! What is come to them, Sibby?'

'Only funning and merriment, Missie dear. They'd never have had to be
faulted if Miss Alda had let Miss Cherry deal with them; but she
could neither rule them herself, nor bear to see them ruled; and
though she was like a mad cow if they played their pranks on her, she
backs them up if Miss Cherry, or Master Clem, or even the Sisther, do
but say a word to them, so 'tis no wonder if the poor dears have been
a bit off their heads, but they'll be as quiet as doves now ye're
back again. Oh, Missie dear, my own child, but it's you that are the
light of my eyes, looking the blooming beauty that you are.'

The foster-mother's genuine compliment could not lighten the load
that had grown every moment heavier, and more compunctious for the
deaf ear she had turned to Clement. Wilmet said a word or two of
apology to him when she met him on the stairs, loaded with books to
study in the garden.

'Never mind,' he magnanimously answered, 'it is all right now you are
come, and it was impossible before. Only, please do say something
warm to Sister Constance, for Alda is barely civil to her.'

'I am very sorry; I did not think Alda had that sort of prejudice,'
said Wilmet, whose instinct of defence of Alda had wonderfully
diminished.

'The chief prejudice came of my sending for her,' said Clement.

'Besides, Sister Constance spoke out very sharply about the
strawberries and when we had a couple of chickens, and Alda scolded
me for helping her to a leg instead of a wing, Sister Constance said,
"Oh, I supposed you had them on Geraldine's account;" and she gives
the children leave to do anything Sister Constance objects to. These
things are hardly their fault. But, I say, Mettie, now you are come,
and it is all right, do you think I might go to St. Matthew's? The
Vicar and Mr. Sterling are alone, while the other curates are
holiday-making, and they say I could really be of some use to them,
and they would give me some help with this reading for my
examination. Somers is there too, and I have not seen him since
Christmas.'

'Indeed,' said Wilmet, 'no one has deserved a holiday more than you,
Clement! You have done your best.'

This--almost the first home praise or thanks that had fallen to his
lot--elicited that real grace of humility for which poor self-
conscious Clement really strove. 'I have tried, Mettie,' he said,
with tears in his eyes; 'but it was not as if it had been one of the
others. There must be something very wrong about me, to make me so
disagreeable.'

'You have gained two hearts,' said Wilmet, 'Sibby's and this little
fellow's.'

For Theodore had attached himself limpet fashion to Clement, who with
difficulty piled his books so as to leave a hand free for him.

'He had better come with me,' said Wilmet; 'your reading must have
been dreadfully interrupted.'

'It has, rather,' said Clement, whose examination was in alarming
proximity; 'but I don't mind him, I can work to his tunes as well as
Felix can; and all is right now you are come.'

That was the burthen of every one's song. It came next from Cherry,
whom she found in her own room; 'There was so much bustle in the
sitting-room,' she said.

'My dear, you have gone through a great deal!'

'"There's nae luck about the house when our gude man's awa',"' said
Cherry. 'Clem played and whistled that so often, that Alda begged
never to hear it again; but unluckily Tedo had caught it, and I don't
think she quite believes he doesn't hum it on purpose! But now, how
delicious it is to have got at least our gude woman! And, oh dear!
Wilmet, I beg your pardon; but you do look so lovely, I can't help
telling you so! or is it the pleasure of seeing you?'

'My poor Cherry! I did not think half enough about you.'

'That would have done no good. Most of this rose out of my own
crossness and horridness. If I could only be anxious without being
peevish!'

'Now, Cherry, don't waste time in telling me it was your own fault; I
know all about that! I really want to understand how it has all been
with Alda and Clement. I am afraid Alda has not been behaving
nicely.'

To hear Wilmet allow Alda to be other than impeccable so amazed
Cherry, that she could scarcely answer. 'O Mettle, I never knew what
you and Felix must be. I have so often thought of a house divided
against itself, one against two, and two against three. We have been
all _to wrongs_, and Clem and I have said we would not be a party;
and yet we could not help it, for we always had to stand up together!
Then Angel and Bear were against every one, and Alda set them against
Clem, and fancied he did against her, which was not true. I should
have minded nothing if Alda had not been so angry at Clement's
sending for Sister Constance. You did give him leave, though?'

'Yes, and I should have done so much more decidedly if I had known.'

At that moment Sister Constance knocked at the door, with her work in
her hand, and Wilmet inferred that this was the refuge from Alda and
the drawing-room. To Cherry's surprise, Wilmet, instead of ignoring
everything unsatisfactory, began at once, 'Please come in, Sister
Constance; I wanted to thank you, and tell you how sorry and ashamed
I am! I am afraid you have not been treated as--'

'Don't say any more, my dear,' as the tears were in her eyes; 'don't
think about it.'

'I ought to think!' said Wilmet. 'I have been trying to understand
things ever since I came home; but everybody except Cherry and Clem
blames everybody, and they only blame themselves! I can't understand
the rights of anything!'

'My dear,' said Sister Constance, 'I think it would be impossible to
go into the details of all that has happened. Shall I tell you how it
seemed to me?'

'Pray do!'

'I thought that the authority of an elder reared in so different a
school necessarily was producing a few collisions. There was some
ignorance, and a good deal of dislike of interference, and the
younger ones would not have been human not to take advantage of it;
but it is over now you are come home, and I strongly recommend an act
of oblivion.'

'Oh! I don't want to punish the poor children,' said Wilmet.

'Oblivion, I said, not only amnesty;' and as she did not see perfect
comprehension in Wilmet's face, she added, 'I mean, not only that the
children should be forgiven, but that their elders should not go
hunting for causes, and thinking how this or that could have been
prevented.'

'I suppose not,' said Wilmet. 'It is all plain enough;' and the sigh
that followed quite amazed Cherry, who smiled up in her face, saying,
'Plain enough that we can't do without you.'

'No,' said Wilmet, kissing Cherry's uplifted face ere leaving the
room; but it was with such an effort at a responding smile, that
Cherry exclaimed, 'Oh dear! how dreadfully we have vexed her!' And
Sister Constance thought the more.

Yet again Wilmet had to hear another testimony to the anarchy in her
absence. Those formidable bills had obliged her to apply to Alda for
an advance of the sum she had offered for Lance's journey; and this,
after some petulance and faltering, elicited that some old forgotten
London bills had come down and swamped this Midsummer quarter's
allowance, so that the promise must stand over till--till Michaelmas;
or it might be that Ferdinand's matters were arranged, and then what
would such a paltry sum be? Wilmet turned away in shame and disgust
at having trusted for a moment to such offers. She could only do what
she had never done before--apply to Mr. Froggatt for an advance on
Felix's account: and she detained him after dinner for the purpose.

He was as kind as possible, assuring her that he should have been
hurt if she had not come to him. And then, in his blandest way, he
thought it right to hint that 'Young people were sometimes a little
unguarded.' She was prepared for the story of the loss of Stella, but
she was not prepared to hear of a gossipping intercourse over the
newly arrived Punches, etc., carried on in the early morning with
Redstone, not only by Bernard but Angela. She was but eleven years
old, so it was no worse than the taste of childish underhand coquetry
and giggling; there was no fear of its continuance after Felix's
return, and, indeed, good old Mr Froggatt had kept guard by coming in
two hours earlier ever since the discovery; but the propensity
dismayed Wilmet more than all that had yet happened, and on this head
she thought it right to reprove Angela seriously.

'Dear me, Wilmet, you are always telling us not to think ourselves
above our station. Mr. Redstone is just as fit to speak to as Felix
was before he was a partner.'

'Should you like Felix to have found you gossipping in the reading-
room?'

'Well,' said audacious Angela, 'half the fun in things is the chance
of being caught.'

'My dear, you don't know what you are saying,' replied Wilmet
dejectedly, as if exhausted beyond the power of working out her
reproof! and Angela had to fight hard against any softening, telling
Bernard that W. W. was a tremendous old maid, who had no notion of a
lark.

Robina, who stood in the peculiar position of neither accusing nor
being accused, would not add her voice to the chorus of welcome, and
did not wonder that every hour wore off something from the radiance
of the beautiful bloom brought from the Bailey. Indeed, the unusual
gravity and reserve of the younger sister struck Cherry's observant
eyes, and made her think at first that she had been much pained by
having to part with Lance in his weak half-recovered state; but when
at tea-time the whole history of the illness was inquired into in
detail by the assembled family, the downcast eyes and cheeks with
which Robin encountered every mention of Captain Harewood's good
offices led to the inference that she had in her excitement forgotten
the bounds where the brook and river meet, and was in an anguish of
shame; Wilmet meantime looking flushed with the fag of her vexatious
day, and speaking plentifully of this same Captain, proving to
herself all the while that she was doing so with ordinary gratitude
and composure.

Robina was quartered upon Geraldine in the holiday crowding of the
house; and somewhere about four o'clock on the summer morning,
Cherry, wakening as usual, and reaching for her book, heard a voice
from the corner asking if she wanted anything. 'No, thank you,
Bobbie. Go to sleep again.'

'I can't; I've been thinking about it all night. I think he's coming
to-day.'

'Who?'

'Captain Harewood. He promised to come and tell us how Lance and
Felix are.'

'I am very glad; but Wilmet never said so.'

'No, but-- O Cherry, I wish we could contrive some nice quiet place,
but nothing is ever quiet in this house.'

'No,' said Geraldine, who was but too well aware of the fact, 'though
I can't imagine that any Harewood can be distressed on that score.'

'Oh, but--' said Robina, to whom the communication began to feel so
momentous, that she could not help toying round it before coming to
the point--'I know; at least, I am sure he will want to see her
particularly.'

'You Robin, what have you got into your head?' said Cherry, trying to
misunderstand, but feeling a foreboding throb of consternation.

'It is not my head. Willie told me.' And as she detected a sigh of
relief, 'And it is no nonsense of his either. He did it on Sunday
evening by the river-side.'

'He did it?' repeated Geraldine, willing to take a moment's refuge in
the confusion of antecedents, though too well aware what must be
coming.

'You know what I mean. He--Jack--John--Captain Harewood, had it out
with her when we were all walking together.'

'My dear, impossible!'

'I mean, we were out of hearing, but we saw them at it, and walked up
and down till Lance got tired out, and Willie and I stayed to make it
proper.'

Geraldine relieved herself by a little laugh, and said, in a superior
tone of elderly wisdom, 'But, my dear, there might be a walk even
without what you call doing it.'

'Yes,' reiterated Robina; 'but I know, for the Captain shut himself
up with Mr. Harewood when we came in, and Bill heard his father
telling his mother about it at night through the wall.'

'For shame, Robin!'

'Oh! he told them long ago that he could hear, and they don't care;
besides, Mrs. Harewood told him _himself_ when he went in to wish her
good morning, and she kissed me and Lance too about it, and said they
hadn't their equals. And poor Mettie thinks no one knows of it but
their two selves, and maybe Mr. Harewood!'

'But, Robin, I don't know how to understand it. I think she would
have told Alda, at least.'

'Perhaps she has to-night,' said Robina; 'but, you see, she didn't
accept him.'

'Oh! then it doesn't signify.'

'Not out and out, I mean; and it is only because of us. At least, we
are sure she likes him.'

'We! You and Willie!'

'And Lance. He saw it all the time he was getting well. Besides, the
Captain told his father that she wouldn't listen to him, and would
have hindered his going to Felix if Lance had been fit to travel
alone.'

'Then it is not an engagement now?'

'No, she won't let it be.'

'And he is coming to-day?'

'Yes, after he has seen Felix. O Cherry! he is so nice, kind and
bright, like all the Harewoods, and not ridiculous; and Lance does
like him so!'

'Does Wilmet?'

'We are almost sure. As Lance says, she has never looked so bright,
or so sweet, or so pretty. Do you think it is love, Cherry?'

'We shall see,' said Cherry. 'If she tells us nothing, we can judge;
and if--if--'

Her voice died away into contemplation; and after waiting in vain for
more, Robina somewhat resentfully decided that 'she had fallen asleep
in her very face.'

No more was said till dressing-time, when there were a few
speculations whether Alda knew; and Cherry could not help auguring
that something had opened Wilmet's eyes to her twin's possible
deficiencies. Sister Constance came, and seeing her patient's
paleness, accused the sisters of untimely bedroom colloquies; and as
they pleaded guilty, Robin was struck by the air of fixed resolution
on Cherry's thin white face.

There was no sign of any confidence having been made to Alda. Wilmet
plunged into her long-deferred holiday task of inspecting the family
linen; and when she came back with a deep basket, an announcement
that every one must mend and adapt, and portions of darning and
piecing for Geraldine and Robina, they began to feel as if the
morning's conversation was a dream.

But just as dinner was near its close, there were steps on the
stairs; the drawing-room door was opened and shut, and Sibby,
unnecessarily coming through the folding leaves, announced over the
head of Clement, 'Captain Harewood.'

'Come to tell about Lance!' cried Angela, leaping up, and followed by
Bernard, Alda, and even Mr. Froggatt; indeed, in the existing
connection of chairs, tables, and doors, a clearance of that side of
the table was needful before any one else could stir. Wilmet moved
after them, and Clement was heard exclaiming, 'You are pinning me
down, Bobbie!'

'I know! Oh, shut the door! There are more than enough there
already.'

'True,' said Sister Constance, signing to Clement to obey. 'I meant
to go to my room, but Cherry wants to hear of her brothers.'

'No, she doesn't!' cried Robina. 'At least-- Oh! will nobody get the
others out, and leave them to themselves!'

'Why, Bobbie, what nonsense is this?' said Clement. 'One would think
you took them for Ferdinand and Alda.'

'It is all the same!--Stella, you run out to the garden--by that
door, you child!' And then it all came out to the two fresh auditors,
who listened with conviction. 'And now,' concluded Robina, 'there is
not a place where he can so much as speak to her! What shall we do to
get them away?'

'You do not know yet that she wishes it,' said Sister Constance, who
had been a wife before she was a Sister, and saw that it was matronly
tact and tenderness that the crisis needed; 'but I'll tell you what
you can safely and naturally do. Go in and fetch Cherry's folding
chair, and call the children to carry her appurtenances down to the
garden. That will make a break, and Wilmet can take advantage of it
if she sees fit.'

'Alda is worse than ten children,' said Clement; 'she has an
inordinate appetite for captains in the absence of her own.'

'It can't be helped. Better do too little than too much.'

And finding Robina shy and giggling, and Clement shy and irresolute,
Sister Constance herself made the diversion by opening the door, when
Wilmet's nervous look and manner was confirmation strong. 'Lady
Herbert Somerville--Captain Harewood,' was Alda's formal introduction
in her bad taste; while the Sister, after shaking hands, bade Bernard
take Geraldine's chair to the lawn.

'Oh, are we to go out?' said Alda. 'A good move. Of all things I
detest in summer, a town house is the worst. I'll just fetch a hat, I
want to show my pet view.--Our brothers are always fighting about
their churches, Captain Harewood.'

The thing was done; Mr. Froggatt was already gone, and as Alda's
trappings were never quickly adjusted, it needed very little
contrivance to leave a not unwilling pair on one side of the doors,
and cut off the rest. Robina, too much excited to stand still, flew
about the stairs till Alda appeared in a tiny hat fluttering with
velvet tails.

'Are they gone out?'

'Yes;' for quite enough to constitute a 'they' were gone; and when
Alda reached them, they sedulously set themselves to detain her, and
thereby betrayed the reason.

'Nonsense! How absurd! That horrid little fright of a red-haired man!
No doubt poor dear Wilmet only wants me to go and put an end to it.'

Strictly speaking, this was self-assertion. She had not the assurance
to intrude, and she contented herself with keeping Cherry on thorns
by threatening to go in, and declaring that the whole must be untrue,
since Wilmet had not told her.

Time went on very slowly; and at last Wilmet, about four o'clock, was
seen advancing, with Theodore in one hand and her great basket of
mending in the other. And before Alda had time to rise from her
chair, Robina darted across the grass, with flaming cheeks and low,
hurried, frightened confession--'Wilmet, please, it is honest to tell
you; Willie Harewood knows, and told me, and I couldn't help it; I
told them to keep away.'

'It always happens so,' said Wilmet, less discomposed than Robina
expected, though she had evidently been shedding tears. 'Not that
there is anything to tell.'

'Nothing!' cried Robina, looking blank.

'Of course not. He came to bring me a note from Felix. I hope no one
knows but those three.'

'And Sister Constance.'

'Then take care no one does.'

'But, O Wilmet, please! You have not put an end to it all?'

'No,' said Wilmet. 'They will not let me, though I think it would
have been wiser. I do not know how it is to be, except that it is
utterly impossible for the present.'

With this much from the fountain-head, Robina was forced to content
herself; and she had tact enough not to join the trio under the tree,
but to betake herself to Clement, who had gone off with his books.

'So,' said Alda lightly, 'you have cheated us of another view of your
conquest, Mettie.'

'He wanted to catch the 3.45 train,' said Wilmet gravely.

'You must have been very unmerciful to despatch him so soon. I
thought you must want me to come to your rescue, but those romantic
children wouldn't let me.'

'Thank you,' said Wilmet.

'My dear! You don't mean that you are smitten? Well! I can't flatter
you as to his beauty. And yet, after all, situated as you are, it is
a catch--that is, if he has anything but his pay; but of course he
hasn't.'

'Yes,' said Wilmet abstractedly, 'his father told me he had--what did
he call it?--"a fair independent competence of his own." Oh! they are
so kind!'

'Then, O Wilmet, is it really so?' asked Geraldine, with eager eyes,
clasped hands, and quivering frame, infinitely fuller of visible
emotion than either of the handsome twins.

'I--don't know.'

'My dear Wilmet,' cried Alda, excited, 'you can't surely have
anything better in view!'

'No,' said Wilmet, even now keeping herself blind to the
offensiveness of Alda's suggestion; 'but as it is utterly impossible
for me to think of--leaving home, I did think it would have been
wiser to put a stop to it while there wa--is time,' and the tears
began to gather again.

'And have you?

'They won't let me.'

'Who?'

'_He_--and his father, and Felix,' said Wilmet, speaking steadily,
but the tears rolling down her cheeks.

'Felix! Oh, what does he say?'

'You may see;' and she held out a letter, which Alda and Cherry read
together, while she rested her elbow on her knee, her brow on her
hand, and let fall the tears, which with her were always soft, free,
and healthy outlets of emotion, not disabling, but rather relieving.


Mrs. Pettigrew's Lodgings,
North Beach, East Ewmouth,
20th July, 10 P.M.

MY DEAREST WILMET--What I have heard to-day is a great satisfaction.
I had hardly hoped that you could have been brought within the reach
of any one so worthy of you. My only fear is that you are too
scrupulous and self-sacrificing to contemplate fairly, and without
prejudice, what is best for us all. You will imagine yourself blinded
by inclination, and not attend to common sense. Harewood tells me he
trusts you have no objection on personal grounds. (I hope this does
not sound as if he were presuming; if so, it is my fault. Remember, I
am more used to writing 'summaries for the week' than letters on
delicate subjects.) But at any rate, my Mettie, I see there is much
worth and weight in his affection, and that you could not manage to
snub him as entirely as you wanted to do. (Didn't you?) Now, it seems
to me, that if you two are really drawn to one another, both being
such as you are, it is the call of a Voice that you have no right to
reject or stifle. I do not mean by this that anything immediate need
take place; but granting your preference, I think it would be wrong
not to avow it, or to refuse, because you scruple to keep him waiting
while you may be necessary at home. If you imagine that by such
rejection you would be doing better for the children and me, I beg
leave to tell you it is a generous blunder. Remember that, as things
have turned out, I am quite as much the only dependence for the
others as I was seven years ago. I felt this painfully in the spring,
when I was doubtful what turn my health would take; and the comfort
of knowing you would all have such a man to look to would be
unspeakable--indeed, he has already lightened me of much care and
anxiety. Do not take this as pressing you. Between this and the end
of his leave, there will be time for consideration. Nothing need be
done in haste, least of all the crushing your liking under the
delusion of serving us. So do not forbid him the house; and unless
your objection be on any other score, do not make up your mind till
you have seen me. I should of course have been with you instead of
writing, if it were not for Lance. Till I saw the dear little fellow,
I had no notion how very ill he has been. The five hours' journey had
quite knocked him up, and he was fit for nothing but his bed when he
came; but he revived in the evening. I only hope I shall take as good
care of him as the first-rate nurses he describes so
enthusiastically. That month must have been worth years of common
acquaintance. I wish I knew what more to say to show you how glad I
am of this day's work, and to persuade you to see matters as I do.--
Ever your loving brother,
                                        F. C. UNDERWOOD.

P.S.--Lance is quite himself this morning, and was up to watch us
bathing before six o'clock.


'Oh! what did Captain Harewood say of Felix?' was Cherry's cry,
almost with shame and pain at not having asked before.

'You know, he had never seen him,' said Wilmet; 'but he said he did
not seem to him in the least unwell--and he watched carefully, as I
had begged him. He said he struck him as naturally delicate-looking;
but that those blue veins in his temples do not show, and he has no
cough at all, nor any difficulty in swimming, or walking up a steep
cliff. He made me laugh, for he said he hardly believed his eyes when
Lance tumbled himself out of the train on something so little bigger
or older than himself. He says the way we all talk of "my eldest
brother" made him expect something taller than Clement, and more
imposing than the senior verger; but he understood it all when he saw
him and Lance together. They have two very nice rooms; and Felix has
put Lance into the bedroom, which is luckily cool, and sleeps on a
sofa bed in the parlour; and the landlady will do anything for them.'

'But how is it to be?' broke in Alda crossly. 'You and Felix seem to
be encouraging him to come dangling here, when we all agreed that
Ferdinand must keep away in Felix's absence, though matters are in
such a different state.'

'So I told him, dear Alda,' gently said Wilmet; 'but he declared he
would bring his sisters, or poor Mrs. Harewood herself, if nothing
else would satisfy me: and what could I do, after all their
kindness?'

'Umph!' muttered Alda; 'they are a queer set.'

'Now, Alda,' said Wilmet earnestly, 'you must not talk without
knowing. Till I went there, I never understood how much goodness and
principle there could be without my stiffness and particularity. I
know I have often been very unnecessarily disagreeable and
disapproving, and I hope I am shaken out of it in time.'

'Dear Mettie, no one is like you,' cried Cherry, with a little
effusion, stretching out her hand, and laying it on her sister's
shoulder. 'Oh, if we had not all been so vile while you were away!'

'It would not have made any difference, my dear! It would be
impossible to leave Felix without help. And think of Theodore!'

Alda muttered something, that no one would hear, about asylums; and
the tell-tale tears coming again, Wilmet sprang up, and bending down
to kiss Cherry, declared in her most authoritative voice that nothing
should be said to the younger children, nor to any one out of the
house; then picked up the tea-cups, and carried them in.

Excitements were, however, not yet over for the day. A telegram was
put into Alda's hands, containing the words--


'A. T. is an unmitigated brute. I sail for N. Y. to-night. All will
be right when I come back.'


The mysterious hint restored Alda at once to all the privileges of
the reigning heroine!




CHAPTER XX

VALE LESTON



'The way to make thy son rich is to fill
 His mind with rest before his trunk with riches;
 For wealth without contentment climbs a hill,
 To feel those tempests that fly over ditches,
 But if thy son can make ten pounds his measure,
 Then all thou addest may be called his treasure.'
                                        GEORGE HERBERT.


'I say, Felix, you've not told me about Vale Leston.'

The two brothers were established under the lee of an old boat,
beneath the deep shadow of the red earth cliffs, festooned with ivy,
wild clematis, everlasting pea, thrift, and samphire. Not far off,
niched beneath the same cliff, were two or three cottage lodging-
houses, two-storied, with rough grey slate roofs, glaring white
walls, and green shutters to the windows that looked out over the
shingly beach to the lazily rippling summer sea.

Ewmouth was a lazy place. Felix had felt half asleep through the
earlier days of his stay, and Lance seemed to be lulled into a
continual doze whenever he was unoccupied, and that was almost
always. It had grieved his elder brother to see this naturally
vivacious being so inert and content with inaction, only strolling
about a little in early morning and late evening, and languid and
weary, if not actually suffering, during the heat and glare of the
day. He was now, with his air-pillow and a railway rug, lying on the
beach beside Felix, who with his safety inkstand planted in the sand,
was at work condensing the parliamentary debates for the
Pursuivant, and was glad to perceive that he was so far alive as to
be leaning on his elbow, slowly shovelling the sand or smaller
pebbles with the frail tenement of a late crab, and it was another
good sign to hear his voice in a voluntary inquiry about Vale Leston.

'I have not been there yet.'

'Not there?'

'No. Old Abednego Tripp comes over here every market day, and he's
the only person I wanted to see.'

'I thought you came here because you wanted to see the place?'

'Yes; but I was not up to the walk when I came here; and while you
were ill I never durst go out of reach of the telegraph, and latterly
I waited for you. After all, I have not much mind to it. I don't see
the good of setting oneself a coveting one's neighbour's house.'

'It wouldn't be my house, any way,' said Lance quaintly. 'How far is
it?'

'Rather more than three miles. We'll get a boat some day and do it.'

'That will be jolly!' and after shovelling a little longer, Lance
added, 'How came we to be turned out?'

'That's just what I can't tell. I was only seven, you know, and my
father never would talk of it. Sibby used to revile the mane nagur,
Misther Fulbert, till it was current in the nursery that he was a
black man who expelled us vi et armis. One day, my father found
four or five of us in a row slashing at an old black doll, by way of
killing Misther Fulbert, and prohibited such executions. I think,
too, that he quashed an attempt to call our own Fulbert by his other
name.'

'I wonder what the nagur did?'

'By the light of maturer nature, I imagine that he may have succeeded
as heir-at-law, and that his maneness may have consisted in not
giving the living to my father; but I cannot tell. It always seemed
my father's great desire to put it out of our minds. I remember
before we left the place his catching me in a furious rage with some
one who told me my pony was to be sold. He carried me off, and told
me it was all true, and we were going away, and he trusted to me to
be brave and make it as little hard to Mamma and the little girls as
could be. He said the place had belonged to old Uncle Underwood, and
that we had no right to stay there after his death. That was all the
explanation he gave me, first or last; and I don't think we thought
much about it after the neck of the change was broken.'

'You remember it, though.'

'I believe I know every step of the house and garden. I have never
ceased to dream of them; and I am as much afraid of disturbing old
impressions as of reviving wishes.'

'Holloa! what's up?' exclaimed Lance, as the landlady was seen coming
in quest of them. 'I thought I saw a tidy little tiger going in there
just now.'

'A note from Mr. Staples, if you please, Sir, and they wait for an
answer.'

'I didn't know you had any acquaintance here.'

'Mr. Staples is the solicitor who did the business about Admiral
Chester's legacy. He is retired now, and only holds some county
office. He found me out last week, I believe, from some letters of
mine going wool-gathering to the other F. Underwood. He called and
said he knew my father, and was very civil and friendly. He sent to
inquire after you the day you came. This is what he says:--


MY DEAR MR. FELIX UNDERWOOD--Your relative at Vale Leston wishes me
to dine with him to-morrow evening. If you and your brother would
like to accompany me on the drive, meet me at six o'clock on the top
of the cliff. If you would prefer to return earlier than I do, I can
direct you to a boatman to take you down by the river.--Believe me,
yours truly,                                          C. STAPLES.


'Hurrah! that's not half a bad fellow for an attorney,' cried Lance.

'Shall not you be tired? Will it not be too hot for you?'

'Not a bit of it. He,' indicating the sun, 'can only get at me
asquint by that time, and I'm a match for him with my blue umbrella.
Come, fire away, you tardy Norseman. Say we are good for it. Fancy
boating back!'

And Lance whistled a few bars of 'The Hardy Norseman,' the liveliest
thing he had done since his illness.

At the appointed hour, the brothers were standing on the top of the
cliff, with a broad estuary before them; on the opposite side of
which lay the town of Ewmouth at the foot of the old castle, with
fresh modern fortifications towards the sea. The town, with its
church towers and gas chimneys, sloped away from it; vessels thronged
the harbour; and a long weird-looking thready suspension-bridge
spanned the broad tide-river to East Ewmouth, the village fast
growing into a suburb. There had not been more than time to point out
the details to Lance before a waggonet drove up from one of the roads
that branched among pleasant 'villa residences;' and in it appeared a
white-haired but hearty-looking gentleman, prepossessing and merry,
very unlike Lance's notion of attorneys, who shook hands with them
warmly, and took care to put the boy under the shade of the driving-
seat.

It was a pretty drive, through rich meadows, shut in by the sloping
wooded hills which gradually closed nearer; and by and by over the
shoulder of one looked a very tall church tower, whereat Felix
started with a thrill of responsive recognition, and suddenly
faltered in the political discussion Mr. Staples had started, but
dropped at once, looking at the young man's face with kindly
interest.

At the same time road and river both made a sudden turn into a much
narrower and wilder valley, the hills beyond more rough and rocky;
but the river still broad and smooth, and crossed by a handsome high-
backed five-arched bridge, the centre arch grandly high and broad,
the other two rapidly diminishing on either side. Over this the
carriage turned; and from the crown Lance beheld an almost
collegiate-looking mass of grey building, enclosing sunny lawns and
flower-beds, and surrounded by park-like grounds and trees, all
sloping towards the river, and backed by steep hills of wood and
moorland, whence a little brook danced with much impetus down to the
calm steady main stream of Ewe. The church and remnants of the old
priory occupied the forefront of a sort of peninsula, the sweep of
the Ewe on the south and east, and the little lively Leston on the
north. There was slope enough to raise the buildings beyond damp, and
display the flower-beds beautifully as they lay falling away from the
house. The churchyard lay furthest north, skirted by the two rivers,
and the east end with the lovely floriated window of the Lady Chapel
rising some thirty yards from the bank of the Ewe, the outline a
little broken by an immense willow tree that wept its fountain-like
foliage into the river. The south transept was cloistered, and joined
to the building beyond, a long low grey house with one row of windows
above the sloping roof of the cloister, and this again connected with
a big family mansion, built of the same gray stone with the rest, but
in the style of the seventeenth century, and a good deal modernised
upon that. A great plate-glass window looked out on the river in the
east front, which projected nearly as far as did the Lady Chapel, the
space between being, as before said, laid out in a formal parterre,
with stone steps leading down to the river.

'Oh, what a place! what a place!' shouted Lance, starting up in the
carriage. 'It's like the minster, and the jolly old river besides!
Two of them! Oh! what fishing there must be!'

'I did not know it was really so beautiful,' said Felix in a low
voice.

'You remember it?' said Mr. Staples.--'I suppose you can't?' to
Lance.

'Oh no! I wasn't born! More's the pity! Do the salmon come up here,
Sir?'

'Yes, since the fisheries have been protected; but young Mr.
Underwood is a great fisherman, and I fear it is not easy to get a
card.'

'Oh, I wasn't thinking about leave, Sir, thank you. I've got no
tackle nor anything; but I _am_ glad _we_ have salmon,' said Lance,
as though he had acquired an accession of dignity.

Descending from the bridge, they were in a road skirting the river,
and on which presently opened the lodge gates of the Rectory. Here
Mr. Staples got out, telling his servant to drive the young gentlemen
round to the village.

'I say, Felix,' said Lance, as they were whirled on along the lane
which swept round the long wall overhung by trees, 'that old party
must know all about it.'

'Most likely,' said Felix; 'but if there had been any good in my
hearing, my father could have told me himself. How well I remember
his giving me my first ride along this lane! Do you smell the bean
field? I don't believe I have thought of the scent since.'

Felix seemed absorbed in the pleasures of recognition; and Lance,
amazed at the beauty and what seemed to him the splendour of the
place, looked up at his brother with a kind of romantic feeling for a
disinherited knight, as he contrasted the scene with the counter and
printing-office.

The lane led to the village street, a very pretty one sloping
upwards, and lying on each side of the Leston, which rippled along as
clear as crystal, crossed every here and there by footbridges, some
wooden, some a single stone; while the cottages on the opposite side
were perched on a high shelf or terrace, and were approached by
charming irregular flights of stairs with low walls or balustrades.
Over the rail of one, smoking a pipe in summer evening enjoyment, was
seen Abednego Tripp, with long nose, brown parchment cheeks, and lank
hair not yet grey--one of the genuine almost extinct species of
parish clerk. As the carriage stopped, he began to descend, keys in
hand, for the church was a lion, and many carriages did stop there;
but it was not till Felix jumped out and hailed him that he knew who
were his visitors.

'Bless me, if it is not Master Felix after all! I did think you was
never coming, Sir. And this is the young gentleman as has been so
ill. You're kindly welcome, Sir. I think he'd favour poor Master
Eddard if he didn't look so nesh.'

'I shall get well here,' said Lance. 'If it is not my native air, it
ought to be.'

'Will you come and rest a bit, Sir? or would you like to go to the
church?'

'The church,' they said. Felix first explained what he knew would
give pleasure--that they had come depending on him for a cup of tea,
and a cast in his boat which was wont to convey the marketables of
Vale Leston twice a week to Ewmouth.

Abednego sped up his stairs like a lamplighter, to cause his grand-
daughter to make preparations, and was speedily down again, delighted
to hear Felix prove his memory by inquiries after the inhabitants of
the old dwellings.

'Ha! the Miss Hepburns!' said Felix, looking at a tall narrow house
completely embowered in trailing roses, and with the rails of the
bridge of entrance wreathed with clematis. 'Are they there still?'

'Oh yes. Sir, all the four on 'em; and a sight of good they does to
the poor!'

'I wonder whether I ought to call?' said Felix; 'they used to be very
kind to me.'

'What, is that Rob's godmother, that never gave her anything but that
queer name?' asked Lance.

'I shouldn't think they were rich,' said Felix. 'I fancy they used to
be very fond of my mother, and made her promise that the next girl
should be named for one of them. There was Miss Bridget, and Miss
Martha, and something else as bad, and Robina was the least
objectionable of the lot. I think they used to write to my mother;
but it is late in the day for calling.'

'Here comes Miss Bridget,' said the clerk, as there appeared in sight
a tall, rigid, angular figure, with a big brown hat and long straight
cloak, and a decidedly charity-looking basket in her hand.

Felix stepped forward with his hand to his hat. 'Miss Hepburn, I
believe. I must introduce myself--Felix Underwood'

The lady's first move had been a startled shy drawing herself up and
into herself, at being addressed by a stranger. Then she looked up
with an amazed 'Felix Underwood! Little Felix!' and as he smiled and
bowed, she rumbled and put out a hesitating hand.

'Yes. Tripp did tell us something--something of your being at
Ewmouth, but we were not sure.'

'We had not been able to come over before,' said Felix, thinking she
meant to imply that he ought to have called. 'We came for health and
have not been equal to the walk.'

'Oh, indeed. Nothing infectious, I hope?'

'Oh no,' he said, explaining in a few words the total want of
connection between his case and Lance's.

'I am glad. I'll--I'll tell my sisters. I'm glad to have seen you.'

There was something faltering and ill-assured in her manner, and in a
moment she turned back with 'Mr. Underwood, where are you stopping?'

He answered; and with 'I'll tell my sisters,' she parted with them
again.

'That's Miss Bridget,' commented old Tripp. 'She's the one as allys
says, "I'll tell my sisters." They do say as Miss Isabella, she be
the master on 'em all.'

Felix and Lance smiled to one another the assurance that every family
had it's Wilmet; but while the younger brother shrugged his
shoulders, the elder felt a certain chill in the contrast with those
days of old, when the sugar-plums and picture-books of the whole
sisterhood were all at his service, and bethought him that times were
changed.

They entered the churchyard by a little side-gate. The church was a
grand pile of every style of architecture that had prevailed since
the Cistercians had settled in Vale Leston, and of every defacement
that the alternate neglect and good-will of the Underwoods could
perpetrate. The grand tower at the west end was, however, past their
power to spoil, and they had not done much damage to the exterior,
except in a window or buttress here and there. But within! The
brothers, used to the heavy correctness of the St. Oswald's
restoration, stood aghast when Abednego admitted them by the door of
excommunication, straight into the chancel, magnificently deep, but
with the meanest of rails, a reredos where Moses and Aaron kept guard
over the Commandments in black and gold, and walls bristling with
genii and angels of all descriptions, weeping over Underwoods of
different generations. Lance stood open-mouthed before a namesake of
his own, whose huge monumental slab was upborne by the exertions of a
kind of Tartarean cherub, solely consisting of a skull and a pair of
bats' wings!

'My stars! where did that brute come from?' muttered Lance under his
breath. 'He's got no trifle of a piece of work!'

However, Felix had taken in that the chancel had respectable poppy-
headed benches, though the lower part of the church was completely
'emparoked in pues,' such as surprised Lance out of all bounds when
he withdrew his eyes from the white marble death's head.

'My stars!' again he said, 'this is what I've heard of, but never
saw.'

'Ay, Sir,' said Mr. Tripp, 'every one that come here do be crying out
upon the pews; and to be sure, I see the folk sleepin' in them as is
shameful!'

'Well he might, for his place was the lowest in a lofty three-decker,
against one pier of the chancel arch, surmounted by a golden angel
blowing a trumpet, and with lettering round the sounding-board,
recording it to have been the gift of the Reverend Lancelot
Underwood, Rector and Vicar of this parish--the owner of the mural
slab before mentioned. That angel recalled to Felix that the sight of
it had been his great pleasure in going to church, only marred by the
fact that he was out of sight of it in the chancel.

'Why, you weren't in the choir then?' said Lance.

'Choir! no, Sir,' said the clerk. 'They sits in the gallery. The
chancel is for Mr. Underwood's family--the Rector, Sir. They seats
was just put up instead of the red baize pew before old Mr. Underwood
as was then died, and your poor papa went away. And that there font
was put, as 'tis there, just when the twin young ladies was
christened.'

'Where was I christened, then?'

'In the bowl as we used to have on the Communion, Sir.'

It was plain how far Edward Underwood had dared to work at
renovation, and that nothing had since been done. The Lady-chapel,
with a wonderful ceiling of Tudor fans and pendants, was full of
benches and ragged leaves of books for such Sunday schooling as took
place there, the national school having been built half a mile off,
that the children might not be obnoxious to the Rectory. The church
was a good way behind the ordinary churches of 1861, and struck the
two brothers the more from the system in which they had been brought
up.

'What a state Clem would be in!' uttered Lance, as they came out.

'It is of no use to think about it,' said Felix. 'Let us enjoy the
beautiful exterior.'

'Ay, Sir,' said old Tripp, 'parties do be saying as how it is a
mortial pity to see such a church go to wrack; and I do believe the
Squire wouldn't be so hard to move if it warn't for the Passon--
that's young Mr. Fulbert, the vicar.'

'I don't understand all these rectors and vicars,' said Lance. 'I
thought they never hung out together.'

'Why, you see, Master Lancelot, as how this is what they calls a lay
rectory, as goes like a landed estate from father to son, without
there being any call for 'em to be clergy; and the Vicar, he is just
put in to do Passon's work, only he gets his situation for life, like
I do, not like them curates.'

'I see,' said Felix; 'and the rectors have generally taken Holy
Orders, and presented themselves to the vicarage.'

'Yes, Sir, that's how it ought to be; only this here Squire--not
being no Passon, though Rector he be--he puts in a gentleman to keep
it warm till his son, young Mr. Fulbert, our Vicar as is, was growed
up, and hard work they say it was to get him to bend his mind to it;
nor he'd not have done it at last, but for his father's paying of his
bills, and giving consent to his marrying Miss Shaw. And since that,
bless you, Sir, the curates have done nothing but change, change,
change, till 'tis enough to ruin a good clerk. You knows what that
is, Master Felix, you that be one of the cloth.' (For Felix allowed
himself no unprofessional coats.)

'It is only the cloth, Mr. Tripp; don't you see I sport a blue tie! I
am a bookseller.'

'A bookseller!' The old man recoiled. 'You'll not be passing your
jokes on me, Sir. A book-writer--I understands.'

'No, a bookseller in earnest. I have a share in a very good business
at Bexley; I've been at it ever since I was sixteen.'

The old clerk was quite overcome; he leant upon a headstone and
stared at Felix without speaking, and then it was a sort of
soliloquy. 'To think of poor dear Master Eddard's son being come to
that! and he looking a dozen times more like a clergyman and a
gentleman than ever this young Mr. Fulbert will!

'Never mind, Mr. Tripp,' said Felix; 'there's one of us on the way to
be a clergyman--Edward Clement, you know, that I wrote to you about;
and maybe this fellow too. Don't look so angry with me. I was obliged
to do the best I could to bring in something for the thirteen of us.
'

'And we're as proud of him as can be!' added Lance, affectionately
and indignantly.

'Ah, well,' said the old aristocrat, 'that may be, for you never knew
them he came of. There was my old Lady Geraldine, as was his great-
grandmother, who gave a new coat or new gown to every poor body in
the parish at Christmas, and as much roast beef as they could eat;
and wore a shawl as come from the Injies and cost two hundred pounds!
She was a lady! Bless me, what would she have said to see the day--'

'That she was glad to have a great-grandson good for something,'
stoutly answered Lance. 'I declare, Mr. Tripp, you'd have liked him
better if he had come a begging!'

'So I do,' said Felix; 'and what's more, Mr. Tripp is going to refuse
me because he is too fine to sit down to tea with a tradesman!'

'No, no, sir,' said old Tripp, with tears in his eyes. 'You'll not go
for to say that. If it was the last morsel I had, I'd be proud to
share it with one of Master Eddard's sons; but I can't but think as
how we rung the bells and drunk your health when you was born, just
as we did for the Prince of Wales, and how proud poor Master Eddard
looked. No doubt he was spared the knowing of it.'

'No,' said Felix, 'it was settled with his full consent.'

Abednego seemed more distressed than ever. 'Poor Master Eddard! he
must have been brought very low. Such a gentleman as he was! Never
spoke a proud or rude word, Sir, but used to hold up his head like
the first lord in the land, and fire and colour up and start like one
of young Mr. Fulbert's thoroughbreds if any one said an impudent
word.'

'That no one ever ventured,' said Felix. 'He was as much respected at
Bexley--yes, and is still--as ever he could be here. I wish you could
see my brother Edgar, he is more like him than either of us. Ah,
here's the old garden gate, I wish we could go into the shrubbery.

Tripp was rather for trying it. He said the gardeners would be gone
home, and the elder master at dinner--the younger, with his wife, was
absent; but Felix could not bear the sense of spying, though he did
not withhold Lance from a rush into the garden paths, where he did
not discover much. Then they looked into the eddy at the meeting of
the waters; and turning back to Tripp's neatest of kitchens, were
there regaled upon shrimps, rashers hissing from the fire, and the
peculiar native species of hot-buttered cake, which Felix recollected
as viewed in the nursery as the ne plus ultra of excellence, probably
because it was an almost prohibited dainty. Lance was in his element,
delighting himself and Miss Kerenhappuch Tripp by assisting her to
toast, to butter, and even to wash up, calling Felix to witness that
he always helped Cherry in the holidays; when just as they were
rising to seek the boat, Mr. Staples came climbing up the steps.

'I thought I should find you here,' he said. 'Mr. Underwood very much
wishes you would come and spend the rest of the evening with him.'

'The old humbug!' burst out Lance. 'You won't go, will you, Felix?'

Felix thought a moment, then walked with Mr. Staples to the corner of
the narrow ledge in front of the cottage. 'Mr. Staples,' he said, 'I
know nothing about it. I trust to you to tell me whether this man
treated my father so that I ought not to accept attention from him.'

'Hm? ha? I should not say so. He treated him unkindly, ungenerously,
but he hardly knew how much so, and he had the letter of the law on
his side. I verily believe he regrets it, and that your father, being
what he was, would be the last to wish you to hold aloof.'

'Most likely,' said Felix. 'I am sure he forgave whatever there was
to forgive.'

'It is not my doing, I assure you. He spoke of your letters that had
gone astray, and that led to more, till when he found you were in the
village, he said he should like to see you. He is breaking up; his
son has given him a good deal of trouble, and I believe he is
altogether concerned for what has passed.'

'And he will not suppose we want anything from him?' said Felix, with
something of the almost unavoidable pride of independent poverty.

'Certainly not. I have guarded against that.'

'Then I suppose we must.--That is, how is your head? are you too much
tired, Lance?'

'No,' said Lance, almost sulkily; for he was much inclined to make
fatigue a plea for escaping the 'mane nagur' and enjoying the boat,
and was rather unreasonably disposed to think it all a plot on the
part of Mr. Staples for spoiling the evening. Felix might have been
equally glad of the excuse, but he believed his father would have
thought this act of conciliation a duty, and followed Mr. Staples
across the churchyard, where all the little boys in the place seemed
to be playing marbles on the flagged paths. Its neglected state was a
painful contrast to the exquisitely laid-out shrubbery, as trim as
gardeners could make it, and improved and altered beyond Felix's
recognition.

Entering the house, Mr. Staples led the way to the dining-room, where
there was a large empty table in the middle of the room, and in the
deep bay of the window a smaller one, laid out with wine and dessert,
where sat 'old Fulbert.' Having always heard him so called, the
brothers were surprised to find him no more than elderly. He must
have been originally a thorough florid handsome Underwood, and had
the remains of military bearing, though with an air of feebleness and
want of health, and a good deal of asthmatic oppression on his
breath. He did not rise, but held out his hand, saying, 'Good
evening. Thank you for coming to see a sick man.'

'I am sorry to see you so unwell, Sir.'

'Thank you, I'm on the mend. Sit down. Take a glass of wine--claret?'

Felix accepted, wondering if his father would regard it as an act of
pardon.

'And you?'

'No thank you, Sir.'

'No wine? You are the one that has been so ill? No objection to
melon, eh?'

And Lancelot, whose illness had left a strong hankering for fruit,
was considerably appeased by the first cut into the cool buff flesh.

'Is he the next brother to you?'

'Oh no. There are three brothers and three sisters between us.'

'And what are they doing? There were one or two with Tom Underwood.
Didn't the young fellow offend him and turn out idle?'

'Not that, Sir,' said Felix, his colour rising: 'but he had no turn
for a clerkship, and a good deal for art. He is studying at the Royal
Academy, but there never was any quarrel; he is often at Thomas
Underwood's.'

'And the rest?'

'One has the Ewshire Scholarship at St. Cadoc's; and there's one in
Australia.'

'And this lad--what's his name?'

'Lancelot. He is in the choir school at Minsterham Cathedral, and
hopes to get a scholarship.'

'Is that all of you?'

'Two more boys, quite little, and the six girls.'

'Any of them able to do anything for themselves?'

'The eldest is a teacher in a school at Bexley,' said Felix, not
delighted with the cross-examination; and Alda, the one that lived
with the Tom Underwoods, is engaged to a man of good fortune. Then
two of the younger ones are at schools, where an allowance is made
for poor clergyman's daughters.'

'How long has your mother been dead?'

'Four years and a half.'

'And you have managed all single-handed?'

'With my eldest sister's help, Sir.'

'Taken to the press, have you?' (Mr. Staples must have made the best
of his vocation.) 'What's your paper?'

'The Bexley Pursuivant. Most likely you never heard of it. It is
only a little county paper;' and then feeling that to stop there was
a subterfuge, he added, 'Our main business is the retail trade.'

Mr. Underwood was chiefly intent on the next question, the politics
of the paper, though he said he need hardly ask. 'All you young
stuck-up fellows run in one team--all destructives.'

'No, no, Sir,' broke in Mr. Staples eagerly. 'Mr. Felix is staunch to
the back-bone.'

Felix was never more tempted to deny his principles than when he
found them brought forward as a recommendation; but he could only
explain that the Pursuivant was an old established county gentleman's
style of paper, in the agricultural interest. Whereupon the Squire
mounted his political hobby in such sort and with such abusive
violence, especially as to the local representatives of the adverse
party, that Felix could not help feeling that if such were indeed the
opinions of his own side, he should certainly be on the other. One
good effect was the sparing him any more personal catechising. Mr.
Underwood shouted himself weary, without requiring any reply save
what Mr. Staple's local knowledge supplied; and when the carriage was
announced, the guests were dismissed with a hearty shake of the
hands, and invitation to call again--'It was a comfort to talk of
public matters to a young man of sense;' and Lance found a sovereign
in his hand. He was not sure that he was obliged.

'Well,' said Mr. Staples, rubbing his hands with satisfaction as they
drove off, 'what do you think of the Squire?'

'He talks very loud,' said Felix, who had for some time been watching
the increase of Lance's headache, and now was trying to give him a
rest on shoulder and arm.

Mr. Staples gave what help he could towards making the tired boy
comfortable, and then returned to the subject in all their minds. 'So
your father never told you those particulars?'

'No; I think it was his great object not to dwell on them, nor let us
look back with regret or anger.'

'Just like him. I never saw such a case, never! I'll show you a
remarkable letter of his. But, first, you ought to understand the way
the matter stood. To begin with the relationship.'

'I know nothing about them, only that my father and mother were
second cousins; but I don't even know to which of them my great-uncle
Underwood was really uncle.'

'To your mother. He had very strong feelings as to the duty of the
head of a family, and made his house a home for all that needed it.
When Miss Mary was sent home an orphan from India--James's, his
favourite brother's, child--he asked his cousin's widow, Mrs. Edward
Underwood, to bring her boy, superintend the house, and look after
the little girl; and she was glad enough, for the captain had died of
his wounds at Waterloo, and she had little but her widow's pension.'

'I know,' said Felix. 'Then whose son is the Squire?'

'The son of Lancelot, who was the second brother, between the Reverend
Fulbert (your great-uncle) and James, your mother's father. So he was
heir-at-law, but he was a wildish sort of lad, unfit to take Holy
Orders; and there came to be an understanding that if his uncle would
buy his commission and purchase his steps, he would not look for the
Rectory and the estate. On that understanding your father took Orders
and married; but on old Mr. Underwood's death there was only a draught
of a will, which he had not been in a state to execute, leaving a
handsome legacy to Fulbert, but the whole property to your father and
mother. It seemed a matter of course that, as the only compensation,
Fulbert should have presented his cousin Edward to the vicarage--400
pounds a year; but as ill-luck would have it, he took offence at some
sermon--a Lent one about self-indulgence, I believe it was--swore he
wouldn't have a Puseyite parson preaching at him, and went into such a
rage that it is thought to be partly by way of getting off giving him
the living, and getting it held for his son.'

'I see, said Felix.

'It was a dirty trick; and I was a younger man at the time, and it
struck me that if your father chose to try the case, the testator's
intentions being clear, and instructions in his own hand extant, it
was ten to one it might be given in his favour. I even took a
counsel's opinion, thinking that at any rate an intimation that the
case was to be tried before possession was given up might bring
Fulbert to terms with regard to the living.'

'And he would not?'

'No. I should like to show you his letter. Would you do me the honour
of dining with me to-morrow?'

Felix was obliged to mutter something about ladies and no dress-
coats, but this was silenced, and he made a promise contingent on
Lance's fitness. He was puzzled by the relations in which Mr. Staples
seemed to stand with the lay-rector; but he found that they were not
of business, only that elections and county affairs brought them
together, and that Mr. Underwood was regarded with a sort of
compassion by the men of his own standing, who used to go and visit
him whenever they could be secure of not encountering the cold
welcome and ill-breeding of his daughter-in-law--the grievance of his
life.

'Did you see any one you remembered?' further asked Mr. Staples.

'One of the Miss Hepburns, who did not seem very well to know whether
to acknowledge me or not.'

'Ha, ha!' chuckled Mr. Staples. 'Queer old girls they are. Very high.
Very good to the poor. All the good that is done in Vale Leston is by
them; but anything between a swell and a pauper don't exist for them.
They're as poor as Job, and their pride is all they have, so they
make the most of it.'

So, after all, the day had not been quite without mortification, and
Felix felt it a little more than he thought it was worth.

Lance was a good deal excited by the sight of his ancestral home. He
had an eye for scenery, and longed to bask in it again; boating
seemed delightful; and he was amazed, not to say elated, by the
grandeur of the house, which exceeded any--save Centry Park--in his
limited experience. His mind was set on explorations there, and on
the whole history; while Felix, to whom all was less new and more
sorrowful, was inclined to hang back from any unwise awakening of
unsettling regrets; but there was no declining Mr. Staples' kindness,
and he had much desire to see the letter. So the two youths put on
their Sunday coats, assisted one another's ties, and looked each
other well over before encountering the formidable mass of ladies
Felix had seen in church, and about whom he was far more shy than
Lance, who had seen a good deal more of the species at Minsterham.

It turned out very pleasant; the frank good-natured mother and
daughters made themselves very agreeable, and though no one was as
pretty as Alice Knevett, they were all so far superior to her in
manner and cultivation that the mixing with them could not fail to
soften any sting of disappointment that might remain. Lance was made
much of as an invalid, and very much liked the privileges that did
not hinder an evening game of croquet, since Mr. Staples evidently
intended his conference with Felix to be tete-a-tete.

It took place in a pleasant little study, fitted with green morocco
and walnut, that spoke well for the solicitor's taste and prosperity,
and looking out on the pretty lawn, with the long shadows of the
trees, the croquet players flitting about, and the sea glittering in
the distance.

The letter was ready, folded up lengthwise and docketed, business
fashion; but when opened, the familiar handwriting seemed to bring
back the father, even to the sound of his voice.


Vale Leston Rectory, 18th January.

MY DEAR STAPLES--My wife and I feel greatly obliged, to you for your
good-will and zeal on our behalf, and have not for a moment justified
your dread of being thought officious. In other circumstances, I
might be tempted to fight the battle; but it is impossible for
several reasons. Were we the losers, we should be totally unable to
pay the costs, and a load either of debt or obligation would be a
burthen we have no right to assume. Moreover, the uncertainty of our
position pending the decision would be as mischievous to myself as to
the parishioners. It would destroy any fitness to be their Vicar,
whether we gained or not. The holding the Rectory is in itself an
abuse; and now that the grapes are sour, I am glad not to encounter
the question of conscience, and so shall not adopt any means--to my
mind doubtful--for bringing it on myself. This being the case, you
will see that the idea of alarming Fulbert Underwood falls to the
ground. Supposing he were coerced into the compromise, what a
pleasing pair--squire and parson--would be the result! No, my kind
friend, be content to see things remain as they are. We carry with us
the certainty of our good uncle's kindness, and the non-fulfilment of
his intentions is clearly providential. I have heard of a promising
curacy, where I shall get the training I need after feeling my wilful
way as I have done here. My wife, being the expectant heiress and
lay-rectoress, shall write to satisfy you that she is not suffering
from my coercion.--Yours, most sincerely obliged,
                                                  E. F. UNDERWOOD.


And on another sheet followed:--


DEAR MR. STAPLES--I think my husband is quite right, and that to go
to law would only make things much worse. It is very kind in you, but
I really do not care about anything so long as I have my husband and
children, and can feel that my dear uncle meant all that was kind.
Indeed, I really think my husband enjoys the prospect of a new and
more active kind of work. He is sure to be happy anywhere, and as
long as that is the case, all will be right; and he says that it will
be much better for the children not to grow up in luxury. With many
warm thanks.--
Yours very truly,                             M. W. UNDERWOOD.


'May I copy them?' asked Felix, looking up with his eyes fuller of
tears than suited his reserved disposition.

His father's letter, full of his constant brave cheerfulness in self-
abnegation, had not overcome him like the few words that brought back
the lovely young mamma he now remembered at Vale Leston, but whom he
had too soon known only as the patient, over-tasked, drudging mother,
and latterly in the faded helpless invalid. How little she had
guessed the life that was before her!

Mr. Staples readily supplied him with the materials, adding, 'I will
take care you have the letters by and by. I value them too much to
part with them in my lifetime.' And presently he interrupted Felix's
writing by saying, 'I much wished to have seen Mr. and Mrs. Edward
Underwood again, but it seemed to me that they were unwilling to keep
up a correspondence.'

'They were so busy,' said Felix.

'No doubt; and I thought they might feel a visit an intrusion.
Otherwise, I often thought of running down from town.'

'My father would have been very glad.'

'I did wish to have seen him again--and your mother, almost a child
as she was even at that time, with her flock of pretty children. I
shall never forget her--the beauty and darling of all the
neighbourhood as she used to be. All we young men used to rave about
her long before she was out.' Mr. Staples smiled at some
recollection, and added, 'I never spoke to her four times in my life;
but I was as bad as any of them--presumptuous as you may think it.'

'I am glad you did not see her again,' burst from Felix, the tears
starting forth as he copied her hopeful words. 'She altered sadly.'

'Ah! indeed.'

The concerned tone forced Felix to add, 'It came so much more heavily
on her than on any of us, care and work and years of seeing my
father's health failing; and in the last week of his life she had a
fall, that brought on softening of the brain.'

Somehow, the whole had never struck him as so piteous before as in
the contrast with her youthful brightness, and when he saw Mr.
Staples greatly affected.  He could only write on through a mist of
tears, while the solicitor walked about the room, blowing his nose
violently, and muttering sentences never developed; till at last he
came behind Felix's chair, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said,
'After all, it will come round. You are next heir.'

'Heir? There's Fulbert Underwood!' exclaimed Felix.

'True; but he's been some years married, and there's no sign of a
family. Depend upon it, we shall see Vale Leston come back yet.'

'It would make no difference now,' muttered Felix, as he traced his
mother's fearless lines; nay, if he had a personal thought, it was of
what he might have ventured towards Alice Knevett.

'Not to them,' said Mr. Staples, 'but a good deal to you, my young
friend.'

'Now, Mr. Staples,' said Felix, smiling, 'aren't you doing our best
to unsettle a young man in business?'

'Well, well, you are too reasonable. A contingency--only a
contingency. But I should like to show you.' And he hastily sketched
a pedigree that had at least the advantage of showing Felix his
relationships.


Rev. Lancelot.
    |_________________________________________________
    |                                                 |
    |                                                 |
Rev. Fulbert.                                      Lancelot
    |                                                 |
    |                                                 |
Rev. Fulbert._______Lancelot_____James U.          Lancelot_________Thomas
d 1843.                |             |                |               |
                       |             |                |               |
                    Fulbert     Mary Wilmet         Thomas        Rev. Edward
                       |        m. Edward U.    m. Mary Kedge    m. Mary Wilmet
                       |             |                |            Underwood
                  Rev. Fulbert       |                |
                                Felix, etc.       Mary Alda
                                                  Underwood



'There! Through your mother you stand next in the line--are heir-at-
law, you see. May I live to see that day! That's all.'

The thought did not affect Felix much at the moment. He was too full
of what might have been, and the 'contingency' was such a remote one!
So after answering to the best of his ability whether any of his
sisters were like his mother, he was glad to get out, and forget it
all in croquet. His musical capacities were discovered too; but the
attempt to profit by them proved quite too much for Lance, to whose
brain the notes of the piano were absolute and severe pain.

A formal little note came on the ensuing morning, in which 'the
Misses Hepburn'--in the third person--requested the favour of the
company of Mr. Felix Underwood and his brother at luncheon. Felix
felt a little stung. He could recollect warm passages between the
ladies and his mother, and had been their pet long enough to wonder
at this cold reception, and question whether it were not more
dignified to reject advances made in such a manner; but his heart
yearned towards those who had been kind to him in his youth, and he
believed that his mother would have wished him to renew the
intercourse, and therefore decided upon going, but it was too hot and
sunny a day for Lance to walk, and Felix so entirely expected the
visit to be wearisome and disagreeable, if not mortifying, that he
could only resolve on it as a duty, and would not expose his brother
to it.

So he plodded off alone, and a curious visit he had. It was not easy
for him to guess at the sacredness of those traditions of gentility
and superiority that the 'Misses Hepburn' held--not so much for their
own sakes as in faithful loyalty to the parents many years dead, and
to the family duty that imposed a certain careful exclusiveness on
them in deference to the noble lineage they could reckon, and the
head of the house, whom none of them had ever seen. He could not have
guessed the warm feeling towards 'dear Mary' that had struggled so
hard with the sense of duty, and had gained the victory over the
soreness at the dropping of correspondence, and the idea that it was
a dereliction to bend to one 'who had lowered himself,' as Mrs.
Fulbert Underwood said he had.

What he saw was a tiny drawing-room, full of flowers and gimcracks,
and fuller of four tall angular women, in dark dresses in the rear of
the fashion, and sandy hair. They had decided in council, or rather
Miss Isabella had decided for them, that since he was to be received,
they would remember only his gentle blood; and therefore they shook
hands with him, and the difference of the clasp alone could have
shown the difference of character--the patronising, the nervous, the
tenderly agitated, the hearty.

He found them better informed than the Squire had been as to the
condition of the family--at least, so he presumed from the text of
their inquiries. Not a word did they say of his own employment--it
was to be treated as a thing not to be spoken of; but the welfare of
the others was inquired after, and especially of Robina--who was the
name-child of the eldest sister, the gentlest of the set, and the
most in the background, quiet and tearful--pleased to hear that her
godchild was at school, and as Felix emphatically said 'a very good
girl,' anxious that he should take charge of 'a little token' for
her.

The little token turned out to be Ministering Children; and this
gave Felix a further hint, which prepared him for the tone in which
some of his information was received, when he had only mentioned
Geraldine as gone for health's sake to the St. Faith's Sisterhood.

The ladies looked at one another, Miss Isabella cleared her throat,
and he knew a warning was coming; so he quickly said, 'One of the
ladies, a clergyman's widow, was very kind to my father in his
illness, and is really the best friend we have left in England.'

'Your dear father was too much inclined to those specious doctrines
that are only too fascinating to youth. I hope you do not outrun
him.'

'I hope not,' said Felix, very sincerely; and he then succeeded in
interesting his monitor by speaking of Fulbert, and using him as a
bridge to lead to an account of Mr. Audley's Australian doings.

It was altogether a stiff uncomfortable visit; the very politeness of
the good ladies made Felix feel that they viewed his position as
altered, and he could not but feel a strong hope that he should never
again have to make this offering at the shrine of ancient friendship.

On coming home in the evening, Felix found a note on the table.

'Croquet to wit?' asked Lance, as Felix tried to read it by the
almost vanished twilight.

'What's this?'


'We hope you and your brother will join us in a picnic at Kitt's Head
on Saturday.

'Having discharged my ladies' commission, I proceed to that which I
have authority from your relation for intimating to you--namely, that
failing heirs of his own son, he has entailed the Vale Leston
property upon you, thus rendering its alienation by the Reverend
Fulbert impossible. I believe the arrangement was made within the
last week. Congratulations would hardly be suitable, but I cannot
refuse myself the pleasure of saying how sincerely I rejoice.'


'What--what?' cried Lance, jumping up. 'You to have that
splendiferous river, and the salmon, and all. Won't you get a
magnificent organ for that church?'

'My dear Lance, don't you see that all this means is, that if young
Fulbert has no children, I shall come after him.'

'Oh, he won't! I'm sure he won't. Things always do come right. Oh,
what a coup d'etat mine was after all! Things always do come right.
You, that were born to it! Didn't old Tripp say how they had had the
bells rung for you? I should like to set them going this minute!'

'They should be on your own cap, then!' said Felix, laughing and yet
sharing in a castle or two--how Cherry should have a pony-carriage!
how Clement should be turned loose upon the Church! how Lance should
pursue the salmon at home and the humanities at the University! how
Bernard should have a real good gentleman's education--but Felix soon
brought himself back again. 'Remember, Lance, not a word of this at
home or anywhere else.'

'Not tell any one ?' cried the boy, crest-fallen.

'Don't you see, Lance, besides the impropriety of talking of what
involves two deaths, it would be the most senseless thing in the
world to let this make the least difference. Old Fulbert may change
his mind, or young Fulbert have a son; at any rate, he is not five-
and-thirty, and just as likely as not to outlive me.'

'Fee! Fee! you are quite well, you wretched Norseman!'

'Oh! I didn't mean _that_; but anybody may outlive anybody for that
matter. Anyway, there's no chance of any of these schemes coming to
pass while we are young enough to care, even if they ever do; and if
they unsettle us now, it would be unmitigated damage.'

'I see that,' said Lance; 'but as, by good luck, I'm No. 8, it can't
do me much harm to think about it, and I don't see why the others
should not.'

'Do you think some of them would be content to go on as we are doing,
with this in their heads? And if any one in the town knew it,
whatever I might do, people would think I was getting above my
business. I doubt whether even Froggy himself would have the same
reliance on me.'

'Then shan't you even tell Wilmet and Cherry?'

'I hope not. I don't think Wilmet could keep it from Alda, or Cherry
from Edgar; and just imagine what it would be to have it come round
through Kensington Palace Gardens that we were reckoning on it!
Besides, it will make no earthly difference to anybody, unless,
maybe, to Edgar's son.'

The mention of such a being brought Felix somehow to a sudden
silence; and in the meantime supper and a candle were brought in,
revealing a thick letter from Geraldine, which had at first escaped
notice. There were two enclosures; but as Felix read her writing, he
broke out with an exclamation of consternation that startled Lance.

'Hollo! What is it?' And as he received no answer--'Wilmet's not
given up Jack? Eh? Nor Cherry fallen in love next? Clem hasn't turned
bare-footed friar?' crowding together the wildest suggestions he
could think of to force answer.

'Hush! That dear child--'

'She doesn't want to be a sister? You'll tell her you'd see her at
Jericho first!'

'No. It is about her foot.'

'Not worse!'

'No; but, dear little thing, she wants to have it taken off, because
she fancies if she was more effective, it might be one difficulty out
of Wilmet's way!'

'She's a blessed little brick! But would it be so?'

'Well, I remember in the time of the measles, the last time I ever
let that fellow Rugg come near her, he thought proper to tell
somebody in her hearing that if she was in a fit state of health, it
would be the only remedy. She wasn't, and it was quite uncalled for,
and it put the poor little thing in such an agony, that at last Sibby
came and wrapped me up in a blanket to sit by her, and talk very big
about nobody being able to do it without my leave, and my not
intending to consent to any such thing. I thought she had forgotten
all about it, but it seems that she has not; and she imagines that,
as she says, "with a cork foot that I could stand upon, instead of
always keeping this one up in fear of hurting it, I could get about
the house with only a stick, and be of some use, and then dear
Mettie's happiness might not be so far off."'

'And what does Mettie say?'

'She knows nothing; Cherry implores me not to tell her, for she says
that it would be impossible for Mettie to come and nurse her, and she
would rather have Sister Constance than any one.'

'Than Mettie! Deluded child!' cried Lance.

'Her great wish is to have it done now at St. Faith's. She told
Clement before she left home, because she thought they would insist
on some one at home knowing; but "Don't think me very sly," she says;
"I would not tell Sister Constance what was in my head till I came
here, for fear she should think it her duty to speak to Wilmet; and
now, they will not hear of it without your knowing. I did wish to
have surprised you all! About the cost I have thought. You know Dr.
Lee attends me for nothing while I am here, and I told you that
Sister Constance has sent up all my book of illustrations of Queen
Isabel, and some of the water-coloured drawings, to her sister, Lady
Liddesdale, and how much she has been getting for them--quite enough
to set me up with a foot that will not be half such a nuisance as
this old dead-alive one, which has never let me have any peace these
twelve years. I am trying to be good; but indeed I feel as if it
might be wrong to try to be rid of my cross. So I abide by your
decision, dear Felix. You are my king, and I put myself in your
hands; only you must not be anxious. You should have known nothing if
I could have helped it."'

'Go on,' grunted Lance, with his face hidden, as Felix paused.

'That's all; but here are notes from Sister Constance and Dr. Lee.'

The Sister's explanation was that it had been entirely Geraldine's
own thought, and that her willingness and eagerness made a great
difference in such a nature as hers. She told Felix not to think of
coming--the fewer the better; and he could come in a few hours in
case of need. It was advisable that the decision should be made
quickly, since to nervous sensitiveness like Cherry's the very effort
to bear suspense reacted on the bodily frame. 'If you know what I
mean,' concluded Sister Constance, 'heroism is likely to carry the
little creature through what would be far more trying if this were
proposed to her for her own sake.'

And Dr. Lee's letter gave the medical view, decidedly inclining to
the opinion that the probabilities were in favour of the operation,
and that the conditions were never likely to be more promising than
at present.

'Dear child! I wish I were there!'

'Can't we go?'

'What, you? Think of the train.'

Lance shook his head. 'Couldn't I stay by myself, and you run up?'

'I don't think I can help it.

But the excitement of the evening broke Lance's sleep, and the next
day he was quite ill; while Felix not only saw that he must not be
left, but perceived after the first that Sister Constance's warning
ought to be respected, and that an arrival would only agitate
Cherry's nerves. So he wrote his sanction with a very heavy heart,
betraying as little emotion as was consistent with the tenderness so
essential to support brave but fragile little Geraldine.

The anxiety seemed to have swallowed up the recollection of Mr.
Staples' message; indeed, it was not willingly that Felix answered
his note, and made a half engagement to the picnic.

Felix was struck by seeing how much, under the circumstances, Lance
missed the daily service to which he had been used all his life.

'I didn't mind it at first,' said the chorister, 'it seemed a part of
the holiday; but somehow the day seems all stupid and astray without
it.'

But there was no church with it to be heard of; and indeed one
attempt on Sunday at East Ewmouth resulted in Lance's collapsing into
some of his most distressing symptoms, caused, as he declared, by the
overpowering might and untuneableness of the singing, but quite bad
enough to make Felix resolve against permitting further experiments,
and thus walk off by himself on the next Wednesday forenoon when he
heard the bell.

There was a long lecture that he had not bargained for, and when he
came out with a slightly impatient impulse, the first thing he saw
was a blue umbrella, a white hat, and a hand waving a paper. In
silence Felix read--

'Constance Somerville to Felix Underwood.--11.30. Favourably over. No
cause for anxiety.'

They were rather grave and awe-struck, and scarcely spoke all the way
home--indeed, Felix was chiefly thinking how to get Lance home out of
the sun without hurrying or over-heating him, but after dinner came a
reaction; the boy went frantic with admiration of a beautiful yacht
that was standing into the bay, and Felix, with his letter to Sister
Constance to write, one to Australia to finish, and his leading
articles to draw up, was forced to command peace in something of the
old rough-and-ready style; and even when Lance vanished, he was to be
heard singing scraps of comic songs in the distance.

By and by he came in carrying a board taller than himself. 'Please
your Majesty, I'll be as mute as a mole; but I must do this here, for
Mrs. Pettigrew is baking.'

'What in the name of wonder, have you got there?' asked Felix, as
Lance proceeded to lay his board on the sofa (his day and Felix's
night--bed) and place on it a white and soppy mass.

'A little dab out, as Sibby calls it,' said Lance. 'It's my puggery.
Ever since it fell overboard it has been a disgrace to human nature,
so I have been washing it, and now I've got an iron heating.'

'What a mess you will make of it!' observed Felix, with a grimace of
disgust, as Lance returned again from the kitchen, holding the iron
scientifically near his cheek.'

'That's all you know about it! Why, I've ironed dozens of pocket-
handkerchiefs--at least, not dozens, but my own, dozens of times--in
the Harewood tubs.'

'I thought the Chapter washed you?'

'So it does, in reason; but last spring there was a doom on my
pocket-handkerchiefs. The Harewood puppy ate up one; one dropped into
the canal; I tied up a fellow that had got a cut with one, and the
beggar never returned it; and two or three more went I don't know
how. I knew W. W. would be in a dreadful state if I asked for a fresh
lot, so I used to wash out the last two by turns, till I got some tip
and bought some fresh ones--such jolly ones, all over acrobats and
British flags; and after all, didn't I catch it? Wilmet was no end of
disgusted to miss her little stupid speckotty ones, vowed these
weren't decent for the Cathedral, and boned them all for Theodore!
Now, hush! or I shall come to grief!'

Felix held his pen suspended to watch the dexterity that reduced the
crude mass to smooth muslin, which in its expanded state looked as
impracticable as before.

'Now, do you mean to get Mrs. Pettigrew to put it on in those elegant
festoons?'

'You just mind your leader, Blunderbore! A man who has had women to
do for him all his life is a pitiable being!'

And Lance, according to instructions obtained from John Harewood,
wreathed his hat triumphantly in the white drapery, and completed
Felix's surprise and amusement by producing a needle and thread, and
setting to work on various needful repairs of his own buttons and his
brother's, over which he shook his head in amusement as he chuckled
at the decay which had befallen the garments of so neat a personage
as Felix, and which had been very distressing to himself.

'Ah! thank you. I never knew what Robinson Crusoe felt like before!'
said Felix, as Lance came on a wrist-band minus button.

'Robinson Crusoe! You'd soon have been like Man Friday before he
caught him.'

'But doesn't the matron mend for you?'

'She pretends; but I should like to see her face if one brought her a
chance thing to do. My eyes! if that isn't old Staples! I must
absquattilate.'

Which after all he had no time to effect, with all his works, before
their friend came to ask whether they were relieved about their
sister, and was amused at the handy little schoolboy's ingenious
preparations. 'After all, I find it is to be more of an affair than I
expected; I thought it was to be only ourselves and the Brandons, but
they are the kind of people who always pick up every one.'

'Does that yacht belong here?' eagerly asked Lance.

'That! It is the Kittiwake--Captain Audley's.'

'Ha! That's what Fulbert went to Alexandria in! What fun!'

'He is the son of Sir Robert Audley. Do you know him?'

'His brother was my father's fellow-curate,' said Felix, 'and is our
guardian and kindest friend. I have seen this one in London. Will he
be at this picnic?'

'Not likely. He is shy and uncertain, very hearty and friendly when
you do meet him, but reluctant to go into society, and often taking
no notice one day, when he has seemed like one's best friend the day
before. They say he has never got over the loss of his wife; but I
don't like such manners.'

'Does he live here, then!'

'He rents the little Tudor cottage under the cliff year by year, for
the sake of his yachting--for he won't go near the regular stations.
He's got his boy at school at Stoneborough, and stays here all the
winter.'

When the brothers were walking part of the way back with their
visitor, they met the gentleman in question, with three boys after
him, and he was evidently in a cordial mood; for after shaking hands
with Mr. Staples, he exclaimed, 'I am sure I ought to know you!'

'Felix Underwood,' said the owner of that name.

'_Indeed_! Not staying with your worthy relations?'

'No, I am down here with my brother, who has been laid up by a
sunstroke, and wanted sea air.'

'I wish I had been at home' said the Captain, who had taken a great
fancy to Felix when they had been together in London two years
before; 'but I've been giving my boy and his cousins, the two young
Somervilles, a trip to the Hebrides; and now, just as I am come home,
I fall upon Mrs. Brandon, hounding me out to an abominable picnic,
and my youngsters are wild to go. Are you in for it? I believe we
shall go round to the cove in the yacht. Can I take you two?'

Felix gladly accepted, aware that their transport was a difficulty to
the Stapleses, and that the Kittiwake would be felicity to Lance,
who had fraternised with the boys, and went off with them to see the
vessel. He returned brimful of delight and fatigue, only just in time
to tumble into bed as fast as possible, and Felix was thus able to
get his work off his mind by midnight.

The morning's letters set them quite at rest. Sister Constance and
Clement both wrote: Geraldine had been calm and resolute from the
time Felix's consent arrived, and doubt was over, and Clement, though
tender, and striving hard to be firm, had been chiefly useful in
calling out her words of encouragement. He had spent the time of the
operation in the oratory, and there had been so entirely overcome by
the tidings that all was safely over, that he was hardly fit to go to
Cherry when he was sent for, and that was not soon, for the effect of
chloroform on her had indeed been to annihilate pain, but only half
to make her unconscious, for she went on talking to Felix about the
expedience all the time, ever repeating the old motto, 'Under Wode,
Under Rode;' and the trance had lasted for a good while, though when
once over, she remembered nothing of it, and was only so rejoiced and
thankful that it was difficult to keep her calm enough. She sent her
brothers her love, and entreated them not to say a word at home. Lady
Liddesdale had contrived the sale of the book of illustrations--a
work that had been Cherry's delight of many years, so that she could
feel that she herself had earned what would cover the expense
incurred, all but the medical attendance, freely given to an inmate
of St. Faith's. 'Tell Felix I am as happy as a queen,' was the final
message; 'tell him to give thanks for me.'

Felix's voice trembled, shook, and gave way, as he read; and at last
he sprang up, and walked about the room, saying that no one ever had
such brothers and sisters as himself. There was something almost
oppressive in the relief from so much anxiety, and it was some time
before he roused his ordinary senses to say, 'Well! we must finish
breakfast, or we shan't be ready for the Captain. How round the world
is! Those boys must be Sister Constance's nephews--Lady Liddesdale's
sons.'

'Those boys,' said Lance. 'What, Sum and Frank? Well, I did think it
queer that the sailors on board the Kittiwake called every one My
Lord.'

'Sum, I imagine, must mean Lord Somerville. What did you think of
them?'

'Nicish chaps of eleven and twelve. Nothing like such swells as Tom
Bruce! The little one wanted to know where I was at school, and his
senior snubbed him; so I supposed he saw by the looks of me that I
wasn't upper-crust public school; and when I said I was a choir-boy,
the other--Charley Audley--said, "Oh, then you're one of the awful
lot my father always jaws about when he's out of sorts!" I told him I
was very sorry, and it wasn't my fault, but yours; and then we got on
like a house on fire.'




CHAPTER XXI

A KETTLE OF FISH



'Our Pursuivant at arms will show
 Both why we came and when we go.'
                               SCOTT.


The place of the picnic was a good way off, being the point of the
promontory that shut in the mouth of the river, a great crag, with a
long reef of rocks running out into the sea, playfully called the
Kitten's Tail, though the antiquarians always deposed that the head
had nothing to do with cats or kits, but with the disposition to
erect chapels to St. Christopher on the points of land where they
might first greet the mariners' eyes. Beneath this crag, sheltered by
the first and larger joints of the Kitten's Tail, was a delightful
sandy nook, where appeared a multitude of smart hats, male and
female, a great many strangers even to Captain Audley, who would fain
have recognised none of them. In a strong access of his almost morbid
silence, he devoted himself to Felix, and kept aloof from almost
every one. Even at the dinner, spread on a very sloping bit of beach,
picnic exigencies enabled him to be nearly tete-a-tete with Felix,
who found himself almost back to back to a lady in a brilliant
foreign pheasant's plume, with glass dew-drops at the points.

In a pause of their own conversation, they heard the inquiry, 'Do you
know who that boy is--that fair delicate-looking lad just opposite,
with the white muslin round his hat?'

'Oh--that!' answered the pheasant lady; 'that is young Lord
Somerville, son to the Marquess of Liddesdale. He and his brother,
Lord Francis, have been out yachting with Captain Audley.'

The Captain smiled as he looked at the boys. 'Ay,' he observed, with
a flash of his bright dark eyes,' he has the advantage over Sum.'

For Lance had resumed his lark-like air, and it was perhaps the more
striking from the fragility and transparency that remained about his
looks; and he was full of animation, as he, with a reinforcement of
boys, clustered round a merry sunny-faced girl, full of joyous
drollery.

'Very queer and eccentric--quite a bear,' was the next thing they
heard; whereat Captain Audley nodded and smiled to Felix. After the
general turmoil caused by the change of courses had subsided, that
penetrating voice was heard again. 'Yes, we came home sooner than we
had intended. The fact was, we found that old Mr. Underwood was being
beset by some of those relations. You remember? Oh, yes; they have
sunk very low--got into trade, absolutely got into trade! One of them
a mere common singing-boy. Mr. Underwood is getting aged--quite past-
--and we did not know what advantage might be taken of him.'

'Your turn now,' murmured Captain Audley, with a look of diversion
calculated to allay the wounded flush on his neighbour's cheek.

'Do you mean Mr. Edward Underwood's sons?' said a voice on the other
side. 'I always understood them to be very respectable and well
conducted.'

'Oh, very likely! Only I do happen to know that one of them has been
a great trouble and vexation to Tom Underwood; and we didn't want the
same over again with the poor old Squire.'

'Did I understand you that any of them were here?' added the other
voice; 'for I had just been struck by the likeness of that boy
opposite, talking to my sister, to poor Mr. Edward Underwood, as I
remember him.'

'Oh no, Mrs. Rivers; I assure you that's young Lord Somerville!'

Captain Audley made an effort, rather difficult in his Turkish
position, to crane his head beyond the interposing figures,
recognised and bowed to the speaker, who greeted him by name, and
thus diminished the flow of Mrs. Fulbert Underwood's conversation by
her awe of the high and mighty bear whom she scarcely knew by sight.
He had no taste for scenes, and did not put either her or Felix to
pain by mentioning his name; but when the last act of the meal was
over, and people began to move, he made his way in the direction of
the inquiring voice. 'Mrs. Rivers, let me introduce Mr. Felix
Underwood.'

'I am very happy--' and there was a cordial smile and a hand held
out. 'Are you here for long? My father would be so much pleased to
see you.'

It was a rather worn pale face; but the ease and sweetness of manner,
and the perfect fitness of the dress, made a whole that gave Felix a
sense of the most perfect lady he had met with, except his mother and
Sister Constance.

'I am at Ewmouth, with one of my brothers who has been ill.'

'Lord Somerville?' and all three burst out laughing. 'My sister has
found him out, I see. She and your little boy are old friends,
Captain Audley.'

'Yes, you have been very kind to him. But I am as much surprised to
see you here as you can be to see my friend. Are you from home?'

'We go back this evening. We slept at the Crewes' last night. My
husband had business there; and when they asked us to this picnic, it
was a good opportunity for Gertrude to learn the beauties of her
county.'

'Which she seems to be doing under full escort,' laughed Captain
Audley, as the young lady and the young boy flock were seen
descending to the rocks.

'She has a strong taste for little boys,' said the elder sister.

'You have the Somerville boys here, haven't you, though?'

'Yes; there had been scarlatina or something or other in their
school, and their mother was afraid of them among their sisters, till
I had purified them by a sea voyage.'

Probably Mrs. Fulbert never found out her mistake; for Lord
Somerville reported that he had never been so pitched into in his
life as by an old girl in a 'stunning tile,' who found him washing
out an empty pie-dish for the benefit of some maritime monsters that
he wanted to carry home to his sisters; but that when Lance came up,
she was as meek as a mouse. Certainly, the two boys were little
sturdy fellows, burnt lobster-like up to the roots of their bleached
and rough hair; and their costumes were more adapted to the deck of
the Kittiwake in all weathers than to genteel society. Their
sisters were in an aquarium fever, and their sport all through their
expedition had been researches for what they had learnt in Scotland
to call 'beasts'; and now the collection was to be completed from the
mouth of the Ewe, and the scrambling and tumbling it involved were
enchanting.

Kate Staples, who usually considered Lance her charge, was not sorry
to see a croquet player disposed of among his own congeners, for the
game seemed such a necessary of life, that it was actually prepared
for on the sands, to the extreme contempt of the anemone hunters.
'Play at croquet, forsooth, when rocks aren't to be had to scramble
on every day!' And scramble ecstatically they did, up and over
slippery stone and rock festooned with olive weed, peeping into pools
of crystal clearness, and admiring rosy fans of weed, and jewel-like
actinias embellished by the magic beauty of intense clear brightness.
The boys took off shoes and stockings, turned up trousers, and
scrambled and paddled like creatures to the manner born.

'O dear! I wish I might!' sighed the young lady.

'Why don't you?' said Charlie Audley. 'Kate and Em and Annie always
do--don't they, Frank?'

'Of course they do, or how would they ever get on!'

'Come along then, Miss Gertrude,' said Charlie. 'You can't think how
jolly it is!'

And soon another pair of little white feet were dancing on the rocks.
'Oh dear! what a blunder of civilisation it is to wear shoes at all!
How delicious a hold one gets!'

'I can't think why people do wear them! They never are anything but a
bother,' said Lance.

'To play at football with,' suggested Somerville from the top of a
rock.

'But women don't,' said Gertrude.

'I think women do it, and make us, that they may have something to
worrit about,' said Frank. 'Damp stockings are the bother of creation
till one goes to school; and then, isn't it Jolly!'

'Except the chilblains,' called out Charlie.

'I believe,' said Lance, 'chilblains come of shoes.'

'No, they can't,' argued Charlie, 'for one has them on one's hands.'

'Well,' said Gertrude, 'let's form ourselves into a society for the
suppression of shoes and stockings!'

'Hurrah!' cried Lance. 'I know one person at least that it would be a
blessing to.

The question was, how the five bold reformers were to begin. Frank
suggested drowning all the present stock, and pretended to be about
to begin, but was of course prevented by a scream.

'Public opinion must be prepared first,' said Lance.

'And that,' said Gertrude, 'we'd better do by a great example! Here,
well show what can be done. Why shouldn't we get out to the end of
the Kitten's Tail?'

'One can't to the end,' said Charlie; 'there's a place big enough for
a gig to go through half way out.'

'And about the tide?' said Lance.

'Tide,' said Charlie, looking at his watch--'tide wouldn't think of
playing us such a dirty trick as turning for an hour and a half.'

'And the jolliest beasts of all always live in places like that,'
added Somerville. 'Come on, President of the Society for the
Suppression of Shoeses--to the front!'

On moved the august Society, now scrambling to a dry flat, now
threading a mauvais pas, clinging to festoons of sea-weed; the
three little boys climbed like monkeys or sailors; but Lance, agile
as he was, had not had the same amount of training, and felt besides
that it was requisite to be ready to give a helping hand to Miss
Gertrude. She got on very well, being full of lightness and
springiness, only she was a little inclined to be adventurous, and to
chatter at critical moments.

'We must have got out a quarter of a mile.'

'Oh no, not that!'

'No? I'm sure it is! How small they look on the beach! I wonder if
they can see us! Hark! they're singing--'

'"Drink to me only with thine eyes:" that's Felix's crack glee,' said
Lance, 'what fun for him!'

'This is much better fun!' cried the general voice. 'They'll never
see us if we wave now!'

'No, no; don't let's wave now! Wait till we get to the farthest
point.'

'And there we'll plant our ensign!'

'What shall we do for a flag? We haven't got the Britisher here!'

'No; it must be the flag of the SSSS's.'

'That ought to be a bit of bare skin.'

'No, no--a pair of feet--motto, "Off, vile lendings!"'

'I say, I don't think you can get any farther,' interposed
Somerville. 'I've been on four rocks farther, and I'm sure you will
never get back again if you go on.'

'Oh, that's base! I'm sure this one isn't so hard.'

She was creeping along a ledge, holding the sea-weed with one hand
and Lance by the other.

'I really don't think it passable,' he said; 'there's scarcely the
width of one's foot beyond.'

'Hurrah!' shouted Frank. 'Here's the father of all the Daisianas!'

'Oh! oh! he's my cousin. I must see him!' cried Gertrude, with a
scramble and a laugh, which ended in a sudden slip--luckily, not into
the open sea, but into a very steep-sided bath-like pool; and Lance,
whom of course she gripped hard, was pulled after her, both over head
and ears; and though they scrambled on their feet in a moment, there
they stood up to their shoulders in water.

'Get the Daisiana now you are there!' shouted Frank.

'How are we ever to get out?' said Gertrude, looking up the walls,
six feet at least on the lowest side.

'If we had a rope,' said Charlie.

'Make signals--call,' said Somerville, all suiting the action to the
word. 'No, they don't hear! they are all singing away. You, Franky,
you're too little to be any good, make the best of your way to call
somebody.'

'The tide will come in!' said Frank. 'Mamma and Aunt Emmie were once
shut in by the tide, and Uncle Edwin. And there was a fellow who was
quite drowned--dead--and that was why I was named Francis.'

'That's what you may call a cheering reminiscence at a happy moment,'
said Lance, recollecting that he was far more nearly a man than any
one present, and instinctively feeling the need of brightening all
into cheerful activity, for the girl looked thoroughly frightened.
'Yes, Lord Frank, the best thing you can do is to go for somebody;
but we'll be out long first. Can't we make a rope! Have you a sash or
anything Miss Gertrude? Don't fear, we'll soon be out.'

Happily she had both a sash and a broad ribbon round her hat; and
Lance tore off his puggery.

'I can do it best,' called Charlie. 'I know all the sailors' knots.'

'It will never bear,' said Gertrude.

'Oh yes, it will. You'll not trust your whole weight to it. Is it
done?'

'Besides, how can they draw me up?'

'We'd best get behind that rock, Sum,' suggested Charlie, 'then she
won't pull us in.'

Charlie's sailor experience was very useful; and he shouted advice to
Lance, who was tying the extemporary rope round Gertrude, not very
easily, owing to the material, and to its being done under water.

'Now, then, you do your best at climbing--here,' he said. 'They'll
pull you; and look! There, first my knee--yes--now my shoulder--
now--' And standing for a moment on his shoulder, Gertrude was really
able with a desperate grapple to surmount the wall of her prison, and
scramble out beside the two cousins, whose pulls had been very
helpful.

Lance's clambering was a harder matter, for he did not venture to
trust much to the rope, though the girl's strength was added to that
of the two boys; and it was a severe climb up the scarcely indented,
slippery, moist, slimy rock, where his hands and feet could hardly
find any hold; and when at length he reached the top, he was so
panting and dizzy, that Somerville at first held him to hinder his
slipping backward into the sea. No one could get at King or Queen
Daisiana, so it was left in its glory; while the young people
struggled back over rocks that seemed much steeper, and pools far
deeper, than in their advance; Lance still trying to be helpful, but
with a mazed sense of the same sort of desperate effort with which he
had run back with Bill's verses; for not only had his small strength
been overtaxed, but the immersion in water was affecting his head.

Lord Francis had made much quicker progress; and boy as he was,
showed his breeding by not rushing open-mouthed on the party with his
intelligence, but seeking the Captain, who was smoking the pipe of
solitude upon a rock apart. He at once sent Frank to the servants,
who were enjoying the relics of the feast, to fetch some wine, and
tell the boat's crew to make ready at once, and then went off himself
to seek Mrs. Rivers. Felix, who had spied the little messenger
speeding up to the Captain, was already on his way to the rocks, and
reached the party in good time; for draggled, drenched, and with
clinging garments, they were so slow in getting on, that it was no
delusion that the water was higher, and the rocks lower; and even
Gertrude had neither breath nor spirits to gabble when that grave
anxious face met her, and a strong careful hand lifted and helped,
first her, then Lance, up and down every difficulty; and when she
perceived how the newcomer avoided point-blank looking at the bare
ancles that had sometimes to make long stretches, a burning red came
up into her face, half of shame, half of indignation at being made
ashamed. And after all, when the place where her hose and shoon had
been left was reached, the niched shelf in the rock turned out to
have been surrounded by the tide, so that they were quite
unattainable either by herself or the little boys; and Felix, putting
the arm by which Lance had held by him over Somerville's shoulder
told them to go on before, and himself made two long strides and a
scramble before he could reach the boots and stockings, and give them
to the young lady, unable to help looking nearly as grave and vexed
as if it had been Angela herself; indeed, he was vexed, for he had an
ideal of the young ladyhood of his mother's old native region, and
did not like it to be disturbed. He moved away far enough for her to
think he had left her to her fate, till she was on her feet and
coming on, and then there he was again, in a moment the attentive
squire. Revived by her short rest, and on less perilous ground, she
glanced at his face in readiness to disperse her discomfort with
something saucy, but somehow, it would not do; and she was tamely
conducted to terra firma, where her sister saluted her with 'O Daisy!
what a child you are to have charge of!'

That restored her enough to answer, 'I'm quite delighted something
should have happened under your keeping! No harm done. Salt water
never gives cold.'

'I don't mind it for you,' said the elder sister; 'you have not been
ill.--But indeed, Mr. Underwood, I am very sorry,' she added. 'What
will be best for your brother?'

'Here!' said Captain Audley, taking from Frank a flask of sherry, and
overruling the objection made by the brothers that stimulants were
forbidden. He further insisted on taking Lance at once to his own
berth on board the yacht while Mrs. Rivers meant to conduct her
sister to the preventive house.

'So,' said Lance, rather ruefully, as he shook hands, 'there ends the
SSSS.'

'Not at all! Its use is proved. We should have been cooked by this
time in the Daisiana cauldron, if we had had great cumbrous boots
on.'

It was a valiant effort, and she cast a glance out of the corner of
her eye at the elder brother, but it had not relaxed a muscle of his
grave anxious face, which was in truth chiefly bent on watching
Lance's involuntary shiverings; and she again turned crimson, perhaps
from her share of the chill, and was dragged off, muttering, 'What
intolerable folks guardian brothers are! Henry Ward was a mild
specimen compared to this one!'

About noon on the following day, Mrs. Pettigrew's little girl
abruptly opened the parlour door, and with 'Please, ye're wanted,'
turned in a tall, thin, grey-haired, spectacled gentleman, who, as
Lance started up from the sofa, exclaimed, 'Don't disturb yourself; I
came to thank you, and inquire after you after the adventure my mad-
cap daughter led you into.'

'I hope she is all right,' said Lance, solicitously.

'As right as Daisiana himself; more so than I fear you are. Let me
see you comfortable. Lie down again, pray.'

'Oh, I don't care about lying down, thank you, Sir; I only sleep for
want of something to do;' but though he did not put his feet up, he
was feeling far too languid not to relax his bolt-upright attitude,
and lean back on his pillows.

'That will do. Bad headache?'

'It is nearly gone off now, thank you, Sir; it was bad all night, but
it is much better since I have been asleep.'

'Let me see,' laying his left hand on the wrist that hung over the
edge of the sofa. 'Ay, I hope that wicked little siren has done no
great damage. Pulled you below, true mermaid fashion--eh?'

'I meant to have pulled her out.'

'Instead of which she made a lad into a ladder to climb out on.'
Which bad pun served the purpose of making the boy laugh enough to be
at his ease. 'She is much indebted, and so am I. I like to meet an
old friend's son. Are you alone?'

'My brother is only gone to the post-office. He will be in before
long; but it saves a post to take the letters before twelve, and he
ought to be out as much as he can.'

'Is he here on his own account, or yours?'

'He came down first, before I was ill. It was bother and overwork and
a cough. Everything always does come to worry him, whenever he ought
to have rest or pleasure.' And Lance who was thoroughly weary and
dispirited, was nearly ready to cry.

'Even when he goes out for a picnic, young ladies must needs drown
themselves!'

This made Lance smile; but he added, with a quivering lip, 'He would
not go to bed till I could go to sleep last night, and that was not
till past two, and he looks quite done up this morning.'

'Is any one attending you?'

'Dr. Manby did at Minsterham--nobody here.'

'What's been amiss with you--fever?'

'Plenty of fever, but it was from sun-stroke.'

'Ah! you boys have thinner skulls than we used to have! How long
ago?'

'Seven weeks yesterday,' said Lance, wearily.

'And you are sadly weary of weakness?'

'I don't mind that so much;' and the kindness of face, voice, and
gesture made the poor boy's eyes overflow; 'but I'm no good, and I
can't tell whether I ever shall be again!'

'It is a great deal too soon to trouble yourself about that.'

'That's what they all tell me!' cried Lance impatiently, and the
tears rushed forth again. 'Manby only laughs, and tells me I shall be
a Solon yet if I don't vex myself; and how can I tell whether he
means it?'

'Well, dear boy, have it all out; I promise to mean whatever I say.'

'You are a doctor then, Sir?'

'What!' the boy doesn't know me, as sure as my name's Dick May!'

'Oh!' cried Lance, 'that was what I heard Felix saying to Captain
Audley--that he did so wish Dr. May could look at me!'

'That's all right, then. Come, then, what is weighing on you--
weakness?'

'Just not weakness,' said Lance. 'I didn't care so much when I could
scarcely get about; but now I can walk any distance, and still I have
not a bit more sense!'

'Is your memory gone?'

'I don't think so; only, if I fix my mind to recollect, and it
doesn't come by chance, I'm all abroad, and perfectly senseless and
idiotic!'

'And it brings on pain?'

'Yes, if I try five minutes together.'

'You don't try to read or write?'

'I can't--and--' then came the tears again-- 'music is just like red-
hot hammers to me.' There was a great fight with sobs, rather
puzzling to one who did not know what music was to the chorister.
'And what is to be the end of it?'

'That rest and patience will make you as well as ever.'

'Do you really think so? But, Sir, I have a little brother seven and
a half years old, with no understanding at all--not able to speak;
and if there were two of us on Felix's hands like that! If I could
only be put away somewhere, so that Felix should not have the burthen
of me!'

'My poor little fellow! Is this what is preying on you all this
time?'

'Not always--only when I am doing nothing, and that is most times,'
he said, dejectedly; but the Doctor smiled.

'Then you may take the very anxiety as a proof that your brain is
recovering. You cannot expect to shake off the effects quickly; but
if you are only patient with yourself, you will do perfectly well.
Are you a son of the clergy?'

'No, I am a chorister at Minsterham. I have another year there, when
I can go back, if ever--'

'Don't say if ever! You will, if you only will keep from fretting and
hurrying, and will accept that beautiful motto of the Underwoods.'

Lance smiled responsively, and said more cheerfully, 'You are quite
sure, Sir.'

'As sure as any man can be, that there is no reason to anticipate
what you dread. It is quite possible that you may be more or less
liable to bad headaches, and find it needful to avoid exposure to
summer sunshine; but I should think you as likely to do your work in
the world as any one I ever saw.'

The light on Lance's face did not wholly spring from this reply. With
'There's Felix!' he had bounded out of the room the next moment, and
his incautious voice could be heard through the window--'Fee, Fee,
here's her father! that brick of a Miss Gertrude's, I mean. He's as
jolly as he ought to be, and knew all our people. But just--I say--
how's Cherry?'

'All well; here's a note from the dear little thing herself,' said
Felix; and in another moment, with his bag strapped over his
shoulder, he had brought the bright sedateness of his face into the
little parlour. 'Dr. May! how very kind in you!'

'Not kindness, but common propriety, to come and see how much
mischief my naughty child had done.'

'I don't think there's any real mischief,' said the elder brother,
looking at the much-refreshed face.

'I think not, and so am free to be glad of the catastrophe that has
brought me in the way of an old friend. Yes, I may say so, for I must
have known you!'

'Yes,' said Felix, 'we used to watch for you when you came to my
uncle. You always had some fun with us.'

'I remember a pair of twins, who were an irresistible attraction. I
hope they have grown up accordingly. You look as if you ought to have
pretty sisters.'

Felix laughed, and said the twins were reckoned as very pretty.

'How many of you are there--was it not thirteen? Did not those boys
get the clergy-orphan?'

'One did, thank you. He is on a farm in Australia now, and I am
thinking whether to try for little Bernard; but I am afraid his case
would be a stale one, being of seven years' standing.'

'If you want it done, my daughter, Mrs. Rivers, is a dragon of
diplomacy in canvassing; but why not send him to Stoneborough?
Cheviot takes a selection of cleric's sons at 30 pounds, and we
would have an eye to him.'

'Thank you, if we can only manage it; but I must see what my sister
says--our financier.'

'One of those little apple-blossom twins? Let me look at you. Do you
mean to tell me that this fellow has been the whole standby of that
long family these seven years?' he added, turning to Lance.

'To be sure he has!' cried Lance, eagerly.

'Lance,' said Felix, rather indignantly. 'You forget Wilmet. And
Thomas Underwood entirely educated two of us.'

'And,' said the Doctor, looking oddly but searchingly from one to the
other, 'you've been the bundle of sticks in the fable. Never gone
together by the ears? Ah!' as both brothers burst out laughing at the
question, 'I'd not have asked if I had not seen how you could answer.
I've seen what makes me so afraid of brothers in authority that it
does me good to look at you two.'

Felix looked up. The Stoneborough murder case was about two years
old, and of course he had to study and condense the details, and had
come on the names of Dr. May and his son in the evidence.

The further words met his sudden conjecture. 'Ay, boys, you little
know what you may be spared by home peace and confidence! Well, and
what may you be doing, Felix? Your bag looks as if you had turned
postman to the district.'

'There's my chief business, Sir, coupled with bookselling and
stationery,' said Felix, as he pushed across a copy of the
Pursuivant that lay on the table. 'I have been well paid from the
first, and am in partnership now, so we have got along very well.'

'Ay, ay! Very good trade, I should think? You must send me your
paper, Felix; I want one I can trust to lie about the house.'

'You will find it very stupid and local, Sir.'

It was curious how what from Mr. Staples was answered with an effort,
seemed from Dr. May to draw out confidence. One point was, that Mr.
Staples never seemed sure how to treat him, and often betrayed a tear
of hurting his feelings; while with Dr. May he was himself and
nothing else. The Doctor stayed to share their dinner, such as it was
in consideration of their being lodgers as didn't give trouble--i.e.
some plain boiled fish, fresh indeed, but of queer name and quality,
and without sauce, and some steak not distantly related to an old
shoe; but both seemed to think so little about it, that the Doctor,
who was always mourning over the daintiness of the present day,
approved them all the more.

Just as they had finished Captain Audley came in with his boys, on
their way to start off the Somervilles by the train, and it was
agreed that when he took his son back to school at Stoneborough,
Felix and Lance should come with him and spend the day.

And a pleasant day it was, as pleasant as the unsettled wanderings of
a long day in a strange place could be, and memorable for one curious
fact--namely, that for the first time in her life Gertrude May was
shy!

Not with Lance. She had a good deal of pastime with him in the cool
garden, while Felix was being walked over the schoolyards in the sun;
and they were excellent friends, though Ethel certainly had a certain
repugnance to the discovery of how big a boy it was with whom
Gertrude had danced barefooted on the rocks. Of course Ethel was the
kindly mistress of the house as usual, but she was worn and strained
in spirits just then, and disinclined to exert herself beyond the
needful welcome to her father's guests. So she let them all go out,
and went on with her own occupations, thinking that it was well that
Daisy should take her part in entertaining guests, since 'that boy'
was evidently a thorough little gentleman; and then shrinking a
little as she heard their voices over Aubrey's museum, including the
Coombe Hole curiosities.

No, it was not towards Lance that Daisy was shy; but when all sat
round the dinner-table, she was unusually silent, and listened to the
conversation far more than was her wont, though it was chiefly
political. When Felix spoke to her, she absolutely coloured rosy red
and faltered, unable to conquer the shamefacedness that their
encounter had left her, and when the party had taken leave, and she
was standing in the twilight, Ethel, to her great surprise, found the
child quietly crying.

'Nothing!' she said, angry at being detected.

'It can't be nothing.'

'Yes it is. Only I do so hate--hate myself for being a tomboy!'

'One often does go on with that a little too long, and then comes the
horrible feel.'

'And that it should have happened with him of all people in the
world!'

'Ah, Daisy, I wish I had come out with you!'

'Fudge, Ethel! Not to-day. Do you think I care about that boy? I
should think not! But--but--I wanted to think him a nasty prig, but I
can't!'

'Who?'

'Why, that eldest brother. When he found me scrambling about with my
stockings off, he didn't speak, but he looked, as Richard might,
surprised and sorry. I thought it was impertinent--at least I wanted
to, but-- And now he'll always think me--nasty!'

'My dear, if one must have a lesson of that kind, it is as well it
should be from some one that one is never likely to see or hear of
again.'

'Oh! but not from the very best and noblest of people one ever will
hear of. Yes, Ethel, I'm not gone mad! That boy has been telling me
all about his brother; and indeed I never did hear or know about any
one who was a real hero in a quiet way! No, whenever I hear of a
hero, I shall think of Mr. Underwood. And, oh dear, that I should
have made such a goose of myself!'

It was quite unaffected--a spark of real reverence had lighted at
last on Gertrude's mind. 'To turn tradesman for the sake of one's
brothers and sisters, that I do call heroic!' she said; and
maintained his cause, even to putting down F. U. as her 'favourite
hero' in lists of likes and dislikes.

But there was no great chance of Gertrude again encountering her
hero, for the morning after their day at Stoneborough Lance was
beginning to experiment on his powers by skimming newspapers,
especially the Pursuivant, because he knew it before, all but the
last local items, that could only be added at the moment of going to
press. Suddenly he broke out, 'Holloa! you never told me this!
Mowbray Smith has put his foot in it this time.'

'What?' said Felix, pausing in the act of opening an envelope from
Mr. Froggatt.

'Pocketing the coal and school money--ay, and the alms.'

'Eh? Impossible! Let me look.'

'There. A letter signed "Scrutator." There's a great deal more than I
can read, all about under-paid curates and sycophants. My Lady is
catching it, I should say! It must be true, or Froggy would not have
put it in.'

'He never admitted that!' said Felix, tearing open his letter. 'He is
in utter dismay, asks whether I could have seen the thing, tells me
to telegraph yes or no, that he may know whether to speak to
Redstone. What's this about tribute to my father?'

'Here! "Once it was deemed well that the ecclesiastical staff should
be by birth and character, if not by pecuniary fortune, above
suspicion; but the universal application of the general screw system
has warned off all who had a predilection for an unfettered tongue,
and we all know what hands accompany one in chains."'

'Libellous!' cried Felix, running his eye over the article. 'It looks
as if it had strayed out of the Dearport Hermes. I'd not have had
this happen for ten thousand pounds! Clap-trap about fat rectors and
starved curates! Jackman's writing, I'd lay any wager!'

'You don't think he did it?'

'Smith? Muddled his accounts! Nothing more likely; charges like this
are not got up without some grounds of some sort; but as to
intentional fraud, that's utter nonsense. Well, I'm off to the
station, and I hope in half an hour's time Master Redstone will be
quaking.'

Ten days of the holiday still remained; and Captain Audley, with boat
and yacht, greatly added to its pleasures, which both brothers were
able thoroughly to enjoy, living almost entirely out of doors, and
valuing each hour as they became fewer.

This matter, however, made Felix very uneasy. He wrote to the curate,
offering all the amends in his power, and undertaking that if Mr.
Smith would send him an explanatory letter, he would back it up with
a strong leading article; and he waited anxiously for further
intelligence.

Mr. Froggatt's letter came first. Redstone, fond of dabbling in
editorship, had taken reproof in great dudgeon, affecting great
surprise at being blamed for inserting a letter from a respectable
gentleman without submitting it to Mr. Froggatt, who had entirely
dropped the editorship, or delaying it to another issue by sending it
to Ewmouth. The respectable gentleman was young Jackman, who was no
doubt delighted to have such a firebrand to cast. It was a great
grief and annoyance to Mr. Froggatt, who had always steered clear of
personalities, and been inoffensive if sometimes dull; and both
assault and defence were distressing to him--i.e. if defence were
possible, for he seemed doubtful whether silence would not lead to
the least scandal. Even Wilmet wrote: 'Every one seems to think Mr.
Smith is to blame; and he is so huffy, that it looks only too much as
if he were afraid of inquiry.'

This was too true a character of his replies. That intended for the
paper had not a line of real defence, but was a mere tirade on the
dignity of his office, and the impudence of the charges. Felix dashed
it away, enraged at its useless folly; nor was the private one more
satisfactory. It was but a half acceptance of Felix's total
disclaimer; and the resentful wording made it difficult to discern
whether the imputation were bona fide regarded as not worth
refuting, or whether indignation were made an excuse for denial
instead of proof. A separate sheet seemed to have been added. 'The
whole is to be subjected to the scrutiny of a parish meeting on
Tuesday, when, though the minute accuracy of a professional
accountant is not to be expected of one whose province is not to
serve tables, it will be evident that only malignity to the Church
could have devised the attack to which your paper has given
currency.'

'Well,' broke out Lance, as Felix with a voice of ineffable disgust
read the final sentence, 'if that is not being a knave, it is very
like a long-eared animal!'

'I'll tell you what, Lance, they'll take him between their teeth, and
worry him till there's not an inch left whole of him. Jackman and his
pack will tear him down; and even Bruce and Jones, and our own good
old Froggy, will give him up when they see his books won't balance.'

'Serve him right!' cried Lance. 'What fun to see his airs taken down,
when he's served with the sauce he's so fond of for other people! I
only wish they'd got my Lady too!'

'I must go home, that's all,' said Felix. 'If I got there on
Wednesday, I might see if I could not get his accounts into
presentable order.

'What?'

'If I don't, I am afraid no one else will.'

'He will not let you.'

'I think I can make him.'

'But such a cur as he has always been to you!'

'I don't think he will object now. I know he can't do the thing
himself; and if little Bisset could, depend upon it his mother would
not let him stir a finger for fear of being implicated. Now I do know
the ways of those accounts. I've done them with my father and with
Mr. Audley. Any way, I must be at home for the meeting. Imagine
Redstone reporting it! But you can stay out the week, and come home
in the yacht.'

For Captain Audley had promised to take the brothers round to
Dearport, but Lance could not bear to be left behind; and it ended in
their walking up to the Tudor cottage to make their excuses, when the
good-natured captain declared that he could put to sea that very
night and land them at Dearport in good time.

So after a hurried grateful farewell to the Staples family, the
holiday closed with a voyage that both were able to enjoy to the
utmost before they sailed into the harbour at Dearport, and walked up
to St. Faith's. Captain Audley, who had not seen Sister Constance
since her husband's death, had an access of shyness and would not
encounter the 'Lady Abbess,' as he called her; but his last words to
Felix were a promise that if Bernard went to Stoneborough, he would
have him out now and then for a holiday with his own boy.

There had been time to send notice to Geraldine, and her brothers had
hoped to have taken her home with them; but though she looked clear
and bright, she was not out of the doctor's hands, and was under
orders to stay another week. The sight of her brothers made her very
homesick, in spite of being the spoilt child of the Sisterhood, in
the pleasant matted room, with its sea view, its prints, and
photographs; but then she wanted to have her way prepared with
Wilmet. Her vision had been to walk in imposingly, and take them all
by surprise; but that notion had vanished as the time drew nearer,
and she found that her new art required practice, while the dread of
making a sensation grew upon her. She was ashamed of having even
thought of compensating for Wilmet's absence, and entreated Felix to
communicate the fact, without a word of the presumption that had
nerved her courage.

The three looked over one another, as if each had undergone much
since the last meeting; but the sight of Felix greatly relieved
Cherry. He was sunburnt and vigorous, and his voice had resumed its
depth of quiet content, instead of having that unconsciously weary
sound of patience and exertion that had often gone to her heart.
Lance, whom she had not seen since Easter, had assumed a look of
rapid growth; his features had lost their childish form, and were
disproportionate; and his complexion still had the fitful colouring
of convalescence; but his eyes were dancing, and his talk ecstatic as
to Vale Leston and the Kittiwake, where he was ready, at that
moment, to become a cabin-boy.

'O Cherry! Cherry! you never dreamt of anything so delicious as that
night's fishing!'

'That, I will answer for, she never did,' said Felix. 'When I saw the
exquisite delight it afforded, not only to this Lance but to Captain
Audley, to fill the boat with slimy, flapping, uncomfortable dying
fishes, I felt that I was never made for a gentleman.

'Do you mean that you didn't like it?' exclaimed Lance, turning round
aghast.

'I should have been much happier balancing the books.'

'And he wasn't even sick!' said Lance, holding up his hands.

'He hadn't that excuse,' laughed Cherry. 'However, midnight fishing
is not indispensable! I should like to have seen how he looked at
Vale Leston.'

Lance was in great hopes that Felix would betray the possibilities,
and mayhap, but for his presence, prudence might have evaporated
beneath the warm breath of Cherry's sympathy; but the answer was only
a discreet laugh and reply, 'Like a man who wanted his sister! I wish
I could just fill your eyes with the loveliness of it, Cherry;' and
in the midst of his description, in came Sister Constance, bringing
with her Sister Emmeline (sister in blood as well as religion),
wanting to hear about the nephews, and the Kitten's Tail adventure,
and amused to find Lance a little shy about it--certainly not
disposed to dwell on it with his usual unceremonious drollery of
narrative. They would not let Felix go without an inspection by Dr.
Lee, which was perfectly satisfactory as to the rally of the
constitution from the depression that had threatened disease, though
it was impressed both on him and on Cherry that he must be careful
next winter, and never neglect a cold; and with this promise the
brothers took the train, and in half an hour were at home--rather an
empty home, for the schools were all in operation again, and Wilmet
was not at liberty for some little time after their arrival.

When she did come in, she was disappointed not to find Geraldine, and
that Felix had become so absorbed in the business that had brought
him home, that he only sent in word that he was obliged to go into
the town, and tea must not wait for him. Lance remained, but the
burthen of two secrets rendered him uncommunicative, when Wilmet
tried to understand the cause of Cherry's delay at St. Faith's; and
Alda was curious about Vale Leston and Mrs. Fulbert, whom she had
seen at Kensington Palace Gardens. It did not take much acumen to
exclaim, 'Still no children! Then there must be a chance for us!'

'That is not likely,' said Wilmet: 'it must be all in their own
power; and the Vicar must be quite a young man. Is he not, Lance?'

'How should I know?'

'Didn't you see him?'

'I saw his wife, and that was enough.'

'About five-and-thirty,' said Alda. 'Of course it will all go to
Uncle Tom. Money always goes to money.'

'How flushed you are, Lance!' said Wilmet. 'Are you tired?'

'Rather. I am going out into the garden.'

There, however, he was pursued by Bernard with a war-whoop, and by
Theodore with his concertina; and Stella presently reported that he
was gone up to bed.

'And I am afraid his room is very hot and noisy,' sighed Wilmet.

'He is only tired and cross after his two nights at sea,' said Alda.

'Lance cross!'

'My dear Wilmet, it is very bad taste in families always to maintain
each other's impeccability!'

Alda was still the only person capable of defeating Wilmet, and she
managed to render her very uncomfortable before the end of the
evening, when hours passed and still Felix did not come in; and Alda
suggested, in the intervals of yawning, that Wilmet would soon learn
how green it was to sit up, now that Felix had got out of leading-
strings, and set up bachelor habits.

At first Wilmet was highly indignant; but when Alda persisted that
she was rather glad to see Felix like other young men, and that
Wilmet would know better when she was married, and then yawned
herself off to bed, there was a sense of great discomfort to
accompany the solitary vigil, which not only involved fancies of
possible accidents, but was harassed by this assault on faith in the
virtue and sincerity of man. Could it really be the part of a wise
woman to wink at being deceived as an inferior creature, with
impossible expectations of truth and purity? Yet Alda knew the world!

How much heart-sickness was darned into Lance's impossible heel
before the clock chimed two! A step, and not a policeman's, came
along the pavement and paused at the door, as, while the bell was
cautiously pulled, down she flew!

'My dear Mettie, I am so sorry, so ashamed, of not having sent home
to tell you; but if I had made the least move, it might have upset
everything!'

'What _have_ you been about?'

'Going over Mowbray Smith's accounts.'

'Oh!'

'I am very sorry! How tired you must be! I was vexed not to be able
to give you notice, but you know what poor Smith is.'

'I don't know why you had to do it all, and at this time of night,'
said Wilmet, still a little hurt.

'It is the only chance for him to-morrow at the meeting to have his
accounts clear; so I called under the plea of seeing about the letter
in Pur, and with much ado got him to realise a little more of his
position, and let me look at the books. That was at five.'

'And you have been at it ever since? O Felix!' as he stretched his
arms and gave a vast yawn.

'Ay! If I had shown any consciousness of the time, he would have shut
up at once; and he would not let me take them home to do to-morrow
morning.'

'It _is_ to-morrow morning!'

'So it is! I must make haste, for I must try to see Mr. Ryder and
Jones before the meeting. Good-night, dear old W. W. I meant to have
had other talk.'

'But oh! you must have some supper!'

'I've had it--sumptuous! Stilton cheese!'

So Wilmet's faith in masculine nature rebounded as high as Alda had
striven to sink it!

Patience was a good deal needed the next day; for Felix, had to rush
away from breakfast, and never appeared at all at dinner. He had to
be present at the very stormy meeting, though only to take notes, and
thus had the annoyance of seeing Mr. Smith destroying his own cause
by his incapacity to understand the statement so carefully drawn up,
until Mr. Ryder (on whom the enemy had reckoned as a champion) took
the papers out of the helpless hand, comprehended Felix's figures at
a glance, and set them lucidly forth, such as they were; but even
then there were blots which there were plenty of persons ready to
hit. The truth was, that between Lady Price's economies, and the
unwillingness to call vestry meetings, moneys intended for one
purpose had been used for another, and articles not within the
denomination of charities had been charged on funds raised for that
exclusive object.

The assembly comprised the usual variety: the malicious foes of
religion, headed by Jackman; the more numerous enemies, not of what
they supposed religion, but of the Church; the adversaries, not of
the Church, but of the Curate; and the few loyally unwilling to
condemn a clergyman, but disgusted at the affair, and staggered by
his management. Perhaps the rabid and ribald violence of the hostile
party did Mr. Smith good with the respectable; and there were many,
too, whose dictum was--'Felix Underwood says it is all right!' At any
rate, though the Bishop was memorialised, it was in a much better
spirit than had been likely at first; and it was not to be done
without notice to the Rector. And when this was over, every one as
usual went to the rendezvous at 'Froggatt's,' either to discuss or
inquire; and the release of both partners on that summer evening was
later than ever it had been before.

But then what a welcome upstairs! what a clamour of happy tongues!
what an ecstatic humming of 'The Hardy Norseman!' what a clinging to
and climbing on him! If he had the cares, he had much of the joys, of
the goodman of the house! But presently he missed the voice usually
blithest of all, and asked for Lance.

'He was here a little while ago,' said Wilmet, 'drinking his tea. He
must have gone up to bed.'

'No,' said Bernard; 'I've just been up to the barrack, and he isn't
there.'

'You've not let him sleep in the attic!' exclaimed Felix. 'Why, under
the leads it is like an oven!'

'I am very sorry,' said Wilmet, 'but I could not see how to help it.
Your room is worse, with the glare of the setting sun; and so is
Cherry's at this time of the evening.'

'Then he must have Mr. Froggatt's.'

'I thought,' said Alda, 'that you never took liberties with Mr.
Froggatt?'

'Nonsense!' said Felix. 'There are only two bedrooms in this house
fit for that boy in his present state--yours and Mr. Froggatt's.
Which shall we have, Wilmet?'

'Mr. Froggatt's,' she answered at once. 'If you will not have another
cup, I'll get it ready for him at once.'

'I've just done. I'll come and help you. But where can the boy be? In
the garden?'

'No,' said Wilmet, taking a survey from the window.

'I have hardly seen him all day,' added Alda. 'I suppose he has
pursuits of his own.'

'Pursuits!' said Felix, looking really anxious; 'poor little chap, he
can't do without constant care and quiet!'

Wilmet made no answer, but rose and left the room; Alda muttered
something about his looking quite well, which Felix did not stay to
hear, following his sister out with a word about looking for him. At
the same moment a little soft hand was thrust into his, and Stella,
as soon as the door was shut, said, 'Please, I know where Lance is,
but it's a secret.'

'Not from me, I hope?' said Felix, catching her up in his arms.

'I think not,' said Stella meditatively. 'He only told me not to let
Bear and Tedo know, because they make a row. He is only up over the
back warehouse, where he used to play the fiddle to us last Easter.'

'The only cool quiet place he could find!' said Felix, with more of a
look of reproach than he had ever given Wilmet.

It went to her heart. 'I did not know what to do,' she said meekly.
'I wanted very much to go into the barrack ourselves, but Alda said
it would kill her, and you know it has always been a sore subject
that we would not let her have Mr. Froggatt's room. I ought not to
have given way.'

'Alda's selfishness is a great power,' muttered Felix; and Wilmet was
too much ashamed to contradict him, except by 'She is vexed because
she has not heard from Ferdinand,' as they hastily made their way to
the warehouse, which, being on the north side of higher buildings,
never did get scorched through.

Felix went up a step-ladder, Wilmet following; and there, sure
enough, was Lance, lying in a nest of paper shavings, with head on
his air-pillow. 'Oh, you've unearthed me, have you? I wish you'd let
me stay here all night!' he said, with some weary fretfulness; but
the next moment burst into a peal of laughter, as Wilmet's head
appeared above the floor. 'Pallas Athene ascends! Oh! what a place it
would be to act a play--only then all the fry would find it out! I
hope they haven't! I told the Star not to tell!'

'My poor dear Lance, is this the only quiet place you could find? and
you let us all neglect you, and never complained!' exclaimed Wilmet,
kissing his hot forehead.

'Why, it's only my stupidity,' said Lance, wearily but gratefully;
'and you can't make places quiet or cool! If you would just let me
sleep here!'

'No; but you shall have Mr. Froggatt's room. He will not want it now.
Come along, Lance, we'll bring your things down. The barrack is a
great deal too hot for you to go into!'

He did not make any resistance; but as they landed from the ladder,
threw his arm round Wilmet, and leant against her with a sort of lazy
mischievous tenderness, as he said, 'Isn't the Froggery wanted for--
somebody else?' and tried to look up in her face.

'Ferdinand always goes to the Fortinbras Arms,' answered Wilmet, with
admirable composure.

'Oh! that's a precedent,' said Lance, ostentatiously winking at
Felix, who was very glad the ice was broken. 'When is he coming,
Mettie?'

'I think Alda hoped he might have run down to-night, on hearing of
your return.'

There they paused while entering the house and going upstairs, but no
sooner were they in the barrack, which was certainly insufferably
hot, than Lance returned to the charge.

'But when is _he_ coming? Not Fernan--he's an old story.'

'Yes, said Felix, walking up to Wilmet to fold together the corners
of the sheets they were stripping from Lance's bed, and looking into
her eyes so archly as to bring up an incarnadine blush, 'I want
particularly to improve my acquaintance, if you don't.--What shall we
do, Lance?'

'Advertise in Pur,' suggested Lance. 'The editor returned. Young
men may apply!'

'Don't, boys!' exclaimed Wilmet, in tones belonging to bygone days,
when neither she nor Felix had been too serious to tease or be
teased. 'He is much better than you,' she added, with a pretty
confused petulance, when Felix put on a pleading inquisitive face.
'When he found we didn't like it he went away to visit his uncle.'

'Better than we! There, Lance!' said Felix, in a gratified provoking
tone of discovery.

'In one sense,' said Wilmet, walking down before him.

'I am very glad you have found it out,' added Felix, as they entered
Mr. Froggatt's cool well-blinded bedroom, the only well-furnished one
in the house.

'It is no laughing matter,' said Wilmet seriously.

'That's well,' was the dry answer.

But there Felix perceived that she was on the verge of tears, and he
kindly and quietly helped her to despatch her arrangements for Lance
before any more was said; only as they turned to bid the tired boy
goodnight, he said, 'Where does the uncle live? I shall telegraph to-
morrow, you cruel person!'

'Hush! silly boy--goodnight,' said Wilmet, with a quivering voice,
then, as she shut the door, 'Please don't go on this way, Felix--I
wouldn't have had it happen for any consideration.'

'I suppose not,' said Felix, as they returned to the twilight garden;
but as it has--Why, my Mettie, dear!' as she pressed close to him,
and hid her face on his shoulder, with a strong craving for the help
and sympathy from which the motherless girl had hitherto been
debarred.

'O Felix! I wish he would not be so good and kind! I wish you would
not try to make me give in!'

'My dear girl,' said Felix, with his arm round her. 'You know I would
not if I did not see that you had given in.'

'No, I haven't!' she cried. 'Why should you want to persuade me?
Isn't it very cruel and hard to let him give all himself to one that
can't come to him? He will have to go out and live all dreary and
lonely for years and years, and come home to find nothing but a
stupid old worn-out drudge, with all these pretty looks gone off!
Felix, be reasonable, _please_! Can't you see that I ought not to let
things go that way?'

'Do you mean,' said Felix, 'that you would be quite content to put an
end to all this--let Harewood go away believing you indifferent, and
never see him again?'

'Felix, why do you--?' with tears in her eyes.

'Because I am quite sure that the consideration you want to show him
would be no kindness. The pain of having his affection thrown over'
(he spoke with a spasm in the throat) 'would be greater than you
would like to inflict, if you were forced by truth to own you did not
care for him; and if he be what I think, the carrying away security
of your feeling for him will be gladness enough. And as for the
looks, I have a better opinion of yours than to think they won't
wear! Any way, dearest, it seems to me that you have won the heart of
a good man, and that if you like him, it is your duty to give him the
comfort of knowing it without thinking about to-morrows.'

'But I know so much more would come if I did just allow that much!
And I might get to wish to leave you all,' she said in an appalled
voice. 'And there seems to me not the slightest chance. You see Alda
and Cherry never will get on together; and Cherry seems glad of an
excuse to stay from home. I thought she would have cared to come back
when you did.'

'Poor Cherry!' said Felix, hesitating, with a little of her own
nervous awe of broaching the subject.

'You don't mean that there is anything seriously amiss!' she cried,
startled.

'Wilmet, do you remember what Rugg said would be the very best thing
for that poor child?'

She stood still, dismayed and angered. 'They aren't tormenting the
poor little thing about that?'

'It is not their doing,'

'It can't have become necessary! Sister Constance would have told me!
Felix say she is not worse!'

'No, much better. But, Wilmet, what we could not bear to think of,
she thought of for herself, and begged to have it done.'

'Then I must go to her.'

'There is no occasion. She knew you could not be spared. It was done
on the 10th, and she will soon walk better than she has done all
these years.'

'Done! without our knowledge?'

'She wished to spare us all, but that was not allowed. I was written
to, and told that her strong desire was such a favourable condition,
that I had better consent, so as not to protract the strain of
spirits. She made a point of no one else knowing except Clement.'

'Ah!' Wilmet spoke as if under a weight, 'that was the day Clement
went down to Dearport, and came home so late! How could Sister
Constance consent not to tell me?'

'You must forgive her, for it was the little one's desire! Of course
we should have been fetched if anything had gone wrong; but she has
done perfectly well; and there she is, very happy, and so full of
fun, that the Sisters say she keeps them all alive.'

'Done? I cannot fancy it!' said Wilmet. 'Do you know, I believe it
has been my bugbear for years past to think I might have to persuade
her to this?'

'To tell you the truth, so it has to me.'

'Little nervous timid thing, I can't even understand her thinking of
it!'

'She wanted me not to tell you, but I would not promise. She could
not rest without trying not to be an obstacle to--'

Wilmet interrupted with a cry of pain.

'Isn't it a noble little thing?'

'But it is so silly!' broke out Wilmet, not choosing her words amid
her tears.

'So she thinks now, poor child; she is quite ashamed of the
presumptuous notion that _did_ brace and carry her through.'

'I don't like her to be disappointed,' said Wilmet; 'but it is quite
ridiculous.'

'Only comfort her a little, Mettie dear, for she is very much afraid
you will think she has taken a great liberty with your property.'

'I only wish I could kiss her this moment.'

'Well, run down by the train to-morrow. They would all be delighted.'

'No, no, Felix, impossible. Think of the cost!'

'Half a crown! Sinful waste!' said Felix, in a tone of alarming
levity.

'Felix, if you only knew what the housekeeping mounted up in that
unhappy month that I was away! I did not like to tell you before,
but--'

'Well!' at the dreadful pause.

'I had to get fifteen pounds from Mr. Froggatt's; and Alda finds,
after all, that she cannot advance the money for Lance's journey.'

'So you are pinching it out by pence, my poor W. W.!'

'Nothing extra must be done till this is made up.'

'Yet it seems needful that Bernard should go to school. I wrote
about--'

'No,' she resolutely interrupted. 'Bernard must wait over this year.
Thirty pounds. Utterly out of the question!'

'Her tone gave Felix an unusual sense of chill penury, and brought
Vale Leston before his eyes.  He laughed rather bitterly, saying,
'Perhaps some day neither thirty pence nor thirty pounds may have so
direful a sound!'

'I never mean to learn to waste.'

'You may have to learn to spend.'

'That's enough to set me against it!' she exclaimed, with a good deal
of pain; and he found how nearly he had broken his resolution, and
how her application of his words to herself had saved him. He
followed the lead.

'Nay; you were glad of Alda's prosperity?'

'Oh yes; but poor Alda has been hindered from being like one of us,'
she said. 'We have fought it out together. And I should not mind so
much if _he_ were poor like us, and had to wait on his own account.'

'I appreciate that,' said Felix; 'but at least you will let the poor
fellow come and judge for himself?'

'If--if only, Felix, you will promise not to try to tempt me into
deserting you all, when I know it would be wrong.'

'If I will promise you not to cut my own throat, eh? Come, W. W., put
out of your head "what it may lead to," confess that you are afraid
of getting connected with such a mad harum-scarum set!'

'It isn't,' broke out Wilmet. 'I never saw any one so thoughtful and
considerate. They are all so kind and warm-hearted, that I grew quite
ashamed of my own fidgetiness; and he--he always knew the right thing
at the right time. You can't think how his look seemed to hold me up,
when poor Lance was moaning and talking nonsense!'

Having thus let herself out as she had never dared, nor indeed been
tempted to do, since the first dawn of the courtship, Wilmet at last
relieved herself of some of the vast sense of emotion that she had
been forcing back for the last month. Hitherto the mistress of the
house had seemed older than the master; but now the elder brother
took the place of both parents--ay, and of sister--as, all her
fencing over, she poured out her heart, and let him sympathise,
cheer, soothe, and encourage, more by kind tones than actual words.
The harvest-moon shone over the house-tops, as a month before she had
shone by the river-side; and the Pillars of the House walked up and
down till Alda grew desperate, and sallied out to tell them that it
was past eleven.

It was only such snatches of time that Felix could give to home
affairs, for his hands were full of arrears of business, and the
excitement respecting Mr. Smith necessarily occupied him. Pending the
arrival of letters from the Rector, every tongue was in commotion,
and the reading-room was a focus of debate and centre of
intelligence. So many letters, either in assault or defence, were
addressed to the editor of the Pursuivant, that only a supplement
as big as the Times could have contained them. Every poor person
who had not had every demand supplied from the charities was running
about, adding to the grievance at every encounter with tender-hearted
lady or justice-loving gentleman, whose blood boiled over into a
letter for the Pursuivant, which, when sifted and refused, was
transferred to the Dearport Hermes, or Erms, as most of its
supporters termed it.




CHAPTER XXII

THE REAL THING AND NO MISTAKE



'With asses all his time he spent,
 Their club's perpetual president,
 He caught their manners, looks, and airs--
 An ass in everything but ears.'
                                  GAY.


The master of the house was unable to contribute much more than his
name to the propriety of the arrival of the suitors, and this made
Wilmet the more determined that Geraldine should precede them. Nor,
since the half-crown must be disbursed on an escort for her, did the
housewifely conscience object to the expedition, for Wilmet could not
but long to thank the Superior and Sister Constance, and to obtain
Dr. Lee's advice as to future management. Her coming was great joy to
Cherry, who had dreaded the meeting almost with a sense of guilt,
though still hoping Felix had been silent on her motive; and Wilmet
did not betray him, but only treated her sister with a mixture of
almost shy tenderness and reverence. Nor did Cherry dare to ask a
question as to Wilmet's own affairs, nor even about Ferdinand Travis,
lest she should seem to be leading in that direction. However,
Wilmet, in a persuasive tone, communicated that Ferdinand had been
long without writing, and though Cherry tried to be sorry for Alda,
her spirit quailed at the state of temper her sister evidently meant
to prepare her for.

But fate was more kind than she expected. That very Saturday brought
both gentlemen, and by the same train. They made each other out as
they were leaving their bags at the Fortinbras Arms, and arrived
together in marked contrast--the tall, dark, regular-featured, soft-
eyed Life-guardsman, and the little sandy, freckled, sun-dried
engineer; and thus two courtships had to be carried on in the two
rooms, only supplemented by the narrow parallelogram of a garden! For
Ferdinand Travis was back again, rather amused at the family
astonishment at the rapidity of his journey to America, which to his
Transatlantic notions of travel was as nothing, and indeed had been
chiefly performed in a big steamer, where he could smoke to his
heart's content.

For the first few days there was a good deal of restraint: Wilmet was
more shy than in the unconscious days of Bexley, while John Harewood
was devoid of his family's assurance and bonhomie, and so
thoroughly modest and diffident as to risk nothing by precipitation
in begging for a decision. Felix, inexperienced, and strongly
sensible of his office as guardian of his sister's dignity, would not
hint at the result of his investigations into Wilmet's sentiments;
and it was to Geraldine that Captain Harewood's attentions were
chiefly paid. Knowing Alda's resolute monopoly of her Cacique, Cherry
at first held back, and restrained her keen enjoyment of real
conversation; but she found Wilmet thankful to have the talk done for
her, and content to sit at work, listening almost in silence, but
proud that her Captain should be interested in her sister, and
pleased to see Cherry's expressive face flash and sparkle all over
for him. While Wilmet was at Miss Pearson's, Cherry was his chief
resource; they read, drew, and talked, and in that half-hour's out-
of-door exercise, which Dr. Lee had so strongly enjoined, his arm was
at her service. They were soon on the borders of confidence, though
never quite plunging over them. Perhaps the broad open-mouthed
raillery at his home made the gentle reticence of the Underwoods the
more agreeable to him; at any rate, he did not try to break through
it, nor to presume beyond the step he had gained. Alda, who could
best perhaps have acted as helper, had her own affairs to attend to;
and they were evidently unsatisfactory, for Ferdinand was more than
ever the silent melancholy Don, and she was to domestic eyes visibly
cross, and her half-year at home had rendered her much less capable
of concealing ill-humour. Something was owing to wear and suspense,
together with the effects of the summer heat and confined monotonous
life without change or luxury; but much was chargeable on the
manifestations of temper to which she had given way in the home
circle. She told Wilmet the trouble, which Ferdinand wished to have
kept from open discussion till he had received a final statement of
his means to lay before Felix. He had received no remittances since
the spring, and on demanding his own share of the capital and
investments, had found it, instead of the lion's, a ridiculously
small portion. The whole fortunes of the house of Travis had been
built on his mother's inheritance; but the accounts laid before him
represented all the unprosperous speculations undertaken by his
father, William, while the small ventures of his Uncle Alfred had,
alongside of them, swelled into the huge wealth of which Ferdinand
had been bred to believe himself the heir! So palpably outrageous was
this representation, that he had persuaded himself that personal
investigation on the spot would clear it up, or perhaps more truly
his blood was up, and he could not bear to be inactive. He had rushed
over to New York, and of course he had been baffled. Exposure was of
no use where sympathy was for the lucky rather than the duped and
luckless, and where the Anglicised Life-guardsman could expect it
least of all--at a time, too, when all business affairs were
convulsed by the uncertainties of civil war. Alda could not believe
at first that he had done his utmost, and seemed to have reproached
him with weakness and mismanagement; but by her own account she had
roused the innate lion. He would not tell her what had passed in the
interview with his uncle, but he had shuddered over the remembrance;
and when she upbraided him with not having gone far enough, he
terrified her by the fierceness with which he had turned upon her,
bidding her never recur to what she knew nothing about, and muttering
to himself, 'Far enough--thank God I went no further, or I should not
be here now!' and then falling into deep gloom. He had certainly made
Alda afraid of him, and she burst into tears as she told Wilmet,
declaring herself the most miserable girl in the world.

'No, that you can't be, Alda, while he is so good and true.'

'But he says he must sell out! Think of that! Never was anybody so
taken in as I have been!'

'Don't talk so, Alda. It is just as if you had engaged yourself to a
Life-guardsman and nothing else.'

'I wonder how you would like to be buried in some horrid wild place
in America, where you would never see anybody!'

'One would not want to see anybody but him.'

'That's your nonsense! How tired of it one would be!'

'There would be no time. It would be so nice to do everything for him
oneself!'

'In some horrid uncivilised place, with no servants! I'm not going to
be a drudge. It is all very well for you, who like it, and have no
notion of society, but for me--! And there he is furious to take me
out. Men grow so wild and rough too in such places. You never saw
anything blaze like his eyes!'

'I don't understand you. Could not you trust yourself anywhere with
him?'

'You have no right to say such things,' pouted Alda, 'only because I
have a little common prudence. Some one must have it!'

There was no denying that life in the far west would be a foolish
thing either for or with Alda; and Felix thought so when Ferdinand
came to him for consultation over the letters that made it finally
clear that Alfred Travis had appropriated everything available but
half a block of unreclaimed land on the wrong side of America, and a
few thousands invested