JOHNSTONE walked on to
his house and said not another word.
Maria Jane Collingwood in his field—the lodger whom he had
heard his children talk of. He had recognized her instantly;
to what end could she possibly have come there that did not bode
disquiet, if not disaster to him and his.
He walked straight to his wife's room, and there remembered
that he was to entertain a party at dinner that night.
Mrs. Johnstone was just dressed, her maid had stepped back to
survey her. The two elder girls, who loved to assist at their
mother's toilet, were tying up some flowers.
Tall, upright as a wand, slender, and placid she stood.
He looked fixedly at her, and sighed.
"Father," said Naomi, "mother has got our favourite gown on.
Doesn't she look sweet?"
He continued to look at her, but said nothing.
"It's so thick and soft," said Marjorie, feeling the folds of
the satin; "and just the colour of cream—and, mother, these roses
are exactly the same colour —and look at their little soft brown
The mother took her bouquet and smiled at their
"You look well, my star," said her husband. He felt
that there was no time now to say anything to her, and he hastened
off to his dressing-room.
There, while he dressed, he saw the fat little woman, who had
been the plague of his life, waddling along the path through his
field, and he hated the sight of her.
He trembled with irritation and impatience, for nothing could
be done. He must entertain his guests, and he absolutely must
leave his boys and girls to wander all about the fields that
evening, though she might have come there on purpose to say to them
what he most wished them not to hear.
His wife's unconsciousness calmed him a little, however.
They were alone together for half a minute in the drawing-room
before the first guests entered.
"Estelle," he began, "I met that woman this evening whom the
children call the lodger. I wish they had not seen
anything of her."
A tentative remark. She answered with perfect serenity.
"Oh, yes, my dear—I wish it too—but there is no harm done;
and I have told them not to go into the field at all, but to keep in
our woods and garden this evening."
"No harm done?" he repeated in a tone of inquiry.
"I meant that there is no reason they should not associated a
little with the honest poor; but this person, a vulgar, second-rate
woman, as I gather, is just the sort of creature we should like to
guard them from."
"Ah! exactly so," he answered; and added mentally, while the
first guests were announced, "if we can."
"Well I hope there is no harm done," he reflected; "and yet
if that woman had wished to say anything to either of the boys,
surely she might have found opportunity to say it by this time.
It must be a month, or nearly so, since I first heard them mention
He made rather an inattentive host that evening; he was
nervous, and sometimes absent, but not half as much so as he would
have been if he could have known what was coming to pass.
Lancey's punishment had begun.
The young people, while their elders dined, were having their
supper in the play-room. It suited Lancey to appear to be in
excellent spirits. All the girls began to talk of the supposed
robbery, and then, frightened as he was, as he was, he had to feign
interest and curiosity.
"Does the lodger mean to have a policeman come?" asked Don
Lancey turned cold and sick.
"I don't know," answered Charlotte, who had been sent to Mrs.
Clarboy's house with a message, about some needlework; "Mrs. Clarboy
and Jenny were both crying when I got there. They said they
were wretched for fear they should be suspected—and so were the
Salisburys; and yet—"
"Well?" said Lancey.
"They said they wished they had never seen her, and yet, when
Salisbury came in the morning to break it to her, that the door had
been open all night, and her keys were dangling in her desk, where,
of course, she never could have been so careless as to leave them,
she said, 'I know I have been robbed; I know all about it.'"
"Extraordinary!" exclaimed Don John.
"She too had been crying bitterly they say."
Lancey was so giddy with fright that if the least suspicion
concerning him had crossed Don John's mind, and he had looked at
him, he must have discovered all. As it was, dismissing the
contemned lodger from his mind, he said,
"Well now, Charlotte—the minutes—call in Fetch and
let's have some fun."
How Lancey got through the next hour or two he never could
remember afterwards. He knew he was frightened, miserable,
guilty, he knew that in order to satisfy his tyrant he had risked
and lost the happiness of all his future life.
He gave Button-nose a kiss when she was going to bed.
It seemed to him almost for the first time in his life that he loved
these so-called brothers and sisters very much—that no fun would be
so well worth sisters if Don John was not there to share it with
him; that if father and mother found out what he had done, he never
would be so happy any more.
Why had he done it? At least he need not have taken so
much. If he had contented himself with the sum that he so
sorely needed, the lodger might have thought herself mistaken, when
counting over her money she found less than she expected. And,
oh, why had he taken the bag. And now one and another went off
to bed. Lancey was left to the last; he wrote a letter and
cried over it, and at length he too stole into his little room, and,
holding the letter in his hand, sat down at the foot of his bed.
The letter was full of lies—lying came just as naturally to poor
Lancey as thieving, and he could already do both with a practised
Sometimes when people think intensely of us it makes us think
of them. Was that the reason why, in the middle of the night,
Mrs. Johnstone had a singular dream?
She dreamed that she saw Lancey sitting on the foot of her
bed in his long white night-gown, the moonlight was streaming in, so
that every lock of his brown hair, every line of his features was
distinctly visible as he sat with his side-face towards her, and he
had some coins in his hand which he was and laying out upon the
She thought she spoke gently to him, thinking that he had
been walking in his sleep. "Lancey, Lancey," she said, and
then he turned, and looked earnestly at her and at his adopted
father. She thought he whispered in a mournful tone, "Oh,
mother and father, mother and father!" still sitting on the bed; and
then she thought he went into the moonbeam and that he walked in it
through the open window, and so on and on in the air till he was
lost in a cloud.
With a start she awoke, the moon had gone down, all was
perfectly dark and perfectly still. Whenever anything aroused
in her a solicitude about one of the children, the feeling soon
spread till it had embraced them all. She prayed for Lancey as
she laid awake thinking of this dream, and then she prayed for all
the others. At last sleep came to her again, and she did not
awake till it was nigh day. Lancey was gone.
He sat on his little bed a long time, reflecting, and
fearing, and repenting, but he saw no opening for confession.
To confess such a deed as he had done, even to Don John, was
past his courage, because, to have any effect, it must bring other
confessions in its train,
Could he possibly put back the eight sovereigns which
remained, and having done so could he stay in his happy home, and
brave all the talk he should hear on this subject without betraying
He hoped, he thought he could. A flattering fancy
showed him a picture of himself stealing up between the hollyhocks,
softly undoing the casement-hasp, and slipping in the money.
They would not hear.
Something like genuine repentance made him sigh and sob as he
stole down stairs, got away into the gardens, and crept round the
bushes into the wood. The stars, which moonlight left visible,
looked so bright and so near, that they seemed to be prying at him.
Lancey walked down the wood-path till he came opposite to
Salisbury's cottage. He was full of tremour and
fear—night-beetles bumped against his face; a great white woolly
moth sailed up smelling of musk, little mice ran across the path,
and all of these startled him. He passed between the bushes.
There was no light burning within; the moonlight struck the little
casement-panes without, and made them glitter. He pushed his
finger into his waistcoat pocket, and felt the eight sovereigns in
the bag. The great experiment was soon to be made. He
stole nearer, constantly thinking of how Don John had done that very
thing before; surely as he wished to do well—good would come of it;
surely he should be helped to do what was right.
The lodger did not really know "all about it," as she had
said. She could only have meant that she strongly suspected
some person, the wrong person; if he could only put so much of the
money back nobody would believe her story. He must, he would
risk every thing, for he was lost and ruined, if once investigations
His heart beat high, his breath came in little pants, he was
quivering with agitation, in which was far more hope than fear.
He crept on behind the bushes at the further side of the brook.
It was nearly midnight when he stole across the narrow field and
risked several times being seen, so sore was his longing to get
close to the casement window.
He reached it at last, and his hope was quenched. He
laid his cheek against the glass, and put his fingers on the
fastening. The curtains hung a few inches apart, and to his
alarm he heard soft whispering voices within. Salisbury and
his wife—perhaps a policeman, who could tell—were sitting up;
evidently on the watch.
He edged himself back among the hollyhocks, and quite calmly
went away by the back of the house. His last chance had
failed, his home was forfeit; go he must.
He hardened his heart—had he not tried his very best to
repair his fault!—he must now keep the eight sovereigns that was
manifest. He supposed all that money would last a long time,
and then when he had nothing left, why, he could go to sea.
In the meantime he had always heard that the best to hide
oneself in was London.
Lancey was young for his years, he was strangely undecided,
he had often longed to see the world, he could go to sea. But
he loved comfort more than adventure, and to a certain extent he
loved the parents who had adopted him, and the brothers and sisters
with whom he had been brought up.
He thought he would wait another hour before he started; he
went and took leave of his rabbits, and of old Die, it was a sore
wrench to leave them behind. He would stay for this one hour
in the church porch, surely something would turn up—surely he was
not going away for ever?
The shadows were long now the moon was southing. He
could steal along by the hedge and not be seen, and he came and
leaned against the old wall of the church tower and shed some
miserable, contrite tears. But there were strange creakings
and groanings up aloft. He could hardly believe that the old
clock in the tower was responsible for them all, and then there
seemed to be running up and down and jumping in the body of the
church. He turned very cold, something appeared to fall; a
squeak almost human followed; in the daytime he might have thought
of rats, but now his mind was on more awful things. The clock
"gave warning," it was an awful sound—a new sound—and when midnight
began to strike, his guilty conscience drove him forth as if the
brazen echoes were proclaiming his guilt to all. He ran away
in good earnest, glad and almost thankful to go.
About seven o'clock on a sultry evening a decent-looking
woman was laying the cloth on a small round table in a moderately
clean and very scantily-furnished parlour in London.
Now and then she glanced curiously at a fine boy, who looked
very tired, and was sleepily watching her operations.
"He can hardly keep his eyes open," was her thought; "what
ever shall I do?"
Lancey—for Lancey it was—had walked during the previous night
to within four miles of London; and then a fit of indecision had
come upon him, and he had lingered about, losing his way, and
lamenting his fate till it was high noon, then finding himself close
to the railway by which Mr. Johnstone came up to London every day,
he walked across the country from it till an omnibus overtook him,
and getting in he coiled himself up in a corner. It did not
matter in the least where it was going, for he himself was not bound
to any place in particular. He dozed, and ate gingerbread, and
in course of time the omnibus stopped at the King's Cross Station,
the terminus by which he was accustomed to enter London.
"Father" never came up at that time of day; but yet Lancey
did not much relish finding himself at the foot of Pentonville Hill,
a locality so familiar to him.
He dived into a side street, and observed almost at once that
nearly every house had a card in some window, or over the door
setting forth that lodgings were to let in it.
He remembered that he must sleep somewhere, and if he went to
an hotel he should be far more liable to discovery than in a quiet
street such as this.
So Lancey took some cheap lodgings for a week, a tiny room
called a drawing-room, with a tiny bedroom behind it. He was
tired and hungry, but he was not equal to the task of ordering
dinner, because his landlady seemed to be examining him and
cogitating over him.
He went out and subsisted on refections of buns, tarts, and
fruit. At last he came back to his rooms, and his landlady
helped him by asking when he would have his supper, and what he
would like. He did not know what to have. She told him,
and requested money to pay for the various items, looking curiously
at him while he took out his well-filled purse and gave her what she
He had felt very forlorn during the afternoon. There
was a little bird shop not a hundred yards from the station, to
which he and Don John always paid a visit when they came to London.
The station was not visible from it, and Lancey had felt
irresistibly drawn to it. There were squirrels as well was
birds, dormice, young tortoises, and goldfish. There you might
buy a cock redbreast for sixpence; chaffinch for twopence, and
various other birds at moderate prices.
Lancey had laid out a small sum in the purchase of two green
linnets in cruelly small cages, a bag of seed, and a little
tortoise, in a lidless wooden box, lined with a damp sod.
His landlady, having laid the cloth, brought him up some
mutton chops, potatoes, tea, and bread and butter, and left him.
Lancey had never in his life been so glad of a comfortable meal.
She told him to ring when he wanted her to clear away.
She was a little bustling, clean woman, motherly and
observant. Her eyebrows had a peculiar faculty for raising
themselves. Lancey knew as well as possible that she was
making observations on him, and that frequent sensations of surprise
made these eyebrows go up into her forehead as two black arches,
which left her large eyelids full of little veins, to droop over her
inquisitive brown eyes, which for all their penetration made him
feel a certain confidence in her. He thought she was a kind,
When she came in to clear away, he had set the two cages on
the table, and was shaping two small wooden perches for his
miserable little thralls. He evidently did not wish to look at
her, and having nothing else to do was whiling away his time by
feeding and attending to these new pets.
As he did not speak to her, she made an opening for herself
by saying, "You'll have to pay for the use of the castors, sir."
Lancey looked up.
"For the mustard, and pepper, and vinegar inside em, I mean,"
"How much?" asked Lancey a little uneasily.
"Ninepence a week."
On hearing of such a small sum, the interest and uneasiness
of her young lodger immediately subsided; he pushed the perch into
one of the cages, and when the linnet had ended its distressful
fluttering she said in a clear, decided tone,―
"Not much used to taking lodgings, I reckon?"
Lancey said nothing.
"And your luggage, sir, when might that be coming?"
"I have no luggage," answered Lancey, blushing.
"Left it at home, I reckon?" and before Lancey had time to
reflect his answer had slipped out, "Yes."
She folded up her cloth. "They're in a fine taking about you
there by this time. I'll go bail," she observed.
"I don't know what you mean," said Lancey, flushing up.
"Just as if I didn't know as well as if you'd told me that
you'd run away from home; but now here you are as safe as can be,
and you've got at least a whole week to think it over."
"I don't know what you mean," repeated Lancey.
"Why, I mean that you've paid for these lodgings for a
week—and you can turn things over in your mind. They're fond
of you, I'll be bound—you can turn that over." She lifted up
her tray. "I have a son that ran away to sea three years ago
come Michaelmas; I'll asure you he has bitterly enough repented it
ever since, poor fellow."
If Lancey had not supposed himself to be utterly beyond fear
of detection he would not have answered at all; as it was, wishing
to shirk further discussion, and so confirming her in her thoughts,
he said he was sleepy and should now go to bed, which he did, and in
spite of uncertainty as to his future, sorrow for his fault, and for
the parting from all he held dear, he slept as soundly and as
sweetly as the most innocent boy in London.
It was ten o'clock before he had finished his breakfast the
next morning, and he ordered his dinner, which was to be at five
o'clock, with the air of one who so fully intended to eat it, that
his landlady was sure she should see him again, and hoped he might
be in a better humour for answering questions than he was at
And yet, as he was about to go out, she did hazard a
"And where might you be going now, sir?"
"To the Polytechnic," he answered carelessly, and off he set.
"To the Polytechnic, why, you poor innocent, misguided
child—for child you are, and loves childish pleasure still—what ever
am I to do for you! Who would think it?" While the
landlady said this she looked after Lancey as he walked down the
street, and her eyebrows went up almost to the roots of her hair.
Yes, Lancey was actually going to the Polytechnic; he had
nothing on earth to do. "Pepper's ghosts" just then were all
in their glory; he had money enough, as he supposed, to last nearly
three weeks. Of course, he should not go to sea till the last
minute. He and Don John had been trying to produce Pepper's
ghosts by means of a magic lantern and two looking-glasses. He
should stop there the whole day, and to-morrow (unless he altered
his mind and went to see the beasts feed at the Zoological Gardens),
to-morrow he would go to the docks.
To say that Lancey was happy at the Polytechnic would be to
make a mistake; but he certainly had intervals of enjoyment, when he
forgot the past and the future, and puzzled himself over "Pepper's
ghosts," and afterwards listened to a lecture, which was livened by
various chemical experiments, that made noise enough to delight (and
deafen) any boy of average tastes.
He came home, ate his dinner, and played with his bird and
tortoise. He was more cunning than he had been the previous
night. His landlady got nothing at all out of him. He
went to bed, but did not sleep so well. He must not spend all
his money, he now thought, before he had even decided whether he
would go to sea or not. There might be an outfit to buy, and
if it cost anything like as much as his clothes did at school, he
had not half enough money for it even now, unless he sold his watch.
Yes, he must go to the docks. He ordered his dinner as
before and set out. Where should he get a cheap map of London,
for he had not a notion how to get to the docks? He sauntered
on till he reached the Gower Street Station of the Metropolitan
Railway; for a few pence, as he knew he could go a long way to the
eastward, he took a ticket and descended. Then, since a
merciful Providence had ordained that, in spite of his crime, he
should yet have a chance of well-doing, he found that he had ten
minutes to wait, and that on a dark, dingy book-stall there were
maps and the daily papers; he asked for a map of London, and while
the selling-boy dived under the back of the stall he glanced at the
rows of Times newspapers, Standards, Telegraphs,
&c., &c., and his eye carelessly ran over the first advertisement on
the top of the second column of the Times.
"To L. A.—L., it is all discovered; but yet there is time.
L., only one person in this world knows. Will you trust that
one, and all shall be forgiven and made right again? Do not
throw away your home and your prospects. Trust me, and come to
the Euston Hotel. Write your own name on a card, and send it
up to No. 16."
Lancey read the whole of this before it occurred to him that
the initials were his own. With a start his eye then passed on
to the Standard, and there was the same advertisement to L.
A. He was instantly sure that the message was to him.
How could he doubt that, any more than Don John had put it in.
But where had the money come from? A trembling seized
Lancey. He began to be sure that this going to sea was a
horrid and unbearable thing; that to give up his home and his family
would bring misery and ruin. He had more than five pounds in
his pocket: if Don John had contrived to borrow the money here was
something towards it, and he would sell his watch besides. Oh,
to be at home again; oh, how sweet the promise that all should be
set right. "I don't want the map," cried Lancey, as the boy
came forth, but he snatched the paper, threw down shilling, and ran
out into the road and on towards Euston Square, never daring to stop
lest fear should get the better of him and he should change his
THE Euston Hotel.
Lancey reached it, got in front of the railway terminus, and
looked right and left with a longing hope that he might see Don John
glancing out at some window. His heart beat wildly, as if all
the life he had was thumping at his left side. His hands
trembled, his lips were white. What if after all there was
But what mistake could there be?
Don John had written obscurely, but that was because he was
afraid of being found out. Lancey had written a letter to his
adopted parents, setting forth that he longed to see the world, and
so—he had run away. But Don John would have had time now to
put that and the stealing of the ten sovereigns together. He
had no doubt jumped to the right conclusion, and would save him; but
Lancey did not relish having to face him. Whenever he had
committed any peculations, it was Don John who was sick with shame
and rage, not only with fear of detection, which was what Lancey
felt, but with horror at the deed itself.
He had written his own name on a card, and though he was full
of hope, yet the dread of Don John would say, and of what he might
risked in order to bring about this interview Lancey tremble.
"Is there a young gentleman waiting here for me?" he asked of
"What is the young gentleman's name?" was the not unnatural
Lancey hesitated, sank into the one chair which graced the
vestibule, and gave it, "Master Donald Johnstone."
A young woman, who was seated in a kind of glass case, began
to examine some books.
"No, sir," she shortly answered, "we have no such name here."
Perhaps Don John had not dared to give his own name.
Lancey now felt that he must follow the directions given.
"I was asked to give this card, and inquire for No. 16."
"No. 16! Ah, yes, sir, that's it," exclaimed waiter,
starting forward almost with alacrity, and taking the card.
"Yes, sir; follow me, if you please."
Lancey rose to follow, but slowly. It seemed to him
that the young person who had searched the books looked at him with
amusement, and that the porter at the door was observant too.
He was taken upstairs and along some almost interminable passages;
then a door was opened; he was announced,—"Mr. Lancelot Aird," and
turning from a table in the window slowly on as if not to startle
him, he saw, not Don John—but, the lodger.
"There's some mistake!" exclaimed Lancey aghast, and starting
"No, there's no mistake," she answered, looking at him with
that never-to-be-forgotten expression in her eyes. "No; 'twas
I that advertised,—Lancey!"
Something indescribable in her face and in her manner
astonished him almost to the point of making him forget why he had
She had passed between him and the door. She leaned
against it, and held the handle, while he sank into a chair.
"Lancey," she began again, and said no more. The
silence that followed was so full of wonderment to Lancey that no
words, he felt, could add to it whatever those words might be.
And yet they did give him a kind of shock, she said them with such
difficulty and such distress.
"I saw you take it," she whispered, after that pause.
"Lancey, I saw you open my desk and steal the ten sovereigns;
and I—I am as miserable as you are."
Lancey looked at her as she still stood supporting herself
against the door. He was subdued by her paleness, by the
distress and misery in her voice, and the yearning in her face.
He burst into tears.
O, it appeared so long before she spoke again!
"I want to save you. Do you know why?"
"Do I know why?" he repeated, almost in a whisper.
He looked at her, and his heart seemed to whisper to him what
this meant. He put out both his hands as if to entreat her not
to come nearer to him yet.
"I took those lodgings in Salisbury's house that I might see
you—only you," she continued.
"Why should you care about me?" he burst out, "I don't know
you. What are you to me?"
Yes! He was almost sure now that this was what he had
foreseen—this was what he had known she would say.
He trembled from head to foot; the ten sovereigns were far
away now, lost in a wild whirl of disaster, and grief, and change.
"I can't love any other mother than that one at home," he
She answered, in a piercing tone of distress and
remonstrance, "But you have run away from her, my Lancey. And
could she forgive you if she knew all?"
"I cannot say."
"But I do know—and I do forgive—and I will forget. Only
repent, my son, my only dear; or you'll break my heart."
"I have repented. Oh, forgive me, and let me go!
I have left them all, and lost them. But—"
"But you cannot take me instead. I know it. You
cannot love me all on a sudden."
Lancey was too much astonished and agitated to arrange the
many thoughts which were soon to press for utterance. Only one
came to the front, and he uttered it.
"It is late in my life for you to ask me to love you for the
"Yes," she sighed.
She stood pale and mournful of aspect and leaned against the
door. He knew that her distress for his fault was overpowering
the joy of recovering him. He revolved in his mind the
circumstance, and vaguely gazed about him at the common-place room,
the common-place woman only distinguished from many others by the
over-richness of her dress, and the fineness of her gold ornaments.
Nothing helped him.
And she said she was his mother! Which was best? to run
away to the docks and see what ships were like, and make trial of
the hardships of the sea: or to bind her to secrecy, and let her
save him as she had said?
It was easy, this last plan. It was a respite; but he
felt instinctively, for he was not calm enough for any decided
thoughts—he felt that to run away bore with it the blessed
possibility of coming home again and being forgiven. But to
stay as her son was to give up this home, he could not have both.
Then he looked at her, and for the moment was even more sorry for
her than for himself. And he rose and came towards her, for
this Lancey was not always to act basely and with unkindness.
He dried away his tears.
"But I know very well that you love me now," he said, with
her last word still ringing in his ears. "You would like to
kiss me, wouldn't you?" and he bent his fresh young cheek to her
She kissed him, and with what joy and gratitude no words can
tell. Holding him for a moment round the neck,—"Promise you
won't run away from me," she entreated.
"No, I will not." Then astonishment getting the better
of his emotion, he went on, "You—no, I need not fear that you will
betray me. But if you are my mother, how comes it that my
own—I mean my other father and mother—do not know you?"
"Mr. Johnstone does know," she answered, sobbing. "When
I met him in the fields I saw that he recognized me. So then
you know nothing at all about me, Lancey?"
She trembled. She was seated on a chair next to him
now, had taken his hand, and was pressing it to her heart. He
scarcely cared about this, or noticed it. He perceived that he
was saved, but then he was lost! This mother who had found him
would want to keep him, and she could never be admitted as an equal
in the adopted mother's home.
"I know nothing but that your name is Collingwood," he
answered, with a sigh.
"O yes! my name is Collingwood. You know nothing more,
my son? Think."
She looked intently at him, and he added,
"They said that my father's name was Aird, and after his
death that you married again." It's quicker than lightning. I
have no time to think, was his reflection, and he held up his hands
to his head.
"Yes, but nothing more?" she asked.
"Nothing, but that you never wrote to me, which we thought
"Don John and I." Then there was a pause, they both
"Can't you say Mother to me, Lancey?"
"No," said Lancey, dejectedly. "I love the other one.
I don't mean—I don't wish to love any but her."
"But surely—" she sighed as if deeply wounded—"surely you are
thankful to be saved?"
A lump seemed to rise in Lancey's throat then, and he
trembled even more than she did.
"I am not saved," he answered hoarsely; "I don't wish to say
anything wicked to you. Let me alone, or I shall."
"I'll only say one thing, then," she persisted. "That
ten pounds: you are welcome to it. Consider that I gave it to
you. It is yours."
Lancey's chest heaved, there certainly was some relief in
Presently she spoke again.
"I heard what you wrote in your letter to Mrs. Johnstone—all
the servants and children know—that you had run away to sea.
Nothing could be like the astonishment of them all. I think it
was as good a thing as you could have said; and so, when I got here,
I said the same thing, that my son had run off to sea; but I said I
hoped you would come and take leave of me, and I bribed the waiters
to look out for you."
Oh! what a world of difference there was between this speech
and anything that had ever been said to him in his lost and
But it suited poor Lancey, and he gradually became calmer.
He was to be aided with this lie that concealed a theft. She
hoped by means of it to conciliate and make him lovingly dependent
on her; and he, by the same means, hoped to pass for nothing worse
than an extremely ungrateful, bad, and foolish schoolboy, to obtain
forgiveness and get away from her. Each was subtle enough to
conceal such thoughts. Lancey at once determined that he would
try to be more pleasant to her, and she began to throw out hints of
projected visits to Paris and to Switzerland, which, without
distinctly asking him to go with her, seemed to show that his
company at home, or abroad, would always be a pleasure to her.
A clock on the mantel-piece struck one. Now was the decisive
"You'll stay and have your lunch with me, of course?" she
"I suppose so," he answered dejectedly; and then, on
reflection, added, "If you please."
The colour came back to her face. She knew her game was
won. She rang the bell, quietly ordered lunch for two, and
added, but rather slowly, "And this young gentleman—my son—will
sleep here to-night. I shall want a room for him near to
The waiter tried, but not very successfully, to conceal his
interest and amusement. Lancey, with disconsolate air, was
looking out of the window. Mrs. Collingwood put a small piece
of paper in the waiter's hand, on which was some writing.
"You'll see that this goes at once?"
It was a telegram addressed to Mr. Johnstone, at his house in
the country, and was thus expressed:–
"Sir, Master Lancelot Aird is with me at the Euston
Hotel; I await your wishes.
M. J. C."
As the lunch drew to its conclusion, Lancey became hopelessly
restless. Mrs. Collingwood noticed this, and asked what he
would like to do.
He had nothing to do. He had thought of going to see
the beasts fed; but it was too early. Lancey brought out this
plan in his most boyish and inconsequent fashion.
"But he had two green linnets and a little tortoise in his
lodgings. He should like to have them with him at the
hotel, for he had nothing to do."
Mrs. Collingwood said she would go with him and fetch them.
"And as I've got some money left," continued Lancey, sighing
between almost every word; "money that you have given me now, I
should like some more creatures. I saw a puppy at the shop
yesterday—a shunning one, a skye—and, perhaps, if I had it"—here a
great many more sighs—"I shouldn't be so miserable."
So an open fly was hired, and Lancey appeared at his late
lodgings to claim his property. His landlady was a good woman.
She was pleased to see him with a fine lady, who thanked her for
having been kind to her son.
"Does he owe you anything?" she asked.
"No, ma'am, nothing."
"Excepting for the castors," said Lancey.
"Well, now," exclaimed the landlady, "to think of your
remembering that, sir; and to think of my forgetting!"
Mrs. Collingwood paid a shilling for the use of the castors,
and generously forbore to take back the threepence change.
Lancey felt rather less forlorn when he reached the hotel
again with his tortoise, his two linnets, a skye puppy, and some
wood and wire with which he meant to enlarge a cage for a starling,
that he had added to his menagerie. He was very clever with
his hands, and being much occupied, took no notice when a telegram
was brought in for Mrs. Collingwood. It ran thus,—"I will be
with you to-morrow morning about ten o'clock."
So after breakfast the next morning—a meal during which
Lancey was still disconsolate—Mrs. Collingwood asked him if he did
not wish to see Mr. Johnstone, and ask his pardon for having away.
Lancey said "Yes," but not with any hope that this wish would
so soon be realized. In two minutes the waiter announced Mr.
and Mrs. Johnstone. A tall lady entered, and with a jealous
pang, Maria Collingwood saw her boy rush up to her.
"Oh, mother—mother!" he cried. His face was on her
bosom, and her hand rested on his forehead. "Ask father to
forgive me," he cried.
His arm was round her neck, and she kissed him. How
beautiful she was, how motherly, how tall. The other woman
looked and envied her from the bottom of her soul; her face was
coloured with agitation, and her eyes flashed. She had but
vaguely noticed, she was scarcely aware of Mrs. Collingwood's
presence; but Mr. Johnstone was, he walked up to her, as she sat
slightly turning away from the unbearable sight of her Lancey's love
for another mother.
"How much does that boy know?" he inquired, looking steadily
at her, and speaking low.
"I have told him that I am his mother, sir," she whispered,
"but nothing else; nothing at all."
Donald Johnstone turned; Lancey had made a step or two
towards him, but before he took any other notice of him, he said,
"Set your mother a chair."
"Yes, father," said Lancey.
And as Mrs. Johnstone sat down she made a slight movement of
recognition to Mrs. Collingwood, who was keenly aware that her
Lancey was standing humble and crestfallen for what seemed a long
time before the adopted father, whose steady, penetrative eyes
appeared to look him through and through.
It seemed a long time, but it could not have been many
seconds. When he did speak his face changed, and his voice,
which was low, trembled with impassioned emotion.
"Have I ever denied you any one thing that was good for you
all your life long?"
"Have I made any difference between you and the dearest of my
"Look at me."
Lancey lifted up his daunted face, and looked entreatingly at
"Your mother, as we drove along this morning, begged me to
forgive you, Lancey,—for running away."
Lancey's eyes fell.
The steady, clear emphasis imparted to those last words shook
him, and frightened Mrs. Collingwood no less. There was more
meaning in them than met the ear. How could he have discovered
what she only had seen? And if he had not, what did he
He sighed deeply.
"For running away," he repeated; "and I said―I
"Have I anything else to forgive you for?"
Lancey's head was bent, as he stood, but he murmured
something in his fright and confusion. It seemed to be "No."
Then the other mother spoke. She said, "Oh, yes, my
Lancey; yes. Your father has to forgive you for long distrust
of his anxious goodness, and care for you. If you were unhappy
at home, why didn't you say so? If you longed so much for a
sea life, why did you never tell it even to me? Why have you
done this us? We deserved better things of you, Lancey.
You have been ungrateful and unkind."
He does know, thought Mrs. Collingwood, and she
Lancey was completely overcome. He staggered as he
stood, and in another instant the adopted father was holding him by
the shoulder; he made him sit and unfastened his necktie. As
he bent over him to do this, Mrs. Collingwood saw Lancey lean his
forehead for a moment against Mr. Johnstone's breast.
"You won't tell mother?" he faltered. And Mrs.
Collingwood heard the words with a passion of jealous pain. Of
course he did not care that she knew.
She heard the whispered "No." Then she saw him put his
hand on her boy's head. He said,―
"May God forgive you, my poor child, and grant you time to
retrieve the past."
A silence followed. The adopted mother and the true
mother both wept. Lancey, now the terrible ordeal was over,
felt almost as if he was in his former place, and was going to his
home as if nothing was changed, but yet the many strange things that
had come to pass flashing back on his memory, enabled him quickly to
overcome his emotion.
"Mother," he burst out, addressing Mrs. Johnstone, "this—this
lady says that she came home from Australia on purpose to see me.
She says she is—"
"She says she is your mother," said Mrs. Johnstone.
"Well, my son, you always knew that I was not; we always told
you that you were a dear adopted son."
"You won't let her take me from you?"
"Lancey," cried Mrs. Collingwood, "I have been very good to
you, and this I cannot stand. But for me, you would have been
on shipboard by this time."
"Father," repeated Lancey, "you won't let her take me from
"No," he answered, just as decidedly as if the whole matter
was in his own hands.
"Sir, you may find that I have something to say as to that,"
sobbed poor Mrs. Collingwood.
"I have no doubt of it," he replied, "and now is the time to
say it. If Mrs. Johnstone will let Lancey take her to his
sleeping-room, you can speak as you could not in the presence of the
boy, and I can tell you my intentions."
Still taking in all respects the upper hand, he was soon left
alone with Mrs. Collingwood, and while she dried her eyes, he said,
"Mrs. Collingwood, I am sorry to begin with a disparaging
question. You went away declaring that you did not know, and
had no means of knowing, which of those two children was yours—how
is it that you come back, to the full as sure as we are, if not more
"This certainty of yours almost ties me down to thought that
you did know always; but that in an the unworthy hour you yielded to
your husband's desire to get rid of your child, and made up a story
which you knew would provide him with a kind father, and better
mother than you had been."
"No, sir," she replied, moving her hand as if to put all this
"How is it, then?"
"I came to see which you had chosen, and the moment I set my
eyes on Lancey, I felt—I was sure―I
could have sworn that he was my son. I loved him so. I
knew that you were right. I saw your son, sir, several times
first, and felt that I didn't like him, that he was nothing to me.
But Lancey―oh, sir! you know he's
mine as well as I do."
"I believe he is, so does Mrs. Johnstone."
"I have plenty, sir. My
husband's—Collingwood's—relations in Australia left him four hundred
a year; they had been so prosperous. It all came by David's
will to me."
"That I have nothing to do with."
"You can leave it to Lancey, if you please; but that is
nothing to me."
"I am ever deeply thankful for all you have done for my
Lancey. You have made a gentleman of him; but I meant, sir,
that of course I should wish to take him off your hands now, and
finish educating of him, and provide for him myself."
"How so, sir?"
"You cannot prove that the boy is yours."
"Prove it?—no, of course not."
"Nothing on earth but proof will do for me. That it is
to the last and uttermost improbable he can be mine, I fully admit;
but I will not give him up unless you can prove that it is
"Why, you have five, Mr. Johnstone—five beside him—and I have
"The thing is entirely your own doing."
"But my poor husband, Collingwood, had no doubt in the world;
when, after some years—we had plenty of money and no children, and
he so fond of me—I told him at last everything. How I
concealed from poor mother and denied that I had changed the
children, and so—"
"And so she did it herself; yes, probably."
"Oh, you'll let me have my boy, then?"
"I'm a miserable woman; but there's law. I take the law
of you, sir."
"You are talking nonsense; there is no law for such a case;
and if you make it public, you will cover yourself with disgrace,
and make your son detest you; we have never told him anything at all
against you. To the utmost of my ability, I am bringing him up
as I would if it was proved to me that he was mine; and whether he
is to be my honour or my disgrace, so help me God, I will never