OF A FINE MAN AND SOME FOOLISH WOMEN.
"For life is like unto a winter's day,
Some break their fast and so depart away;
Others stay dinner, then depart full fed;
The longest age but sups, and goes to bed."
MORTIMER, as has before been said, was the father of seven
children. It may now be added that he had been a widower one year
and a half.
Since the death of his wife he had been his own master, and,
so far as he cared to be, the master of his household.
This had not been the case previously: his wife had ruled
over him and his children, and had been happy on the whole, though any
woman whose house, containing four sitting-rooms only, finds that they are
all thoroughfares, and feels that one of the deepest joys of life is that
of giving dinner-parties, and better ones than her neighbours, must be
held to have a grievance―a grievance against architects, which no one but
an architect can cure.
And yet old Augustus, in generously presenting this house,
roof and all, to his son, had said, "And, my dears, both of you, beware of
bricks and mortar. I have no doubt, John, when you are settled, that
you and Janie will find defects in your house. My experience is that
all houses have defects; but my opinion is, that it is better to pull a
house down, and build a new one, than to try to remedy them."
Mr. Augustus Mortimer had tried building, rebuilding, and
altering houses more than once; and his daughter-in-law knew that he would
be seriously vexed if she disregarded his advice.
Of course if it had been John himself that had objected, the
thing would have been done in spite of that; but his father must be
considered, she knew, for in fact everything depended on him.
John had been married the day he came of age. His
father had wished it greatly: he thought it a fine thing for a man to
marry early, if he could afford it. The bride wished it also, but
the person who wished it most of all was her mother, who managed to make
John think he wished it too, and so, with a certain moderation of feeling,
he did; and if things had not been made so exceedingly easy for him, he
might have attained almost to fervour on the occasion.
As it was, being young for his years, as well as in fact, he
had hardly forgotten to pride himself on having a house of his own, and
reached the dignified age of twenty-two, when Mrs. John Mortimer,
presenting him with a son, made a man of him in a day, and threw his
boyish thoughts into the background. To his own astonishment, he
found himself greatly pleased with his heir. His father was pleased
also, and wrote to the young mother something uncommonly like a letter of
thanks, at the same time presenting her with a carriage and horses.
The next year, perhaps in order to deserve an equally
valuable gift (which she obtained), she presented her husband with twin
daughters; and was rather pleased than otherwise to find that he was glad,
and that he admired and loved his children.
Mrs. John Mortimer felt a decided preference for her husband
over any other young man; she liked him, besides which he had been a most
desirable match for her in point of circumstances; but when her first
child was born to her she knew, for the first time in her life, what it
was to feel a real and warm affection. She loved her baby; she may
have been said, without exaggeration, to have loved him very much; she had
thenceforward no time to attend to John, but she always ruled over his
household beautifully, made his friends welcome, and endeared herself to
her father-in-law by keeping the most perfect accounts, never persuading
John into any kind of extravagance, and always receiving hints from
headquarters with the greatest deference.
The only defect her father-in-law had, in her opinion, was
that he was so inconveniently religious; his religion was inconvenient not
only in degree but in kind. It troubled her peace to come in contact
with states of mind very far removed not only from what she felt, but what
she wished to feel. If John's father had set before her anything
that she and John could do, or any opinion that they might hold, she
thought she should have been able to please him, for she considered
herself quite inclined to do her duty by her church and her soul in a
serious and sensible manner; but to take delight in religion, to add the
love of the unseen Father to the fear and reverence that she wanted to
cultivate, was something that it alarmed her to think of.
It was all very well to read of it in the Bible, because that
concerned a by-gone day, or even to hear a clergyman preach of it, this
belonged to his office; but when this old man, with his white beard,
talked to her and her husband just as David had talked in some of his
psalms, she was afraid, and found his aspiration worse to her than any
amount of exhortation could have been.
What so impossible to thought as such a longing for
intercourse with the awful and the remote―"With my soul have I desired
thee in the night;" "My soul is athirst for God;" no, not so, says the
listener who stands without―I will come to his house and make obeisance,
but let me withdraw soon again from his presence, and dwell undaunted
among my peers.
There is, indeed, nothing concerning which people more fully
feel that they cannot away with it than another man's aspiration.
And her husband liked it. He was not afraid, as she
was, of the old man's prayers, though he fully believed they would be
He tried to be loyal to the light he walked in, and his
father rested in a trust concerning him and his, which had almost the
assurance of possession.
She also, in the course of a few years, came to believe that
she must ere long be drawn into a light which as yet had not risen.
She feared it less, but never reached the point of wishing to see it
At varying intervals, Mrs. John Mortimer presented her
husband with another lovely and healthy infant, and she also, in her turn,
received a gift from her father-in-law, together with the letter of
In the meantime her husband grew. He became first
manly, more manly than the average man, as is often the case with those
who have an unusually long boyhood. Then by culture and travel he
developed the resources of a keenly observant and very thoughtful mind.
Then his love for his children made a naturally sweet temper sweeter
still, and in the course of a very few years he had so completely left his
wife behind, that it never occurred to him to think of her as a companion
for his inner life. He liked her; she never nagged; he considered
her an excellent housekeeper; in fact, they were mutually pleased with one
another; their cases were equal; both often thought they might have been
worse off, and neither regretted with any keenness what they had never
Sometimes, having much sweetness of nature, it would chance
that John Mortimer's love for his children would overflow in his wife's
direction, on which, as if to recall him to himself, she would say, not
coldly, but sensibly, "Don't be silly, John dear." But if he
expressed gratitude on her account, as he sometimes did when she had an
infant of a few days old in her arms, if his soul appeared to draw nearer
to her then, and he inclined to talk of deeper and wider things than they
commonly spoke of, she was always distinctly aggrieved. A tear
perhaps would twinkle in her eye. She was affected by his relief
after anxiety, and his gratitude for her safety; but she did not like to
feel affected, and brought him back to the common level of their lives as
soon as possible.
So they lived together in peace and prosperity till they had
seven children, and then, one fine autumn, Mrs. John Mortimer persuaded
her father-in-law to do up the house, so far as papering and painting were
concerned. She then persuaded John to take a tour, and went herself
to the sea-side with her children.
From this journey she did not return. Their father had
but just gone quite out of her reach when the children took scarlet fever,
and she summoned their grandfather to her aid. In this, her first
great anxiety and trouble, for some of them were extremely ill, all that
she had found most oppressive in his character appeared to suit her.
He pleased and satisfied her; but the children were hardly better, so that
he had time to consider what it was that surprised him in her, when she
fell ill herself, and before her husband reached home had died in his
All the children recovered. John Mortimer took them
home, and for the first six months after her death he was miserably
disconsolate. It was not because they had been happy, but because
they had been so very comfortable. He aggravated himself into
thinking that he could have loved her more if he had only known how soon
he should lose her; he looked at all their fine healthy joyous children,
and grieved to think that now they were his only.
But the time came when he knew that he could have loved her
much more if she would have let him; and when he had found out that,
womankind in general went down somewhat in his opinion. He made up
his mind, as he thought, that he would not marry again; but this, he knew
in his secret heart, was less for her sake than for his own.
Then, being of an ardently affectionate nature, and having
now no one to restrain it, he began to study his children with more
anxious care, and consider their well-being with all his might.
The children of middle-aged people seem occasionally to come
into the world ready tamed. With a certain old-fashioned primness,
they step sedately through the paths of childhood. So good, so easy
to manage, so―uninteresting?
The children of the very young have sometimes an extra
allowance of their father's youth in their blood. At any rate the
little Mortimers had.
Their joy was ecstatic, their play was fervent, and as hard
as any work. They seemed month by month to be crowding up to their
father, in point of stature, and when he and they all went about the
garden together, some would be treading on his heels, the select two who
had hold of his arms would be shouting in his ears, and the others,
dancing in front, were generally treading on his toes, in their desire to
get as near as possible and inform him of all the wonderful things that
were taking place in this new and remarkable world.
Into this family the lonely little heir of the Melcombes was
shortly invited to come for awhile, but for some trivial reason his mother
declined the invitation, at the same time expressing her hope that Mr.
Mortimer would kindly renew it some other time.
It was not convenient to John Mortimer to invite the boy
again for a long time―so long that his mother bitterly repented not having
accepted the first invitation. She had an aunt living at Dartmouth,
and whenever her boy was invited by John Mortimer, she meant to bring him
herself, giving out that she was on her way to visit that relative.
Who knew what might happen?
Mr. John Mortimer was a fine man, tall, broad-shouldered, and
substantial-looking, though not at all stout. His perfect health and
teeth as white as milk made him look even younger than he was. His
countenance, without being decidedly handsome, was fine and very
agreeable. His hair was light, of the Saxon hue, and his complexion
Thus he had many advantages; but Mrs. Peter Melcombe felt
that as the mother of a child so richly endowed, and as the possessor of
eight hundred a year in order that he might be suitably brought up, she
was a desirable match also. She did not mean the boy to cost her
much for several years to come, and till he came of age (if he lived) she
had that handsome old house to live in. Old Augustus Mortimer, on
the other hand, was very rich, she knew; he was a banker and his only son
was his partner. Sure to inherit his banking business and probably
heir to his land.
Mrs. Peter Melcombe had some handsome and becoming raiment
made, and waited with impatience; for in addition to Mr. John Mortimer's
worldly advantages she found him attractive.
So did some other people. John Mortimer's troubles on
that head began very soon after the sending of his first invitation to
Mrs. Melcombe, when the excellent elderly lady who taught the little
Mortimers (and in a great measure kept his house) let him know that she
could no longer do justice to them. They got on so fast, they had
such spirits, they were so active and so big, that she felt she could not
cope with them. Moreover, the three eldest were exceptionally
clever, and the noise made by the whole tribe fatigued her.
John sent his eldest boy to school, promised her masters to
help her, and an assistant governess, but she would not stay, and with her
went for a time much of the comfort of that house.
Mr. Mortimer easily got another governess―a very pretty young
lady who did not, after a little while, take much interest in the
children, but certainly did take an interest in him. She was always
contriving to meet him―in the hall, on the stairs, in the garden.
Then she looked at him at church, and put him so out of countenance and
enraged him, and made him feel so ridiculous, that one day he took himself
off to the Continent, and kept away till she was gone.
Having managed that business, he got another governess, and
she let him alone, and the children too, for they completely got the
better of her; used to make her romp with them, and sometimes went so far
as to lock her into the schoolroom. It was not till this lady had
taken her leave and another had been found that Mr. John Mortimer repeated
his invitation to little Peter Melcombe. His mother brought him, and
according to the programme she had laid down, got herself invited to stay
a few days.
She had no trouble about it. Mr. John Mortimer no
sooner saw Mrs. Melcombe than he expressed a hospitable, almost a fervent
hope, that she could stay a week with him.
Of course Mrs. Melcombe accepted the invitation, and he was
very sociable and pleasant; but she thought the governess (a very grand
lady indeed) took upon herself more than beseemed her, and smiled at her
very scornfully when she ventured to say sweet things to John Mortimer on
her own great love for children, and on the charms of his children in
Peter was excessively happy. His mother's happiness in
the visit was soon over. She shortly found out that an elderly
Scotch lady, one Miss Christie Grant, an aunt of the late Mrs. Daniel
Mortimer, was to come in a few days and pay a long visit, and she shrewdly
suspected that the attractive widower being afraid to remain alone in his
own house, made arrangements to have female visitors to protect him, and
hence the invitation to her. But she had to leave Peter at the end of the
week, and which of the two ladies when they parted hated the other most it
might be difficult to determine.
It cannot be said with truth that Peter regretted his
mother's departure. The quantity of mischief he was taught (of a not
very heinous description) by two sweet little imps of boys younger than
himself, kept him in a constant state of joyous excitement. His
grandmother having now been dead a year and a quarter, his mourning had
been discarded, and his mother had been very impressive in her cautions to
him not to spoil his new clothes, but before he had been staying with his
young friends a fortnight he was much damaged in his outer man, as indeed
he was also in his youthful heart, for the smallest of all the Mortimers―a
lovely little child about three years old―took entire possession of it;
and when he was not up a tree with the boys in a daring hunt after bergamy
pears, or wading barefoot in a shallow stream at the bottom of the garden
catching water-beetles, caddis-worms, and other small cattle for a
freshwater aquarium, he was generally carrying this child about the garden
pick-a-back, or otherwise obeying her little behests, and assuring her of
his unalterable love.
Poor little Peter! After staying fully six weeks with
the Mortimers his time came to be taken home again, and his mother, who
spent two days with them on her way northwards, bore him off to the
railway, accompanied by the host and most of his children. Then he
suddenly began to feel the full meaning of the misfortune that had fallen
on him, and he burst into wailings and tears. His tiny love had
promised to marry him when she was grown up; his two little friends had
given him some sticklebacks, packed in wet moss; they were now in his
pockets, as were also some water-beetles in a paper bag; the crown of his
cap was full of silkworms carefully wrapped in mulberry leaves; but all
these treasures could not avail to comfort him for loss of the sweet
companionship he had enjoyed―for the apples he had crunched in the big
dog's kennel when hiding with another little imp from the nurse―for the
common possession they had enjoyed of some young rats dug out of the bank
of the stream, and more than all, for the tender confidences there had
been between them as to the endless pranks they spent their lives in, and
all the mischief they had done or that they aspired to do.
John Mortimer having a keen sympathy with childhood, felt rue
at heart for the poor little blinking, sobbing fellow; but to invite him
again might be to have his mother also, so he let him go, handing in from
his third daughter's arms to the young heir a wretched little blind puppy
and a small bottle of milk to feed it with on the way.
If anything could comfort a boy, this precious article could.
So the Mortimer boys thought. So in fact it proved. As the
train moved off they heard the sobs of Peter and the yelping of the puppy,
but before they reached their happy home he had begun to nurse the little
beast in his arms, and derive consolation from watching its movements and
keeping it warm.
THE SHADOW OF A SHADE.
"The world would lose its finest joys
Without its little girls and boys;
Their careless glee and simple ruth,
And innocence and trust and truth;
Ah! what would your poor poet do
Without such little folk as you?"
observed Mr. Nicholas Swan, the gardener, when the children came home and
told him how Peter had cried―"anyhow, there's one less on you now to run
over my borders. He was as meek as Moses, that child was, when first
he came, but you soon made him as audacious as any of you."
"So they did, Nicholas dear," said one of the twins, a tall,
dark haired child.
"Oh, it's Nicholas dear, is it, Miss Barbara?
Well, now, what next?"
"Why, the key of the fruit-house―we want the key."
"Key, indeed! Now, there's where it is. Make a
wry path through your fields, and still you'll walk in it! I never
ought to ha' got in the habit of lending you that key. What's the
good of a key if a man can never keep it in his pocket? When I lived
up at Mr. Daniel Mortimer's, the children never had my key―never."
"Well, come with us, then, and give us out the pears
yourself. We won't take one."
Nicholas, with a twin on each side, and the other children
bringing up the rear, was now walked off to the fruit-house, grumbling as
"I left Mr. Mortimer's, I did, because I couldn't stand the
children; and now the world's a deal fuller of 'em than it was then.
No, Miss Gladys, I'm not a-going any faster; I wouldn't run, if it was
ever so. When the contrac' was signed of my wages, it was never
wrote down that I had to run at any time."
And having now reached the fruit-house, he was just pulling
out his big key, when something almost like shame showed itself in his
ruddy face, as a decided and somewhat mocking voice addressed him.
"Well, Nicholas, I'm just amazed at ye! I've lived
upward of sixty years in this island, Scotland and England both, and never
did I see a man got over so by children in my life! Talking of my
niece's children, are ye―Mrs. Daniel Mortimer's? I wonder at ye―they
were just nothing to these."
Here Mr. Swan, having unlocked the door, dived into the
fruit-house, and occupied himself for some moments in recovering his
self-possession and making his selection; then emerging with an armful of
pears, he shouted after Miss Christie Grant, who had got a good way down
the walk by this time.
"I don't deny, ma'am, that these air aggravating now and
then, but anyhow they haven't painted my palings pink and my door
Miss Christie returned. She seldom took the part of any
children, excepting for the sake of argument or for family reasons; and
she felt at that moment that the Daniel Mortimers were related to her, and
that these, though they called her "aunt," were not.
"Ye should remember," she observed, with severity, "that ye
had already left your house when they painted it."
"Remember it!" exclaimed the gardener, straightening himself;
"ay, ay, I remember it―coming along the lane that my garden sloped down
to, so that every inch of it could be seen. It had been all raked
over, and there, just out of the ground, growing up in mustard-and-cress
letters as long as my arm, I saw 'This genteel residence to let, lately
occupied by N. Swan, Esq.' I took my hob-nailed boots to them
last words, and I promise you I made the mustard-and-cress fly."
"Well, ye see," observed Miss Christie, who was perfectly
serious, "there is great truth in your saying that those children did too
much as they pleased; but ye must consider that Mr. Mortimer didn't like
to touch any of them, because they were not his own."
"That's just it, ma'am, and Mrs. Mortimer didn't like to
touch any of them because they were her own; so between the two
they got to be, I don't say as bad as these, but―" Here he shook his head,
and leaning his back to the fruit-house door, began diligently to peel the
fruit for an assembly, silent, because eating. "As for Master
Giles," he went on, more to torment the old lady than to disparage the
gentleman in question, "before ever he went to school, he chalked a
picture that he called my arms on the tool house-door, three turnips as
natural as life, and a mad kind of bird flourishing its wings about, that
he said was a swan displayed. Underneath, for a morter, was
wrote, 'All our geese air swans.' Now what do you call that for ten
"Well, well," said Aunt Christie, "that's nearly twenty years
Then the fruit being all finished, N. Swan, Esq., shut up his
clasp-knife, and the story being also finished, his audience ran away,
excepting Miss Christie, to whom he said―
"But I was fond of those children, you'll understand, though
they were powerful plagues."
"Swan," said the old lady, "ye'll never be respectit by
children. You're just what ye often call yourself, soft."
"And what's the good of being rough with 'em, ma'am? I
can no more make 'em sober and sensible than I could straighten out their
bushes of curly hair. No, not though I was to take my best rake to
it. They're powerful plagues, bless 'em! but so far as I can see,
we're in this world mainly to bring them forrard in it. I remember
when my Joey was a very little chap, he was playing by me with a tin sword
that he was proud of. I was sticking peas in my own garden, and a
great hulking sergeant came by, and stopped a minute to ask his road.
'Don't you be afraid of me,' says Joey, very kind. 'I won't hurt
'e.' That man laughed, but the water stood in his eyes. He'd
lost such a one, he said. Children air expensive, but it's very
cutting to lose 'em. I've never seen any of the Mortimers in that
trouble yet, though."
"And you've been many a long year with them too," observed
"Ay, ma'am. Some folks air allers for change, but I've
known when I was well off and they've known when they were well off."
Mr. Swan said this in a somewhat pragmatical tone, and continued, "There's
nothing but a long course of just dealing and respect o' both sides as can
buy such digging as this here family gets out of my spade."
"Very true," said Miss Christie, who did not appear to see
anything peculiar in this self-eulogy.
"But some folks forget," continued Mr. Swan, "that
transplanted trees won't grow the first year, and others want too much for
their money, and too good of its kind; but fair and softly, thinks I; you
can't buy five shillings with threepence-halfpenny in any shop that I ever
heerd of; and when you've earned half-a-crown you can't be paid it in
The next morning, while Peter sat at breakfast revolving in
his mind the delights he had lost, and wondering what Janie and Bertie and
Hugh and Nancy were about, these staunch little friends of his were
unconsciously doing the greatest damage to his future prospects―to their
most important part, as he understood them, namely, his chance of coming
to see the Mortimers again.
Miss Christie Grant always presided over the school-room
breakfast, and John Mortimer, unless he had other visitors, breakfasted
alone, generally coming down just after his children's meal was over, and
having a selection of them with him morning by morning.
On this occasion, just as he came down, his children darted
out of the window, exclaiming, "Oh, there's Mr. Brandon down the
garden―Mr. Brandon's come."
John walked to the window, and looked out with a certain
scrutinising interest; for it was but a few weeks since a somewhat
important visitor had left old Daniel Mortimer's house―one concerning whom
the neighbourhood had decided that she certainly ought to become Mrs.
Giles Brandon, and that it would be an odd thing if Mr. Brandon did not
think so. If he did, there was every appearance that she did not, for she
had gone away all but engaged to his young brother Valentine.
"He looks dull, decidedly dull, since Miss Graham left them," soliloquised
John Mortimer. "I thought so the last time I saw him, and now I am sure of
it. Poor fellow," he continued with a half smile. "I can hardly fancy him
a lover, but, if he does care for that graceful little sea-nymph, it is
hard on him that such a shallow-pated boy as Valentine should stand in his
light;" and he stepped out to meet his guest, who was advancing in the
midst of the children, while at the same time they shouted up at the open
schoolroom window that Nancy must come down directly and see her
The grand lady-governess looked out in a becoming morning costume.
"A fine young man," she remarked to Miss Christie Grant.
"Yes, that's my oldest nephew, St. George they call him. Giles Brandon is
his name, but his mother aye disliked the name of Giles, thought it was
only fit for a ploughman. So she called him St. George, and that's what he
is now, and will be."
Miss Christie Grant said this with a certain severity of manner, but she
hardly knew how to combine a snubbing to the lady for her betrayal of
interest in all the bachelors round, with her desire to boast of this
relative. So she presently went on in a more agreeable tone. "His mother
married Mr. Daniel Mortimer; he is an excellent young man. Has no debts
and has been a great traveller. In short a year and a half ago he was
shipwrecked, and as nearly lost his life as possible. He was picked up by
Captain Graham, whose grand-daughter (no, I think Miss Graham is the old
gentleman's niece) has been staying this summer with Mr. Daniel Mortimer. Mr. Brandon, ye'll understand, is only half-brother to Valentine Mortimer,
whom ye frequently see."
Valentine was too young to interest the grand lady, but when by a combined
carelessness of manner with judicious questioning she had discovered that
the so-called St. George had a moderate independence, and prospects
besides, she felt a longing wish to carry down little Anastasia herself to
see her godfather, and was hardly restrained from doing so by that sense
of propriety which never forsook her. In the mean time Brandon passed out
of view into the room where breakfast was spread and the little Anastasia,
so named because her birth had taken place on Easter day, was brought down
smiling in her sister Barbara's arms.
Peter's little love, a fair and dimpled creature, was forthwith
accommodated with a chair close to her godfather, while the twins withdrew
to practise their duets, and more viands were placed on the table.
The children then began to wait on their father and his guest, and during
a short conversation which ensued concerning Mrs. Peter Melcombe and her
boy, they were quite silent, till a pause took place and the little
Anastasia lifted up her small voice and distinguished herself by saying―
"Fader, Peter's dot a dhost in his darden."
"Got a ghost!" exclaimed John Mortimer, with a look of dismay; for ghosts
were the last things he wished his children to hear anything about.
"Yes," said the youngest boy Hugh, "he says he's going to be rather a
grand gentleman when he's grown up, but he wishes he hadn't got a ghost."
"Then why doesn't he sell it, Huey?" asked the guest with perfect gravity.
The little fellow opened his blue eyes wider. "I don't think you know what
ghosts are," he remarked.
"Oh yes, I do," answered Brandon. "I've often read about them. Some people
think a good deal of them, but I never could see the fun of having them
myself, and," he continued, "I never noticed any about your premises,
"No," answered John Mortimer, following his lead; "they would be no use
for the children to play with."
"Do they scratch, then?" inquired the little Anastasia.
"No, my beauty bright, but I'm told they only wake up when it's too dark
for children to play."
"Peter's ghost doesn't," observed Master Bertram. "He came in the
"Did he steal anything?" inquired Brandon, still desirous, it seemed, to
throw dirt at the great idea.
"Oh no, he didn't steal," said the other little boy, "that's not what
"What did he say then?"
"He gave a deep sigh, but he didn't say nothink."
"Ghosts," said Bertie, following up his brother's speech as one who had
full information―"ghosts are not birds, they don't come to lay eggs for
you, or to be of any use at all. They come for you to be afraid of. Didn't
you know that, father?"
John was too much vexed to answer, and Peter's chance from that moment of
ever entering those doors again was not worth a rush.
"But you needn't mind, father dear," said Janie, the eldest child present,
"Peter's ghost won't come here. It doesn't belong to 'grand,' or to any of
us. Its name was Melcombe, and it came from the sea, that they might know
it was dead." John and Brandon looked at one another. The information was
far too circumstantial to be forgotten by the children, who continued
their confidences now without any more irreverent interruptions. "Mrs.
Melcombe gave Peter four half-crowns to give to nurse, and he had to say
'Thank you, nurse, for your kindness to me;' but nurse wasn't kind, she
didn't like Peter, and she slapped him several times."
"And Mrs. Melcombe gave some more shillings to Maria," said Bertie.
"Like the garden slug," observed Brandon, "leaving a trail of silver
The said Maria, who was their little nursemaid, now came in to fetch away
"Isn't this provoking," exclaimed John Mortimer, when they were gone. "I
had no notion that child had been neglected and left to pick up these
pernicious superstitions, though I never liked his mother from the first
moment I set my eyes on her."
"Why did you ask her to stay at your house then?" said Brandon, laughing.
"Giles, you know as well as I do."
Thereupon, having finished their breakfast, they set forth to walk to the
town, arguing together on some subject that interested them till they
reached the bank.
Behind it, in a comfortable room fitted up with library tables, leather
chairs, and cases for books and papers, sat old Augustus Mortimer. "Grand," as he was always called by his descendants, that being easier to
say than his full title of grandfather; and if John Mortimer had not taken
Brandon into this room to see him, the talk about the ghost might have
faded away altogether from the mind of the latter.
As it was, Grand asked after the little ones, and Brandon, standing on the
rug and looking down on the fine stern features and white head, began to
give him a graphic account of what little Peter Melcombe had been teaching
them, John Mortimer, while he unlocked his desk and sorted out certain
papers, now and then adding a touch or two in mimicry of his children's
Old Augustus said nothing, but Brandon, to his great surprise, noticed
that as the narrative went on it produced a marked effect upon him; he
listened with suppressed eagerness, and then with a cogitative air as if
he was turning the thing over in his mind.
The conclusion of the story, how Janie had said the name of the ghost was
Melcombe, John Mortimer related, for Brandon by that time was keenly alive
to the certainty that they were disturbing the old man much.
A short silence followed. John was still arranging his papers, then his
father said deliberately,―
"This is the first hint I ever received of any presence being supposed to
haunt the place."
The ghost itself had never produced the slightest effect on John Mortimer. All he thought of was the consequence of the tale on the minds of his
"I shall take care that little monkey does not come here again in a
hurry," he remarked, at the same time proceeding to mend a quill pen; his
father watching him rather keenly, Brandon thought, from under his bushy,
"Now, of all men," thought Brandon, "I never could have supposed that
Grand was superstitious. I don't believe he is either; what does it mean?"
and as there was still silence, he became so certain that Grand would fain
ask some more questions but did not like to do so, that he said, in a
careless tone, "That was all the children told us;" and thereupon, being
satisfied and willing to change the subject, as Brandon thought, the old
"Does my brother dine at home to-day, St. George?"
"Yes, uncle; shall I tell him you will come over to dinner?"
"Well, my dear fellow, if you are sure it will be convenient to have me―it
is a good while since I saw him―so you may."
"He will be delighted; shall I tell him you will stay the night?"
"Well done, father," said John, looking up. "I am glad you are getting
over the notion that you cannot sleep away from home. I'll come over to
breakfast, St. George, and drive my father in."
"Do," said Brandon, taking his leave; and as he walked to the railway that
was to take him home, he could not help still pondering on the effect
produced by the mention of the ghost. He little supposed, however, that
the ghost was at the bottom of this visit to his stepfather; but it was.
AN OLD MAN DIGS A WELL.
"And travel finishes the fool."
MRS. PETER MELCOMBE, all unconscious of the unfavourable impression her
son had made on his late host, continued to think a good deal of the
agreeable widower. She made Peter write from time to time to little
Janie Mortimer and report the progress of the puppy, at the same time
taking care to mention his dear mamma in a manner that she thought would
It cost Peter a world of trouble to copy and recopy these epistles till
his mother was satisfied with them; but she always told him that he
would not be remembered so well or invited again unless he wrote; and
this was true.
His little friends wrote in reply, but by no means such carefully-worded
letters; they also favoured him with shoals of Christmas cards and
showers of valentines, but his letters never got beyond the schoolroom;
and if John Mortimer's keen eyes had ever fallen on them, it would have
availed nothing. He would have discovered at once that they were not the
child's sole production, and would have been all the more decided not to
invite him again.
When first Mrs. Melcombe came home she perceived a certain change in
Laura, who was hardly able to attend to Peter's lessons, and had fits
of elation that seemed to alternate with a curious kind of shame. Mrs.
Peter Melcombe did not doubt that Laura fancied she had got another
lover, but she was so tired of Laura's lovers that she determined to
take no notice; and if Laura had anything to say, to make her say it
without assistance. It seemed to her so right and natural and proper
that she should wish to marry again herself, and so ridiculous of Laura
to fancy that she wished to marry also.
On Valentine's day, however, Laura had a letter, flushed high, and while
trying to look careless actually almost wept for joy; for the moment
Mrs. Melcombe was thrown off her guard, and she asked a question.
Laura, in triumph, handed the valentine to her sister-in-law. "It's
strange," she said tremulously, "very strange; but what is a woman to do
when she is the object of such a passion?"
It was a common piece of paper with two coloured figures on it taking
hands and smiling; underneath, in a clear and careful hand, was written―
"What would he give, your lover true,
Just for one little sight of you?
"J.S.?" said Mrs. Melcombe, in a questioning tone.
"It's Joseph, dear," replied Laura, hanging down her head and smiling.
Joseph was the head plumber who had been employed about the now finished
house, and Mrs. Melcombe's dismay was great when she found that Joseph,
having discovered how the young lady thought he was in love with her,
was actually taking up the part of a lover, she dreaded to think what
might occur in consequence. Joseph was a very clever young workman, of
excellent character, and Laura was intolerably foolish and to the last
If the young man had been the greatest scamp and villain, but in her own
rank of life, it would have been nothing to compare with this, in the
eyes of Mrs. Melcombe, or indeed in most people's eyes. She turned pale,
and felt that she was a stricken woman.
She was not well educated herself, and she had not been accustomed to
society, but she aspired to better things. The house was just finished,
she had written to Mr. Mortimer to tell him so. She thought of giving a
house-warming; for several of the families round, whose fathers and
mothers had been kept at arms' length by old Madam Melcombe till their
children almost forgot that there was such a person, had now begun
kindly to call on the lonely ladies, and express a wish to see something
Also she had been rubbing up her boarding-school French, and hoped to
take a trip to Paris, for she wanted to give herself and her son all the
advantages that could be got with money. She knew there was something
provincial about herself and her sister-in-law, as there had been about
the old grandmother; and indeed about all the Melcombes. She wished to
rise; and oh what should she do, how could she ever get over it, if
Laura married the plumber?
Her distress was such that she took the only course which could have
availed her―she was silent.
"I was afraid, dear, you might, you would, you must think it very
imprudent," said Laura, a little struck by this silence; "but what is to
be done? Amelia, he's dying for me."
Still Mrs. Melcombe was silent.
"He told me himself, that if I wouldn't have him it would drive him to
"Laura!" exclaimed Mrs. Melcombe with vehemence, "it's not credible that
you can take up with a lout who courts you in such fashion as that. O
Laura!" she exclaimed in such distress as to give real pathos to her
manner, "I little thought to see this day, I could not have believed it
of you;" and she burst into an agony of tears.
"And here's a letter," she presently found voice enough to say, "here's
a letter from Mr. Mortimer, to say that his brother's coming to look at
the house. Perhaps Mr. John Mortimer will come with him. Oh, what shall
I do if they hear of this?"
Laura was very much impressed. If scorn, or anger, or incredulity had
confronted her, she would have held to her intentions; but this alarm
and grief at least had the merit of allowing all importance to the
affair, and consequently to her.
Her imagination conjured up visions of her sister-in-law's future years.
She saw her always wringing her hands, and she was touched for her. "And
then so happy as we meant to be, having a foreign tour, and seeing
Paris, and so as we had talked it over together. And such friends as we
This was perfectly true; Mrs. Melcombe and Laura were not of the nagging
order of women, they never said sarcastic or ill-natured things to one
another, the foibles of the one suited the other; and if they had a few
uncomfortable words now and then between themselves, they had enough esprit de corps to hide this from all outsiders.
An affecting scene took place, Laura rose and threw herself into
Amelia's arms weeping passionately.
"You'll give it up, Laura dear, for my sake, and for our poor dear
Peter's sake, who's gone."
No; Laura could not go quite so far in heroic self-sacrifice as that;
but she did promise solemnly, that however many times Joseph might say
he was dying for her, she would―what? She would promise to decide
nothing till she had been to Paris.
She was very happy that morning; Amelia had not made game of her, and
there had been such a scene. Laura enjoyed a scene; and Amelia had
pleaded so hard and so long with her for that promise. At last she had
given it. If she had not been such a remarkably foolish woman, she would
have known she was glad on the whole that the promise had been extorted
from her. As it was she thought she was sorry, but after a little more
urging and pleading she gave up the precious valentine, and saw it
devoured by the flames. It had a Birmingham postmark, and Mrs. Melcombe
heard with pleasure that Joseph would be away at least a fortnight.
Laura had wanted a little excitement, just the least amusement; and if
not that, just the least recognition of her place in nature as a woman,
and a young one. At present, her imagination had not been long at work
on this unpromising payer of the tribute. If some one, whose household
ways and daily English were like her own, had come forward she would
soon have forgotten Joseph; for he himself, as an individual, was almost
nothing to her, it was only in his having paid the tribute that his
Late in the afternoon Mr. Augustus Mortimer arrived. He was received by
Mrs. Melcombe almost, as it seemed, with the devotion of a daughter.
The room was strewed with account-books and cards. It had been intended
that he should make some remark about them, and then she was to say,
with careless ease, "Only the accounts of the parish charities." But he
courteously feigning to see none of the litter, she was put out.
He presently went to inspect the repairs and restorations, to look over
the garden and the stables; and it was not till the next morning that
she found occasion to ask some advice of him.
The cottages on the land were let with the farms, so that the farmers
put their labourers into them, charged, it is true, very little rent,
but allowed them to get very much out of repair. It was the farmers'
duty to keep them in repair; but there was no agent, no one to make them
do it. Moreover, they would have it that no repairs worth mentioning
were wanted. Did Mr. Mortimer think if she spent the money she had
devoted to charity in repairing these cottages, she could fairly
consider that she had spent it in charity?
It was a nice point, certainly, for it would be improving her son's
property, and avoiding disputes with valuable and somewhat unmanageable
tenants; and, on the other hand, it would be escaping the bad precedent
of paying for repairs out of the estate; so she went on laying this
casuistry before the old man while he pulled down his shaggy white
brows, and looked very stern over the whole affair. "Some of the poor
old women do suffer so sadly from rheumatism," she continued, "and our
parish doctor says it comes from the damp places they live in, and then
there is so much fever in the lower part of the hamlet."
"You had better let me see the farmers and the cottagers," said old
Augustus. "I will go into the whole affair, and tell you what I think of
Accordingly he went his way among the people, and if he had any
sorrowful reason for being glad of what rendered it his duty to pick up
all the information he could, this did not make him less energetic in
fighting the farmers.
Very little, however, could be done with them; an obvious hole in a roof
they would repair, a rotting door they would replace, but that was all,
and he felt strongly the impolicy of taking money out of the estate to
do all the whitewashing, plastering, carpenters' work, and painting that
were desirable; besides which, he was sure the water was not pure that
the people drank, and that they ought to have another well.
When Mrs. Melcombe heard his report of it all, and when he acknowledged
that he could do hardly anything with the farmers, she wished she had
not asked his advice, particularly as he chose to bring certain
religious remarks into it. He was indeed a most inconveniently religious
man; his religion was of a very expensive kind, and was all mixed up
with his philanthropy, as if one could not be religious at all without
loving those whom God loved and as if one could not love them without
serving them to the best of one's power.
She listened with dismay. If it was useless to expect much of the
farmers, and impolitic to take much out of the estate, what was the use
of talking? But Mr. Augustus Mortimer did talk for several minutes;
first he remarked on the expressed wish of his mother that all needful
repairs should be attended to, then he said his brother began to feel
the infirmities of age, and also was a poor man; then he made Mrs.
Melcombe wince by observing that the condition of the tenements was
perfectly disgraceful, and next he went on to say that, being old
himself, he did not wish to waste any time, for he should have but
little, and therefore as he was rich he was content to do what was
"This house," he continued, "is a great deal too large for the small
income your son will have. Very large sums have been spent, as the will
directed, in putting it into perfect repair. I am not surprised,
therefore, that you have felt perplexed, but now, if you have no
objection, I will have estimates made at once."
Excessively surprised, a little humiliated, but yet, on the whole,
conscious that such an offer relieved her of a great responsibility, Mrs.
Peter Melcombe hesitated a moment, then said in a low voice―"Thank you, Mr. Mortimer, but you will give me a little time to think of
"Certainly," he answered, with all composure, "till to-morrow morning;"
then he went on as if that matter was quite settled, and enough had been
said about it. "There is one person whom I should much like to point out
to you as an object for your charity―the old shepherd's wife who is
bedridden. If you were inclined to provide some one to look after
"Oh, Becky Maddison," interrupted Mrs. Melcombe; "the dear grandmother
did not approve of that woman. She used to annoy her by telling an
absurd ghost story."
"But still, as you think I ought to do something for her, I certainly
"I shall go and see her myself this afternoon," answered Mr. Augustus
Mortimer hastily. "I will not fail to report to you how I find her."
"Her talk was naturally painful to the dear grandmother," continued Mrs.
Mr. Mortimer looked keenly attentive, but he did not ask any question,
and as she said no more, he almost immediately withdrew, and walked
straight across the fields to the cottage of this old woman.
Nothing more was said that evening concerning the repairs, or concerning
this visit; but the next morning Mr. Mortimer renewed his proposition,
and after a little modest hesitation, she accepted it; then, remembering
his request concerning old Becky, she told him she had that morning sent
her a blanket and some soup. "And, by-the-bye, Mr. Mortimer, did she
tell you the story that used to annoy the dear grandmother?" she
Mr. Mortimer was so long in answering, that she looked up at him, and
when he caught her eye he answered. "Yes."
"He doesn't like it any more than his mother did," she thought, so she
said no more, and he almost immediately went away to give orders about
the proposed estimates.
Mrs. Melcombe and Laura made Mr. Mortimer very comfortable, and when he
went away he left them highly pleased, for, having been told of their
intended journey to Paris, he had proposed to them to come and spend a
few days at his house, considering it the first stage of their tour.
So he departed, and no more dirt was thrown at him. The tide began to
turn in favour of the Mortimers, people had seen the mild face and
venerable gentleness of the Mortimer who was poor, they had now handled
the gold of the one that was rich.
"Old Madam was a saint," they observed, "but she couldn't come and look
arter us hersen, poor dear. Farmers are allers hard on poor folk. So
he was bent on having another well atop o' the hill 'stead o' the
bottom. Why let him, then, if he liked! Anyhow, there was this good in
it―the full buckets would be to carry down hill 'stead of up. As to the
water o' the ould well being foul and breeding fevers, it might be, and
then again it might not be; if folks were to be for ever considering
whether water was foul, they'd never drink in peace!"
The moment he was gone, Mrs. Melcombe turned her thoughts to Laura's
swain, and excited such hopes of pleasure from the visit to Paris in the
mind of her sister-in-law, that Joseph's devotion began to be less
fascinating to her, besides which there was something inexpressibly
sweet to her imaginative mind in the notion of being thwarted and
watched. She pictured to herself the fine young man haunting the lonely
glen, hoping to catch a sight of her, and smiting his brow as men do in
novels, sighing and groaning over his lowly birth and his slender means.
She wished Joseph would write that her sister-in-law might rob her of
the letter; but Joseph didn't write, he knew better. At the end of the
fortnight he appeared; coming to church, and sitting in full view of the
ladies, looking not half so well in his shining Sunday clothes of
Birmingham make, as he had done in his ordinary working suit.
Laura was a good deal out of countenance, but Mrs. Melcombe perceived,
not without surprise, that while she felt nothing but a feminine
exultation in being admired, the young man's homage was both deep and
real. Nothing was either fancied or feigned.
So by Monday morning Mrs. Melcombe had got ready a delightful plan to
lay before Laura―she actually offered to take her to London, and fired
her imagination with accounts of the concerts, the theatres and all
that they were to do and see.
No mortal plumber could hold his own against such a sister-in-law. Laura
let herself be carried off without having any interview with Joseph, who
began to think "it was a bad job," and did not know how his supposed
faithless lady wept during the railway journey. But then he did not know
how completely when she went to her first oratorio she was delighted and
The longer they stayed in London the more delighted they were; so was
Peter; the Polytechnic alone was worth all the joys of the country put
together; but when they came back again at the end of April, and all the
land was full of singing-birds, and the trees were in blossom, and the
sweet smiling landscape looked so full of light, and all was so fresh
and still, then the now absent Joseph got hold of Laura's imagination
again; she went and gazed at the window that he had been glazing, when,
as she passed, he lifted up his fine eyes and looked at her in such a
What really had taken place was this. Joseph, with a lump of putty in
his palm, was just about to dig a bit out of it with a knife that he
held in his other hand. Laura passed, and when the young man looked up,
she affected to feel confused, and turned away her face with a sort of
ridiculous self-consciousness. Joseph was surprised, and the knife held
suspended in his hand, he was staring at her when she glanced again, and
naturally he was a little put out of countenance.
So Laura now walked about the place, recalled the romantic past, and if
Joseph had appeared (which he did not, because he had no means of
knowing that she had returned), it is highly doubtful whether Laura
would ever have seen Paris.
As it was, with sighs and smiles, with regrets over a dead nosegay that
the young man had given her, and with eager longings to see Paris, and
perhaps Geneva, Laura spent the next fortnight, and then, taking leave
of Melcombe again, was received in due time by Mr. Augustus Mortimer on
the steps of his house, his son being with him.
It was nearly dinner-time, she and her sister-in-law were delighted to
meet this gentleman, and find that he was going to dine that day with
his father. Peter, too, was as happy as a king, for he hoped Mr. John
Mortimer would and could give him information concerning all the
well-remembered puppies, kittens, magpies, and white mice that he had
made acquaintance with during his happy visit to the little Mortimers.
Mr. Augustus Mortimer's house was just outside the small town of
Wigfield; it appeared to be quite in the country, because it was on the
slope of a hill, and was so well backed up with trees that not a chimney
could be seen from any of its windows. It was built with its back to the
town, and commanded a pretty view over field, wood, and orchard, and
also over its own beautiful lawn and slightly-sloping garden, which was
divided from some rich meadows by the same little river that ran nearly
two miles further on, past the bottom of John Mortimer's garden. "And
there," said John Mortimer, after dinner, pointing out a chimney which
could be seen against the sky, just over the tops of some trees―"there
lives my uncle Daniel, in a house which belongs to his stepson, Giles
Brandon; his house is just two miles from this, and mine is two miles
from each of them, so that we form a triangle."
Mr. Mortimer's daughter came the next day to call on the relatives from
Melcombe; she brought his step-daughters with her; and these young
ladies when they returned home gave their step-brothers a succinct
account of the impressions they had received.
"Provincial, both of them. The married one looks like a faded piece of
wax-work. Laura Melcombe is rather pretty, but unless she is a goose,
her manners, voice, and whole appearance do her the greatest injustice
Mrs. Melcombe and Laura also gave judgment in the same manner when these
visitors were gone.
"Mrs. Henfrey looks quite elderly. She must be several years past fifty;
but I liked her kind, slow way of talking; and what a handsome gown she
had on, Laura, real lace on it, and a real Maltese lace shawl!"
"She has a good jointure," said Laura; "she can afford to dress well. The girls, the Miss Grants, have graceful, easy manners, just the kind
of manners I should like to have; but I can't say I thought much of
their dress. I am sure those muslins must have been washed several
times. In fact, they were decidedly shabby. I think it odd and
old-fashioned of them always to call Mrs. Henfrey 'Sister.'"
"I do not see that; she is older than their mother was; they could not
well address her by her Christian name. They do not seem to be a
marrying family, and that is odd, as their mother married three times. The Grants are the children of the second marriage, are they not?"
"Yes; but three times! Did she marry three times? Ah, I remember―how
"Shocking," exclaimed Mrs. Melcombe, "O, Laura, I consider it quite
irreligious of you to say that."
Laura laughed. "But only think," she observed, "what a number of names
one must remember in consequence of her three marriages. First, there is
Uncle Daniel's own daughter, Mrs. Henfrey; I do not mind her; but then
there is Mr. Brandon, the son of Aunt Mortimer's first husband; then
these Grants, the children of her second husband; and then Valentine,
uncle's son and hers by this third marriage. It's a fatigue only to
think of them all!"
THEY MEET AN AUTHOR.
"People maybe taken in once, who imagine that an
author is greater in private life than other men. Uncommon parts
require uncommon opportunities for their exertion."
MRS. HENFREY in taking
leave of Amelia had expressed her pleasure at the prospect of shortly
seeing her again. They were all coming by invitation to lunch, the
next day, at her Uncle Augustus Mortimer's house, because in the afternoon
there was to be a horticultural show in the town. They always went
to these shows, she continued, and this one would have a particular
interest for them, as John Mortimer's gardener, who had once been their
gardener, was to carry off the first prize. "And if you ask him what
the prize is for," said one of the girls, "he will tell you it is for 'airly
Accordingly the next day there was a gathering of Mortimers
and their families. Augustus Mortimer was not present, he generally
took his luncheon at the bank; but his son John, to Peter's delight,
appeared with the twins, and constituting himself master of the
ceremonies, took the head of the table, and desired his cousin Valentine
to take the other end, and make himself useful.
Peter asked after his little love, Anastasia.
"Oh, she is very happy," said Gladys Mortimer; "she and Janie
have got a WASH."
"Got what?" asked Mrs. Henfrey.
"A wash, sister," said Valentine. "I passed through the
garden, and saw them with lots of tiny dolls' clothes that they had been
washing in the stream spread out to bleach on the grass."
"It's odd," observed Brandon, "that so wise as children are,
they should be fond of imitating us who are such fools."
"Janie has been drawing from the round, in imitation of her
sisters," observed John Mortimer. "She brought me this morning a
portrait of a flat tin cock, lately bought for a penny, and said, 'I drew
him from the round, father.'"
By this time the dishes were uncovered and the servants had
withdrawn. Laura was very happy at first. She had been taken
in to luncheon by the so-called St. George, he was treating her with a
sort of deference that she found quite to her mind, and she looked about
her on these newly-known relatives and connections with much complacency.
There was John Mortimer, with Amelia at his right hand, in the place of
honour; then there were the two Miss Grants (in fresh muslin dresses),
with a certain Captain Walker between them, whose twin brother, as Laura
understood, had married their elder sister. This military person was
insignificant in appearance and small of stature, but he was very
attentive to both the young ladies. Then there was Valentine,
looking very handsome, between Mrs. Henfrey and Miss Christie Grant, and
being rebuked by one and advised by the other as to his carving, for he
could not manage the joint before him, and was letting it slip about in
the dish and splash the white sauce.
"You must give your mind to it more," said Mrs. Henfrey, "and
try to hit the joints."
"It's full of bones," exclaimed Valentine in a deeply-injured
"Well, laddie," said Miss Christie, "and if I'm not mistaken,
ye'll find when you get more used to carving, that a breast of veal always
is full of bones."
"Nobody must take any notice of him till he has finished,"
said Brandon. "Put up a placard on the table, 'You are requested not
to speak to the man at the veal.' Now, Aunt Christie, you should
say, 'aweel, aweel,' you often do so when there seems no need to correct
"Isn't it wonderful," observed Valentine, "that he can keep up his spirits
as he does, when only last week he was weighed in the columns of the
Wigfield Advertiser and True Blue, and expressly informed that he was
"If you would only let politics alone," observed Mrs. Henfrey, "the
True Blue would never interfere with you. I always did hate politics,"
she continued, with peaceable and slow deliberation.
"They are talking of some Penny Readings that St. George has been giving,"
said John Mortimer, for he observed a look of surprise on Laura's face.
"'Our poet,' though, has let him alone lately," remarked Valentine. "Oh I
wish somebody would command Barbara to repeat his last effusion. I am sure
by the look in her eyes that she knows it by heart."
"We all do," said John Mortimer's eldest daughter.
"Ah! it's a fine thing to be a public character," observed her father;
"but even I aspire to some notice from the True Blue next week in
consequence of having old Nicholas for my gardener."
"I am very fond of poetry," said Laura simpering. "I should like to hear
the poem you spoke of."
Thereupon the little girl immediately repeated the following verses:―
"If, dear friends, you've got a penny
(If you haven't steal one straight),
Go and buy the best of any
Penn'orth that you've bought of late.
"At the schoolroom as before
(Up May Lane), or else next door
(As last Monday) at the Boar,
Hear the Wigfield lion roar.
"What a treat it was, good lack!
Though my bench had ne'er a back,
With a mild respectful glee
There to hear, and that to see.
"Sweetly slept the men and boys,
And the girls, they sighed meanwhile
'O my goodness, what a voice!
O my gracious, what a smile!'"
The man with no ear for music feels his sense of justice outraged when
people shudder while his daughter sings. Why won't they listen to her
songs as to one another's? There is no difference.
With a like feeling those who have hardly any sense of humour are
half-offended when others laugh, while they seem to be shut out for not
perceiving any cause. Occasionally knowing themselves to be sensible
people, they think it evident that their not seeing the joke must be
because it is against them.
Laura and Mrs. Melcombe experienced a certain discomfort here. Neither
would have been so rude as to laugh; in fact, what was there to laugh at? They were shut out not only from the laugh, but from that state of feeling
which made these cousins, including the victim, enjoy it, against one of
As for Mrs. Henfrey, who also was without any perception of the humorous
side of things, she looked on with a beaming countenance; pleased with
them all for being in such good spirits, whatever might be the reason,
for, as she always expressed it, she did so love to see young people
"It's capital," said John, but not so good as the prose reviewing they
give you; and all this most excellent fun we should lose, you know, Giles,
if you might have your way, and all sorts of criticism and reviewing had
to be signed with the writer's name."
"But it would make the thing much more fair and moderate," said Brandon
"(not that I intended to include such little squibs as this); besides, it
would secure a man against being reviewed by his own rivals―or his
"Yes," said Valentine; "but that sort of thing would tell both ways."
As he spoke with great gravity Mrs. Melcombe, mainly in the kind hope of
helping dear Laura's mistake into the background, asked with an air of
interest what he meant.
"Well," said Valentine, with calm audacity, "to give an example. Suppose a
man writes something, call it anything you please―call it a lecture if you
like―say that it is partly political, and that it is published by request;
and suppose further that somebody, name unknown, writes an interesting
account of its scope and general merits, and it is put into some
periodical―you can call it anything you please―say a county paper, for
instance. The author is set in the best light, and the reviewer brings
forward also some of his own views, which is quite fair――"
As he seemed to be appealing to Laura, Laura said, "Yes; perfectly fair."
"His own views―on―on the currency or anything else you like to mention." Here John Mortimer asked Mrs. Melcombe if she would take some more wine,
Valentine proceeding gravely: "Now do you or do you not think that if that
review had been signed by the lecturer's father, brother, or friend almost
as intimate as a brother, it would have carried more weight or less in
As several of them smiled, Mrs. Melcombe immediately felt uncomfortable
"If what he said was true," she said, "I cannot exactly see――" and here
"Well," said John Mortimer, observing that the attention of his
keen-witted little daughter was excited, and being desirous, it seemed, to
give a plainer example of what it all meant, "let us say now, for once,
that I am a poet. I send out a new book, and sit quaking. The first three
reviews appear. Given in little they read thus:―
"One. 'He copied from Snooks, whose immortal work, "The Loves of the
Linendraper," is a comfort and a joy to our generation.'
"Two. 'He has none of the culture, the
spontaneity, the suavity, the reticence, the abandon, the heating power, the cooling power, the light,
the shade, or any of the other ingredients referred to by the great Small
in his noble work on poesy,'
"Three. 'This man doesn't know how to write his own language.'
"As I am a poet, fancy my state of mind! I am horribly cast down; don't
like to go out to dinner; am sure my butler, having read these reviews,
despises me as an impostor; but while I sit sulking, in comes a dear
friend and brother-poet. 'How do you know,' says he, 'that Snooks didn't
write number one himself? Or perhaps one of his clique did, for whom he is
to do the same thing.' I immediately shake hands with him. This is
evidently his candid opinion, and I love candour in a friend; besides, we
both hate Snooks. 'And it is a well-known fact,' he continues with
friendly warmth, 'that Small's great work won't sell; how do you know that
number two was not written by a brother or friend of the publisher's, by
way of an advertisement for it?' By this time I am almost consoled. Something strikes me with irresistible force. I remember that that fellow
Smith, who contested with me the election for the borough of Wigfield in
eighteen hundred and fifty or sixty, has taken to literature. He was at
the head of the poll on that occasion, but my committee proving that he
bribed, he lost his seat. I came in. It was said that I bribed too; but to
discuss that now would be out of place. I feel sure that Smith must have
written number three. In fact he said those very words concerning me on
"Gladys," said Brandon, observing the child's deep attention, "it is right
you should know that the brother-poet had written a tragedy on tin-tacks. Your father reviewed it, and said no family ought to be without it."
"But you didn't bribe father, and you didn't copy from Snooks, I am sure,"
said Gladys, determined to defend her father, even in his assumed
"What was the name of your thing, papa?" asked Barbara.
"I don't know, my dear, I have not considered that matter."
"It was called 'The Burglar's Betrothal,'" said Valentine.
"And do you think that Snooks really wrote that review?" she continued,
contemplating her father through her eyeglass, for she was shortsighted.
"If you ask my sincere opinion, my dear, I must say that I think he did
not; but if some other man had signed it, I should have been sure. Which
now I never shall be."
Here the door was slowly opened, and the portly butler appeared, bearing
in his own hands a fine dish of potatoes; from the same plot, he remarked
to John, with those that had obtained the prize. The butler looked proud.
"I feel as much elated," said John, "as if I had raised them myself. Is
"Yes, sir, and he has been saying that if the soil of your garden could
only be kept dry, they would be finer still."
"Dry!" exclaimed Valentine, "you can't keep anything dry in such a climate
as this―not even your jokes."
"Hear, hear," said John Mortimer; "if the old man was not a teetotaler,
and I myself were not so nearly concerned in this public recognition of
our merits, I should certainly propose his health."
"Don't let such considerations sway you," exclaimed Valentine rising.
"Jones, will you tell him that you left me on my legs, proposing his
health in ginger-pop―'Mr. Nicholas Swan.'"
Mr. Nicholas Swan. Not one word of the ridiculous speech which followed
the toast was heard by Laura, nor did she observe the respectful glee with
which the butler retired, saying, "I think we've got a rise out of the
True Blue now, sir. I'm told, sir, that the potatoes shown by the
other side, compared with these, seemed no bigger than bullets."
Mr. Nicholas Swan. A sudden beating at the heart kept Mrs. Melcombe
silent, and as for Laura, she had never blushed so deeply in her life. Joseph's name was Swan, and it flashed into her mind in an instant that he
had told her his father was a gardener.
She sat lost in thought, and nervous, scarcely able to
answer when some casual remark was made to her, and the meal was over
before she had succeeded in persuading herself that this man could not be
Joseph's father, because her coming straight to the place where he lived
"There goes Swanny across the lawn, father," said one of the twins, and
thereupon they all went to the bow-window, and calling the old man, began
to congratulate him, while he leaned his arms on the window-frame, which
was at a convenient height from the ground, and gave them an account of
They grouped themselves on the seats near. Mrs. Melcombe took the chair
pushed up for her where, as John Mortimer said, she could see the view.
Laura followed, having snatched up a book of photographs, with which she
could appear to be occupied, for she did not want to attract the
gardener's attention by sitting farther than others did from the window;
and as she mechanically turned the leaves, she hearkened keenly to Swan's
remarks, and tried to decide that he was not like Joseph.
"The markiss, sir? Yes, sir, his gardener, Mr. Fergus, took the best prize
for strawberries and green peas. You'll understand that those airly tates
were from seedlings of my own―that's where their great merit lies, and why
they were first. They gave Blakis the cottagers' prize for lettuce; that I
uphold was wrong. Said I, 'Those lettuce heads that poor Raby shows air
the biggest ever I set my eyes on.' 'Swan,' says Mr. Tikey, 'we must
encourage them that has good characters.' 'Well, now, if you come to
think, sir,' says I, 'it's upwards of ten years since Raby stole that pair
of boots,' and I say (though they was my boots) that should be forgot now,
and he should have the cottagers' prize, but stealing never gets
"Because it's such an inconvenient vice to those that have anything to
lose," said Miss Christie.
"Yes, that's just it, ma'am. You see the vices and virtues have got
overhauled again, and sorted differently to suit our convenience. Stealing's no worse probly in the eyes of our Maker than lying and
slandering; not so bad, mayhap, as a deep sweer. But folks air so
tenacious like, they must have every stick and stone respected that they
"We shouldn't hear ye talking in this pheelosophical way," said
Miss Christie, "if yere new potatoes had been stolen last night, before ye
got them to the show."
Laura took a glance at the gardener, as, with all the ease of intimacy, he
leaned in at the window and gave his opinion on things in general. He was
hale, and looked about sixty years of age. He was dressed in his Sunday
suit, and wore an orange bandana handkerchief loosely tied round his neck. He had keen grey eyes. Joseph's eyes were dark and large, and Joseph was
taller, and had a straighter nose.
"Swan's quite right," remarked Valentine; "we are a great deal too
tenacious about our belongings. Now I've heard of a fellow who was waiting
about, to horsewhip another fellow, and when this last came out he had a
cane in his hand. His enemy snatched it from him, and laid it about his
back as much as he liked, split it and broke it on him, and then carried
off the bits. Now what would you have done, Swan, in such a case?"
"Well, sir, in which case? I can't consider anyhow as I could be in the
case of him that was whipped."
"I mean what would you have done about the cane?―the property? A
magistrate had to decide. The man that had been horsewhipped said the
other had spoilt his cane, which was as good as new, and then had stolen
it. The other said he did not carry off the cane till it had been so much
used that it was good for nothing, and he didn't call that stealing."
"Well, sir," said Mr. Swan, observing a smile on the face of one and
another, "I think I'll leave that there magistrate to do the best he can
with that there case, and I'll abide by his decision."
"When ye come out in the character of Apollo," said Miss Christie to
Valentine, "ye should compose yourself into a grander attitude, and not
sit all of a heap while ye're drawing the long-bow. Don't ye agree with
me, Mrs. Melcombe?"
Mrs. Melcombe looked up and smiled uneasily; but the gardener had no
uncomfortable surmises respecting her, as she had respecting him, and when
he caught her eye he straightened himself up, and said with pleasant
civility, while putting on his hat on purpose to touch it and take it off
again, "'Servant, ma'am; my son Joseph has had a fine spell of work, as I
hear from him, at your place since I saw you last autumn, and a beautiful
place it is, I'm told."
Mrs. Melcombe answered this civil speech, and John Mortimer said, "How is
Joseph getting, on, Swan?"
"Getting on first-rate, thank you kindly, sir," replied Swan, leaning down
into his former easy attitude, and keeping his Sunday hat under his arm.
"That boy, though I say it, allers was as steady as old Time. He's at
Birmingham now. I rather expect he'll be wanting to settle
As he evidently wished to be asked a further question, Mrs. Henfrey did
"No, ma'am, no," was the reply; "he have not told me nor his mother the
young woman's name; but he said if he got her he should be the luckiest
fellow that ever was." Here, from intense confusion and shyness, Laura
dropped the book, St. George picked it up for her, and nobody thought of
connecting the fall with the story, the unconscious Nicholas continuing.
"So thereby his mother judged that it would come to something, for that's
what a young chap mostly says when he has made up his mind; but I shall allers say, sir," he went on, "that with the good education as I gave him,
it's a pity he took to such a poor trade. He airly showed a bent for it; I
reckon it was the putty that got the better of him."
"Ah," said John Mortimer, "and I only wonder, Swan, that it didn't get the
better of me! I used to lay out a good deal of pocket-money in it at one
time, and many a private smash have I perpetrated in the panes of
out-houses, and at the back of the conservatory, that I might afterwards
mend them with my own putty and tools. I can remember my father's look of
pride and pleasure when he would pass and find me so quietly, and, as he
thought, so meritoriously employed."
And now this ordeal was over. The gardener was suffered to depart, and the
ladies went up-stairs to dress for the flower-show.
"Oh, Amelia!" exclaimed Laura, pressing her cold hands to her burning
cheeks, "I feel as if I almost hated that man. What business had he to
talk of Joseph in that way?"
Amelia, on the contrary, was very much pleased with Swan, because he had
clearly shown that he was ignorant of this affair. "He seems a very
respectable person," she replied. "His cottage, I know, is near the end of
John Mortimer's garden. I've seen it; but I never thought of asking his
name. It certainly would be mortifying for you to have to go and stay
there with him and Joseph's mother. I suppose, though, that the Mortimers
would have to call."
Amelia felt a certain delight in presenting this picture to Laura.
"I would never go near them!" exclaimed Laura, very angry with her
"Why not?" persisted Amelia, determined to make Laura see things as they
were. "You could not possibly wish to divide a man from his own family;
they have never injured you."
"Oh that he and I were on a desert island together," said Laura. She had
often said that before to Amelia. She now felt that if Joseph's father and
mother were there also, and there was nobody else to see, she should not
mind their presence; besides, it would be convenient, they would act
almost as servants.
Amelia very seldom had intuitions; but one seemed to visit her then. "Do
you know, Laura, it really seems to me less shocking that you should be
attached to Joseph (if you are, which I don't believe), than that you
should be so excessively ashamed of it, with no better cause."
This she said quite sincerely, having risen for the moment into a clearer
atmosphere than that in which she commonly breathed. It was a great
advance for her; but then, on the other hand, she had never felt so easy
about the result as that old man's talk had now made her. Laura never
could do it!
So off they set to the flower-show, which was held under a large tent in a
field. Laura heard the hum and buzz about her; the jolly wives of the
various gardeners and florists admiring their husbands' prizes; the band
of the militia playing outside; Brandon's delightful voice―how she wished
that Joseph's was like it!―all affected her imagination; together with the
strong scent of flowers and strawberries and trodden grass, and the mellow
light let down over them through the tent, and the moving flutter of
dresses and ribbons as the various ladies passed and repassed, almost all
being adorned with little pink and blue flowers, if only so much as a
rose-bud or a forget-me-not―for a general election was near, and they were
"showing their colours" (a custom once almost universal, and which was
still kept up in that old-fashioned place).
Wigfield was a droll little town, and in all its ways was intensely
English. There was hardly a woman in it or round it who really and
intelligently concerned herself about politics; but they were all "blues"
or "pinks," and you might hear them talk for a week together without
finding out which was the Liberal and which was the Conservative colour;
but the "pinks" all went to the pink shops, and the "blues" would have
thought it WRONG not to give their custom to those tradesmen who voted
You might send to London for anything you thought you wanted; but the
Marchioness herself, the only great lady in the neighbourhood, knew better
than to order anything in Wigfield from a shop of the wrong colour.
The "pinks" that day were happy. "Markiss," in the person of his gardener,
had three prizes; "Old Money-Bags" (Mr. Augustus Mortimer's name at
election time) had two prizes, in the person of his son's gardener; in
fact, the "pinks" triumphed almost at the rate of two to one, and yet, to
their immortal honour, let it be recorded that the "blues" said it was all
John Mortimer shortly went to fetch his father, and returned with him and
all his own younger children. Mr. Mortimer had long been allowed to give
three supplementary prizes, on his own account, to some of the exhibitors
who were cottagers, and on this occasion his eyes, having been duly
directed by his son, were observed to rest with great admiration on the
big lettuces. Raby's wife could hardly believe it when she saw the bright
sovereign laid on the broad top of one of them; while Mr. Swan, as one of
the heroes of the day, and with Mrs. Swan leaning on his arm, looked on
approvingly, the latter wearing a black silk gown and a shawl covered with
fir-cones. She was a stout woman, and had been very pretty―she was
supposed by her husband to be so still. On this occasion, pointing out the
very biggest and brightest bunch of cut-flowers he saw, Mr. Swan remarked
"They remind me of you, Maria."
"And which on 'em came from our garden, dear," said Mrs. Swan, meaning
which came from Mr. John Mortimer's garden.
Swan pointed out several. "Mr. Fergus came to me yesterday, and said he,
'We want a good lot of flowers to dress up the tent. You'll let us have
some?' 'Certain,' said I; 'we allers do.' Then he marches up to my piccotees. 'Now these,' said he, 'would just suit us. We could do very
well with pretty nigh all of 'em.' 'Softly,' said I; 'flowers you'll have;
but leave the rest to me. If I'm to have one of my teeth drawn, it's fair
I should say which.' Yes, William Raby air improved; but I shall allers
say as nothing ever can raise that idle dog Phil. Raby. I don't hope for
folks that take parish pay."
The said William Raby came in the evening and brought the big vegetables,
wrapped in an old newspaper, for Mr. Mortimer's acceptance, and when the
old man came out into his hall to speak to him, Raby said―
"It wer' not only the money. My wife, her feels, too―when a man's
been down so long―as it does him a sight o' good to get a mouthful o'
pride, and six penn'orth o' praise to make him hold his head up."
"St. George was dull yesterday," observed John Mortimer, when he and his
father were alone the next morning in the bank parlour. "He was not like
himself; he flashed out now and then, but I could see that it was an
effort to him to appear in good spirits. I thought he had got over that
attachment, for he seemed jolly enough some time ago."
"When does he sail for Canada?" asked the old man.
"At the end of this week, and I believe mainly for the sake of having
something to do. It is very much to be lamented that my uncle did not
manage to make him take up some profession. Here are his fine talents
almost wasted; and, besides that, while he is running about on his
philanthropic schemes, Valentine steals the heart of the girl he loves."
"But," said his father, "I think the young fellow is quite unconscious
that St. George likes her."
"My dear father, then he has no business to be. He ought to know that such
a thing is most probable. Here is St. George shipwrecked, floating on a
raft, and half starved, when this impudent little yacht, that seems, by
the way she flies about, to know the soundings of all harbours by special
intuition―this impudent little yacht comes and looks round the corner of
every wave, and actually overhauls the high seas till she finds him, and
there the first time he opens his eyes is that sweet, quaint piece of
innocence leaning over him. He is shut up with her for ten days or so; she
is as graceful as a sylph, and has a tender sort of baby face that's
enough to distract a man, and I don't see how he could possibly leave that
vessel without being in love with her, unless some other woman had already
got hold of his heart. No, even if St. George did not know himself that he
cared for her, he ought to have been allowed time to find it out before
any one else spoke. And there is Val in constant correspondence with her,
and as secure as possible!"
Conversation then turned to the Melcombes. Old Augustus spoke uneasily of
the boy, said he looked pale, and was not grown.
"He gets that pallor from his mother," said John. "I should not like to
see any of my children such complete reproductions of either parent as
that boy is of her. Family likeness is always strongest among the
uncultivated, and among lethargic and stupid people. If you go down into
the depths of the country, to villages, where the parents hardly think at
all, and the children learn next to nothing, you'll find whole families of
them almost exactly alike, excepting in size."
His father listened quietly, but with the full intention of bringing the
conversation back to Peter as soon as he could.
"It is the same with nations," proceeded John, "those who have little
energy and no keen desire for knowledge are ten times more alike in
feature, complexion, and countenance than we are. No! family likeness is
all very well in infancy, before the mind has begun to work on the face;
but as a man's children grow, they ought to be less and less alike every
"That little fellow," said the father, "seems to me to be exactly like
what he was a year ago."
"I observe no change."
"Do you think he is an average child, John?"
John laughed. "I think that little imp of mine, Hughie, could thrash him,
if they chose to fight, and he is nearly three years the younger of the
two. No, I do not think he is an average child; but I see nothing the
matter with him."
Grand was not exempt from the common foibles of grandfathers, and he was
specially infatuated in favour of the little Hugh, who was a most
sweet-tempered and audacious child, and when his son went on, "Those two
little scamps are getting so troublesome, that they will have to be sent
to school very shortly," he said, almost in a grumbling tone, "They're
always good enough when they're with me."
So, in course of time, Mrs. and Miss Melcombe set forth on their travels;
it was their ambition to see exactly the same places and things that
everybody else goes to see, and they made just such observations on them
as everybody else makes.
In the meantime Brandon, not at all aware that several people besides John
Mortimer had noticed that he was out of spirits―Brandon also prepared to
set forth on his travels. He had persuaded several families to emigrate,
and had also persuaded himself that he must go to their destination
himself, that he might look out for situations for them, and settle them
before the winter came on. He was very busy for some days arranging his
affairs; he meant to be away some time. Mr. Mortimer knew it―perhaps he
knew more, for he said not a word by way of dissuasion, but only seemed
rather depressed. The evening, however, before Brandon was to start, as,
at about eight o'clock, he sat talking with his step-father, the old man
lifted up his head and said to him―
"You find me quite as clear in my thoughts and quite as well able to
express them as usual, don't you, St. George?"
"Yes," answered the step-son, feeling, however, a little dismayed, for the
wistful earnestness with which this was said was peculiar.
"If you should ever be asked," continued Daniel Mortimer, "you would be
able to say that you had seen no signs of mental decay in me these last
"Yes, I should."
"Don't disturb yourself, my dear fellow. I am as well as usual; better
since my illness than I was for some time before. I quite hope to see you
again; but in case I do not, I have a favour to ask of you."
The step-son assured him with all affection and fervour that he would
attend to his wish, whatever it might be.
"I have never loved anything that breathed as I loved your mother,"
continued the old man, as if still appealing to him, "and you could hardly
have been dearer to me if you had been my own."
"I know it," said Brandon.
"When you were in your own study this morning at the top of the house――"
"Yes, my liege?"
"I sent Valentine up to you with a desk. You were in that room, were you
"A small desk, that was once your mother's―it has a Bramah lock."
"I noticed that it had, and that it was locked."
"What have you done with it?"
"Valentine said you wished me to take particular care of it, so I locked
it into my cabinet, where my will is, as you know, and where are most of
"Thank you; here is the key. You think you shall never forget where that
desk is, Giles?"
"Never! such a thing is quite impossible."
"If I am gone when you return, you are to open that desk. You will find in
it a letter which I wrote about three years ago; and if I have ever
deserved well of you and yours, I charge you and I implore you to do your
very best as regards what I have asked of you in that letter."