"In the pleasant orchard closes
'God bless all our gains,' say we,
But, 'May God bless all our losses,'
Better suits with our degree"
E. B. BROWNING.
THE shade of twilight
was but just fleeting, a faint glow waxed over the eastern hills, and the
great orchard of pear-trees that pressed up to one end of Melcombe House
showed white as an army of shrouded ghosts in the dim solemnities of dawn.
The house was closely shut up, and no one met Valentine, as, tired after a
night journey, he dismissed a hired fly at the inn, and came up slowly to
those grand old silent trees.
Without sunshine, white in nature is always most solemn.
Here stillness was added; not a bird was yet awake, not a leaf stirred.
A faint bluish haze appeared to confuse the outlines of the trees, but as
he lingered looking at them and at the house which he had now fully
decided to take for his home, Mr. Melcombe saw this haze dissolve itself
and retreat; there was light enough to make the paleness whiter, and to
show the distinct brown trunk of each pear-tree, with the cushions of
green moss at its roots. Formless whiteness and visible dusk had
divided themselves into light and shade, then came a shaft of sunshine,
the boughs laden with dewy blossom sparkled like snow, and in one instant
the oppression of their solemnity was over, and they appeared to smile
upon his approach to his home.
He had done everything he could think of, and knew not how to
devise anything further, and yet this secret, if there was one, would not
come forward and look him in the face. He had searched the house in
the first instance for letters and papers; there were some old letters,
and old papers also, but not one that did not seem to be as clear in the
innocence of its meaning as possible; there was even one that set at rest
doubt and fear which he had hitherto entertained. He had found no
closets in the wall, no locked chambers; he had met with no mysterious
silences, mysterious looks, mysterious words. Then he had gone to
meet the bereaved mother, that if she had anything to say in the way of
warning to him, or repentance for herself, he might lay himself out to
hear it; but no, he had found her generally not willing to talk, but all
she did say showed tender reverence for the dead Melcombes, and passionate
grief for her boy who had been taken, as she said, before he was old
enough even to estimate at its due value the prosperous and happy career
he had before him. He tried Laura. Laura, though sincerely
sorry for poor little Peter's death, was very sentimental; told Valentine,
to his surprise, that it was mainly on her account they had wintered on
the Continent, and with downcast eyes and mysterious confusion that made
him tremble, at first utterly declined to tell him the reason.
When he found, therefore, that Mrs. Melcombe did not care at
present to return to England, and was far better able than he was to
arrange her journey when she did, he might have come home at once, but for
this mystery of Laura's. And when, after cultivating his intimacy
with her for nearly a month, he at last found out, beyond a doubt, that it
related to a love affair which Amelia had not approved of, he felt as if
everything he approached, concerning the matter of his father's letter,
melted into nothingness at his touch.
He acknowledged to himself that he should have been deeply
disappointed if he had discovered anything to justify this letter; and
when the full, low sunlight shone upon his large comfortable old house,
glorified the blossoming orchard and set off the darkness of the ancient
yews, he felt a touch of that sensation, which some people think is not
fancy only. Everything about him seemed familiar. The
old-fashioned quaintness was a part of himself. "The very first time
I saw that clean, empty coach-house," he reflected, "I felt as if I had
often played in it. I almost seemed to hear other boys shouting to
me. Is it true that I never let off squibs and crackers in that
He walked nearer. How cheerful it all looked, swept up
with extra neatness, and made orderly for the new master's eyes!
"By-the-bye," he thought, catching sight of a heavy old
outhouse door, "there is the ghost story. Having examined all
realities so far as I can, I will try my hand at things unreal―for even
now, though I am very grateful to Providence for such a house and such an
inheritance, once show me a good reason, and over it goes, as it should
have done at first, if my father could have given me one. That door
seems just the sort of thing for a ghost to pass through. I'll look
at the book Laura told me of, and see which door it was."
So the house being now open, and Mr. Melcombe observed by his
servants (who alone were there to give him welcome), he entered, ordered
breakfast, which was spread for him in the "great parlour," and having now
got into the habit of making investigations, had no sooner finished his
meal than he began to look at the notes he had made from what Mrs.
Melcombe had told him of the ghost story.
It was a story that she had not half finished when he
recognised it―he had read it with all its particulars in a book, only with
the names and localities disguised.
"Oh, yes," she answered, when he said so. "It is very
well known; it has always been considered one of the best authenticated
stories of its kind on record, though it was not known beyond the family
and the village for several years. Augustus Melcombe, you know, was
the name of the dear grandmother's only brother, her father's heir; he was
her father's only son, two daughters born between died in infancy.
That poor young fellow died at sea, and just at the time (as is supposed)
that he expired, his wraith appeared to the old woman, Becky Maddison,
then a very young girl. I am sorry to say the old woman has made a
gain of this story. People often used to come to hear it, and she
certainly does not always tell it exactly the same. People's
inquiries, I suppose, and suggestions, have induced her to add to it; but
the version I am giving you is what she first told."
Mrs. Melcombe mentioned the book in which Valentine would
find it, and repeated from memory the impressive conclusion, "And this
story of the young man's appearance to her had been repeatedly told by the
girl before his family became alarmed at his protracted absence. It
was during the long war, and the worst they feared was that he might have
been taken prisoner; but more than three years after a member of the
family met by accident, when some hundreds of miles away from home, a
naval officer who had sailed in the ship to which this young lieutenant
belonged, and heard from him, not without deep emotion, that at that very
time and at that very hour the youth had died at sea."
"There is only one mistake in that version," continued Mrs.
Melcombe, "and that is, that we do not know the exact time when the young
man died. Cuthbert Melcombe was not told the month even, only the
"But surely that is a very important mistake," said
"Yes, for those to consider who believe in supernatural
stories. It is certain, however, that the girl told this story
within a day or two, and told it often, so that it was known in the
village. It is certain also that he was at sea, and that he never
came home. And it is undoubtedly true that Cuthbert, when in London,
heard this account, for he wrote his mother home a description of the
whole interview, with the officer's name and ship. I have seen the
letter, and read it over several times. The year of the death at sea
is mentioned, but not the day. Now the day of the ghost's appearance
we cannot be wrong about; it was that before the night of the great gale
which did such damage in these parts, that for years it could not be
"You have read the letter, you say?"
"Yes; it was an important one, I suppose. But I fancy
that it was not read by any one but the dear grandmother till after poor
Cuthbert Melcombe's sad death, and then I think the family lawyer found it
among her papers when she had to inherit the estate. He may have
wanted evidence, perhaps, that Augustus Melcombe was dead."
"Perhaps so," said Valentine. "It is just of the usual
sort, I see, this story; a blue light hovering about the head. The
ghost walked in his shroud, and she saw the seams in it."
"Yes, and then it passed through the door without opening
it," added Laura, who was present. "How dear grandmother disliked
the woman! She showed a sort of fear, too, of that door, which made
us sure she believed the story."
"Very natural," said Mrs. Melcombe, sighing, "that she could
not bear to have her misfortunes made a subject for idle talk and
curiosity. I am sure I should feel keenly hurt if it was ever said
that my poor innocent darling haunted the place."
"Had anything been said against him in his lifetime?"
Valentine next ventured to ask. "Had he done anything which was
likely to put it into people's heads to say he might be uneasy in his
"Oh no, nothing of the sort," said Laura. "And then old
Becky is thought to have added circumstances to the story, so that it came
from that cause to be discredited of late. It is almost forgotten
now, and we never believed it at all; but it certainly is an odd
coincidence that she should have told it of a man who never came back to
contradict her, and who really did die, it appears, about that time."
Valentine accordingly went in the course of a few days to
find old Becky Maddison. The cottage was not far from the village.
Only the daughter was below, and when Valentine had told his name and
errand, she went up-stairs, perhaps to prepare her mother, to whom she
presently conducted him.
Valentine found her a poor bedridden creature, weak, frail,
and querulous. She was in a clean and moderately comfortable bed,
and when she saw him her puckered face and faded eyes began to look more
intelligent and attentive, and she presently remarked on his likeness to
A chair was set for him, and sitting down, he showed a
sovereign in his palm, and said, "I want to hear the ghost story; tell it
me as it really was, and you shall have this."
A shabby book was lying on the bed.
"Her can tell it no better'n it's told here," said the
Valentine took up the book. It was the same that he
knew; the blue light and the shroud appeared in it. He put the money
into her hand. "No," he said; "you shall have the money beforehand.
Now, then, say what you really saw."
Old Becky clutched the gold, and said, in a weak, whimpering
tone, "'Tain't often I tell it―ain't told it sin' Christmas marnin', old
Madam couldn't abide to hear on't."
"Old Madam's gone," said Valentine seriously.
"Ay, her be―her wer a saint, and sings in heaven now."
"And I want to hear it."
Thereupon the old woman roused herself a little, and with the
voice and manner of one repeating a lesson, told Valentine word for word
the trumpery tale in the book; how she had seen Mr. Melcombe early in the
morning, as she went up to the house on washing-day, to help the servants.
For "Madam," a widow already, had leave to live there till he should
return. He was walking in his shroud among the cherry-trees, and he
looked seriously at her. She passed, but turned instantly, and he
had disappeared; he must have gone right through the crack of the door.
Valentine was vexed, and yet relieved. Such a
ridiculous tale could only be an invention; and yet, if she would have
told it in different words, or have added anything, it might have led to
some discovery―it might, at least, have shown how it came to pass that
such a story had obtained credit.
"That was it, was it?" he said, feigning content. "I
should like to ask you another question; perhaps your daughter will not
mind going down."
With evident reluctance the daughter withdrew.
Valentine shut the door, and came back to his place.
Naturally enough, he cared nothing about the story; so he
approached the only thing he did care about in the matter. "I want
to ask you this one thing: a ghost, you say, appeared to you―well, what do
you think it was for―what did it want―what did it mean?"
Evident surprise on the part of his listener.
"It must have come for something," Valentine added, when she
remained silent. "Have you never considered what?"
"Ay, sir, sure-ly. He came to let folks know he was
"And that was all, you think?"
"What else could he come for?" she answered.
"Nobody has ever said, then, that it came for anything else,"
thought Valentine. "The poor ghost is not accused of any crime, and
there is no crime known of concerning the family or place that could be
imputed to him."
"You are sure you have nothing more to say to me?"
"Ne'er a word, sir, this blessed marnin', but thank you
Perhaps Valentine had never felt better pleased in his life
than he did when he went down the narrow, dark stairs, after his interview
with Becky Maddison. To find that without doubt she was either a
fool or an impostor, was not what should have softened his heart and
opened his purse for her; but he had feared to encounter her story far
more than he had known himself till now that all fear was over. So
when he got down to the daughter he was gracious, and generously gave her
leave to come to the house for wine and any other comforts that the old
woman might require. "And I shall come and see her from time to
time," he added, as he went his way, for with the old woman's last word
had snapped the chain that had barred the road to Melcombe. It was
his. He should dispense its charity, pay its dues, and from
henceforth, without fear or superstition, enjoy its revenues.
About this time something occurred at John Mortimer's house,
which made people hold up their hands, and exclaim, "What next?"
It would be a difficult matter to tell that story correctly,
considering how many had a hand in the telling of it, and that no two of
them told it in the least degree alike; considering also that Mr.
Mortimer, who certainly could have told the greater part of it, had (so
far as was known) never told it at all.
Everybody said he had knocked up Swan and Mrs. Swan at six
o'clock one morning, and sent the former to call up Matthew the coachman,
who also lived out of the house. "And that," said Swan, when he
admitted the fact to after questioners, "Matthew never will forgive me for
doing. He hates to get his orders through other folks, specially
through me. He allus grudges me the respect as the family can't help
feeling for me. Not but that he gets his share, but he counts
nothing his if it's mine too. He'd like to pluck the very summer out
of my almanack, and keep it in his own little back parlour."
Everybody said, also, that Mrs. Swan had made the fire that morning in Mr.
Mortimer's kitchen, and that Matthew had waited on him and his four
daughters at breakfast, nobody else being in the house, gentle or simple.
Gentle or simple. That was certainly true, for the
governess had taken her departure two days previously.
After this, everybody said that Matthew brought the carriage
round, and Mr. Mortimer put in the girls, and got in himself, telling
Matthew to drive to Wigfield Hall, where Mr. Brandon, coming out to meet
him with a look of surprise, he said, "Giles, we are early visitors;" and
Mr. Brandon answered, "All the more welcome, John." Everybody said
also that the four Miss Mortimers remained for several days with Mrs.
Brandon, and very happy they seemed.
But though people knew no more, they naturally said a good
deal more―they always do. Some said that Mr. Mortimer, coming home
unexpectedly after a journey in the middle of the night, found the kitchen
chimney on fire, and some of the servants asleep on the floor, nothing
like so sober as they should have been. Others said he found a dance
going on in the servants' hall, and the cook waltzing with a policeman,
several gentlemen of the same craft being present. Others, again,
said that when he returned he found the house not only empty, but open;
that he sat down and waited, in a lowering passion, till they all returned
in two flys from some festivities at a public-house in Wigfield; and then,
meeting them at the door, he retained the flys, and waving his hand,
ordered them all off the premises; saw them very shortly depart, and
locked the doors behind them. It was a comfort to be able to invent
so many stories, and not necessary to make them tally, for no one could
contradict them; certainly not any one of the four Miss Mortimers, for
they had all been fast asleep the whole time.
Mr. Mortimer held his peace; but while staying with Mr. and
Mrs. Brandon till he could reconstruct his household, he was observed at
first to be out of spirits, and vastly inclined to be out of temper.
He did his very best to hide this, but he could not hide a sort of look
half shame, half amusement, which would now and then steal round the
corners of his mouth, as if it had come out of some hiding-place to take a
survey of things in general.
John Mortimer had perhaps rather prided himself on his
penetration, his powers of good government, the order and respectability
of his household, and other matters of that description. He had been
taught in rather an ignominious fashion that he had overvalued himself in
He was always treated by strangers whom he employed with a
great deal of respect and deference; but this was mainly owing to a
somewhat commanding presence and a good deal of personal dignity.
When the same people got used to him, perceived the bonhomie of his
character, his carelessness about money matters, and his easy household
ways, they were sometimes known to take all the more advantage of him from
having needlessly feared him at first.
He said to Giles, "It is very evident now that I must marry.
I owe it to the mother of my children, and in fact to them."
Mrs. Brandon said this to Mrs. Walker when, the next day,
these two ladies met, and were alone together, excepting for the presence
of St. George Mortimer Brandon, which did not signify. "The house
might have been robbed," she continued, "and the children burnt in their
"Giles told you this afterwards?"
Emily looked uncomfortable. "One never knows how men
may discuss matters when they are alone. I hope, if John ever asked
advice of Giles, he would not――"
Here a pause.
"He would not recommend any one in particular," said
Dorothea, looking down on her baby's face. "Oh no, I am certain he
would not think of such a thing. Besides, the idea that he had any
one to suggest has, I know, never entered his head."
This she said without looking at Emily, and in a
matter-of-fact tone. If one had discovered anything, and the other
was aware of it, she could still here at least feel perfectly safe.
This sister of hers, even to her own husband, would never speak.
"And that was all?"
"No; Giles said he gave him various ludicrous particulars,
and repeated, with such a sincere sigh, 'I must marry―it's a dire
necessity!' that Giles laughed, and so did he."
"Poor John!" said Emily, "there certainly was not much in his
first marriage to tempt him into a second. And so I suppose Giles
encouraged him, saying, as he often does, that he had never known any
happiness worth mentioning till he married."
"Yes, dear," said Dorothea, "and he answered, 'But you did
not pitch yourself into matrimony like a man taking a header into a
fathomless pool. You were in love, old fellow, and I am not.
Why, I have not decided yet on the lady!' He cannot mean, therefore,
to marry forthwith, Emily; besides, it must be the literal truth that he
has not even half unconsciously a real preference for any one, or he could
not have talked so openly to Giles. He does not even foresee any
"But I hope to help him to a preference very soon," she
thought, and added aloud, "Dear, you will stay and dine with us?"
Emily replied that she could not, she was to dine with a
neighbour; and she shortly departed, in possession of the most imprudent
speeches John had ever made (for he was usually most reticent), and she
could not guess of course that one of his assertions time had already
falsified. He had decided on the lady.
While the notion that he must marry had slumbered, his
thought that Emily should be his wife had slumbered also; but that
morning, driving towards Wigfield, he had stopped at his own house to give
some orders, and then had gone up into "Parliament" to fetch out some
small possessions that his twin daughters wanted. There, standing
for a moment to look about him, his eyes had fallen on his throne, and
instantly the image of Emily had recurred to him, and her attitude as she
held his little child. To give a step-mother to his children had
always been a painful thought. They might be snubbed, misrepresented
to him, uncherished, unloved. But Emily! there was the tender grace
of motherhood in her every action towards a little child; her yearning
sense of loss found its best appeasement in the pretty exactions and
artless dependence of small young creatures. No; Emily might spoil
step-children if she had them, but she could not be unkind.
His cold opinion became a moderately pleased conviction.
This was so much the right thing, that once contemplated, it became the
only thing. He recalled her image again, as he looked at the empty
throne, and he did not leave the room till he had fully decided to set her
When John went back to dinner, he soon managed to introduce
her name, and found those about him very willing to talk of her. It
seemed so natural in that house. John recalled some of the anecdotes
of her joyous girlhood for Dorothea's benefit; they laughed over them
together. They all talked a good deal that evening of Emily, but
this made no difference to John's intention; it was fully formed already.
So the next morning, having quite recovered his spirits, and
almost forgotten what he had said three days before to his host, he
remarked to himself, just as he finished dressing, "She has been a widow
now rather more than a year. The sooner I do it, the better."
He sat down to cogitate. It was not yet breakfast time.
"Well," he said, "she is a sweet creature. What would I have, I
He took a little red morocco case from his pocket-book, and
"My father was exceedingly fond of her," he next said, "and
nothing would have pleased him better."
His father had inherited a very fine diamond ring from his
old cousin, and had been in the habit of wearing it. John, who never
decked himself in jewellery of any sort, had lately taken this ring to
London, and left it with his jeweller, to be altered so as to fit a lady's
finger. He intended it for his future wife.
It had just been sent back to him.
Some people say, "There are no fools like old fools."
It might be said with equal truth, there are no follies like the follies
of a wise man.
"I cannot possibly play the part of a lover," said Mr.
Mortimer, and his face actually changed its hue slightly when he spoke.
"How shall I manage to give it to her!"
He looked at the splendid gem, glittering and sparkling.
"And I hate insincerity," he continued. Then, having taken out the
ring, he inspected it as if he wished it could help him, turning it round
on the tip of his middle finger. "Trust her? I should think
so! Like her? Of course I do. I'll settle on her
anything Giles pleases, but I must act like a gentleman, and not pretend
to any romantic feelings."
"It's rather an odd thing," he further reflected, "that so
many women as have all but asked me―so many as have actually let other
women ask me for them―so many as I know I might now have almost at a
week's notice, I should have taken it into my head that I must have this
one, who doesn't care for me a straw. She'll laugh at me, very
likely―she'll take me, though!"
"No, I won't have any one else, I'm determined. I'll
agree to anything she demands." Here a sunbeam, and the diamonds
darted forth to meet one another. The flash made him wink. "If
she'll only undertake to reign and rule, and bring up the children―for
she'll do it well, and love them too―I'm a very domestic fellow, I shall
be fond of her. Yes, I know she'll soon wind me round her little
finger." Here, remembering the sweetness of liberty, he sighed.
"I'll lay the matter before her this morning. I shall not forget the
respect due to her and to myself." He half laughed. "She'll
soon know well enough what I'm come for; and if I stick fast, she will
probably help me!" He shut up the ring. "She never has had the
least touch of romance in her nature, and she knows that I know
she didn't love her first husband a bit." He then looked at himself,
or rather at his coat, in a long glass―it fitted to perfection. "If
this crash had not brought me to the point, I might have waited till
somebody else won her. There goes the breakfast bell. Well, I
think I am decidedly glad on the whole."
"If he come not then the play is marred: it goes not forward,
Midsummer Night's Dream.
GRANT, sitting with Emily at
ten o'clock in the morning, heard a ring at the bell, which she thought
she knew. She pricked up her head to listen, and as it ceased
tinkling she bustled out of the room.
The first virtue of a companion in Miss Christie Grant's
view, was to know how to be judiciously absent.
Emily was writing, when she looked up on hearing these words,
and saw John Mortimer advancing. Of course she had been thinking of
him, thinking with much more hope than heretofore, but also with much more
When he had stood remote, the object of such an impassioned,
and to her, hitherto, such an unknown love, which transformed him and
everything about him, and imparted to him such an almost unbearable
charm―a power to draw her nearer and nearer without knowing it, or wanting
her at all―she had felt that she could die for him, but she had not hoped
to live for him, and spend a happy life at his side.
She did not hope it yet, she only felt that a blissful
possibility was thrown down before her, and she might take it up if she
She knew that this strange absorbing love, which, like some
splendid flower, had opened out in her path, was the one supreme blossom
of her life―that life which is all too short for the unfolding of another
such. But the last few hours had taught her something more, it was
now just possible that he might pretend to gather this flower―he had
something to learn then before he could wear it, he must love her, or she
felt that her own love would break her heart.
Emily had not one of those poverty-stricken natures which are
never glad excepting for some special reason drawing them above
themselves. She was naturally joyous and happy, unless under the
pressure of an active sorrow that shaded her sky and quenched her
sunshine. She lived in an elevated region full of love and wonder,
taking kindly alike to reverence and to hope; but she was seldom excited,
her feelings were not shallow enough to be easily troubled with
excitement, or made fitful with agitation.
There was in her nature a suave harmony, a sweet and gracious
calm, which love itself did not so much disturb as enrich and change,―love
which had been born in the sacred loneliness of sorrow,―complicated with
tender longing towards little children, nourished in silence, with
beautiful shame and pride, and impassioned fear.
Yet it was necessary to her, even in all withdrawal from its
object, even though it should be denied all expression for ever―necessary
to the life that it troubled and raised, and enriched, with a vision of
withheld completeness that was dimmed by the tears of her half "divine
She rose and held out her hand, and when he smiled with a
certain air of embarrassment, she did also. She observed that he was
sensitive about the ridiculous affair which had led to his turning out his
household, besides this early call made her feel, but not in a way to
discompose her as if she were taken into the number of those ladies, among
whom he meant to make his selection. Yes, it was as she had hoped.
It warmed her to the heart to see it, but not the less was she aware of
the ridiculous side of it. A vision of long-sustained conversations,
set calls, and careful observations in various houses rose up before her;
it was not in her nature to be unamused at the peculiar position that he
had confessed to―"he had not decided on the lady." She felt that she
knew more of this than he supposed, and his embarrassment making her quite
at her ease, the smiles kept peeping out as with her natural grace she
began to talk to him.
"Emily, you are laughing at me," he presently said, and he
too laughed, felt at ease, and yielded to the charm that few men could
resist, so far as to become at home and pleased with his hostess for
making him so.
"Of course I am, John," she answered. "I couldn't think
of being occupied with any one else just now!"
And then they began to talk discursively and, as it were, at
large. John seemed to be fetching a wide compass. Emily hardly
knew what he was about till suddenly she observed that he had ventured on
dangerous ground, she managed to give a little twist to the conversation,
but he soon brought it back again, and she half turned, and looked up at
While she occupied herself with a favourite piece of
embroidery, and was matching the silks, holding them up to the light, he
had risen, and was leaning against the side of the bay window; a frequent
attitude with him; for what are called "occasional" chairs are often
rather frail and small for accommodating a large tall man, and
drawing-room sofas are sometimes exceedingly low. In any one's eyes
he would have passed for a fine man, something more (to those who could
see it) than a merely handsome man, for the curves of his mouth had
mastery in them, and his eyes were full of grave sweetness. Emily
was always delighted with the somewhat unusual meeting in him of personal
majesty, with the good-humoured easy bonhomie which had caused his
late discomfiture. She half turned, and looked up.
"How charming she is!" he thought, as he looked down; "there
will be grace and beauty into the bargain!" and he proceeded, in pursuit
of what he considered sincere and gentlemanlike, to venture on the
dangerous ground again, not being aware how it quaked under him.
The casual mention of some acquaintance who had lately
married gave him the chance that he thought he wanted. He would be
happy enough―people might in general be happy enough, he hinted, glancing
from the particular instance to lay down a general proposition―"if they
did not expect too much―if they were less romantic; for himself, he had
not the presumption to expect more than a sincere liking―a cordial
approval―such as he himself could entertain. It was the only feeling he
had ever inspired, or――"
No, he did not say felt.
But he presently alluded to his late wife, and then reverting
to his former speech, said, "And yet I was happy with her! I consider that
I was fortunate."
"Moderate," thought Emily; "but as much as it is possible for
him to say."
"And," he continued, "she has laid me under obligations that
make it impossible for me ever to forget her. I feel the blessing of
having our children about me. And―and also―what I owe to her on
their account―I never spend a day without thinking of her."
"Poor Janie!" thought Emily, very much touched, "she did not
deserve this tribute. How coldly I have often heard her talk of
And then, not without a certain grave sweetness of manner
that made her heart ache, alike with tender shame to think how little her
dead husband had ever been accounted of, compared with this now possible
future one, and with such jealousy as one may feel of a dead wife who
would have cared as little for long remembrance as she had done for living
affection, Emily listened, while he managed quite naturally, and by the
slightest hints, to bring her also in―her past lot and opinions. She
felt, rather than heard, the intention; "and he could not presume to say,"
he went on, "he was not sure whether a man might hope for a second
marriage, which could have all the advantages of a first. Yet he
thought that in any suitable marriage there might be enough benefit on
both sides to make it almost equally."
"Equally what?" Emily wondered.
John was trying to speak in a very matter-of-fact way, as
merely laying down his views.
"Equally advantageous," he said at last; and not without
"John," said Emily, rallying a little, and speaking with the
least little touch of audacity,―"John, you are always fond of advancing
your abstract theories. Now, I should have thought that if a man had
felt any want in his first marriage, he would have tried for something
more in a second, rather than have determined that there was no more to be
"Unless his reason assured him in more sober hours that he
had had all, and given all that could in reason be expected," John
answered. "I did not confess to having felt any want," he presently
added. "Call this, since it pleases you, my abstract theory."
And then Emily felt that she too must speak; her dead husband
deserved it of her far more than his dead wife had ever done.
"I do please," she answered; "this can be only an abstract
theory to me. I knew no want of love in my marriage, only a frequent
self-reproach―to think that I was unworthy, because I could not enough
"A most needless self-reproach," he answered. "I venture to
hope that people should never rebuke themselves because they happen to be
incapable of romantic passion, or any of the follies of youthful love."
"Intended to restore my self-esteem. Shall I not soon
be able to make you feel differently?" thought Emily. "You still
remember Janie; you will never let her be disparaged. I think none
the worse of you for that, my beloved―my hope."
He was silent till she glanced up at him again, with a sweet
wistfulness, that was rather frequent with her; turning half round―for he
stood at her side, not quite enough at his ease to look continually in her
face―he was much surprised to find her so charming, so naive in all her
movements, and in the flitting expressions of her face.
He was pleased, too, though very much surprised, to find that
she did not seem conscious of his intention (a most lovely blush had
spread itself over her face when she spoke of her husband), but so far
from expecting what he was just about to say, she had thrown him back in
his progress more than once―she did not seem to be expecting anything.
"And yet, I have said a good deal," he reflected; "I have let her know
that I expect to inspire no romantic love, and do not pretend to be in
love with her. I come forward admiring, trusting, and preferring her
to any other woman; though I cannot come as a lover to her feet." He
began to talk again. Emily was a little startled to find him in a
few minutes alluding to his domestic discomforts, and his intention of
standing for the borough. He had now a little red box in his hand,
and when she said, "John, I wish you would not stand there," he came and
sat nearly opposite to her, and showed her what was in it―his father's
diamond ring. She remembered it, no doubt; he had just had the
diamond reset. Emily took out the ring, and laid it in her palm.
"It looks small," she said. "I should not have thought it would fit
"Will you let me try if it will fit you?" he answered; and,
before she had recovered from her surprise, he had put it on her finger.
There was a very awkward pause, and then she drew it off.
"You can hardly expect me," she said, and her hand trembled a little, "to
accept such a very costly present." It was not her reason for
returning it, but she knew not what to say.
"I would not ask it," he replied, "unless I could offer you
another. I desire to make you my wife. I beg you to accept my
"Accept your hand! What, now? directly? today?" she
exclaimed almost piteously, and tears trembled on her eye-lashes.
"Yes," he answered, repeating her words with something like
ardour. "Now, directly, to-day. I am sorely in want of a wife,
and would fain take you home as soon as the bans would let me.
"Why you have been taking all possible pains to let me know
that you do not love me in the least, and that, as far as you foresee, you
do not mean to love me," she answered, two great tears falling on his hand
when he tried to take hers. "John! how dare you!"
She was not naturally passionate, but startled now into this
passionate appeal, she snatched away her hand, rose in haste, and drew
back from him with flashing eyes and a heaving bosom; but all too soon the
short relief she had found in anger was quenched in tears that she did not
try to check. She stood and wept, and he, very pale and very much
discomfited, sat before her in his place.
"I beg your pardon," he presently said, not in the least
aware of what this really meant. "I beg―I entreat your pardon.
I scarcely thought―forgive my saying it―I scarcely thought, considering
our past―and―and―my position, as the father of a large family, that you
would have consented to any wooing in the girl and boy fashion. You
make me wish, for once in my life―yes, very-heartily wish, that I had been
less direct, less candid," he added rather bitterly. "I
thought"―here Emily heard him call himself a fool―"I thought you would
"I do," she answered with a great sobbing sigh. Oh,
there was nothing more for her to say; she could not entreat him now to
let her teach him to love her. She felt, with a sinking heart, that
if he took her words for a refusal, and by no means a gentle one, it could
not be wondered at.
Presently he said, still looking amazed and pale, for he was
utterly unused to a woman's tears, and as much agitated now in a man's
fashion as she was in hers,
"If I have spoken earlier in your widowhood than you approve,
and it displeases you, I hope you will believe that I have always thought
of you as a wife to be admired above any that I ever knew."
"My husband loved me," she answered, drying her eyes, now
almost calmly. She could not say she was displeased on his account,
and when she looked up she saw that John Mortimer had his hat in his hand.
Their interview was nearly over.
"I cannot lose you as a friend," he said, and his voice
"Oh no; no, dear John."
"And my children are so fond of you."
"I love them; I always shall."
He looked at her for a moment, doubtful whether to hold out
his hand. "Forget this, Emily, and let things be as they have been
heretofore between us."
"Yes," she answered, and gave him her hand.
"Good-bye," he said, and stooped to kiss it, and was gone.
She stood quite still listening, and yet listening, till all
possible chance was over of catching any longer the sound of his steps.
No more tears; only a great aching emptiness. The unhoped-for chance
had been hers, and she had lost it knowingly. What else could she
She scarcely knew how long she remained motionless. A
world and a lifetime of agitation, and thought, and passionate yearning
seemed to stand between her and that brief interview, before, casting her
eyes on the little velvet-covered table across which he had leaned to put
it on her hand, she saw the splendid ring; sunbeams had found it out, and
were playing on the diamond; he had forgotten it, and left it behind him,
and there was the case on the floor. It seemed to be almost a
"We are to dine with Giles and Dorothea to-day, and meet him.
This morning's work, then, is not irretrievable. I can speak now to
Dorothea, tell her what has occurred, and she will see that I have
opportunity to return him this―and―-and things may end in his loving me a
little, after all. Oh, if they could―if, indeed, he had not told me
he did not. He did not look in the least angry,―only surprised and
vexed when I rejected him. He cares so little about me."
She took up the ring, and in course of time went with her old
aunt to dine at her brother's house. She knew John was aware that he
was to meet her; she was therefore deeply disturbed, though perhaps she
had no right to be surprised when Dorothea said―
"We are so much disappointed! John Mortimer has sent
this note to excuse himself from coming back to dinner to-day―or, indeed,
coming here at all to-night. He has to go out, it seems, for two or
"Ay," said Miss Christie, "that's very awkward for him."
Miss Christie had built certain hopes upon that morning's visit. "It
seems to me," she continued, "that John Mortimer's affairs give him twice
as much trouble as they used to do."
Emily was silent; she felt that this was not letting
things be as they had been heretofore. She took up the note.
He did not affirm that he was obliged to go out. Even if he was,
what should she do now? She was left in custody of the ring, and
could neither see him nor write to him.
"On Sunday I shall see him. I shall have his hand for a
moment; I shall give him this, after morning service."
But, no. Sunday came; the Mortimers were at church, but
not their father. "Father had walked over to that little
chapel-of-ease beyond Wigfield, that Grand gave the money to build," they
said. "He took Johnnie with him to day."
"Yes," said Barbara, "and he promised next Sunday to take
"He will not meet me," thought Emily.
She waited another week, hoping she might meet him
accidentally; hoping he might come to her, hoping and fearing she hardly
knew what. But still John Mortimer made no sign, and she could not
decide to write to him; every day that she retained the ring made it more
difficult for her to return it, without breaking so the slender thread
that seemed to hold her to him still. There was no promise in it of
any future communication at all.
In the meantime curiosity, having been once excited about
John Mortimer and his concerns, kept open eyes on him still, and soon the
air was full of rumours which reached all ears but those of the two people
most concerned. A likely thing, if there is the smallest evidence in
the world for it, can easily get headway if nobody in authority can
All Wigfield said that Mr. Mortimer had "proposed" to Mrs.
Walker, and she had refused him. Brandon heard it with amazement,
but could say nothing; Miss Christie heard it with yet more; but she, too,
held her peace.
Johnnie Mortimer heard it, made furtive observations on his
father, was pleased to think that he was dull, restless, pale―remembered
his own letter to his sisters, and considered himself to be partly to
blame. Then the twins heard it, took counsel with Johnnie, believed
it also, were full of ruth and shame. "So dear papa loved Mrs.
Walker, and she would not marry him. There could only be one reason;
she knew she had nothing to expect but rebellion and rudeness and
unkindness from them. No, papa was not at all like himself; he often
sighed, and he looked as if his head ached. They had seen in the
paper that he had lost a quantity of money by some shares and things; but
they didn't think he cared about that, for he gave them a sovereign the
next day to buy a birthday present for Janie. Father must not be
made miserable on their account. What had they better do?"
Emily, in the meantime, felt her heart faint; this new
trouble going down to the deepest part of her heart, woke up and raised
again the half-appeased want and sorrow. Again she dreamed that she
was folding her little child in her arms, and woke to find them empty.
She could not stand against this, and decided, in sheer desperation, to
quit the field. She would go on the Continent to Justina; rest and
change would help her, and she would send back the ring, when all was
arranged, by Aunt Christie.
She was still at her desk, having at last managed to write
She was to start the next morning. Miss Christie was
then on her way to John Mortimer with the ring, and tired with her own
trouble and indecision, she was resting in a careless attitude when she
heard a knock at the door.
"That tiresome boy again," she disrespectfully
murmured, rousing up a little, and a half smile stealing out. "What
am I to do with him?" She thought it was the new curate. "Why,
Johnnie, is that you?" she exclaimed as Johnnie Mortimer produced himself
in all his youthful awkwardness, and advanced, looking a good deal
Johnnie replied that it was a half-holiday, and so he thought
he would come and call.
Emily said she was glad to see him; indeed, she felt
refreshed by the sight of anything that belonged to John.
"I thought I should like to―to―in short, to come and call,"
repeated Johnnie, and he looked rather earnestly at his gloves, perhaps by
way of occupation. They were such as a Harrow boy seldom wears,
excepting on "speech day"―pale lilac. As a rule Johnnie scorned
gloves. Emily observed that he was dressed with perfect propriety―like a
gentleman, in fact; his hair brushed, his tie neat, his whole outer boy
clean, and got up regardless of trouble and expense.
"Well, you could not have come at a better time, dear boy,"
said Emily, wondering what vagary he was indulging now, "for I have just
got a present of a case of shells and birds from Ceylon, and you shall
help me to unpack and arrange them, if you like."
"I should like to do anything you please," said Johnnie with
alacrity. "That's what I meant, that's what I came to say."
Thereupon he smoothed the nap on his "chimneypot" hat, and blushed
The case was set upon the floor, on a piece of matting; it
had already been opened, and was filling the room with a smell of
sandal-wood and camphor.
Emily had risen, and when she paused, arrested by surprise at
the oddness of this speech, he added, taking to his lisp again, as if from
sheer embarrassment, "Thome fellows are a great deal worse than they theem.
No, I didn't mean that; I mean thome fellows are a great deal better than
"Now, Johnnie," said Emily, laughing, and remembering a late
visit of apology, "if any piece of mischief has got the better of you, and
your father has sent you to say you are sorry for it, I'll forgive you
beforehand! What is it? Have you been rooting up my fences, or
flooding my paddock?"
"It's a great deal worth than that," answered Johnnie, who by
this time was kneeling beside the case, hauling out the birds and shells
with more vigour than dexterity.
"Nothing to do with gunpowder, I hope," said Emily with her
"There are the girls; I hear them coming in the carriage,"
exclaimed Johnnie by way of answer, while Emily was placing the shells on
a table. "No, father didn't send me; he doesn't know."
"What is it, then?" she repeated, feeling more at liberty to
investigate the matter, now she had been expressly told that John had
nothing to do with it.
On this, instead of making a direct reply, he exclaimed,
looking very red and indignant, "I told them it was no use at all my
coming, and now you see it isn't. They thaid they wouldn't come
unless I did. If you thought I should be rude, you might make me
stop at school all the holidays, or at old Tikey's; I shouldn't thay a
Emily's hand was on the boy's shoulder as he knelt before the
case. Surely she understood what he meant; but if so, where could he
possibly have acquired the knowledge he seemed to possess? And even
then he was the last person from whom she could have expected this blunt,
embarrassed, promise of fealty.
The girls entered, and the two little ones. Emily met
them, and while she gave each a kiss, Johnnie started up, and with a great
war-whoop of defiance to his sisters, burst through the open window, and
blushing hotly fled away.
Much the same thing over again. The girls were all in
their best; they generally loved to parade the crofts and gardens clad in
brown holland and shaded by flapping hats. The children scorned
gloves and all fine clothes as much as they did the carriage; and here
they were―little Hugh in his velvet suit, looking so fair and
bright-haired; Anastasia dressed out in ribbons, and with a very large
bouquet of hothouse flowers in her hand. The girls pushed her
"It's for you," said the little girl, "and isn't it a grand
one! And my love, and we're come to call."
"Thank you, my sweet," said Emily, accepting the bouquet, "I
never saw such a beauty!" She was sitting on a sofa, and her young
guests were all standing before her. She observed that little Hugh
looked very sulky indeed. "It's extremely unfair," he presently
burst out, "they made Swan cut the best flowers in the houses, and they
gave them all to Nancy to give, and I haven't got none."
Barbara whispered to him, trying to soothe his outraged
feelings, but he kept her off with his elbow till Emily drew him near, and
observed that it was not her birthday, and therefore that one present was
Barbara replied that Hughie had brought a present, but he was
very cross because it was not so pretty as Anastasia's.
"Yes, I've brought this," said Hugh, his countenance clearing
a little as he opened his small gloved hand, and disclosed a very bright
five-shilling piece. "It's not so pretty, though, as Nannie's."
"But it will last much longer," said Emily; "and so you meant
this for me, my sweet man. I'll take care of it for you, and look at
it sometimes till you want to spend it; that will be a very nice present
for me, and then you can have it back."
"Papa gave it him," said Anastasia; "it's a new one.
And may we go now and look at our gardens?"
Hugh appeared to be cogitating over Emily's proposal; his
little grave face was the image of his father's. "You may if Mrs.
Nemily says so," answered Gladys. "You always want to do what Mrs.
Nemily pleases, don't you?"
"Oh yes," said the sprite, dancing round the room; and off
they set into the garden.
"And so do we all," said Barbara.
Gladys was sitting at Emily's feet now, and had a little
covered basket in her hand, which rustled as if it contained some living
"Janie and Bertie don't know―none of the little ones know,"
said Barbara; "we thought we had better not tell them."
Emily did not ask what they meant; she thought she knew.
It could make no difference now, yet it was inexpressibly sweet and
consoling to her.
"We only said we were coming to call, and when Janie saw the
bouquet she said she should send you a present too." Thereupon the
basket was opened, and a small white kitten was placed on Emily's knee.
There seemed no part for her to play, but to be passive; she
could not let them misunderstand; she knew John had not sent them.
"We should be so glad if you came," whispered the one who held her hand.
"Oh, Janie," thought Emily, "if you could only see your children now!"
"And when Johnnie wrote that, he didn't know it was you,"
pleaded the other.
"My darlings!" said Emily, "you must not say any more; and I
have nothing to answer but that I love you all very, very much indeed."
"But we want you to love father too."
Unheard-of liberty! Emily had no answer ready; but now,
as she had wondered what their mother would have felt, she wondered what
John would have felt at this utter misunderstanding, this taking for
granted that he loved her, and that she did not love him. A
sensitive blush spread itself over her face. "Your father would not
be pleased, my dears," she answered lovingly but firmly, "at your saying
any more; he would think (though I am sure you do not mean it) that you
were taking a great liberty."
A CHAPTER OF TROUBLES.
"She's daft to refuse the laird of Cockpen."
AND now John Mortimer
had again possession of his ring. Emily had sent it, together with a
little book that she had borrowed some time previously, and the whole was
so done up in stiff paper that Miss Christie Grant supposed herself to be
returning the book only.
"So you gave it to John, auntie," said Emily, when Miss
Christie came back, "and told him I was going out, and he read the note?"
"Yes," answered Miss Christie curtly.
"Is he looking well?" asked Emily with a faint attempt at the
tone of ordinary interest.
"I should say not at all; it would be queer if he was."
"Why, Aunt Christie?"
Miss Christie Grant paused. Confidence had not been
reposed in her; to have surprised Emily into it would have given her no
pleasure; it would have left her always suspicious that her niece would
have withheld it if she could; besides, this rumour might after all be
untrue. She answered, "Because, for one thing, he has had great, at
least considerable, losses."
"Yes, I know," said Emily.
"But he aye reposed great confidence in me, as a friend
"And so I would have asked him several questions if I had
known how to express myself; but bonds and debentures, and, above all,
preference stock, were aye great stumbling-blocks to my understanding.
Men have a way of despising a woman's notions of business matters; so I
contented myself with asking if it was true that he was arranging to take
a partner, and whether he would have to make any pecuniary sacrifice in
order to effect this? He said 'Yes;' but I've been just thinking he
meant that in confidence."
"You shouldn't tell it to me then."
"And then he told me (I don't know whether that was in
confidence or not), but――"
"But I don't want to have any reservations with my own
niece's child, that was always my favourite, any more than I suppose ye
would have any with me."
Miss Christie here seemed to expect an answer, and waited
long enough for Emily to make one, if she was so minded; but as Emily
remained silent, she presently went on.
"I made the observation that I had heard he meant to sell his
late father's house; but lest he should think I attached too much
importance to his losses, I just added that I knew his children were very
well provided for under the will. He said 'Yes.'"
"And that was all?" asked Emily, amused at the amount of
John's confidence, and pleased to find that nothing but business had been
"Yes, that was all―so far as I know there was nothing more to
tell; so I just said before I came away that I was well aware my knowledge
of banking was but slender, which was reason enough for my not offering
any advice. Well, if anybody had told me ye could laugh because John
Mortimer was less prosperous than formerly, I would not have believed it!"
Emily made haste to look grave again. It was no secret
at all that John Mortimer meant to take a partner; and as to his losses,
she did not suppose they would affect his comfort much.
Johnnie Mortimer, however, on hearing of them was roused to a
sense of responsibility toward his father, and as a practical proof that
he and his sisters were willing to do what they could, proposed to them
that they should give up half their weekly allowance of pocket-money.
The twins assented with filial fervour, and Johnnie explained their views
to his father, proposing that his own pony should be sold, and the money
flung into the gap.
John was smoking a cigar in an arbour near the house when his
heir unfolded to him these plans for retrenchment. He was surprised.
The boy was so big, so clever with his lessons, and possessed so keen a
sense of humour that sometimes the father forgot his actual age, and
forgot that he was still simple in many respects, and more childlike than
some other youths.
He did not instantly answer nor laugh (for Johnnie was
exceedingly sensitive to ridicule from him); but after a pause, as if for
thought, he assured his son that he was not in any want of money, and that
therefore these plans, he was happy to say, were not necessary. "As
you are old enough now," he added, "to take an intelligent interest in my
affairs, I shall occasionally talk to you about them."
Johnnie, shoving his head hard against his father's shoulder,
gave him an awkward hug. "You might depend on my never telling
anybody," he said.
"I am sure of that, my boy. Your dear grandfather, a
few months before his death, gave his name to an enterprise which, in my
opinion, did not promise well. A good deal of money has been lost by
"Oh," said Johnnie, and again he reflected that, though not
necessary, it would be only right and noble in him to give up his pony.
"But I dare say you think that I and mine have always lived
in the enjoyment of every comfort, and of some luxuries."
"Oh, yes, father."
"Then if I tell you that I intend to continue living exactly
in my present style, and that I expect to be always entitled to do so, you
need perhaps hardly concern yourself to inquire how much I may hitherto
have lived within my income."
Johnnie, who, quite unknown to himself, had just sustained
the loss of many thousands hitherto placed to his name, replied with
supreme indifference that he hoped he was not such a muff as to care about
money that his father did not care about himself, and did not want.
Whereupon John proceeded,―
"It is my wish, and in the course of a few years I hope that
I shall be able, to retire."
"Oh," said Johnnie again, and he surprised his father to the
point of making him refrain from any further communication, by adding,
"And then you'll have plenty of time to rummage among those old Turanian
verbs and things. But, father?"
"Yes, my boy."
John looked down into the clear eyes of the great, awkward,
swarthy fellow, expecting the question, "Will this make much difference to
my future prospects?" But, no, what he said was, "I should like to
have a go at them too. And you said you would teach me
Sanscrit, if ever you had leisure."
"So I did," said John, "and so I will."
To his own mind these buried roots, counted by the world so
dry, proved, as it were, appetising and attractive food. How, then,
should he be otherwise than pleased that his son should take delight in
the thought of helping him to rake them up, and arguing with him over "the
ninth meaning of a particle?" "The boy will learn to love money
quite soon enough," he thought.
Johnnie then went his way. It was Saturday afternoon;
he told his sisters that "it was all right," and thereupon resolving no
longer to deny themselves the innocent pleasures of life, they sent little
Bertram into the town for eighteenpennyworth of "rock."
"Where's the change?" he inquired, with the magisterial
dignity belonging to his race, when his little brother came home.
Bertram replied with all humility that he had only, been
tossing up the fourpenny piece a few times for fun, when it fell into the
ditch. He couldn't help it; he was very sorry.
"Soufflez the fourpenny piece," said Johnnie in a
burst of reckless extravagance; "I forgive you this once. Produce
He felt a lordly contempt for money just then; perhaps it was
wrong, but prosperity was spoiling him. He was to retain his pony,
and this amiable beast was dear to him.
In the meantime Valentine, established at Melcombe, had been
enjoying the sweetness of a no less real prosperity.
From that moment, when the ghost story had melted into mist,
he had flung aside all those uneasy doubts which had disturbed his first
weeks of possession.
He soon surrounded himself with the luxury that was so
congenial to him. All the neighbourhood called on him, and his
naturally sociable temper, amiable, domestic ways, and good position
enabled him, with hardly any effort, to be always among a posse of people
who suited him perfectly.
There were more ladies than young men in the neighbourhood.
Valentine was intimate with half-a-dozen of the former before he had been
among them three weeks. He experienced the delights of feminine
flattery, a thing almost new to him. Who so likely to receive it?
He was eligible, he was handsome, and he was always in a good humour, for
the place and the life pleased him, and all things smiled.
In a round of country gaieties, in which picnics and archery
parties bore a far larger proportion than any young man would have cared
for who was less devoted to the other sex, Valentine passed much of his
time, laughing and making laugh wherever he went. His jokes were
bandied about from house to house, till he felt the drawback in passing
for a wit. He was expected to be always funny.
But a little real fun goes a long way in a dull
neighbourhood, and he had learned just so much caution from his early
escapade as to be willing to hail any view concerning himself that might
be a corrective of the more true and likely one that he loved to flirt.
He was quite determined, as he thought, not to get into
another scrape, and perhaps a very decided intention to make, in the end,
an advantageous marriage, may have grown out of the fancy that his romance
in life was over.
If he thought so, it was in no very consistent fashion, for
he was always the slave (for the day) of the prettiest girl in every party
he went to.
It was on a Saturday that John Mortimer received his son's
proposal for retrenchment; on the Wednesday succeeding it Valentine,
sitting at breakfast at Melcombe, opened the following letter, and was
amused by the old-fashioned formality of its opening sentence:―
"Wigfield, June 15th, 18―.
"MY DEAR NEPHEW,―It
is not often that I take up my pen to address you, for I know there is
little need, as my niece Emily writes weekly. Frequently have I
wondered what she could find to write for; indeed, it was not the way in
my youth for people to waste so much time saying little or nothing―which
is not my case at the present time, for your sister being gone on the
Continent, it devolves upon me, that is not used to long statements, to
let ye know, what ye will be very sorry to hear. I only hope it may
be no worse before it is over.
"Matthew, the coachman, came running over to me on Monday
morning last, and said would I come to the house, for the servants did not
know what to be at, and told me that Johnnie, who had been to go back to
Harrow by the eleven o'clock train, had got leave to drive the pheaton to
the Junction with the four girls in it, and Bertram, who, by ill luck―of I
may use such a word (meaning no irreverence)―of this dispensation of
Providence, had not gone back to Mr. Tikey's that morning. So far as
I can make out, he thought he should be late, and so he turned those two
spirited young horses down that steep sandy lane by the wood, to cut off a
corner; and whether the woodman's children ran out and frightened them, or
whether he was shouting and whooping himself, poor laddie―for I heard
something of both―but Barbara was just sobbing her heart away when she
told it, and he aye raised the echoes wherever he went; but the horses set
off, running away, tearing down that rough road. Johnnie shouted to
them all to sit still, and so they did, though they were almost jolted
out; and if they had been let alone, there might have been no accident;
but two men sprung out of a hedge and tried to stop them, and they turned
on to the common, and sped away like the wind towards home, till they came
to the sand bank by the small inn, the Loving Cup, and there they upset
the carriage, and when the two men got up to it Johnnie and all of them
were tossed out, and the carriage was almost kicked to pieces by the horse
that was not down.
"This is a long tale, Valentine, and I seem to have hardly
begun it. I must take another sheet of paper. When I got to
the house, you never saw such a scene. Johnnie had been brought in
quite stunned, and his face greatly bruised. There were two doctors
already with them. Bertram had got a broken arm; he was calling out,
poor little fellow, and Nancy was severely hurt, but I was grieved to see
her so quiet. Gladys seemed at first to be only bruised and limping;
but she and Barbara were faint and sick with fright. Janie was not
present; she had been carried into the inn; but I may as well tell ye that
in her case no bones were broken, poor lamb. She is doing very well,
and in a day or two is to be brought home.
"It was a very affecting scene, as ye may suppose, and my
first words were, 'Who is to tell this to Mr. Mortimer?' They said
your brother has already gone to fetch him and prepare him. Well, I
knew everything that was in the house, and where it was kept; so I'm
thankful to think I was of use, and could help the new governess and the
"Dorothea and Mrs. Henfrey soon came in, and by the time John
arrived all the invalids had been carried up-stairs, and Johnnie had begun
to show signs of consciousness.
"John was as white as chalk. He was rather strange at
first; he said in a commanding, peremptory way, that he wouldn't be spoken
to; he wouldn't hear a word; he was not ready. Everybody stood
round, till Dorothea disobeyed him; she said, 'They are all living, dear
Mr. Mortimer;' and then Giles got him to sit down, and they gave him some
water to drink.
"He then noticed Dr. Limpsy, who had come down, and asked if
any of them were in danger, and the doctor said yes―one. So he said
he prayed God it was not his eldest son: he could bear anything but that.
And yet when the doctor said he had every hope that Johnnie would do well,
but he had great fears for the little Anastasia, he burst into tears, poor
man, and said that of all his children she would be the hardest to spare.
But I need not tell ye we did not remind him of the inconsistency, and
were glad to think he was not to lose the one he set his heart most upon.
And after that he was perfectly himself and more composed than anybody,
which is a wonder, for such a catalogue of broken bones and sprains and
contusions as came to light as the doctors examined further, was enough to
disturb anybody's courage. Giles sat up with Johnnie all night;
indeed nobody went to bed. John was by Nancy, and in the morning
they spoke hopefully of her. Johnnie's first words were about his
father; he couldn't bear his father near him, because now and then he was
surprised into shouting out with pain, and he wouldn't have John
distressed with his noise. He was nothing like so well as we had
hoped this morning; but still the doctors say there is no danger. He
got a kick from the horse when he was down, and he thinks he fainted with
the pain. When John came down to get a little breakfast he was very
much cheered to have a better account than he had expected of Nancy, and
he made the remark that ye would be sorry to hear of this; so I said I
would write, which I am doing, sitting beside little Bertram, who is
"Your mother's affectionate aunt,
and always affectionately yours,
Valentine read the letter, and thought that if it had not
been for two or three picnic parties that he had on hand, he would have
gone down to his old home, to see whether he could be of use to John
Mortimer. He wrote to him, and resolved to wait a day or two; but he
heard nothing till after the succeeding Sunday; then a telegram came from
Emily:―"Two of John's children are extremely ill. I think your
presence might be useful."
Emily had come home then.
Valentine set forth at once, and reached John Mortimer's
house in the afternoon. A doctor's carriage stood at the door; a
strange lady―evidently a nurse―passed through the hall; people were
quietly moving about, but they seemed too anxious, and too much occupied
to observe him.
At last Emily came down.
"Is Johnnie worse?" asked Valentine.
"Yes; but I wanted you to help us with John. Oh, such a
disaster! On the third night after the accident, just before I
arrived―for Dorothea had sent for me―every one in the house was greatly
tired; but Johnnie and Anastasia were both thought better; so much better
that the doctors said if there was no change during the night, they should
consider dear little Nancy quite out of danger. Giles and Dorothea
had gone home. The nurse sent for was not come. John knew how
fatigued the whole household was, and all who were sitting up. He
had not been able to take any sleep himself, and he was restlessly pacing
up and down in the garden, watching and listening under the open windows.
It was very hot.
"He fancied about three o'clock that there had been a long
silence in Anastasia's room. She was to have nourishment frequently.
He stole up-stairs, found the person with her asleep from fatigue, gave
the child some jelly himself, and then finding her medicine, as he
supposed, ready poured out in the wine-glass, he gave it to her, and
discovered almost instantly a mistake. The sad imprudence had been
committed of pouring the lotion for the child's temples into a wine-glass,
to save the trouble of ringing for a saucer. The child was almost
out of danger before that terrible night; but when I came home there was
scarcely a hope of her life, and her father was almost distracted. I
mean that, though he seems perfectly calm, never loses his self-control,
he is very often not able to command his attention so as to answer when
they speak to him, and he cannot rest a moment. He spent the whole
of last night wandering up and down the garden, leaning on St. George's
arm. He cannot eat nor occupy himself, and the doctors begin to be
uneasy about him. Oh, it is such a misfortune!
"And Johnnie is very ill," continued Emily, tears glittering
on her eyelashes; "but John seems to take it all with perfect composure.
Everything else is swallowed up in his distress of mind for what he has
unfortunately done. If the child dies, I really think he will not
get over it."
Some one called Emily, and she passed up-stairs again.
Valentine turned and saw John near him; he came forward, but attempted no
greeting. "I thought I might be of use, John," he said, as if they
had seen one another but the day before. "Is there anything I can do
for you over at the town?"
Valentine was a little daunted at first at the sight of him;
his face was so white and he showed so plainly the oppression that weighed
down his soul by the look in his eyes; they were a little raised, and
seemed as if they could not rest on anything near at hand.
Valentine repeated his words, and was relieved when John
roused himself, and expressed surprise and pleasure at seeing him.
He sent Valentine to one of his clerks for some papers to be signed, gave
him other directions, and was evidently the better for his presence.
It was not without many strange sensations that Valentine
found himself again in that room where he had spent such happy hours, and
which was so connected with his recollections of his old uncle. The
plunge he had taken into the sweet waters of prosperity and praise had
made him oblivious of some things that now came before his thoughts again
with startling distinctness; but on the whole he felt pleasure in going
back to the life that he had elected to leave, and was very glad to forget
John's face in doing what he could to help him.
When he returned to the house John had commenced his restless
walk again. Swan was walking beside him, and he was slightly leaning
his hand on the old man's shoulder, as if to steady himself.
Valentine drew near.
"And you are sure he said nothing more?" John was saying in
the low inward tone of fatigue and exhaustion.
"No, sir. 'Tell Mr. Mortimer,' says he, 'that his son
is considerable better,' and he told Mrs. Walker―I heard him say it―that
the blessed little one was no worse, not a morsel worse."
Valentine paused and heard John speak again in that peculiar
tone―"I have no hope, Swan."
"I wouldn't give up, sir, if I was you: allers hold on to
"I cannot stand the strain much longer," he continued, as if
he had not listened, "but sometimes―my thoughts are often confused―but
sometimes I feel some slight relief in prayer."
"Ay, sir," answered Swan, "the Scripture says, 'Knock, and it
shall be opened to you,' and I've allers thought it was mighty easier for
one that begs to go and knock there than anywhere else, for in that house
the Master opens the door himself."