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´╗┐Title: An English Squire
Author: Coleridge, C.R.
Language: English
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An English Squire
By C.R. Coleridge
Published by Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, London.
This edition dated

PREFACE.

In bringing this tale in a complete form before the public, I should
wish it to be understood that it arose out of a series of conversations
with a friend who suggested the character of Alvar Lester, to the
original invention of which I can lay no claim whatever.  He came to me
from his Spanish home, and I have done nothing with him but turn him
into an English Squire.

C.R.  Coleridge.

PART ONE.

HOME LIFE.

  "A little more than kin, and less than kind."

CHAPTER ONE.

THE LESTERS OF OAKBY.

  "Young barbarians all at play."

Some few years ago Mr Gerald Lester was the head of a family of good
blood and position, and the owner of Oakby Hall, the great house of a
village of the same name in the county of Westmoreland.  The border line
between Westmoreland and Yorkshire crossed his property; but his house
and park were in the former county, for which he was a deputy sheriff
and justice of the peace.

He was not a man of very large fortune, and Oakby Hall was not a show
place, but a well-built mansion of the last century, with some
architectural pretensions, and standing in the midst of that sort of
wild and romantic scenery which, perhaps more than any other, fixes the
affections of its inhabitants.  Oakby, at any rate, was very dear to its
owner.

The great sweeps of heather-clad moor, the fell sides, with their short
green turf, the fertile valleys, had a character of their own, inferior
as they were to the better-known parts of Westmoreland.

Oakby village was situated in one of the largest of these valleys, and
the Hall lay low on the side of a hill over which the well-planted park
stretched on either side.  The house could be seen all the way up the
long carriage drive, for it was only shut off from the park by an iron
railing, within which the turf was mown close and fine, instead of being
left to be cropped by sheep and cattle.  The gardens were at the side,
and there were no trees in front of the house but one oak of great size
and beauty.  There was a wide carriage sweep, and the space between this
and the house was paved, and on either side of the front-door was a
stone wolf of somewhat forbidding aspect--the crest of the Lesters.

The grey stone house thus exposed to view was stately enough, and though
too open and free to be exactly gloomy, this northern front was bleak
and cold, especially on a frosty winter twilight, when the light was
dying away in the distance, and the piece of ornamental water and the
pleasant bits of woodland, beyond were not distinctly visible.  No such
thought ever crossed the minds of the young Lesters, who came back to it
from school and college as to the dearest of homes; but to a stranger, a
little doubtful of a welcome, it might perhaps look formidable.

Within doors a blazing fire and abundance of rugs and skins made the
hall the most attractive place in the house, both for dogs and men;
especially between the lights, when there was little to do anywhere
else, and all were tired with their day's work, or ready to discuss
their day's amusement.

Just before Christmas play was legitimate; and the young Lesters, skates
in hand, had just returned from the lake, and were grouped together
round, the fire, noisily praising and criticising each other's recent
performances.

"I never should have had a tumble all day if Bob hadn't come up against
me like a steam engine," cried the one girl, a tall creature of sixteen,
big, fair, and rosy.

"I came against you!  That's a good one.  Who could keep out of your
way?" ejaculated the aggrieved twin brother.  "You can no more guide
yourself than--"

"A balloon," put in the more softly accented voice of the eldest brother
present, as he unfastened his skates from the neck of his great Saint
Bernard, who had dutifully carried them home for him.

"Now, Cherry, that's not true!" cried the girl in loud indignation.  "Of
course I can't be expected to do figures of eight and spread-eagles like
you and Jack."

"I saw an American fellow the other day who skated twice as well as
either of us."

"No?  All!  I don't believe that!" from the girl.

"But then they've ice all the year round," from Bob.

"I daresay they can't do anything else," from Jack.

"Jack always is so liberal!" from Cheriton; and then, "Hush! here's the
squire."

It was sometimes said that no one of the young Lesters would be so fine
a man as his father; and certainly Mr Lester was a splendid specimen of
an English gentleman, though the big Jack rivalled him in inches, and
promised equal size and strength, while Cheriton, who was of a slighter
build, inherited his blue eyes and brilliant colouring.  But they were
his own children--every one fair, and tall, and healthy; and their
characteristic differences did not destroy their strong resemblance to
each other and to their handsome father, who now stood in the midst of
them with a foreign letter in his hand, at which the children glanced
curiously.

He was not much above fifty; his hair and beard, which had once deserved
to be called golden, had rather faded than grizzled, his skin was still
fresh and healthy, and his eyes bright in colour and full of expression;
the level brows met over them.  His children, as has been said, were
curiously like him--Annette, or Nettie, as she was commonly called,
perhaps the most so.  Although she was big and unformed, she had the
promise of great beauty in her straight sulky brows and large sky-blue
eyes, resplendent colouring which defied sunburn, and abundant yellow
hair.  Her nose was straight and fine, like her father's, but her full
red lips were a trifle sullen; the contour of her face was heavy, and
though she looked well born and well bred, she lacked the refinement of
intelligent expression.  But if her great blue eyes looked stupid and
rather cross, they were as honest as the day; and at sixteen there was
still time for thoughts and feelings to come and print themselves on
this beautiful piece of flesh and blood.

She was very untidily though handsomely dressed, and had the awkwardness
of a girl too big for her age; but as she stood leaning back against the
oak table, there was such vigour and life in her strong young limbs as
to give them a kind of grace.  She had a low voice of refined quality,
but she spoke with a strong north-country accent, as did her father.  In
the brothers it was much modified by their southern schooling.  The twin
brother, Robert, retained, however, a good deal of it.  He was a
heavier, less handsome likeness of her, and might have been described as
a fine lad or a great lout, according to the prepossessions of the
speaker.  The next brother, John, or, as he was usually called, Jack,
had, at nineteen, hardly yet outgrown the same ungainliness of manner;
but his height, and the strength trained by many an athletic struggle,
could not fail to be striking; and though he had something of the same
sullen straightness of brow, the eyes beneath were thoughtful and keen.
There was no lack of mental power in Jack's grave young face, and he was
a formidable opponent to his schoolfellows in contests of brain as well
as of muscle.

Cheriton, except that his brows arched a little, so that he could not
attain to the perfection of the family frown, and that he was an inch or
two shorter and much slighter, was so like Jack that when he was grave
and silent his brighter colouring and the moustaches to which he had
attained were, at first sight, the chief points of difference between
them.  But then Jack's face to-day would be his face to-morrow, while
Cheriton's expression varied with almost every word he spoke, so that he
was sometimes said to be the image of his father, sometimes to be the
one Lester who was like nobody but himself; while, now and then old
friends wondered how this handsome young man came to have such a look of
the mother, who had been no beauty, but only a high-minded and
cultivated woman.  He was his father's favourite, and somehow his
brothers were not jealous of the preference.  "Cherry," as they called
him, was the family oracle, though he risked his place now and then when
his utterances were not in accordance with the prevailing sentiment.

Mr Lester's expression was now dark enough to indicate annoyance of no
common kind; but it did not take much to make him look cross, and if his
sons and daughter had not known that there was an unusual speck on the
family horizon, they would have surmised that the keepers were in
disgrace, the newspaper late in arriving, or that they themselves had
unwittingly transgressed.

As it was they were all silent, though Cheriton looked up with a
question in his eyes, and the twins glanced at each other.

"I have had a letter from--your brother; he has started on his journey,
and will be here in a day or two."

No one spoke for a moment, and then Cheriton said,--

"Well, father, I shall be very glad to see him.  It's a good time for
him to come, and I hope we shall be able to make it pleasant for him."

"Pleasant for _him_," growled Bob.

"It won't be at all pleasant for _us_," said his sister.  "Fancy a
foreign fellow interfering in all our concerns.  And Granny says he's
sure to set us a bad example."

"Ay," said the father, "you lads needn't be in too great a hurry to get
up an intimacy."

"There's not much fear of that," said Cheriton.

"Ah, my boy," said Mr Lester, turning to him, "you take it very well;
but it's hard on you; no one knows better than I do."

"As for me," said Cheriton, with a shade of the characteristic family
gruffness in his much pleasanter voice, "you know it has always been my
wish that he should come, and why should we set ourselves against it?"

"He ought to have come sooner," said Jack.

"That's no affair of yours, Jack," said his father sharply.  "Don't be
so ready with your comments.  He is coming now, and--and I'll hear no
more grumbling.  I'm hanged if I know what we are all to make of him,
though," he muttered as he left the hall.

"He'd better not interfere with me," said Bob.  "I shall take no notice
of him."

"Poor fellow!" said Cheriton satirically.  "I won't kiss him, I
declare," cried his sister.

"Now you boys, and Nettie, look here," said Cheriton seriously.  "Alvar
is our father's son and our brother.  He is the eldest, and has his
rights.  That's the fact; and his having lived all his life in Spain
doesn't alter it.  And if his coming is strange to us, what will it be
for him?  Isn't it an awful shame to set our backs up before we see him?
Is it his fault?"  Cheriton's influence in the family was considerable,
and the younger ones had no answer to his arguments; but influence and
arguments are weak compared to prejudice; and no one answered till Jack
grumbled out,--

"Of course we must do our duty by him, and perhaps he'll improve."

"On acquaintance," suggested Cheriton, with half-suppressed fun.
"Suppose he's a finer fellow than any of us, and a better sort
altogether.  What shall we do then?"

"Oh, but he's a foreigner, you know," said Nettie, as if this settled
the question.  "Come, Bob, let's go and see the puppies fed."

"What I say is," said Jack, as the twins went away and left their elders
to a freer discussion, "that the thing has been left too late.  Here is
Alvar,--twenty-five, isn't he?"

"Yes; he is only two years older than I am."

"How can he turn into an Englishman?  It's all very well for you to
chaff about it, and lecture the young ones; but the squire won't stand
him with patience for a day; there'll be one continual row.  Everything
will be turned topsy-turvy.  He'll go back to Seville in a month."

Cheriton was silent.  He was older than Jack by nearly four years, and
perhaps should not have attributed so much importance to the grumbling
of his juniors; but his wider out-look only enabled him to see that
their feelings were one-sided, it did not prevent him from sharing them;
and the gift of a more sympathetic nature did but make him more
conscious of how far these feelings were justifiable.  Home life at
Oakby had its difficulties, its roughnesses, and its daily trials; but
what did this signify to the careless boys who had no dignity to lose,
and by whom a harsh word from their father, or a rough one from each
other, was forgotten and repeated twenty times a day?  He himself had
hardly grown into that independent existence which would make an
unkindness from a brother an insult, an injustice from a father a thing
to be resented beyond the day.  It was still all among themselves, they
knew each other, and suited each other, and stood up for each other
against the world.  They were still the children of their father's
house, and that tie was much too close and real for surface quarrels and
disputes to slacken it.  But this stranger, who must be the very first
among them all, yet who did not know them, and whom they did not know,
who had a right to this same identity of interest, and yet who would
assuredly neither feel nor win it!

Jack accused his father of having acted unjustly to them all; the
younger ones rebelled with a blind prejudice which they did not
themselves understand.  Cheriton was vividly conscious of the stranger's
rights, yet shrank from all they claimed from him; to the father he
recalled resentment, weakness of purpose, and a youthful impulse, from
the consequences of which he could not escape.  The grandmother
upstairs, no inconsiderable power in the Oakby household, formulated the
vague distaste of her descendants, and strongly expressed her belief
that a foreign heir would grieve his father, corrupt his brothers, and
ruin his inheritance.

And now who was this foreign heir, this unknown brother, and what was
the explanation of his existence?

CHAPTER TWO.

THE SON AND HEIR.

  "Love should ride the wind
  With Spain's dark-glancing daughters."

Some six or seven and twenty years before the date when his sons were
thus discussing their elder brother's arrival, Gerald Lester, then a
young man fresh from college, had been sent abroad by his father to
separate him from a girl, somewhat his inferior in rank, for whom he had
formed an attachment.  He was not then his father's heir, as he had an
elder brother living, and he was supposed to be going to make his way at
the bar; but though well-conducted and brilliantly handsome, his talents
and tastes were not of an order to make success rapid or certain, and
such a marriage as he had contemplated would have been, though he had a
small independence, peculiarly inexpedient.  Though at times passionate
and defiant, he was not a person of much strength of will; and he
yielded to the pressure put on him, partly from sense of duty--for he
was by no means wanting in principle--and partly because it was too much
trouble to resist.

The affair, however, left him in an unsettled state of mind, and
increased his dislike to his profession.  While wandering about in the
south of Spain, he became acquainted, through some letters of
introduction with which he had been provided, with a family of position
of the name of De la Rosa.  While staying with them he met with an
accident which disabled him from travelling, and afforded him time and
opportunity to flirt and sentimentalise with the beautiful Maria de la
Rosa, who fell passionately in love with the handsome Englishman.
Gerald's feelings were more on the surface, but he was much carried away
by the circumstances; he felt that he would make a poor return for the
hospitality that had been shown him if he only "loved and rode away."

He was enough irritated by the compulsion that his father had put upon
him to feel glad to act independently; while the natural opposition of
Don Guzman de la Rosa to his daughter's marriage with a foreigner,
stirred Gerald to more ardour than Maria's dark eyes had already
awakened.  Her birth, at any rate, was all that could be desired, her
religion ought not to be an objection in one so good and pious, and the
nationality of his younger son's wife could be of no consequence to old
Mr Lester.  Don Guzman was not a zealous Catholic, and he yielded at
length to his daughter's entreaties; the young Englishman's small
independence seeming, in the eyes of the frugal Spaniard, a sufficient
fortune.

Gerald Lester and Maria de la Rosa were married at Gibraltar, the
difficulties of a legal marriage between a Protestant and a Roman
Catholic being almost insurmountable on Spanish territory.  In Gibraltar
they lived for some time; but the marriage was not a happy one.  Maria
was a mere ignorant child, with all her notions irreconcilably at war
with her husband's; and Gerald, who had his ideals, was very unhappy.

After some months, the sudden illness of his elder brother summoned him
home, and while he was absent his child was born unexpectedly, and his
young wife died.  He learnt almost at once that he was his father's
heir, and that a son was born to him.  It seemed no moment for making
such a disclosure.  His grief for his brother sheltered the shock and
surprise of the death of the poor young wife, and he satisfied his
conscience by writing to the English clergyman who had solemnised his
marriage, and desiring that he should baptise the boy according to the
rites of the English Church.  As this stipulation had been made at the
marriage, Don Guzman allowed the order to be carried into effect.  But
as no desire was expressed by the father as to a name, it was christened
Alvaro Guzman--the Spanish grandfather omitting the Gerald, which he
felt had been an ill-omened name to his daughter.

Gerald himself, meanwhile, was almost ready to forget the little Alvar's
existence.  He was ashamed of his foolish marriage, and remorseful at
its secrecy and disobedience; the new life opened to him by his
brother's death was exceedingly congenial.  Why could not those unhappy
months be as if they had never been!

The child was of course an unfamiliar idea to him, and except with an
occasional pang he hardly realised its existence; when the thought was
forced on him, he regarded it with aversion.

Three months had not, however, passed since his wife's death, when he
became acquainted with a Miss Cheriton, a young lady of good family and
some fortune.  She was not very pretty; but she was full of intelligence
and refinement, and she was very good.  Perhaps the force of contrast
was half the attraction.  When his father urged him to pay his addresses
to Miss Cheriton, he felt how willingly he would have done so, but an
awkward disclosure lay between them.  With all his faults he could not
be so dishonourable as to marry her, without telling her that his heir
was already born.

But the friendship between them, so different from anything that he had
ever known before, grew and strengthened, till at last one evening he
told her all the story.  He had married foolishly and secretly, as far
as his relations were concerned; his wife was dead and had left a little
son.  That was the story.  Must it be for ever a bar between them?
Fanny Cheriton listened, though she was a merry, quick-tongued girl, in
silence.  Then she said that he must tell his father the whole truth,
and must acknowledge the child; he ought to come home and be brought up
as an Englishman.

"Who is to bring it up?" asked Gerald.

"I will," said Fanny simply, amid fierce blushes, as she saw what her
answer implied.

Thus supported, Gerald would indeed have been a coward had he shrunk
from the communication; but it was a great blow to his father, who,
however, was a stronger man than his son; and having been satisfied that
all was fair and legal, and that Alvaro Guzman Lester was really his
lawful heir, and next to Gerald in the entail, said shortly,--

"Fetch him home, and make an Englishman of him if you can.  What's done
can't be undone."

But when Gerald arrived at Seville, where Don Guzman lived, and where
little Alvar had been taken, he found that by a strange coincidence the
child had at once become of importance to his relations on both sides.
By the death of Don Guzman's son, Alvar had become his heir, and when
Gerald expressed a desire to take him home, he was met by great
reluctance, and by a declaration that the child was so delicate that a
removal to a northern climate would certainly kill him.  Perhaps
Gerald's consciousness that he would not regard the poor little fellow's
death as a misfortune, made him afraid to insist in the face of this
argument.  At any rate he returned without the child.  Don Guzman's
indifferentism in religion allowed him to consent that Alvar should,
when he grew old enough, be taught the English language and the Anglican
faith, and even showed how this might be managed by means of an English
clergyman residing at Seville for his health; so that he was left with a
sort of understanding that his mother's family were to have the charge
of him for the present.

Miss Cheriton was much disappointed.

"Every year will make it harder," she said, and she resolved to use all
her influence on Alvar's behalf.  But her father-in-law's death soon
after her marriage deprived her of his powerful aid, and, though his
will carefully assured the succession to his son's eldest son, she could
not contend with her husband's distaste and the Spanish relations'
determination not to give up the child.  She had no other troubles.  Her
husband shared her views as to the duties and responsibilities of his
station, and they did much for the good of those around them.

In spite of some harshness, Gerald was a good landlord and a good
magistrate, and the most loving of fathers to the fair rosy boy who was
now born to them.  He never cared quite so much for the younger ones,
but "Cherry" was his delight and pride, so pretty, so clever, and so apt
at riding his little pony, or learning to fire a gun, and so fond of his
father!  If Alvar could but have been forgotten!

But Mrs Lester was wise and far-seeing, and she would not allow
Cheriton to forget.  She talked to him about Alvar; she made him say his
prayers for "my eldest brother away in Spain;" and she even caused him
once to write a little letter expressing his wish to see his big
brother, and to show him his pony and his dogs.  Perhaps Alvar's
education was less advanced, for there only arrived a message of love
from him in one of the rare letters that Don Guzman indited to Mr
Lester.

Cherry was rather a thoughtful child; his mother had succeeded in
impressing his imagination, and he thought and talked a good deal about
Alvar.  One attempt was made to bring the child to England; but, when he
reached France, he fell ill, and his grandfather hurried him back again,
assuring his father that it was impossible he could live in a northern
climate.  Mr Lester was too ready to believe this.

Soon after Cheriton went to school, Mrs Lester died suddenly, and her
loss was greater than even Cheriton in his passion of childish grief
could guess.  Grief sharpened Mr Lester's temper, and the loss of his
wife's influence narrowed his mind and character.  His mother, who lived
with him, and took care of the four children, did not urge on him the
need for Alvar's return.  It ceased to be under discussion, and the
intercourse grew less and less.

Cherry, in his school life, naturally forgot for the time to think much
about him, and at home he had a thousand interests, some shared with his
father, some of his own.  For Cheriton and Jack inherited their mother's
talent, and as they grew up, had their minds full of many things out of
their father's ken.  When Cherry was twenty-one, his birthday was
celebrated with various festivities.  He was very popular, and the
tenants drank his health.  Nature had given him a ready tongue, and the
speech he made was much beyond the usual run of boyish eloquence.  And
as he concluded, thanking them for their kindness, he paused, and with a
deep flush, added, "And I wish my eldest brother, who is now in Spain,
was here too, that we might know him, and that you might drink his
health as well as mine."

"Cheriton, why did you say that?" said his father afterwards.

"Father, I thought they would forget Alvar's existence, and--I was
afraid of forgetting it myself."

As Cheriton spoke, it occurred to Mr Lester with new distinctness that
he was really doing his second son a wrong, by allowing him to take for
the time a place which could not be his permanently.  This boy, with his
ready tongue, his bright wit, and the look in his face that his father
loved, was not his heir; was it well for him to act as if he were so?
With a sudden resolution he wrote his eldest son a letter, requesting
him to pay him a visit, and make his brothers' acquaintance.

Alvar, perhaps hurt at the long neglect, refused to do so, giving as a
reason his grandmother's serious illness, and his father gladly let the
matter drop.  Cheriton was disappointed, and asked to be allowed to
spend his next long vacation in Spain, and to see his brother.  Mr
Lester, mindful of his own experiences, refused decidedly; and two years
more had passed without any serious renewal of the subject (though
Alvar's grandmother died in a few months), when Mr Lester, while
hunting, had a dangerous accident, and though he escaped comparatively
unhurt, the thought would obtrude itself, "A little more, and my boys
must have welcomed as the head of the family an absolutely unknown
foreigner."  Under the influence of this feeling he wrote again to Alvar
in a different strain, and received a different answer.  Alvar agreed to
come, and pledged himself to remain in England for a year, so as to have
ample opportunity of becoming acquainted with his relations, and with
the sort of life to which he was born as an English gentleman.

CHAPTER THREE.

A MOTHER OF HEROES.

  "And the old grandmother sat in the chimney corner and spun."

Alvar Lester was coming home; but his image was so complete a blank to
his brothers, that they could form no idea as to how it would become
them to receive him.  Jack, after lingering a little longer by the hall
fire, observed that he could get nearly two hours' reading before
dinner, and went off to his usual occupations.  Cheriton's studies were,
to say the least, equally important, as he was to take his degree in the
ensuing summer; but now he shook his head.

"I can't fiddle while Rome is burning.  There's too much to think of,
and I'm tired with skating.  I shall go and see what granny has to say
about it."

But when he was left alone, he still stood leaning against the
mantelpiece.  The Lesters were not a family who took things easily, and
perhaps there was not one of them who shrank from the thought of the
strange brother as much as he who had so persistently urged his return.
Not all his excellent arguments could cure his own distaste to the
foreigner.  He was shy too, and could not tell how to be affectionate to
a stranger, and yet he valued the tie of relationship highly, and could
not carelessly ignore it.  And he knew that he was jealous of the very
rights of eldership on which he had just been insisting.  Which of those
things that he most valued were his own, and which belonged to the
eldest son and heir of Oakby?  What duties and pleasures must he give up
to the newcomer?  He did not think that any of their friends would cease
to wish to see him at their houses, even if they included Alvar in their
invitations.

Certainly he had a much more powerful voice than his brothers in the
management of the stable, and indeed of all the estate; but he held this
privilege only by his father's will; and probably Alvar would ride very
badly, if at all.  No--that sentiment was worthy of Bob himself!
Certainly he could not understand English farming, if he were only half
as ignorant of foreign countries as the clever English undergraduate,
who did not feel quite sure if he had ever heard of any animals in Spain
but bulls and goats, and could have sworn to nothing but grapes as a
vegetable product of the peninsula.  Nor could any stranger enter into
the wants and welfare of his father's tenants, nor be expected to
understand the schemes for the amusement and improvement of the
neighbourhood, with which Cheriton was in the habit of concerning
himself.

How could Alvar be secretary of a cricket club, or captain of a
volunteer corps?  No more than he could know each volunteer and
cricketer, or be known by them, with the experience and interest of a
life-time.  "They wouldn't hear of him," thought Cherry.  He was too
young, and his father was too young, for his thoughts to move easily
forward to the time when Alvar was to be the master; it was simply as
elder brother that he regarded him.  "He ought to carve, and sit at the
bottom of the table when my father's away!"  And having come to this
magnificent result of so much meditation, he laughed and shook himself,
the ludicrous side of his perplexities striking him like a gleam of
sunlight as he came to the wise resolution of letting things settle
themselves as they came, and ran upstairs to his grandmother.

The ground-floor of Oakby Hall consisted of the hall, before mentioned,
on one side of which opened a billiard-room, and on the other a large,
long library, containing a number of old books in old editions, in which
Mr Lester took a kind of pride, though he rarely disturbed them in
their places.  There were some pictures, dark, dingy, but bearing
honoured names, and much respected by the family as "old masters,"
though Cheriton had once got into a great scrape by declaring that he
had lived all his life in doubt as to whether a certain one in a corner
was a portrait or a landscape, until, one exceptionally sunny day, he
discovered it to be a fruit and flower piece.

The room was panelled with dark oak and fitted up with heavy carved
furniture, and curtains, which, whatever their original tint, were now
"harmonious" with the fading of more than one generation.  Three small,
deeply-recessed windows looked out to the front, and at the end of the
long room opposite the door was a large one facing westward, with thick
mullions and a broad, low-cushioned window-seat.  This window gave its
character to the room, for through its narrow casements miles and miles
of moor and fell were visible; a wide, wild landscape, marked by no
conspicuous peaks, and brightened by no expanse of water, yet with
infinite variety in its cold, dark northern colouring, and grandeur and
freedom in its apparently limitless extent.

Here was the place to watch sunset and moonrise, or to see the storms
coming up or drifting away, and to hear them, too, howling and whistling
round the house or dashing against the window-panes.  The west window
was one of the strong influences that moulded life at Oakby.  This
library was the Lesters' ordinary living room; but behind it was a
smaller and more sheltered one, called Mr Lester's study, which he kept
pretty much to himself.

The dining-room was at the other side of the house, behind the
billiard-room, and had a view of a hill-side and fir-trees.  It
contained all the modern works of art in the house--a large picture of
Mr Lester and his second wife, their children, horses, and dogs, all
assembled at the front-door; and a very stiff pink and white, blue-eyed
likeness of Cheriton in hunting costume, which had been taken when he
came of age.

There was a fine old staircase with wooden wolves of inferior size, but
equal ferocity, to their stone brethren without, adorning the corners of
the balustrade, and above the library was the drawing-room, whither
Cheriton now betook himself.  It was a stiff, uninteresting room, but
with an unmistakable air of stateliness and position, and though, like
all the house, it lacked the living charm of living taste and
arrangement, it possessed what even that cannot always give, and what is
quite impossible to a new home without it--a certain air of rightness
and appropriateness, as if the furniture had grown into its place.
Still, the room, handsome as it was, and full of things which were
choicer and more valuable than their owners knew, was uncomfortable, the
chairs were high and the sofas were hard, and the yellow damask, with
which they were covered, slippery; no one had a place of his own in it;
the wild western view gave it an unhomely dreariness, hardly redeemed by
an extra window looking south over the flower-garden, which in that
bleak climate would have needed more fostering care than it ever
obtained, to be very gay, even in summer.  Now of course it was snowy
and desolate.

Only in this winter weather would Mrs Lester have been found in her
arm-chair in the drawing-room; but an attack of rheumatism had recently
reminded her of her seventy years, and obliged her to remain in the
house, at any rate till the frost was over.  She had lived with her son
ever since his second wife's death, and had kept his house, and in a
manner presided over the education of his children; but though she was
the only woman of the family, and an old woman and a grandmother, it was
not from her that the boys looked for spoiling tenderness, nor were the
softer and sweeter elements of the family life, few as they were,
fostered by her influence.

She had handed down to her children, and still exhibited herself, their
height and vigorous strength, and perhaps something of their beauty,
though she was a darker and more aquiline-featured person than her son,
who resembled his father.  Whether the grandchildren inherited her
clear, but narrow vision, her upright, but prejudiced mind, and her
will, that went its way subject to no side lights or shadows, perhaps it
was early days to tell.  She was an entirely unintellectual,
unimaginative person; but within her experience, which was extremely
limited--as she could hardly realise, the existence, much less the
merits of natures unlike her own--she had a good deal of shrewd sense,
and it was much easier to feel her strictures unjust than to prove them
so.

She had a thorough knowledge of, and had all her life been accustomed to
share in, the outdoor sports and occupations of country life, and very
recently had been able to ride and drive with the skill of long
practice.  These had been the pleasures of her youth; but though she was
rather an unfeminine woman, she had never been in any sense a fast one.
She was altogether devoid of coquettish instincts, and though she had
been a handsome girl, who had passed her life almost entirely among
sporting men, and whose tongue was in consequence somewhat free, she had
hardly left through the country-side the memory even of an old
flirtation.

Within doors she had few occupations; but when her daughter-in-law's
death rendered her presence at Oakby again necessary, she had taken the
command of the children, and ruled them vigorously according to her
lights.  She wished to see them grow up after her ideal, and would have
despised them utterly if they had gambled, drunk, or dissipated their
property by extravagance.  She would have thought very slightingly of
them if their taste had been exclusively for an indoor or studious life,
or if they had been awkward riders or bad shots, though she recognised
the duty of "attention to their studies" in moderation, particularly on
wet days.

She was tolerably satisfied with her grandsons, who had imbibed this
view of life with the smell of the heather and the pines, but she was a
little suspicious of the Cheriton blood, and of the talents of which she
had succeeded in making Cherry and Jack half ashamed.  Perhaps her
granddaughter was her favourite, and she rejoiced in the girl's love for
an outdoor life, and certainly did not discourage the outrageous
idleness with which Nettie neglected the lessons she was supposed to
learn of the governess at Oakby Rectory.

On the present occasion Cheriton found her in an unusually thoughtful
mood.  Her bright dark eyes were still so strong that she rarely used
glasses; nor did she often give in to wearing a shawl; but her dress,
which was scrupulously appropriate to her age and circumstances--
handsome black silk, and soft white cap fastened under her chin--had an
oddly inappropriate air on her tall, upright figure, and strong, marked
features.

"Well, granny, so he's really coming," said Cheriton cheerfully, as he
sat down opposite to her.

"Oh, your father's been here," said Mrs Lester.  "We'll have to do with
him for a year, I suppose."

"Oh, we'll get on with him somehow.  I mean to strike up a friendship,"
returned Cherry boldly.

"You'll be very soft if you do.  Your father and I, remember, know what
these Spaniards are like; they're a bad lot--a bad lot."

"Well, my father ought to know--certainly!  But you see he has told us
so little about them."

"I have told my son that I think he couldn't have chosen a worse time to
have him home--just when you lads are all growing up, and ready to learn
all the tricks he can teach you."

"What tricks?" said Cheriton, feeling much insulted by the suggestion.

"D'ye think I'm going to teach you beforehand?"

"I assure you, granny," said Cheriton impressively, "that the tricks I
see at Oxford are such that it would be impossible for Alvar to beat
them."

"And what have you been up to now?" said his grandmother sharply.

"Why, granny, I really shouldn't like to tell you the half of them.  But
I'm quite accustomed to `tricks,' a monkey couldn't be more used to
them.  There was that affair with the chapel door--"

"Oh, don't tell me your monkey tricks," said his grandmother, with
half-humorous indignation.  "I know what they lead to; they're bad
enough.  But your half-brother will smoke like a chimney and drink like
a fish, and gamble before the lads on a Sunday.  If those are your
Oxford manners--"

"Really," said Cheriton seriously, "we have no reason to suppose that he
will do anything of the kind; and if he did, the boys are very little in
the mood to imitate him.  I only hope they'll be decently civil to him."
Mrs Lester was herself a much cooler and more imperturbable person
than any of her descendants; but she was often the cause of irritation
in others, from a calm persistency that ignored all arguments and
refutation; and she was especially apt to come across Cheriton, whom she
did not regard with the admiration due from a loving grandmother to a
dutiful, handsome grandson.

"It's a great misfortune, as I always told my son it would be.  You,
Cherry, are fond of strangers and outlandish ways, so maybe he'll suit
you."

"Well, granny, I hope he may, and we'll get you to come and light our
pipes for us," said Cherry, keeping his temper.  But the coaxing
sweetness that made him the one non-conductor of quarrels in a
sufficiently stormy household, was apparently lost, for Mrs Lester went
on,--

"He'll suit the Seytons better than he'll suit us."

"There's nothing to say against the Seytons _now_," said Cheriton hotly;
muttering under his breath, "I hate prejudice."  Mr Lester's entrance
interrupted the discussion, though a long story of a broken fence
between his property and Mr Seyton's did not give it a smoother turn.

As Mr Seyton's fences had been in a disgraceful condition for at least
as long as Cheriton could remember, he was well aware that the present
grievance was only an outlet for a deeper-seated one, but his
grandmother struck in,--

"Ah, Cheriton may see what it is to take to bad ways and bad connexions.
I've been telling him his half-brother is likely enough to make friends
with the Seytons, and bring their doings over here."

"With a couple of boys younger than Jack," cried Cheriton.  "Any one
would think, granny, that we had a deadly feud with the Seytons."

"I'll not hear the matter discussed," loudly interposed Mr Lester.
"Hold your tongue, Cherry.  Alvar will have to mind what he is about.
I'm sick of the sound of his name.  If he had a good English one of his
own it would be something."

"Why hasn't he, then?" was on the tip of Cherry's tongue, but he
suppressed it; and as his grandmother walked away, saying that it was
time to dress for dinner, he got up and stood near his father.

"I say, dad, never mind; we'll get along somehow," he said.

The expression of passionate irritation passed out of Mr Lester's face,
and was succeeded by a look of regretful affection as he put his hand on
his favourite son's shoulder.

"I'd give half I'm worth, my boy, to undo it.  It's a wrong to you,
Cherry--a wrong.  It gives me no pleasure to think of the place in his
hands after I'm gone."

"Father," interposed Cheriton firmly, "the only wrong is in speaking of
it so.  It is no wrong to any of us.  And you know," he added shyly and
under his breath, "mamma would never let us think so."

Mr Lester was a person who would not endure a touch on his tenderest
feelings.  He had never mentioned the young wife, whose word had been
his law, to the son whom he adored for her sake, and who influenced his
violent yet impressionable nature by the inheritance of hers.  That
influence led him to listen to the words which he could not controvert;
but he did not love his unknown son the better for the pain which this
defence of him had cost him.  Cheriton felt that he had ventured almost
too far, and he turned off the subject after a pause, by saying
quaintly,--

"I wonder what the fox thinks of it all."

"What d'ye mean?"

"Don't you remember that old lady who came to see granny once, and when
Jack and I raved about a day's hunting, would say nothing but `I wonder
what the fox thinks of it all?'  That was making the other side much too
important, wasn't it?"

"Ah, you're ready with your jokes," said his father, not wishing to
follow out the little fable, but with a daily sense of liking for the
voice and smile with which it was uttered.  "Come, I'll have a pipe with
you before dinner."

CHAPTER FOUR.

STRANGERS YET!

  "My mother came from Spain...
  And I am Spanish in myself
  And in my likings."

It was late on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.  The hall at Oakby was
full of branches of holly and ivy.  Nettie, perched on the top of an oak
cabinet, was sticking sprays into the frame of her grandfather's
picture, and Jack and Bob were arranging, according to time-honoured
custom, a great bunch of bright-berried holly over the mantelpiece, to
do which in safety was a work unattainable by feminine petticoats.

"It's a great shame of Cherry not to come in time to help," said Nettie.

"They'll have got hold of him down at the church," said Jack.  "There,
that's first-rate."

"I say, Jack, do you know Virginia Seyton came home yesterday?  Isn't it
funny that they should have one too?"

"One what?"

"Why, a relation, a sister, when we've got a brother.  I wonder--"

Suddenly Nettie stopped, as a crash of wheels sounded on the frosty
gravel, and the front-door bell pealed loudly.

"Oh, Jack!" and Nettie jumped off the cabinet at one bound, six feet
high though it was, and caught hold of the end of Jack's coat in a
perfect agony of shyness.  "Oh, let's run away!"

"Let go.  I can't get down.  Stand still and don't be silly," said Jack,
gruffly, as he got off the steps, while the butler hurried forward and
threw open the door.  Nettie stood in the fire-light, her golden hair
flying in the gust of wind, her hands together, like a wild thing at
bay.  Bob remained perched, half-way up the ladder, and Jack made a step
or two forward.

A tall figure in a dark cloak, with bright crimson lining, and a large
felt hat, stood in the doorway.

"Are you Cheriton?" he said eagerly, and with a strong foreign accent.

"No; he's out.  I'm Jack.  How d'ye do?  We didn't know when you were
coming," said Jack, in a tone from which embarrassment took every shade
of cordiality.  He put out his hand quickly, however, as the stranger
made a movement as if possibly intending a more tender salutation.
Alvar took it, then removed his hat, and advancing towards the
speechless Nettie said,--

"This is my sister?  May I not salute her?" and lightly touched her
cheek with his lips.  "I have thought of you, my sister," he said.

"Have you?" stammered Nettie, hanging down her head like a child.  Bob
remained motionless on his ladder, and Jack said,--

"Here's my father," as Mr Lester came hurriedly into the hall, nearly
as much embarrassed as his children, and pale with an agitation which
they did not share.  Alvar turned round, and bowed low with a respectful
grace that his brothers certainly could not have imitated.

Mr Lester came forward and held out his hand.  It needed all his innate
sense of good breeding to overcome the repulsion which the very idea of
his strange son caused him.  The sense of owing him amends for
long-neglected duty, the knowledge how utterly out of place this
foreigner must be as heir of Oakby, the feeling that by so recognising
him he was wronging alike his forefathers and his other children, while
he yet knew how much his whole life through he had wronged Alvar
himself, came upon him with renewed force.  Then as he heard such tones,
and saw such a face as he had not seen for years, what rush of long past
sentiment, what dead and buried love and hate came rushing over him with
such agitating force, that in the effort to avoid a scene, and a display
of feeling which, yielded to, might have smoothed the relations between
them for ever, his greeting to his son was as cold as ice!

"How do you do, Alvar?  I am glad to see you.  We did not expect you so
soon.  You must have found your journey very cold."

"I did not delay.  It was my wish to see my father," said Alvar, a
little wistfully.  "My father, I trust, will find me a dutiful son."

Here Bob giggled, and Jack nearly knocked him off the ladder with the
nudge evoked by his greater sense of propriety.

"No doubt--no doubt," said Mr Lester.  "I hope we shall understand each
other, soon.  Where's Cheriton?  Jack, suppose you show--him--your
brother, his room.  Dinner at seven, you know.  I daresay you're
hungry."

"I did take a cup of coffee, but it was not good," said Alvar, as he
followed Jack upstairs; and the latter, mortally afraid of a
_tete-a-tete_, shut him into the bedroom prepared for him, and rushed
downstairs to encounter Cheriton, who came hurrying in, thinking himself
late for dinner.

"Cherry, he's come!"

"Oh, Cherry, he's so queer!  He makes pretty speeches, and he bows!"

"He's a regular nigger, he's so black!"

"Oh, Cherry, it's _awful_!"

"What have you done with him?  Where's the squire?" said Cherry, as soon
as he could make himself heard.

"Oh, papa has seen him, and Jack's taken him into his room," said
Nettie.

"He thought I was you," said Jack.  Cheriton stood still for a moment,
as shy as the rest, then, with an effort, he ran upstairs.

"It's only kind to go and say how d'ye do to a fellow," he thought, as
he tapped at the bedroom door, and entered with outstretched hand, and
blushing to the tips of his ears.  "Oh, how d'ye do?  I'm so sorry I was
out of the way; they kept me to nail up the wreaths.  I'm very glad to
see you.  Aren't you very cold?"

Probably the foreigner understood about half of this lucid and connected
greeting; but something in the warmth of the tone made him come forward
eagerly.

"You are then really my brother Cheriton?  I thought it was again the
other one."

"What, Jack?  Yes, we're thought alike, I believe."

"I do not see that," said Alvar, contemplating him gravely; "but I have
known you in my thoughts--always."

"I'm sure--we've all thought a great deal about you.  But there's no one
to help you.  Have you got your things?  I'll ring," nearly pulling down
the bell-rope.  "And, look here, I'll just dress and come back, and go
down with you--shall I?"  Cheriton's summons was rapidly answered, as
curiosity inspired the servants as well as their masters; and leaving
Alvar to make his toilet, he hastened upstairs.  The three brothers
slept in a long passage at the top of the house, over the drawing-room.
As Cherry's step sounded, both his brothers' doors burst open
simultaneously, and Jack and Bob, in various stages of dressing, at once
ejaculated,--

"Well!"

"How can I tell?  It's awfully late.  I shall never be ready," and
Cherry banged his own door, too much astounded by the new brother to
stand a discussion on him.

As soon as he was ready he went down stairs, and found Alvar, rather to
his relief, attired in correct evening costume.

"I suppose you haven't seen my grandmother yet?" he said.

"Your grandmother?  I did not know there was a grandmother," said Alvar,
in a much puzzled voice, which, together with the sense of how much his
brother had to learn, nearly upset Cherry's gravity.

"My father's mother, you know.  She lives with us," he said.  "She is
your grandmother too."

"Ah!" said Alvar, "I loved my grandmother much.  This other one, she
will be most venerable, I am sure."

"Come along then," said Cherry, unable to stand more conversation at
present.

Mrs Lester, whatever her private opinions might be, had too much
respect for the heir, for herself, and for the house of Lester, not to
attire herself with unusual dignity, and to rise and advance to receive
her grandson.

"How do you do, Alvar?" she said.  "You have been a long time in coming
to see us."

Alvar, after a moment's pause, as if doubtful what sort of salutation
would be acceptable, bowed low and kissed her hand.  Nettie laughed; but
her grandmother drew herself up as if the act of homage was not
altogether displeasing to her, and then looked keenly at the new
grandson, who, as far as looks went, was no unworthy scion of the
handsome Lesters.

He was as tall as his father, though of a different and slighter make,
and stood with a sort of graceful stiffness, unlike the easy
loose-limbed air of most young English gentlemen.  He had a dark olive
skin, and oval face; but his features were not unlike the prevailing
family type; and though his hair was raven black, it grew and curled in
the picturesque fashion of his father's, which Cheriton alone of the
other sons inherited.  But he had the splendid black liquid eyes, with
blue whites, and slender arched eyebrows of his Spanish mother, and
possessed a picturesque foreign beauty that seemed to group the
fair-haired brothers into a commonplace herd.  He had a grave, impassive
face, and held his head up with an air suggestive of Spanish grandees.

It was very difficult to make conversation when they went in to dinner,
the more so as Alvar evidently did not easily follow rapid English, and
either he was bewildered by new impressions, or not very open to them,
for he had not much to say about his journey.  Cheriton, as he tried to
talk as if there was no perplexing stranger present, could not help
wondering whether all that was so strange to himself came with any
familiarity to his father.  Had he known what his son would be like?
Could he touch any chord to which Alvar could find a response?  Had eyes
like those great rolling black ones ever looked love into his own?  And
if so, was it all forgotten, or was the remembrance distasteful?

"He was older than I am now," thought Cherry.  "Surely the thoughts of
to-day could never fade away entirely."

Mr Lester uttered no word that betrayed any knowledge of his son's
country.  He spoke less than usual, and after due inquiries for Alvar's
relations, entirely on local matters; Alvar volunteered few remarks, but
as the dessert appeared, he turned to Cherry, who sat beside him, and
said,--

"Is it not now the custom to smoke?"

"Not at dinner," said Cherry hurriedly, as his father replied,--

"Certainly not," and all the bright blue eyes round the table stared at
Alvar, who for the first time coloured, and said,--

"Pardon, I have transgressed."

"We'll go and have a pipe presently," said Cherry; and oh! how ardently
he longed for that terrible evening to be over.

"It was a _horrid_ Christmas Eve," muttered Nettie to Bob; and perhaps
her father thought so too, for he rang the bell early for prayers.

"What is this?" said Alvar, looking puzzled, as a prayer-book was placed
before him.

"We're going to have prayers," said Nettie, rather pertly.  "Don't you?"

"Ah, it is a custom," said Alvar, and he took the book, and stood and
knelt as they did, evidently matching for his cue.

When this ceremony was over, Bob and Nettie rushed off, evidently to
escape saying good-night, and Cheriton invited the stranger to come and
smoke with him, conducting him to a little smoking-room downstairs,
which was only used for visitors, as the boys generally smoked in a room
at the top of the house, into which Cherry knew Bob and Jack would
greatly resent any intrusion.  Mr Lester walked off with a general
good-night.  Alvar watched Cherry kiss his grandmother, but contented
himself with a bow.  Jack discreetly retired, and when Cheriton had
ascertained that Alvar never smoked a pipe, but only a cigar or a
cigarette, and had made him sit down by the fire, Alvar said,--

"My father is then a member of the clerical party?"

"I don't think I quite understand you," said Cherry.

"Your prayers--he is religious?"

"Oh, most people have prayers--I don't think we're more particular than
others.  My father and Mr Ellesmere, our rector, are friends,
naturally," said Cherry, feeling it very difficult to explain himself.

"My grandfather," said Alvar, "is indifferent."

"But--you're a Protestant, aren't you?"

"Oh, yes.  I have been so instructed.  But I do not interest myself in
the subject."

Cheriton had heard many odd things at Oxford said about religion, but
never anything to equal the _naivete_ of this avowal.  He was quite
unprepared with a reply, and Alvar went on,--

"I shall of course conform.  I am not an infidel; but I leave those
things to your--clergy, do you not call them?"

"Well, some people would say you were right," said Cherry, thankful that
Jack was not present to assert the inalienable right of private
judgment.

"And politics?" said Alvar; "I know about your Tories and your Whigs.
On which side do you range yourself?"

"Well, my father's a Tory and High Churchman, which I suppose is what
you mean by belonging to the clerical party; and I--if all places were
like this--I'd like things very well as they are.  Jack, however, would
tell you we were going fast to destruction."

"There are then dissensions among you?"

"Oh, he'll come round to something, I dare say.  But our English
politics must seem mere child's play to you."

"I have taken no part," said Alvar.  "My grandfather would conform to
anything for peace, and I, you know, my brother, am in Spain an
Englishman--though a Spaniard here."

"I hope you'll be an Englishman soon."

"It is the same with marriage," said Alvar; "I have never betrothed
myself, nor has my grandfather sought to marry me.  He said I must see
English ladies also.  One does not always follow the heart in these
matters," he concluded rather sentimentally.

"No one would ever dream of your following anything else," said Cherry,
beginning gruffly, but half choked with amusement as he spoke.

"No?  And you, you have not decided?  Ah, you blush, my brother; I am
indiscreet."

"I didn't blush--at least that's nothing.  Turkey-cock was my nickname
at school always," said Cherry hastily.

"I do not understand," said Alvar; and after Cherry had explained the
nature and character of turkey-cocks, he said, "But I think that was not
civil."

"Civil!  It wasn't meant to be.  English boys don't stand much upon
civility.  But," he added, as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, "if
we are rough, I hope you won't mind; the boys don't mean any harm by it.
You'll soon get used to our ways, and--and we'll do our best to make
you feel at home with us."

A sudden sense of pity for the lonely brother, a stranger in his
father's house, softened Cheriton's face and voice as he spoke, though
he felt himself to be promising a good deal.

Alvar looked at him with the curious, impassive, unembarrassed air that
distinguished him.  "You are not `rough!'" he said! "you are my brother.
I am told that here you do not embrace each other.  I am an Englishman,
I give you my hand."

Cheriton took the slender, oval-shaped hand, which yet closed on his
more angular one, with a firm, vigorous grasp.

"All right," he said; "you'd better ask me if you don't know what to do.
And now I think you must be tired.  I'll show you your room.  I hope
you won't mind the cold much; I am sorry it's so frosty."

"Oh, the cold is absolutely detestable, but I am not tired," said Alvar
briskly.

It was more than Cheriton could say, as he shut this perplexing brother
into the best bedroom, which he could not associate with anything but a
state visit.  He felt oppressed with a sense of past and future
responsibility, of distaste which he knew was mild compared to what
every other member of his family would experience, of contempt, and
kindliness and pity, and, running through all, the exceeding
ludicrousness, from an Oakby point of view, of some of Alvar's remarks.

This latter ingredient in his perplexity was strengthened, when he got
upstairs, by Jack, who, detecting his dispirited look, proceeded to
encourage him by remarking solemnly,--

"Well, I consider it a great family misfortune.  Dispositions and habits
that are entirely incongruous can't be expected to agree."

"Do shut up, Jack; you're not writing an essay.  Now I see where Alvar's
turn for speechifying comes from; you get it somehow from the same
stock!  All I know is, it's too bad to be down on a fellow when he's
cast on our hands like this.  Now I am going to bed, I'm tired to death;
and if we're late on Christmas morning, we shall never hear the last of
it."

While the young brothers thus discussed this strange disturber of their
accustomed life, their father's thoughts were still more perplexing.  He
had so long put aside the unwelcome thought of his eldest son that he
felt inclined to regard his presence with incredulity.  Surely this
dark, stately stranger could have no concern with his beloved homestead
with its surrounding moors and fells.  This boy had never ridden by his
side, nor taken his first shots from his gun, nor differed from him
about the management of his estate.

Oakby, with all its duties and pleasures, had no connexion with him; and
with Oakby Mr Lester had for many years felt himself to be wholly
identified.  But those dark eyes, those slow, soft accents, that air so
strange to his sons, awoke memories of another self.  He saw Cheriton's
puzzled attempt at understanding the strange brother.  But this strange
son was _not_ strange to him.  He knew the very turns of expression that
Alvar's imperfect English suggested.  For the first time for years the
Spanish idioms and Spanish words came back to his memory.  He could have
so talked as to set his son in accordance with his surroundings, he
understood, to his own surprise, exactly where this very new shoe would
pinch.

But these memories, though fresh and living, were utterly distasteful,
and nothing that cost him pain awoke in Mr Lester's mind any answering
tenderness.  He was a man with a weak will, a careful conscience, and
imperfectly controlled temper and affections.

He much preferred to do right than to do wrong, and he generally did do
right; in this one crucial instance he had neglected and slurred over
the right thing for years, and now he was not sufficiently accustomed to
question himself to realise how far he could have made amends for past
neglect, how far he could now make his son fit for the heirship of which
he neither could nor would deprive him.  No, Alvar was a painful sight
to him, therefore he would continue to ignore him as far as possible.
He stood in the beloved Cheriton's light, and therefore all the small
difficulties that his incongruous presence caused would be left to
Cheriton to set to rights, or not be set to rights at all.

It was pleasant, and it was not very difficult to Mr Lester, as he woke
in the light of the Christmas dawn, to turn his mind from Alvar's
presence to the many duties that the season demanded of him.  The
children all woke up curious and half-unfriendly.  Cheriton wondered
what Alvar was thinking of.  But they none of them knew to what thoughts
or feelings the pealing, crashing Christmas bells awoke the unknown
heir.

"Nay, you'll know no more what he's after than if he was yonder
picture," said the grandmother in answer to some remarks, and as
Cheriton heard him coming down stairs he felt that this was exactly the
state of the case.

CHAPTER FIVE.

THE SEYTONS OF ELDERTHWAITE.

  "All things here are out of joint."

In the midst of a waste of unswept snow across the hill behind Oakby
Hall, there was a large old house, originally of something the same
square and substantial type, but of more ambitious architecture, for
there were turrets at the four corners, overgrown and almost borne down
by enormous bushes of ancestral ivy; while the great gates leading to
the stables were of fanciful and beautiful ironwork, now broken and
falling into decay.  Great tree-trunks lay here and there on undulating
slopes, the shrubberies flung wild branches over the low stone wall
dividing them from the park, where a gate swung weakly on its hinges.
There were few tall trees, but litre and there along the drive a
solitary beech of great size and beauty suggested the course of an
avenue once without its equal in the country round.  An old man was
feebly sweeping away the snow in front of the house, and a gentleman
stood smoking a cigar on the steps--a slenderly-made man, with a
delicate, melancholy face, and a pointed grey beard, dressed in a shabby
shooting-coat.  His eyes turned from the slow old sweeper, past the
relics of the avenue, to a ruinous-looking lodge, the chimneys of which
sent no smoke into the frosty air.

Mr Seyton of Elderthwaite was used to these signs of adversity, but
to-day he was struck by them anew, for he was wondering how they would
look in the eyes of a stranger.  Oakby, with its strict laws, its rough
humours, its ready-made life, would be a strange experience to its
foreign heir.  What would Elderthwaite, with ruined fortunes and
blighted reputation be to a petted and prosperous girl, brought up by
gentle, religious women, in all the proprieties and sociabilities of
well-to-do country villa life?  What would his daughter say to the home
she had left as a child, and had never seen since?

The Seytons were a family of older standing in the county than the
Lesters, and had once been of superior fortune.  At present their
condition was, and rightly, very different.  The Lesters, with many
shortcomings, had been men who, on the whole, had endeavoured to do
their duty in their station, and had governed their tenants, brought up
their children, attended to public business, and managed their own
affairs in an honest and right-minded, if not always in a very
enlightened fashion.

But the Seytons had had a bad name for generations.  It is true that no
tales of wild and picturesque wickedness were told of the present head
of the house, such as had made his father's name a bye-word for
harshness and violence, and for all manner of evil living; but the
family traditions were strong against him; he inherited debt and a
dishonoured name, and, alas! with them the tendencies and temptations
that had brought them about.  He had looked with bitter, injured eyes at
the timber that was sold for his father's gaming debts; but many a noble
tree fell to pay his own, before he married a girl, innocent,
high-minded, and passionate-tempered.

It was a very unhappy marriage, and Mr Seyton never forgave his wife
for her broken heart, nor himself for breaking it.  When she died, her
relations took away her daughter, pledging themselves to provide for
her, if she were left undisturbed in their hands.  The father had enough
to do with his sons.  The eldest, Roland, was a fine, handsome fellow,
and began life with the sad disadvantage of being expected to go wrong.
He got a commission, but during the short intervals that he spent at
home, was personally unpopular.

In one of these he took a great fancy to Cheriton Lester during an
interval between the latter's school and college life, and Cheriton
being warned against him as a bad companion, stuck to him with equal
perverseness and generosity.  Roland was much the elder of the two, but
Cherry's vigorous youth took the lead in the friendship, and gave it his
own impress.  It was ended by such a scandal in Elderthwaite village as
those which had made the name of Roland Seyton's grandfather hated by
all the country round, as one by whom no man's hearth was respected, and
with whom no man's daughter was safe.

The discovery shocked Cheriton unspeakably; all the parties concerned
were well known to him, and he felt that of such sins he could never
think or speak lightly.  But he would not join in loud or careless blame
of his friend, who perhaps felt his truest pang of repentance at the
boy's confused miserable face in the one parting interview allowed by
Mr Lester before Roland joined his regiment, about to sail for India.

"You need not have been afraid, sir," Roland said, when accused of
having set him a bad example; "I knew how to choose my confidant."

After Roland's departure, other tales to his discredit, and debts which
it was impossible to pay, came to his father's ears, and these
additional troubles helped to strengthen habits of self-indulgence
already formed, which had made Mr Seyton a man old before his time,
melancholy-faced and gentle-mannered, whom nobody respected and nobody
disliked.  But the two younger boys had a bad start in life, and seemed
little likely to redeem the family fortunes.

It was not often that Mr Seyton thought of anything but the immediate
dulness and discomfort of the hour, or of its small alleviations; but
to-day these recollections pressed on him.  He thought, too, of his
shabby furniture, and his ill-conducted household; how unfit a home for
his well-dowered daughter; how unlike both her aunt's house and the
pleasant foreign tour which, since her aunt's death, she had been
enjoying.

"Papa, papa!" cried a bright voice behind him, "Good morning," then as
he turned round, the newly-arrived daughter exclaimed, throwing her arms
round his neck, "Oh, how nice it is to say `Good morning, papa!'"

She was a fair creature enough, a true Seyton, with slender frame and
pointed chin, creamy complexion and rich brown hair, but the large,
round eyes, tender, intense, and full of life, were her mother's, though
clear and untroubled as the mother's had never been.

"So you are glad to come home, Virginia?" said her father, rather sadly.

"Yes, papa, I am just delighted.  I always made stories about home when
I was at Littleton.  I was very happy, you know, with dear Aunt Mary and
all my friends; but it was so _uninteresting_ not to know more of my
very nearest relations."

"You will find it very different, my dear, from what you are accustomed
to.  This is a dull place."

"Oh, papa, I think it is so silly to be dull!  I shall be quite ready to
like anything you wish," said Virginia warmly.

"My dear, you shall take your own way.  It would be hard at least if I
could not give you that," said Mr Seyton, looking at her as if he did
not quite know what to do with this gaily-dressed, frank-spoken
daughter.  "Now let us come to breakfast."

"I am afraid I am late," said Virginia; "but it is never easy to be in
time after a journey."

"You are punctual for this house, my dear; we take such things easy.
But your aunt is down, you see, in your honour."  As Mr Seyton spoke
they came into the dining-room, a long, low room, with treasures of
curious carving round its oak-panels, hardly visible in its imperfect
light.

A lady sat pouring out the tea.  She had the delicate features and
peculiar complexion of her family, but her eyes, instead of being like
Mr Seyton's, vague and sad, were sharp and sarcastic; she had more play
of feature, and, though she looked fully her age, had the air of having
been a beauty.

Miss Seyton had once been engaged to be married, but her engagement had
been broken off in one of the storms of discreditable trouble that had
overwhelmed her father and brothers, no one knew exactly how or why.
She had never married, and had lived ever since with her brother, not
always without scandal and remark.  Still her presence had kept
Elderthwaite on the visiting-list of the county, and made it possible
for her niece to live there.

In spite of her sharp, eager eyes, she had an indescribable laziness and
nonchalance of manner, and poured out the tea as if it was an effort
beyond her.  The boys' places remained vacant.  There was a little talk
at breakfast-time, but it did not flow easily.  Virginia would have had
plenty to say, but she had a sense that what she did say caused her aunt
inward surprise or amusement, and she began to feel shy.

When the meal was over, Mr Seyton sauntered away slowly, and Virginia
said, "Do we sit in the drawing-room in the morning, Aunt Julia?"

"Yes, as often as not," said Miss Seyton.  "You are welcome to arrange
all such matters for yourself.  Girls have ways of their own."

"I don't want to have any strange or uncomfortable ways, auntie," said
Virginia; "I want to feel quite at home, and to be useful."

"Useful!" said Miss Seyton.  "What's your notion of being useful?"

She did not speak unkindly, but with a curious sort of inward amusement,
as if the notions of the bright-eyed girl were an odd study to her.

"I'm afraid I haven't very clear notions.  I want to make it cheerful
for papa--Aunt Mary always said he wasn't strong or well; and perhaps
the boys want things done for them; my friends' brothers always did,"
said Virginia a little pathetically.

"There's one thing, my dear, I wish you to understand at once.  I shall
never interfere with you; but I don't mean to abdicate in your favour.
I keep house--whatever house is kept--and you'd better shut your eyes
and ears to it.  It isn't work for you."

"Oh, Aunt Julia!" said Virginia distressed, "I would not think of such a
thing.  It is your place."

"No, my dear, it's not; but I mean to stick to it," interposed Miss
Seyton.

"And I know nothing about housekeeping, I'm afraid.  I should be very
extravagant."

"Like a true Seyton.  So much for that, then.  And now another thing.
Don't you ever give your brothers so much as a half-sovereign secretly.
You have money, and they know it, and it's scarce here.  Mind what I
say."

A kind of puzzled sense of something that she did not understand crossed
Virginia's face.

"I would rather give them things than money," she said.  "Of course papa
lets them have what is right."

"Of course," said Miss Seyton, with the same perplexing expression of
indescribable amusement.

A good joke had for years been the solace, a bitter sarcasm the natural
outlet, of a life which certainly had been neither prosperous nor happy
in itself, nor glorified by any martyrdom of self-denial.

Miss Seyton was full of malice, both in the French and English
acceptations of the word.  She loved fun, and she could not see without
bitterness the young, unworn creature beside her.  To astonish Virginia
offered an almost irresistible temptation to both these tendencies.  Her
evident unconsciousness of the life that lay before her, was at once so
funny, and such a cruel satire on them all.

"So you built castles in the air about your relations?" she said, with
an odd longing to knock some of these castles down.

"Sometimes," said Virginia; "then Ruth told me about you; and two years
ago she and I met Cheriton Lester and his cousin Rupert in London, and I
used to talk to them, Cheriton made me wish to come home very much."

"Why?" said Miss Seyton shortly.

"He used to tell her about the place, and he made me remember much
better what it was like."

"Cheriton will have to play second fiddle.  The eldest brother is coming
back from Spain."

"Ah, I remember, he told us how much he wished it.  Oh, and he told me
Uncle James `wasn't half a bad fellow.'  I suppose that was a boy's way
of saying he was very nice indeed.  Perhaps I can help him, too, in the
village.  I like school-teaching, and I suppose there aren't many young
ladies in Elderthwaite?"

"You little innocent!" exclaimed Miss Seyton.  Then, moving away, she
said, in the same wicked undertone, "Well, you had better ask him."

Virginia remained standing by the fire.  She felt ruffled, for she knew
herself to be laughed at, and not having the clue to her aunt's meaning,
she fancied that her free and easy mention of Cheriton had elicited the
remark; and being a young lady of decided opinions and somewhat warm
temper, made up her mind silently, but with energy, that she would never
like her Aunt Julia, never!  She had been taken away from home when only
eleven years old, and since then had only occasionally seen her father
and her brothers.  Her cousin Ruth, who had frequently stayed at
Elderthwaite, had never bestowed on her much definite information; and
perhaps the season in London and the renewal of her childish
acquaintance with Cheriton Lester had done more than anything else to
revive old impressions.

She had been most carefully brought up by her aunt, Lady Hampton, with
every advantage of education and influence.  Companions and books were
all carefully chosen, and her aunt hoped to see her married before there
was any chance of her returning to Elderthwaite.  But such was the dread
of the reckless, defiant, Seyton nature, that her very precautions
defeated their wishes.

Virginia never was allowed to be intimate with any young man but
Cheriton, who at the time of their meeting was a mere boy, and with
thoughts turned in another direction; and though Virginia was
sufficiently susceptible, with a nature at once impetuous and dependent,
she came home at one-and-twenty, never yet having seen her ideal in
flesh and blood.

"Duties enough, and little cares," had filled her girlhood, and
delightful girl friendships and girl reverences had occupied her heart;
while her time had been filled by her studies, the cheerful gaieties of
a lively neighbourhood, and by the innumerable claims of a church and
parish completely organised and vigorously worked.

Lady Hampton was one of the Ladies Bountiful of Littleton; and Virginia
had taught in the schools, made tea at the treats, worked at church
decorations, and made herself useful and important in all the ways usual
to a clever, warm-hearted girl under such influences.  And with the same
passionate fervour of nature, and the same necessity to her life of an
approving conscience, which had made her mother's heart beat itself to
death against the bars of her unsatisfying home, Virginia's nature had
flowed on in perfect tune with her surroundings; till, when she was
nearly twenty, came the great grief of her kind aunt's death, leaving
her heiress to a moderate fortune.  By the terms of the will she was to
travel under carefully selected guardianship till she was of age, and
then to choose whether she would go home to her father, or have a home
made for her at Littleton.

Virginia chose promptly, and then, in the delicate, indefinite language
of those who fear to do harm by every word, was warned of difficulties.
Much would be painful to her, much would be strange; her home was not
like anything she had been used to.  She listened and looked sad, and
understood nothing of what they meant to imply; and thus ready to
admire, but with only one type in her mind of what was admirable; full
of love, but with none of the blinding softening memories that make love
easy, she came to a home where admiration was impossible, and love would
demand either ignorant indifference to any high ideal, or a rare and
perfect charity, alike unknown to a high-minded intolerant girl.

CHAPTER SIX.

VIRGINIA.

  "A sense of mystery her spirit daunted."

The vicar of Elderthwaite was Mr Seyton's youngest brother.  There had
been one between them, the father of the Ruth mentioned in the last
chapter, but he had married well, and died early, leaving this one girl,
who lived with her grandmother, and paid occasional visits to
Elderthwaite.

James Seyton had been the wildest of the three, and had taken orders to
pay his debts by means of the family living, the revenues of which he
had never fully enjoyed.  He had never married, and his life--though
just kept in bounds by the times in which he lived, so that he did not
get tipsy in the Seyton Arms, nor openly scandalise a parish with so low
a standard of right as Elderthwaite--was a thoroughly self-indulgent
one.  He read the service once on Sundays, and administered the
Communion three times a year, while the delay and neglect of funerals,
marriages, and baptisms were the scandal of every parish round.  He
rarely visited his flock; and yet the vicar was not wholly an unpopular
man.  He was good-natured, and though he drank freely and sometimes
swore loudly, he had a certain amount of secular intercourse with his
parishioners of a not unneighbourly kind.

The pressure of poverty made Mr Seyton a hard landlord, and between
oppression and neglect the inhabitants of the picturesque tumbledown
village were a bad lot, and neither squire nor parson did much to make
them better.  But their vicar now and then did put before the worst
offenders the consequences of an evil life in language plain enough to
reach their understanding; and he had a word and a laugh for most of
them.

Mr Lester was frequently heard to inveigh against Parson Seyton's
shortcomings, and seriously, as well he might, regretted the state of
Elderthwaite parish; but Mr Seyton doctored all his horses and dogs
when they were ill, and was, "after all, an old neighbour and a
gentleman."  He taught Cherry to catch rats, and took him out
otter-hunting, and there was the oddest friendship between them, which
Cherry, when a boy, had once exemplified in the following manner:--

The Bishop had paid an unexpected visit at.  Oakby, and Cheriton
following in the wake, while his father and Mr Ellesmere were showing
off their new schools, heard him express his intention of going on to
Elderthwaite; upon which Cherry ran full speed across the fields, found
Parson Seyton shooting rabbits, decidedly in shooting-costume, gave him
timely warning, and, with his own hands so tidied, dusted, and furbished
up the wretched old church, that its vicar, entering into the spirit of
the thing, fell to with a will, astonished the lazy blind old sexton,
and produced such a result as might pass muster in a necessarily lenient
north-country diocese.

Cherry then diffidently produced one of his father's white ties which he
had put in his pocket, "thinking you mightn't have one clean," and as
the old vicar, with a shout of laughter, arrayed himself in it, he
said,--

"Ay, ay, my lad, between this and the glass of port I'll give his
lordship (he won't better that in any parish), we'll push through."

And so they did.

Parson Seyton was a man, if an erring one; but the mischief with his
young nephews was that they seemed to have no force or energy even for
being naughty, and as they grew up their scrapes were all those of idle
self-indulgence, save when the hereditary passion for gambling broke out
in Dick, the elder of the two, as had been the case lately, causing his
removal from the tutor with whom he had been placed.  Like their father,
they had not strong health, and they had little taste for field sports,
and none for books; they lay in bed half the day, lounged about the
stables, and quarrelled with each other.  But then their father had
nothing to do, read little but the paper, and drank a great deal more
wine than was good for him.

Their uncle had conferred on them in his time the inestimable advantage
of one or two good thrashings, and had scant patience with a kind of
evil to which his burly figure, jolly red face, and hearty reckless
temper had never been inclined.

Virginia had thought a good deal about her uncle, and was not unprepared
to find him very far removed from the clerical ideal to which she was
accustomed.  Perhaps the notion of bringing a little enlightenment to so
"old-fashioned" a place was neither absent nor unwelcome, as she thought
of offering to teach the choir, and wondered who was feminine head of
the parish.

"I daresay Uncle James has some nice old housekeeper," she thought, "who
trots after the poor people, and takes them jelly, and perhaps teaches
the children sewing.  There must be a great many people here who
remember mamma.  I hope they will like me.  It will be a much more real
thing trying to be helpful here than at Littleton, where there were six
people for each bit of work."

Virginia, finding that her brothers did not appear, began to revive her
childish recollections by going over the house.  It was very large and
rambling, with long unused passages, with all the rooms shut up.
Windows overgrown with interlacing ivy, panels from which the paint
dropped at a touch, queer little turret chambers, with rickety
staircases leading up to them, seemed hardly objectionable to Virginia,
who liked the romance of the old forlorn house, and had not yet tried
living in it.  Yet it was not romantic, for Elderthwaite was not
ruinous, only very dirty and out of repair; and perhaps the untidy
housemaid, whom Virginia had encountered, was really more in accordance
with its condition than the white lady or armed spectre that she gaily
thought ought to walk those lonely passages.  Her own young smiling
face, and warm ruby-coloured dress, was in more startling contrast than
either.  So apparently thought her brother Dick as he ran up against her
on the stairs.

"Hallo, Virginia!" he exclaimed in astonished accents.  "What are you
doing up here?"

"Trying to remember my way about.  Don't we keep any ghosts, Dick?  I'm
sure they would find these dark corners exactly suited to them."

"Better ask old Kitty; she'll tell you all about them.  Good-bye, I'm
off," and Dick clattered downstairs, rather to Virginia's
disappointment, for she had thought the night before that his delicate,
handsome face was more prepossessing than the pale stout one of Harry
who now joined her.

"Where is Dick going?" she asked.

"Don't know, I'm sure," said Harry.  "Do you want to know all the old
stories?"

"Yes! can you tell me?"

"Do you see that room there?" said Harry, with eyes that twinkled like
his aunt's; "old grandfather Seyton was an old rip, you know, if ever
there was one, and he and his friends used to make such a row you heard
them over at Oakby.  _His_ brother was parson then, and bless you!
Uncle Jem's a bishop to him.  Well, he'd got a dozen men dining here,
and they all got as drunk as owls, dead drunk every one of them, and the
servants put them to bed up in this gallery.  One of them was in the
room next grandfather's, that room there, and he was found dead the next
morning.  Fact, I assure you."

"What a horrid story!" said Virginia, looking shocked.

"I'll tell you another.  Grandfather and his brother played awfully
high, that's how the avenue was cut down; and when they could get no one
else they played with each other, and one night they quarrelled and
seized each other by the throats, and they both would have been
strangled, only grandmamma rushed in in her nightgown screaming, and
parted them; but the parson had the marks on his throat for ever."

"Harry! you naughty boy!" exclaimed Virginia, laughing.  "You are
inventing all these frightful stories.  I don't believe them."

"They're as true as gospel," said Harry, looking at her bright,
incredulous eyes.  "There's another about the parson--how he came
through the park at sunrise.  That's not a pretty story to tell you,
though."

"I had much rather hear something about the parson, as you call him,
nowadays.  Come downstairs, it's so cold here, and answer all my
questions."

"Oh, the parson's a jolly old card," said Harry, following her.  "He's
just mad with Dick because he won't hunt.  He's been in at the death at
every meet round, and don't he swear when any one rides over the dogs,
that's all!"

Virginia began to think Elderthwaite must be very old-fashioned indeed.

"Doesn't Dick like hunting?" she said.  "No, Dick takes after the
governor.  It's cards that'll send him to the devil, and the first
Seyton he'll be that's not worth having, says Uncle James."

Harry talked in a low, solemn voice, with the same odd twinkle in his
eyes, and it was very difficult to say whether it was wicked mischief,
or a sort of shameless _naivete_, that made him so communicative.

Virginia still strongly suspected him of a desire to astonish her; but
his last speech gave her a strange new pang, and she turned away to
safer subjects.

"I suppose the Lester boys are friends of yours?"

"Well, that's as may be.  We're such a bad lot, you see, that Bob's
never allowed to come here.  There was a row once, and old Lester, a
humbugging chap, just interfered.  Jack's such a confounded prig he
wouldn't touch us with a pair of tongs."

"And Cheriton, of course, is too old for you."

"Cherry! oh, he isn't a bad fellow.  I go over to Oakby sometimes when
he's there.  But it's a slow place, and old Lester keeps them very
tight.  And then he's always humbugging after his schools and things.
Writing to my father about the state of the village.  As if it was his
affair!" said Harry, in a tone of virtuous indignation.

"Doesn't papa approve of education?" said Virginia.

"Bless you, he don't trouble his head about it.  Why should he?  Teach a
lot of poaching vagabonds to read and write!"

"But Uncle James--"

"Oh, Uncle James," said Harry, with a spice of mimicry, "he likes his
glass of grog and his ferrets too well to put himself out of the way.
By Jove, here's Aunt Julia!  I shall be off before I'm asked what has
become of Dick."

Virginia sat still where he had left her.  She only half believed him,
and strange to say there was something so comical in his manner that she
was rather attracted by its cool sauciness.  But she was frightened and
perplexed.  What sort of a world was this into which she had come?
Those stories, even if true, happened a long time ago; Harry must be in
joke about Dick, and everything was different nowadays.

It was true.  The golden age, if such an expression can be permitted, of
Seyton wickedness had passed away; and these were smaller times, times
of neglect, mismanagement, and low poor living, the dreary dregs of a
cup long since drained.  Nobody could quote Mr Seyton as a monster of
wickedness, because he dawdled away his time over his sherry, and knew
no excitement but an occasional game of cards at not very high stakes.
There was many another youth in Westmoreland who gambled and played
billiards in low company like Dick, and some ladies perhaps who found
all their excitement in the memory of other times, and troubled
themselves as little over any question of conscience as Miss Seyton.

But it was not all at once that this absence of all that makes life
worth living could be apparent, and Virginia found her first
confirmation of Harry's words as she walked through the village on
Christmas morning, and noted the wild, untidy look of the people, and
the wretched state of their houses, and observed the sullen look of
their faces as her father passed.  Dick did not appear at all; Harry
audibly "supposed the governor was going to church because Virginia was
there," and certainly church-going did not appear to be a fashion of the
village.

Neither her childish recollections, nor Harry's remarks, had prepared
her, as they came into the small, ivy-grown church, for broken floors,
cracked windows, and damp fustiness; still less for the very scantiest
of congregations, and a rustling silence where responses should have
been.  Her uncle read the service rapidly, with the broad northern
accent now strange to her ears.  The old clerk trotted about whenever
his services were not required, and did a little sweeping.  Her uncle
paused as he began the Litany, and called to him in a loud and cheerful
voice to shut the door.

Virginia peeped out between the faded green-baize curtains that, hanging
round the great square pew, represented to her every Church principle
she had been taught to condemn; and found her view obstructed by a large
cobweb.  Harry poked at the spider, and Virginia recalling her own
attention from her despairing visions of having no better church than
this, perceived that her father was leaning idly back in his corner.
All her standards of right and wrong seemed confused and shocked; so
much so that, at the moment, she hardly distinguished the pain of
finding herself left alone after the sermon, and seeing her father turn
away, from her horror at her uncle's dirty surplice, and the dreary
degradation of the whole place.  When the parson came after her after
service, and loudly told her she was the prettiest lass he'd seen for
long enough, kissing her under the church porch, she still felt as if
the typical bad parish priest of her imagination had come to life, and
behold he was her own uncle!

Since this comprehensible form of evil was so plain to her eyes, what
terrible secrets might not lurk behind it!  Virginia felt as if she
would never be light-hearted again.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

FIRE AND SNOW.

  "A northern Christmas, such as painters love.
  * * * * *
  Red sun, blue sky, white snow, and pearled ice,
  Keen ringing air which sets the blood on fire."

Christmas is no doubt, theoretically, the right season for relations who
have been long parted to meet, and there was an ideal appropriateness in
the long absent heir appearing at Oakby for the first time on Christmas
Day.  But practically it would have been better for Alvar if he had come
home at any other time of the year.  In the first place the frost
continued with unabated severity, and precluded every outdoor amusement
but skating, in which Alvar of course had no skill, and which he did not
seem at all willing to learn.  Besides, the season brought an amount of
local and parish business which Mr Lester attended to vigorously in
person, but the existence of which Alvar never seemed to realise.  His
grandmother's charities he understood, and was rather amused at seeing
the old women come to fetch their blankets and cloaks; but what could he
have to do with any of these people?

Tenants' dinners and choir-suppers might form a good opportunity for
introducing him to his neighbours; and Cheriton, who was the life and
soul of such festivities, tried to put him forward; but he only made
magnificent silent bows, and comported himself much as his brother Jack
had done, when in an access of gruff shyness and democratic ardour he
had called the Christmas feasts "relics of feudalism," and had shown his
advanced notions of the union of classes by never speaking a word to any
one.

Between the newcomer and his father there was an impassable distance.
Alvar never failed in courtesy; but Cheriton's quick eyes soon perceived
that he resented deeply the long neglect; saw too that the sight of him
was a pain and distress to his father, sharpened his temper, and
produced constant rubs; though he was careful to do everything that the
proper introduction of his son demanded of him.  A grand ball was
organised in his honour, and also a stiff and ponderous dinner-party at
which Alvar was to be introduced to the county magnates.

Special invitations were also sent to him by their various neighbours,
and he created quite an excitement in the dull country neighbourhood.
Mr Lester only half liked being congratulated on his son's charming
foreign manners; but still, as a novelty, Alvar had great attractions,
and in society never seemed shy or at a loss.  Mr Lester's
brother-in-law, Judge Cheriton, invited the stranger to pay him a visit
when the season had a little advanced, and to let him see a little
London society; for which attention Mr Lester, who hated London, was
very grateful, as Alvar's grandfather had Spanish friends there, and it
would have been too intolerable for the heir of Oakby to have appeared
there under auspices which, however distinguished, Mr Lester thought
suitable only to a political refugee or a music master.

He had, when he had ceased to pay for Alvar's English tutor, made him an
allowance which had been magnificent in Spain, and greatly added to
Alvar's consideration there, and he now increased this to what he
considered a sufficient sum for his eldest son's dignity.  In short he
did everything but overcome his personal distaste to him; he never
willingly spoke to him, and the very sight of him was an irritation to
him.  He got less too than usual of Cheriton's company; their walks, and
talks, and consultations were curtailed by Alvar's requirements.  Indeed
Cherry was pulled in many different directions, and he ended by
sacrificing all the reading that was to have been got through during the
vacation.  For the home life was very difficult, and the more they saw
of the stranger the less they liked him.

"He's not of our sort," said Bob, as if that settled the matter, not
perceiving that his slowness to receive impressions, and difficulty in
accommodating himself to a new life, might spring as much from his
Lester blood as from his Spanish breeding.

"He might try and _look_ like an Englishman," growled Jack.

"When you go to Spain, we shall see you in a _sombrero_ dancing under
the orange-trees to a pair of castanets," retorted Cheriton.  "_We_
should all be so ready at foreign languages and so accommodating,
shouldn't we?"

Alvar's individuality was not to be ignored, though unfortunately it was
very distasteful to his kindred.  He was so dignified, so terribly
polite they were half afraid of him, and as the awe wore off, they
wanted to quarrel with him.  He announced that he loved riding, and
seemed to know something of horses; he played billiards much too well to
be a pleasant opponent to his father, he sang much too quaintly and
prettily for his family to appreciate, and he played the guitar!  Even
Cheriton wished it had been a fiddle.  He hated going to walk, smoked
incessantly, and was indifferent to every one except Cheriton, to whom
he deferred in everything.

Poor Cheriton!  "Among the blind, the one-eyed is king," and his
sentiments were amazingly liberal for Oakby; but he was very young and
deeply attached to his home and his surroundings, too tender-hearted not
to be touched at Alvar's preference, imaginative enough to realise his
position, and yet repelled and put out of countenance by his
peculiarities.  To be tenderly addressed as "my brother," "mi caro," "mi
Cheriton," "Cherito mio," to be deferred to on all occasions, and even
told in the hearing of Jack and Bob "that his eyes when he laughed were
the colour of the Mediterranean on a sunny day," was, as he said, "so
out-facing, that it made him feel a perfect fool," especially when his
brothers echoed it at every turn.

Yet he put up with it.  It was so hard on the poor fellow if no one was
kind to him!  So hard, he added to himself, to be an unloved and
unloving son.

Perhaps, after all, Alvar's essential strangeness prevented Cheriton
from feeling himself put aside.

Cheriton was very popular at school and at college.  He had strong,
intellectual ambitions, and though of less powerful mind than Jack, had
attained to much graceful scholarship and possessed much command of
language.  He hoped to take honours, to go to the bar, and distinguish
himself there under his uncle, Judge Cheriton's, auspices.  He had too a
further and a sweeter hope, hitherto confided to no one.

But it was a certain "genius for loving" that really distinguished him
from his fellows--really made him every one's friend.  He did not seek
out his poorer neighbours so much from a sense of duty, as because his
heart went out to every one belonging to Oakby, nay, every animal, every
bit of ground--nothing was a trouble that conduced to the welfare of the
place.  This loving-kindness was a natural gift; but Cheriton made good
use of it.  He had high principles, and deep within his soul, struggling
with the temptations of this ardent nature, were the pure aspirations
and the capability of fervent piety which have made saints--
responsibilities with which he was born.

But all this fire and force did not make tolerance easy; he was full of
instinctive prejudices, and perhaps his greatest aids in his dealings
with his new brother were his joyous unchecked spirits and the keen
sense of the ludicrous that enabled him to laugh at himself as well as
at other people.

Some little time after Alvar's arrival there was a deep fall of snow,
and while the pond was being swept for skating, the young Lesters, with
Harry Seyton and the children from the rectory, who had come up for the
purpose, proceeded to erect a snow man of gigantic proportions in front
of the house.

"What a fright you have made of him!" said Cheriton, coming up with
Alvar as they finished; "he has no nose and no expression."

"Well, come and do his nose, then; it keeps on coming off," said Nettie,
who was standing on a bench to put the finishing touches.

Cherry was nothing loath, and was soon engaged in moulding the snowy
countenance with the skill of long practice, while Alvar, with his great
crimson-lined cloak wrapped about him, stood looking on.

"Give him a good _lumpy_ nose, that won't melt," said Cherry.  "There,
he's lovely! got an old pipe for him?"

As he spoke a great snowball came stinging against his face, and in a
moment, to the astonishment of Alvar, the whole party set on Cherry, and
a wild bout of snowballing ensued.

"No, no, that's not fair!  I can't fight you all," shouted Cherry; "and
you've got all your snowballs ready made.  Give me the girls, and then--
Come on."

"Oh, yes, yes; we'll be on Cherry's side," cried Nettie.

It was a picturesque scene enough--the pale blue sky overhead, the
dazzling snow under foot, the little girls in their scarlet cloaks or
petticoats, their long hair flying as they darted in and out, the great
boys struggling, wrestling, knocking each other about with small mercy.
No one threw a snowball at Alvar; perhaps they had forgotten him, as he
stood silently watching them as if they were a troop of Berserkers, till
the contest terminated in a tremendous struggle between Cheriton and
Jack, who were, of course, much the biggest of the party.  Cherry was
getting decidedly the worst of it, and either tripped in the rough snow
or was thrown down into it by Jack, when suddenly Alvar threw off his
cloak, stepped forward, and seizing Jack by the shoulders, pulled him
back with sudden irresistible force.

"By Jove!" was all that Jack could utter.

"What on earth did you do that for?" ejaculated Cherry as soon as he
gained his breath and his feet.

"He might have hurt you, my brother," said Alvar, who looked flushed,
and for once excited.  "And besides, I am stronger than either of you.
I could struggle with you both."

"Hurt me?  Suppose he had?" said Cherry disdainfully.  "But, Jack--Jack,
I do believe you're getting too many for me at last."

"That is what you call athletics," said Alvar, who looked unusually
bright.

"Yes; wrestling is a regular north-country game, and the fellows about
here have taught us all the tricks of it.  Come, Jack, let us show him a
bout."

The two brothers pulled off their coats, and set to with a will; and
after a long struggle, and with considerable difficulty, Cheriton
succeeded in throwing Jack.

"There, I've done it once more!" he said breathlessly, "and I don't
suppose I shall ever do it again.  You're getting much stronger than I
am, and of course you're heavier."

"Let me try to throw you down," said Alvar eagerly.

"Nay, Jack may have first turn; but it's fair to tell you there's a
great deal of knack in it."

Alvar, however, was man instead of boy; he was quite as tall as Jack,
and however he might have learnt to exercise his muscles, his grasp was
like steel; and though Jack's superior skill triumphed in the end, Alvar
rose up cool and smiling, and Jack panted out, in half-unwilling
admiration,--

"You'd beat us all with a little training."

"Ah yes; that is because I am an Englishman," said Alvar complacently.
"But I bear no malice, Jack.  It is in sport."

"Of course," said Jack.  "Now, Cherry, you try."

"It's hardly fair in a biting frost," said Cherry; "nobody can have any
wind.  However, here's for the honour of Westmoreland."

The younger ones gathered round in an admiring circle, and Cheriton, who
did not like to be beaten, put forth all the strength and skill of which
he was master.  But he was the more slightly made, and had met his
match, and to the extreme chagrin of his brothers and Nettie, sustained
an entire defeat.

"Well, I never thought you would throw _him_," said Jack, in a tone of
deep disappointment.

"Ah," said Alvar, "they always called me the strong Englishman."

"Papa was the strongest man in Westmoreland," said Nettie.

"Then," said Alvar, "so far I have proved myself his son, and your
brother.  I would not skate with you, for I should look like a fool; but
I knew you could not easily throw me down, since that is your sport.
But, my brother, I have hurt you."

"No," said Cheriton getting up, "only knocked all the wind out of me,
and made _me_ look like a fool!  Never mind, we shall understand each
other all the better.  Come upstairs, and we will show you some of the
cups and things we have won in boat-races and athletics."

This was a clever stroke of Cheriton's; he wanted to make Alvar free of
the premises, and had not yet found a good excuse.  So, leaving the
younger ones to finish their snowballing, he and Jack conducted Alvar up
to the top of the house, where, at the end of the passage where they
slept, was a curious low room, with a long, low window, looking west,
above the west window of the drawing-room, and occupying nearly one side
of the room, almost like the windows of the hand-loom weavers in the
West Riding.

There was a low seat underneath, broad enough to lie on, but furnished
with very dilapidated cushions.  There was a turning-lathe in the room,
and a cupboard for guns, and sundry cases of stuffed birds, one table
covered with tools, glue-pots, and messes of all descriptions; and
another, it is but justice to add, supplied with ink, pens, and paper,
and various formidable-looking books, for here the boys did their
reading.  There was a great, old-fashioned grate with a blazing fire in
it, and very incongruous ornaments above it--a stuffed dormouse,
Nettie's property--she maintained a footing in the room by favour--
various pipes, two china dogs, white, with brown spots on them,
presented to Cherry in infancy by his nurse, and a wooden owl carved by
their cousin Rupert--a cousin in the second degree, who had been much
with them owing to his father's early death.  On one side of the room
were arranged on a sort of sideboard the cups and tankards which were
the trophies of the brothers' prowess, and these were now each pointed
out to Alvar, and the circumstances of their acquisition described.
Cheriton's were fewer in proportion, and chiefly for leaping and
hurdle-racing; and Jack explained that Cherry's forte was cricket, and
that, since he had once knocked himself up at school by a tremendous
flat-race, their father had greatly objected to his going into training.

"Oh, it's not that," said Cherry; "he would not care now; but I really
haven't time.  I must grind pretty hard from now to midsummer."

"There is one thing I have read of," said Alvar, "in English newspapers.
It is a race of boats on the Thames between Oxford and Cambridge."

"Oh, yes, you must go and see it.  That's Jack's ambition--to be one of
the crew."

"Ah, but you see there's no river at R--, and that's so unlucky," said
Jack seriously.

And so what with explanations and questions the ice melted a little.
Alvar looked smiling and beneficent; he did not seem at all ashamed of
his own ignorance; and Jack evidently regarded him with a new respect.

Cheriton also contrived that the Seytons, with the vicar of Oakby, Mr
Ellesmere and his wife, should be asked to dinner; and as the vicar had
some general conversation, some information about Spain was elicited
from Alvar, who, moreover, was pleased to find himself in ladies'
society, and was evidently at ease in it; while Virginia, in exchange
for the pleasant talk that seemed to come out of her old life, could
tell Cheriton that her cousin Ruth was coming to stay with her, and
could confide in him that home was still a little strange.

"Well, strangers _are_ strange," said Cherry.  "_We_ are shaking down,
but the number of tempers lost in the process might be advertised for
`as of no value except to the owners,' if to them.  Only the home-made
article, you understand--"

"Dear me," said Virginia, "I should as soon think of losing my temper
with the Cid.  Aren't you afraid of him?"

Cheriton made an irresistibly ludicrous face.

"Don't tell," he said, "but I think we are; and yet, you know, we think
`yon soothern chap,' as old Bates called him, must be `a bit of a softy'
after all."

"Oh, Cherry, that is how you talked yourself when we were children,"
exclaimed Virginia impulsively.  "Do you know I _feel_ I was born here,
when I hear the broad Westmoreland.  I never forgot it."

"Nay, I'm glad you don't say I talk so now," said Cherry.  "They tell me
at Oxford that my tongue always betrays me when I am excited.  But here
comes Alvar; now make him fall in love with Westmoreland.  Alvar, Miss
Seyton _has_ been abroad, so _she_ is not quite a benighted savage."

"My brother Cheriton is not a savage," said Alvar, smiling, as Cherry
moved away.  "He is the kindest and most beautiful person I have ever
seen."

"Yes, he is very kind.  But I hope, Mr Lester, that you do not think us
_all_ savages, with that one exception."

"In future I can never think so," said Alvar, with a bow.  "These boys
are savage certainly--very savage, but I do not care."

"It is strange, is it not," said Virginia, rather timidly, "to have to
make acquaintance with one's own father?"

"Of my father I say nothing," said Alvar, with a sudden air of hauteur,
that made the impulsive Virginia blush, and feel as if she had taken a
liberty with him, till he added, with a smile, "Miss Seyton, too, I
hear, is a stranger."

"Yes, I have been away ever since I was a little girl, and--and I had
forgotten my relations."

"I have not known mine," said Alvar; "Cheriton wrote to me once a little
letter.  I have it now, and since then I have loved him.  I do not know
the rest, and they wish I was not here."

"But don't you think," said Virginia earnestly, "that we--that you will
soon feel more at home with them?"

"Oh, I do not know," said Alvar, with a shrug.  "It is cold, and I am so
dull that I could die.  They understand no thing.  And in Spain I was
the chief; I could do what I wished.  Here I must follow and obey.  My
name even is different.  I do not know `Mr Lester.'  I am `Don Alvar.'
Will you not call me so?"

"But that would be so very strange to me," said Virginia, parrying this
request.  "Every one will call you Mr Lester.  How tall Nettie is
grown.  Do you not think her very pretty?"

"Oh, she is pink, and white, and blue, and yellow; but she is like a
little boy.  There is not in her eyes the attraction, the coquetry,
which I admire," said Alvar, pointing his remark with a glance at his
companion's lucid, beaming, interested eyes, in which however there was
little conscious coquetry.

"I am sorry to hear you admire coquettes," was too obvious an answer to
be resisted.

"Nay, it is the privilege of beauty," said Alvar.

Virginia, like many impulsive people, was apt to recollect with a cold
chill conversations by which at the time she had been entirely carried
away.  But on looking back at this one she liked it.  Alvar's dignity
and grace of manner made his trifling compliments both flattering and
respectful.  His feelings, too, she thought, were evidently deep and
tender; and how she pitied him for his solitary condition!

CHAPTER EIGHT.

A DAY OF REST.

  "Gaily the troubadour touched his guitar."

On the third Sunday morning after Alvar's arrival, Mr Lester came down
as usual at the sound of the gong, and as he glanced round the
dining-room missed his two elder sons.

Prayers were over and breakfast had begun before Alvar entered.

"Ah pardon," he said, bowing to his grandmother; "I did not know it was
late."

"I make a point of being punctual on Sunday," said Mr Lester, in a tone
of incipient displeasure.

"Cheriton is late too," said Alvar.

"No," said Jack, "he's gone to Church."

"All, then _we_ do not go to-day," said Alvar, with an air of relief so
comical that even the solemn Jack could hardly stand it.

"Oh, yes, we do," he said, "this is extra."

"Cheriton," said Mr Lester, "is very attentive to his religious
duties."

"I suppose he'll have breakfast at the Vicarage," said Nettie, as Alvar
raised his eyebrows and gave a little shrug.

It was a gesture habitual to him, and was not intended to express
contempt either for religion or for Cheriton, but only a want of
comprehension of the affair; but it annoyed Mr Lester and called his
attention to the fact that Alvar had appeared in a black velvet coat of
a peculiar foreign cut, the sight of which he disliked on a week-day,
and considered intolerable when it was contrasted with the spruce
neatness of the rest of the party.  He could not very well attack Alvar
on the subject, but he sharply reproved Bob for cutting hunches of bread
when no one wanted them, and found fault with the coffee.  And then,
apparently _a propos_ of nothing, he began to make a little speech about
the importance of example in a country place, and the influence of
trifles.

"And I can assure _every one_ present," he concluded emphatically, "that
there is no need to look far for an example of the evil effects of
neglect in these particulars."

"Elderthwaite?" whispered Nettie to Jack.

"Ay," said Mrs Lester, "young people should show respect to Sunday
morning.  It is what in my father's house was always insisted on.  Your
grandfather, too, used to say that he liked his dogs even to know
Sunday."

"It is strange to me," said Alvar coolly.

"It will be well that you should give yourself the pains to become
accustomed to it," said his father curtly.

It was the first time that the stately stranger had been addressed in
such a tone, and he looked up with a flash of the eye that startled the
younger ones.

"Sir, it is by your will I am a stranger here," he said, with evident
displeasure.

"Stranger or no, my regulations must be respected," said Mr Lester, his
colour rising.

Alvar rose from his seat and proved his claim at any rate to the family
temper by bowing to his grandmother and marching out of the room.

"Highty tighty!" said the grandmother.  "Here's a spirt of temper for
you!"

"Intolerable insolence!" exclaimed Mr Lester.  "Under my roof he must
submit to what I please to say to him."

"It's just what I told ye, Gerald; a foreigner's ways are what we cannot
do with," said Mrs Lester.

"Of course," blurted out Jack, with the laudable desire of mending
matters; "of course he is a foreigner.  How can you expect him to be
anything else?  And father never said it was his coat."

"His coat?" said Mr Lester.  "It is his temper to which I object.  When
he came I told him that I expected Sunday to be observed in my house,
and he agreed."

"But he did not understand that you thought that coat improper on
Sunday," said Jack with persevering justice.

"I am not in the habit of being obscure," said Mr Lester, as he rose
from the table, while Jack thought he would give Alvar a little good
advice.

Cherry was too soft; he was equally impartial, and would be more plain
spoken.  But as he approached the library he heard an ominous tinkling,
and entering, beheld Alvar, still in the objectionable coat, beginning
to play on the still more objectionable guitar, an air which Jack did
not think sounded like a hymn tune.

Jack really intended to mend matters, but his manner was unfortunate,
and in the tone he would have used to a disobedient fag he remarked, as
he stood bolt upright beside his brother,--

"I say, Alvar, I think you'd better not play on that thing this
morning."

"There is no reason for you to tell me what to do," said Alvar quietly.

"It's not, you know," said Jack, "that _I_ think there's any harm in it.
_My_ views are very liberal.  I only think it's a frivolous and unmanly
sort of instrument; but the governor won't like it, and there'll be no
end of a row."

"You have not a musical soul," said Alvar loftily, for he had had time
to cool down somewhat.

"_Certainly_ not," said the liberal Jack, with unnecessary energy and a
tone of disgust; "but that's not the question.  It's not the custom here
to play _that sort of thing on a thing like that_ on a Sunday morning.
Ask Cherry."

"Would it vex my brother?" asked Alvar.

"If you mean Cheriton, it certainly would.  He hates a row."

"A row?" said the puzzled Alvar, "that is a noise--my guitar?"

"Oh, hang it! no, a quarrel," began Jack, when suddenly--

"Sir, I consider this an act of defiance; I beg I may see that
instrument put away at once," and Mr Lester's voice took the
threatening sound that made his anger always appear so much worse than
it really was.  "I will have the proprieties of my house observed, and
no example of this kind set to your younger brothers."

Alvar had taken Jack's interference with cool contempt, but now he
started up with a look of such passion as fairly subdued Jack into a
hasty--

"Oh come, come, I say, now--don't!"  Alvar controlled himself suddenly
and entirely.

"Sir, I obey my father's commands.  I will say good morning," and taking
up his guitar went up to his own room, from which he did not emerge at
church time, and as no one ventured to call him they set off without
him.  Among themselves they might quarrel and make it up again many
times a day, but Alvar's feelings were evidently more serious.

It was occasionally Cheriton's practice to sing in the choir, more for
the popularity of his example than for his voice, which was indifferent.
Alvar had been greatly puzzled at his doing so, and had then told him
that "in that white robe he looked like the picture of an angel," a
remark which so discomfited Cherry that he had further perplexed his
unlucky brother by saying,--"_Pray_ don't say such a thing to the
others, I should never hear the last of it.  You'd better say I look
like an ass at once."

He did not therefore see anything of his family till he met them after
the service, when Jack attacked him.

"What induced you to go out this morning?  Everything has gone utterly
wrong, and I shouldn't wonder if we should find Alvar gone back to
Spain."

"Why, what's the matter?"

"Alvar came down late in that ridiculous coat and then played the
guitar.  And if ever you saw a fellow in a passion!  He likes his own
way."

"Was father angry?"

"I should just think so, I don't expect they'll speak."

This was a pleasant prospect.  Cheriton saw that his father's brow was
cloudy, and as he went upstairs his grandmother called him into her
room.

"Cheriton," she said mysteriously, as she sat down and untied her
bonnet, "Jack has told you of your brother's behaviour, and it's my
belief there's a clue to it, and I hope you'll take warning, for I
sometimes think ye've a hankering after that way yourself."

"What way, grandmamma?  I never play the guitar on a Sunday morning."

"Nay, but there's more behind.  It's well known how Sunday is profaned
in Popish countries.  I've heard they keep the shops open in France.
Your brother has been brought up among Papists, and it would be a sad
thing for your father's son to give all this property into the hands of
the priests."

"Dear me, granny, what a frightful suggestion.  But I'm sure Alvar has
no Romish sympathies.  He has no turn for anything of the kind, and I
should think the Roman Church was very unattractive in Spain."

"Ay, but they're very deep."

"Well," said Cherry, "if Alvar is a Jesuit in disguise, as you say, and
rather a dissipated person, as my father seems to think, and has such an
appalling temper as Jack describes, we're in a bad way.  I think I'll go
and see for myself."

When Cherry entered Alvar's room he found this alarming compound of
qualities sitting by the fire looking forlorn and lonely.  "Why, Alvar,
what's all this about?"

"Ah, my brother," said Alvar, "you were absent and all has been wrong.
My father is offended with me.  I know not why.  He insulted me."

"Oh, nonsense! we never talk about being insulted.  My father's a little
hasty, but he means nothing by it.  What did you do that annoyed him?"

"I played my guitar and Jack scolded me.  No one shall do so but you."

"I daresay Jack made an ass of himself--he often does; but he is a
thorough good fellow at bottom.  You know we do get up in our best
clothes on Sunday."

"I can do that," said Alvar, "but your Sunday I do not understand.  You
tell me I may not play at cards or at billiards; you do not dance nor go
to the theatre.  What good does it do?  I would go to church, though it
is tiresome, and I shudder at the singing.  It is a mark, doubtless, of
my father's politics; but at home--well, I can smoke, if that is
better?"

Driven back to first principles, Cheriton hardly knew what to say.  "Of
course," he answered.  "I have often heard the matter discussed, and I
don't pretend to say that at Oxford the best of us are as particular as
we might be.  But in a country place like this, carelessness would do
infinite harm.  And, on the whole, I shouldn't like the rule to be
otherwise."

Alvar sighed, and made no answer.

"But," continued Cherry, "I think no one has a right to impose rules on
you.  I wouldn't bring out the guitar in the morning--it looks rather
odd, you know--nor wear that coat.  But we're not so very strict; there
are always newspapers about, and novels, and, as you say, you can smoke
or talk, or play the piano--I'm sure no one would know what the tune
was--or write letters.  Really, it might be worse, you know."

Perhaps Cherry's coaxing voice and eyes were more effectual than his
arguments; any way, Alvar said, "Well, I will offer my hand to my
father, if he will take it."

"Oh, no; pray don't make a scene about it.  There's the gong.  Put on
your other coat, and come down.  We _do_ eat our dinner on Sunday, and
I'm awfully hungry."

Whether Mr Lester accepted the coat as a flag of truce, or whether he
did not wish to provoke a contest with an unknown adversary, nothing
more was said; but Alvar's evil star was in the ascendant, and he was
destined to run counter to his family in a more unpardonable way.

He had no sympathy whatever with the love for animals, which was perhaps
the softest side of his rough kindred.  All the English Lesters were
imbued with that devotion to live creatures which is ingrain with some
natures.  No trouble was too great to take for them.  Bob and Nettie got
up in the morning and went out in all weathers to feed their ferrets, or
their jackdaws, or whatever pet was young, sick, or troublesome.
Cheriton's great Saint Bernard, Rolla, ranked somewhere very near Jack
in his affections, and had been taught, trained, beaten, and petted,
till he loved his master with untiring devotion.  Mrs Lester had her
chickens and turkeys, Mr Lester his prize cattle and his horses, some
of the latter old and well-tried friends.

It must be admitted that Oakby was a trying place for people devoid of
this sentiment.  Every one had a dog, more or less valuable, and
jackdaws and magpies have their drawbacks as members of a family.  Alvar
openly said that he had never seen anybody make pets of dumb animals,
and that he could not understand doing so; and though he took no notice
of them, Rolla and an old pointer of Mr Lester's, called Rose, had
already been thrashed for growling at him.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, the bright cold weather clouded
over and promised a thaw.  Alvar preferred dulness to the weather
out-of-doors, and Cheriton accompanied his father on the Sunday stroll,
which included all the beasts on the premises, and generally ended in
visits to the old keeper and coachman, who thought it the height of
religious advantage to bear the squire read a chapter.

Mr Lester was aware that he had been impatient with his son, and that
Alvar could not be expected to be imbued with an instinctive knowledge
of those forms of religion with which his father had been inspired by
his young brilliant wife, when "Fanny" had taught him to restore his
church and build his schools in a fuller fashion than had satisfied his
father, and made him believe that his position demanded of himself and
his family a personal participation in all good works--some control of
them he naturally desired.

He was, as Mr Ellesmere said, with a little shrug, when forced to yield
a point, "a model squire," conscientious and open-handed, but
unpersuadable.  Perhaps the clear-eyed, wide-souled Fanny might have
allowed more readily for the necessary changes of twenty years.
Certainly she would better have appreciated a newcomer's difficulties;
while poor Mr Lester felt that Fanny's ideal was invaded, and not by
Fanny's son.  It spoilt his walk with Cheriton, and made him reply
sharply to the latter's attempts at agreeable conversation.  Cheriton at
length left him at the old gamekeeper's; and while Mr Lester's
irritable accents were softened into kindly inquiries for the old
father, now pensioned off, he chatted to the son, at present in command,
who had been taking care of a terrier puppy for him.

Finding that Buffer, so called from his prevailing colour, was looking
strong and lively, Cheriton thought it would be as well to accustom him
to society, and took him back to the house.  He could not help wondering
what would become of Alvar when he was left alone at Oakby.  Another
fortnight would hardly be sufficient to give him any comfortable,
independent habits; how could he endure such deadly dulness as the life
there would bring him?  That fortnight would be lively enough, and there
would be his cousin, Rupert Lester, for an additional companion, and
another Miss Seyton, more attractive than Virginia, for an occasional
excitement.  If Alvar was so fascinating a person to young ladies, would
he--would she--?  An indefinite haze of questions pervaded Cheriton's
mind, and as he reckoned over the county beauties whom he could
introduce to Alvar, and whom he would surely admire more than just the
one particular beauty who had first occurred to his thoughts, he reached
the house.  He found his brothers and Nettie alone in the library, Alvar
sitting apart in the window, and looking out at the stormy sky.

"Hallo!" said Jack, "so you have brought Buffer up.  Well, he has grown
a nice little chap."

"Yes, I thought it was time he should begin his education.  Nice head,
hasn't he?  He is just like old Peggy."

"Yes, he'll be a very good dog some day."

"Set him down," said Bob; "let's have a look at him."

"Little darling!" said Nettie, enthusiastically.

Buffer was duly examined, and then, as Cherry turned to the fire to warm
himself, observing that it was colder than ever, began to play about the
room, while they entered on a discussion of the merits of all his
relations up to their dim recollection of his great-grandmother.

Buffer made himself much at home, poked about the room, and at last
crossed over to Alvar, who had sat on, unheeding his entrance.  Buffer
gave his trousers a gentle pull.  Alvar shook him off.  Here was another
tiresome little beast; then, just as Cherry crossed over to the window
in search of him, he made a dart at Alvar's foot and bit it sharply.
Alvar sprang up with a few vehement Spanish words, gave the little dog a
rough kick, and then dashed it away from him with a gesture of fierce
annoyance.  Buffer uttered a howl of pain.

"I say, that's too rough," exclaimed Cherry, snatching up the puppy,
which cried and moaned.

"But it bit me!" said Alvar, angrily.

"I believe you have killed him," said Cheriton.

"You cruel coward," cried Nettie, bursting into a storm of tears.

Alvar stood facing all the four, their blue eyes flashing scorn and
indignation; but, angry as they were, they were too practical to waste
time in reproaches.  Jack brought a light, and Bob, whose skill in such
matters equalled his literary incapacity, felt Buffer's limbs
scientifically.

"No ribs broken," he said; "he's bruised, though, poor little beggar!
Ah! he has put his shoulder out.  Now, Cherry, if your hand's going to
shake, give him to Jack.  I'll pull it in again."

"I can hold him steady," said Alvar, in a low voice.

"No, thank you," said Cherry, curtly, as Jack put a hand to steady his
hold, and the operation was performed amid piteous shrieks from Buffer.
Alvar had the sense to watch them in silence.  What had he done?  A kick
and a blow to any domestic animal was common enough in Spain.  And now
he had roused all this righteous indignation, and, far worse, offended
Cherry, and seen his distress at the little animal's suffering, and at
its cause.  Buffer was no sooner laid in Nettie's arms to be cossetted
and comforted, than he seized Cherry's hand.

"Ah, my brother!  I did not know the little dog was yours.  I would not
touch him--"

"What difference does that make?" said Cherry, shaking him off and
walking away.

"I shall keep _my_ dog out of his way," said Bob, contemptuously.

"I suppose Spaniards are savages," said Jack, in a tone of deadly
indignation.

"He'd better play a thousand guitars than hurt a poor little innocent
puppy!" said Nettie, half sobbing.

Alvar stood looking mournfully before him; his anger had died out; he
looked almost ready to cry with perplexity.

Cheriton turned round.  "I won't have a fuss made," he said.  "Take
Buffer upstairs to my room, and don't say a word to any one.  It can't
be helped."

"I know _who_ I shall never say a word to," said Nettie; but she obeyed,
followed by Jack and Bob.  Alvar detained Cheriton.

"Oh, my brother, forgive me.  I would have broken my own arm sooner than
see your eyes look at me thus.  It is with us a word and a blow.  I will
never strike any little beast again--never."

He looked so wretched that Cheriton answered reluctantly, "I don't mean
to say any more about it."

"But you are angry still?"

"No, I'm not angry.  I suppose you feel differently.  I hate to see
anything suffer."

"And I to see you suffer, my brother."

"I? nonsense!  I tell you that's nothing to do with it.  There, let it
drop.  I shall say no more."

He escaped, unable further to satisfy his brother, and went upstairs,
where Buffer had been put to bed comfortably.

"Did you ever know such a nasty trick in your life?" said Jack, as they
left the twins to watch the invalid's slumbers.

"Oh!" said Cherry, turning into his room, "it's all hopeless and
miserable.  We shall never come to any good--never!"

"Oh, come, come now, Cherry," said Jack, for once assuming the office of
consoler.  "Buffer'll do well enough; don't be so despairing."

Cheriton had much the brighter and serener nature of the two; but he was
subject to fits of reaction, when Jack's cooler temperament held its
own.

"It's not Buffer," he said, "it's Alvar!  How can one ever have any
brotherly feeling for a fellow like that?  He's as different as a Red
Indian!"

"It would be very odd and unnatural if you had much brotherly feeling
for him," said Jack.  "Why do you trouble yourself about him?"

"But he does seem to have taken a sort of fancy to me, and the poor
fellow's a stranger!"

"You're a great deal too soft about him.  Of course he likes you, when
you're always looking him up.  Don't be superstitious about it--he's
only our half-brother; and don't go down to tea looking like that, or
you'll have the governor asking what's the matter with you."

"Remember, I'll not have a word said about it," said Cheriton
emphatically.

Nothing was said publicly about it, but Alvar was made to feel himself
in disgrace, and endeavoured to re-ingratiate himself with Cherry with a
simplicity that was irresistible.  He asked humbly after Buffer's
health, and finally presented him with a silver chain for a collar.

When Buffer began to limp about on three legs, his tawny countenance
looking out above the silver engraved heart that clasped the collar with
the sentimental leer peculiar to puppyhood, the effect was sufficiently
ludicrous; but he forgave Alvar sooner than his brothers did, and
perhaps grateful for his finery, became rather fond of him.

CHAPTER NINE.

RUTH.

  "She has two eyes so soft and brown."

There was a little oak-panelled bedroom at Elderthwaite, which had been
called Ruth's ever since, as a curly-haired, brown-skinned child, the
little orphan cousin had come from her grandmother's in London and paid
a long visit in the North some five or six years before the winter's day
on which she now occupied it, when she came to be present at the
Lesters' ball.  She was a nut-brown maid still, with rough, curly hair
and great dark eyes, with curly, upturned lashes--eyes that were like
Virginia's in shape, colour, and fervour, but which glanced and gleamed
and melted after a fashion wholly their own.  She was slender and small,
and though with no wonderful beauty of feature or perfection of form,
whether she sat or stood she made a picture; all colours that she wore
became her, all scenes set off her peculiar grace.  Now, her brown
velvet dress, her rusty hair against the dark oak shutter, as she sat
crouched up in the window-seat, were a perfect "symphony in brown."

Ruth Seyton was an orphan, and lived with her grandmother, Lady
Charlton, a gentle, worldly old lady, whose great object was to see her
well married, and to steer her course safely through all the dangers
that might affect the course of a well-endowed and very attractive girl.
The scorn which Ruth felt for the shallow feelings and worldly notions
with which she was expected to enter on the question of her own future
was justifiable enough, and led to a violent reaction and to a fervour
of false romance.  Ruth had found her hero and formulated her view of
life, and the hero was Rupert Lester, whom she was about to meet at the
ball given in Alvar's honour, and between whom and herself lay the
memory of something more than a flirtation.

The theory was, that the hero once found, the grand passion once
experienced, was its own justification, itself the proof of depth of
character and worth of heart.  A girl who paused to consider her lover's
character or her friends' disapproval, when she had once given her heart
away, was a weak and cold-natured creature in her opinion.  She knew
that many difficulties lay between her and Rupert Lester, and she
gloried in the thought of how they should be overcome, rejoiced in her
own discrimination, which could see the difference between this real
passion and the worldly motives of some of her other admirers, or the
boyish fancy of Cheriton Lester, who talked to her about his brothers
and his occupations, and had room in his heart, so it seemed to her, for
a thousand lesser loves.  Ruth believed that she despised flirtation;
but there could be no harm in being pleasant to a boy she had known all
her life and whose attentions just now were so convenient.  Besides,
Cheriton was really very like his cousin Rupert, very like the
photograph which she now hid away as Virginia came in search of her.

The two cousins had been a great deal together at intervals and were
fond of each other, and Virginia knew something about Rupert; but Ruth
knew better than to give her full confidence on the subject.

"Well," she said, as her cousin entered, "and how does the world go with
you?  Do you see much of the Lesters?"

"Yes; while the frost lasted I used to go down to the ice with the boys,
and we met there.  Cheriton comes over here sometimes, and once he
brought his brother."

"What, the Spaniard?  How _do_ they manage?  Is he very queer?"

"Oh, no!  Of course he is very unlike the others.  Cherry gets on very
well with him.  I believe Mr Lester does not wish the boys to come here
much," added Virginia, abruptly.

"Well, it wasn't approved of in Roland's time," said Ruth.

"Were we always bad company?" said Virginia.  "I have had a great deal
to learn.  Why did you never make me understand better what Elderthwaite
was like?"

"But, Queenie," said Ruth cautiously, using a pet name of Virginia's
girlhood, "surely you _were_ told how tumbledown the place was, and how
stupid and behindhand everything would be.  Poor dear Uncle James ought
to have lived fifty years since."

"I don't believe that parish priests taught their people nothing but to
catch rats fifty years since," said Virginia, with a touch of the family
bitterness in her voice.  "Is it because papa is poor that the
men-servants get tipsy, and Dick and Harry are always after them?  Oh,
Ruth," suddenly softening, "I ought not to have said it, but the boys
aren't brought up well; and if you _saw_ how wretched the people in the
village are--and they look so wicked."

"Yes," said Ruth, as Virginia's tears silenced her, "but you know we
Seytons _are_ a bad lot.  We're born, they say, with a drop of bad blood
in us.  Look at Aunt Julia, _she_ was driven desperate and ran away--
small blame to her--when her lover's father forbade the match; but they
caught and stopped her.  After that she never cared what she did, and
just lived by making fun of things."

Virginia shuddered.  Could her lazy, sarcastic aunt have ever known the
thrillings and yearnings which were beating in her own heart now?

"There is not much fun in it," she said.  "No.  As for Dick, I don't
think much of him.  Poor old Roland was worth a dozen of him.  I don't
care what people _do_ as long as they _are_ something.  But Dick has no
fine feelings."

"Ruth," said Virginia, "I think I was not taught better for nothing.  I
am sure papa is very unhappy; he thinks how wrong everything is.  Poor
papa!  Grandpapa was such a bad father for him.  I cannot make friends
with Dick, and Harry will go back to school.  Indoors I have nothing to
do; but I am going to ask Uncle James, and then if I go to the cottages
and get the children together a little, perhaps it may be better than
nothing.  Old nurse says they all grow up bad.  Poor things, how can
they help it!"

"Well, Queenie," said Ruth dubiously, "I don't think the people are very
fit for you to go to.  I don't think Uncle Seyton would like it."

"I should not be afraid of them," said Virginia.  "It would be doing
something for papa, and doing good besides."

To think of her father as an involuntary victim to the faults of others
was the one refuge of Virginia's heart; his graceful, melancholy
gentleness had caught her fancy, and she was filled with a pity which,
however strange from a child to a father, vibrated in every tender
string of her nature.  On the other hand, all her notions of right were
outraged by the more obvious evils prevailing at Elderthwaite, and she
went through in those first weeks a variety of emotions, for which
action seemed the only cure.  She felt as if the sins of generations lay
on her father's shoulders, and she wanted to pull them on to her own--
wanted to stand in the deadly breach with the little weapon that her
small experience had put into her hand.  She wanted to teach a few poor
children, a thing that might only be a pleasant occupation or the most
commonplace of duties.  But it was turning her face right round on the
smooth slope the Seytons were treading, and trying to make a step up
hill.

Ruth did not think that first step would be easy, and would have liked
to see Virginia go downstairs in a somewhat less desperate humour, to
find her uncle chatting to Miss Seyton in the drawing-room.

"Ha, ha, Miss Ruth!  Come North just in time to make a conquest of the
fine Frenchman at Oakby."

"I thought he was a Spaniard, uncle," said Ruth.

"Eh, pretty much of a muchness, aren't they?  I've got a card for a
grand ball to go and see him.  Ha, ha!  I'd sooner see him with a red
coat on at Ashrigg meet next Thursday."

"But you must go to the ball, uncle, and dance with me," said Ruth.

"That's a bargain," said the jolly parson, striking his hands together.
"Any dance I like?"

"To be sure."

"Ah, mind you look out, then.  When you're sitting quiet with the
Frenchman you'll see your old uncle round the corner."

"I never dance with any one who doesn't know the _trois temps_, uncle."

"Bless my soul!  My favourite dance is the hornpipe, or old Sir Roger--
kiss the girls as you pop under.  That's an old parson's privilege, you
know."

All this time Virginia had been standing apart, working up her courage,
and now, regardless of the unities of conversation, and with a
now-or-never feeling, she began, her fresh young voice trembling and her
colour rising high.

"Uncle James, if you please.  I wanted to tell you I shall be very glad
to do anything to help you, if you will allow me."

"Help me, my dear?  Teach me the _troy tong_, or whatever Ruth calls
it?"

"To help you in the parish, uncle."

"Parish?  Ha, ha!  Do they have the pretty girls to read prayers in the
grand Ritualistic places nowadays?"

"I thought I might perhaps teach some of the children," faltered poor
Virginia through her uncle's peal of laughter.

"Teach?  We don't have many newfangled notions here, my dear.  Do your
wool-work, and dance your _troy tong_, and mind your own business."

"I have always been accustomed to do something useful," said Virginia,
gaining courage from indignation.

"Now look here, Virginia," said Parson Seyton emphatically.  "Don't you
go putting your finger into a pie you know nothing of.  There's not a
cottage in the place fit for a young lady to set her foot in.  There's a
vast deal too much of young women's meddling in these days; and as for
Elderthwaite, there's an old Methody, as they call him, who groans away
to the soberer folks, and comforts their hearts in his own fashion.
What could a chit of a lass like you do for them?  Go and captivate the
Frenchman with your round eyes--you've a grand pair of them--and give me
a kiss."

Parson Seyton put out his hand and drew her towards him.

"But, uncle," she stammered, yielding to the kiss in such utter
confusion of mind that she hardly knew what she was doing--"But, uncle,
do you _like_ that Methodist to--to attract the people?"

"Bless your heart, child, people must have their religion their own way.
They'd stare to hear _me_ convicting them of their sins.  `What's the
parson done with his own?' they'd ask.  But it comforts them like
blankets and broth, and it's little they get of either," with a side
glance at his sister; "so I take good care to keep out of the way.  I
told Cherry Lester I should go and hear him some Sunday afternoon.
`Hope it would do you good, parson,' says he, coolly.  Eh, he's a fine
lad.  What a confounded fool old Lester must think himself to have this
foreign fellow ready to step into his place."

"Are you and Cheriton as great friends as ever, uncle?" asked Ruth.

"Friends!  Oh, he's like Virginia here.  Wants to teach me a lesson now
and then.  Got me over last year to their grand meeting of clergy and
laity for educational purposes, and there I was up on the platform with
the best of them."

"Did you make a speech, uncle?" asked Ruth.

"I did, my lass, I did!  When they had quarrelled and disputed, and
couldn't by any means agree, some one asked my opinion, and I said, `My
lord,'--Lord--was there, you know,--`and my reverend brethren, having no
knowledge whatever of the subject, I have no opinion to give.'  And old
Thorold--he comes from the other side of the county, mind you,--remarked
that `Mr Seyton's old-fashioned wisdom might find followers with
advantage.'  Ha--ha--you should have seen Cherry's blue eyes down below
on the benches when I gave him a wink!  `Old-fashioned wisdom,' Miss
Virginia; don't you despise it."

"Hallo, uncle!" shouted Harry, putting his head in, "here's a fellow
come tearing up to say the wedding's waited an hour, and if the parson
isn't quick they'll do without him."

"Bless my soul, I forgot all about 'em.  Coming--coming--and I'll give
'em a couple of rabbits for the wedding dinner.  Virginia'll never ask
me to marry her, that's certain."  And off strode the parson, while poor
Virginia, scandalised and perplexed as she was, was fain, like every one
else, to laugh at him.

CHAPTER TEN.

THE OLD PARSON.

  "He gave not of that text a pulled hen
  That saith that hunters ben not holy men."

Perhaps no amount of angry opposition to her wishes could so have
perplexed Virginia as her uncle's _nonchalance_, which, whether cynical
or genial, seemed to remove him from the ranks of responsible beings,
and to make him a law unto himself.  When we read of young high-souled
martyrs, we are apt to fancy that their way was plain before them; that
however hard to their flesh, it was at least clear to their spirit; that
Agnes or Cecilia, however much afflicted by the wickedness of their
adversaries, were never perplexed by anything in them that was perhaps
not wicked.  Virginia Seyton was full of desires as pure, wishes as warm
to lead the higher life, was capable of as much "enthusiasm of humanity"
as any maiden who defied torture and death; but she was confronted by a
kind of difficulty that made her feel like a naughty girl; the means to
fulfil her purpose were open to so much objection that she could hardly
hold firmly to the end in view.  It may seem a very old difficulty, but
it came upon her as a startling surprise that so much evil could be
permitted by those who were not altogether devoid of good.  For she was
inclined to be sorry for this jolly, genial uncle, and not to wish to
vex him; while yet his every practice and sentiment was such as she had
been rightly taught to disapprove.

Anxious for a chance of settling her confused ideas, she slipped away by
herself, and went out into the muddy lanes, heedless of a fast-falling
shower.

The thaw had set in rapidly, and rich tints of brown, green, and yellow
succeeded to the cold whiteness of the snow on moor and hill-side.  A
thaw, when the snow has fairly gone, even in the depth of winter, has a
certain likeness to spring; the violent, buffeting wind was warm and
soft, and the sky, instead of one pale sheet of blue, showed every
variety of wild rain-cloud and driven mist.

Virginia plunged on through the mud with a perplexity in her soul as
blinding as the tears that rose and confused the landscape already
half-blotted out by wreaths of mountain mist.  Suddenly, as she turned a
corner, something bounced up against her, nearly knocking her down, and
a voice exclaimed,--

"Down, Rolla!  How dare you, sir!  Oh, dear me, how sorry I am! that
great brute has covered you with mud;" and Cheriton Lester, very muddy
himself, and holding by the neck an object hardly recognisable as
Buffer, appeared before her.

"I was very muddy before," said Virginia.  "Why, what has happened to
the puppy?"

"He fell into the ditch.  Nettie will wash him; it's her favourite
amusement.  I was coming up here to ask after a young fellow I know, who
works at this farm; he hasn't been going on very well lately."

"I suppose you know every one in Oakby," said Virginia, abruptly.

"Pretty well," answered Cherry.  "I couldn't help doing so."

"I should like to know the people in Elderthwaite," said Virginia.

"It would be a very good thing for some of them if you did."

"Ah!" she said, suddenly, "but Uncle James will not let me do so."

"Ah!" said Cherry, with an inflection in his voice that Virginia did not
understand.  Then he added quickly, "What did you want to do?"

"I wanted," said Virginia, moved, she hardly knew why, to confidence as
they walked on side by side, "to go to the cottages sometimes, and
perhaps teach some of the children.  Don't you think it would be right?"

"I think it would hardly do for you to go about at haphazard among the
cottagers."

"But why?  I am used to poor people," said Virginia.

Her sentences were short, because she was afraid of letting her voice
tremble; but she looked at him earnestly, and how could he tell her that
many of the people whom she wished to benefit owed her family grudges
deep enough to make her unwelcome within their walls, how betray to her
that the revelations they might make to her would affect her relations
to her own family more than she could hope to affect their lives in
return.  But Cheriton was never deaf to other people's troubles, and he
answered with great gentleness--

"Because we're a rough set up here in the North, and they would scarcely
understand your kind motives.  But the children--I wish you could get
hold of them!  I do wish something could be done for them.  What did the
old parson say to you?"

"He said he didn't approve of education."

"Oh, that's no matter at all!  I declare I think I see how you might do
it, and we'll make the parson hunt up a class for you himself!  What!
you don't believe me?  You will see.  Could you go down to the vicarage
on Sunday mornings?"

"Oh, yes! but Uncle James--"

"Oh, I'll make him come round.  They might send over some benches from
Oakby, and the children would do very well in the vicarage hall."

"But, Cheriton," exclaimed the astonished Virginia, "you can't _know_
what my uncle said about it!"

"He said, `Eh, they're a bad lot.  No use meddling with them,' didn't
he?" said Cheriton, in the very tone of the old parson.

"Something like it."

"Never mind.  He would like to see them a better lot in his heart, as
well as you or I would."

"Ruth says he is really very kind," said Virginia; "and I think he means
to be."

"Ah, yes, your cousin knows all our odd ways, you know.  She is with
you?"

"Yes, she came yesterday."

"Ah! she knows that he _is_ a very kind old boy.  He loves every stone
in Elderthwaite, and you would be surprised to find how fond some of the
people are of him.  Now I'll go and see him, and come and tell you what
he says.  May I?"

"To be sure," said Virginia, "and perhaps then Aunt Julia will not
object."

"Oh, no, not to this plan," said Cherry.  He called Rolla, and went in
search of the parson.

Cherry liked management; it was partly the inheritance of his father's
desire for influence, and partly his tender and genial nature, which
made him take so much interest in people as to enjoy having a finger in
every pie.  As he walked along, he contrived every detail of his plan.

Jack was wont to observe that Elderthwaite was a blot on the face of the
earth, and a disgrace to any system, ecclesiastical or political, that
rendered it possible.  But then Jack was much devoted to his young
house-master, and wrote essays for his benefit, one of which was
entitled, "On the Evils inherent in every existing Form of Government,"
so that he felt it consistent to be critical.  Cheriton had a soft spot
in his heart for a long existing form of anything.

He soon arrived at the vicarage, a picturesque old house, built half of
stone and half of black and white plaster.  It was large, with great
overgrown stables and farm-buildings, all much out of repair.  Cheriton
found the parson sitting in the old oak dining-room before a blazing
fire, smoking his pipe.  Some remains of luncheon were on the table, and
the parson was evidently enjoying a glass of something hot after it.
Cheriton entered with little ceremony.

"How d'ye do, Parson?" he said.

"Ha, Cherry! how d'ye do, my lad?  Sit down and have some lunch.  What
d'ye take? there's a glass of port in the sideboard."

"Thanks, I'd rather have a glass of beer and some Stilton," said Cherry,
seating himself.

As he spoke, a little bit of an old woman came in with some cold
pheasant and a jug of beer, which she placed before him.  She was
wrinkled up almost to nothing, but her steps were active enough, and she
had lived with Parson Seyton all his life.

"Ay, Deborah knows your tastes.  And what do you want of me?"

"I want to give you a lecture, Parson," said Cherry coolly.

"The deuce you do?  Out with it, then."

"Virginia has been telling me that you will not let her teach the little
kids on a Sunday."

"Bless my soul, Cheriton! d'ye think I'm going to let the girl run all
over the place and hear tales of her father and brothers, and may be of
myself into the bargain?"

"No," said Cherry; "but you ought to be very much obliged to her,
Parson.  It's a shame to see those little ruffians.  Now you're going to
call on half-a-dozen decentish people and tell them to send their
children down here of a Sunday morning at ten o'clock.  Virginia will
teach them in the hall.  I'll get them to send over a couple of forms
from Oakby.  Don't let her begin with above a dozen, and don't have any
big boys at first.  Deborah might give them a bit of cake now and again
to make the lessons go down.  What do you say?"

"I say you're the coolest hand in Westmoreland, and enough to wile the
flounders out of the frith!" said the old parson, as Cherry peeped at
him over his shoulder to see the effect of his words.

"What are we coming to?"

"A model school, perhaps."

"And a model parson.  Eh, Cherry, these enlightened days can't do with
the old lot much longer."

"Oh, you're moving with the times," said Cherry, as he came and stood
with his back to the fire, looking down at the parson as he filled his
pipe, and smiling at him.  Perhaps no other being in the world could
have got Parson Seyton to consent to such an innovation, but he loved
Cheriton Lester, who little knew how much self-respect the allegiance of
his high-principled, promising youth was worth to the queer old sporting
parson.  One atom of pretence or of priggishness in a well-conducted
correct young man would have been of all things odious to him, but the
shrewd old man believed in Cheriton to the backbone, and of all the
admiration and affection that the popular young man had won perhaps none
did him so much credit as the love that made him a sort of good angel to
rough Parson Seyton.

"You got my best dog out of me when I gave you Rolla," he said, "so I
suppose you'll have your own way now."

"And it'll turn out quite as well as Rolla," said Cherry rather
illogically.

Parson Seyton set about fulfilling his promise after a manner of his
own.

He rapped with his dog-whip at a cottage door and thus addressed the
mother:--

"Eh, Betty, there's a grand new start in Elderthwaite.  Here's Miss
Virginia going to turn all the children into first-rate scholars.  Wash
them up and send them over to my house on Sunday morning, and I'll give
a penny to the cleanest, and a licking to any one that doesn't mind his
manners."

If Parson Seyton had been a school-board visitor he could hardly have
put the matter more plainly, and on the whole could hardly have adopted
language more likely to be effectual.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

ALVAR CONFIDENTIAL.

  "He talked of daggers and of darts,
  Of passions and of pains."

The rain had ceased, and long pale rays of sunshine were streaming
through the mist as Cheriton made his way through a very dilapidated
turnstile and across a footpath much in need of drainage towards
Elderthwaite House.  As he came up through the overgrown shrubberies he
saw in front of him a small fur-clothed figure, and his colour deepened
and his heart beat faster as he recognised Ruth.  He had been thinking
that he should see her ever since his promise to Virginia, but he had
not expected to meet her out-of-doors on so wet a day, and he had hardly
a word to say as he lifted his hat and came up to her.  She was less
discomposed, perhaps less astonished.

"Ah! how do you do?" she said.  "Do you know when I saw some one coming
I hoped it might be your new brother.  I am _so_ curious to see him."

"He is not a bit like any of us," said Cherry.

"No?  That would be a change, for all you Lesters are so exactly alike."

Ruth had a way of saying saucy things in a soft serious voice, with
grave eyes just ready to laugh.  Cheriton and she had had many a passage
of arms together, and now he rallied his forces and answered,--

"Being new, of course he'll be charming.  Rupert and Jack and I will
know all our partners are longing for him.  But as he can only dance
with one young lady at a time, in the intervals I shall hope--I am much
improved in my waltzing--just to get a turn."

"Really improved--at last?" said Ruth; then suddenly changing to
sympathy--"But isn't it very strange for you all?  How do you get on?
How do _you_ like him?"

"Oh, he isn't half a bad fellow, and we're excellent friends."

"That's very good of you.  Now I have such a bad disposition that if I
were in your place I should be half mad with jealousy."

Cheriton laughed incredulously.

"I daresay you would stroke us all down the right way.  Rupert says he
feels as if he were lighting his cigar in a powder-magazine.  But they
get on very well, and Grace and Mary Cheriton think him perfectly
charming."

"I think I shall come to the ball in a mantilla.  But have you done
anything for poor Virginia?"

"Oh, yes; the old parson only wanted a little explanation," said Cherry,
quite carelessly enough to encourage Ruth in adding earnestly,--

"It is _so_ good of her to want to help these poor people.  Queenie is
like a girl in a book.  I really think she likes disagreeable duties."

"I am sure you, who can sympathise with Virginia and yet know all the
troubles, will be able to make it smooth for her.  I wish you would."

"Ah, but I am not nearly so good as Virginia," said Ruth--a perfectly
true statement, which she herself believed.  Whether she expected
Cheriton to believe it was a different matter.

Alvar had no excuse now for finding Oakby dull; the house was full of
people, Lady Cheriton and her daughters were enchanted with his music,
and he brightened up considerably and was off Cheriton's mind, so that
nothing spoilt the radiance of enjoyment that transfigured all the
commonplace gaiety into a fairy dream.  The younger ones found the times
less good.  Jack was shy and bored by fine people, Bob hated his dress
clothes, Nettie was teased by Rupert, who varied between treating her as
a Tomboy and flattering her as an incipient beauty, and thought her
grandmother's restrictions to white muslin and blue ribbons hard.  But
Mrs Lester had no notion of letting her forestall her career as a
county beauty.

When Cheriton came back from Elderthwaite he found the whole party by
the hall fire in the full tide of discussion and chatter, Nettie on the
rug with Buffer in her arms complaining of the white muslin.

"Sha'n't I look horrid, Rupert?"

"Frightful; but as you'll be sure to bring Buffer into the ball-room
he'd tear anything more magnificent."

"I sha'n't bring in Buffer!  Rupert, what an idea!  He'll be shut up,
poor darling!  But at least I may turn up my hair, and I shall.  I'm
quite tall enough."

"Turn your hair up?  Don't you do anything of the sort, Nettie.  Little
girls are fashionable, and yellow manes and muslin frocks will carry the
day against wreaths and silk dresses.  You let your hair alone, and then
people will know it's all real by-and-by."

"Well, I'd much rather turn it up," said Nettie simply.

"Well, perhaps I would," said Rupert.  "Fellows might say you let it
down on purpose."

Rupert conveyed a great deal of admiration of the golden locks in his
tone, but Nettie, though vain enough, was insensible to veiled flattery.

"Plait it up, Nettie," said Cherry briefly.

"If anybody thought I did such a nasty, mean, affected thing as that I'd
never speak to him again.  _Never_!  I'd cut it all off sooner," cried
Nettie.

"Young ladies' hair does come down sometimes," said Rupert; "when it's
long enough."

"Mine _never_ shall," said Nettie emphatically.

"Don't do it yourself, then," said Cherry.

"If Nettie ever takes to horrid, affected, flirting ways," said Jack,
who had joined the party, "I for one shall have nothing more to say to
her."

"You don't admire flirts, Jack?" said Rupert.

"I don't approve of them," said Jack crossly.

"Oh, come, come, now, Jack, that's very severe."

"Poor Jack!" said Cherry; "he speaks from personal experience.  There
was that heartless girl last summer, who, after hours of serious
conversation with him, went off to play croquet with Tom Hubbard, and
gave him a moss-rose-bud.  Poor Jack! it was a blow; he can't recover
from it!  It has affected all his views of life, you see."

"Poor fellow!" said Rupert, as Jack forcibly stopped Cherry's mouth;
"I'd no notion it was a personal matter.  Will she be at the ball?"

"No; you see, we avoided asking her."

"Cherry!" interposed the disgusted Jack, "how can you go on in this way!
It's all his humbug, Rupert."

This serious denial produced, of course, shouts of laughter--in the
midst of which Alvar entered and joined himself to the group round the
fire as they waited for the arrival of some friends of Cheriton's.

"And what have you been about?" asked Cherry.

"I have been singing with your cousins.  Ah, it is pleasant when there
are those who like music!"

"You found all these fellows awful savages, didn't you?" said Rupert.

Alvar turned his great dark eyes on Cheriton with the same sort of
expression with which Rolla was wont to watch him.

"Ah, no," he said; "my brother is not a savage.  But I do like young
ladies."

"But I thought," said Rupert, "that in Spain young ladies were always
under a duenna, so that there was no chance of an afternoon over the
piano?"

"But I assure you Miladi Cheriton was present," said Alvar seriously.

"Oh, that alters the question!" said Rupert.  "But come, now, we have
been hearing Jack's views--let us have your confessions.  Is the duenna
_always_ there, Alvar?"

"Here is my sister," said Alvar, with the oddest sort of simplicity, and
yet with a tone that conveyed a sort of reproach to Rupert and--for the
first time--of proprietorship in Nettie.

Rupert burst into a shout of laughter: "My dear fellow, what are you
going to tell us?"

"She is a young girl; surely even here you do not say everything to
her?" said Alvar, looking perplexed.

"By Jove, no!" said Rupert; "not exactly."

"Since Nettie is here, we should not have asked you to tell us anything
we did not wish her to hear," said Cheriton, with a sense of annoyance
that Alvar should be laughed at.

"_You_ did not ask me," said Alvar quietly.

At this moment Bob called Nettie so emphatically, that she was obliged
unwillingly to go away.

"Now then, Alvar," said Rupert, "now for it.  We won't be shocked.  Tell
us how you work the duennas."

"It would not have been well to explain that to Nettie," said Alvar
seriously.

"Why not?" said Jack, suddenly boiling up.  "Do you think _she_ would
ever cheat or want a duenna?  English girls can always be trusted!"

"_Can_ they?" said Rupert.  "Shut up, Jack; you don't understand.  We
only want you to tell us how you do in Spain.  _Affaires du coeur_--you
know, Alvar."

Alvar looked round with an air half-shrewd, half-sentimental; while
Cheriton listened a little seriously.  He knew very little of Alvar's
former life; perhaps because he had been too reticent to ask him
questions; perhaps because Alvar found himself in the presence of a
standard higher than he was accustomed to.  Anyway, Nettie might have
heard his present revelations.

"There was a time," he said, sighing, "when I did not intend to come to
England--when I had sworn to be for ever a Spaniard.  Ah, my cousin, if
you had seen my Luisa, you would not have wondered.  I sang under her
window; I went to mass that I might gaze on her."

"Did you now?  Foreign customs!" interposed Rupert; while Cherry
laughed, though he felt they were hardly treating Alvar fairly.

"I knew not how to speak to her.  She was never alone; and it was
whispered that she was already betrothed.  But one day she dropped her
fan."

"No, no--surely?" said Cherry.

"I seized it, I kissed it, I held it to my heart," said Alvar, evidently
enjoying the narration, "and I returned it.  There were looks between
us--then words.  Ah, I lived in her smiles.  We met, we exchanged vows,
and I was happy!"

Rupert listened to this speech with amusement, which he could hardly
stifle.  It was inexpressibly ludicrous to Cheriton; but the fun was
lost in the wonder whether Alvar meant what he said.  This was neither
like the joking sentiment nor the pretended indifference of an
Englishman's reference to such passages in his life; yet the memory
evidently cost Alvar no pain.  Jack sat, looking totally disgusted.

"At last," Alvar went on, "we were discovered.  Ah, and then my
grandfather was enraged, and her parents, they refused their consent,
since she was betrothed already.  I am an Englishman, and I do not weep
when I am grieved, but my heart was a stone.  I despaired."

"She must have been a horrid little flirt not to tell you she was
engaged," said Jack.

"She did not know it till we had met," said Alvar.

"What awful tyranny!"

"Ah, and she was your only love!" sighed Rupert.

"No," said Alvar simply, "I have loved others; but she was the most
beautiful.  But I submitted, and now I forget her!"

"Hm--the truest wisdom," said Rupert.

Cherry was growing angry.  He did not think that Rupert had any business
to make fun of Alvar, and he was in a rage with Alvar for making himself
ridiculous.  That Alvar should tell a true love-tale with sentimental
satisfaction to an admiring audience, or sigh over a flirtation which
ought to have been a good joke, was equally distasteful to him.  He
burst out suddenly, with all his Lester bluntness, and in a tone which
Alvar had hitherto heard only from Jack,--

"If you fellows are not all tired of talking such intolerable nonsense,
I am.  It's too bad of you," with a sharp look at Rupert.  "I don't see
that it's any affair of ours."

"You're not sympathetic," said Rupert, as he moved away; for he was
quite familiar enough with his cousins for such giving and taking.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE OAKBY BALL.

  "She went to the ball, and she danced with the handsome prince."

That week of gaiety, so unusual to Oakby, was fraught with great
results.  The dim and beautiful dream of the future which had grown with
Cheriton Lester's growth became a definite purpose.  Ruth Seyton was his
first love, almost his first fancy.  Whatever other sentiments and
flirtations had come across him, had been as light as air; he had loved
Ruth ever since he had taught her to ride, and since she had tried to
teach him to dance.  He had always found her ready to talk to him of the
thoughts and aspirations which found no sympathy at home, and still more
ready to tease him about them.  She was part of the dear and sacred home
affections, the long accustomed life which held so powerful a sway over
him, and she was besides a wonderful and beautiful thing, peculiar to
himself, and belonging to none of the others.

He had not seen her since the season when he had met her in town with
Virginia; he did not know very much really about her, but she was kind
and gracious to him, and he walked about in a dream of bliss which made
every commonplace duty and gaiety delightful.  Ruth was mixed up in it
all, it was all in her honour; and though Cheriton's memory at this time
was not to be depended on, he had spirits for any amount of the hard
work of preparation, and a laugh for every disagreeable.

He regarded his tongue as tied till after he had taken his degree in the
summer--he hoped with credit; after which his prospects at the bar with
Judge Cheriton's interest, were somewhat less obscure than those of most
young men.  He had inherited some small fortune from his mother, and
though he could not consider himself a brilliant match for Miss Seyton,
he would then feel himself justified in putting his claims forward.
Many spoke with admiration of the entire absence of jealousy which made
him take the second place so easily; but Cheriton hardly deserved the
praise, he had no room in his mind to think of himself at all.

His cousin Rupert was a more recent acquaintance of Ruth's, though
matters had gone much further between them.  His attentions had not been
encouraged by her grandmother, as, though his fortune was far superior
to anything Cheriton possessed, his affairs were supposed to be
considerably involved, and this was so far true, that it would have been
very inconvenient to him to lay them open to inquiry at present.  He
hoped, however, in the course of a few months to be able so to arrange
them, as to make it possible to apply to Ruth Seyton's guardians for
their consent.

Rupert was a lively, pleasant fellow, with a considerable regard for his
Oakby cousins, though he had never considered it necessary to regulate
his life by the Oakby standard, or concerned himself greatly with its
main principles.  His life in the army had of course been quite apart
from Cheriton's at school and college, and the latter did not care to
realise how far the elder cousin, once a model in his eyes, had grown
away from him.  Nor did he regard him as a rival.

Ruth gave smiles and dances to himself, and he little guessed that while
he did his duty joyously in other directions, looking forward to his
next word with her, she had given his cousin a distinct promise, and
engaged to keep it secret till such time as he chose to ask for her
openly.  Perhaps Rupert could not be expected to scruple at such a step,
when he knew how entirely Ruth had managed her affairs for herself in
all her intercourse with him.

And as for Ruth she rejoiced in the chance of making a sacrifice to
prove her love; and whether the sacrifice was of other people's
feelings, her own ease and comfort, or of any little trifling scruples
of conscience, ought, she considered, to be equally unimportant.  "Love
must still be lord of all," but the love that loves honour more was in
her eyes weak and unworthy.  Faults in the hero only proved the strength
of his manhood; faults in herself were all condoned by her love.

Ruth was clever enough to put into words the inspiring principles of a
great many books that she read, and a great deal of talk that she heard,
and vehement enough to act up to it.  Rupert, who had no desire to be at
all unlike other people, had little notion of the glamour of enthusiasm
with which Ruth plighted him her troth at Oakby.

The Lesters had expended much abuse on the morning of their ball on the
blackness of the oak-panels, which no amount of wax candles would
overcome but what was lost in gaiety was gained in picturesqueness, and
the Oakby ball, with its handsome hosts and its distinguished company,
was long quoted as the prettiest in the neighbourhood.  Perhaps it owed
no little of its charm to the one in whose honour it was given.  Alvar
in society was neither silent nor languid; he was a splendid dancer, and
played the host with a foreign grace that enchanted the ladies, old and
young.  At the dinner-party the night before he had been silent and
stately, evidently fearing to commit himself before the country
gentlemen and county grandees, who were such strange specimens of
humanity to him; but with their daughters it was different, and those
were happy maidens who danced with the stranger.  He was of course duly
instructed whom he was thus to honour, but he found time to exercise his
own choice, and Virginia was conscious that he paid her marked
attention.

Why waste more words?  She had found her fate, and softened with home
troubles, attracted by the superiority of the Lesters, and dazzled with
the charm of a manner and appearance never seen before, yet suiting all
her girlish dreams of heroic perfection, she was giving her heart away
to the last man whose previous training or present character was likely
really to accord with her own.

Though she had never been an acknowledged beauty, she could often look
beautiful, and the subtle excitement of half-conscious triumph was not
wanting to complete the charm.

"There never had been such a pleasant ball," said Cheriton the next
morning, as he was forced to hurry away to Oxford without a chance of
discussing its delights.

"It is indeed possible to dance in England," said Alvar.

"I think we made it out very well," said Rupert, with a smile under his
moustaches.

"There are balls--and balls," said Ruth to her cousin.  "You don't
always have black oak, or black Spanish eyes, eh, Queenie? or some other
things?"

And Virginia blushed and said nothing.

Nettie, after all, had rejoiced in the partners of which her white frock
and plaited hair had not defrauded her (she never should forgive her
hair for coming down in Rupert's very sight in the last waltz).  Jack
had not been so miserable as he expected; and Alvar found that it was
possible to enjoy life in England, and that the position awaiting him
there was not to be despised, even in the face of parting from his
beloved Cheriton.

Rupert by no means considered Alvar as an amusing companion, nor Oakby
in the dull season an amusing place, but it suited him now to spend his
leave there, and suited him also to be intimate at Elderthwaite.
Consequently he encouraged Alvar to make excuses for going there, and
certainly in finding some interests to supply Cheriton's place.  He
cultivated Dick Seyton, who was of an age to appreciate a grown-up man's
attentions, so that altogether there was more intercourse between the
two houses than had taken place since the days of Roland.

Ruth was paying a long visit at Elderthwaite.  One of her aunts--her
grandmother's youngest and favourite child--was in bad health, and Lady
Charlton was glad to spend some time with her and to be free from the
necessity of chaperoning her granddaughter.  The arrangement suited Ruth
exactly.  She could make Elderthwaite her head-quarters, pay several
visits among friends in the north, and find opportunities of meeting
Rupert, whose regiment was stationed at York, and who was consequently
within reach of many north-country gaieties.

For the present no gaieties were needed by either to enliven the wintry
woods of Elderthwaite; they were as fairy land to the little brown
maiden who, among their bare stems and withered ferns found, as she
believed, the very flower of life, and had no memory for the bewitching
smiles, the soft, half-sentimental laughter, the many dances, and the
preference hardly disguised which were the food of Cheriton's memory,
and gave him an object which lightened every uncongenial task.  These
little wiles had effectually prevented every one from guessing the real
state of the case.  Rupert's difficulty was that he never could be sure
how far Alvar was unsuspicious.  There was a certain blankness in his
way of receiving remarks, calculated to prevent suspicion, which might
proceed from entire innocence, or from secret observation which he did
not choose to betray.  But he was always willing to accompany Rupert to
Elderthwaite, and in Cheriton's absence found Virginia by far his most
congenial companion.

The amount of confidence already existing between Ruth and her cousin
really rendered the latter unsuspicious, and ready to further
intercourse with Rupert, believing Ruth to be in a doubtful state of
mind, half encouraging, and half avoiding his attentions.  And Ruth was
very cautious; she never allowed Rupert to monopolise her during his
ostensible visits, and if any one at Elderthwaite guessed at their
stolen interviews, it was certainly not Virginia.

The scheme of the Sunday class had answered pretty well.  Virginia knew
how to teach, and though her pupils were rough, the novelty of her grace
and gentleness made some impression on them.

The parson did not interfere with her, and it never occurred to her that
he was within hearing, till one Sunday, as she tried to tell them the
simplest facts in language sufficiently plain to be understood, and
sufficiently striking to be interesting, and felt, by the noise on the
back benches, that she was entirely failing to do so, a head appeared at
the dining-room door, and a stentorian voice exclaimed,--

"Bless my soul, you young ruffians; is this the way to behave to Miss
Seyton?  If any lad can't show respect to a lady in my house, out he'll
go, and, by George he won't come in again."

This unwonted address produced an astonished silence; but it frightened
the teacher so much more than her class, that her only resource was to
call on the more advanced ones with great solemnity "to say their hymn
to the vicar."

Parson Seyton straightened himself up, and listened in silence to--

"There is a green hill far away," stumbled through in the broadest
Westmoreland; and when it was over, remarked,--

"Very pretty verses.  Lads and lasses, keep your feet still and attend
to Miss Seyton, and--_mind_--I can hear ye," a piece of information with
which Virginia at any rate could well have dispensed.

But she was getting used to her rough uncle, and was grateful to
Cheriton for the advice that he had given her, and so she told Alvar one
day when they were all walking down to the vicarage, with the ostensible
purpose of showing Nettie some enormous mastiff puppies, the pride of
the vicar's heart.

In the absence of her own brothers Nettie found Dick Seyton an amusing
companion, "soft" though he might be; she began by daring him to jump
over ditches as well as she could, and ended by finding that he roused
in her unsuspected powers of repartee.  Nettie found the Miss Ellesmeres
dull companions; they were a great deal cleverer than she was, and
expected her to read story books, and care about the people in them.
Rupert and Dick found that her ignorance made her none the less amusing,
and took care to tell her so.

So everything combined to make intercourse easy; and this was not the
first walk that the six young people had taken together.

"Your brother," said Virginia to Alvar, "was very kind to me.  I should
never have got on so well but for his advice."

"My brother is always kind," said Alvar, his eyes lighting up.  "I
cannot tell you how well I love him."

"I am sure you do," said Virginia heartily, though unable to help
smiling.

"But in what was it that he helped you?" asked Alvar.

Virginia explained how he had persuaded her uncle to agree to her wishes
about teaching the children.

"To teach the ignorant?" said Alvar.  "Ah, that is the work of a saint!"

"Oh, no!  I like doing it.  It is nothing but what many girls can do
much better."

"Ah, this country is strange.  In Spain the young ladies remain at home.
They go nowhere but to mass.  If my sister were in Spain she would not
jump over the ditches, nor run after the dogs," glancing at Nettie, who
was inciting Rolla to run for a piece of stick.

"Do you think us very shocking?" said Virginia demurely.

"Nay," said Alvar.  "These are your customs, and I am happy since they
permit me the honour of walking by your side, and talking with you.
You, like my brother, are kind to the stranger."

"But you must leave off calling yourself a stranger.  You too _are_
English; can you not feel yourself so?"

"Yes, I am an Englishman," said Alvar.  "See, if I stay here, I have
money and honour.  My father speaks to me of a `position in the county.'
That is to be a great man as I understand it.  Nor are there parties
here to throw down one person, and then another.  In Spain, though not
less noble, we are poor, and all things change quickly, and I shall not
stay always here in Oakby.  I am going to London, and I see that I can
make for myself a life that pleases me."

"Yet you love Spain best?"

"I love Spain," said Alvar, "the sunshine and the country; but I am no
Spaniard.  No, I stayed away from England because it was my belief that
my father did not love me.  I was wrong.  I have a right to be here; it
was my right to come here long ago, and my right I will not give up!"

He drew himself up with an indescribable air of _hauteur_ for a moment,
then with sudden softness,--

"And who was it that saw that right and longed for me to come, who
opened his heart to me?  It was Cheriton, my brother.  He has explained
much to me, and says if I learn to love England it will make him happy.
And I will love it for his sake."

"I hope so; soon you will not find it so dull."

"Nay, it is not now so dull.  Have I not the happiness of your sympathy?
Could I be dull to-day?" said Alvar, with his winning grace.

Virginia blushed, and her great eyes drooped, unready with a reply.

"And there is your cousin," she said, shyly; "he is a companion; don't
you think him like Cheriton?"

"Yes, a little; but Cheriton is like an angel, though he will not have
me say so; but Rupert, he has the devil in his face.  But I like him--he
is a nice fellow--very nice," said Alvar, the bit of English idiom
sounding oddly in his foreign tones.

Virginia laughed, spite of herself.

"Ah, I make you laugh," said Alvar.  "I wish I had attended more to my
English lessons; but there was a time when it was not my intention to
come to England, and I did not study.  I am not like Cheriton and Jack,
I do not love to study.  It is very pleasant to smoke, and to do
nothing; but I see it is not the custom here, and it is better, I think,
to be like my brother."

"Some people are rather fond of smoking and doing nothing even in
England."

"It is a different sort of doing nothing.  I hear my father or Cheriton
rebuke Bob for doing nothing; but then he is out of doors with some
little animal in a bag--his ferret, I think it is called--to catch the
rats; or he runs and gets hot; that is what he calls doing nothing."

There was a sort of _bonhommie_ in Alvar's way of describing himself and
his surroundings, and a charm in his manner which, added to a pair of
eyes full of fire and expression, and a great deal of implied admiration
for herself, produced no small effect on Virginia.

She saw that he was affectionate and ready to recognise the good in his
brothers, and she knew that he had been deprived of his due share of
home affection.  She did not doubt that he was willing himself to do and
to be all that he admired; and then--he was not boyish and blunt like
his brothers, nor so full of mischief as Cheriton, nor with that
indescribable want of something that made her wonder at Rupert's charm
in the eyes of Ruth; she had never seen any one like him.

She glanced up in his face with eyes that all unconsciously expressed
her thoughts, and as he turned to her with a smile they came up to the
vicarage garden, at the gate of which stood Parson Seyton talking to Mr
Lester, who was on horseback beside him.

"Ha, squire," said the parson, "Monsieur Alvar is a dangerous fellow
among the lasses.  Black eyes and foreign ways have made havoc with
hearts all the world over."

Mr Lester looked towards the approaching group.  Virginia's delicate
face, shy and eager under drooping feathers, and the tall, slender
Alvar, wearing his now scrupulously English morning suit with a grace
that gave it a picturesque appropriateness, were in front.  Ruth and
Rupert lingered a little, and Nettie came running up from behind, with
Rolla after her, and Dick Seyton lazily calling on her to stop.  Mr
Lester looked at his son, and a new idea struck him.

"I wish Alvar to make acquaintances," he said.  "Nothing but English
society can accustom him to his new life."

Here Alvar saw them, and raised his hat as he came up.

"Have you had a pleasant walk, Alvar?" said his father, less stiffly
than usual.

"It has been altogether pleasant, sir," said Alvar, "since Miss Seyton
has been my companion."

Virginia blushed, and went up to her uncle with a hasty question about
the puppies that Nettie was to see, and no one exchanged a remark on the
subject; but that night as they were smoking, Rupert rallied Alvar a
little on the impression he was making.

Alvar did not misunderstand him; he looked at him straight.

"I had thought," he said, "that it was here the custom to talk with
freedom to young ladies.  I see it is your practice, my cousin."

"Yes, yes.  Besides, I'm an old friend, you see.  Of course it is the
custom; but consequences sometimes result from it--pity if they didn't."

"But it may be," said Alvar, "that as my father's son, it is expected
that I should marry if it should be agreeable to my father?"

"Possibly," said Rupert, unable to resist trying experiments.  "Fellows
with expectations have to be careful, you know."

"I thank you," said Alvar.  "But I do not mistake a lady who has been
kind to me, or I should be a coxcomb.  Good-night, my cousin."

"Good-night," said Rupert, feeling somewhat baffled, and a little angry;
for, after all, he had been perfectly right.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

TWO SIDES OF A QUESTION.

  "Love me and leave me not."

The hill that lay between Oakby and Elderthwaite was partly covered by a
thick plantation of larches, through which passed a narrow footpath.  In
the summer, when the short turf under the trees was dry and sweet, when
the blue sky peeped through the wide-spreading branches, and rare green
ferns and blue harebells nestled in the low stone walls, the larch wood
was a favourite resort; but in the winter, when the moorland winds were
bleak and cold rather than fresh and free, when the fir-trees moaned and
howled dismally instead of responding like harps to the breezes, before,
in that northern region, one "rosy plumelet tufted the larch," or one
lamb was seen out on the fell side, it was a dreary spot enough.

All the more undisturbed had it been, and therefore all the more
suitable for the secret meetings of Rupert and Ruth.  Matters had not
always run smooth between them.  An unacknowledged tie needs faith and
self-restraint if it is to sit easily; and at their very last parting
Rupert expressed enough jealousy at the remembrance of Cheriton's
attentions to make Ruth furious at the implied doubt of her faith,
forgetting that _she_ was miserable if he played with Nettie, or talked
for ten minutes to Virginia.

Rupert insisted that "Cherry meant mischief."  Ruth vehemently asserted
"that it wasn't in him to mean;" and after something that came
perilously near a quarrel, she broke into a flood of tears, and they
parted with renewed protestations of inviolable constancy, and amid
hopes of chance meetings in the course of the spring.

Ruth fled away through the copses to Elderthwaite feeling as if life
would be utterly blank and dark till their next meeting; and Rupert
strolled homeward, thinking much of Ruth, and not best pleased to meet
his uncle coming back from one of his farms, and evidently inclined to
be sociable; for Rupert, as compared with Alvar, had an agreeable
familiarity.

Mr Lester, though he had held as little personal intercourse with Alvar
as the circumstances of the case permitted, had hardly ceased, since he
came home, to think of his future, and that with a conscientious effort
at justice and kindness.  He still felt a personal distaste to Alvar,
which ruffled his temper, and often made him less than civil to him; but
none the less did he wish his eldest son's career to be creditable and
fortunate, nor desire to see him adapt himself to the pursuits likely to
be required of him.  He made a few attempts to instruct him and interest
him in the county politics, the requirements of the estate, and the
necessities of the parish; but Alvar, it must be confessed, was very
provoking.  He was always courteous, but he never exerted his mind to
take in anything that was strange to him, and would say, with a shrug of
his shoulders and a smile, "Ah, these are the things that I do not
understand;" or, as he picked up the current expressions, "It is not in
my line to interest myself for the people," with a _naivete_ that
refused to recognise any duty one way or the other.  In short, he was
quite as impervious as his brothers to anything "out of his line," and,
like Mr Lester himself, thought that what he did not understand was
immaterial.

Mr Lester was in despair; but when he saw Alvar and Virginia together,
and noticed their mutual attraction, it occurred to him that an English
wife would be the one remedy for Alvar's shortcomings; and he also
reflected, with some pride in his knowledge of foreign customs, that
Alvar would probably require parental sanction before presuming to pay
his addresses to any lady.

As for Virginia, though she was of Seyton blood, all her training had
been away from her family; her fortune was not inconsiderable, and she
herself, enthusiastic, refined, and high-minded, was exactly the type of
woman in which Mr Lester believed.  Besides, since he could not make
Alvar other than the heir of Oakby, his one wish was that his
grandchildren at least should be English.  He was very reluctant that
Alvar should return to Spain, and at the same time hardly wished him to
be a permanent inmate of Oakby.  It had been arranged that Alvar should
pay a short visit to the Cheritons before Easter, when he would see what
London was like, go to see Cherry at Oxford, and having thus enlarged
his experiences, would return to Oakby for Easter and the early part of
the summer.

After Cheriton had taken his degree, he too would enjoy a taste of the
season, and Alvar might go to town again if he liked; while in August
Alvar must be introduced to the grouse, and might also see the fine
scenery of the Scotch and English lakes.  These were plans in which
Alvar could find nothing to complain of; but they would be greatly
improved in his father's eyes if they could end in a suitable and happy
marriage; for he saw that Alvar could not remain idle at Oakby for long,
and had the firmest conviction that he would get into mischief, if he
set up for himself in London.  His mind, when he met Rupert, was full of
the subject, and with a view to obtaining a side light or two if
possible, he asked him casually what he thought of his cousin Alvar, and
how they got on together.

"I don't think he is half a bad fellow," said Rupert, "a little stiff
and foreign, of course, but a very good sort in my opinion."

This was well meant on Rupert's part, for he did not personally _like_
Alvar, but he had tact enough to see the necessity of harmony, and
family feeling enough to wish to produce it.

"Of course," said Mr Lester, "you can understand that I have been
anxious about his coming here among the boys."

"I don't think he'll do them any harm, sir."

"No; and except Cherry, they don't take to him very warmly; but I hope
we may see him settle into an Englishman in time.  A good wife now--"

"Is a very good thing, uncle," said Rupert, with a conscious laugh.

"Yes, Rupert, in a year or two's time you'll be looking out for
yourself."

Rupert liked his uncle, as he had always called him, and, for a moment,
was half-inclined to confide in him; but he knew that Mr Lester's good
offices would be so exceedingly energetic, and would involve such
thorough openness on his own part, that though his marriage to Ruth
might possibly be expedited by them, he could not face the reproofs by
which they would be accompanied.

So he laughed, and shook his head, saying, "Excellent advice for Alvar,
sir; and see, there he comes."

Alvar approached his father with a bow; but was about to join Rupert, as
he turned off by another path, when Mr Lester detained him.

"I should like a word or two with you," he said, as they walked on.  "I
think--it appears to me that you are beginning to feel more at home with
us than at first."

"Yes, sir, I know better how to suit myself to you."

"I am uncommonly glad of it.  But what I meant to say was--you don't
find yourself so dull as at first?" said Mr Lester rather awkwardly.

"It is a little dull," said Alvar, "but I can well endure it."

This was not precisely the answer which Mr Lester had expected; but
after a pause, he went on,--

"It would be hard to blame you because you do not take kindly to
interests and occupations that are so new to you.  I do not feel, Alvar,
that I have the same right to dictate your way of life as I should have,
if I had earlier assumed the charge of you; but I would remind you that
since one day you must be master here, it will be for your own happiness
to--to accustom yourself to the life required of you."

"My brother ought to be the squire," said Alvar.

"That is impossible.  It is not a matter of choice; but it would cause
me great unhappiness if I thought my successor would either be
constantly absent or--or indifferent to the welfare of the people about
him."

"You would wish me," said Alvar, "to live in England, and to marry an
English lady."

"Why, yes--yes.  Not of course that I would wish to put any restraint on
your inclinations, or even to suggest any line of conduct; but it had
occurred to me that--in short, that you find Elderthwaite attractive,
and I wished to tell you that such a choice would have my entire
approval."

Mr Lester's florid face coloured with a sense of embarrassment; he was
never at his ease with his son, whereas Alvar only looked considerate,
and said thoughtfully,--"Miss Seyton is a charming young lady."

"Very much so, indeed," said the squire; "and a very good girl."

Alvar walked on in silence.  Probably the idea was not strange to him;
but his father could not trace the workings of his mind, and a sense of
intense impatience possessed him with this strange creature whose
interests he was bound to consult, but whose nature he could not fathom.
Suddenly Alvar stopped.

"My father, I have chosen.  This is my country, and Miss Seyton--if she
will--shall be my wife."

"Well, Alvar, I'm very glad to hear it," said his father, "very glad
indeed, and I'm sure Cheriton will be delighted.  Don't, however, act in
a hurry; I'll leave you to think it over.  I see James Wilson, and I
want to speak to him."

And Mr Lester called to one of the keepers who was coming across the
park, while Alvar went on towards the house.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

VIRGINIA'S CHOICE.

  "Things that I know not of, belike to thee are dear."

There was the shadow of such a thought on the blushing face of Virginia
Seyton as she sat in a great chair in the old drawing-room at
Elderthwaite and listened to the wooing of Alvar Lester.  She held a
bouquet on her lap, and he stood, bending forward, and addressing: her
in language that was checked by no embarrassment, and with a simplicity
of purpose which had sought no disguise.  Alvar had reflected on his
father's hints over many a cigarette, he had thought to himself that he
was resolved to be an Englishman, that Miss Seyton was charming and
attractive beyond all other ladies, it was well that he should marry,
and he would be faithful, courteous, and kind.

Assuredly he was prepared to love her, she made England pleasant to him,
and he had no strong ties to the turbulent life of Spain, from which his
peculiar circumstances and his natural indolence had alike held him
aloof.  He had no thought of giving less than was Virginia's due, it was
a simple matter to him enough, and he had come away that morning, with
no false shame as to his intentions, with a flower in his coat and
flowers in his hand, and had demanded Miss Seyton's permission to see
her niece, heedless how far both households might guess at the matter in
hand.

With his dark, manly grace, and tender accents, he was the picture of a
lover, as she, with her creamy skin rose-tinted, and her fervent eyes
cast down, seemed the very type of a maiden wooed, and by a favoured
suitor.  But if the hearts of this graceful and well-matched pair beat
to the same time, the notes for each had very different force, and the
experiences and the requirements of each had been, and must be, utterly
unlike those of the other.

Alvar recognised this, in its obvious outer fact, when he began,--

"I have a great disadvantage," he said, "since I do not know how best to
please an English lady when I pay her my addresses.  Yet I am bold, for
I come to-day to ask you to forget I am a stranger, and to help me to
become truly an Englishman.  Of all ladies, you are to me the most
beautiful, the most beloved.  Can you grant my wish--my prayer?  Can I
have the happiness to please you--Virginia?"

Virginia's heart beat so fast that she could not speak, the large eyes
flashed up for a moment into his, then dropped as the tears dimmed them.

"Ah! do I make you shed tears?" cried Alvar.  "How shall I tell you how
I will be your slave?  _Mi dona, mi reyna_!--nay, I must find English
words to say you are the queen of my life!" and he knelt on one knee
beside her, and took her hand.

Perhaps it was all the more enchanting that it was unlike a modern
English girl's ideal of a likely lover.

"Please don't do that," said Virginia, controlling her emotion with a
great effort.  "I want to say something, if you would sit down."

With ready tact Alvar rose at once, and drew a chair near her.

"It is my privilege to listen," he said.

"It is that I am afraid I must be very different from the girls whom you
have known.  My ways, my thoughts, you might not like them; you might
wish me to be different from myself--or I might not understand you," she
added very timidly.

"In asking a lady to be my wife, I think of no other woman," said Alvar.
"In my eyes you are all that is charming."

"This would not have occurred to me," said Virginia; "but since I came
home I have not been very happy, because it is so hard to accommodate
oneself to people who think of everything differently from oneself.  If
that was so with us--with you--"

"My thoughts shall be your thoughts," said Alvar.  "You shall teach me
to be what you wish--what my brother is.  I know well," and he rose to
his feet again and stood before her, "I am not clever, I do not know how
to do those things the English admire; my face, my speech, is strange.
Is that my fault; is it my fault that my father has hated and shunned
his son?  Miss Seyton, I can but offer you myself.  If I displease
you--"

Alvar paused.  Virginia had been pleading against herself, and before
his powerful attraction her misgivings melted away.  She rose too, and
came a step towards him.

"I will trust you," she said; and Alvar, more moved than he could
himself have anticipated, poured forth a torrent of loving words and
vows to be, and to do all she could wish.  But he did not know, he did
not understand, what she asked of him, or what he promised.

"But we must be our _true_ selves to each other," she said afterwards,
as they stood together, when he had won her to tell him that his foreign
face and tones were not displeasing to her--not at all.  No, she did not
wish that he was more like his brothers.

"I will be always your true lover and your slave," said Alvar, kissing
the hand that she had laid on his.  "And now must I not present myself
to your father?  He will not, I hope, think the foreigner too
presuming."

"There is papa," said Virginia, glancing out of the window; "he is
walking on the terrace.  Look, you can go out by this glass door."  And
leaving Alvar to encounter this far from formidable interview, she ran
away up to the little oak room in search of her cousin.

There were tears in Ruth's great velvety eyes as she turned to meet her,
but she was smiling, too, and even while she held out her arms to
Virginia, she thought--"What, jealous of the smooth course of _her_
little childish love!  I would not give up one atom of what I feel for
all the easy consent and prosperity in the world."  But none the less
was she interested and sympathetic as she listened to the outpourings of
Virginia's first excitement, and to the recital of feelings that were
like, and yet unlike, her own.

"You see, Ruthie, I could not help caring about him, he was so gentle
and kind, and he never seemed angry with the others for misunderstanding
him.  But then I thought that our lives had been so wide apart that he
_might_ be quite different from what he seemed; and one has always
heard, too, that foreigners pay compliments, and don't mean what they
say."

"I should have despised you, Queenie, if you had thrown over the man you
love because he was half a foreigner."

"Oh, no, not for _that_.  But I didn't--I hadn't begun to--like him very
much _then_, you see, Ruth.  And if he had not been good--"

"And how have you satisfied yourself that he is what you call `good'
now?" said Ruth curiously.

"Of course," replied Virginia, "it is not as if he had been brought up
in England.  He cannot have the same notions.  But then he cannot talk
enough of Cherry's goodness, and seemed so grateful because he was kind
to him.  Cherry _is_ a very good, kind sort of fellow of course; but
don't you think there is something beautiful in the humility that makes
so much of a little kindness, and recognises good qualities so
ungrudgingly?"

Ruth laughed a little.  Perhaps she thought Alvar's "bonny black eyes"
had something to do with the force of these arguments.

"Since you love each other," she said, "that is a proof that you are
intended for each other.  What does it matter `what he is like,' as you
say?"

"But `what he is like' made all the difference in the first instance, I
suppose?" said Virginia.

"Perhaps," said Ruth, with a little shrug.  "But now you have once
chosen, Virginia, _nothing_ ought to make you change, not if he were
ever so wicked--not if he were a murderer!"

"Ruth," exclaimed Virginia, "how can you be so absurd!  A murderer!"

"A murderer, a gambler, or a--well, I'm not quite sure about a thief,"
said Ruth, cooling down a little; and then the girls both laughed, and
Virginia sank into a dreamy silence.  She did not even yet know the
story of her mother's married life, or she could not have laughed at the
thought of a gambler for her husband; but she did know enough of her
family history to give definiteness to the natural desire of a
high-principled girl to find perfection in her lover.  Virginia's nature
inclined to hero-worship; reverence was a necessary part to her of a
happy love.  She had thought often to herself that she would never marry
a man of whose good principles she was not satisfied.  And since Alvar's
offer had not entirely taken her by surprise--his gallantry having been
tenderer than he knew--she had considered the point with an effort at
impartiality, and had justified the conclusion to which her heart
pointed by Alvar's admiration for the brother, whom, in Virginia's
opinion, he idealised considerably.  Of course, if she had chosen
wisely, it was instinct, and not knowledge, that led her aright.  She
knew absolutely nothing of Alvar; and just as from insufficient grounds
she now gave him credit for many virtues, it might be that, when the
differing natures jarred, a little failure, a little defectiveness,
might make her judgment cruelly hard, at whatever cost to her own
happiness.

It might come to a struggle between the girl's ideal and the woman's
love--and in such a struggle compromises and forgivenesses and new
knowledge on either side would lead to final comprehension and peace.
But it comes sometimes to a fight between heart and soul, between the
higher self and the love that seems stronger than self.  To this
extremity Alvar Lester was not likely to drive any woman; but impatience
and inexperience sometimes mistake the one contest for the other.
Virginia would have something to bear, he much to learn, before mutual
criticism ceased, as they became indeed part of each other's existence,
before Virginia's flutter of startled joy subsided into unquestioning
content.

"You talk, Ruthie," exclaimed Virginia, after a little more confidential
chatter, "but you cannot make up your own mind.  You cannot decide
whether you will have poor Captain Lester."

"Hark! hark!" cried Ruth, "they are calling you!  Every one is not so
lucky as you."  And as Virginia obeyed her father's summons, and she was
left alone, she pulled out the locket that contained Rupert's portrait,
kissed it passionately, and exclaimed, half-aloud,--

"Not make up my mind!  Do _I_ doubt and hesitate?  What do I care `what
you are like,' my darling?  I love you with all my heart and soul!  I
love you--I love you!  What would life be without love?"

The congratulations of Virginia's family on the occasion were
characteristic.  Her father had but a nominal consent to give.  Virginia
was of age, and besides, the trustees of her fortune could not of course
take any exception to such an engagement; but he rejoiced exceedingly,
as at the first good and happy thing that had happened in his family for
long enough.

"And so you have got a husband, though you are a Seyton?" said her aunt.
"Well, Roland's a long way off, and I don't suppose Dick and Harry can
create scandal enough to put an end to it before next October."

"But you'll give me a kiss, auntie?" said Virginia; and in the warmth of
her embrace she tried to show the sympathy for that long past wrong
which she never would have dared to utter.

Miss Seyton was silent for a moment, and patted her soft hair; then
suddenly, with an expression indescribably _malin_ and elfish, she said,
"And all those poor little neglected children, whose souls you were
going to save, what will become of them when you are married?  Do you
think your uncle will teach them himself?"

"And I shouldn't be surprised if he did, Aunt Julia," interposed Ruth
briskly, "now Virginia has shown him the way."  Parson Seyton's remark
was somewhat to the same effect, though made in a more genial spirit.

"Well, my lass, so you've caught the Frenchman?  Why didn't you set your
cap at Cherry?  He's worth a dozen of him."

"Cherry didn't set his cap at me, uncle," said Virginia, laughing.

"And all the little lads and lasses?  Ha, ha, I must set about learning
the catechism myself.  What's to be done, my queen?--what's to be done?
Send away Monsieur Alvar; we can't do without you."  Virginia had not
forgotten the children; but as her marriage was not to take place till
the late autumn, there was no immediate question of her leaving them.

Mr Lester thought that it would be far better that Alvar should see
something of England before his marriage, and Alvar acquiesced readily
in his father's wish; and he very shortly left Oakby for London, after
receiving congratulations from his brothers, in which astonishment was
the prevailing ingredient, though Cheriton softened his surprise with
many expressions of satisfaction.

He was glad that Alvar had chosen an English wife; still more glad that
he had no disposition to choose Ruth.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

A BIT OF THE BLARNEY.

  "With him there rode his sone, a younge squire,
  A lovyere and a lusty bachelere."

In that year Easter fell very late, and it was nearly the end of April
before the Lesters gathered together once more at Oakby.  Alvar and
Virginia had hardly had time to grow accustomed to their new relations
to each other before the former went to London, where he perhaps adapted
himself more easily to his surroundings than he would have done in the
presence of his father and brothers.  He found that all English people
did not regard life precisely from the Oakby point of view; that Lady
Cheriton greatly regretted that Nettie was such a tomboy, and almost
feared that Bob would never be fit for polite society.

He was introduced to people who thought his music enchanting and his
foreign manners charming; he was allowed to be on cousinly terms with
the Miss Cheritons, and was an object of exciting interest to every
young lady who met him.  Under these circumstances he was very well
content, and despatched graceful and tender letters to Virginia, which
often had an amusing _naivete_ in their details of his impressions of
English life.  He also sent her various offerings, ornaments,
sweetmeats, and flowers, always prettily chosen, and commended to her
notice by some pleasant bit of tender flattery.  His engagement was of
course generally known, but his soft words and softer looks, though too
universal to be delusive, were doubtless none the less attractive from
the fact that his foreign breeding offered a constant cause and excuse
for them.

Virginia, on her side, it need hardly be said, wrote him many letters,
full of thoughts, feelings, and hopes, and sometimes requests for his
opinion on any subject that interested her.  Alvar's replies were so
charming, so flattering, and so tender, that she hardly found out that
they were in no sense _answers_ to her own.

He made a very great point of going to Oxford, and was full of
excitement at the prospect of meeting "my brother" again.  Cheriton,
however, had lost some time by his idle Christmas vacation, and was
forced to work very hard to make up for it.  He had always too many
interests in life to make it easy to concentrate all his efforts in one
direction; but now the ambition and love of distinction that were a
constant stimulus to the idle Lester nature in himself and Jack were
fairly alight.

Cheriton cared for success in itself; he was too sweet-natural to
_resent_ failure, and conscientious enough to know that his love of
triumph might be a snare to him, but each object in its turn seemed to
him intensely desirable.  He could not feel, and even prevailing fashion
made it difficult for him to affect, indifference.  Besides, he wanted
to appear in the light of a young man likely to succeed in life before
Ruth's relations.  So he wrote that he hoped Alvar would not think it
unkind if he asked him to pay him only a short visit; and Alvar was half
consoled by hearing the Judge speak in high terms of his nephew as a
brilliant young man and likely to do them all credit.

"Ah," said Alvar, "I fear I should have done my name no credit if I,
like my brother, had gone to Oxford."

"You are an eldest son, my dear fellow, and I don't doubt that you would
have kept up the family traditions," said Judge Cheriton drily.

So Alvar went for one day to Oxford, where he showed an overpowering
delight at seeing Cherry again, and a reprehensible preference for
pouring out to him his various experiences, to inspecting chapels and
halls.  He greeted Buffer respectfully, and taxed Cheriton with
overworking himself.  He looked pale, he said, and thin--not as he did
at Oakby.

Cherry only laughed at him, but insisted emphatically that he should say
no word at home of any such impression, as perhaps he should stay up and
read during the Easter vacation.

"But what shall I do," said Alvar, "when the boys, who do not like me,
come home, and you are not there?"

"You--why, you will be all day at Elderthwaite."

"I shall never forget my brother who was kind to me first," said Alvar
earnestly.

Alvar finished up his London career by going to see the Boat Race, where
he was exceedingly particular to appear in Oxford colours, and felt as
if the triumph of the dark blue was Cherry's own.

Easter week brought unwontedly soft airs and blue skies to Oakby, and,
after all, Cheriton himself for a few days' holiday.  Every one rejoiced
at the sight of him, though Jack promptly told him that he was very
foolish to waste time by coming, and when Cherry owned that he wanted a
little rest, grudgingly admitted that he might be wise to take it; then
seized upon him, first to discuss with him the work he himself was doing
with a view to a scholarship for which he meant to compete at Midsummer;
then demanded an immediate settlement, from Cherry's point of view, of
several important and obscure philosophical questions; and finally
confided to him a long history of Bob's scrapes and deficiencies during
the past term.

He was so low in the school--he got in with such a bad lot--he ought to
leave school and go to a tutor's.  He, Jack, had told him he was going
straight to the bad, but had done no good.  Would Cherry give him a good
blowing-up?  Then Mr Lester, having had a letter from the headmaster,
wanted to consult him on this very point, as well as to tell him all the
story of Alvar's courtship and his own diplomatic behaviour.  Also to
regret that Alvar would not take the trouble to understand the details
of English law as applied to local matters; could not see why Mr
Lester, as a magistrate, was prevented from transporting a poacher for
life, or why, as an owner of land, he thought it necessary to be so
particular as to the character of his tenants.  Then an attempt at
peacemaking with and for Bob, which resulted in little more than a
persistent growl "that Jack was an awful duffer."

Altogether the family did not seem in a restful state.  Mrs Lester was
very indignant because Mrs Ellesmere had observed that Nettie was
growing too tall a girl to go about so much by herself.  "Who was there
that did not know Nettie in all the country-side?"  While Bob and Nettie
themselves, who usually hung together in everything, especially when
either was in trouble, had an inexplicable quarrel, which made neither
of them pleasant company for their elders.

Then Mr Lester's affairs came forward again in the shape of a dispute
with one of his chief farmers about a certain gate which had been
planted in the wrong place, involving a question of boundaries and
rights of way, and engaging Mr Lester in a difference of opinion with a
new neighbour, "a Radical fellow from Sheffield," whom Mr Lester would
neither have injured nor been intimate with for the world.  Alvar had
the misfortune to observe that "he thought it was not worth while to be
so distressed about the post of a gate," an indifference even more
provoking than the misplaced ardour of Jack, who had taken upon himself
to examine the matter, and believing his father mistaken, thought it
necessary to say so, which might have been passed over as a piece of
youthful folly, if there had not been a frightful suspicion that Mr
Ellesmere was of the same opinion.

Cherry had heard enough of the "post of a gate" by the time he had read
half-a-dozen letters of polite indignation, and listened to an hour's
explanation from his father of the grounds of the dispute, after which
he was requested to form an independent opinion on the subject.

"Well, father," he said, looking askance at a plan of the scene of
action which Mr Lester had drawn for his benefit, "it seems that the
removal of this gate has mixed up Ashrigg, Oakby, and Elderthwaite to
such a degree that we sha'n't know who is living in which.  Of course
Alvar _can't_ see any boundaries between Oakby and Elderthwaite just
now.  How should he?  His imagination leaps over them at once.  But I
_don't_ think it will `precipitate the downfall of the landed gentry,'
Jack, whichever way it is settled."  And having thus succeeded in making
his father and Alvar laugh, and Jack remark "that he never could see the
use of making a joke of everything," he asked Mr Lester to come and
show him the fatal spot.  Couldn't they ride over and look at it?

"And I have never seen you yet," said Alvar reproachfully, when Mr
Lester had acceded to this arrangement.

"But you are going to Elderthwaite?  I will come and meet you there.
And, look here, the weather is so fine I am sure we might all join
forces and make an excursion somewhere.  Wouldn't that be blissful?"

"Ah, you make sport of me!" said Alvar; but he promised to propose the
plan at Elderthwaite.

So Cheriton and his father rode through the bright spring lanes
together, like Chaucer's knight and squire, with the larks singing in
the furrows, and the blue sky overhead, the sunshine full of promise and
joy, even in the wild, bleak country, whose time of perfection never
came till the purple heather clothed the bare moorlands and the summer
months had had time to chase away all thought of the long, dreary
winter.  Every breath of the air of the hill-side was like new life to
Cherry.

"It is so delightful to be at home," he said; "it's impossible to be
very angry about `the post of a gate.'"

Perhaps this happy humour contributed no small share towards the
harmonious ending of the scene which Cherry described quaintly enough
when he presented himself at Elderthwaite in the afternoon.  How on
arriving at the scene of action they had found Farmer Fleming and the
fellow from Sheffield both engaged in discussing the point; how Mr
Wilson had expressed _his_ readiness to put up two gates if that would
settle the matter, but he could not be dictated to on his own land; how
Mr Fleming's view of the matter seemed to consist in a constant
statement of the fact that he had been the squire's tenant all his life,
and his father before him; how the squire had remarked that Mr
Fleming's father, he was sure, would have known well that those four
feet of land were common land, and half in Oakby and half in Ashrigg
parish, Elderthwaite bordering them on the south, and that he, as Lord
of the Manor, could not allow them to be enclosed; Mr Wilson had
purchased certain manorial rights in Ashrigg parish; they certainly
extended over the two feet on his own side of the lane.

Then Cherry had remembered Mr Wilson's son at Oxford, and knew that
last year he had taken a first.  He had met him at breakfast; was he
coming down soon?  This had created a diversion; and while the squire
and his tenant were at it hammer and tongs, Cherry had received several
invitations, had warmly applauded Mr Wilson's remark that he did not
wish to be unpleasant to old inhabitants on first coming into the
county, and the squire, having got his own way with the farmer, an
amicable arrangement was arrived at; while Cherry went to see Mrs
Fleming's dairy, "because he remembered how she used to give him such
beautiful new milk."

"Oh, Cherry, you have more than a bit of the blarney," said Ruth.
"Haven't you a drop of Irish blood somewhere?"

"_No_ more than Jack," said Cherry, who was perhaps a little pleased at
his diplomacy.  "I like to smooth things down, unless, to be sure, one
is angry oneself."

"You are always the peacemaker," said Alvar.

"Ah, not always, I am afraid!  But now I want all the blarney I can
muster to persuade you that it is warm enough to go and spend the day at
Black Tarn.  We might go by train from Hazelby to Blackrigg; have lunch
at the inn there, and go up to Black Tarn by the Otter's Glen.  I asked
Mr and Mrs Ellesmere, and they will come with us"--to Virginia--"I
assure you Alvar agrees."

"You are wasting your blarney," said Virginia smiling, "for we had
agreed to go before you came.  It will be very cold up at Black Tarn,
but that will not signify if we take plenty of wraps."

Such a genuine piece of natural and innocent amusement was quite a
novelty at Elderthwaite, and the boys were delighted.  The party agreed
to meet at Hazelby station, and go by train some ten or twelve miles
towards the mountains on the outskirts of which Black Tarn lay.  There
was a train in the evening by which they could return, and no one left
at home was to be anxious about them until they saw them coming back.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE OTTER'S GLEN.

  "An empty sky, a world of heather,
  Purple of foxglove, yellow of broom,
  We two among them, wading together,
  Stepping out honey, treading perfume."

There was hardly a lonelier spot in all the country round than the
little Black Tarn.  The hill in which it lay possessed neither the rocky
grandeur nor the fertile beauty of the neighbouring mountains; it was
covered with grass and bog, not a tree relieved its desolateness, no
grey rocks pushed their picturesque heads through the soil and gave
variety to its shape.  The approach to the little lake was defended by
great beds of reeds and rushes, its waters were shallow, and later in
the year full of weeds and water-lilies.  But there was a fine view of
the heathery backs of some of the more important mountains, and the
stream that rushed down the Otter's Glen was broad and clear, and had
been the scene of many an exciting chase in grey misty mornings.

To-day the sun was bright and strong, the fresh mountain wind intensely
exhilarating, and the whole party were in the highest spirits and ready
to enjoy every incident of their excursion.  They had had their lunch,
as proposed, at the little wayside inn, where the Lesters were well
known and always welcome, and had then set off on their three-miles walk
to the tarn in scattered groups, all at their own pace and with
different views of the distances they meant to effect.

A large division, headed by Mr Ellesmere, had started off at a brisk
pace, intending to get to the top of the hill and see half over the
country, but stragglers began to drop behind.

Mrs Ellesmere thought the tarn would be enough for herself and her
younger children; every one dropped off from Alvar and Virginia, and
left them to their own devices, while Cherry set himself to persuade
Ruth that the best thing to do was to follow the stream, step by step,
along its winding course, heedless of the end.

He could hardly believe in his own good luck as the voices of the others
died away in the distance, and Ruth put her hand into his to be helped
along the slippery stepping-stones planted here and there on the marshy
path-way.

Whatever was missing for Ruth in the perfection of the day's pleasure,
her great dark eyes were bright and soft, and a little flush on her
brown cheeks gave her an additional beauty.  She wore a small
closely-fitting hat with a red plume in it, and a tight dark dress; and
thus, with her hand in his, and her bewitching eyes raised to his face,
her image recurred to him in after days.

He had been laughing, and talking, and managing the expedition, but now
alone with her he fell silent, and there was that in his face as he
looked down at her that frightened Ruth a little.

During these past months he had grown less "boyish," and it crossed
Ruth's mind to wonder if he had had any special purpose in getting her
to himself.

"And have you been working very hard?" she said, smiling at him.

"Pretty well," answered Cherry.  "I shall be glad when it's all over."

"Won't they ring all the bells at Oakby?"

Cherry laughed.

"I hope they won't have occasion to toll them," he said; "it seems
sometimes much more likely."

"Ah! that is because you get out of spirits.  And after all, who cares
except a lot of stupid old tutors?"

"I don't suppose you--any one, would care much."

"Why," said Ruth dexterously; "who judges a man by the result of an
examination? that would be very unfair."

"Then," said Cherry shyly, "if I come to grief I shall go to you for--
for consolation.  You won't despise me?"

"Oh, Cherry!  I am sure when one knows life one sees that after all
those tests are rather childish.  _I_ should not think less of you if
you made a mistake."  Perhaps it was characteristic of Cheriton that he
felt more than ever resolved to attain success, and he answered,--

"You ought to think less of me if I did not do my best to avoid
mistakes."

"Now that is worthy of Jack, of whom I am becoming quite afraid.  I care
for my friends because--well, because I care for them, and what they do
makes no difference."

"That," said Cherry, "is the sort of backing up that would make a man
able to endure failure till success came.  But still one must wish to
bring home the spoils!"

There was a dangerous intensity in Cheriton's accent, and Ruth laughed
gaily.

"Of course, men are always so ambitious.  Well, I believe in your
spoils, Cherry, but don't work _too_ hard for them.  Don Alvar told
Virginia you would knock yourself up."

"Oh, Alvar!  Hard work is a great puzzle to him.  No fear of my working
too hard, I get stupefied too quickly, otherwise I should not be here
now; but I can't grudge what is so--so delightful.  Take care, that is a
very slippery stone.  Won't you give me your hand?  There, that's a safe
one."

Ruth was not a great adept at scrambling independently, but she knew how
to be helped with wonderful grace and gratitude.  Nor was a solitary
ramble with Cheriton at all an unnatural thing.  He had helped her up in
many a difficult place in their boy-and-girl days, and teased her by
pretending that he would not help her down; but now she felt that in
more senses than one she was treading on slippery ground, and guided the
conversation on to the safer topic of Alvar and Virginia.

"Weren't you very much surprised," said Cheriton, "when that came
about?"

"Well, you know," said Ruth, "Virginia is rather transparent.  I
couldn't help guessing that she was interested in your brother.  She is
so romantic, too, and he is such a cavalier."

"I suppose _you_ always study common sense," said Cherry, who preferred
greatly to talk about Ruth herself than to discuss Virginia.

"I have my own ideas of romance," said Ruth; "but I think I have
outgrown the notion that every one ought to look like a hero."

"And what is your idea of romance?" asked Cherry, gratified by this
remark.

"Self-devotion," said Ruth briefly, giving up everything for the one
object.  "That's true romance."

"Self-sacrifice?" said Cherry.  "That is too hard work to be romantic
about."

"Not for any one--anything one loved," said Ruth very low, but with
flushing cheeks.

"Then," said Cheriton, "there would be no other self left to sacrifice."

Ruth was startled.  Rupert had never so answered her thoughts, had never
given her quite such a look.

Cherry paused and turned round towards her with a desperate impulse
urging him to speak, her face shining with enthusiasm giving him sudden
courage.

"Ah!" exclaimed Ruth, springing across on to a very unsteady stone, "you
are getting too serious!  I declare, there's a white butterfly, the
first for the year.  And look--oh, look, Cherry, isn't that bit of gorse
pretty against the sky?  It's too bad to discuss abstract questions at a
picnic on a spring day."

Cheriton stood still for a moment.  He heard the rush of the water, he
saw the shine of the sun, his eyes followed the butterfly as it
fluttered up to the bit of yellow gorse, he could see Ruth smiling and
graceful, beckoning to him to follow her; the glamour and dazzle had
passed, and the day was like any other fine day now.

"I did not mean to discuss _abstract_ questions," he said, with a touch
of offence.

"Ah! but you were getting very deep!  Come, don't be cross, Cherry; you
look exactly like Jack at this minute, and _you_ can't make your
eyebrows meet, so don't try."

"Poor Jack, you are very hard on him," said Cherry, recovering himself.
"Will you have a bit of the gorse for your hat, if I cut all the
prickles off?"

"If you cut all the prickles off, what will you leave?" said Ruth.

They had a very charming walk after this, and were much more merry and
talkative than at first.  There was a sense of being baffled deep down
in Cherry's heart, but if the rest was surface work it was very
enchanting, and they dawdled and chattered till the time slipped away,
and they saw their party in the distance coming back from the tarn.

"Oh, let us run," said Ruth, "and get into the road before them."

"Come," said Cherry, holding out his hand, and they ran across the short
turf, the sweet, keen air blowing in their faces, a sort of excitement
urging Ruth, who was a lazy little thing usually, to this childish
proceeding.

They came running down into the road just as the whole party came back
from the tarn, crying out on them for their laziness.

"We have been looking for you," said Virginia, whose hat was daintily
wreathed with stag moss.  "Alvar and I tried to find you."

"Oh, yes, you were miserable without us of course," said Cherry.
"Hallo, Rupert! where on earth did you spring from?"

"I came over for a ball at the Molyneuxes; they have taken Blackrigg
Hall, you know.  I must get back by the first thing to-morrow.  I heard
of your picnic from some of the people about, and came to see if I could
fall in with you."

"You are just in time to come back with us to the inn," said Mr
Ellesmere; "we shall have no more than time to get a cup of tea and be
off for the train."

"I thought you would not come," whispered Ruth to Rupert as they all
walked back together.

"So it seemed; what were you doing with Cherry?" said Rupert sharply.

Ruth looked at him with reproach in her eyes, but they had no chance
then of obtaining private words.  Rupert looked savage, but directed his
efforts to sitting next her in the omnibus which was to convey most of
the party to the station.

"Don't spoil these few minutes," whispered Ruth imploringly as she
looked up in his displeased face.  "Could I let people guess how I was
longing for you?  I thought you would have been here sooner."

"Cherry is always to the fore," said Rupert with an amount of ill-temper
for which Ruth could not quite account.  She felt profoundly miserable,
so wretched that she could hardly keep the tears out of her eyes.  She
had looked forward for the last day or two to this poor little meeting
as such a light in the darkness, and now some one spoke to Rupert and
some one else to herself.  There was no chance of making it up--if they
were to part so!  Oh, it was hard!  Virginia could say as much as she
liked to _her_ lover.  Then Ruth saw that Alvar was not in the omnibus,
nor Cheriton either, and hoped that the latter fact might assuage
Rupert's jealousy.  Perhaps he felt ashamed of it, for as they neared
Blackrigg she felt his hand clasp hers, and he whispered, "Forgive me."

In the meanwhile Cheriton, having lingered a moment to make payments and
final arrangements, was left for the "trap," a very nondescript vehicle,
which had brought Bob and Jack from the station.  To his surprise he
found that Alvar instead of one of the younger ones was his companion.

"Why, how's this?" he said.

"I thought that I would wait for you.  Is it not my turn?" said Alvar,
who sometimes liked to claim an equality with the others.

"I'm afraid you'll get wet," said Cherry; "they've all the plaids, and
it is going to rain.  These mountain showers come up so quickly."

"I do not mind the rain," said Alvar.  Cheriton, however, mindful of
Alvar's short experience of the cold, driving rain of the country, made
him put a dilapidated rug that was in the carriage over his shoulders,
and drove on as fast as he could, through mist and wind, till about
half-way to Blackrigg there was a great jolt,--off came the wheel of the
trap, which turned over, and they were both thrown out on to the high
bank beside the road.

Cherry felt Alvar's arm round him before he had time to get up, and
heard him speaking fast in Spanish, and then, "You are not hurt, my
brother?"

"Oh, no--no.  Nor you?  That's all right; but we're in a nice fix.  No
getting to Blackrigg to-night.  Here's the wheel off."

The bank was soft and muddy; and they were quite unhurt, and after a
minute, Cherry hailed a man passing by, and asked him to take the horse
back to the inn, proposing to Alvar to try to catch the train at
Stonybeach, an intermediate station, to which he knew a short cut.

"Can you make a ran for it?" he said.

"Yes--oh, yes, I can run," said Alvar.  "This is an adventure."

It was such a run across country as reminded Cheriton of his days of
paper-chases, and was probably a new experience to Alvar, who remarked
breathlessly, as they neared the station,--

"I can run--when it is necessary; but I do not understand your races for
amusement."

Cheriton made no answer, as they entered the station and found that
after all a neighbouring market had delayed the train, and that they had
still some minutes to wait.

"That's too bad," said Cherry, as strength and breath fairly failed him,
and he sat hastily down on a bench, to his own surprise and annoyance,
completely exhausted.

"All! you are too tired!" exclaimed Alvar, coming to him; and with a
kindness and presence of mind for which few had given him credit, he
made Cherry rest, and got the porter to fetch some water for him (the
little roadside station afforded nothing else), till after a few minutes
of dizzy faintness and breathlessness, Cherry began to revive into a
state of indignation with himself, and gratitude to his brother, the
expression of which sentiments Alvar silenced.

"Hush!  I will not have you talk yet!  You must rest till the train
comes.  Lean back against me.  No--you have not made a confounded fool
of yourself, when you could not help it."

"I suppose the fall shook me," said Cherry, presently.  "Hark! there is
the train.  Now, Alvar, don't you say a word of this.  I am all right
now."

He stood up as the train came creeping and groaning into the station,
and Jack made signs to them out of the window.  The train was crowded,
and the rest of the party were farther back.  Jack exclaimed at their
appearance, and while they were explaining their adventure, Alvar got
some wine for Cheriton out of a hamper that had been brought for the
luncheon.

"Why, Alvar, you are more than half a doctor," said Cherry, as he took
it.  "I'm all right again now."

Jack scanned him a little anxiously.  "You had no business to be knocked
up," he said briefly.  "You should not have tried to run when you were
so out of condition."

"If I am a doctor, Jack," said Alvar, "I will not have my patient
scolded.  He is better now, are you not, _Cherito mio_?  And we are not
fit to see the ladies.  See, I am covered with mud," and Alvar
endeavoured to brush the mud off his hat, and to make his wet clothes
look a little less disreputable.

Cherry put a great coat on, as a measure both of prudence and
respectability.  He had been desperately desirous of catching the train
for the sake of a few more words with Ruth; for on the next day he was
obliged to return to Oxford.  They were all to part at Hazelby, where
their respective carriages awaited them.

Ruth had forgotten his very existence as he hurried up to her in the
crowded station; for Rupert had been forced to go on by the train.  She
remembered now that her walk with him had made Rupert angry, and hardly
able to control her voice to speak at all, she wished him a cold, hasty
good-night, and sprang into the carriage without giving him time for a
word.

Cheriton was both angry and miserable; he stood back silently, while
Alvar put Virginia into the carriage, and excused himself gaily for his
muddy coat.  Dick Seyton ran up at the last minute, and the Lesters set
out on their six-miles drive in an open break, under waterproofs and
umbrellas, through the pouring rain.  The twins disputed under their
breath, and Jack lectured Cheriton on the amount of exercise necessary
during a period of hard reading.

Cherry, for once, answered him sharply, and Alvar, as was usually the
case when his _Geschwistern_ quarrelled, wondered silently, both how
they could be so un-courteous to each other, and how they could excite
themselves so much about nothing.  But there had been something in the
manner of his kindness and attention that dwelt pleasantly in Cheriton's
memory of a day which for many reasons he had afterwards cause to look
back upon with pain.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

RIFTS.

  "It is the little rift within the lover's lute."

In the June following the expedition to Black Tarn, some great
festivities were held in honour of the coming of age of a young
nobleman, who possessed a large property about fifteen miles from Oakby.

His father, the late Lord Milford, had been a friend of Mr Lester, and
the young man himself was at school for a time with his sons.  The event
being also of importance in the county, old Mrs Lester broke through
her usual home-staying habits, and took Ruth and Virginia Seyton for a
three days' visit to Milford Hall.

It was right for Virginia to be seen in her own county before her
marriage; it was years since her father and aunt had been present at
such a gathering, and Alvar and his father were of course among the
guests.  Cheriton was passing, or had passed, his examination; but he
had decided not to come home until he knew his fate; and in studying the
papers every morning, in the hope of seeing the Class Lists long before
they could possibly be printed, Mr Lester and Alvar found at last a
subject on which they could thoroughly sympathise, though Mr Lester
frequently remarked that there was never any knowing how those matters
would be managed; he did not expect much, while Alvar suffered from no
misgivings at all.

Rupert and some of his brother officers were among the guests; the
entertainments were of the most brilliant description, and the weather
perfect.

Ruth was well known and popular.  True, she distinguished herself
neither in archery nor any other outdoor sport; she was not even a very
great dancer; but she could talk, and look, and smile as if her
companion's words were the one thing interesting to her; hence her
success.  And Rupert was there, and in the dark alleys and lonely
shrubberies of the great gardens at Milford, opportunities for
_tete-a-tetes_ were not wanting.  Ruth, conscious of her becoming dress
of the soft, warm maize that suited her brown skin, with amusement and
admiration to froth her cup of pleasure, and Rupert's exciting presence
to spice it and make it worth the drinking, might seem to be enjoying
the most brilliant outcome of young-lady life.  Sparkle and colour,
feeling and passion, she would have chosen as her greatest good.
Theoretically she would have willingly embraced the pains and penalties
which they might bring in their train.  Yet Ruth on the sunny lawns and
stately paths of Milford was profoundly and violently miserable, full of
anger and despair.

The terms on which she stood with Rupert were such as could only be
endurable with the most perfect trust on both sides.  Where it was
necessary to feign neglect, it was sometimes a strain to believe in the
real devotion.  Neither Ruth nor Rupert were people whose manners
precluded the possibility of a mistake, and, as has been seen, Rupert
was not proof against jealousy.  The strength of Ruth's own passion made
her more trustful of his, but at the same time she demanded more from
him, and he failed to fulfil her ideal of an ardent lover.  He appeared
to her to be too cautious, to miss opportunities, and be his necessity
for secrecy what it might, she _could_ not bear to see him attentive to
others--to another, rather.

There was a young Lady Alice, in her first season, a charming childish
beauty, after whom it was the fashion to run, and who found it agreeable
enough to torment her many admirers, and provoke the aunt who chaperoned
her, by flirting with the handsome Captain Lester, who, on his side,
knew well enough that she meant nothing serious; and, while he was true
in his heart to Ruth, was vain enough to be flattered by the preference
of a beauty, and of a lady, moreover, of rank and distinction.  It
showed every one that he was a man of the world, and a very agreeable
fellow.

Perhaps matters might have mended if Mrs Lester, who thought modern
manners much too free, and drew a sharp distinction between the
simplicity of her own straightforward, unwatched girlhood and the
coquetries of a ball-room, and who, moreover, disapproved of Ruth, had
not looked so very sharply after her, that private interviews were
rendered difficult, and Ruth was growing too angry to seek one.

She had not sat by him at dinner; they were separated at the great
concert that had been given on the day of their arrival; and on the
next, which was one long _fete_, ending in a ball, they only caught a
few hasty words with each other; and it appeared to her excited fancy
that he was for ever at Lady Alice's side.  In the evening she would not
dance with him, crowding her card with names, laughed, talked, flirted,
and was wretched.  It was not till after supper that he pursued her into
the last of a long vista of conservatories, where a very youthful
partner had conducted her to smell the stephanotis, and claim the next
dance as his own.

The warm, scented air, the distant music, the soft, dim mingling of lamp
and moonlight, through which strange, rare flowers gleamed out from
their dark foliage, formed such a background as Ruth's vivid fancy, fed
by many a tale and poem, had often painted, to scenes that should
satisfy her in their tenderness and intensity.  Among the wild fir-woods
of Oakby, here and there, at odd times and by unexpected chances, she
had known blissful moments, every one of which was before her now as she
set her mouth hard, and looked at Rupert with eyes full both of love and
anger.

Rupert was excited and eager, conscious of having given cause of
offence, and a little off his head with the flattery he had received.
He failed to read the meaning of her face, and turned to her eagerly.

"At last, my child!  Mrs Lester is a perfect dragon!"

"I don't think it has been Mrs Lester's fault."

"It has been none of mine," said Rupert.  "Your fine, yellow dress
escaped me at every turn, and I could not get away from the people.  I
have had to work hard for my fun, and arrange dozens of things."

"I daresay it is very pleasant to be so popular," said Ruth, detecting
the little boast, which in a cooler moment would have passed unnoticed.
There was a sort of airiness in Rupert's manner, inexpressibly
irritating when she wanted every assurance of the passion which she was
so often obliged to take upon trust.

"Come, Ruthie, that's not fair.  What is a poor fellow to do?  I have
been horribly down in the mouth since we parted; it takes so long to get
one's affairs to rights.  Your guardians would bow me out of the house
pretty quickly if I applied to them now.  Can you trust me a little
longer, my darling?  I'm living on twopence a day to bring things
round."

"And did the gloves Lady Alice won from you, come out of the twopence?"
said Ruth, unable to control her anger, sarcastic because such a storm
of tears was pending.

Rupert's quick temper took fire in a moment.

"If you have so little confidence in me, Ruth, as to be angry at such a
trifle," he said hotly, "it is impossible--You make me feel that I ask
more of you than you can give."

"Yes," said Ruth, "I cannot give such confidence.  When it is months
since I have seen you--weeks since I heard from you.  I _cannot_ see you
devoted to--to another, when you cannot find a moment for me.  If _you_
can bear it--"

"You are very unreasonable, Ruth.  I thought that you were generous
before all other women, and patient.  You speak as if you doubted my
honour."

"If it comes to talking of _honour_," cried Ruth, "if you need _that_ to
bind you, you are free.  I will not hold you one hour by your honour!"

"Nor I you to a trial of generosity, which it seems you cannot bear."

If Rupert had not been first _tete montee_, and then very angry, he
would not have made this remark.

"Generosity!" cried Ruth.  "No.  If honour and generosity are required
between us, I'll make no claim on them.  Let it all be over--we'll part.
Yes, we'll part, and then you need deny yourself nothing--nothing for
my sake."

"It might be best--if you look on it in this way."

There was a silence.  Rupert pulled his moustaches sharply; his face was
pale; in that hot moment he felt he might be well quit of Ruth's
unreasonable jealousy and suspicion.  Ruth sat quite still; she would
have yielded at a word, perhaps--in a minute more she might even have
made the first advance to a reconciliation.  But as the dance ended the
conservatory filled with people.  They were joined by two or three
couples, and a young lady, an old acquaintance of Rupert's, exclaimed,
with sufficient forwardness,--

"Oh, Captain Lester, what do you think we were discussing?  People say
that you are engaged to be married.  Is it true--do tell me?"

"No," said Rupert shortly.  "I am not engaged to be married, nor likely
to be."

He laughed bitterly as he spoke, and perhaps under the circumstances
could hardly have avoided some sort of denial; but the directness of
this one, and the tone in which it was spoken, seemed to seal Ruth's
fate.  She said afterwards that she went mad at that moment, and
certainly she lost the soft self-possession that was one of her chief
charms, grew daring and defiant, and said and did things that others
remembered long after she had recovered from the wild excitement that
prompted them.  The sacredness of ungovernable feeling was an article of
her faith, and she was quite as miserable as she ever thought true love
would demand of any one.  But the poor child, as she sat on the floor in
her own room that night, with her face hidden on a chair, did not think
at all that she was "having an experience," nor going through the second
volume of the story, in the beginning of which she had so gloried; she
only felt that she was utterly and inconceivably wretched, and angry
beyond expression.  Rupert did not care for her, or only cared in a
commonplace fashion.  There was nothing left in life for her.  Evidently
he had been glad to find in the quarrel an excuse for an escape.

Ruth's hot displeasure culminated when she came down to breakfast the
next morning, and found that every one was regretting the departure of
the officers from York, who had been obliged to take leave early that
morning.  They would be a great loss at the tenants' ball that night.

"Father, my father," suddenly exclaimed Alvar Lester, coming into the
room with a newspaper in his hand.  "See, it is here, `Gerald Cheriton
Lester.'  And he is first.  I said so.  Ah!  I rejoice!"

Alvar's eager voice and excited face attracted general attention, as he
put the paper into his father's hand, and pointed over his shoulder.
There was a chorus of congratulation, while Mr Lester's blue eyes
looked as bright as his son's black ones, as he hummed and ha'd, coughed
two or three times, and said, with as little exultation as he could
manage to show, "That he was glad Cheriton had worked hard and done his
best.  He was a good lad, and had never given any trouble.  Now, they
could have him at home for a bit."

"Ah! that will be _jolly_," said Alvar.  "But he will have come home,
through last night, and we shall not be there."

"Send a telegram to meet him, and ask him to come over," said young Lord
Milford.  "He always was a capital fellow, and I shall be delighted to
see him."

"And I hope, Milford," said the young lord's mother, "that you will take
example by your friend."

"Don't you build on any such hopes, mother, but I'll go and see about
getting him over here at once."

Mrs Lester was moved to encomiums on Cherry's studies and steadiness;
and more than one of those present remarked with admiration the
unselfish pleasure taken by the elder brother in the success of his
universally popular junior.

Virginia Seyton watched her betrothed a little wistfully.  Ruth's was
not the only love story that was running its course through these early
summer months, and Virginia's heart was not quite at ease.  If "what
Rupert was like," had come upon Ruth with a sudden blow, "what Alvar was
like," was still something of a problem to Virginia.  He was attractive
to her beyond measure, he occupied every corner of her heart; it was joy
to her to be near him; his gentle, chivalrous courtship gave her
unimaginable delight.  She could remember every glance of his eyes,
every touch of his hand; but--But what?  Alvar was at once too obtuse
and too proud ever to assume a character that did not belong to him.  He
did not think it worth while to acquire or profess new sentiments;
perhaps he never even perceived that they were desired.  He was, spite
of his courteous tongue, as absolutely candid a person as his brother
Jack.  He was not a bit worse than he seemed, neither was he much
better.  He behaved very well in his difficult life, and regulated his
conduct by certain maxims of honour and courtesy; but, in the sense in
which Virginia understood the word, he had no principles at all.  It was
with a curious mixture of sensations that, when, _a propos_ of some
scrape of Dick's, she had timidly alluded to the gambling that had
brought such distress on her family, Virginia heard him answer,--

"Ah, they have had much ill-fortune," without a spark apparently of
righteous indignation.

Nor could she help perceiving that he scarcely ever occupied himself
with anything more useful than a cigar.  "My father is always busy," he
would say complacently, as he sat idle; but he did not point any popular
moral; for idleness made him neither ill-humoured nor mischievous.

Virginia loved him well enough to set all her will on the side of making
allowances.  When he saw her scrupulous and earnest in fulfilling her
religious duties, he would kiss her hand and say, "My queen is as holy
as a saint," and he conformed sufficiently to the Oakby standard to
satisfy her conscience, if not his own, never uttering a word that could
offend her.  But, as he had told Cheriton, "he did not interest himself
in these matters," and she knew it.

Perhaps Virginia, diffident as to her knowledge of masculine standards
and modes of expression, might never have realised even thus much to
herself, but for the instinctive sense of another shortcoming in her
lover, which she would not admit, and which she hated herself for even
imagining.  It came, by a strange turn of fate, both to her and to Ruth,
to feel that the love they gave was not returned in its fulness.  With
what a passion of despair and jealousy Ruth had resented the discovery
has been seen.

To Virginia it brought a disheartening sense of her own demerit, a doubt
of the truth of her own impressions, vexation at her own want of
trustfulness, shame and self-blame, because she could not help knowing
that Alvar missed sometimes the chance of a word or an interview when
_she_ would have secured it, because she felt that he did not care as
she cared.  But then, temperaments differ; some people were reserved;
perhaps she was exacting, and her cheek had flushed and her eyes
sparkled with joy when Alvar praised the dresses she had taken such
pains to choose for the Milford _fetes_, and when he paid her all the
_attention_ due from an affianced lover.

She had no cause to feel neglected, while Ruth was chafing at the sight
of Rupert's flirtations.  And when the news came of Cheriton's success,
was she not proud of Alvar's generous delight?  Yes, but _she_ had never
stirred his passive content to such pleasure; he had never been in such
high spirits for her!  Ah! how hatefully selfish she was to think of it!

The two girls exchanged no confidences.  Ruth's heart was too sore, and
Virginia's too loyal for a word; but as they consulted over their
dresses, and speculated whether Cheriton would arrive in time for the
tenants' dance that night, each wondered what the other would say to the
secret thoughts of her heart.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

RED SUNRISE.

  "O happy world!" thought Pelleas, "all me seems
  Are happy--I the happiest of them all."

On that same hot summer night, when Ruth and Rupert were first making
each other miserable, and then finding out separately that they were
very miserable themselves, Cheriton, with hope and joy in his heart, was
speeding home to Oakby.  With hope and joy, for Ruth had made up for her
cold farewell, by making some little excuse for writing to him, and
asking him to get her a picture of the Arms of the Colleges, a
commission which, it is needless to say, he found time to execute.

This pleasure had helped him through his hard work, for he was excitable
enough to have felt the last few weeks of effort and suspense a severe
strain, and had not brought quite his usual health and strength to bear
on them; for he had caught a bad cold with the race in the rain at Black
Tarn, and had never given himself a chance of getting rid of it.
However, it was all over now, he thought, his mind was relieved, and the
prospect of home with its leisure and its occupations had never seemed
so delightful to him.  For his love for Ruth did not shut out the
thought of all other affections, it rather cast a radiance over them,
and made him more conscious of their sweetness.

It was a lovely summer morning, as the train came in to Ashrigg station,
the wide landscape showed clear and fresh against the cloudless sky, the
peculiar northern sharpness was in the air.  It was sweet to Cherry's
senses, and finding no conveyance so early at Ashrigg, he set off to
walk home across the dewy fields, Buffer, enchanted at his release from
durance vile, trotting and barking at his heels.

By various short cuts the walk was under three miles, and Cheriton soon
found himself at the house, where he had time to get some breakfast, and
to feel somewhat disappointed that no one was at home to hear his good
news, for he felt too tired to go and seek for congratulations at the
Vicarage, where Nettie was staying, or where he would have been at least
equally certain of them, to the Lodge to which the old family nurse had
migrated.

So he contented himself with greeting all the dogs, and with the
delightful consciousness that he had no need to exert himself, till Lord
Milford's telegram arrived, and the thought of so quickly greeting Ruth,
and of finding her belonging as it were to his own party, and thus
making a thousand opportunities for paying her attention, roused him
from his fit of languor and fatigue, and he eagerly made his
preparations, and started off in the middle of the bright June day, on
his further travels.

The midsummer weather in that northern country had still much of the
freshness and the delicacy of the spring.  The trees were in their first
bright green, the bluebells lingered in the woods, the birds sang songs
of hopefulness to him.  Milford was in a softer, more richly-wooded
landscape than Oakby, and the gardens were splendid with early roses and
flowering shrubs, the park still here and there white with hawthorn.

This was the children's day, a great school feast for all the parishes
round, to be followed by a children's dance in the evening.  Cheriton
arrived in the midst of a grand tea in the park, and pausing to detect
his relations, perceived Alvar looking even unusually tall, stately, and
graceful, as he walked along a row of the very tiniest children, and
filled their mugs with milk and water from a huge can.  He looked up as
he came to the end, and saw Cheriton's laughing eyes fixed full upon
him.

"Ah!  Cheriton!" he exclaimed, "you are here, and with all your honours!
Welcome."

"Thanks; I knew you would be pleased.  So you are making yourself
useful.  Where's my father?"

"In the tent with Lady Milford.  I will show you."

Cheriton was inclined to think it a great bore to find his own people
surrounded by strangers, and was ashamed of the congratulations which
the circumstances of his arrival and the warm-heartedness of his hosts
called forth.  So he and his father hardly said a word to each other,
though they experienced a great content in being together; perhaps a
more uncommon ending to a university career than Cherry's honours, even
had they been doubled.

"Come, Lester," said Lord Milford, "and make yourself useful.  I know
you are great at sack-races, and three-legged races, and such
diversions."

"After being up all night?  Well, as long as I am not expected to jump
in a sack myself--" said Cheriton.  "Come, Alvar, don't you want another
can of milk and water?"

"All! you laugh at me," said Alvar contentedly.  "I am too glad to see
you to care.  This _fete_ is very pleasant.  I am glad you came back in
time for it."

"Yes; but I wish we were all at home," said Cheriton absently, and
looking anxiously round him.  He soon discovered Virginia, much in her
element among a crowd of school-girls; and at length his eyes found the
object of their search.  A little apart on a bench sat Ruth in the most
delicate of white muslins, gloves, fan, and ribbons, all in first-rate
order, looking, with the fantastic fashion, and brilliant dashes of
colour in her dress, like a figure on a fan.  She gave a little start as
she saw Cheriton's figure in the distance, and her flush of
disappointment as he came nearer was at once noted by him, and--
misinterpreted.

"So you have got your laurels?" she said softly, as she held out her
hand, and looked up in his face.  "I am glad."

"Then they are worth having?" said Cheriton.

It might have been a mere jesting answer, but Ruth did not so take it,
nor did he intend that she should do so.  He would have altered nothing
in her greeting to him, it was a better meeting than he could have
imagined.  Afterwards, if Ruth had wished to discourage him, she would
not have found it easy; he had but one purpose, and he set himself to
fulfil it; hopeful through the charm of present bliss.  It was not often
that Cheriton's native skies were so cloudless, nor were these hot, full
summer days at all typical of the home that he loved so well.  But it
was in such "blue unclouded weather," in such smiling midsummer beauty,
that he pictured afterwards the wind-swept moors and hardy fir-woods of
his north-country home.  Nor did the memory of hot, glaring sunshine, of
dust, and noise, and fatigue, cease to haunt Ruth for many a day to
come.

She was one of those to whom excitement gives another and an intenser
self.  Of this she was dimly conscious, and when she had said that she
could die for Rupert, she had perhaps not been far wrong.  That extreme
anger would urge her to a course almost equally desperate she had never
guessed, but to give Rupert pain, to cause him chagrin and remorse, in
short, to make him jealous and miserable as he had made her, she would
have endured tortures.

When people are thus minded, in other words, when they are in a passion,
life always helps them on.  Whether by accident or by malice, she had
heard plenty of gossip about Rupert; he had written no word of
repentance; she knew that Lady Alice would shortly meet him again.
Well, if _her_ conduct was discussed between them, he should hear
enough, both to hurt his provoking self-love, and to show that he did
not suffer.  And Cheriton offered the sort of strange counter-attraction
often felt on such occasions to any one else than the object of anger.

She had always liked to "talk to Cherry," his love was flattering, and
she instinctively knew that it was true.  He was also a singularly
attractive and lovable person, and in Ruth's sore-hearted rage she felt
his charm.  "It was nice to be with him--he did her good;" and if she
could wound Rupert and please herself, the possible disappointment to
Cheriton was not worth considering.  But Ruth reckoned without her host.
She neither allowed for Cheriton's ardour, nor for the effect that it
would have on her; she did not know how definite her choice must be.

Cherry was not nearly so useful as his friend had expected; he was too
tired to play games, and dancing, he said, gave him a pain in his side
and made him cough, which was true, and would have been an equally good
reason against wandering about in the shrubberies and distant paths with
Ruth, where he incurred other dangers than night air and dewy grass.  He
was too happy to heed any of them.  She listened, as Ruth knew how to
listen, to his account of his Oxford life--his hopes and fears--his
future prospects--and she was carried away, spite of herself, by the
single-minded earnestness with which he spoke.  He interested her, and
she forgot herself for the moment as they strolled along; the yellow
sunset dying in the distance, the first star shining over the great
house behind them.  Suddenly Cheriton turned and took her hand.

"Ruth," he said, "I have told you all this because it is so sweet to see
you listen.  I have something more to tell you now.  I have a great many
aims and ambitions--there's one dearer than the rest.  I love my own
people--my home--very much.  I love you best, infinitely best.  I always
have loved you.  Can you love me?"

"Oh, Cherry!" cried Ruth, in desperate self-defence, "don't say so!
That sort of love is all a mistake.  Keep to the other sort--it is a
great deal better for you."

"Better!" exclaimed Cheriton.  "One thing is best for me--to have you
for my wife.  Oh, Ruth, my darling! ever since I was a boy I have loved
you.  Can't you care a little for me?  I think you can--I hope you can.
_You_ have always listened to me and understood me.  I think you know me
better than any one does!"

"I know--you _do_ care," said Ruth, half to herself.

"It is my very life," he said, and as she, trembling, hardly able to
stand, made a half movement towards--not away from him--he threw his
arms round her and drew her close.  "My darling!--oh, my darling! am I
so happy?--ah! thank God!  Thank God!"

Ruth burst into a passion of tears.  Retreat was growing impossible; she
hardly knew what she wished; anger, a sort of wild triumph, the
difficulty of resisting this passionate pleading, the inconceivable joy
of Cheriton's face and voice, added to the overstrained excitement of
her previous feelings, completely overpowered her, till her sobs were
uncontrollable, and with them came the strangest impulse to tell him
all, the most incongruous confidence in the justice and sympathy of this
passionate lover for the love and sorrows that would have wrecked his
hopes.  Ah! if she had but done so!

"Oh, what a fool I have been!" cried Cheriton, exceedingly distressed.
"Oh, Ruth, my darling!  I have frightened you.  I'll be patient; I'll
not say another word.  See, here's a seat--sit down.  I deserve that you
should never speak to me again."

Ruth let him lead her to the bench, and endeavoured to collect her
senses.

"I am not half good enough for you.  You don't know what you want," she
faltered.

"Oh, yes, I do.  I know just what I want," said Cheriton softly and
gently; but venturing to sit down beside her, and trying to reassure her
by a little playfulness; "but I don't know how to ask for it.  Alvar
might have shown me the way."

"Oh, you know well enough," said Ruth, in a more natural tone, and in
the few moments, while he sat watching her, her excitement cooled down,
or rather hardened itself into shape.  Her tears dried up, and she
said,--

"What would your father say?"

"He will think me too happy!  Will you forgive me for startling you, and
give me my answer now?"

He was half smiling, as he timidly put out his hand again.  She had
given reason enough to hope for the answer he wanted, and suddenly there
darted into her mind as an excuse, a reason, an explanation of all this
conflict of impulses, of the wish to pique Rupert to avenge herself on
the one side--to snatch something from life if she could not have all on
the other--a thought--"When Rupert knows he has such a rival, if he
loves me, he will not give me up."  She yielded her hand to Cheriton's,
and said quickly,--

"Only promise me one thing.  I did not think of this--it is so sudden.
I am going away to-morrow, to Mrs Grey's, for a fortnight.  Promise not
to tell any one--your father, your brothers, till I come back.  Give me
time to--to get used to it first."

"Of course," said Cheriton reluctantly, "that must be as you please.
But I long to tell them of my great happiness.  And my father will care
so much about it.  But of course I promise.  But I may write to you?"

"No--no--then every one will find it out!" said Ruth, with recurring
agitation.  "You--you don't know how I feel about it."

"Well, I have gained too much to complain," said Cheriton, too
loyal-hearted, and too inexperienced, for a single doubt.  "But Ruth,
_my_ Ruth, one thing--give me one kiss to remember!"

"Go then--go! some one will find us!" cried Ruth, and startled by
approaching footsteps, she rushed away from him; but the treacherous
kiss was given, though she felt in a moment that she would almost have
died to recall it.  She had revenged herself; she hated herself; she
already began to try to excuse herself.

A little later, while troops of gaily-dressed children were dancing in
the lighted hall, and the outdoor guests were rapidly departing, Alvar
was standing on the terrace, wondering what could have become of his
brother.  More than one person had remarked that he looked delicate and
overworked; and Alvar felt anxious as he saw him come slowly up from the
grounds towards him.

"Where have you been, Cherry?" he said.  "Are you not well?"

Cheriton smiled rather dreamily.

"Oh, yes, quite well," he said.  There was a far-away look of blissful,
peaceful content in his eyes, as if it were indeed well with him; an
expression of perfect, thankful happiness, as far removed from the
ordinary state of this tolerably comfortable work-a-day world as one of
great wretchedness and misery; and as remarkable.  As Alvar looked at
him, they heard the cry of a little child.  Cheriton turned and saw
trotting along the terrace in the dusk a very little boy, left behind by
some of the schools now trooping out of the park.  Cherry lifted him up
in his arms and smiled kindly at him, trying to make out whom he
belonged to, and the child clung to him, quite at ease with him.
"Milford School; ah!  I see their flag.  Come, my lad, we'll go and find
them.  There, don't cry, nobody must cry to-night, of all nights in the
year."

"When Lady Milford has been so kind," said Alvar, for the child's
benefit.

"Ah! every one is kind!" said Cherry, with a little laugh, as he carried
away the child, "and we must--say thank you."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

End of Volume One.

PART TWO.

BROTHERS.

  "There are none so dependent on the kindness of others as those that
  are exuberantly kind themselves."

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

LIFE AND DEATH.

  "As we descended, following hope,
  There sat the shadow feared of man."

Perhaps it was well for the permanence of Cheriton's new-born happiness
that he had but a very short glimpse of Ruth.  The next morning, the
Oakby party started early, that Mr Lester might arrive in time to
attend a magistrate's meeting at Hazelby, while Ruth remained for the
later train that was to take her on her separate visit.  She would not
give him a chance of seeing her alone, and one look, one clasp of the
hand, and--"Remember your promise" was all the satisfaction he obtained
from her.  Yet he could hardly collect his thoughts to answer his
father's many questions on their journey home, and trying to shout
through the noise of the train made him cough so much that his
grandmother scolded him for catching such a bad cold.

"Young men are so foolish," she said, but she did not look at all
uneasy.  _Her_ grandchildren's illnesses were never serious; and all the
Lesters thought any amount of discomfort preferable to "having a fuss
made."  Cherry hardly knew himself how ill he was feeling, as they
reached home and the day went on; but he was so weary with bad nights
and fatigue that it was a perpetual effort to remember that all his
suspense of every sort was over, that the examination was passed, and
that Ruth was his.  He lay on the sofa trying to rest; but the cough
disturbed him, and by dinner-time he was obliged to own himself beaten
and to go to bed, saying that a night's rest would quite set him up
again.

"Boys have no moderation," said Mr Lester, in a tone of annoyance.  "It
is well it is all over now.  Cheriton might have taken quite as good a
place without overworking himself in this way."

Alvar, not understanding that peculiarly English form of anxiety that
shows itself in shortness of temper, thought this remark very unfeeling.
Mrs Lester suggested some simple remedy for the cough; Cherry promised
to try it, and was left to his "night's rest."

He woke in the early morning from a short, feverish sleep, to such pain
and breathlessness and such a sense of serious illness as he had never
experienced in his life, and, thoroughly frightened and bewildered, was
trying to think how he could call any one, when his door was softly
opened, and Alvar came in.

"I heard you cough so much," he said.  "You cannot sleep.  I am afraid
you are ill."

"Very ill," said Cherry.  "You must send some one for the doctor."

He was but just able to tell Alvar where to find the young groom who
could ride into Hazelby to fetch him; and soon there was terrible alarm
through all the prosperous household, as, roused one after another, they
came to see what was amiss.  Nettie fled, with her hands up to her ears,
right out into the dewy garden, away from the house, afraid to hear what
the doctor said of Cherry.  Mr Lester gave vent to one outburst of rage
with examiners, examination, and Oxford generally, then braced himself
to wait in silence for tidings; as he had waited once before when his
wife lay in mortal danger--would the verdict be the same now?  Mrs
Lester preserved her self-possession, sent for the keeper's wife, who
was the best nurse at hand, and though sadly at a loss what remedies to
suggest, sat down to watch her grandson, because it was her place to do
so.

They were all too thankful for any help in the crisis to wonder that it
was Alvar who held Cherry in an easier position, and soothed him with
quiet tenderness.

When the doctor at length arrived, he pronounced that Cheriton was
suffering from a violent attack of inflammation of the lungs.  He was
very ill; but his youth and previous good health were in his favour.
Overwork and the neglected cold would doubtless account for it.

"Will it be over--in a fortnight?" said Cherry, suddenly.

"We'll hope so--we'll hope so," said the doctor.  "You have only to do
as you are told, you know.  Now, have you a good nurse?" turning to Mrs
Lester.

"Yes, we think Mrs Thornton very trustworthy--she was nursery-maid here
before she married."

"There must be as few people about him as possible.  No talking and no
excitement."

"But--Alvar will stay?" said Cherry, wistfully.  "Father, he came in the
night--I want him."

"Hush, hush, my boy--yes, of course he will stay with you if you like,"
said Mr Lester, hastily.

"Of course," said Alvar, with a curious accent, half-proud, half-tender,
as he laid his hand on Cheriton's.

The foreign brother was the last person whom Mr Adamson expected to see
in such a capacity; but if he was inefficient, both he and his patient
would probably soon discover it; he looked the most self-possessed of
the party, and his manner soothed Cheriton.  Mrs Thornton had plenty of
practical experience to supply his inevitable ignorance.  Cheriton was
exceedingly ill; his strength did not hold out against the remedies as
well as had been hoped, and he suffered so much as to be hardly ever
clearly conscious.

"I was so happy!" he said several times with a sort of wonder, and his
father felt that the words gave him another pang.

Mr Lester was threatened with the most terrible sorrow that could
befall him, and no mitigation of the agony was possible to him.  He
thought that his best-loved son would die, and made up his mind to the
worst, feeling hope impossible; but he made a conscientious effort at
endurance, an effort sadly unsuccessful.

"Eh! my son," said his old mother, "he is a good lad, take that
comfort."

And this reserved hint at the one real consolation was almost the only
attempt at comforting each other that any of them made.  No one tried to
"make the best of it," to look at the hopeful side, or to find in any
mutual tenderness a little lightening of the burden.  They held apart
from each other with a curious shyness, and as far as possible pursued
their several businesses.  Nettie went to her lessons, and refused to
hear a word of sympathy from her friends, and when at last she could
endure the agony no longer, ran away by herself into the woods and hid
herself all day.  Why should they kiss her and give her flowers--it did
not cure Cherry, or make it less dreadful that another doctor was coming
from Edinburgh, because Mr Adamson thought him so ill.  But she did not
want to see him, and had no instinct whatever to do anything for him.
Speech was no relief to any of them; it was easier to conceal than to
indulge their feelings; and Mr Lester went about silent and stern;
Nettie attempted to comfort no one but the dogs; and her grandmother
found no relief but in talking of Cherry's "folly in overworking
himself" to Virginia, who came hurriedly at the first report that
reached Elderthwaite.  She was a rare visitor; it was characteristic of
her relations with Alvar that a sort of shyness kept her away.  She
forgot to be shy, however, when Alvar came to speak to her for a moment,
and sprang towards him.

"Oh! dear Alvar, this is terrible.  I am so sorry for you.  But you
think he will be better."

"Yes, surely," said Alvar, as if no other view had occurred to him.
"_Mi dona_, this is wrong that I should let you seek me; but I cannot
leave him--he suffers so much--that cough is frightful."

"But he likes to have you with him?"

"Yes, I can lift him best, and I do not ask him how he is when he cannot
speak," said Alvar, with the simplicity that was so like sarcasm.  "Ah!
it is not right to let you go back alone, _mi Reyna_--but I dare not
stay."

"That does not matter; only take care of yourself," said Virginia, as
Alvar kissed her hand and opened the door for her, and promised to let
her have news every day.

But she went away tearful for more than Cheriton's danger.  Alvar had
never told her that it comforted him to see her; he did not care whether
she came or not.

"Eh! my lass, what news have you?" said an anxious voice, and looking
up, Virginia saw her uncle, looking unusually clerical for a week day,
hanging about the path in front of her.

"Alvar thinks he will be better, he is very ill now," said Virginia;
"they have sent for another doctor."

"Ah! that's bad!  There's never been such another in all the country.
Queenie, did I ever tell you how he kept up our credit with the bishop?"

And Parson Seyton, whose nature was very different from his neighbour's,
spent a long hour in telling tales of Cherry's boyhood to his willing
listener.  "Eh!" he concluded, "and I meant to fetch him over to hear
our fine singing, and see how spick and span we are now-a-days--new
surplice and all!  Eh! he wrote me a sermon once--when he was a little
lad not twelve years old--and I'll swear it might have been preached
with the best."

Although Virginia had said nothing and done little to mend matters at
Elderthwaite, there had been a certain revival of the elements of
respectability.  A drunken old farmer had been succeeded by his son, who
had been brought up and had married elsewhere.  This young couple came
to church, and Virginia had by chance made acquaintance with the bride.
Her husband got himself made churchwarden--Elderthwaite was not
enlightened enough for parochial contests, and Virginia having shyly
intimated that want of means need not stand in the way, the windows were
mended, and some yards of cocoa-nut matting appeared in the aisle.
There had always been a little forlorn singing; young Mr and Mrs
Clement were musical, and the Sunday children were collected in the week
and taught to sing.  The parson had been presented with the surplice,
and as by this time he would have done most things to please his pretty
niece, accepted it with some pride.  Whether from the effect of these
splendours, or from consideration for the fair attentive face that he
never failed to see before him, the parson himself began to conduct the
service with a slight regard to decency and order; and being with his
Seyton sense of humour fully conscious of the improvement, and, with the
simplicity that was like a grain of salt in his character, rather proud
of it, had looked forward to Cherry's approbation.

"Eh!" he said, "I'd like to see him--I'd like to see him."

"He mustn't see any one," said Virginia; "they will hardly let his
father go in."

"Well, it's a pity it's not the Frenchman.  Eh! bless my soul, my
darling, I forgot."

"Alvar is almost ready to think so too, uncle," said Virginia, hardly
able to help laughing.

"If I could do anything that he would like--catch him some trout--"
suggested the parson.

"Uncle," said Virginia timidly, "in church, when any one is sick or in
trouble, they pray for them.  They will mention Cherry's name at Oakby
to-morrow.  Could not we--"

"Ay, my lass, it would show a very proper respect," said the parson;
"and the lad would like it too."

And of all the many hearty prayers that were sent up on that Sunday for
Cheriton Lester's recovery, none were more sincere than rough Parson
Seyton's.

The Edinburgh doctor could only tell them what they knew before, that
though there was very great danger, the case was not hopeless.  A few
days must decide it.  In the meantime he must not talk--he must not see
any one who would cause the slightest agitation; and poor Mr Lester,
whose self-control had suddenly broken down before the interview, was
about to be peremptorily banished; but Cherry put out his hand and
caught his father's, looking up in his face.

"Send for the boys," he said.

"Yes, but you know you mustn't see them, my boy--my dear boy."

"But Cherry will like to know they are here," said Alvar, in the steady
voice that always seemed like a support.

"They shall come.  What else--what is it, Cherry?" said Mr Lester, as
his son still gazed at him wistfully.

"Nothing--not _yet_," whispered Cheriton.  "Oh!  I want to say so much,
father!  I am so glad Alvar came home!"

The words and the sort of smile with which they were spoken completely
overpowered Mr Lester; but the doctor, who was still present, would not
permit another word.

"You destroy his only chance," he said; and after that nothing would
have induced Mr Lester to let Cheriton speak to him.  That evening,
however, when he was alone with Alvar, Cherry's confused thoughts
cleared themselves a little.  He had been told to be hopeful, and he did
not feel himself to be dying! while with his whole heart he wished for
life--the young bright life that was so full of love and joy, of which
no outward trouble, no wearing anxiety, and no cold and selfish
discontent had rendered him weary.  Home and friends, the long lines of
moorland that were shining in the sunset light, the hard work in the
world behind and before him, the answering love of the woman whom he had
chosen, were all beautiful and good to him; he felt no need of rest, no
lack of joy.

He prayed for his life, not because he was afraid to die, but because he
wished to live; and when, with a sort of awful, solemn curiosity, he
tried to realise that death might be his portion, his thoughts, not
quite under his own control, turned forcibly to those near to him.  If
he was to die, there were things he must say to his father, to Jack, to
Alvar, a hundred messages to his friends in the village--they would let
him see Mr Ellesmere then--when it did not matter how much he hurt
himself by speaking; but one thing could not wait--

"Alvar, I _must_ say something."

"Yes, I can hear," said Alvar, seeing the necessity, and leaning towards
him.

"When there is no chance, you will tell me?"

"Yes."

"But I must tell you about--her--a secret."

"I will keep it.  Some one you love?"

"It is Ruth; we are engaged.  Does she know--this?"

Alvar's surprise was intense; but he answered quietly,--

"I suppose that Virginia will have told her."

"Let her know; it would be worse later.  Write to her--you--when it is
hopeless."

"Yes," said Alvar.

"My love--my one love!  And say she must come and see me once more.  She
will--_I_ would go anywhere."

"Hush, hush! my brother; I understand you.  I am to find out if Virginia
has written to her cousin; and if you are worse, I write and ask her if
she will come.  I will do it."

"Thanks.  I can't thank you.  God knows how I love her."

"Not one more word," said Alvar, steadily.  "Now you must rest."

"I shall get better," said Cherry.

But as the pain grew fiercer, and his strength grew less, this security
failed; and then it was well indeed for Cheriton that, be his desires
what they might, he believed with all his warm heart that it was a
loving Hand that had given him life both here and hereafter.

Time passed on, and Cheriton still lay in great danger and suffering.
It was a sorrowful Sunday in Oakby when his name headed the list of sick
persons who were prayed for in church.  Every one could tell of some
boyish prank, some merry saying, some act of kindness that he had done;
and now that he was believed to be dying, be the facts what they might,
there was a sort of sense that he had been deprived of his rights by his
foreign brother.

"It had a deal better a' been yon black-bearded chap.  What's he to us?"
many a one muttered.

Alas! that the thought would intrude itself into the father's mind,
spite of the gratitude he could not but feel!

But Alvar went on with his anxious watching, heeding no one but his
brother.  That Sunday was a day of great suffering and suspense, and all
through the afternoon came lads from the outlying farms, children from
the village, messengers from half the neighbourhood to hear the last
report.  Silence and quiet were still so forcibly insisted on, that even
Mr Lester was advised by the doctor to keep out of his son's room; but
Mr Ellesmere came up to the house at his request and waited, for all
thought that the useless prohibition would soon be taken away; and in
the meantime his presence was a support to the father and grandmother,
the latter of whom, at least, could bear to hear Cheriton praised.

Towards evening, Alvar, who had scarcely stirred all day, was sent
downstairs by Mr Adamson to get some food, and as he came into the
dining-room, where the customary Sunday tea was laid on the table, he
was greeted with a start of alarm.  The two poor boys, tired, hungry,
and frightened, had arrived but a few minutes before, and were standing
about silent and awestruck.

Jack leant on the mantelpiece, with his lips shut as if they would never
unclose again; Bob was staring out of the window; Nettie sat forlorn on
one of a long row of chairs.  Not one of them made an attempt to comfort
or to speak to the others; they were almost as inaccessible in the
sullen intensity of their grief as the two dogs, who, poor things!
shared it, as they sat staring at Nettie, as dogs will when they do not
comprehend the situation.

Alvar, with his olive face and grave dark eyes, looked, after all his
fatigue, less changed than Jack, who was deadly pale, and hardly able to
control his trembling.

"Ah!  Jack," said Alvar, in his soft, slow tones, "he will be glad to
hear that you are come!"

Jack did not speak at first, and Alvar, as silent as the rest, went up
to the table and poured out some claret and took some bread.

"It's quite hopeless, I suppose?" said Jack, suddenly.

"No, do not say so!" said Alvar, half fiercely.  "It is not so; but, oh,
we fear it!" he added, in a voice of inexpressible melancholy.

Jack could not utter another word--he was half choking; but Nettie,
unable to restrain herself any longer, began to cry piteously.

"Don't Nettie," said Bob, savagely.

"Ah!" said Alvar, "poor child, she is breaking her heart!" he went over
to her, and took her in his arms and kissed her.  "Poor little sister!"
he said.  "Ah! how we love him!"

The simple expression of the thought that was aching in the minds of all
of them seemed to give a sort of relief.  Nettie submitted to be
caressed and soothed, and the boys came a little closer, and gave
themselves the comfort of looking as wretched as they felt.

"Now I must eat some supper, for I dare not stay," said Alvar; "and
you--you have been travelling--come and take some."

The poor boys began to find out how hungry they were, and Bob began to
eat heartily; while the force of example made Jack take a few mouthfuls,
till the vicar came into the room.

"Jack," he said quietly, "Cherry is so very anxious to see you that Mr
Adamson gives leave for you to go for one moment.  Not the twins--they
must wait a little.  Can you stand it?"

"Yes, sir," said Jack, though, great strong fellow as he was, his knees
trembled.

"Then, Alvar, are you ready?  Have you really eaten and rested?  You had
better take him in."

Jack stood for a moment beside the bed, without attempting a word,
hardly able to see that Cherry smiled at him, till he felt the hot
fingers clasp his with more strength than he had looked for, and his
hand was put into Alvar's, while Cheriton held them both, and whispered,
"Jack, you _will_--"

"Yes, Cherry, I will," said Jack, understanding him.  "I will, always."

"There, that must be enough," said Alvar.  "Jack is very good--he shall
come again."

"Oh! don't send me quite away," whispered Jack, as they moved a little.
"Let me stay outside.  I could go errands--I'll not stir."

Alvar nodded, and Jack went out into the deserted gallery, where, of
course, he and Bob were not to sleep at present.  The old sitting-room
was full of things required by the nurses, and Jack sat down on a little
window-seat in the passage, which looked out towards the stables.  He
saw Bob and Nettie arm-in-arm, trying to distract their minds by
visiting their pets, and his grandmother, too, coming slowly and heavily
to look at her poultry.  He had not seen his father, and dreaded the
thought of the meeting.  Idly he watched the ordinary movement of the
servants, the inquirers coming and going, and he thought of the brother,
best-loved of all and most loving--oh! if he could but hear Cherry laugh
at him again!

Upstairs all was silent, save for poor Cheriton's painful cough and
difficult breathing; and presently it seemed to Jack that the cough was
less frequent, till, after an interval of stillness, the doctor came
out.  Jack's heart stood still.  Was this the fatal summons?

"Your brother is asleep," said Mr Adamson.  "I feel more hopeful.  I am
obliged to go, but I shall be here early.  Every one who is not wanted
had better go to bed."

He went downstairs as he spoke, but Jack remained where he was, thinking
he might be at least useful in taking messages or calling people.  He
had never sat up all night before, and, anxious as he was, the hours
were woefully long.

Once or twice his grandmother came to the head of the stairs, and Jack
signalled that all was quiet.  At last, over the stable clock, the dawn
came creeping up; there was the solitary note of a bird, then a great
twitter and the cawing of the rooks.

Jack put his head out of the window, and felt the fresh, sharp air
blowing in his face.  A cock crowed--would it wake Cherry?  Some one
touched him on the shoulder; he drew his head in, and Alvar stood by his
side.

"He is much better," he said.  "He has been so long asleep, and now the
pain is less, and he can breathe--he is much better."

Jack was afraid to speak, but he gave Alvar's hand a great squeeze.

"Now, will you go and tell my father this?  Ah, how he will rejoice!
But do not let him come."

Jack sped downstairs and to his father's door, which opened at the sound
of a footstep.

"Papa, he is better.  Alvar says he will get well."

Half a dozen hasty questions and answers, then Mr Lester put Jack away
from him and shut his door.

They could hardly believe that the relief was more than a respite, but
the gleam of hope brightened as the day advanced.  Cherry slept again,
and woke, able to speak and say that he was better.

"And I must tell you, sir," said Mr Adamson, afterwards, "that it is in
a great measure owing to your son's good nursing."

Mr Lester turned round to Alvar, who was beside him.

"I owe you a debt nothing can repay.  I can never thank you for my boy's
life," he said, warmly.

"Ah, do you _thank_ me?  You insult me!" cried Alvar, suddenly and
fiercely.  "Is he more to you than to me--my one friend--my
brother--_Cherito mio_!"  And, completely overcome, Alvar clasped his
hands over his face and dashed out of the room.

Jack followed; but his admiration of Alvar's self-control was somewhat
shaken by the sort of fury of indignation and emotion that seemed to
stifle him, as he poured out a torrent of words, half Spanish, half
English, walking about the room and shedding tears of excitement.

"I say," said Jack, "they won't let _you_ go in to Cherry next, and then
what will he do?"

Alvar subsided after a few moments, and said, simply and rather sadly,--

"It is that my father does not understand me.  But no matter--Cherry is
better--all is right now."

CHAPTER TWENTY.

FACE TO FACE.

  "And with such words--a lie!--a lie!
  She broke my heart and flung it by."

In the early days of August, after as long a delay as she could find
excuse for, Ruth Seyton returned to Elderthwaite, knowing that Rupert
was to come next week to Oakby for the grouse shooting, and that
Cheriton was ready to claim her promise; for as she came on the very day
of her arrival to a garden-party at Mrs Ellesmere's, she held in her
pocket a letter written in defiance of her prohibition, urging her to
let him speak to her again, and full of love and longing for her
presence.

She knew that Rupert was coming, for the quarrel between them was at an
end.  Ruth had been very dull and desolate during her quiet visit to
some old friends of her mother's, very much shocked at hearing from
Virginia of Cherry's illness, and more self-reproachful for having let
him linger in the damp shrubberies by her side than for the greater
injury she had done him.

She wrote on the spur of the moment, and sent Alvar a kind message of
sympathy; but every day her promise to Cheriton seemed more unreal, and
when at last Rupert came, ashamed of the foolish dispute, and only
wanting to laugh at and forget it, she yielded to his first word, and,
though a little hurt to find how lightly he could regard a lover's
quarrel, was too happy to forgive and be forgiven.  But one thing she
knew that he would not have forgiven, and that was her reception of
Cheriton's offer, and though it had never entered into her theories of
life to deceive the real lover, she let it pass unconfessed--nay, let
Rupert suppose, though she did not put it in words, that she had
discovered "Cheriton's folly" in time to put it aside.

That she must shortly meet them both, and in each other's presence, was
the one thought in her mind, even while she heard from Virginia that
Cherry was almost well again, and detected a touch of chagrin in her
eager account of Alvar's clever and constant care.  "No, she had not
seen him yesterday, but they would all meet to-day."

Still it was startling, when the two girls came out into the garden of
the rectory, to see in the sunshine Cheriton Lester with a mallet in his
hand, looking tall and delicate, but with a face of eager greeting
turned full on her own.

In another moment he held her hand in a close, tight grasp, as she
dropped her eyes and hoped that he was better.

"Quite well now," said Cheriton, in a tone that Ruth fancied every one
must interpret truly.

"That is, when he obeys orders," said another voice; and Ruth felt her
heart stand still, for Rupert came up to Cheriton's side and held out
his hand to her.

For the first time in her life she was sorry to see him.  She could have
screamed with the surprise, and her face betrayed an agitation that made
Cheriton's heart leap, as he attributed it to her meeting with him after
his dangerous illness.

"I am quite well," he repeated.  "I am not going to give any more
trouble, I hope, now."

Rupert looked unusually full of spirits.  "Good news," he whispered to
Ruth, with a smile of triumph.  She could hardly smile back at him.
Alvar now came up and spoke to them.  He looked very grave; as Ruth
fancied, reproachful.

Some one asked Ruth to play croquet, and she declined; then felt as if
the game would have been a refuge.  But she took what seemed the lesser
risk, and walked away with Rupert; and Cheriton tried in vain for the
opportunity of a word with her--she eluded him, he hardly knew how.  The
sense of suspicion and suspense which had been growing all through the
later weeks of his recovery was coming to a point.

Ruth seemed like a mocking fairy, like some unreliable vision, as he saw
her smiling and gracious--nay, answered occasional remarks from her--but
could never meet her eyes, nor obtain from her one real response.

These perpetual, impalpable rebuffs raised such a tumult in Cheriton's
mind that he restrained himself with a forcible effort from some
desperate measure which should oblige her to listen to him, while all
his native reticence and pride could hardly afford him self-control
enough to play his part without discovery.

An equal sense of baffled discomfort pressed on Virginia.  She had very
seldom seen a cloud on Alvar's brow; he never committed such an act of
discourtesy as to be out of temper in her presence; but to-day he looked
so stern as to prompt her to say, timidly, "Has anything vexed you,
Alvar?"

"How could I be vexed when you are here, queen of my heart?" said Alvar,
turning to her with a smile.  "See, will you come to get some
strawberries--it is hot?"

"I would rather you told me when things trouble you," said Virginia.

"It is not for you, _mi dona_, to hear of things that are troubling,"
said Alvar, still rather abstractedly.

"Are you still anxious about Cherry?" she persisted.

"_Ay de mi_, yes; I am anxious about him," said Alvar, sharply; then
changing, "but I am ungallant to show you my anxiety.  That is not for
you."

"Ah, how you misunderstand what I want!" she cried.  "If I only knew
what you feel, if you would talk to me about yourself!  But it is like
giving an Eastern lady fine dresses and sugar-plums."

The gentle Virginia was angry and agitated.  All through Cheriton's
illness she had felt herself kept at a distance by Alvar, known herself
unable to comfort him, had suffered pangs that were like enough to
jealousy, to intensify themselves by self-reproach.  Yet she gloried in
Alvar's devotion to his brother, in his skill and tenderness.  Alvar did
not perceive what she wanted, and, moreover, was of course unable to
tell her the present cause of his annoyance, at the existence of which
he did not wish her to guess.

"See now," he said, taking her hands and kissing them, "how I am
discourteous; I am sulky, and I let you see it.  Forgive me, forgive me,
it shall be so no more.  You shed tears; ah, my queen, they reproach
me!"

Virginia yielded to his caresses and his kindness, and blamed herself.
Some day, perhaps, in a quieter moment, she could show him that she
wanted to share his troubles and not be protected from them.  In the
meantime his presence was almost enough.

Alvar, like some others of his name, was a person of slow perceptions,
and was apt to be absorbed in one idea at a time.  He did not guess that
while he paid Virginia all the courtesy that he thought her due she
longed for a far closer union of spirits.  He was proud of being
Cheriton's chief dependence during the tedious recovery that none of the
others could bear to think incomplete, and to find that his tact and
consideration made him a welcome companion when Jack's ponderous
discussions were too great a fatigue.  But he would not endure thanks,
and after the outburst with which he had received his father's nobody
proffered them.  Not one of the others, full of anger with Ruth and of
anxiety for Cheriton, could have abstained from fretting him with one
word on the subject, as Alvar did all that afternoon and evening.  But
his mind was free to think of nothing else.

As for Ruth, the moment that should have been full of unalloyed bliss
for her, the moment when Rupert told her that concealment was no longer
necessary, was distracted by the terror of discovery.

Rupert had to tell her that the sale of a farm, effected on unusually
advantageous terms, had made the declaration of his wishes possible to
him, and he was now ready to present himself before her guardians and
ask their consent to a regular engagement.  Ruth was about to go back to
her grandmother, and all might now be well.  Ruth did not know how to be
glad; she could not tell how deeply the Lesters might blame her.  Her
one hope was in Cheriton's generosity, and to him at least she must tell
the whole truth.

"To-morrow I shall come and see you," he said gravely, as he wished her
good-night, and she managed to give him an assenting glance, but he knew
that she was treating him ill, and tormented himself with a thousand
fancies--that his illness had changed him, that something during their
separation had changed her.  He said nothing, but the next day started
alone for Elderthwaite.

It was a bright morning, with a clear blue sky.  Cheriton passed into
the wood and through the flickering shadows of the larches.  He did not
spend the time of his walk in forming any plans as to how he should meet
Ruth; he set his mind on the one fact that a meeting was certain.  But
perhaps the brightness of the morning influenced his mood, for as he
came out on to the bit of bare hill-side that divided the wood from the
Elderthwaite property, a certain happiness of anticipation possessed
him--circumstances might account for the discomfort of the preceding
day, Ruth's eyes might once more meet his own, her voice once more tell
him that she loved him.

The bit of fell was divided from Mr Seyton's plantation by a low stone
wall, mossy, and overgrown with clumps of harebells and parsley fern,
and half smothered by the tall brackens and brambles that grew on either
side of it.  Beyond were a few stunted, ill-grown oak-trees, with a wild
undergrowth of hazel.

As Cheriton came across the soft, smooth turf of the hill-side, he
became aware that some one was sitting on the wall beside the wide gap
that led into the plantation, and he quickened his steps with a thrill
of hope as he recognised Ruth.  She stood up as he approached and waited
for him, as he exclaimed eagerly,--

"This is too good of you!"

"Oh, no!" said Ruth, and began to cry.

Her eyes were red already, and with her curly hair less deftly arranged
than usual, and her little black hat pushed back from her face, she had
an air indescribably childish and forlorn.

Every thought of resentment passed from Cheriton's mind, he was by her
side in a moment, entreating to be told of her trouble, and in his
presence the telling of her story was so dreadful to her that perhaps
nothing but the knowledge of Rupert's neighbourhood could have induced
her to do it.  Ruth hated to be in disgrace, and genuine as were her
tears, she was not without a thought of prepossessing him in her favour.
But she could not run the risk of Rupert's suddenly coming through the
fir-wood.

"Please come this way," she said, breaking from him and skirting along
inside the wall till they were out of sight of the pathway.  Then she
began, averting her face and plucking at the fern-leaves in the wall.

"I--I don't know how to tell you, but you are so good and kind and
generous, so much--_much_ better than I am--you won't be hard on me."

"It doesn't take much goodness to make me feel for your trouble," said
Cheriton, tenderly.  "Tell me, my love, and see if I am hard."

"Every one _is_ hard on a girl who has been as foolish as I have."

Cheriton began to think that she was going to tell him of some undue
encouragement given to some other lover in his absence or before her
promise to him, and to believe that here was the explanation of all that
had perplexed him.

"I shall never be offended when you tell me that I have no cause for
offence," he said, putting his hand down on hers as she fingered the
fern-leaves.

"_Indeed_, I would not have deceived you so long, but for your illness,"
said Ruth, a little more firmly.

"Deceived me!  Dearest, don't use such hard words of yourself.  Tell me
what all this means.  What fancy is this?"

"Will you promise--promise me to be generous and to forgive me?  Oh, you
may ruin all my life if you will," said Ruth, passionately.

"_I_ ruin _your_ life! ah, you little know!  When my life was given back
to me, I was glad because it belonged to you," said Cheriton, faltering
in his earnestness.

"Then oh!  Cherry, Cherry," cried Ruth, suddenly turning on him and
clasping her hands, "then give me back my foolish promise--forget it
altogether--let us be friends as we were when I was a little girl.  Oh,
Cherry, forgive me--I cannot--cannot do it!"

"What can you mean?" said Cheriton, slowly, and with so little evidence
of surprise that Ruth took courage to go on.

"Cherry!" she repeated, as if clinging to the name that marked her old
relation to him; "Cherry, a long time ago--last spring, I was engaged to
some one else--to your cousin; but it suited him--us--to say nothing of
it at first.  And oh!  I was jealous and foolish, and we quarrelled, and
I was in a passion, and thought to show him I didn't care.  And you came
that day at Milford, and I knew how good you were, and you begged so
hard I couldn't resist you--you gave me no time.  And then very soon he
came back, and I knew I had made a mistake.  I would have told you at
once, indeed I would, but for your illness.  How could I then?"

Cheriton stood looking at her, and while she spoke, his astonished gaze
grew stern and piercing, till she shrank from him and turned away.  Then
he said, with a sort of incredulous amazement, with which rising anger
contended,--

"Then you _never_ meant what you said?  When you told me that you loved
me, it was false--you did not mean to give yourself to me?  You kissed
me to deceive me?"

"Oh, Cheriton!" sobbed Ruth, covering her face, "don't--don't put it
like that.  I was very--very foolish--very wicked, but it was not all
plain in that way.  Won't you forgive me?  I was so very unhappy!  I
thought you were always kind--"

"Kind!" ejaculated Cheriton.  "There is only one way of putting it!
Which is your lover, to which of us are you promised, to Rupert or to
me?"

Anger, scorn, and a pain as yet hardly felt, intensified Cheriton's
accent.  She had expected him to plead for himself, to bemoan his loss,
and instead she shrank and quailed before his judgment of her deceit.
His last words awoke a spark of defiance, and suddenly, desperately, she
faced him and said, clearly,--

"To Rupert."

Cheriton put his hand back and leant against the wall.  He was beginning
to feel the force of the blow.  After a moment he raised his head, and
looked at her again, with a face now pale and mournful.

"Oh, Ruth, is it indeed so?  Have I nothing to hope--nothing even to
_remember_?  Did you _never_ mean it--never?"

"I was so angry--so miserable that I was mad," faltered Ruth.  "I
thought _he_ was false to _me_."

"So you took me in to make up for it?" said Cheriton roughly, his
indignation again gaining ground.  "Well, I should thank you for at last
undeceiving me!"

He turned as if to go; but Ruth sobbed out, "I know it was very wrong,
indeed I am sorry for you.  I can never, never be happy, if you don't
forgive me."

"What can you mean by forgiving?" said Cheriton bitterly.  "I wish I had
died before I knew this!  You have deceived me and made a fool of me,
while I thought you--I thought you--"

"Then," cried Ruth, stung by the change of feeling his words implied,
"you can tell them all about it if you will, and ruin me!"

"What!" exclaimed Cheriton, starting upright.  "Is _that_ what you can
think possible?  Is _that_ why you are crying?  You may be perfectly
_happy_!  The promise you had the prudence to exact has been unbroken.
No! when I thought that I was dying, I told Alvar that _you_ might be
spared any shock.  Neither he nor I are likely to speak of it further.
I had better wish you good-morning."

It was Cheriton whose love had been scorned, whose hopes had all been
dashed to the ground in the last half-hour, and who had received a blow
that had changed the world for him; but it had come in such a form that
the injured self-respect struggled for self-preservation.  The first
effect on his clear, upright nature was incredulous anger, a sense of
resistance, of shame and scorn, that, all-contending and
half-suppressed, made him terrible to Ruth, whose self-deceit had
expected quite another reception of her words.  She had shrunk from the
idea of giving him pain, had dreaded the confession of her own misdeeds;
but she had indemnified her conscience to herself for ill-treating
Cheriton by a sort of unnatural and unreal admiration of what she called
his goodness; which seemed to her to render self-abnegation natural, if
not easy, to him.

_She_, with her passionate feelings, her warm heart, might be forgiven
for error; but he, since he was high-principled and religious, would
surely make it easier for her, would stand in an ideal relation to her
and tell her that "her happiness was dearer than his own."

"Good" people were capable of that sort of self-sacrificing devotion.
She thought, as many do, that Cheriton's battle was less hard to fight,
because he had hitherto had the strength to win it.  Poor boy, it had
come to the forlorn hope now!  He only knew that he must not turn and
fly.

As Ruth looked up at him all tear-stained and deprecatory, his mood
changed.

"Oh, Ruth, Ruth--Ruth!" he cried, as he turned away, "and I loved you
so!"

But he left her without a touch of the hand; without a parting, without
a pardon.  No other relations could replace for him those she had
destroyed.  Ruth watched him hurry across the fell and into the
fir-wood, and then, as she sank down among the ferns and gave way to a
final burst of misery, she thought to herself, "Oh, Rupert, Rupert, what
I have endured for your sake!"

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

IN THE THICK OF THE FIGHT.

  "Oh, that 'twere I had been false--not she!"

In the meantime the unconscious Rupert was strolling up and down in
front of the house waiting for his uncle to come out, and intending to
take him into his confidence and ask for his good offices with Ruth's
guardians.  It was well for her that he had no suspicion of what was
passing; for little as she guessed it, he would have greatly resented
her treachery towards Cheriton as well as towards himself.  But Rupert
was in high spirits, and when Mr Lester joined him, he told his tale
with the best grace that he could.  His uncle was pleased with the news,
and questioned him pretty closely upon all its details, shook his head
over the previous difficulties which Rupert admitted, told him that he
was quite right to be open with him, congratulated him when he owned to
having met with success with the lady herself, and, pleased with being
consulted, threw himself heart and soul into the matter.

As they came up towards the back of the house, they met Alvar, who,
rather hastily, asked if they had seen Cheriton.

"He went to take a walk.  I am afraid he will be tired," he explained.

"Eh, Alvar, you're too fidgety," said his father good-humouredly.
"There's Cheriton, looking at the puppies."

Alvar looked, and beheld a group gathered in the doorway of a great
barn, the figures standing out clear in the sunshine against the dark
shadow behind.  Nettie was standing in the centre with her arms
apparently full of whining little puppies; the mother, a handsome
retriever, was yelping and whining near.  Buffer was barking and dancing
in a state of frantic jealousy beside her.  Bob and Jack were disputing
over the merits of the puppies.  Dick Seyton, with a cigar in his mouth,
was leaning lazily against the barn door, while Cheriton, looking, to
Alvar's anxious eyes, startlingly pale, was standing near.

"But say, Cherry, say," urged Nettie, "which of them are to be kept?
Don't you think this is the best of all?"

"That," interrupted Bob, "that one will never be worth anything.  Look,
Cherry, this one's head--"

"Bob, what are you about here at this time in the morning?" said his
father.  "I told you I must have some work done these holidays.  Be off
with you at once."

"Cherry said yesterday he would come and help me," growled Bob.

"_I_ want him," said Mr Lester.  "Got a piece of news for you, Cherry.
No secret, Rupert, I suppose?"

"I'll tell Cherry presently," said Rupert, thinking the audience large
and embarrassing.

Cheriton started, and the unseeing look went out of his eyes, and for
one moment he looked at Rupert as if he could have knocked him down.
Then the reflection of his own look on Alvar's face brought back the
instinct of concealment, the self-respect that held its own, while all
their voices sounded strange and confused, and he could not tell how
often his father had spoken to him or how long ago.

"I think I can guess your news," he said.  "But I must go in.  Come back
to the house with me, Rupert."

He spoke rather slowly, but much in his usual manner.  Rupert was aware
that the news might not be altogether pleasant to him; but he had the
tact to turn away with him at once; while Alvar watched them in utter
surprise, the wildest surmises floating through his mind.  But what
Cherry wanted was to hear whether Rupert would confirm what Ruth had
told him; somehow he could not feel sure if it were true.

"How long have you been engaged?" he said; "that was what you were going
to tell me, wasn't it?"

"My uncle is frightfully indiscreet," said Rupert, with a conscious
laugh.  "Nothing has been settled yet with the authorities; but we have
understood each other for some time.  She--she's one in a thousand, and
I don't deserve my luck."

Rupert was very nervous; he had always thought that Cheriton had a
boyish fancy for Ruth, though he was far from imagining its extent, and
he was divided between a sense of triumph over him and a most real
desire not to let the triumph be apparent, or to give him unnecessary
pain.  Being successful, he could afford to be generous, and talked on
fast lest Cherry should say something for which he might afterwards be
sorry.

"I suppose we haven't kept our secret so well as we thought," he said,
laughing, "as you guessed it so quickly.  All last spring I was afraid
of Alvar's observations."

"Did Alvar know?  He might have--he might--?"  Cheriton stopped
abruptly, conscious only of passion hitherto unknown.  He never
marvelled afterwards at tales of sudden wild revenge.  In that first
hour of bitter wrong he could have killed Rupert, had a weapon been in
his hand, have challenged him to a deadly duel, had such a thought been
instinctive to his generation.  Rupert did not look at him, or the wrath
in his eyes must have betrayed him.  He longed to revenge himself, to
tell Rupert all; even his sense of honour shook and faltered in the
storm.  "She promised _me_!  She kissed _me_!"  The words seemed to
sound in his ears, something within held them back from his lips.
Another moment, and Alvar touched his arm.

"Come in, Cherito, the wind is cold," he said.  "Come in with me."

Rupert, glad to close the interview, little as he guessed how it might
have ended, turned away, saying, with a half-laugh, "I must go and check
Uncle Gerrald's communications; they are _too_ premature."

Then Cheriton felt himself tremble from head to foot; he knew that Alvar
was talking, uttering words of vehement sympathy, but he could not tell
what they were.

"You came in time--you came in time to save me!" said Cheriton wildly,
as his senses began to recover their balance.  He turned away his face
for a few moments, then spoke collectedly.

"Thank you.  That is all over now!  You see I'm not strong yet.  You
will not see me like this again.  The one thing is to prevent any one
from guessing, above all my father."

"But, my brother, how can you--you cannot conceal from all that you
suffer?" said Alvar, dismayed.

"Cannot I?  I _will_," said Cheriton, with his mouth set, while his
hands still trembled.

"Why?  _You_ have done no wrong," said Alvar.  "Are you the first who
has been deceived by a faithless woman?  She is but a woman, my brother;
there are others.  You feel now that you could stab your rival to
revenge yourself.  Ah, that will pass; she's only a woman.  Heavens!  I
tore my hair.  I wept.  I told all my friends of my despair; it was the
sooner over.  You will find others."

"We usually keep our disappointments to ourselves," said Cheriton
coldly.  "I could not forgive any betrayal.  Now I'll go in by myself.
I'll come down to lunch.  As you say, I'm not the first fellow who has
been made a fool of."

"What will he do?" thought Alvar as he reluctantly left him.  "He would
forgive his rival sooner than himself.  They pretend to feel nothing, my
brothers, that gives them much trouble.  If I were to tell a falsehood
to please them, they would despise me; but Cherito will tell many
falsehoods to hide that he grieves."

Cheriton gathered himself up enough to hide his rage and grief, hardly
enough in any way to struggle with them, and the suffering was as
uncontrollable and as exhausting as the pain and fever of his late
illness.  It shut out even more completely the remembrance of anything
but his own sensations.  And it was all so bitter--he felt the injury so
keenly--he had not yet power to feel the loss.  He kept up well,
however, and during the next two or three days his father saw nothing
amiss; while Alvar, though anxious about his health, regarded the misery
as a phase that must have its way.  But Nettie declared that Cherry was
cross, and Jack, who had lately acquired the habit of noticing him, felt
that he was not himself.  It was difficult to define; but it seemed to
him as if his brother never looked, spoke or acted exactly as might have
been expected.  Things seemed to pass him by.

The twelfth of August proving hopelessly wet and wild, even Mr Lester
could not think his joining the shooting party allowable, and Cheriton
expressed a proper amount of disappointment; but Jack recollected that
when they had all been speculating on the weather the night before,
Cherry had hardly turned his head to look at it.  He would not let Alvar
stay at home with him, and felt glad to be free from observation.

In the meantime matters had not gone much more pleasantly at
Elderthwaite.  Ruth was in such dread of discovery that even in Rupert's
presence she could not be at ease.  Her conscience reproached her, and
she was by no means sure that Rupert was quite unsuspicious, for he
talked a good deal about his cousin, and once said that he thought him
much changed by his illness.  Neither was she happy with Virginia,
towards whom a certain amount of confidence was necessary, as she could
not lead her to suppose that all had been freshly settled with Rupert;
and Virginia, who was usually reticent and shy, questioned her closely
as to Rupert's behaviour and modes of action.  Indeed she marvelled at
her cousin's ignorance, for Alvar seemed to her to imply displeasure in
every look.  He came seldom to Elderthwaite, and, when there, scarcely
spoke of Cherry.  Ruth could only hurry her return to her grandmother,
which was to take place in a few days; but an Oakby dinner-party, in
honour of the engagement, could not be avoided.  Ruth dared not have a
head-ache or a cold, and in a tremor most unlike her usual self she
prepared to meet her two lovers face to face.  If Cheriton had any mercy
for her, or any feeling for himself, he would avoid her.  How little she
had once thought ever to be afraid of Cherry!  But he was there, with a
flower in his coat, and plenty of conversation, apparently on very good
terms with Rupert, and facing the greeting with entire composure.  He
even ate his dinner; he sat, not opposite Ruth, but low down on the
other side of the table, while she had Alvar for her neighbour--a very
silent one, as Virginia, on his other side, remarked with a sigh.  It
would have been natural for her to talk to Rupert, who sat on the other
side of her, but she felt Cheriton's eyes on her in all their peculiar
intenseness of expression.  Ruth was very sensitive, and they seemed to
mesmerise her; she grew absolutely pale, and she knew that Rupert saw
it.  How could Cheriton be so cruel!

Her white face and drooping lip flashed the same thought to Cheriton
himself.  What a coward he was thus to revenge himself!  He turned his
head away with a sudden rush of softening feeling.  Disappointed love
and jealousy had, she told him, driven her mad--what were they making of
him?  At least it was more manly to let her alone.

"Cheriton, I want a word with you," said Rupert, turning into the
smoking-room when the party was over.  "Of course, you have a right to
refuse to answer me, but--I can't but observe your manner.  Do you
consider yourself in any way aggrieved by my engagement?"

It did not occur to Cheriton that, if Rupert had had full trust in Ruth,
he would never have put such a question.  He was conscious of such
unusual feelings that he knew not how far he stood self-betrayed in
manner.  Rupert was his cousin, almost as intimate as a brother, and he
could not resent the question quite as if it had come from a stranger.
It could have been answered by a short negative, leaving the sting that
had prompted it where it had been before.  Full of passion and
resentment as Cheriton still was, he could not _now_ have broken his
word and deliberately betrayed the girl who had betrayed him.

He was silent for a minute; still another part was open.  At last he
looked up at Rupert and said,--

"I made her an offer--she has refused me.  Don't mind my way--there's an
end of it."

"Cherry, you're a good fellow, a real good fellow--thank you!" said
Rupert warmly.  "I'm sorry, with all my heart."

"Don't think about me," repeated Cheriton rather stiffly.  "But I'll say
good-night."

He was so obviously putting a great force on himself that Rupert,
feeling that he could not be the one to offer sympathy, would not detain
him; but as he gave his hand a hearty squeeze, Cherry, with another
great effort, said,--

"I _do_ wish her--happiness," then turned away and hurried upstairs.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

STRUGGLING.

  "And my faith is torn to a thousand scraps,
  And my heart feels ice while my words breathe flame."

It was a wild, wet morning, some days after the Oakby dinner-party.
Summer weather was apt in those regions to be invaded in August by
something very like autumn; bits of brown and yellow appeared here and
there among the green, and fires became essential.  To-day the mist was
driving past the windows of the boys' sitting-room, blotting out the
view, till the wind rent it apart and showed dim sweeps of distant moor.

Bob Lester was sitting at the table, with his eyes fixed, _not_ on the
exceedingly inky copy of Virgil before him, but on the window, as he
remarked dolefully,--

"Birds are wild enough already, without all this wind to make them
worse."

Jack was writing at the other end of the table; Nettie, with an old
waterproof cloak on, was kneeling on the window-seat, watching the
weather, with Buffer, apparently similarly occupied, by her side; and
Cheriton, with considerable sharpness of manner, was endeavouring to
drive the Latin lesson into Bob's head.

For Bob was under discipline.  Such a bad report of him had come from
school as to idleness, troublesomeness, and general misbehaviour, that
his father, after a private interview, the nature of which Bob did not
disclose, had ordered a certain amount of work to be done every day, to
be taken back to school, and had forbidden a gun or a fishing-rod to be
touched till this was accomplished.  Cherry in the early days of his
convalescence, had received Bob's growls on the subject, and had offered
to help him, as Jack's efforts as a tutor were not found to answer, and
had actually coaxed a certain amount of information into him.  Lately,
however, the lessons had not gone off so well.  Cheriton had made a
great point of them, and held Bob as if in a vice by the force of his
will; but he was sarcastic instead of playful, and contemptuous instead
of encouraging, and now lost patience, laying down his book and speaking
in a cutting, incisive tone that made Bob start--and stare.

"We have all got aims in life, I suppose; I wish we were all as likely
to succeed in them as you are, Bob."

"I haven't got an aim in life," said Bob, turning round as if affronted.

"No?  I thought your aim was to be the greatest dunce in the county.
It's well to know one's own line, and do a thing _well_ while one's
about it.  A low aim's a mistake in all things."

Jack laid down his pen, and stared hard at Cheriton.  Bob waited
unconscious, expecting the smile and twinkle that took the sting out of
all Cherry's mischief, but none came.

"Come now, you needn't be down on a fellow in that way," he said,
angrily.  "My line mayn't be yours, but I'll--I'll stick to it one day."

"I just observed that you were sticking to it now, heart and soul.  Let
all your wits lie fallow; with the skill and energy you are showing at
present, you may get to the level of a ploughboy in time."

"I say, Cherry," said Jack, "that's a little strong."

Bob shut the book with a bang and stood up.

"I'm not going to stand that," he said; and Cheriton recollected himself
and coloured.  "I beg your pardon, Bob," he said.  "It was too bad.  I--
I was only joking.  Will you go on now?"

"No," said Bob.  "I won't be made game of."

"You tire Cherry to death," said Jack.  "No wonder he loses patience."

"_I_ didn't ask him to do it," said Bob.  "Nettie, where are you going?"

"Out," said Nettie, briefly.

"Then I'm going too," said Bob, following her; while Cheriton wearily
threw himself down on the cushions in the window-seat and in his turn
stared out at the mist.  Jack sat and watched him.  He had never uttered
a word even to Alvar, but he was full of anxiety.  What was the matter
with Cherry?

He was lively enough at meal-times and with his father and grandmother;
he had resumed all his usual habits, except that the bad weather had
prevented him from going out shooting.  He had laughed at Alvar for
being over-anxious about him, and had taken a great deal of unnecessary
trouble about sundry village matters and affairs at home.  He had talked
what Alvar called "philosophy" to Jack with unusual seriousness; and yet
Jack, with whom perhaps he was least on his guard, missed something.
And then Mrs Ellesmere had remarked that she did not like to see
Cheriton with such a pink colour and such black circles round his eyes,
and had warned her husband not to let him fatigue himself on some walk
they were taking.  Surely Cherry coughed oftener, and was more easily
tired, than he had been ten days ago.

Jack could bear it no longer, and began, severely--

"Cherry, you shouldn't worry yourself with Bob.  It's too much for you."

"Not generally," said Cheriton.  "I'm tired to-day."

"What's the matter with you, Cherry?" said Jack, coming nearer.

"The matter?" said Cherry, sitting up, and laughing more in his usual
way.  "What should be the matter?  Are you taking a leaf out of Alvar's
book?  Of course, one isn't very strong after such an illness, and I
don't sleep always.  I shall go away, I think, soon, and then I shall be
right enough."

"Where will you go to?  Let me go with you.  Or must it be Alvar?"

"Oh, I shall be best alone.  Don't worry, Jack.  I'm no worse, really."

Poor Cheriton!  His efforts at concealment, made half in pride, and half
in consideration, were not very successful.

As he lay awake through the long nights, Ruth's woeful look and
appealing eyes haunted him, and as he remembered their parting, his own
bitter scorn came back on him with a pang, partly, no doubt, because she
was still irresistible to him, but partly, also, because he knew that
_he_ had felt the temptation under which _she_ had fallen.  She had
treated him shamefully; and she declared that her excuse was, if excuse
it could be called, that she had been driven so frantic by her
misjudgment of Rupert, that anything seemed legitimate that would give
him pain.  She had transgressed every code of womanly honour, and had
cost Cheriton pain beyond expression by obeying a sudden impulse of
mortified passion.  Any sort of revenge on her by Cheriton was at least
as incompatible with any standard of social obligation, no extra high
principle was needed to condemn it; to take such a blow and be silent
over it seemed a mere matter of course.  Cheriton was very
high-principled, he had conquered in his time strong temptations;
moreover, he was more than commonly loving and tender, and yet he felt
that there had been more than one moment when he might have committed
this utter baseness.  He forgot for a moment that he _had_ conquered,
that strength, however unconscious, had come to him from his former
struggles, and had held him back; he felt that if this were possible to
him, he was safe from nothing.  He shuddered as he thought of his
interview with Rupert, and his first prayer since the blow turned into a
thanksgiving.

But any thought of his own conduct was soon swept away by the rush of
regret and pain.  She _had_ failed him, however unworthy he might be to
judge her; and as he remembered the many sweet and enchanting moments
that had led up to his final disappointment, he could not but feel that
she had deliberately deceived him.  And yet--and yet--as he recalled her
face at the dinner-table, he knew that he would have come back to her at
a word; he felt as if life was worth nothing without her, as if father
and brothers, home, interests, and ambitions had all lost their charm.
Cheriton retained enough command over himself to resolve to make head
against this state of mingled regret and bitterness; he could not yet
bring himself to accept it with any sort of submission; his feelings of
gratitude and joy at his returning strength seemed almost as if they had
been sent in mockery to make disappointment more cruel.  But this
thought brought its own remedy.  His life had been given back to him,
not surely only that he might endure this fierce trial--something would
come out of the furnace.  And when he remembered what his well-being was
to his father, the resolution of self-conquest was made in something
else than pride.  "God help me.  I'll learn my lesson!" he thought; and
he dimly felt that that lesson meant more than putting a bold face on
things, or even than a surface recovery of spirits, of the probability
of which last he was of course then no judge.  It meant whether this
bitter trial was to leave him more or less of a man than it found him--
more of a Christian if he would not be less of a man.

It must not be supposed that Cheriton at this time attained with any
permanence to such convictions--he worked his way to them at intervals;
but, after all, most of his sleepless hours were spent in a hopeless
involuntary recall of his past happiness.  Ruth haunted him as if she
had been a spirit, and of course the over-fatigue produced by the effort
to force his mind into its usual channels affected his health, and made
him still less able to fight against his troubles.

He was very reluctant to confess himself beaten, and began to talk to
Jack with would-be eagerness about going to London and beginning his
reading for the bar.  His name had been entered at the Temple, most of
his "dinners" were eaten, and he had never intended his time of waiting
for a brief to be an idle one.  Presently his father called him, and he
started up and went downstairs, while Jack went back to his writing with
divided attention, and dim suspicions of the truth gaining ground.

Meanwhile Cheriton found himself called to a conference in the study.

All the arrangements for Alvar's marriage had been deferred through
Cheriton's illness, and Mr Lester felt it somewhat strange that he
should be the first person who saw the need of recommencing them.  He
told Alvar that he wished to speak to him, and made a sort of apology to
him for Cheriton's presence by saying that he wished him to hear the
money arrangements which he thought fit to make.

"I am sure, Alvar," said Mr Lester, formally, "you have shown great
unselfishness in putting your own affairs so completely on one side
during your brother's illness; but now there is no longer any reason for
deferring the consideration of your marriage, and I should be glad to
know what plans you may have formed for the future."

"It is your wish, sir, that I should be married--soon?" said Alvar,
coolly and deferentially.

"Why--October was mentioned from the first, wasn't it?" said Mr Lester,
with a sort of taken-aback manner that made Cheriton smile.

"Yes," said Alvar.  "If that is your desire, and Mr Seyton approves, I
should wish it."

"Why--why--haven't you settled it all with Virginia?"

"I did not think one should trouble a lady with those matters, nor did I
wish to marry while my brother might need me."

"That was very good of you; but I hope by that time to be in London,"
said Cherry, decidedly, and with a look, conveying caution.

Alvar was silent for a moment, and then said, with what Cheriton called
his princely air,--

"I shall then marry in October, and I will take my wife to visit my
friends and my--other country."

"Why, yes; that would be very proper, no doubt; and I think you once
told me that you wished to take a house in London."

"That would be good luck for me," said Cherry, by way of encouragement.

"Yes," said Alvar, "I wish it to be so."

Mr Lester then entered into an explanation of the means which he was
prepared to place at Alvar's disposal, talked of house rent and of
Virginia's fortune, and said a few words on the amount of his own means,
and what he meant to do for the younger ones.  Nettie was provided for
by her mother's fortune, a smaller proportion of which would be
inherited by the sons also at their father's death.  "But," as Mr
Lester concluded, "of course they all know that in the main they must
look to their own exertions."

"Of course," said Cheriton.

Alvar looked very much surprised.

"The boys," he said, "yes; but I thought, my father, you would wish that
Cheriton should be rich."

"Alvar," said Mr Lester, rising and speaking with real dignity, "you
misunderstand me.  In such matters I can make no distinctions between my
sons.  Cheriton and his brothers stand exactly on the same footing.  As
for you, you will have to represent the old name, and keep the old place
on its proper level.  I shall not stint you of the means of doing so
with ease and dignity."

Alvar cast down his eyes, and a curious look as of a sort of oppression
passed over his face.

"That will be an obligation to me," he said, gravely.  "You are most--
honourable to me, my father."

"Not at all," said Mr Lester.  "I should not think of acting otherwise.
Well--now you had better be off to Elderthwaite and settle all your
affairs."

Alvar left the room, and Mr Lester burst out,--

"I declare, there's something about that fellow that makes me feel as if
I were a schoolboy!"  Then, a little ashamed of the admission, he went
on, "I like to see more ardour in a lad when his marriage is in
question.  Why, Rupert lived at Elderthwaite, while he was here!"

"We must make allowance for the difference of manners," said Cherry.
"Alvar is very good to me.  But, father, I don't think I shall be strong
enough to shoot this month; it would be foolish to catch another cold;
so I thought I should like a little trip somewhere soon--just a change
before I settle down to work again."

"Why, yes," said Mr Lester; "of course, if you wish, though we haven't
had much good of you since you came home, my boy.  Where do you want to
go?"

"I don't know--to Paris, perhaps," said Cherry, on the spur of the
moment.  "Huntingford and Donaldson both asked me to join them this
summer; so I shouldn't interfere with Alvar.  Then, afterwards I can
make all my arrangements for London."

"Well, yes," said Mr Lester, reluctantly; "if you can't shoot, there's
no use, of course, in your going to Milford or Ashrigg."

"Jack can go; it's time he went about a little, and he will be a better
shot than I am soon.  And when I come back, I'll be ready for anything."

Cherry's energy was quite natural enough to deceive his father,
especially as he kept out of sight during this interview; but when he
went away from the study, his heart suddenly failed him, and he felt as
if he never should have the courage to set about carrying out the plans
on which he had just been insisting.

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

MISGIVINGS.

  "I looked for that which is not, nor can be."

A few days before Alvar's interview with his father, Rupert had left
Oakby to make his personal application to Ruth Seyton's guardians,
backed up by a letter from Mr Lester, and by her own communication to
her grandmother.  Of course, nothing could be said of the six months of
mutual understanding, and this concealment weighed lightly enough on
Ruth's conscience.  She vexed Virginia by her reserve on all the details
of her engagement, but what really troubled her was her parting
interview with Rupert, as they were alone together in the garden at
Elderthwaite.

This had once been laid out in the Italian style, with fountains,
statues, and vases, stiff, neat paths, and little beds cut in the smooth
turf and full of gay colour.  Of all kinds of gardening, this kind can
least bear neglect, and at Elderthwaite a few occasional turns with the
scythe and a sprinkling of weedy-looking flowers did not suffice to make
it a pleasant resort.

Ruth sat on the pedestal of a broken nymph by the side of a dried-up
fountain.  This garden was supposed to be "kept up," so some flaring
yellow nasturtiums and other inexpensive flowers filled the little beds
round.  It was a dull day, and the weather was chilly, and Ruth in her
crimson shawl looked by far the most cheerful object in the garden.
Rupert had stuck some of the nasturtiums in her hat, and they suited her
dark hair and warm, clear skin.  After a great deal of talk, entirely
satisfactory to both, Rupert said, lightly,--

"By the way, I thought I would take Master Cherry to task for his manner
to you the other night."

"Cherry--his manner--what do you mean?" stammered Ruth, with changing
colour.

"Well, I was rather sorry I had said anything about it, but he was very
frank, poor boy, and told me you had refused him."

"I--I did not think you would have asked him such a question," said
Ruth, hardly knowing what she said in the agony of fear, relief, and
shame.

"Oh, well, we're almost like brothers, you know, and I was not going to
have him make such great eyes at you for nothing.  What had he to
reproach you with?"

The words were more an exclamation than a question, but they terrified
Ruth, and she pressed coaxingly up to Rupert, and said with a good deal
of agitation,--"Oh, I am very sorry--very; but--but of course I couldn't
tell of him--could I?  And he is so impetuous and so set on his own way!
But I don't want you to be angry with him, poor boy, or--or with me,
for, oh! my darling, we mustn't quarrel again, or it would kill me!"

"Is she afraid I shall find out how much encouragement she gave him?"
said Rupert in his teasing way.

"Oh! he didn't want much _encouragement_," said Ruth.  "But there, never
mind, he'll soon forget all about me.  Did you think no one ever liked
me but you?"

Rupert's rejoinder was cut short by the appearance of Virginia, and Ruth
ran towards her, for once glad to leave Rupert.  She tried to persuade
herself that she had told him no direct falsehood, but the memory of her
two interviews with Cheriton lay heavy on her soul.

She knew that she had sinned against her own article of faith, her love
for Rupert; and her perfect pride and glory in its perfection was
marred.  She had fallen below her own standard; she could no longer feel
that she acted out her own ideal.  Ruth was a girl capable of an ideal,
though she had not set up a lofty one.  Perhaps every one has some
standard, however poor, and the crucial test of character may be whether
we pull it down to suit our failures, or no.  Ruth at this time was
earnestly endeavouring to do so, but it did not come easy to her, and by
way of set-off she occupied herself with being exceedingly kind to
Virginia, whom she was beginning to consider injured, and in whom she
recognised an unexpected warmth of resentment.  Not that Virginia ever
uttered a complaint of Alvar, but she avoided his name in so marked a
manner, and looked so unhappy, that she was self-betrayed.

They were sitting together in the drawing-room on the day of Alvar's
interview with Mr Lester.  It was a dreary, un-homelike-looking room on
that wet, cloudy day, but Ruth, spite of misgivings, had a bright
prosperous air as she sat writing to Rupert, curls, ribbons, and
ornaments all in order, the deep red bands on her summer dress giving it
a cheerful air even on a wet day.

Virginia was sitting in the window doing nothing; she was pale, and her
white dress with its elaborate flouncings had seen more than one
wearing.  She did not look expectant of a lover.  Ruth watched her for a
little while, and then said, slyly,--

  "He cometh not, she said,
  She said I am aweary, aweary;
  I would that I were dead!"

"Ruth! how can you?" exclaimed Virginia, indignantly.  "Who would expect
anybody on such a wet day as this?  Of course I don't?"

"Queenie!" said Ruth, springing up and kneeling down beside her, "I
don't like to see you look so miserable.  If Don Alvar is a lukewarm
lover, he's not good enough for my Queenie, and he shan't have her.
There!"

"You have no right to say such a thing, Ruth.  I may be silly and
foolish, but I won't hear any one find fault with him, not even you!"

"Bravo, Queenie! but I wasn't going to find fault with him exactly.  I
daresay he thinks it is all right enough, only--only that's not _my_
idea of a lover!  Give him a little pull up, Queenie; scold him--if you
can."

Virginia coloured, trembled, and scarcely refrained from tears.

"You make me reproach myself, Ruth," she said, "for being so silly and
exacting.  It ought to please me that Alvar is so good and kind, and
that at last his people have found him out.  It _does_--"

"Look!" exclaimed Ruth, pointing out of window.  "Who comes there?  And
your gown is crumpled, and your necktie is faded, and you're not fit to
be seen!  Run--run and adorn yourself!"

But Virginia hardly heard her, she was too eager to see Alvar for any
delay, and, hurrying to the garden-door, she opened it, while Ruth
recollected the awkwardness of an interview with Alvar and fled.  But he
was far too punctilious to come into the drawing-room with his wet coat,
hat, and umbrella, and he waved his hand to Virginia and went round to
the front door, where, in the hall, he met Ruth, and acknowledged her as
he passed with a stately bow that nearly annihilated her.

Virginia had meant to be distant and reproachful, but her resolutions
always melted in Alvar's presence; he was so delightful to her that she
forgot all her previous vexations.  Demonstrative she never could be to
him, but she contrived to say,--

"It _is_ a long time since you were here, dear Alvar."

"Ah, yes," he said, "_mi dona_, too long indeed; but we have had people
in the house, and Cherry is not strong enough to entertain them."

"How is he?" asked Virginia, feeling, as she always did, as if rebuked
for selfishness.

"Pretty well; this rain is bad for him; he may not go out," said Alvar,
who did not wish to represent Cheriton as specially unwell just then.
"But see, _mi querida_, I have been talking to my father, and he gives
me courage to speak of the future."  And then in the most deferential
manner Alvar unfolded his plans, ending by saying,--

"And will you come with me to Seville that I may show my English bride
to my countrymen, and teach them what flowers grow in England?"

"I would rather go to Spain than _anywhere_ else," said Virginia, all
misgivings gone.  "I hope they will--like me."

"Ah," said Alvar, smiling, "there is no fear.  They would not like those
boys--but you--they would worship!"

Virginia laughed gaily, and he continued presently, touching the bow on
her dress,--"But this ribbon--it is not a pretty colour.  I am rude, but
I do not like it."

"Oh, Alvar, I am very sorry.  Ruth said I ought to change it.  I thought
you would not come, and I didn't care for my ribbons.  I _do_ not care--
except when you see me."

There was a break in her voice as she looked at Alvar with eyes full of
pathetic appeal for a response to the love she gave him.

Alvar smiled tenderly.

"We will soon change it," he said, and, opening the glass door again, he
picked two crimson roses that climbed over it, shook the rain-drops
carefully from their petals, and then fastened them into Virginia's hair
and dress.  "There!" he said, "that is the royal colour, the colour for
my queen.  See, I must have a share of it.  Give me the rosebud."

Virginia stood for a moment with her eyes cast down.  She could have
thrown herself into Alvar's arms, and poured forth her feelings with a
fervour of expression that might have startled him, but the doubt and
timidity which she had never lost towards him restrained her; she put
the rose into his coat and was happy.  The sun came out through the
clouds, they strolled through the garden together, and Alvar talked to
her about Spain, his stately old grandfather, his many cousins, and all
the surroundings of his old life.

When he left her at length, and she ran indoors to Ruth, she was another
creature from the pale, lifeless girl who had watched the rain-clouds in
the morning.

Alvar, too, went home well pleased with his morning, and ready to make
himself agreeable, and as he came through the larch wood into the park,
he suddenly encountered the twins.

Nettie was standing with her back to a tree, a very shabby-looking book
under her arm.  She was scarlet, and almost sobbing with indignation.
Bob was opposite to her, evidently having got the upper hand in their
dispute.  He was talking in a downright decisive voice, and ended
with,--

"And so I tell you, I won't have it."

"I don't care."

"If you do it again, I'll tell Cherry."

"Well, tell him, then!  I'll tell him myself.  _He_ would do just the
same, I know he would."

"Then why do you get up in the morning and go out--?"

Here Bob caught sight of Alvar and stopped short.

"What is the matter with you two?  Why do you dispute?" said Alvar,
good-naturedly.

"Nothing," said Bob, shortly; "I was only talking to Nettie."

"We were only talking," said Nettie; and they walked away together, with
a manifest determination to exclude Alvar from a share even in their
quarrels.  Interfering between the twins, Cheriton had once said, was
like interfering between husband and wife; the peacemaker got the worst
of it.

Apparently Cheriton was experiencing this truth, for when Alvar came in,
he heard sounds of lively discussion in the library.  His father was
speaking in aloud, clear voice, and with his Westmoreland tones strongly
marked, a sure sign that he was in a passion.  Jack was standing very
upright, looking impatient and important.  Cherry sat listening, but
with an irritated movement of the fingers, and a flush of annoyance on
his face.  It had been a rough time lately at Oakby, and Mr Lester was
just anxious enough about Cheriton to be ready to find fault with him.

"No, Cheriton," he was saying, as Alvar entered, "I'll not hear a word
of the kind.  It's a fine result of your influence over the lads if it's
to lead to this sort of mischief.  Warn them!  I forbid it positively.
You have made too much of these boys, letting them write to you at
Oxford.  Much good their writing does them, and lending them books
beyond them.  No, I'll do my duty by my tenants in every way--education
and all; but there's a limit."

"But, father," said Cherry, "I can't make it out.  Of course, if Wilson
has seen the young Flemings in the copses, I'm very sorry; but anyhow,
it would be better to try to talk to them."

"No, I'll not have it done.  Wilson has orders to watch to-night, and if
they're caught, over to Hazelby they shall go, and no begging off for
them."

"Oh, father," said Cherry, starting up; "do let me go and see them this
afternoon.  I haven't been near them since I was ill, and I'm sure I can
find out the truth of it.  It's ruin to a lad to get into a row with the
keepers, and they are capital fellows.  Just let me try."

"What is the matter?" asked Alvar.

"Why," said his father, "some young fellows that Cheriton has a special
fancy for, have been poaching in my copses!"

"Why, they deserve hanging for it!" said Alvar.

"Hanging!" cried Jack.  "The evils of the Game Laws--"

"Oh, nonsense, Jack.  Put that in your `Essay on the Evils of all Sorts
of Governments,'" said Cherry; then turning to the squire, "But they are
not poachers, father."

"I will not be interfered with.  You take too much on yourself," said
Mr Lester; then, seeing Cheriton look first blankly amazed, then angry,
and finally hurt beyond measure, he suddenly softened.

"Well, you can go and see them if you wish.  Don't vex yourself, my lad;
you make too much of it.  But you're looking better than you did
yesterday."

"Oh, my head ached yesterday," said Cherry brightly; but he looked up at
his father with a sudden pang and sense of ingratitude.  Why could he
care so little for anything, so little for the Flemings, even while he
argued in their behalf?  He lingered a little, talking to his father,
while Jack returned to his essay "On the Evils Inherent in every
Existing Form of Government;" and then set off on his walk to the
Flemings' farm.  He ought to care for lads to whom he had taught their
cricket and their catechism, and who were much of an age with himself
and his brothers, and often thought to resemble them, being equally big,
fair, and strong.  He talked and sympathised till the story of certain
wrongs was confided to him by the younger one--how a certain "she" had
nearly driven him to bad courses, but "she warn't worth going to the bad
for."

Cherry looked at the lad's serene and ruddy face, and felt as if he
might get a lesson.

Did all his culture and his principle and refinement only sap his powers
of endurance?

"You're a brave fellow, Willie," he said, putting out his hand.  "I
wish--well, don't let me hear of your getting into trouble, or going
with those poaching fellows."

"No, sir, not for her, nor for any lass.  But--there's the old parson."

Cherry got up from the wall of the field where he had been sitting, and
went to meet him.

"Ha, Cherry, my lad, glad to see you out again," said Parson Seyton,
coming cheerily over the furrows.  "Good-day t'ye, Willie; turnips look
well."

Young Fleming touched his hat, and after a word or two, Cheriton asked
Mr Seyton if he were going Oakby way, as they might walk together; and,
with a farewell to Fleming, they started down the hill.

"If I hadn't found you here, I should have been inclined to poach on
Ellesmere's manor, and give young Willie a word of advice," said Mr
Seyton.

"I know.  He has been getting in with the Ryders and Fowlers, and my
father heard an exaggerated story about him and Ned being seen in our
copses at night.  I think that the Flemings are above taking to
poaching; but Willie has been in a bad way."

"Hope your father'll catch some of my fellows; do 'em good," said the
parson.  "If he caught my nephew Dick, and shut him up for a bit, the
place might be all the better.  Hangs about all day, just like his
father.  He's after something, and I can't make out what."

"Sometimes I see him about with Bob."

"With Bob?  Ha! you look about you, Cherry," said the parson,
mysteriously.  "My eyes are sharp.  I knew when Miss Ruth and Captain
Rupert had their little meetings; but then, I knew better than spoil
sport."

"You knew more than most," said Cherry.

"Ay, and look here, Cherry," said the parson, stopping and looking full
at him.  "There's another thing I can see, and that is, when a man's in
earnest and when he isn't; and when all's smooth and sweet to a girl,
and when she looks this way and that for something that's wanting."

"I have nothing to do with my cousin's engagement," said Cherry,
bewildered.

"Nay--nay, it's not your cousin.  I don't believe in foreigners, Cherry;
and Master Alvar isn't what I call a lover for a pretty girl that
worships the ground he treads on.  If he wants her money, why, a
gentleman should keep up appearances at least."

Cheriton looked very much affronted.

"I don't know if you are aware," he said, "that my brother's marriage
has just been fixed to take place in October; he was at Elderthwaite
to-day.  And for the rest, Alvar is very unselfish, and I have taken up
a great deal of his time."

The parson looked at him with an odd sort of twinkle.  "Ay, _ay_; I know
all about that," he said; "but we old fellows know what we're about.
Well, I turn off here; so good day to you, and mind my words."  Cheriton
walked on, somewhat ruffled and disturbed.  He knew the old parson would
not have spoken as he had without some reason; and it crossed his mind
that Bob must be engaged in some undesirable amusements with Dick; but
if so, what could he do?  It was instinctive with Cheriton to try to do
something when any difficulty was brought before him.  Unselfish,
loving, and, like all influential people, fond of influence, he had
surrounded himself by calls on his energies and his interest.  And now
these surroundings were all unchanged, while he was changed utterly.
The relations of son, brother, neighbour, friend, which he had filled so
thoroughly, remained; and the feelings due to each seemed to have all
died away, killed by the blow that had come upon him.  He had never
lived to himself, nor realised his life apart from the other lives in
which it was bound up, or from his school, his college, and, most of
all, his home; and now, with this great loss and pain, he suddenly found
that he had a self behind it all--a self, fearfully strong, utterly
absorbing; all the proportions of life were changed to him.  Nothing
seemed to matter but the chance of rest and relief.  The plans he made
had no heart in them; he felt as if the labour necessary for success in
life was impossible, the success itself indifferent.  His tastes were
pure; the many temptations of life had been fairly met and conquered by
him; but each one now seemed to look him in the face from a new point of
view, and with new force.  Soul as well as heart is risked in such an
injury as Ruth had done him, and the more finely balanced perhaps the
more easily overthrown.  He did not cease to resist; but it was chiefly
against the increasing weakness and languor which were sure in the end
to prove irresistible to him.

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

A CRISIS.

  "I will take a year out of my life and story."

One chilly morning, a week or so after these events, Virginia was
sitting in the drawing-room, with a heap of patterns in her lap.  She
was choosing her wedding gown, and as she laid the glistening bits of
silk and satin on the table before her, she sighed at the thought that
there was no one to help her, no one to take an interest in her choice.
Ruth was gone, and Virginia missed her sorely, feeling as if the
loneliness, the uncongeniality of her home would be intolerable but for
the thought of the release so soon coming.  She felt that, though her
little efforts in the village had had some reward, within doors she had
never felt naturalised, never been able to produce any impression.  Her
father never showed her nearly as much affection as her uncle did, and
she could not know how much this was owing to a sense of his own
deficiencies towards her.  He was exceedingly irritable, too, and
difficult to deal with, discontented wholly with life; while Miss
Seyton's sarcastic tongue always seemed to pierce the weak places in
Virginia's armour, and when she was inclined to be cheerful, her talk
implied such alien views of life and duty that she made Virginia
wretched.

Dick had been offered some appointment in London, provided that he could
pass a decent examination next spring, but his sister could not perceive
that he made much preparation for it.  She also began to suspect that he
and Nettie Lester were more together than was good, and to wish for an
opportunity of hinting as much to Cheriton, whom she instinctively felt
to be the best depositary of such a vague suspicion.

But Cheriton was much less well again; he had been obliged to give up
going to Paris, and the whole family were suffering anxiety on his
account, more trying, perhaps, though less openly acknowledged, than
that caused by his actual illness.  Virginia was not quite the girl to
deal successfully with her home troubles.  Ruth, who did not care a bit
whether she could respect her relations or not, had made herself more
agreeable to them; while Virginia was timid and miserable, afraid of
being unfilial, and yet perpetually conscious of defects.  Of course, if
she could have felt that Alvar had really comprehended her troubles,
they would have weighed more lightly; but though his tenderness always
made her forget them for a time, she never had the sense of taking
counsel with him.

Now, as she turned over her patterns, her first thought was which he
would prefer, and as her aunt came in and with irresistible feminine
attraction began to examine them, Virginia said,--

"I shall wait till Alvar comes, and ask him whether he would like me to
have silk or satin."

"He will tell you that you look enchanting in either.  That will be a
pretty compliment, and save the trouble of a choice."

"Oh, no," said Virginia, "Alvar has a great deal of taste, and he likes
some of my dresses much better than others.  I wonder if Cherry is
better to-day."

"Probably, as I see his most devoted brother coming up the garden."

Virginia's face flushed into ecstasy in a moment.  She sprang to the
garden-door, scattering her patterns on the floor; while her aunt looked
after her, and muttered more softly than usual as she left the room,
"Poor little thing!"

Alvar looked very grave as he came towards her, as if he hardly saw the
slender figure in its fluttering delicate dress, or noticed the eager
eyes and smiling lips; but, as usual, he smiled when he came up the
steps, and seemed to put aside his previous thoughts, and to adopt the
courteous manner which made Virginia feel herself held at a distance.

For once, she was more full of her own affairs than of his.  "Look," she
said, picking up her silks, "do you see these?  Which do you like best?"

Alvar twisted the patterns over his fingers as he stood in the window
and did not at once answer.

"How is Cherry?" she said.  "Is he better to-day?"

"Perhaps--a little," said Alvar.  "But the doctors have seen him again,
and they say that he must not stay here--that he must go abroad for all
the winter."

"Do they?" said Virginia; "that looks very serious."

"Ah yes," said Alvar a little impatiently, "but my father--they all talk
as if it would kill him to go; he will get well away from these bitter
winds--and--and the businesses that are too much for him."

"Yes," said Virginia slowly, perceiving that Alvar did not quite
understand how startling a sound being ordered abroad had to English
ears after such an illness as Cheriton's.  "What does he say himself
about it?"

"He dreads it very much; but we will go to Seville, and then he _must_
find it pleasant."

Virginia started; she changed colour, and her heart began to beat very
fast.

"_Mi querida_!" said Alvar, taking her hand.  "I feel that I--affront
you--I do not know how to ask you to let me go; but how can I send my
brother away without me?  For his sake I expose myself perhaps to blame
from your father--"

"I don't quite understand," said Virginia, withdrawing a little, and
speaking with unusual clearness.  "Did Cherry ask you to go with him?"

"Ah, no.  He refused and said it must not be.  But he told Jack that he
hated the thought of going to Mentone or any such place alone.  My
father is too unhappy about him to be his companion, and Jack must go to
Oxford.  So, when I told him how the wish of my heart was to show him my
Spanish home, he owned that he should like to see it.  The climate will
not cure him if he is dull and miserable."

"Certainly you must _go_ with him," said Virginia steadily, though she
felt half suffocated.

"Ah, _mi reyna_!" cried Alvar, his brow clearing; "you see my trouble.
Without your approval I could not _go_!"

Virginia turned round and fixed her eyes on Alvar with a look never seen
before under their soft fringes.  The sharp agony of personal loss and
disappointment, the feeling, horrible to the gentle modest girl, that
the loss and the disappointment reserved all their sting for _her_, the
outward necessity of the proposal, and the inward knowledge that Alvar
wronged her by his feeling, though not by his act, drove her to bay at
last.  She would have _shared_ in any sacrifice, but she instinctively
knew that Alvar was making none.  The vague dissatisfactions, the dim
misunderstandings, the unacknowledged jealousies of many months, all
rushed at once into the light.  Her love was too passionate to be
patient, and her self-control broke down at last.

"Yes," she said, "of course you must go with your brother.  I see that.
I admit it quite.  But--Alvar--that's not all.  I have seen for a long
time that our engagement was a tie to you--it was a mistake.  I don't
blame you--you did not understand--but it is better to end it.  I
release you--you are free!"

"_Senorita_!" cried Alvar, flashing up, "I have given no one the right
to doubt my honour.  You mistake me."

"No," said Virginia, "I do not mistake.  I know--I know you mean
rightly--I ought not to wonder if you don't--if you don't--" she broke
off faltering and trembling, humiliated by the sense that she had not
been able to win him.

But Alvar's pride had taken fire.  "I am at your service," he said
proudly, "since you mistake my request."

"I will not hold you back one day," she answered.  "Nor do I blame you.
Don't mistake _me_.  You have done all for me that you could; but our
ideas are different, and I feel convinced we should only go on making
each other unhappy.  It is better to part."

"Since it is your wish to have it so," said Alvar in a tone of deep
offence, but with a curious pang at his heart.  "I was your true lover,
and I would never have caused you grief.  But since I did not satisfy
you, I withdraw.  I force myself on no lady."

"Indeed--indeed," faltered Virginia, "I do not blame you; it is perhaps
my fault, that--that we have so often mistaken each other."

"It is that to you--as to my father I am a stranger," said Alvar.  "I
will go--it is as you wish."

He took up his hat, paused, made her a formal bow, and went out.
Virginia sprang after him; but he did not look back.  She felt herself
cruel, exacting, selfish, and yet she _knew_ that her causes of
complaint were just.  She had sent him away from her, and she would
never see him again.  As he passed out of sight, she ran down the steps,
whether after him or away from the house, she hardly knew.  The trailing
overgrown roses caught in her dress and held her back.  She turned, and
all the desolation of the untrimmed garden and unpainted house seemed to
overwhelm her spirit.  The wind came up in long, dismal rustles, the sky
was grey and cold.  As she paused, she saw her aunt's still graceful
figure in its shabby dress cross the lawn, her face with its fair
outline and hard, bitter look turned towards her.

"_She_ lost _her_ lover!" thought Virginia, and her own future flashed
upon her like a dreadful vision.  She turned and fled up to her own
room, where every other thought was destroyed by the sense of loss and
misery.  It was in the middle of the afternoon that she was startled out
of her trance of wretchedness by a call in her aunt's voice, "Virginia,
Virginia!  Come here, I want you particularly."

Virginia obeyed passively.  She might as well tell her aunt of the
morning's interview then as put it off longer.  As she came into the
drawing-room, Miss Seyton left it by another door, and she found herself
alone with Cheriton Lester.

"Thank you for coming down," he said, eagerly.  "I want to explain; I
think there has been a great mistake."

"No, I think not," said Virginia, rather faintly.

"But let me tell you.  It is all my fault indeed.  Alvar must not be
punished for my selfishness.  You know, I got a fresh cold somehow, and
my cough was bad again, so my father was frightened and sent for the
doctors, and they ordered me away for the winter.  I must not go to
London now, they say--"

"Indeed, Cherry, I am _very_ sorry," faltered Virginia, as the cough
stopped him.

"No, but let me tell you.  This was a great shock to me.  I want to get
to work--and then--my poor father!  It seemed to knock me down
altogether, and foolishly, I let Jack see it, and said that I hated the
notion of any of those regular invalid places, and that going there
would do me no good.  And then Alvar came and asked me if I should not
like to see his friends and Seville, and I said, `Yes, if I must go
anywhere,' and he tried in his kind way to make the idea seem pleasant
to me, and my father caught at it because he thought I might like it.  I
shall never forgive myself for making such a fuss!  But of course
to-day--now I am in my right senses--I should not think of such a thing.
If Alvar goes with me, even to Seville, and stays for a few weeks,
then, if I am better, he can come home, and I shall not mind staying
there alone, and at Christmas Jack might come to me, or my father--it
can easily be managed.  In short, Virginia," he added, with an attempt
at his usual playfulness, "I want you to understand that I made a
complete fool of myself yesterday, and that that's the whole of it."

"Did Alvar ask you to come and tell me this?"

"No," said Cheriton, "he was hurt by your misunderstanding him, he does
not know I am here.  Jack drove me over.  But I shall not agree to any
other arrangement than what I have told you, unless," he added slowly,
"things should go badly, and then I _know_ you would have patience."

"Oh, Cherry," said Virginia, struggling with her tears, "I hope you
don't think me so selfish as to wish to prevent Alvar from going with
you.  It is not _that_."

"But what is it, then?  Can you tell me?" said Cherry gently, and
sitting down by her side.

"I have no one to ask," she said; "but you will think me wrong, and
yet--"

"I know too well how difficult it is to be right in matters of feeling,
if you once begin to analyse them," said Cherry sadly.

The gentleness of his voice and the kind look of his eyes gave her
courage, and she said, very low,--

"I think I should not make Alvar happy, because he does not care for me.
Please understand that he has done all he could; he is very _kind_ to
me, but he does not care for me."

"You know, Virginia," said Cherry eagerly, "Alvar has different ways
from ours.  Indeed, he _is_ loving--"

"He loves _you_," said Virginia quickly; then, blushing scarlet, she
added, "oh, Cherry, I think it is beautiful the way he is grateful to
you, and thinks so much of you.  Please, please, don't think I would
have it otherwise."

"I have far more cause to be grateful to him."

"Yes!  I like to think that.  But Cherry, when you were ill, he didn't
care for me to comfort him, it was no rest to him to come and see me.
He never tells me his troubles.  It isn't as Ruth and Rupert love each
other.  If I say anything, he turns it aside.  It will not make him
unhappy to give me up."

"It made him exceedingly angry," said.  Cheriton, too clear-sighted not
to acquiesce in the truth of Virginia's words, though he was unwilling
to own as much.

"I don't think," said Virginia, "that I should bear that feeling
patiently.  Things are very miserable any way, but I think Alvar will be
happier without me.  It has not turned out well."

She spoke in a low tone of complete depression, evidently uttering
convictions that had been long formed, gently and humbly, but with an
undercurrent of firmness.

"I will tell Alvar what you say," he said.  "I quite see what you mean,
but perhaps he will be able to show you that you have misinterpreted
him."

"No," said Virginia, with decision, "do not let him try."

As she spoke, there was a tap at the door, and Jack opened it.

"Cherry," he said, "it is so late; are you ready?"

"One minute, Jack," said Cheriton, "I am coming.  Virginia," he added,
taking her hands in his with sudden earnestness, "Alvar will love you
enough some day.  I am sure of it."

Cheriton hardly knew what put the words into his mouth; but they chimed
in Virginia's heart for many a weary day, lighted up by the bright,
brave smile which had accompanied them.

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

FAREWELL.

  "O near ones, dear ones! you in whose right hands
       Our own rests calm, whose faithful hearts all day,
  Wide open, wait till back from distant lands
       Thought, the tired traveller, wends his homeward way."

"Of course, since Miss Seyton insists, and you say you wish it, I come
home for my marriage in October," said Alvar.

"You don't understand," replied Cheriton vehemently, "and you are unfair
to Virginia.  She is as kind as she can be.  Go and show her that you
really care for her as she deserves, and it will all come right.  If
anything could make matters worse for me, it would be to think I had
been the excuse for a break between you!"

Alvar was standing in the library window, leaning back against the
shutter.  He looked perfectly unmoved and impervious to argument, his
mouth shut firm and his eyebrows a little contracted.  Cheriton, on the
other hand, half lying on the window-seat, was flushed and eager as if
he had been pleading for himself, not for another.

"No," said Alvar obstinately.  "Miss Seyton has dismissed me.  She tells
me that I do not content her.  Well, then, I will go."

"Why make yourself wretched for a mere misunderstanding?"

"I?  I shall not be wretched.  I hope I can take my dismissal from a
lady.  She finds that I do not suit her, so I withdraw," said Alvar in a
tone of indescribable haughtiness.

"Perhaps she knows best," said Cherry, "and is right in thinking you
indifferent to her."

"No--but I will be so soon," said Alvar coolly.

"It is no good to _say_ so," said Cherry; then, starting up, he came and
put his hand on Alvar's arm.  "Don't do this thing," he said
imploringly, "you don't know what it will cost you."

The two faces clear against the sky were a contrast for a painter;
Alvar's with its rich dark colouring, and calm impassive look just a
little sullen, and Cheriton's delicate, sharpened outlines, the eyes all
on fire and the colour varying with excitement.

Perhaps the two natures sympathised as little as the faces.  Alvar's
look softened, however, as he put Cherry back on the cushions.

"Lie still," he said; "why do you care so much?  You will be as ill as
you were yesterday.  If I had known it, you should not have gone to
Elderthwaite."

"But," said Cherry, more quietly, "I felt sure that there had been a
misunderstanding.  It was my fault.  Of course I like best to have you
with me; but I could not consent to any indefinite putting off of your
marriage.  My father would not agree to it either.  And that is not
quite the point.  Show Virginia that she is your first thought, and
everything can be put right."

Alvar stood silent for a minute, then said suddenly and emphatically,--

"No.  I have not the honour of pleasing her as I am.  I can change for
no one.  Do not grieve, _Cherito mio_, I shall forget all when I show
you Seville, and I will teach you to forget too.  I take the best of my
English home with me when I take my brother."

He took Cheriton's hands in his as he spoke, with a gesture, half
playful, half tender.  The response was cruelly disappointing.  Cherry
withdrew a little and said, in a tone of extreme coldness,--

"In that case Virginia is perfectly right.  I quite understand her
meaning.  But it will be a great vexation to my father that your
engagement should be broken for such a cause."

"My father cannot complain.  I have obeyed him," said Alvar.  "But I
shall go and tell him that the proposals he so honourably made me will
be unnecessary."  He went away as he spoke, and Jack, who had been
listening silently, exclaimed,--

"By Jove! he doesn't know what he's in for now?"

"Oh," cried Cherry, "it is intolerable!  If they had married, she would
never have found out his coolness!  It is most unlucky."

"Well," said Jack, "I don't know.  Alvar worships you, and has ways that
suit you, yet you can't understand each other.  Alvar is altogether
different from us.  He is outside our planetary system, and always will
be.  I'd like my wife to belong to the same species as myself."

"But the occasion is so annoying," said Cherry.  "Why must they order me
off in this way--or why couldn't I have held my tongue about it?  Oh,
Alvar is the wise man after all."

"You'll get well," said Jack gruffly.

"Well, I'll try.  But--" he paused; but the thought in his mind was that
the home ties had regained their power now that he believed himself
likely to leave them for ever.

"Cherry," said Jack, turning his back, and hunting in a bookshelf, "I
know all about it."

"Do you, Jack?"

"Yes.  You ought to go away; but do you mind going alone with Alvar?
Let me come."

"Well, Jack," said Cheriton, after a pause, "if you know, I can tell you
how it is.  I've had a hard time, and I think I should like to be quiet.
But it is right to give oneself a chance, and as for Alvar, I am not at
all afraid of going alone with him.  You know what a good nurse he is.
_If_ I want you, you will come to me."

"Yes," muttered Jack.

"But I don't want father to guess at what the doctors call `mental
anxiety,' nor to talk hopelessly to him.  You must comfort him.  I'm
afraid a great deal will be thrown on you, my boy."

Jack did not answer; and Cheriton, divining his feelings, made an
effort, and said cheerfully,--

"Of course, one is no judge oneself in such cases.  I am quite willing
to go now, and I shall look forward to seeing you at Christmas.  You
must write and give me your impressions of Oxford."

"Oh yes," said Jack, consoled; "and perhaps Alvar will pick up a Spanish
lady, and then we should be all right again."  Cherry smiled and shook
his head, feeling that he could not wish to dispose of Alvar in so
unceremonious a fashion.  He was angry with him now, and felt how wide a
gulf lay between their points of view; yet he had grown to be very
dependent on him, and was keenly conscious of all his unselfish
devotion.  He saw, too, that it would not do to talk freely even to
Jack, since it frightened him and made him miserable, and resolved to
keep all his confusing feelings to himself--feelings that seemed to tear
him to pieces while he was utterly weary of them all.

He was afraid that he had been hard on Alvar, and still more afraid of
how his father would take the revelation; but he had long to wait before
the study door was flung open, and Alvar walked in, with his head up,
and his face crimson.  He was passing through without heeding his
brothers, but Cherry's call checked him, and he came up to the window.

"_Mi querido_, this will do you harm," he said gently; "you excite
yourself too much."

"But tell me--"

"Yes, I will tell you.  But we will go upstairs; you must rest."

But as he spoke, his father came out of the study, and coming up to
them, said, in a tone of strong indignation,--

"I wish to know, Cheriton, how long you have been aware of a state of
feeling on your brother's part which places me in a situation of which I
am thoroughly ashamed; whether you were aware that, as appears from his
own confession, _my_ son has done Miss Seyton the disrespect of engaging
himself to her as a matter of expediency, and not of affection."

"Sir," said Alvar firmly, "your displeasure is for me alone.  I will not
allow my brother to be questioned; he is not strong enough to bear it."

"No, Alvar, it won't hurt me.  Father, I don't think you understand.  If
they find that they cannot satisfy each other, it is better to part.
Neither would act dishonourably by the other."

"There is no use in talking," said Alvar hotly.  "At my father's wish I
gave myself to Miss Seyton as I am.  Well, she rejects me; there is an
end of it.  I can change for no one.  I am myself.  Well, I do not
please any of you, but I do not ask you to change yourselves, nor will
I."  His words sounded like a mere defiance to his father, but as
Cheriton heard them, he felt their force.  Why should they all expect
Alvar to conform to their standard instead of trying to understand his?

"Be that as it may," said Mr Lester, "you have found an unworthy
pretext.  I am far from ungrateful for all your kindness to Cheriton,
but it was fair on none of us to take the opportunity of his going
abroad to put off your marriage.  If you had had the manliness to say at
once that your engagement was distasteful to you, we should have known
how to act."

"I will not stay--I will not hear myself so insulted!" cried Alvar, with
a sudden fury of passion, that flared high above his father's angry
displeasure, startling both the brothers into an attempt to interfere.

"Father is mistaken," cried Jack; while Cheriton began to say,--

"Come into the study, father; I think I can explain--" when his words
were stopped by a violent fit of coughing.  Agitated and over-fatigued
as he was, he could not check it, and the alarm was more effectual than
any explanations could have been in silencing the quarrel.

Alvar sprang to his side in a moment, and sent Jack for remedies; while
Mr Lester forgot everything but the one great anxiety and distress.
The doctors had given a strong enough warning against the possible
consequences of such excitement to make them all feel self-reproachful
at having caused it; and the next words exchanged between the disputants
were an entreaty from Mr Lester to know if Alvar was alarmed, a gentle
reassurance on Alvar's part, and a request, at once complied with, that
his father would move out of sight, lest Cherry should attempt to renew
the discussion.

It never was renewed.  When Cherry recovered, he was too much exhausted
to try to speak, or to think of Alvar in any light but of the one who
knew best what was comfortable to him, and once more everything seemed
indifferent to Mr Lester beside the approaching parting.  But though a
quarrel was averted, there was much discomfort.  Mrs Lester took her
son's view decidedly, and treated Alvar like a culprit, the only voice
raised in his favour being Bob's, who observed unexpectedly "that he
thought Alvar was quite right to do as he chose."  Mr Lester had an
interview with Mr Seyton, and probably made more than the _amende_
expected from him, for the next day he received a note from Virginia:--

"Dear Mr Lester,--As I find from my father that you do not entirely
understand the circumstances which have led to the breach of my
engagement, I think it is due to your son to tell you that it was
entirely my own doing, and that I have no cause of complaint against
him.  We parted, because I believe we are unsuited to each other, not
because he in any way displeased me; certainly not because he very
rightly wished to go abroad with Cheriton.  I hope you will forgive me
for saying this, and believe me,--

"Yours very sincerely,--

"Virginia Seyton."

Well meant as poor Virginia's letter was, it may be doubted whether it
much enlightened Mr Lester as to the point in question; but he showed
it to Alvar, who read it with a deep blush, and said,--

"She is, as ever, generous--but--I am a stranger to her still."

Meanwhile, all the arrangements for the journey were being made.
Cheriton received a warm invitation from Seville, and it was agreed, at
his earnest request, that his father should remain behind at Oakby, but
that Jack should go with him to Southampton, whence they were to go to
Gibraltar by P and O steamer, the easiest way, it was thought, of making
the journey.  In London, Cheriton was to see a celebrated physician.

He went bravely and considerately through all the trying leave-takings
and arrangements, taxing his strength to the uttermost, in the desire to
leave nothing undone for any one.  He put aside with a strong hand, that
inner self which yet he could not conquer, with its passionate yearning,
its bitter disappointment, its abiding sense of wrong; but it was there
still, and gave at times the strangest sense of unreality, even to the
pain of the partings, which was true pain nevertheless though he seemed
to feel it through the others, rather than through himself.  Perhaps the
vehement Lester temperament was not a very sanguine one, for though they
were told to be hopeful, they were all full of fear, and Cheriton
himself hardly looked forward to a return, or, indeed, to anything but
possible rest from the strain of making the best of himself, for he
suffered very much, while all the vivid and appropriate sensations with
which he had once looked out on life and death had died away.

He could hardly have borne it all but for Alvar's constant care and
watchfulness, and for the ease given by his apparent absence of feeling,
and for the soothing of his tender gentle ways, and yet though he clung
to him with ever-increasing gratitude and affection, there was a curious
sense of being apart from him.

Alvar, though he had too much tact to fret Cherry by opposition, had no
sympathy with the innumerable interests, for each one of which he wished
to provide, and thought his parting interviews with the young Flemings
and with many another waste of strength and spirits.  Cherry had also to
go through a trying conversation with old Parson Seyton, who, between
anger on Virginia's account and grief on Cheriton's, was difficult to
deal with, entirely refusing to see Alvar, and more than disposed to
quarrel with Cherry for going abroad with him.  Even Mr Ellesmere
regarded Alvar's conduct with considerable disapproval, though he would
not mar his relations with Cherry by a word.

Alvar said nothing and made no explanations, but he was exceedingly
impatient of the strain on Cherry's fortitude and cheerfulness, not
seeing what the memory of this sad time might one day be to them all,
and least of all appreciating the value of that last Sunday's
church-going and Communion, which, much as it tried both their feelings
and their shy reserve, not one of the others, even Bob, would for worlds
have omitted.  Yet, when many an old servant and neighbour made a point
that day of following the example of the squire and his children, Mr
Ellesmere thought the scene no small testimony to the value of the
lives, which, however faulty and imperfect, had been led, though at
different levels, with a constant sense of responsibility towards man
and of looking upwards to God.  Yes, and as something to give thanks
for, even while his heart swelled at the thought that the best-loved of
those tall fair-faced youths might never kneel in Oakby Church again.

That same Sunday evening, Mr Lester was sitting alone in the library in
the dusk, sad enough at heart, when Cherry came slowly in behind him,
and leaned over the back of his chair.

"Father," he said, "I've been thinking, and I want to tell you something
before I go."

"What is it, my boy?--don't stand--here, sit here."

He pulled another chair towards his own as he spoke, and Cherry sat
down, and said,--

"Father, I think I had rather you knew as much as I ought to tell you; I
don't want to have any secret between us."

"Well, my boy?"

"And, besides, I heard you say that, if you could have found any reason
for my being worse, you would be less anxious about me.  Well, it is not
a reason exactly, but I suppose it made me careless.  I--I've had a
great trouble lately--a--a disappointment.  It's over now--but it cost
me a good deal at the time.  I can't tell you any more about it; but I
thought--after all--I had rather you knew--_now_!"

Mr Lester did not ask a single question.

"I never guessed this," he said, in a tone of surprise; then, after a
pause, "Well, my dear boy, it's a great relief to my mind."

Cherry nearly laughed, though his heart was full enough.

"You need never imagine that it will turn up again," he said, decidedly.

"Ah, well, Cherry, we've all had disappointments," said Mr Lester, more
cheerfully than he had spoken for some time; "and I'm glad there's
something to account for your looks lately.  You weren't strong enough
for vexations.  You'll shake them off with the change of scene.  But, my
lad, don't go and make a fool of yourself in the reaction."

Cherry was sufficiently acquainted with his father's history to guess at
the drift of this warning; but he only shook his head and smiled, and
then there was a long silence.  Cherry leaned against the arm of his
father's chair, and, after a long-forgotten childish fashion, began to
finger the seals on his watch-chain.

"These are the first things I remember," he said.

Mr Lester passed his arm round him, as when he had been a slim boy,
standing by his side; and though no other word was spoken, and in the
darkness there were tears on both their faces, Cherry felt that after
such a drawing together, this worst of all the partings was easier to
bear.

PART THREE.

SEVILLE.

  "Wo die Citronen bluhn."

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

FIGHTING THE DRAGON.

  "Does the road wind uphill all the way?
  Yes, to the very end."

"So, papa, here we are, off at last!  I can hardly believe it, and
nothing left behind!  Isn't it delightful?  Such lovely weather and so
many people!  I wish we were going to India right away!  I wonder how
many of those people are good sailors."

"A very small proportion, my dear, in all probability."

"How I do like to look at people and imagine histories for them!  And
you cannot start for India without a sort of story; can you?  As for you
and me, _we're_ just going to enjoy ourselves!"

The speaker looked capable of enjoying herself and all around her.  She
was a girl of eighteen or nineteen, dressed in a tightly-fitting dark
blue dress with a little black felt hat, very becoming to her small,
slender shape, and dark glowing complexion.  She had pretty features and
very white teeth, which showed a little in her frequent smiles; dark
hazel eyes, bright, clear, and penetrating; and curly wavy hair, as
black as an English girl's can be.  She had quick, decided movements, a
clear, firm voice, and the sweetest laugh possible.

Among all the anxious, hurried, fidgety people on the deck she looked
perfectly happy and at her ease--not careless, for a variety of small
packages were neatly piled up beside her, but entirely content; for was
not the desire of her heart in process of fulfilment?  Ever since
Elizabeth Stanforth, always appropriately called Gipsy, had been a
little girl, she had delighted in sharing her father's expeditions when
the great London artist sought new ideas, new models, or a cessation
from ideas and models, in the enjoyment of natural beauty.  These
expeditions had not hitherto been long or frequent, for Gipsy was the
eldest of seven, and holiday trips away from the old house at Kensington
were generally made in company with her mother and the children, with
occasional divergences of Mr Stanforth's.  Gipsy, too, was but newly
released from the thraldom of lessons and classes, though a week once at
the Lakes, and another in Cornwall, had shown Mr Stanforth that she
possessed various requisites for a good traveller--a great capacity for
enjoyment and a great incapacity for being bored, good health, a good
appetite, and a good temper.

Therefore, when a long-cherished wish of Mr Stanforth's own was put in
practice, and he set out for a three months' tour in search of the
picturesque in Southern Spain, he took Gipsy with him, and this warm,
sunshiny September morning found them on the deck of a P and O steamer,
just about to leave Southampton on its way to Gibraltar.

They had arrived on board early, and were now watching the approach of
their fellow-passengers, the farewells and last words passing between
them and their friends: Gipsy simply delighted with the novelty of the
scene, and her father watching it with a peculiarly acute and kindly
gaze of accurate observation.

Mr Stanforth, with his slender figure and dark beard, looked young
enough to be sometimes mistaken for his daughter's elder brother; she
resembled him in colouring and feature, but keen and sweet as her bright
eyes were, they had not looked out long enough on life to have acquired
the thoughtful sympathetic expression that gave to her father's face an
unusual charm--a look that seemed to tell of an insight that reached
beyond the artist's observation of form and colour, or even of obvious
character, and penetrated the very thoughts of the heart, not merely to
note but to understand them.  Perhaps this was why Mr Stanforth's
portraits were thought such good likenesses, and why his original
designs never wanted for character and expression.

He was not thinking purposely of anything but his holiday and his
daughter, but the blue sky and bright sunshine of this unusually
summer-like September helped his sense of enjoyment, and every face as
it passed before him interested or amused him from the bright,
fresh-faced schoolgirl just "finished," and looking forward through a
few parting tears to incalculable possibilities in her unknown life, to
the climate-worn official who had been bored during his leave at home,
yet was far from regarding India as a paradise.  Brides blushing and
smiling, mothers with eyes and hearts sad for the children left at home,
young lads with the world before them--the deck offered specimens of all
these.  Some were surrounded by groups of friends, but most of the
sadder partings had been got over elsewhere, and the passengers were
coming on board with a sense of relief, and minds chiefly full of their
luggage and their state-rooms, their places at the table, and their
chairs for the deck.

As Mr Stanforth's eye travelled over the various groups he observed two
young men sitting close together on one of the benches at a little
distance.  The one nearest to him sat with his face turned away towards
his companion, a tall, powerful lad, with fair hair, and features of an
unusually fine and regular type, now pale and half sullen with a pain
evidently almost beyond endurance.  The other's hand lay on his knee,
and he seemed to be speaking, for the boy nodded and murmured a word or
two occasionally.  "That's a bad parting," thought the artist; "I wonder
which is the traveller."

"Look, papa," said Gipsy, "there's a model for you!  Isn't that an
uncommon face?"  She pointed out to him a tall, dark young man, with a
peculiar oval face of olive tinting, who stood close to them making
inquiries of some officials.  "There's a distinguished foreigner for
you," she said.

"Yes, a foreigner of course; a very fine fellow."

Something restrained the kindly-natured artist from drawing his
daughter's attention to the parting moments that were evidently so
painful; but the "distinguished foreigner," as the last minutes
approached, drew near to the pair and touched the lad on the shoulder.
He started up; the other rose also and turned round, showing a face like
enough in type to suggest the closest kinship, but white, thin, telling
a tale of sickness as well as of present suffering.  They grasped each
other's hands.  Mr Stanforth involuntarily turned his eyes away, and in
a moment the lad pushed through the crowd, evidently unseeing and
unheeding, passed close by them and knocked over all Gipsy's bags,
shawls, and bundles, pushed on, never knowing what he had done, and
turning, gave one last look at his brother, who met it with a beaming,
resolute smile, and a wave of the hand.

The olive-faced foreigner who had followed, saw the accident, and made a
gesture of apology, then bid the boy farewell with clasped hands and
some rapidly-uttered sentences, watching him over the side, and, coming
back to the Stanforths, hastily replaced the fallen articles.

"Pardon," he said, "my brother could not see."

"Don't mention it; no harm done," said Mr Stanforth kindly, as the
young man moved away, other groups came up and separated them, and he
was seen no more till dinner-time, when he appeared, but without his
companion.

In the intervals of making acquaintance with her fellow-passengers and
of beginning the letter which was to tell her mother of _every_ event of
their tour, Gipsy Stanforth speculated as to how the "distinguished
foreigner" came to call such an unmistakable Englishman his brother.

The three days that the Lesters had spent in London had been trying and
fatiguing.  Judge Cheriton and his wife had come up from the country to
their town house on purpose to receive them, but the very kindness and
interest which had prompted them to inquire into all the causes of
Cheriton's illness, and to question the prudence of some of the home
measures had fretted both Cheriton and Jack, the latter being a little
disposed to resent any interference.  But the right of the Cheritons to
a share in their nephews' affairs had always been admitted, and Mr
Lester, little as he felt himself able to bear the further strain, would
hardly have let them go to London without him, but for his
brother-in-law's assurance that they should not start till every
arrangement had been made.  The judge was surprised at the confidence
reposed in Alvar, and though he had too much sense to try to shake it,
had caused Mr Lester to insist that they should be accompanied by a
servant experienced in travelling and in illness, instead of the Oakby
lad at first chosen--an arrangement which Cheriton secretly much
disliked, though he acquiesced in it as sparing his father anxiety.

Judge Cheriton also undertook to give Mr Lester a full report of the
physician's opinion, which was not, on the whole, discouraging.  He said
that though the illness had left manifest traces, and that he considered
Cheriton in a critical state, there was nothing to prevent entire
recovery, of which the winter abroad offered the best chance; and if he
wished to go to Southern Spain, Spain it might be, as rest and change
were as much needed as climate.  There was no use in thinking of any
profession or occupation till the next summer.  Some overstrain had
resulted in a complete break-down, and the cough was part of the
mischief.  Fatigue, cold, and anxiety were all equally to be avoided,
but as there was no predisposition to any form of chest disease in the
family, they might look forward hopefully.

This verdict entirely consoled Alvar, who, indeed, had never looked much
beyond the present, and brightened the anxious hearts at Oakby,
especially when accompanied by a note from Cherry himself, which he had
made Jack read to "see if it was cheerful enough."

He and Jack clung to each other closely during those last few days, and
till they parted, Cheriton never ceased to be the one to uphold and to
cheer; but when Jack was out of sight, he broke down utterly, and while
Alvar was beginning to make acquaintance with the Stanforths, Cheriton
lay fighting hard with all the suffering which he had so long held at
bay.  He was not passive, though Alvar thought him so, as he lay still
and silent, unwilling to speak or be spoken to.  He was struggling
actively, strenuously, with all the force of a strong will against a
passionate and rebellious nature.  He was sufficiently experienced in
self-control, and unselfish enough to have succeeded in behaving well
and courageously under his various troubles.  But Cherry's notions of
self-conquest aimed higher and went deeper.  He would be master of his
own inmost soul, as well as of his outward actions.  His eyes were pure
enough to see as in a vision what was implied in saying honestly, "Thy
Will be done," and clear enough to know that he could not say it; while,
on the other hand, there was scarcely any form of wrath and bitterness
to which memory did not tempt him.  Why must he suffer in so many ways?
Perhaps the moments of softer yearning for the lost love of his boyhood,
sad as they were, were the least painful part of his suffering.  The
loss of health and strength, and of the power of substituting some other
aim in life for those earlier and sweeter hopes, came as a separate, but
to so active a person, an exceeding trial, while he was separated from
all the lesser interests which had the power of custom over him, a power
in his case unusually strong; yet in these he felt lay the hope of
salvation, at least from those intermittent waves of utter despondency
which made all alike worthless and blank.  Cheriton had all his life
tried to choose the better part, to follow his own higher nature, and
seek what was lovely and of good report, had all his life looked upward.
Had he not done so, these present temptations would have attacked him
on a far lower level, or, set apart as he was just now from all outward
action, he would more probably not have recognised that he had a battle
to fight at all.  But to Cheriton it was given to see the issues of the
battle that has been fought by all true saints, and perhaps by some
sinners; and his chief mistake now was that he was young enough to think
that, like the typical dragon fights of the old world, it could be won
by one great struggle.  This was his inner life, of which no one knew
anything, save perhaps Jack, who was like-minded enough to guess
something of it.

Alvar only saw that he was weak and weary, and suffering from a great
reaction of mind and body.  He was a very judicious companion, however,
and after a day or two of repose succeeded in coaxing Cherry on to the
deck; where the fresh air sent him to sleep on the cushions that Alvar
had arranged for him, more quietly than for some time past.

When he opened his eyes, and began to look about him, it was with a
refreshing sense of life and circumstances apart from himself and his
perplexities.  The blue sky, the dancing waves, the groups of people
moving about, the unfamiliar sights and sounds amused him.  He looked
round for his brother, and presently discovered him sitting at a little
distance, smoking his unfailing cigarette, and looking both comfortable
and picturesque in the soft felt hat, which, though not especially
unlike other people's, always had on him the effect of a costume.  He
was talking to a young lady, with an air of considerable animation and
intimacy.  She was knitting a gay-striped sock, the bright pins
twinkling with the rapid movement of her fingers, and she laughed often,
a particularly gay, musical laugh.

Alvar glanced round, and seeing that Cherry was awake, sprang up and
came over to him.

"Ah, you have had quite a long sleep," he said.

"Have I?  I feel all the better for it.  This is very comfortable.  And
pray who is the young lady with the knitting-needles?"

"Why, that is Miss Stanforth.  Did I not tell you how kind they have
been?  You see, Jack nearly knocked her down, and so we made
acquaintance; and just now I was teaching her some Spanish."

"Did Jack create a favourable impression by that mode of introduction?"

"Why, yes," said Alvar, delighted at hearing the shadow of a joke from
Cherry; "for I explained how it was that he was in trouble, and they
were interested at hearing of you.  Now you must have some breakfast,
and then perhaps you would like to see them."

"Oh, no," said Cherry, "I don't feel up to talking; but I am glad you
have some one to amuse you."

However, Cherry began to be amused himself by watching his brother.  He
felt the relief of having nothing to do and no one to think of, and as
he lay looking on, was surprised at perceiving how sociable the stiff,
reserved Alvar appeared to be, how many little politenesses he
performed, and how gay and light-hearted he looked.  Evidently Mr and
Miss Stanforth were the most attractive party, though Alvar seemed on
speaking terms with every one; and at last Cherry, seeing that he wished
it, begged that Mr Stanforth would come and speak to him, and their new
acquaintance, having the tact to see that he was shy in his character of
invalid, came and sat down beside him, and talked cheerfully on
indifferent topics.

"And where are you bound for," he asked presently, "when you reach
Gibraltar?"

"For Seville," said Cheriton; "Don Guzman de la Rosa, my brother's
grandfather, lives there at this time of the year.  He has a country
place, too, I believe, for the summer.  But Alvar thinks the journey
would be too much for me yet.  I hope not; he must want to be with his
friends."

"My daughter and I," said Mr Stanforth, "have some friends at
Gibraltar, and they have recommended us to join them at a place on the
coast, San Jose, I think they called it.  Afterwards our dream has been
to spend some weeks at Seville.  Can you tell us anything of ways and
means there, for we are trusting entirely to fate and a guide-book?"

"I'm afraid," said Cherry, smiling, "that I am trusting with equally
implicit faith in Alvar.  I haven't asked many questions.  Alvar, can
you tell Mr Stanforth what he must do, and how he must manage in
Seville?"

"All I know is at his service," said Alvar, sitting down at Cherry's
feet; "but he will, I hope, visit my grandfather, who will be honoured
by his coming.  My aunt, too, and my cousins would be proud to show Miss
Stanforth Seville."

"Oh, papa," exclaimed Gipsy impetuously, catching these words as she
approached, "to know some Spaniards.  Then we should really see the
country."  She broke off, blushing; and Alvar, springing up, offered her
a seat, and introduced her to his brother, while Mr Stanforth said,--

"Thank you, we could not refuse such a kind offer; but I want to make
Seville my head-quarters, and make excursions from thence.  What sort of
inns have you?  Are they pleasant for ladies?"

"Papa, you know we settled that I was not going to be a lady."

"Did we, my dear?  I was not a party to that arrangement.  You are not
_quite_ a gipsy yet, you know."

"There are inns," said Alvar, "but the best plan is to take a flat in
what we call a `_Casa de pupillos_,' a _pension_, I suppose.  I know
one.  Dona Catalina, who keeps it, is an excellent lady, most devout,
and she once received an English family, so she knows better how you
like to eat and drink."

"I don't mean to eat and drink anything that is not Spanish," said
Gipsy, laughing.

"Indeed," said Alvar, "you will not often find anything that is English.
I sometimes fear that my brother will not like that."

"You have a lively remembrance of being asked to eat oat-cake and
porridge, and drink what we call sherry," said Cheriton.

"But I will not expect that you shall like things that are strange to
you, _querido_," said Alvar, a speech that revealed a little of the
family history to Mr Stanforth's sharp eyes; while Gipsy said
earnestly,--

"Oh, the strangeness is what I expect to enjoy."

A good deal more information of different kinds followed, and Cherry
wondered at this own ignorance of Alvar's former surroundings.

"Why, I did not know that your cousins lived with you," he said.

"I did not speak much of Seville to _you_," said Alvar, with ever so
slight an emphasis, the first reminder he had ever given that there had
been one to whom he could talk freely.

"We were all too much occupied with teaching you about Westmoreland, and
lately I think I have been too stupid to care.  But you must give me
some Spanish lessons soon."

"Have you been long in England?" said Mr Stanforth to Alvar.

"I came at Christmas.  Ah, how cold it was!  The boys and Nettie laughed
at me because I did not like it.  They ran out into the snow without
their hats that I might feel ashamed of sitting by the fire," said Alvar
quaintly.

"Ah, we were a set of terrible young Philistines!" said Cheriton.  "Do
you remember the snow man and the wrestling?"

"I wish you could wrestle with me now, my brother," said Alvar
affectionately.

"That must be the effect of Spanish sunshine, instead of Westmoreland
snow; and in the meantime we must not tire you with talking," said Mr
Stanforth, perceiving that Cherry hardly liked the allusion.  "Come,
Gipsy, isn't it time for one of the innumerable meals we have on board
ship?"

"Oh, papa, I am sure you are always ready for them," said Gipsy,
following him.

Mr Stanforth, on discovering more clearly the whereabouts of Oakby,
recollected having visited Ashrigg some years ago, when engaged on a
portrait of some member of Sir John Hubbard's family.  He perceived with
some amusement that Alvar attached no ideas to his name or to his
profession; and Cherry had scarcely realised either, so that when the
next morning Mr Stanforth came up to speak to him, with a sketch-book
in his hand, he said, quite simply,--

"I see you have been drawing; may I look?"

"If you will not think I have taken a great liberty," said Mr
Stanforth, giving him the book.

Cheriton laughed and exclaimed at one or two exquisitely outlined
likenesses of their fellow-passengers, hitting off their peculiarities
with a touch, then admired a little bit of blue sky and dancing wave,
with a pair of sea-gulls hanging white and soft in the midst, while
under were written the lines,--

  "As though life's only call and care
  Were graceful motion."

"How lovely!" he said; "how wonderfully well you do it!  Ah, that is
Alvar--yes, you have caught that grave, graceful look exactly.  Alvar is
just like a walking picture; he can't be awkward."

"I am afraid I have not been so successful with Alvar's brother; but the
contrast was irresistible," said Mr Stanforth, as Cherry turned another
page, and saw a sketch of himself lying on the deck, and Alvar, leaning
over him, and pointing out something in the distance.

"That is just Alvar's look."

"You are a much more difficult subject than your brother," said Mr
Stanforth.

"I?  I don't think I'm fit to sit for my picture.  We tried in London to
get a photograph taken; but it made me look worse than I am, so we did
not send it home."

"You must let me try again.  As an artist I may be forgiven for
rejoicing in the chance of studying such a likeness beneath such a
contrast as there is between you two.  See, your faces are in the same
mould; it is the colour, and still more the character, that differs."

"I think that may be true of more than our faces," said Cherry
thoughtfully; "but I see what you mean, at least when I think of Jack,
and we were alike when I was well.  I will show you."

Here Cheriton caught sight of the name on the first page of the book,
"Raymond Stanforth," looked at the drawings, and then at his new
friend's face with a rush of comprehension.

"How stupid I have been!" he exclaimed, colouring.  "I beg your pardon.
Of course I ought to have guessed who it was at once.  Pray don't think
I am so ignorant as not to know your pictures.  And I have been
presuming to praise your sketches."

Mr Stanforth laughed kindly.

"You must not leave off doing so now we have found each other out.
Don't imagine that appreciation is not always pleasant."

"You have a great many admirers at Oxford," said Cheriton, a little
stiffly and shyly.  "Some of the fellows prided themselves immensely on
their appreciation of all sorts of modern art; but I'm afraid I don't
know very much about it."

"You employed your time, your brother tells me, to better purpose?"

"I don't know.  I thought so then.  And it seemed more worth while to
get a ride or pull on the river.  I don't see what a fellow wants in his
room but an armchair and a place for his books, and a good fire.  One
had better be out of doors when one isn't working.  I don't care to have
my rooms like a lady's drawing-room.  But of course," he added
apologetically, "I always like to go to the Academy and see the
pictures."

Mr Stanforth looked very much amused, but he was interested too.  It is
not uncommon in youth that considerable powers of mind may be exercised
so entirely in one line, as to leave many fields of intelligence
completely blank, and there were many points on which Cheriton simply
accepted the code of his home, which, put into plain language, was, that
study was study, and recreation out-of-door exercise of different kinds,
intellectual amusements being regarded with suspicion.  But there was
much more than the boyish "Philistinism" of this last speech written on
the face of the speaker, and Mr Stanforth felt inclined to draw it out.

"What did you say you were going to show me?" he said.

"I wanted you to see the rest of us!" said Cherry.  "Where is Alvar?  He
would get my photograph case."

Alvar was near at hand, talking to Gipsy Stanforth and to some other
ladies, and he soon brought Cheriton a little leather case which
contained a long row of handsome Lesters, and ended with the favourite
dogs and horses, and a view of the front door at Oakby, with Nettie
holding Buffer on the back of one of the stone wolves.

"There is a ready-made picture," said Mr Stanforth.

"My brother loves that little animal," said Alvar smiling, "he would
like his picture better than that of any of us."

"I am sure some of our dogs are worth painting," said Cherry, "but Alvar
does not appreciate Buffer's style."

And so, brightened by the fresh companionship and new scenes, the days
slipped by, till Cheriton wished their sameness could continue for ever.

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

SAN JOSE.

  "The lizard, with his shadow on the stone,
  Rests like a shadow, and the cicala sleeps,
  The purple flowers droop."

At Gibraltar the new acquaintances parted, and Mr Stanforth and his
daughter went at once to join their friends at San Jose, with many hopes
expressed of soon meeting at Seville; whither Cheriton, unwilling to
detain Alvar from his friends, wished to go immediately.  Mr
Stanforth's holiday was not an idle one.  Every walk he took, every
change of light and shade was a feast of new colour and form for him, to
be perpetuated by sketches more or less elaborate, and the enjoyment of
which was intense.  But the pair of dissimilar brothers had afforded him
interest of another kind, and it was with real pleasure that he thought
of a renewal of the intercourse with them, which came about sooner than
he had expected.

His friends, the Westons, were a brother and two sisters, lively people
approaching middle age.  Mr Weston had a government appointment in
Gibraltar, and his sisters lived with him.  They were enterprising,
cultivated women, and very fond of Gipsy Stanforth; who possessed that
power of quick sympathetic interest which of all things makes a
delightful companion.  She was always finding "bits" and "effects" for
her father, or suggesting subjects for his pencil; and she was almost
equally pleased to hunt for flowers for the botanical Miss Weston, and
to look out words in the dictionary for the literary one, who was
translating a set of Spanish tales.

_A propos_ of these, she related with much interest their acquaintance
on board ship, describing the two Lesters with a _naivete_ that amused
her friends, and prompted Miss Weston to say,--

"You seem to have been very fortunate in your travelling companions,
Gipsy."

"Yes, we were.  And it will be such an advantage to know a native family
at Seville.  That sounds as if they were heathens; but I declare that
_is_ Don Alvar, buying oranges!  Oh, I am so glad to see you!  So you
have come here after all."

"Yes.  Cheriton was so ill at Gibraltar that it was plain that he could
not bear the journey to Seville.  It is cooler here, and he is a little
better; but he can do nothing yet, and I am very unhappy.  I do not know
what to write to my father about him."

"Oh, I am sorry," said Gipsy warmly.  "He seemed better on board.  And
this place is so lovely."

"Yes," said Alvar simply.  "I could feel as if I was in heaven in the
sunshine, and when I hear the voices of my home; but when he suffers, it
darkens all.  But I must go back to him."

"Papa will come and see you," said Gipsy; "and this is Miss Weston, with
whom we are staying.  Good-bye.  I think your brother will be better
when he has had a rest."

Gipsy's cheerful sympathy brightened Alvar, who had expected that
Spanish sunshine would make a miraculous cure; but Cherry's cough had
been worse since they came on shore, and his spirits had failed
unaccountably just when Alvar had expected him to recover them.

Alvar had all along declared that it would be better to go by a Cadiz
packet and thence by rail to Seville; but Mr Lester believed in
Peninsular and Oriental steamers, and in the English doctors and hotels
of Gibraltar.  But there the heat and glare were hateful to Cheriton,
the servant they had brought proved more of a hindrance than a help, and
Alvar thought himself fortunate in obtaining leave from some Gibraltar
acquaintances to use their house at San Jose for a month, after which
Cheriton might be better able to encounter the strangers whom he really
dreaded more than the travelling.  Certainly if change was what Cherry
had needed he had obtained it thoroughly.  Nothing could well have been
more unlike Oakby than San Jose, and when Cheriton had had a little
rest, had been teased by Mr Stanforth for comparing the marble-paved
_patio_ of the house to the Alhambra at the Crystal Palace, and, moved
by the fortunate sympathy that had enabled him to "take a fancy" to the
kindly artist, had confided to him that he was very homesick, and longed
for Jack, though he did not like Alvar to know it, he brightened up and
grew rather stronger.  He was soon able to sit on the beach and try to
learn Spanish, insisting on understanding the construction of the
language, and asking questions sometimes rather puzzling to his tutor;
while Gipsy set up a rivalry with him as to the number of words and
phrases to be acquired in a day, in which she generally beat him hollow.
Nor had he any real want of appreciation of the new and beautiful world
around him, and Mr Stanforth helped him to enjoy it.  Life would be
very dull but for the involuntary inclinations to acquaintance and
friendship that brighten its ordinary course, and "fancies" are more
often things to be thankful for than to put aside.  This one roused
Cheriton from the dulness that accompanies sorrow and sickness, and
enabled him to turn at any rate the surface of his mind to fresh
interests.

Mr Stanforth, on the other hand, whose sympathy had been quickened by
the practice of a most kindly life, found much to interest him in the
bright, tender nature, evidently struggling under so heavy a cloud, and
did not wonder at the affection with which the young man was obviously
regarded--an affection made pathetic by the sad possibilities that were
but too apparent.

Gipsy was on very friendly terms with both the brothers, and was a new
specimen of girlhood for them.  She was quite as clever and as well
educated as either Ruth or Virginia, and had been in the habit of living
with much more widely cultivated people--people who talked, and had
something to talk about, so that she had a great deal to say; while
there was a quaint matter-of-factness about her too, and she talked art
as simply as she would have talked dress; and while she was very much
interested in the two young men, she never troubled herself at all about
her relations towards them.  She scolded Cherry for walking too far, and
discoursed on the suitability of his appearance for artistic purposes
with equal simplicity; fetched and carried for him, and triumphed over
his deficiencies in Spanish.  She received Alvar's courtesies and
compliments with the greatest delight, and proceeded to return them in
kind, till she actually rendered him almost free and easy, and he talked
so much of her that Cheriton grew half-frightened, unknowing that his
own remark, that he wished Nettie could know so nice a girl as Miss
Stanforth, had inspired Alvar with the notion that Ruth might find a
successor in La Zingara, as he called her.  But Gipsy was perfectly
unconscious, and was moreover carefully watched over by her father and
her friends.  By the end of the month Cheriton was able to undertake the
journey to Seville, and the Stanforths proposed to start at the same
time, but to go by a different route, which enabled them to see more of
the country.

"But," said Gipsy, one evening when they were all together on the beach,
"we _must_ get to Seville in time for a bull-fight, and Don Alvar says
there are none in the winter."

"But, Miss Stanforth," said Cherry, "_you_ surely would not go to a
bull-fight?"

"Wouldn't you?" said Gipsy mischievously.

"Well, yes--for once I think I should."

"You would not like it, Cherito," said Alvar.

"Don't you?" echoed Cherry, with a glance at Gipsy.

"Oh, yes; it is grand!  When the bull makes a rush one holds the breath,
and then--it is a shout!"

"I suppose it is a wonderful spectacle," said Mr Stanforth.  "I hope to
have a chance, but I think Gipsy will have to take it on trust."

"Jack desired me not to encourage them," said Cherry, "but I must own to
a great curiosity about it."

"But I shall not let you go," said Alvar; "it would tire you far too
much; and besides you are too tender-hearted.  My brothers," he added to
Mr Stanforth, "cannot bear to see anything hurt, unless they hurt it
themselves; then they do not mind."

"Of course," said Cherry, "there is an essential difference between
incurring danger, or at least fatigue and exertion yourself, and sitting
by to see other people incur it.  I have no doubt it is a barbarous sort
of thing, and there is something dreadful in the idea of a lady being
present at it; but it would be stupid, I think, to come away without
seeing anything so characteristic."

"The Spanish ladies do not mind it, nor I," said Alvar, "any more than
you mind killing your foxes, or your fish; but it is different for
foreigners.  They do not like to see the horses, though they are mostly
worthless ones, torn in pieces.  You would be ill, _querido_, you might
faint."

"Nonsense," said Cherry.  "I might hate it, but I should not be so soft
as that."

"You do not know," said Alvar, evidently not disposed to yield.  "Some
day," with a glance at Gipsy, "I will tell you.  You shot the old horse
yourself for fear the coachman should hurt him--but it made you cry; and
if a dog whines it grieves you."

"Old Star that I learnt to ride on!" said Cherry indignantly.  "What has
that to do with it?"

"And besides," resumed Alvar, perhaps a little wickedly, "bull-fights
are usually on Sunday, and are quite as bad as billiards or the guitar,
which you say in England are wrong."

"These are frightful imputations on you, Cheriton," said Mr Stanforth:
"a tender heart and too strict a sense of duty.  No wonder you are
obstinate.  But if what I have read be true, a bull-fight is a hard pull
on our insular nerves sometimes, and I doubt if you are in condition for
one."

"I don't want to see a bull-ring at Oakby," said Cherry; "but Alvar is
mistaken if he thinks I should mind it more than other people do.  There
is enough of a sporting element, I suppose, to keep one from dwelling on
the details."

"I see, Mr Lester," said Gipsy, "that you don't believe in the rights
of women."

"No, Miss Stanforth, I certainly don't.  I believe in my right to
protect them from what is unpleasant."

"But not to give them their own way!  Papa, don't look at me like that.
_I_ don't want to go and see horses killed on a Sunday, if Mr Lester
does.  But a bull-fight--the national sport of Spain--and the matadors
who are so courageous--ah! it makes such a difference the way things are
put."

"You must learn to look at the essentials, my dear.  But now shall we
have a last stroll to the point to see the sunset?"

"You need not tell Granny if I _do go_ to the bull-fight," whispered
Cherry, as Alvar helped him up, and gave him his arm across the rough
shingles.

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

SEVILLE.

  "Golden fruit fresh plucked and ripe."

"And now, my brother, you see Seville.  At last I can show you my
beautiful city!"

"Why--why, you never said it was like _this_!"

The Lesters had finally settled to go to Cadiz by sea, and thence by
rail to Seville, again breaking their journey at Xeres.  The Stanforths
were making the journey across country; but Cheriton was not equal to
long days on horseback, nor to risking the accommodations or no
accommodations of the _ventas_ and _posadas_ (taverns and inns) where
they might have to stop.  He was quite ready, however, to be excited and
patriotic as they passed through the famous waters of Trafalgar, and
curious to taste sherry at Xeres, where it proved exceedingly bad.  They
arrived at Seville in the afternoon, and were driving from the station
when Alvar interrupted Cherry's astonished contemplation of the scene
with the foregoing remark.

"Ah, it pleases you!" he said in a tone of satisfaction, as they passed
under the Alcazar, the Moorish palace, with its wonderful relics of a
bygone faith and power--the great cathedral, said to be "a religion in
itself"--and saw the gay tints of the painted buildings, the picturesque
turn of the streets, the infinite variety of colour and costume, and
over all the pure blue of the sky and the glorious intensity of Southern
sunlight.

Cheriton had no words to express his admiration, and only repeated,--

"You never told me that it was like this."

"You did not understand," said Alvar; "and perhaps I did not know."

He did not show any emotion, but his face smoothed out into an
expression of satisfaction and well-being, and he smiled with a little
air of triumph at Cherry's ecstasies.  This was what he had belonging to
himself in the background all the time, when his relations had thought
him so ignorant and inexperienced, and Alvar, like all the Lesters,
valued himself on his own belongings.

They drove up to the door of a large house, painted in various colours,
and with gaily-striped blinds and balconies; while through the
ornamental iron gates they caught glimpses of the _patio_, gay with
flowers.

Cheriton thought of the winter's night, the blazing fire, the shy, stiff
greetings that had formed Alvar's first glimpse of Oakby.  The great
gates were opened, and as they came in a tall old man came forward, into
whose arms Alvar threw himself with some vehement Spanish words of
greeting; then, in a moment, he turned and drew Cheriton forward,
saying, still in Spanish,--

"My grandfather, this is my dear brother."

Don Guzman de la Rosa bowed profoundly, and then shook hands with
Cheriton, who contrived to understand his greeting and inquiry after his
health, and to utter a few words in reply, feeling more shy than he had
ever done in his life; but then he was at fault.

"My grandfather says you are like what our father was when he came here;
that is true, is it not?  And now come in."

Don Guzman showed the way into an inner room, which seemed dark after
the brilliant _patio_, and was furnished much like an ordinary
drawing-room; and here Cheriton was introduced to Dona Luisa Aviego, a
middle-aged lady, Don Guzman's niece, and to two exceedingly pretty
young girls, and a little girl, her daughters.  He felt surprised at
seeing them all in French fashions.  Here also was their brother, Don
Manoel, a tall, dark, solemn-looking young man, who exactly fulfilled
Cheriton's idea of a Spaniard, and enabled him to understand Dona
Luisa's remark that Alvar had grown into an Englishman.  The old
grandfather was like a picture of Don Quixote, a very ideal of chivalry,
which character a life of prudent, careful indifferentism entirely
belied.

Alvar would not let Cherry stay to talk, telling him that he must rest
before dinner, which was at five, and soon took him upstairs into a very
comfortable bedroom, looking out on a pretty garden, and opening into
another belonging to himself.

Cheriton laughed and submitted, but the novelty and beauty had taken his
impressionable nature by storm and carried him quite out of himself.
When left alone, he had leisure for the surprising thought that his
father had gone through all these experiences without their apparently
leaving any trace except one of distaste and aversion; next, to wonder
whether it was Alvar's fault or their own that they had remained so
ignorant of Alvar's country; and lastly, that spite of the similarity of
colouring to his Spanish kindred and something in the carriage, Alvar
_did_ look like a Lester and an Englishman after all.

Cherry had got used by this time in some degree to the Spanish eatables,
and as he liked the universal chocolate and was as little fanciful as
any one so much out of health could be, he got on as well as his bad
appetite would let him, with the _ollas_ and _gazpachos_ spite of their
garlic, and at any rate he liked omelettes and the bread, which was
excellent.  Their servant, Robertson, had, however, regarded everything
Spanish with such horror, and had proved of so little use and so
disagreeable, that Cheriton finally cut the knot by sending him back to
Gibraltar, where he hoped to find a homeward-bound family, Alvar being
certain that there would be sufficient attendance at his grandfather's.

Conversation at dinner was difficult.  They all understood a little
English, which was rather more available than Cheriton's Spanish, and
Don Manoel spoke tolerably fluent French, to which, as Cheriton had in
his time earned several French prizes, he _ought_ to have been able to
respond more readily than was perhaps the case.  Cheriton did not mind
seeing grapes and melons eaten after soup, though he thought the taste
an odd one, but he could not quite reconcile himself to the universal
smoking after the first course in the presence of the ladies.  The young
ones were very silent, though they cast speaking glances at him with
their great languishing eyes; till after dinner the little girl, whom
Cherry thought the softest and prettiest thing he had ever seen,
produced a great blushing and tittering by whispering a question, which,
while apparently reproving, Dona Carmen was evidently encouraging her to
repeat to Alvar, who sat on her other side.

Alvar laughed and shook his head.

"No, Dolores; I think there is not one like him," he said, adding to
Cherry--"She wants to know if all Englishmen are like you--white and
golden like the saints in the cathedral.  It is true, she means the
painted statues."

"I am pale, because I have been ill," said Cherry, in his best Spanish,
and holding out his hand.  "Little one, will you make friends?  What
shall I say to her, Alvar?"

But Dolores, with an ineffable expression of demure coquetry, retreated
upon her sister, and would not accept his attentions, though she peeped
at him under her long eye-lashes directly he turned away.

The family met at eleven for a sort of _dejeuner a la fourchette_, but
every one had chocolate in their own rooms at any hour they pleased,
with bread or sponge-cake, which they called _pan del Rey_.  Alvar
brought some on the next morning to Cheriton and while he was drinking
it proceeded to enlighten him a little on the family affairs and habits.

"I perceive that the prayer-bell does not ring at half-past eight," said
Cherry smiling.

"No, the ladies all go to church every morning.  In the country my
grandfather is up early, and Manoel too, but here I cannot say--we meet
at eleven.  It is usual to write letters or transact business in the
morning on account of the heat."

"Does Don Manoel--is that what I ought to call him?--live here?  Has he
anything to do?"

Alvar then explained that Manoel had no regular occupation, having a
little money of his own.  He smoked and played cards, and went to the
casino, "that is what you call a club."  Moreover he was a very good
Catholic, and though he had not openly joined the Carlist party--the
Royalists as Alvar called them--he was thought to have a leaning towards
them: but Don Guzman never allowed politics to be discussed in his
house--neither politics nor religion.

"Is he a `good Catholic,' too?" asked Cherry.

Alvar shrugged his shoulders.

"He conforms," he said.  "You understand that I am English.  I have no
part in these matters, otherwise at times my grandfather might have
suffered for allowing me to be brought up as a Protestant; but I was
taught to see that they did not concern me.  But, _querido_, you must
not talk and `discuss' as you do with Jack at home, or you might make a
quarrel."

"No, I understand that.  But if I were you I should not like to be
supposed to be an outsider."

"In both countries?" said Alvar.  "No; but you see I had been taught
that I was an Englishman."

"Yet your grandfather would not let you come to England when you were a
boy."

"My grandfather," said Alvar, "hates the priests.  He would rather have
me for his heir, though I am a heretic, than Manoel.  That is true,
though he would not say so.  Look, he has seen many changes in this
country, one is as bad as the other; he would rather be quiet and let
things pass.  So would I."

"The Vicar of Bray," murmured Cherry.  "That creed is born of despair,"
he said aloud.  "I should be miserable to think so of any country."

"Yes?" said Alvar, with a sort of unmoved inquiry in his tone.  "You
have convictions.  In England they are not difficult.  But, besides, my
grandmother loved me very much, and not only was she religious like all
women, she was what you call good.  She would not part with me, and I
loved _her_."

Alvar paused and put his hand across his eyes, with more emotion than he
often showed.

"She thought," he continued, "that I should perhaps become a Catholic if
I married a _Sevillana_, and that my father's neglect would make me
altogether a De la Rosa.  Forgive me, Cherito, it is not quite to be
forgotten."

"I think it was very likely to be the case," said Cheriton.

"No, it was not the part for my father's son, nor for an Englishman, nor
did my grandfather wish it.  I am no Catholic--never!"

"I suppose your tutor was--was a strong Protestant?" said Cheriton,
rather surprised at the first religious conviction he had ever heard
from Alvar's lips.

"Well, I do not think you would have approved of him nor my father if he
had known.  He, what is it you say?--did no duty--and I do not think he
was much like your Mr Ellesmere.  He told me that he was paid `to put
the English doctrines into me and teach me to speak English;' and he
would say, `Remember it is your part to be a Protestant because you are
an English gentleman.'"

"But," said Cherry, "when you came to England you must surely have seen
that we did not look on it in that way?"

"I did not much attend to your words on it," said Alvar.  "As you know,
what my father required of me I did, and I saw that English gentlemen
thought much of their churches and their priests--or at least, that my
father did so.  I conformed, but I had not expected that in England,
too, I should be a _foreigner_--a stranger.  And I would not be other
than my real self."

"I'm afraid we were very unkind to you."

"You?  Never!" said Alvar.

"But why did you never tell me all this before?  I should have
understood you so much better."

"I did not think of it till I considered what would seem strange to you
here--what you would not comprehend easily."

Cheriton remained silent.  That Alvar had all his life considered
himself so entirely as a Lester and an Englishman was a new light to
him, and he could fully appreciate the check of finding himself regarded
by the Lesters as an alien, for he knew that even he himself had never
ceased so to look upon Alvar.

"We understand each other now," he said affectionately.  "I am glad you
have told me this.  But, Alvar, though `convictions' may seem to you
easy in England, you would make a great mistake if you imagined that the
religion of such a man as my father was for the sake of what you call
conformity, and that it did not influence his life."

"No," said Alvar, "I did not think so of my father and you.  I did not
comprehend at first, but I see now that--it interests you."

"Never doubt that," said Cheriton earnestly.  "You have seen all my
failures, but never doubt that is the one thing `interesting,' the one
thing to--to give one another chance."

He paused as a look of unspeakable enthusiastic conviction passed over
his face; then blushed intensely, and was silent.  Like most young men,
whatever their views, he was in the habit of talking a good deal of
"theology," and could have rectified Alvar's hazy notions with ease; but
personal experiences in such discussions were generally left on one
side.

Alvar did not follow him; but perhaps that look made more impression
than a great many arguments on the status of religion in England.

"Don't imagine I underrate your difficulties, or my own, or any one's,"
Cherry added hurriedly.

"I have no difficulties," said Alvar simply; "I believe you--always--
Now, do not talk any longer--rest before you get up."

Cheriton now perceived that the sort of separation that had been pursued
with regard to Alvar accounted for much of his indolence and
indifference.  He recognised how deeply his pride had been wounded by
his kindred's cold reception, and he in a measure understood the sort of
loyalty, half-proud, half-faithful, that held him to his own.  He found
that Alvar had never written a word of complaint of his family home to
Seville; he perceived that as time went on he dropped nothing that he
had acquired in England, either of dress or speech, attended the English
service at the Consulate regularly, even if Cheriton was unable to go,
and preferred to be called Mr Lester.  Cheriton saw that he intended no
one to think that his English residence had been a failure.

But there was one phase of this feeling of which even Cheriton had no
suspicion.  Alvar did not forget that one thing had belonged to him in
England, to which Spain offered no parallel.  He refused to answer any
questions from his grandfather as to his engagement or its breach.  He
had not been brought up to think that romantic passion was a necessary
accompaniment of a marriage engagement, but rather as a thing to be got
through first; and it had been with a very quiet appreciation that he
had given his hand away at his father's request.  And when Virginia was
once his, he was thoroughly contented with her, her rejection had
wounded him exceedingly, and now he missed her confiding sweetness
increasingly, he felt that a good thing was gone from him, and he would
not now have attempted to console Cheriton as he had done at Oakby.  But
he never spoke of his feelings, and as Cheriton could not think that he
had acted rightly by Virginia, the subject was never mentioned between
them.

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

EL TORO.

  "The ungentle sport that oft invites
  The Spanish maid and cheers the Spanish swain."

One of Alvar's first occupations was to find a lodging for the
Stanforths, and for one of the Miss Westons, whom they brought with
them, and he succeeded in obtaining a flat in a _casa de pupillos_ or
_pension_, not far from the De la Rosa's, in a picturesque street, with
a pleasant shady sitting-room, where Mr Stanforth could paint.  There
was a delightful landlady, Senora Catalina, who went to mass with the
greatest regularity every morning, but afterwards was ready to spend any
part of the day in escorting the ladies wherever they wished to go, only
objecting to Gipsy's dislike to allow her dress to trail on the
pavement, a point on which neither could convince the other, Spanish
ladies considering the looping of the dress improper, and Gipsy not
being able to reconcile herself to the normal condition of the pavements
of Seville.  Mr Stanforth, however, frequently accompanied them, and
they did a vast amount of sight-seeing, in which they were joined by the
two Lesters so far as Cheriton's strength would permit; and as sketching
often made Mr Stanforth stationary, Cherry liked to sit by him,
enjoying a great deal of discursive talk on things in general, and
entering with vivid interest into the novelty and beauty around.  Cherry
asked a great many more questions about Moorish remains, and
ecclesiastical customs, than Alvar was at all able to answer; and as his
Spanish improved, endeavoured to pick the brains of every one with whom
he came in contact; was so intelligent and so inquisitive about the
arrangement of the different churches, that old Padre Tome, the ladies'
confessor, looked upon him as a possible convert, and though solemnly
warned by Alvar never to talk politics with any one, could not always
resist teasing him by hovering round the subject.  He got on very well
with Don Guzman, and listened to a great deal of prosing about the best
way of breeding young bulls for the ring, and about all the varieties of
game to be found on the old gentleman's country estate, and soon
perceived that he had considerably underrated the sporting capacities of
the peninsula.  He was not a favourite with Don Manoel, who suspected
himself of being laughed at; and though Dona Luisa was very kind to him,
he was hardly allowed to exchange a word with the young ladies, and to
his great amusement perceived that he was considered likely to follow
his father's example, and make love to them.  Little Dolores, however,
was less in bondage to propriety, and became very fond of him, making
vain endeavours to pronounce "Cherry," and teaching him a great deal of
Spanish.  Miss Weston, who was a hearty enthusiastic woman, with rather
an overpowering amount of conversation, approved of what she called his
spirit of inquiry, and was possibly not insensible to his good looks and
winning manners.  He did not now shrink from home letters, and indeed
spent more time than Alvar thought good for him in replying to Jack's
voluminous disquisitions on his first weeks of Oxford.  Alvar thought
that he had entirely recovered his spirits, and indeed Cheriton was one
whose "mind had a thousand eyes," and they let in a good deal of surface
light, though he was himself well aware of colder, darker depths whose
sun had set for ever, and which could only be reached by the slowly
penetrating rays of a far intenser light.  Though no word of direct
confidence ever passed between him and Mr Stanforth, the latter knew
perfectly well that mental as well as physical change had been sought in
the sunny south.  His health improved considerably, though with many ups
and downs, he felt fairly well, and did not attempt to try the extent of
his powers.

He was very anxious not to be a restraint on Alvar's intercourse with
his friends or on his natural occupations; but except that he sometimes
went to evening parties which Cheriton avoided, Alvar generally
preferred escorting Gipsy and Miss Weston to the tops of all the
buildings which Mr Stanforth sketched from below, or into every corner
of the Alcazar, and every chapel of the cathedral, both of which places
had a wonderful charm for Cheriton.

Miss Stanforth was allowed to make friends with Alvar's cousins.  Carmen
and Isabel.  She had once gone to a fancy ball, dressed in a mantilla,
and had been told that she looked "very Spanish," with her dark eyes and
hair; a delusion from which she awoke the first time she saw her new
friends dressed for church (they did not wear mantillas often on secular
occasions); and great was their amusement at Gipsy's vain endeavour to
give exactly the becoming twist to the black lace, and to flirt her fan
in the approved style.  Gipsy was a bit of a mimic, but she could not
satisfy herself or them.

"It is of no use, Miss Stanforth," said Cheriton, when she complained to
him of her difficulties.  "Alvar does not like walking out with me in an
`Ulster' when the wind is cold, so he endeavoured to teach me to wear
one of those marvellous cloaks which they all throw about their
shoulders; but I can only get it over my head, and under my feet, and
everywhere that it ought not to be."

"Well," said Alvar, "you would not let me go to Hazelby in my cloak; you
said that the little boys would laugh at me."

"But a great coat," said Cherry, "is a rational kind of garment that
can't look odd anywhere."

"That is as you think," said Alvar; "but I do not care what you wear, if
you like it.  You will not certainly look like a Spaniard even in the
cloak."

"A great coat," said Mr Stanforth, "is one of those graceful garments
which have commended themselves to all ages.  I do not know what early
tradition was followed by the inventors of Noah's Arks in the case of
that patriarch--"

"Now, Mr Stanforth, that is too hard," interrupted Cherry.  "At least
it has pockets."

"So many," said Alvar, "that what you want is always in another one."

"Alvar, that cloak is your one weakness.  You clung to it in England,
and you put it on the moment you landed in Spain."

"Cheriton thinks it is a seal-skin," said Mr Stanforth smiling.

"Seal-skin," said Alvar.  "No, it is cloth and silk."

"Did you never hear of the fisherman who married a mermaid, and she
lived happily on shore till she fell in with a seal-skin; when she put
it on, and, forgetting her husband and children, jumped into the sea,
and never came up any more?"

"Ah, no!" said Alvar.  "It is only that I want Cherry to be comfortable
while he is down among the fishes."

"I will take to it some day, for the sake of astonishing Jack," said
Cherry.  "But, Alvar, those friends of yours last night were very much
interested in my travelling coat, and asked me if it was a Paris
fashion.  They put it on, and I tried to get Don Manoel into it; but he
thought it was a heretical sort of affair."

"Cherry, if you laugh at Manoel, he will think you insult him.  He hates
Englishmen, and our father especially.  He was angry because you gave
the jessamine to Isabel--and--we are polite here to each other; but if
there is what you call a row, it is worse than when every one is sulky
all at once at Oakby."

Cherry looked as if the temptation to provoke this new experience was
nearly irresistible; but Alvar continued to Mr Stanforth,--

"I am glad that Cherito should laugh once more as he used to do; but my
cousin does not understand."

"My dear Alvar, I will content myself with laughing at you; you always
understand a joke, don't you?"

"I do not care if I understand or no.  When I see you laughing," said
Alvar simply, "that is good."

Something in this speech so touched Cheriton that his laughter softened
away into a very doubtful smile, and he changed the subject; but he
tried afterwards to propitiate Don Manoel by the most courteous
treatment.  The Spaniard did not respond, and he perceived that
contending elements were discordant in Seville as well as in England.

Carmen and Isabel found novelty less distasteful.  It is true that they
thought Gipsy's free intercourse with their cousin Alvar and with the
English stranger shocking; but they preferred them to any other subject
of conversation, and Isabel in particular made quite a romance of the
incident of the Cape Jessamine, and how Don Cherito had looked at her
when he gave it to her.

"But why shouldn't he pick a bit of jessamine for you, if you couldn't
reach it for yourself?" asked Gipsy.

"Oh, Manoel said it was an attention."

"Oh dear no," said Gipsy, rather cruelly, "we shouldn't think anything
of it in England.  Don Manoel needn't be afraid."

"Oh, but Manoel is terrible.  He swore before Don Cherito came that he
would poniard us if we, like our Aunt Maria, listened to a heretic, a
stranger.  For Don Giraldo was a wild wicked Englishman, but beautiful
in the extreme; they have no religion, and no morals."

"Isabel!"

"Ah, I tell you what Manoel says.  He came, he pretended an accident,
and then Dona Maria married him.  Now, he says it is the same with Don
Cherito.  An illness--"

"Any one can see that Cheriton Lester is really ill, at any rate."

"Well--Manoel was angry with my grandfather for letting him come, and he
has told Alvar that it should be death before such a marriage.  Alvar
told him he knew nothing of his English brother, who loved an English
lady.  But Manoel says that what happened once might again happen."

"Isabel," said her sister, "it is wrong to talk of this.  If Zingara
repeats it, there will be a quarrel."

"I shall not repeat it," said Gipsy; "but it is all nonsense, I assure
you."

"Ah," said Isabel, "Manoel knows not.  He knows not that I love one whom
I have seen at mass, though I know not his name.  But with my fan I can
show him--"

"Isabel!" again said the grave Carmen; while Gipsy, who was far too well
bred and well brought up to have made signs in church with anything,
thought that "mass" and "a signal with a fan" sounded interesting, and
that what would have been highly unladylike at home was rather romantic
in Seville.

On their side, Carmen and Isabel thought Gipsy hardly used in being kept
away from the bull-fights, though she was too loyal to her nationality
to express any wish to see them.

Don Manoel was a great lover of the ring, and as certain young bulls
from Don Guzman's estate were to be brought forward at the last
_corrida_ of the season, there was a great desire that the Englishmen
should be present.  Mr Stanforth intended to avail himself of the
chance of seeing such a spectacle, and Cheriton, Don Guzman said, might
see one contest, and go away before the other bulls were brought
forward, if he found the fatigue too much for him.  They would get seats
on the shady side of the bull-ring, the great amphitheatre said to be
capable of holding ten thousand spectators.

Cheriton, who went against Alvar's wish, did not stay for the end, and
Mr Stanforth went to see if he had repented of the rather perverse
desire to prove himself capable of enduring the spectacle.  He found
him, still full of excitement, resting on a sofa in the _patio_; while
Alvar sat near him, smoking, and looking cool and bored, as if the
bull-fight had been a croquet party.

Mr Stanforth's entrance was rather inopportune, for Cherry was still
too full of his impressions not to talk of them, and, in answer to Mr
Stanforth's question, said eagerly,--

"Oh, the heat has tired me--that is nothing.  But it made one feel like
a fiend.  I felt all the fascination of it--even the horror had a
dreadful sort of attraction.  I could not have come away if Alvar had
not pulled me out when I was too dizzy to resist him."

"Very unwholesome fascination," said Mr Stanforth.

"Unwholesome!  I should think so!  It is abominable that such things
should be.  I tell Alvar that in his place I never would encourage an
appeal to the worst passions of human nature."

"Well, you would go, _mi caro_.  I told you you would not like it," said
Alvar coolly.

"You should set an example of indignation!"

"I?  I do not care what they do to amuse themselves.  It does not
interest me, as much, I think, as it did you, my brother."

"No," said Cherry slowly, "I understand a good many things by this.  I
should be as bad as any of them.  But when a country encourages and
allows such `amusements,' when women look on and like it, one cannot
wonder at Spanish cruelties.  It appeals to everything that is bad in
one."

"You insult my country and your hosts!  Don Cherito, such language is
unpardonable!" exclaimed an unexpected voice; and Don Manoel came
suddenly forward from one of the curtained doorways, close at hand.
"What right have you, senor, to speak of our ancient customs in terms
like these?"

"I beg your pardon," said Cheriton, after a moment's pause of amazement,
"if I have said anything to annoy you; but--I was not aware that you
were present.  I was speaking to my brother."

"Would you insinuate that I disguised my presence?" cried the Spaniard,
with real rage in his tones, and a determination to show it.

Then Alvar fired up with the sudden passion that had always startled his
English kindred.

"How dare you so address my brother!  He shall say what he chooses!"

"He shall not--nor you either!  You call yourself Spaniard--Andaluz--you
claim rights in Seville, and listen with complacence to the cowardly
scruples--"

Here Alvar broke in with much too rapid Spanish for the Englishmen to
follow, interrupted as it was by Manoel's rejoinder, and by furious
gestures as if the disputants were going to fly at each other's throats,
while Mr Stanforth's mild attempts at interposing with--"Come--come
now; what nonsense!  What is all this about?" were entirely unheard.

Meanwhile, Cheriton's previous excitement cooled down completely.  He
got up from the sofa, and stepped between them, laying his hand on
Alvar's arm.

"Excuse me, Alvar," he said, in his slow, careful Spanish, "this seems
to be my affair.  Senor Don Manoel, will you have the goodness to tell
me why you are offended with me?"

"He called you a coward--you, my brother!"

"My dear fellow, be quiet, don't be an ass."  (This in English for
Alvar's benefit.) "Would you tell me what has provoked you?"

"Senor Don Cherito," said Manoel, forced to answer civilly by Cheriton's
coolness--"first, did you mean to insinuate that I listened to your
conversation with my cousin?"

"By no means," said Cherry.  "I merely meant to say that I had not seen
you."

"Then I ask you, senor, to repeat or to withdraw the remarks you made
about the bull-fight," said Don Manoel, with the air of delivering an
ultimatum.

"He will not withdraw them!" cried Alvar.  "He is no coward!"

"I hope," said Cheriton, "I did nothing to offend.  Were I in Don
Manoel's place I should feel, I am sure, as he does.  I, too, am
attached to the customs of my country.  It is no doubt difficult for a
stranger to judge.  If I said the sport was cruel, I did not for a
moment mean to imply that--that--those who see it must be cruel.  Excuse
my bad Spanish.  I cannot express myself, but--pray let us shake hands."

He smiled, and held out his hand.

"Well, senor, you are Don Guzman de la Rosa's guest.  If this is meant
for an apology--"

"For having offended you--yes.  Being Don Guzman's guest, I could not
quarrel with his nephew."

"I accept, the apology," said Don Manoel, with much solemnity, and
accepting Cherry's hand.

"But," said Alvar, "you applied an expression to my brother."

"Oh, nonsense, Alvar; you know we never think of `expressions' when we
are angry; and I'm not aware of having had any opportunity of showing
either cowardice or courage."

"H'm," said Mr Stanforth, in English, "a tolerably cool head, I think."

Don Manoel, who appeared to have made up his mind to be magnanimous,
remarked that his expression had been used too hastily to a stranger;
but that a true Spaniard would look on any scene with equanimity.
Cherry's lip curved a little, as if he thought this a doubtful
advantage; but he answered with a laugh,--

"I _am_ a stranger, senor; and besides, I was fatigued."

"Ah," said Manoel, "that amounts to an entire excuse.  The expression is
withdrawn."

And with a profound bow to Cheriton, he went away, and Cherry burst out
laughing.

"What in the world did all that mean?" he said.  "Did I really offend
his national pride by turning sick at the dying horses?"

"That is not all," said Alvar hurriedly; "he hates the English and us
all; he would like to kill me."

"Ah, ha, Alvar, it is my turn to talk about `excitement' now."

"Well, I do not understand you.  When you came home you could not be
still; you seemed crazy.  And now, when any gentleman would be enraged,
you laugh."

"Oh, I hate quarrels.  And besides," shrugging his shoulders, "why in
the world should I care for such mock-heroics as that?"

"Ah, Cherry," said Mr Stanforth, "there spoke the very essence of
English scorn."

Cheriton coloured.

"True," he said, candidly, "Don Manoel had a right to be angry with me,
after all.  But I don't mean it.  I dare say he isn't half a bad
fellow."

"Ah, you are coughing.  You will be tired out; and I am sure that you
will not sleep," said Alvar.  "Come, you shall not talk any more about
anything."

"Very wise advice," said Mr Stanforth, "especially as Gipsy has
persuaded the whole party to come to-morrow to see my sketches, and
drink English `afternoon tea.'  So rest now in preparation."

Cheriton paid for his day's work by a bad night and much weariness.  Don
Manoel made very polite inquiries after him; but there was something in
the atmosphere that, to quote Alvar, Cherry "did not understand."

CHAPTER THIRTY.

NETTIE AT BAY.

  "A child, and vain."

After the departure of the travellers, a period of exceeding flatness
and dulness settled down on Oakby and its neighbourhood.  The weather
was dismal, one or two other neighbouring families were away, and no one
thought it worth while to do anything.  Jack had refused a congenial
invitation, and conscientiously stayed at home "to make it cheerful,"
until he went up to Oxford; but, though he was too well conducted and
successful not to be a satisfactory son, he and his father were not
congenial, and never could think of anything to say to each other.  He
had outgrown companionship with Bob, and did not now get on very well
with him; while Nettie was never sociable with any one but her twin.
Mrs Lester, though very attentive to her son's dinners and other
comforts, did not trouble herself much about the boys, and moreover did
not possess the comfortable characteristic common to most elderly
ladies--of being often to be found in one place.  As Jack expressed it
to himself, "no one was ever anywhere;" and prone as he was to look on
the dark side of things, the thought that this was what home would be
without Cherry, was perpetually before his mind.  He did not like to go
to Elderthwaite, and saw nothing of its inhabitants till one misty day
early in October, as he was walking through the lanes with Rolla and
Buffer at his heels, he came suddenly upon Virginia, leaning over a
stile, and looking, not at the view, for there was none, but at the mist
and the distant rain.  Her figure, in its long waterproof cloak, under
an arch of brown and yellow hazel boughs, had an indescribably forlorn
aspect; but Jack, awkward fellow, was conscious of nothing but a sense
of embarrassment and doubt what to say.  She started and coloured up,
but with greater self-possession spoke to him, and held out her hand.

"How d'ye do?" said Jack.  "Down, Buffer, you're all over mud."

"Oh, never mind, I don't care, dear little fellow!" exclaimed Virginia,
who would have hugged Buffer, mud and all, but for very shame.  "I did
not know you were at home, Jack."

"Yes, but I'm going to Oxford next week."

"And--and you have good accounts of Cherry?"

"Yes, pretty good, better than at first.  He says that he looks better,
and does not cough so much, and he likes it,--so he says, at least,"
replied Jack, who, conceiving that propriety precluded the mention of
Alvar's name, found his personal pronouns puzzling.

"I am _very_ glad," said Virginia softly.

"Yes, I suppose they are at Seville by this time; they stayed at San
Jose till Cherry was stronger.  Al--he--they thought it best."

"Your eldest brother would be very careful of him, I am sure," said
Virginia, with a gentle dignity that reassured Jack, though she blushed
deeply.

"Yes," he said more freely, "and they have made some friends; Mr
Stanforth, the artist, you know, and his daughter; they're very nice
people, and they have been learning Spanish together.  He writes in
_very_ good spirits," concluded Jack viciously, and referring to Cherry,
though poor Virginia's imagination supplied another antecedent.

"I am glad to hear it," she said.  "_I_ met that Miss Stanforth once.
She was a pretty, dark-eyed child then.  Good-bye, Jack, I am going soon
to stay with my cousin Ruth."

"Good-bye," said Jack, with a scowl which she could not account for.  "I
hope you'll enjoy yourself."

"Good-bye; good-bye, Buffer."

Jack took his way home through the wet shrubberies.  He felt sorry for
Virginia, whom he regarded as injured by Alvar, but he thought that she
ought to be angry with Ruth, never supposing that the latter's
delinquencies were unknown to her.

As he walked on he passed by a cart shed belonging to a small farm of
his father's above which was a hay loft, reached by a step ladder, to
the foot of which Buffer and Rolla both rushed, barking rapturously, and
trying to get up the ladder.

"Hullo! what's up?--rats, I suppose," thought Jack; and mounting two or
three steps of the very rickety ladder, he looked into the loft, his
chin on a level with the floor.  Suddenly a blinding heap of hay was
flung over his head; there was a scuffle and a rush, and Jack freed
himself from the hay to find his head in Nettie's very vigorous embrace;
and to see Dick Seyton swing himself down from the window of the loft
and run away.

"Stop, I say.  Nettie, let go, what are you doing here?  Dick, stop, I
say," cried Jack, scrambling up the ladder and rushing to the window;
but Dick had vanished.

"Don't stamp, Jack, you'll come through; you should have run after him,"
said Nettie saucily.

Jack turned, but caught his foot in a hole and fell headlong into the
hay, while Nettie sat and laughed at him, and the dogs howled at the
foot of the ladder.

Jack picked himself up cautiously, and sitting down on the hay, for
there was hardly room for him to stand upright, said severely,--

"Now, Nettie, what is the meaning of this?"

"The meaning of what?"

"Of your being here with Dick.  I told you in the summer that I didn't
approve of your being so friendly with him, and now I insist on knowing
at once what you were doing with him."

"Well, then, I shan't tell you," said Nettie coolly.

"I say you shall.  I couldn't have believed that my sister would be so
unladylike.  Just tell me how often you have met him, and what you were
doing here?"

"It's no business of yours," said Nettie, making a sudden rush at the
ladder; but Jack caught her, and a struggle ensued, in which of course
he had the upper hand, though she was strong enough to make a
considerable resistance; and he felt the absurdity of fighting with her
as if she were a naughty child, when her offence was of such a nature.

"Now, Nettie," he said, in a tone that she could not resist.  "Stop this
nonsense.  I mean to have an answer.  What has induced you to meet Dick
Seyton in secret, and how often have you done so?  You can't deny that
you have."

"No," said Nettie, "I have, often, and I shall ever so many times more."

"I couldn't have believed it of you, Nettie," said Jack, so seriously
and so mildly that Nettie looked quite frightened, and then exclaimed,--

"Jack, if you dare to venture to think that I meet Dick that we may make
love to each other, or any nonsense of that kind, I'll--I'll kill you--
I'll never speak to you again, _never_!"

"Why--why what else can I think?" said Jack, blushing, and by far the
more shamefaced of the two.

"Well, then, it's abominable and shameful of you.  Do you think I would
be so horrid?  As if I ever meant to marry any one.  I shall live with
Bob."

"Don't be so violent, Nettie.  You have acted very deceitfully."

"Deceitfully!  Do you think I'd tell you a story?"

As Nettie had never been known to "tell a story" in her life, Jack could
not say that he thought she would; but he replied,--

"You _have_ acted deceitfully.  You have run after Dick when we all
thought you were somewhere else, and--there's no use in being in a
passion--but what do you suppose any one would think of a girl who
behaved in such a manner?"

Nettie blushed, but answered,--

"I can't help what any one thinks, Jack.  I know I'm right, and I must
go on doing it."

"Indeed you won't," said Jack angrily; "for unless you promise never to
meet him any more, I shall tell father at once that I found you here.
What do you think Cherry would say to you?"

"Cherry would say I was perfectly right, and would do _exactly_ the same
thing himself," said Nettie, triumphantly.  "I am not doing any harm;
and I must go on.  I can't tell you why I am doing it, because I
promised not, and I'll do it nearer home if you like it better.  Bob and
I quarrelled about it many a time, _he_ knows."

"Oh, he knows, does he?  What a fool he must have been to let you do
it."

"He won't tell of me," said Nettie, "and he never did let me when he was
at home.  But I am not a silly, horrid girl, Jack, whatever you think;
and I'm not flirting with Dick, nor--nor--engaged to him; and when--
when--it's right, I don't mind people thinking so!"

But this speech ended in a flood of tears, as poor Nettie's latent
maidenliness began to assert itself.

"And pray," said Jack, "does Dick come after you because it's right?"

"No--no," sobbed Nettie; "because I make him."

"And how can you _make_ him, I should like to know?"

Nettie made no answer but renewed tears.  At last she sobbed out, "Oh,
Jack, Jack, I wish you were Cherry!"

"I wish I were with all my heart," said Jack.  "Would you tell me if I
were Cherry?"

"No; but I know _he_ would be kind, and not think me horrid."

"Well, Nettie, I'll try to be kind; but you frighten me by all this.
Now just listen.  I believe I ought to tell father directly."

"Oh, Jack! dear Jack!  Don't, don't--it would be dreadful!  Don't you
believe me?"

"Yes," said Jack, "I believe you; but how do I know about a young scamp
like Dick?  You tell me the whole truth, and then I can judge, or I
shall tell my father this moment.  You're my sister, and I shall take
care of you.  You've done a thing that may be told against you all your
life, and nothing can make it right, say what you will."

"But I _can't_ tell you, Jack; I've promised."

"Well, then, I shall have it out first with Dick."

"Oh, Jack, everything will be undone then!"

"And pray, if you don't care about him, why does it matter to you so
much about him?"

"Indeed--indeed, Jack, I'm not in love with him in the least.  I never
was with anybody, and I never mean to be," said Nettie, fixing her great
blue eyes full on Jack, and speaking with convincing eagerness.

"And how about him?" said Jack crossly.

"No, it's nothing to do with it," said Nettie; but the tone of her voice
altered a little, and Jack had a sort of feeling that there was more in
the matter than she herself knew, for he never thought of disbelieving
her.

"Will you tell, and will you promise?" he said.

"No, I won't," said Nettie.

"Then you are a very naughty, disobedient girl, and you shall come home
with me this minute."

"I hate you, Jack.  I'll never forgive you," said Nettie passionately,
as she followed him; and all the way home she sobbed and pouted, with an
intolerable sense of shame, while Jack, utterly puzzled, walked by her
side, a desire to horsewhip Dick Seyton contending in his mind with a
dread of making a row.

They came in by the back-door, and Nettie rushed upstairs at once; while
Jack, virtuous and resolute, went into the study.

Resolute as the girl was, she listened trembling, till her father's loud
call of "Nettie, Nettie, come here this moment!" brought her down to the
study, where were her father, her grandmother, and Jack.

"Eh, what's all this, Nettie?" said Mr Lester.  "I can't have you
running about the country with young Seyton.  What's the meaning of it?"

"Papa," said Nettie, "I haven't run about the country.  Dick and I have
got a secret; it's a very good secret."

"Well, what is it, then?" said her father.

"I don't mean to tell.  I never tell secrets," said Nettie, with
determination.  "We have had it a long time."

"My dear," said Mr Lester, much more mildly than he would have spoken
to any of his boys, "I must put an end to it.  You have been running
wild with your brothers till you forget how big a girl you are getting.
Never go out with Dick again by yourself--do you hear?"

Nettie made no answer, and her father continued, more sternly,--

"I am sorry, Nettie, that you did not know better how to behave.  Never
let me hear of such a thing again."

Still silence; and Jack said,--

"She won't promise.  I shall see what Dick says about it."

"Then you'll just do nothing of the sort, Jack," said his grandmother,
"making mountains out of mole-hills.  Nettie is going to London to stay
with her aunt Cheriton, and have some music and French lessons with
Dolly and Kate.  I'd settled it all this morning.  She doesn't attend
enough to her studies here.  You'll take her up when you go to Oxford,
and there'll be an end of the matter."

"Yes, yes," said Mr Lester.  "Grandmamma and I were talking it over
just now."

"Not that it is on account of your remarks, Jack," said Mrs Lester.
"That would be making far too much of her foolish behaviour; but in
London she'll learn better."

"To be sure," said Mr Lester, who had been stopped on his way out
riding by Jack's appeal, and was now glad to escape from an unpleasant
discussion.  "Nettie will come back at Christmas, and we shall hear no
more of such childish tricks."

Nettie looked like a statue, and never spoke a word; but there was a
look of fright through all her sullenness.  Jack was not accustomed to
think much of her appearance, but he knew as a matter of fact that she
was handsome, and it struck him forcibly that she looked "grown-up."

"You've done more harm than you know," she said; "but I will not tell,
and I will not promise."  And with a sort of dignity in her air, she
walked out of the room.

"What does she mean?" said Jack.

"Never you mind," said his grandmother, "and don't you raise the
countryside on her by saying a word to Dick or any one.  Hold your
tongue, and be thankful.  The Seytons are the plague of the place, and
we'll ask them all to dinner before Nettie goes, Dick included."

"Ask them to dinner?" said Jack.

"Yes; we'll have no talk of a quarrel.  And besides, your father finds
that people are apt to think that it was Virginia's fault that your
half-brother left her in the lurch; and that's not so, though she _is_ a
Seyton."

"No, indeed!"

"So my son means to have a dinner-party, and to show that we are all
good friends, and pay them proper attention.  A bad lot they are;
there's not one of them to be trusted."

"But, Granny," said Jack anxiously, "what do you think about Nettie?
What secret can she have?"

"Eh, I can't tell.  He may be getting her a puppy or a creature of some
kind; but Nettie's secret may be one and Dick's another.  I always
blamed Cherry for encouraging the Seytons about the place."

"Poor Cherry!" muttered Jack to himself, with a great longing to throw
the burden of his difficulty on to Cherry's shoulders.

Nettie remained sullen and impenetrable.  She treated Jack with an
intense resentment that vexed him more than he could have supposed.
Neither her father nor her grandmother asked her any questions; but she
was watched, though not palpably in disgrace, and she suffered from an
agony of shame and of self-reproach which contended strangely with the
motive that in her view justified the stolen meetings.  Whether her
womanly instincts, roughly awakened, justified the warnings given her,
or whether, she merely resented the unjust suspicion, she herself
scarcely knew, and not for worlds would she have explained her feelings.
The dread of giving an advantage, the intense sulky self-respect that
leads to an exaggeration of reserve and false shame, was in her nature
as in that of all the Lesters, and if Cheriton had been present she
could not probably have uttered a word to him.  Being absent, she could
venture to soften at the thought of him, and cried for him many a time
in secret.

CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

BROKEN LINKS.

  "Love is made a vague regret."

Virginia, when she parted from Jack, walked slowly homewards through the
mist and the falling leaves, and thought of the bloom and the brightness
of that fair Seville which she had so often pictured to herself.  How
happy the two brothers would be there together, among all the
surroundings which she had heard described so often!  Alvar would never
think of her.  "At least, I should have had letters from him if I had
not sent him away," she thought; and though she did not regret the
parting in the sense of blaming herself for it, she felt in her utter
desolation as if she had rather have had her lover cold and indifferent
than not have him at all.

For life was so dreary, home so wretched, and Virginia could not mend
it.  Indeed in many ways a less high-minded girl with stronger spirits
and more tact might have been far more useful there.  Virginia held her
tongue resolutely; but she could not shut her eyes.  She had lost her
bearings, and could not possibly understand the proportion of things.
Thus even in her inmost soul she never blamed her father for his
life-long extravagance, for the vague stories of his dissipated youth--
these things were not for her to judge; but the conversation, which he
intended to be perfectly fit for her ears, was full of small prejudices,
small injustices, and trifles taken for granted that grated on her every
hour.  She tried very hard to be gentle and pleasant to her aunt; but
she could not bring herself, as Ruth could, to laugh at scandalous
stories, old or new, or even to think herself right in listening to
them.  And though her father and aunt _so far as they knew how_,
respected her innocence, the latter only laughed at the ignorance that
thought one thing as bad as another.  For there _were_ virtues, or at
least self-denials in their lives, for which, with all her love and with
all her charity, she could not possibly credit them.  It was something
that Mr Seyton had pulled through without utterly succumbing to debt
and difficulty, it was something that when writhing under an injury
which she never forgot or forgave, his sister stuck to him and kept
things as straight as they were.  It was a godless, idle, aimless
household, above stairs and below; but it was not a scandalous one, and,
with all the antecedents, it easily might have been.  But the obvious
outcome of this hard narrow life was a deadness to all outer or higher
interests, an ignorance of the ordinary views of society, and of modern
forms of thought never attained save by selfish people, an absence of
restraint of temper, a delight in utter littleness, which were intensely
wearying.  Higher principles would have made life more interesting if
nothing more.  The narrowest form of belief in religion and goodness
would have given a wider outlook.  Virginia was sick to death of tales
of little local incidents spiced with ill-nature, or incessant
complaints of someone's ill-behaviour about a fence or a cow.  If she
had lived at Oakby she would have heard a good deal of the same sort of
thing; but there there would have been something else to fall back on,
and she would not have heard small triumphs over small overreaching,
which Mr Seyton did not mix enough with his kind to hear commented on.

Virginia used to wonder if she would grow like her aunt, her life was so
empty.  All her young-lady interests, the essay and drawing clubs, the
correspondence and the art needlework, with which like other girls she
had amused herself, had languished entirely during her engagement, and
she did not care to resume them.  She would have liked to be a resource
to Dick; but she was not used to boys, and had not much faculty for
amusing them, and Dick did not care for her.  Her Sunday class tired
her, and were naughty because her teaching was languid; the children by
no means offering the consolations to her depression which they are
sometimes represented as doing in fiction.  The Ellesmeres, who were
always kind to her, were away for their annual holiday, and the library
books for which she subscribed, and which might have amused her, could
never, by any chance be fetched from the station when she wanted them.

Her uncle showed his sympathy by scolding her roundly for fretting for a
black-eyed foreigner, till she was almost too angry to speak to him.

Under all these circumstances Ruth's urgent invitation had been welcome,
and as she received others from her friends at Littleton, she resolved
to go and try to pick up the threads that Alvar had broken.  Soon after
she parted with Jack she met the Parson, and told him what she knew
would be welcome news, that Cherry was better.

"Ay," said Mr Seyton, "Jack brought me a message from him that he would
write me an account of a bull-fight.  Wonder he's not ashamed to go near
one.  Cruel, unmanly sport--disgraceful!"

"Well, uncle," said Virginia, "I think you ought to be pleased that
Cherry is well enough to go."

"Eh?  I'll ask him if he'll come and see a cock-fight when he comes
home.  Plenty of 'em here--round the corner.  So you're going to London
to get a little colour in your cheeks, I think it's time."

"Yes, uncle; Mrs Clement will teach the children while I'm away."

"Very well, and tell Miss Ruth she was blind of one eye when she made
her choice, but _I_ can see out of both."

"Uncle, I shouldn't think of telling her such a thing.  What do you
mean?"

"Never mind, she'll understand me.  Good-bye, my dear, and never mind
the Frenchman."

Virginia smiled, but she could not turn her thoughts away, not merely
from Alvar, but from her life without him.  Fain would she have refused
the invitation which soon arrived to a solemn dinner-party at Oakby; but
it had been accompanied by a hint from Mr Lester to her aunt which
caused the latter to insist on accepting it, and they went accordingly
to meet Sir John and Lady Hubbard, and one or two other neighbours.  Mr
Lester was markedly polite to Virginia.  Mrs Lester wore her best black
velvet, and a certain diamond brooch, only produced on occasions of
state.  Jack looked proper, silent, and bored.  Every one wished to ask
after the universally popular Cheriton, but felt that Alvar was an
awkward subject of conversation, so that the adventures of the
travellers could not be used to enliven the dulness.  Nettie did not of
course appear at dinner, and afterwards sat in a corner of the
drawing-room in her white muslin, apparently determined not to open her
mouth.  Dick strolled up to her when the gentlemen came in, and was
instantly followed by Jack, who stood by her silent and frowning.
Nettie looked up under her eyebrows, and said, "Dick, I am going to
London."

"So I hear," said Dick, with a smile and a slight shrug.

"I hate it, but I can't help it.  _You go on_."

Dick smiled again and nodded, and then looked at Jack with an air of
secret amusement, indescribably provoking.  "All right," he said, but he
turned away and made no further demonstration; and Mrs Lester desired
Nettie to show Miss Hubbard "Views on the Rhine," a very handsome book
reserved for occasions of unusual dulness.

Altogether the evening did not raise Virginia's spirits, and she was
half inclined to resent the special kindness shown to her by Mr Lester,
as implying blame to his absent son.

It was a wonderful change of scene and circumstance, when she found
herself, some few days later, sitting in Lady Charlton's pleasant London
drawing-room, full of books, work, plants, and pretty things, with Ruth,
bright-eyed and blooming, sitting on the rug at her feet, ready for a
confidential chatter.

She was to be married directly after Christmas, she told Virginia.
Rupert did not mean to sell out of the army; she did not at all dislike
the notion of moving about for a few years, and now the regiment was at
Aldershot she could see Rupert often while she remained in London to get
her things.

"And, Queenie, you must choose the dresses for the bridesmaids.
Grandmamma will have a gay wedding.  _I_ think it will be a great bore."

"Your bridesmaids ought to wear something warm and gay and bright, like
yourself, Ruthie.  Are you going to ask Nettie Lester?"

"Oh, no!" said Ruth hurriedly.  "Why should I?"

"She is Rupert's cousin, and she is so handsome."

"I never thought of her!  I am angry with them all since Don Alvar has
made you miserable.  My darling Queenie, I should like to stamp on him!
Now, don't be angry; but tell me how it all came about?"

"I don't think I could ever make you understand it, Ruth.  He did
nothing wrong.  It was only that--that I did not suit him, and I found
it out," said Virginia, with a sort of ache in her voice, as she turned
her head away.

"The more--well, I won't finish the sentence.  Any way, he has spoiled
your life for you; for I am afraid he is _your_ love if you are not
his," said Ruth, scanning her sad face curiously.  "Queenie, weren't you
ready to kill him and Cherry, too, when they went off comfortably
together?"

"No," said Virginia, "he could not help going--_that_ was not it.  And
as for Cherry, he was the only person who understood anything about it--
he was so kind!  Oh, I hope he is really better!"

"I dare say he is, by this time," said Ruth, rather oddly; "but they are
all so easily frightened about him--they spoil him.  I wonder what they
would all say if _he_ fell in love with a naughty, wicked siren--a
female villain, who broke his heart for him--just for fun."

"She would break something worth having," said Virginia indignantly.
"But, do you know anything about Cherry, Ruth?"

"I?  I don't believe in sirens who break hearts just for fun and vanity.
And as for Cherry, if he did meet with a little trouble, he'd mend up
again, heart and lungs and all.  There's something happy-go-lucky about
him--don't you think so?"

"I think Cherry is too many-sided to be left without an object in life,
if that is what you mean," said Virginia.  "Besides, it is so different
for a man, they can always do something."

Then Ruth put aside the little uneasy feeling of self-reproach and doubt
that had prompted her to talk about Cherry, and put her arms round
Virginia, kissing her tenderly.

"My darling Queenie!  You have been fretting all by yourself at
Elderthwaite till things seem worse than they are."

"No," said Virginia; "but my life has all gone wrong.  When I found that
he did not love me everything seemed over for me."

Ruth interposed a question, and at last acquired a clearer knowledge of
the circumstances under which Alvar and her cousin had parted.  She had
a good deal of knowledge of the world, and some judgment, though she did
not always use it for her own benefit, and she did not think that the
case sounded hopeless.  She tried an experiment.

"If you gave him up, Queenie, because you discovered that he did not
come up to your notions of what he ought to be, why there's an end of
it, for he never will; but it looks to me much more like a very
commonplace lovers' quarrel aggravated by circumstances.  He isn't a bad
sort of fellow in his own way; but it's not the way that you think
perfection."

"I did not quarrel with him, and I think the failure was in myself.  Why
should he love me?--it does not seem as if I was very lovable."

There crossed Virginia's young gentle face a look that was like a
foretaste of the bitterness and self-weariness that had seized on so
many of her race--a sort of self-scorn that was not wholesome.

"Why should you think so?" said Ruth.

"I think I should have got on better at home if I had been."

She spoke humbly enough, but there was utter discouragement in every
line of her face and figure.

"Nonsense!" said Ruth briskly.  "Nobody would get on, in your sense, at
Elderthwaite.  I don't think you ought to stay there.  You know it is
quite in your power to arrange differently.  You might make them long
visits and--come fresh to every one."

"I'll never have it said that I could not live there," said Virginia,
colouring deeply.  "And if I was away--I could not.--I would not--"

"Go back into the neighbourhood?  Well, at any rate you are going to
have a holiday now, and see something besides moors and mud."

The change of scene could not fail to do Virginia good, though there
might be something in the courtship of Ruth and Rupert to remind her,
with a difference, of her own.  It was sometimes breezy, for Rupert
loved to tease his betrothed, and having got his will, was a
free-and-easy and contented lover, not much liking to be put out of his
way, and not quite coming up to Ruth's requirements.

Ruth, though very kind to her cousin, believed that she had lost her
lover in great measure through a feminine scrupulosity and desire to
bring him up to her own standard.  Ruth would never be so narrow and
unsympathetic, _she_ would be prepared to understand _all_ the story of
her hero's life; and being young, and much more simple than she believed
herself to be, thought that her indiscriminate reading of somewhat
free-spoken novels, gave her the necessary experience.  But Rupert took
quite another view.  He was not aware of having any particular story to
tell, and had no intention whatever of telling it.  He did not in the
least desire Ruth's sympathy with his past, which was quite commonplace.
He was not in a state of repentance, desirous of making a confession;
nor had his heart ever been withered up by any frightful experiences.
No doubt he could remember much that was not particularly creditable,
and which he rightly thought unfit for discussion with his betrothed.
Moreover, he did not care at all for poetry, and very little for novels,
and at last actually told her that one she mentioned was unfit for her
to read.

Ruth was very angry, and had a sense of being put aside.  Had Rupert--
like herself--a secret, or was she going to be "only a little dearer
than his horse?" as she expressed it to herself, and with tears to him.
Rupert laughed, and then grew a little angry, and then they made it up
again; but he teased her for her romance, laughed at her most muscular
and strong-souled heroes, and never would put himself in a heroic
attitude.  Ruth quarrelled with him, made it up with him, was vexed by
him, and sometimes was vexatious; but all the while she never told him
about Cheriton.

CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

DON JUAN.

  "I wonder if the spring-tide of this year
  Will bring another spring both lost and dear;
  If heart and spirit will find out their spring,
  Or if the world _alone_ will bud and sing."

It was a bright sunny day in December, fresh enough to make the
Sevillanos pull their picturesque cloaks over their shoulders out of
doors, and light scraps of wood-fire in their sitting-rooms, but with
the sun pouring down in unveiled splendour over quaint painted relics of
a bygone world, when the Moor employed his rich fancy in decorating the
city, and over dark Gothic arches and towers that seemed to tell of a
life almost equally remote from nineteenth-century England.  It was a
very new sort of Christmas weather for Jack Lester as he tried to find
his way from the railway station to Don Guzman de la Rosa's house.  He
soon discovered that he had lost it, and stopped by a fruit-stall piled
with grapes, oranges, and melons to ask the brown, skinny old woman in a
gay handkerchief who kept it, for some directions, hoping that she would
at least understand the name of the street.  So she did, but it seemed
to him that she pointed in every direction at once, and Jack stared
round bewildered as a young lady stepped across the street towards the
fruit-stall.  Jack looked at her and she looked full at him from under
her straw hat, with a pair of eyes dark as any in Andalusia, but direct
and clear, level and fearless, as her face broke into a smile just saved
from a laugh.

"If you are looking for Don Guzman de la Rosa's," she said in distinct
and comprehensible English, "I can direct you; but your brothers, Mr
Lester, are much nearer, at my father's, Mr Stanforth's.  Will you come
there with me when I have bought some fruit?"

"Oh, thank you immensely!  I--I thought I would walk up, and I couldn't
find the way.  Thank you," said Jack, colouring and looking rather
foolish.

"They did not expect you to be here till to-morrow.  What have you done
with your things?"

"I've lost them, Miss Stanforth," said Jack; "I can't think how.  You
see no one understands anything, and the stations coming from Madrid are
so odd."

"Oh, I think you will get them; we had one box detained for ages.  Thank
you," as he took her basket of fruit.  "Shall we come?" and then,
looking up at him, "Your brother is so much better."

"I--I am very glad of that," said Jack, in a sort of inadequate way.

He was nervous about the meeting, and felt conscious that he was dusty
with his journey, and sure that he must have looked foolish staring at
the old woman.

Gipsy took him down the street, and into a house with a balcony covered
with gay-striped blinds, and led him upstairs till she came to a door,
or rather curtain, which she lifted, putting her finger on her lip.

It was a long, low room, with the lights carefully arranged and shaded,
containing drawing-boards and unframed sketches, a wonderful heap of
"art treasures," in one corner, Algerine scarves and stuffs, great,
rough, green pitchers, and odds and ends of colour.  Some one sat with
his back to the door drawing, but Jack only beheld his brothers who were
together at the further end of the room, and did not immediately see
him, for they were looking at each other and appeared to the puzzled
Jack oddly still and silent.

Miss Stanforth gave a little laugh, and Alvar looked round and
exclaimed.  Cheriton sprang up, and with a cry of delight seized on
Jack, with an outburst of greetings and inquiries, in which all the
surroundings were forgotten.  Gipsy laughingly described her encounter
to Alvar; while "father," and "granny," "the old parson," "no good in
having a Christmas at all at home without you," passed rapidly between
the other two.

"Come, Jack, that's strong!  But, indeed, I think you have brought
Christmas here.  How rude we are!  You have never spoken to Mr
Stanforth.  Mr Stanforth, let him see the picture.  Jack, do you think
father will like it?"

"Yes.  You look much jollier than in the photograph," said Jack, as Mr
Stanforth turned the picture round for his inspection.

It was a small half-length in tinted chalk showing Cherry seated and
looking up, with a bright interested face, at Alvar, who was showing him
a branch of pomegranates.  The execution was of the slightest, but the
likenesses were good, and the strong contrast of colouring and
resemblance of form was brought out well.  "_Brothers_," was written
underneath, and Jack looked at them as if the idea of any one wishing to
make studies of them was strange to him.

"Jack is bewildered--lost, in more senses than one," said Cherry,
smiling.

"Come, it is time we went home, and then for news of every one!  Mr
Stanforth, we shall see you to-night."

Jack's arrival was an intense pleasure to Cheriton, whose reviving
faculties were beginning to long for their old interests.  He had
recovered his natural spirits, and though he still looked delicate, and
had no strength to spare, was quite well enough to look forward to his
return to England and to beginning life there.  Indeed the ardent hopes
and ambitions, so cruelly checked in their first outlet, turned--with a
difference indeed, but with considerable force--to the desire of
distinction and success; and in return for Jack's endless talk of home
and Oxford, he planned the course of study to begin at Easter, and the
hard work which he felt sure with patience must ensure good fortune.
Cheriton was very sanguine, and since he had felt so much better, had no
doubt of entire recovery; and Jack was accustomed to follow his lead,
and was much relieved both by his liveliness and by his resolute mention
of Rupert, and inquiry as to the arrangements for his marriage.

If Cheriton had not won the battle, he was at least holding his own in
it bravely--the bitter pain was first submitted to, and then held down
with a strong hand.  But surely, he thought, there was _something_ in
store for him, if not the sweetness of happy love, yet the ardour of the
struggle of life.

He could not say enough of Alvar's care for him, and Jack found Alvar
much more easy of access than at home, and more interested than he had
expected in the details of the home life; and in the course of
conversation the dinner-party to the Seytons, and its motive, came out.

Alvar coloured deeply; he was silent then, but as soon as he was alone
with Cheriton he said with some hurry of manner,--

"My brother, I am ashamed.  What can I do?  It is not endurable to me
that any one should blame Miss Seyton."

"I suppose my father did the only thing there was to be done.  When an
engagement is broken people generally say that there were faults on both
sides."

"That is not so," said Alvar.  "She is as blameless as a lily.  Can I do
nothing?  I am ashamed," he repeated vehemently.

"Perhaps when you go home you will be able to show the world that you
are of a different opinion," said Cherry very quietly, but with
difficulty suppressing a smile.

"You do not understand," said Alvar in a tone of displeasure, turning
away, and thinking that he had never before known Cheriton so
unsympathetic.

Jack did not make much way with the de la Rosas, he did not like
committing himself to foreign languages, and was shy, but they were very
polite to "Don Juan," a name that so tickled Cheriton's fancy that he
adopted it at once.

Jack began by somewhat resenting his brother's intimacy with the
Stanforths as a strange and unnecessary novelty, but he soon fell under
the charm, and pursued Mr Stanforth with theories of art which were
received with plenty of good-humoured banter.  Gipsy, too, set to work
to enlighten him on Spanish customs; and having rescued him from one
difficulty, made it her business to show him the way he should go, so
that they became very friendly, and the strange Christmas in this
foreign country drew the little party of English closer together.  There
was enough to interest them in the curious and picturesque customs of
Andalusia, but the carols which Gipsy insisted on getting up gave Cherry
a fit of home-sickness; and a great longing for Oakby, and the holly and
the snow, the familiar occupations, the dogs, and the skating came over
him.  It had been a long absence; he thought how his father would be
wishing for him, and he experienced that sudden doubt of the future
which people call presentiment.  Would he ever spend Christmas _at home_
again?  He was beginning to weary a little of the wonder and admiration
that had stood him in such good stead, and to want the time-honoured
landmarks which showed themselves unchanged as the flood-tide of passion
subsided.

He was quite ready, however, to enter into the plans for a tour through
some of the neighbouring towns before the Stanforths should return home
at the end of January.  Jack's time was still shorter; and as Cheriton
himself had hitherto seen nothing but Seville, a joint expedition was
proposed, with liberty to separate whenever it was convenient, as Alvar
would consent to nothing that involved Cherry in long days on horseback
lasting after sundown, or in extra rough living; and Mr Stanforth
backed up his prudent counsels.

But Cordova, Granada, and Malaga could be managed without any extreme
fatigue, and Ronda could be reached easily from the latter place.  So in
the first week in the new year the three Lesters, Mr Stanforth and his
daughter, and Miss Weston set off together for a fortnight's trip.
Afterwards they would all separate, and Alvar and Cheriton, after
returning for a few weeks to Seville, were to make their way gradually
northwards, stopping in France and Italy till the spring was further
advanced.

The tour prospered, and in due time they found themselves at Ronda, and
strolling out together in the lovely afternoon sunshine, reached the new
bridge across the river; Jack and Gipsy engaged in an endless discussion
on the expulsion of the Moors, lingering while they talked, and looking
down into the deep volcanic chasm that divides the old town of Ronda
from the new, while nearly three hundred feet below them roared, dashed,
and sparkled the silvery waters of the Guadalvin.  On either side were
the picturesque buildings of the two towns, fringed with wood--in front,
miles of orchards, and beyond, the magnificent snow-crowned mountains of
the Sierra; while over all was the sapphire blue, and sun, which, though
the year was but a fortnight old, covered the ground with jonquils, and
hung the woods with lovely flowers hardly known to our hothouses.

They had marvelled at the Alhambra, and Cheriton had disclaimed all
sense of feeling himself in the Crystal Palace.  They had noticed and
admired the mixture of Moorish and Christian art in Granada and Cordova,
and had discussed ardently all the difficult questions of the Moorish
occupation and expulsion--discussions in which Gipsy's fresh school
knowledge, and Jack's ponderous theories, had met in many a hearty
conflict.  They had sketched, made notes, collected curiosities, or
simply enjoyed the beauty according to their several idiosyncrasies, and
had remained good friends through all the ups and downs of travel; while
Cheriton had stood the fatigue so well that he had set his heart on
riding with the others across country to Seville, and could afford to
laugh at the discomforts incidental to eating and sleeping at Ronda.
There was much to see there, and they did not mean to hurry away.
Cherry remarked to Alvar that Jack had improved, and was less
sententious than he used to be; but the cause of this increased
geniality had struck no one.  Every one laughed when Gipsy reminded him
of things that he had forgotten, talked Spanish for him because he was
too shy to commit himself to an unknown tongue, and stoutly contradicted
many of his favourite sentiments.  Writing an essay, was he? on the evil
of regarding everything from a ludicrous point of view.  There were a
great many cases in which that was the best point of view to look at
things, and Gipsy wrote a counter essay which afforded great amusement.
But no one perceived when Gipsy's sense of the ludicrous fell a little
into abeyance; and when she ceased to contradict Jack flatly, and began
to think that she received new ideas from him, still less did his
brothers dream of the new thoughts and aspirations that were rushing
confusedly through the boy's mind; he was hardly conscious of them
himself.

The pair were a little ahead of their companions, who now came up and
joined them.

"Well, Jack," said Alvar, "I have been making inquiries, and I find that
we can take the excursion among the mountains that you wished for.  Mr
Stanforth prefers making sketches here, and it would be too rough for
the ladies, or for Cherry."

"I suppose the mountains _are_ very fine?" said Jack, not very
energetically.

"Jack found the four hundred Moorish steps too much for him.  He has
grown lazy," said Cherry.  "For my part, I think the fruit market is the
nicest place here; it has such a splendid view.  I shall go there
to-morrow and eat melons while you are away."

"Miss Weston and I are going to buy scarves and curiosities in the
market," said Gipsy; "but they say we should have come here in May to
see the great fair; that is the time to buy beautiful things."

"Yes," said Alvar, "and Mr Stanforth might have studied all the
costumes of Andalusia.  But, I think, since we ordered our dinner two
hours ago, it is likely now to be ready.  I hope the ladies are not
tired of fried pork, for I do not think we shall get anything better."

"Oh!" said Gipsy, "I mean to get mamma to introduce it at home; it is so
good."

"Do you, my dear?" said her father.  "I am inclined to think that with
the ordinary accompaniments of clean tablecloths and silver forks it
might be disappointing."

Without a table-cloth and with the very primitive implements of Ronda,
the fried pork was very welcome; and when their dinner was over, as it
was too dark to go out any more, they went down into the great public
room on the ground floor of the inn, where round a bright wood-fire were
gathered muleteers, other travellers and natives, both men and women.

It was a wonderful picturesque scene in the light of the fire, and Mr
Stanforth's sketching so delighted his subjects that they crowded round
him, only anxious that he should draw them all, while the "English
hidalgos" were objects of the greatest curiosity.  The men came up to
Jack and Cheriton, examining their clothes, their tobacco pouches and
pipes; and one great fellow in a high hat, and brilliant-coloured shirt,
looking so much like an ideal brigand that it was difficult to believe
that he was only an olive-grower, after looking at Cheriton for some
time, put out a very dirty hand, and touched his hair and cheek as if to
assure himself that they were of the same substance as his own.  Gipsy's
dress and demeanour interested them greatly, and one or two of them made
her write her name on a bit of paper for them to keep.

The next day's ride was fully discussed, and much information given as
to route and destination.  Then, at Cherry's request, some of the
muleteers sang to them wild half-melancholy airs, and one of the men
danced a species of comic dance for their edification, and then the
chief musician diffidently requested them to give a specimen of _their_
national music.  Gipsy laughed and looked shy; but her father laid down
his pencil, and in a fine voice, and with feeling that told even in an
unknown language, sang "Tom Bowling," and then, as this gave great
satisfaction, began "D'ye ken John Peel," in the chorus of which his
companions joined him.

"That," he explained, "was a hunting song.  Now he would give them a
really national air;" and in the midst of this strange audience, he
struck up the familiar notes of "God save the Queen."

The English rose to their feet; the men lifted their hats, and all
joined in and sang the old words with more patriotic fervour than at
home they might have thought themselves capable of; and the Spaniards,
with quick wit and ready courtesy, uncovered also, and when they had
finished the musician picked out the notes on his guitar.

The weather next morning proving all that could be wished, Alvar and
Jack, with a couple of guides, set off before daybreak on their ride
into the mountains, intending to ascend on foot a certain peak from
which the view was very fine, and which was accessible in the winter.
The expedition had been entirely planned for Jack's benefit, and perhaps
he was not quite so grateful as he might have been.  The others had no
lack of occupation.  They went down to the "Nereid's Grotto," a cave
filled with clear emerald water, near which stand an old Moorish mill,
built on rocks, fringed with masses of maidenhair fern.  Mr Stanforth
remained there sketching the building, white with a sort of dazzling
eastern whiteness, the strange forms of cactus and aloe crowning the
cliffs, and the washerwomen in gay handkerchiefs and scarlet petticoats
kneeling on the flat stones by the river.  Cheriton, with the ladies,
went on their shopping expedition to find presents that might be sent
home by Jack, and having found some silk handkerchiefs for his father, a
wonderful sash for Nettie, and a striped rug for his grandmother, to
whom Alvar intended to despatch some Spanish lace already bought in
Seville, he helped Gipsy to choose a present for each of her numerous
brothers and sisters, and himself hunted up smaller offerings for his
friends of all degrees.

This occupied a long time, especially as the children followed them
wherever they went, "as if one was the pied piper," said Cherry; and
afterwards they bought bread and fruit, and ate it for luncheon, and
Gipsy reflected that in three weeks' time she would be back in
Kensington, very busy and rather gay, and would probably never buy
pomegranates and melons in Ronda again in all her life.

Cheriton employed himself in the evening in writing to his father, while
the Stanforths went down again to the mixed company below.  He did not
expect his brothers till late, and was not giving much heed to the time,
when he looked up and saw Gipsy cross the room.

"Have they come back?" he said.

"No," said Gipsy.  "Don't you think they ought to be here soon?"

Cherry glanced at his watch.

"Nine o'clock?  Yes, I suppose they will be here directly, for the
guides told us eight.  People never get off mountains as soon as they
expect they will.  I'll come down.  I have finished my letter."

Some time longer passed without any sign of an arrival, and the landlord
of the inn, and some of the muleteers, began to say that either the
Ingleses must have changed their route, or that something must have
detained them till it was too dark to get down the mountains, so that
they must be waiting till daylight to descend.  Cheriton did not take
alarm quickly; he knew that a very trifling change of path or weather
would make this possible, and he was the first to say that they had
better go to bed, and expect to see the wanderers in the morning; and
Mr Stanforth, very anxious to avoid frightening him, chimed in with a
cheerful augury to the same effect.  But when Cheriton had left them, he
said, anxiously,--

"I don't like it; I am sure Alvar would not delay if he could help it--
he would not cause so much anxiety."

"But some very trifling matter might have detained them till after
dark," said Miss Weston.

"Oh, yes; I trust it may be so."

Gipsy said nothing; but before her mind's eye there rose a vision of
more than one little wayside cross which she had been shown on their
ride to Ronda, with the inscription, "Here died Don Luis or Don Pedro,"
and the date.

These were erected, she was told, where travellers had been killed by
_saltiadores_ or brigands; but there were very few of such breakers of
the law in Andalusia now.  Still, their party had thought it right to
carry arms.  What if they had been driven to use them?--what if--?  Even
to herself Gipsy could not finish the sentence; but she lay awake all
night listening for an arrival, till her ears ached and burnt with the
strain; till she heard in the night-time, that had hitherto seemed to
her so silent, sounds innumerable; till she felt as if she could have
heard their footsteps on the mountain side.  And all the time the worst
of it was that she heard nothing.  And for fear that Miss Weston would
guess at her terror, for speaking of it seemed to remove it from the
vague regions of her imagination and give it new force, and also for
fear of missing a sound, she lay as still as a mouse, till, spite of an
occasional doze, the night seemed endless, and the most welcome thing in
the world was the long-delayed winter dawn.

Gipsy was thankful to get up and dress and find out what was going on,
and as soon as possible she ran downstairs and went out to the front of
the inn.  Her father was just before her, and Cheriton was standing
talking to a group of guides and muleteers.  He turned round and came up
to them saying,--

"I have been making inquiries, and they say that if they kept to their
intended route--and I feel sure that they would not change it--there is
no reason to fear any dangerous accident such as one hears of on Swiss
mountains.  And the men all laugh at the notion of any brigandage
nowadays.  What I think is, that one of them may have got some slight
hurt, twisted his foot, for instance, and been unable to get on; and if
they don't turn up in an hour or so I think we ought to go after them."
Cherry looked anxiously at Mr Stanforth as he spoke, as if, having
worked up this view for his own benefit, he wanted to see others
convinced by it also.

"Yes," said Mr Stanforth, "I have been thinking of the possibility of
strained ankles too."

"You see," said Cherry, "they must have left their mules somewhere; at
least we shall fall in with them."

"Ah--ah! they are coming," cried Gipsy, with a scream of joy, as the
sound of hoofs were heard along the street.

Cherry dashed forward, but as the party came into sight he stopped
suddenly, then hurried on to meet them; for only Pedro, one of the
mule-drivers who had accompanied them, appeared, riding one mule and
leading the other.

In the sudden downfall, Gipsy's very senses seemed to fail her; as she
saw Cherry lay his hand on the mule as if to support himself, and look
up, unable to frame a question; she could hardly hear the confusion of
voices that followed.

Soon, however, she gathered that no terrible news had come--no news at
all.  Don Alvar and Don Juan had ascended the mountain with their guide
Jose, and had never returned; and, after waiting for their descent in
the early morning, Pedro had come back without them.  What could have
happened?  _They might_ have gone a long way round, in fact a three
days' route--there was no other, or they might have fallen from a
precipice.

"In short, you know nothing about them.  We must go and see,"
interrupted Cherry, briefly; "at least, I will.  What mules have you?
Who is the best guide now in Ronda?"

"My dear boy," said Mr Stanforth gently and reluctantly, "you must not
try the mountain yourself.  You know it must be done on foot, and the
fatigue--"

"How can I think of that now?  What does it matter?" said Cherry, with
the roughness of excessive pain.  "It is far worse to wait."

"Yes, but depend upon it, _they_ are as anxious as you are.  Certainly I
shall go, and the guides; but, you see, speed is an object."

"Oh, I shouldn't cough and lose my breath _now_!" said Cherry.  "Indeed,
I can walk up hill."

Mr Stanforth could hardly answer him, and he went on vehemently,--

"You know Alvar is much too fidgety; he thinks I can do nothing.  But,
at least, let us all ride to the foot of the mountain; perhaps we shall
meet them yet."

"Yes, that at any rate we will do.  Give your orders, and then come and
get some chocolate."

Miss Weston had taken care that this was ready, and Cherry sat down and
ate and drank, trying to put a good face on the matter before the
ladies.

After they started on their ride he was very silent, and hardly spoke a
word till they came to the little inn where the mules had been left the
day before.  Then he said very quietly to Mr Stanforth,--

"Perhaps I had better wait--I might hinder you."

"I think it would be best," said Mr Stanforth, with merciful absence of
comment, for he knew what the sense of incapacity must have been to
Cherry then.

The kindest thing was to start on the steep ascent at once.  Miss
Weston, in what Gipsy thought a cold-blooded manner, took out her
drawing materials, and sat down to sketch the mountain peaks, Cheriton
started from his silent watch of the ascending party, and asked Gipsy to
take a little walk with him: and as she gladly came, they gathered
plants and talked a little about the view, showing their terror by their
utter silence on the real object of their thoughts.  Then he exerted
himself to get some lunch for them; so that the first hours of the day
passed pretty well.  But as the afternoon wore on, he sat down under a
great walnut-tree, and watched the mountain--the great pitiless creature
with its steep bare sides and snowy summits.  He gave no outward sign of
impatience, only watched as if he could not turn his eyes away; and Miss
Weston, almost as anxious for him as for the missing ones, thought it
best to leave him to follow his own bent.

No one was anxious about poor Gipsy, who wandered about, running out of
sight in the vain hope of seeing something on the bare hill-side on her
return.

At last, just as the wonderful violet and rose tints of the sunset began
to colour the white peaks, Cheriton sprang to his feet, and pointed to
the hill-side, where, far in the distance, were moving figures.

"How many?" he said, for, in the hurry of their start, they had left the
field-glasses, which would have brought certainty a little sooner,
behind.

"Oh, there are surely a great many," said Gipsy.

Cheriton watched with the keen sight trained on his native moorlands;
while the ladies counted and miscounted, and thought they saw Jack's
white puggaree.

"_No_," said Cherry, "there are only Mr Stanforth and the two guides.
I _cannot_ wait," he added, impetuously, and began to hurry up the hill,
till he stopped perforce for want of breath.

"There can have been no accident; we have found no one--nothing
whatever," cried Mr Stanforth, as soon as he came within speaking
distance.  "They must have gone the other way; there is no trace."

He spoke in a tone of would-be congratulation, but an ominous whisper
passed among the guides, _bandidas_, and the utter blank was almost more
terrifying than direct ill news.

"We must go back to Ronda, and see what can be done to-morrow."

"But," said Cherry, rather incoherently, "I don't know--you see, I must
take care of Jack."

"Yes," said Mr Stanforth, "but any little detention would not hurt
either of them, and they must not find that you are knocked up.  We can
consult the authorities at Ronda."

"Yes, thank you; I hope you are not over-tired," said Cherry, half
dreamily.  "I? oh, no; I am quite well; but I can't help being anxious."

"No, it is very perplexing; but I feel quite hopeful of good news
myself," said Mr Stanforth.

But somehow the necessity of this assurance struck a sharper pang to
Cherry's heart than his own vague forebodings.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

End of Volume Two.

CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

CIVIS ROMANUS SUM.

  "The mightiest of all peoples under Heaven!"

"I tell you, you stupid, blundering blockheads, that he _is_ my brother;
and we _are_ Englishmen, and we know nothing whatever of your Carlist
brigands, or whoever they are!  We are British subjects, and you had
better let us go, or the British Government will know the reason why,"
thundered Jack Lester, in exceedingly bad Spanish, interspersed with
English epithets, at the top of his voice.

"Gentlemen, it is true; our passports are at Ronda; conduct us thither,
if you will.  We are travelling for pleasure only, and have no concern
with any political matters at all," said Alvar, in far more courteous
accents.

The scene was the mountain side, the time evening, and Alvar and Jack
were just beginning their descent, when they were confronted by an
official, and surrounded by a small troop of soldiers in the government
uniform.  They had been suddenly encountered and stopped, and desired to
produce their passports, and, these not being forthcoming, their account
of themselves was met with civil incredulity, and they were desired to
consider themselves under arrest.

"But--but don't you see that you're making an utter fool of yourself,"
shouted Jack, in a fury.  "I tell you this gentleman _is_ my brother,
and we are the sons of Mr Lester, of Oakby Hall, Westmoreland, and have
nothing to do with your confounded Carlists.  I'll knock the first
fellow down--"

"Hush, Jack!  Keep your temper," whispered Alvar, in English.  "Senor, I
am the grandson of Senor Don Guzman de la Rosa, of Seville, well known
as a friend to the government, and this is my half-brother from
England."

"One of the De la Rosas, senor, is exactly what we know you to be; but
as for this extraordinary falsehood by which you call yourself an
Englishman--and the brother of this gentleman--why, you make matters
worse for yourselves for attempting it."

"Ask the guide," said Alvar.

"Ah, doubtless; the fellow was known as having been engaged in the late
war.  Come, senores, you may as well accompany me in silence."

"Will you send a message by the direct route to Ronda, asking for our
passports, and informing our friends of our safety?" said Alvar.

No, informing their friends was the last thing wished for.  In the
morning they would see.

"Do not resist, Jack," said Alvar; "it is quite useless; we must come."

"Don't you _hear_ he is talking English to me?" said Jack, as a last
appeal, and, of course, a vain one.

"I am sure they haven't got a magistrate's warrant," said Jack, as his
alpenstock was taken away from him, and, closely guarded, he was made to
precede Alvar down the hill, in a state of offended dignity and
incredulous indignation.  He was very angry, but not at all frightened;
it was incredible that any Spanish officials should hurt _him_.  Indeed,
as he cooled down a little, the adventure might have been a good joke,
but for the certainty that Cherry would be imagining them at the bottom
of a precipice.

After walking for some way along a different road from the one they had
come by, they stopped at a little wayside tavern, where they were given
to understand that they were to pass the night.

"But it's impossible; they _can't_ keep us here," cried Jack.  "Isn't
there a parish priest, or a magistrate, or a policeman, or some one to
appeal to?"

"No one who could help us," answered Alvar.  "I do not think there is
anything to be afraid of for ourselves; we can easily prove that we are
English when we get to some town; it is of Cherry that I think--he will
be so frightened."

"You don't think they'll go and take him up?"

"Oh, no; I hope they will send to Ronda for our passports in the
morning.  But, Jack, do not fly in a passion.  We must be very civil,
and say we are quite willing to be detained in the service of the
government."

"I'm hanged if I say anything of the sort," muttered Jack, whose
prominent sensation was rage at the idea that he, an Englishman, a
gentleman, a man with an address, and a card--though he had unluckily
left it at home--should be subjected to such an indignity, stopped in
his proceedings by a dozen trumpery Spaniards!

Alvar was not so full of a sense of the liberty of the subject; he felt
sure that he was mistaken for Manoel, and more than suspected that the
government might have been justified in detaining his cousin.  He did
not, however, wish to confide this to Jack, of whose prudence he was
doubtful, and knew that if the worst came to the worst, his grandfather
could get them out of the scrape.

There might be no danger, but it was very uncomfortable, and provisions
being scarce in the emergency, the captain--who looked much more like a
bandit than an officer--gave his prisoners no supper but a bit of bread.
Alvar was Spaniard enough to endure the fasting, but Jack, after his
day of mountain climbing, was ready to eat his fingers off with hunger;
and as the hours wore on, began really to feel sick, wretched, and
low-spirited, and though he preserved an unmoved demeanour, to wonder
inwardly what his father would say if he knew where he was, and to
remember that the Spaniards were a cruel people and invented the
Inquisition!  And then he wondered if Gipsy was thinking of him.

Moreover, it was very cold, and they were of course tired to begin with,
so that, when at length the morning dawned, Alvar was startled to see
how like Jack looked to Cheriton after a bad night, and made such
representations to the captain that Englishmen could not bear cold and
hunger, that he obtained a fair share of bread and a couple of onions--
provisions which Jack enjoyed more than he would have done had he
guessed what Alvar had said to procure them.

"I'm up to anything now," he said.  "If they would only let us put a
note in the post for Cherry, it would be rather a lark after all."

"I do not know where you will find a post-office," said Alvar
disconsolately, as they were marched off in an opposite direction to
Ronda.  "If Cherry only does not climb that mountain to look for us!"

"I should like to set this country to rights a little," said Jack.

"That," said Alvar dryly, "is what many have tried to do, but they have
not succeeded."

The prisoners were very well guarded, and though Alvar made more than
one attempt to converse with the captain, he got scarcely any answer.
Still, from the exceedingly curious glances with which he regarded them,
Alvar suspected that he was not quite clear in his own mind as to their
identity.  After a long day's march they struck down on a small
Moorish-looking town, called Zahara, built beside a wide, quick-rushing
river.

And now Alvar's hopes rose, as here resided an acquaintance of his
grandfather, a noted breeder of bulls, who knew him well, and had once
seen Cheriton at Seville.  Besides, the authorities of Zahara might be
amenable to reason.

However, they could get no hearing that night, and were shut up in what
Jack called the station-house, but which was really a round Moorish
tower with horseshoe arches.  Here Alvar obtained a piece of paper, and
they concocted a full description of themselves, their travelling
companions, and their destination, which Alvar signed with his full
name,--

"Alvaro Guzman Lester, of Westmoreland, England," and directed to El
Senor Don Luis Pavieco, Zahara, and this he desired might be given to
the local authorities.  He also tried hard, but in vain, to get a note
sent to Ronda.

They hoped that the early morning might produce Don Luis, but they saw
nothing of any one but the soldier who brought them their food, which
was still of the poorest.

Alvar's patience began to give way at last; he walked up and down the
room.

"Oh, I am mad when I think of my brother!" he exclaimed.  "My poor
Cheriton.  What he will suffer!"

"Don't you think they'll let us out soon?" said Jack, who had subsided
into a sort of glum despair.

"Oh, they will wait--and delay--and linger.  It drives me mad!" he
repeated vehemently, and throwing himself into a seat he hid his face in
his arms on the table.

"Well," said Jack, "it's dogged as does it.  I wish I hadn't used up all
my tobacco though."

Early the next morning their door was opened at an unusual hour, and
they were summoned into a sort of hall, where they found "el Capitano,"
another officer in a respectable uniform, and, to Alvar's joy, Don Luis
Pavieco himself.

The thing was ended with ludicrous ease.  Don Luis bowed to Alvar, and
turning to the officer declared that Don Alvar Lester was perfectly well
known to him, and that the other gentleman was certainly his
half-brother and an Englishman.  The officer bowed also, smiled, hoped
that they had not been incommoded; it was a slight mistake.

"Mistake!" exclaimed Jack; "and pray, Alvar, what's the Spanish for
apology--damages?"

Alvar turned a deaf ear, and bowed and smiled with equal politeness.

"He had been sure that in due time the slight mistake would be
rectified.  Were they now free to go?"

"Yes;" and Don Luis interposed, begging them to come and get some
breakfast with him while their horses could be got ready.  Their
guide?--oh, he was still detained on suspicion.

"Well," ejaculated Jack, "they are the coolest hands.  Incommoded!  I
should think we have been incommoded indeed!"

In the meantime no hint of how matters had really gone reached the
anxious hearts at Ronda.  The authorities had scouted the idea of
brigands, and had revealed the existence of a dangerous ravine, some
short distance from the mountain path.  Doubtless the darkness had
overtaken them, and they had been lost.  The guides declared that
nothing was more unlikely, as it was hardly possible to reach the ravine
from the path, the rocks were so steep.  A search was however made by
some of the most active, it need not be said, in vain.  Cheriton,
afterwards, never could bear a reference to those days and nights of
suspense--suspense lasting long enough to change the hope of good
tidings into the dread of evil tidings, till he feared rather than
longed for the sounds for which his whole being seemed to watch.

Nothing could exceed Mr Stanforth's kindness to him, and he held up at
first bravely, and submitted to his friend's care.  On the third morning
they resolved that Don Guzman should be written to, and Cherry, who had
been wandering about in an access of restless misery, tried to begin the
letter; but he put down the pen, turning faint and dizzy, and unable to
frame a sentence.

"I cannot," he said faintly.  "I cannot see."

"You must lie down, my dear boy; you have had no rest.  I will do it."

"My father, too," Cheriton said, with a painful effort at self-control.
"I think--there's no chance.  I must try to do it; but--oh--Jack--Jack!"

He buried his face on his arms with a sob that seemed as if it would
tear him to pieces.

"You must not write yet to your father," said Mr Stanforth.  "I do not
give up hope.  Courage, my boy!"

Suddenly a loud scream rang through the house, and an outburst of
voices, and one raised joyously,--

"My brother--my brother--are you here?--we are safe!" and as Cherry
started to his feet Alvar, followed by Jack, rushed into the room, and
clasped him in his arms.

"Safe! yes, the abominable, idiotic brutes of soldiers!  But we're all
right, Cherry.  You mustn't mind now."

"Yes, we are here, and it is over."

"Thank Heaven for His great mercy!" cried Mr Stanforth, almost bursting
into tears as he grasped Alvar's hand.

"Bandits, bandits?" cried half-a-dozen voices.

But Cherry could not speak a word; he only put out his hand and caught
Jack's, as if to feel sure of his presence also.

"_Mi querido_," said Alvar in his gentle, natural tones, "all the terror
is over--now you can rest.  I think you had better go, Jack.  I will
take care of him," he added.

"Yes," said Mr Stanforth; "this has been far too much.  Come, Jack--
come and tell us all that has chanced."

CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

JACK ON HIS METTLE.

  "Lat me alone in chesing of my wyf,
  That charge upon my bak I wol endure."

  Chaucer.

That same morning, when Jack and Alvar had ridden hurriedly up to the
hotel, looking eagerly to catch sight of those who were so anxiously
watching for them, their eyes fell on Gipsy's solitary figure, standing
motionless, with eyes turned towards the mountain, and hands dropped
listlessly before her.  Jack's heart gave a great bound, and at the
sound of the horses' hoofs, she turned with a start and scream of joy,
and sprang towards them, while Jack, jumping off, caught both her hands,
crying,--

"Oh, don't be frightened any more, we're come!"

"Your brother!" exclaimed Gipsy, as she flew into the house; but her cry
of "Papa! papa!" was suddenly choked with such an outburst of blinding,
stifling tears and sobs, that she paused perforce; and as they ran
upstairs, Mariquita, the pretty Spanish girl who waited on them, caught
her hand and kissed her fervently.

"Ah, senorita, dear senorita; thanks to the saints, they have sent her
lover back to her.  Sweet senorita, now she will not cry!"

A sudden access of self-consciousness seized on Gipsy; she blushed to
her fingertips, and only anxious to hide the tears she could not check,
she hurried away, round to the back of the inn, into a sort of orchard,
where grew peach and nectarine trees, apples and pears already showing
buds, and where the ground was covered with jonquils and crocuses, while
beyond was the rocky precipice, and, far off, the snowy peaks that still
made Gipsy shudder.  Unconscious of the strain she had been enduring,
she was terrified at the violence of her own emotion, for Gipsy was not
a girl who was given to gusts of feeling.  Probably the air and the
solitude were her best remedies, for she soon began to recover herself,
and sat up among the jonquils.  Oh, how thankful she was that the danger
was over, and the bright, kindly Cheriton spared from such a terrible
sorrow!  But was it for Cheriton's sake that these last two days had
been like a frightful dream, that her very existence seemed to have been
staked on news of the lost ones?  No one--_no one_ could help such
feelings.  Miss Weston had cried about it, and her father had never been
able to touch a pencil.  But that foolish Mariquita!  Here Gipsy sprang
to her feet with a start, for close at her side stood Jack.  At sight of
him, strong and ruddy and safe, her feeling overpowered her
consciousness of it, and she said, earnestly,--

"Oh, I am so thankful you are safe!  It was so dreadful!"

"And it was not dreadful at all in reality, only tiresome and absurd,"
said Jack.

"It was very dreadful here," said Gipsy, in a low voice, with fresh
tears springing.

"Oh, if you felt so!" cried Jack ardently; "I wish it could happen to me
twenty times over!"

"Oh, never again!" she murmured; and then Jack, suddenly and
impetuously,--

"But I _am_ glad it happened, for I found out up in that dirty hole how
I felt.  There was never any one like you.  I--I--could you ever get to
think of me?  Oh, Gipsy, I mean it.  I love you!" cried the boy, his
stern, thoughtful face radiant with eagerness, as he seized her hand.

"Oh, no--you don't!" stammered Gipsy, not knowing what she said.

"I do!" cried Jack desperately.  "I never was a fellow that did not know
his own mind.  Of course I know I'm young yet; but I only want to look
forward.  I shall work and get on, and--and up there at school and at
Oakby I never thought there was any one like you.  I disliked girls.
But now--oh, Gipsy, won't you begin at the very beginning with me, and
let us live our lives together?"

Boy as he was, there was a strength of intention in Jack's earnest tones
that carried conviction.  Perhaps the mutual attraction might have
remained hidden for long, or even have passed away, but for the sudden
and intense excitement that had brought it to the surface.

"Won't you--won't you?" reiterated Jack; and Gipsy said "Yes."

They stood in the glowing sunshine, and Jack felt a sort of ecstasy of
unknown bliss.  He did not know how long was the pause before Gipsy,
starting, and as if finishing the sentence, went on,--

"Yes--but I don't know.  What will they all say?  Isn't it wrong when we
are so young?"

"Wrong! as if a year or two made any difference to feelings like mine!"
cried Jack.  "If I were twenty-five, if I were thirty, I couldn't love
you better!"

"Yes--but--" said Gipsy, in her quick, practical way.  "You _are_ young,
and--and--papa--If he says--"

"Of course I shall tell him," said Jack.  "I am not going to steal you.
If you will wait, I'll work and show your father that I am a man.  For I
love you!"

"I'll wait!" said Gipsy softly; and then voices sounded near, and she
started away from him, while Jack--but Jack could never recollect
exactly what he did during the next ten minutes, till the thought of how
he was to tell his story sobered him.  Practical life had not hitherto
occupied much of Jack's mind; he had had no distinct intentions beyond
taking honours, and if possible a fellowship, till he had been seized
upon by this sudden passion, which in most lads would probably have been
a passing fancy, but in so earnest and serious a nature took at once a
real and practical shape.  But when Jack thought of facing Mr
Stanforth, and still worse his own father, with his wishes and his
hopes, a fearful embarrassment seized on him.  No, he must first make
his cause good with the only person who was likely to be listened to--he
must find Cherry.  However, the first person he met was Mr Stanforth,
who innocently asked him if he knew where his daughter was.  Jack
blushed and stared, answering incoherently,--

"I was only looking for Cherry."

"There he is.  I heard him asking for you.  Perhaps Gipsy is in the
orchard."  Jack felt very foolish and cowardly, but for his very life he
could not begin to speak, and he turned towards the bench where Cherry
sat in the sun, smoking his pipe comfortably, and conscious of little
but a sense of utter rest and relief.

"Well, Jack, I haven't heard your story yet," he said, as Jack came and
sat down beside him.  "I don't think you have grown thin, though Alvar
says they nearly starved you to death."

"Where is Alvar?" asked Jack.

"I got him to go to the mayor, _intendant_, whatever the official is
called here, and see if anything could be done for poor Pedro.  His
mother was here just now in an agony.  Jack, I think the `evils of
government' might receive some illustrations."

"Cheriton," said Jack, with unusual solemnity, "I've got to ask your
advice--that is, your opinion--that is, to tell you something."

"Don't you think I should look at it from a ludicrous point of view?"
said Cherry, whose spirits were ready for a reaction into nonsense.

"I don't know," said Jack; "but it is very serious.  I have made up my
mind, Cherry, that I mean to marry Miss Stanforth, and I shall direct
all my efforts in life to accomplish this end.  I know that I am younger
than is usual on these occasions; but such things are not a question of
time.  Cherry, _do_ help me; they'll all listen to you."

Cheriton sat with his pipe in his hand, so utterly astonished, that he
allowed Jack's sentences to come to a natural conclusion.  Then he
exclaimed,--

"Jack!  You!  Oh, impossible!"

"I don't see why you should think it impossible.  Anyhow, it's true!"

"But it is so sudden.  Jack, my dear boy, you're slightly carried off
your head just now.  Don't say a word about it--while we're all together
at least; it wouldn't be fair."

"But I have," answered Jack, "and--and--" in a different tone, "Cherry,
I don't know how to believe it myself, but she--it is too wonderful--she
will."

Cherry did not answer.  He put his hand on Jack's with a sudden, quick
movement.

"I suppose you think I ought to have waited till I had a better right to
ask her," said Jack presently.

A look of acute pain passed over Cheriton's face.  He said doubtfully,
"Are you quite sure?"

"Sure?  Sure of what?"

"Of your own mind and hers?"

"Did I ever not know my own mind?  I'm not a fool!" said Jack angrily.
"And, if you could have seen just the way she looked, Cherry, you
wouldn't have any doubts."

"I am afraid," said Cherry very gently, and after a pause, "that you
have been very hasty.  I don't think that father, or Mr Stanforth
either, would listen to you now."

"I want you to ask them," said Jack insinuatingly.  "Father would do
anything for you now; and, besides, we are young enough to wait, and
I've got the world before me, and I mean to keep straight and get on.
Why should Mr Stanforth object?  I feel as if I could do anything.  You
don't think it would make me idle?  No, I shall work twice as hard as I
should without it."

"Yes," said Cherry quietly; "no doubt."  Something in his tone brought
recent facts to Jack's remembrance, as was proved by his sudden silence.
Cherry looked round at him and smiled.

"You know, Jack, I wasn't prepared to find the schoolboy stage passed
into the lover's.  I'll speak to Mr Stanforth, if that is what you
want, and even if things don't fit in at once, if you feel as you say,
you won't be much to be pitied with such an aim before you!"

"I'm not at all ashamed of telling my own story," said Jack, "but--"

"_But_ there is Mr Stanforth coming out of the house, so if you mean to
run away you had better make haste about it."

Jack rose, but he paused a moment, and as Mr Stanforth came towards
them, said bluntly,--

"Mr Stanforth, I want Cheriton to tell you about it first;" then
deliberately walked away.

Poor Mr Stanforth, who had little expected such an ending to his tour
with his favourite little daughter, was feeling himself in a worse
scrape than the lovers, and though he had romance enough to sympathise
with them, was disposed to be angry with Jack for his inconsiderate
haste, and to feel that "What will your mother say?" was a more
uncomfortable question to himself than to his daughter.

Cheriton, on his side, would have been very glad of a few minutes for
reflection, but Mr Stanforth began at once,--

"I see I have not brought news to you."

"No," said Cherry.  "Jack has been talking to me; I had no idea of such
a thing.  But, Mr Stanforth, there is no doubt that Jack is thoroughly
in earnest," as a half smile twinkled on the artist's perplexed
countenance.

"In earnest, yes; but what business has he to be in earnest?  What would
your father say to such a proceeding?  What can he say at your brother's
age, and of people of whom he knows nothing, and of a connexion of
which, knowing nothing, he probably would not approve?"

Cheriton blushed, knowing that this last assertion contained much truth.

"But he does know," he said, "of all your kindness, and he will know
more--and--and when he knows you, he could not think--"

"Excuse me, my dear fellow, but he will think.  He will think I have
thrown my daughter in the way of his sons--for which I have only my own
imprudence, I suppose, to thank.  And he would no doubt dislike a
connexion the advantages of which, whatever they may be, are not
enumerated in Burke's `Landed Gentry.'"

Mr Stanforth smiled, though he spoke with a certain spirited dignity,
and Cheriton could not contradict him; for though Mr Stanforth had not
risen out of any romantic obscurity, he certainly owed his present
position to his own genius and high personal character.  He had himself
married well, and all would depend on the way in which it was put to a
man like Mr Lester, slow to realise unfamiliar facts.  Cheriton could
not take the liberty of saying that he thought such an objection would
be groundless, or at least easily overcome; but he was afraid that his
silence might be misconstrued, and said,--"But on your side, Mr
Stanforth, would you think it wrong to give Jack a little hope?  I think
he has every prospect of success in life.  And he is a very good fellow.
Sudden as this is, I feel sure that he will stick to it."

"As to that," said Mr Stanforth, "I like Jack very well, and for my
part I think young people are all the better for having to fight their
way; but whatever may take place in the future I can allow no
intercourse till your father's consent is obtained.  That will give a
chance of testing their feelings on both sides.  Gipsy is a mere child,
she may not understand herself."

"I think," said Cheriton, "that if Jack writes to my father now, or
speaks to him when he gets home, that no one will attend to him.  But if
it could wait till we all go back, I could explain the circumstances so
much better.  It is always difficult to take in what passes at a
distance."

"Well," said Mr Stanforth, "all I have to say is that when Jack applies
to me, with his father's consent, I will hear what he has to say, not
before.  Come, Cheriton," he added, "you know there is no other way of
acting.  This foolish boy has broken up our pleasant party, and upset
all our plans."

"Perhaps I ought to have made more apologies for him," said Cherry, with
a smile.  "But I want things to go well with Jack.  It would be so bad
for him to have a disappointment of that kind just as he is making his
start in life."

Mr Stanforth noticed the unconscious emphasis, "I want things to go
well with _Jack_," and said kindly, "Jack couldn't have a better special
pleader, and if he has as much stuff in him as I think, a few obstacles
won't hurt him."

"Oh, Jack has plenty of good strong stuff in him, mental, moral--and
physical, too," added Cherry hurriedly.

Mr Stanforth was touched by the allusion, which was evidently intended
to combat a possible latent objection on his part.

"Jack is excellent--but inconvenient," he said, thinking it better not
to make the subject too serious.  "The thing is what to do next."  As he
spoke, Jack himself came up to them, and Mr Stanforth prevented his
first words with, "My dear fellow, I have said my say to your brother,
and I don't mean to listen to yours just yet."

"I believe, sir," said Jack, "that I--I have not observed sufficient
formalities.  I shall go straight home to my father, and I hope to
obtain his full consent.  But it is due to me to let me say that my mind
is, and always will be, quite unalterable.  And I'm not sorry I spoke,
sir--I can't be!"

"No," said Mr Stanforth; "but I must desire that you make no further
attempt at present."

"I hope, Mr Stanforth, that you don't imagine I would attempt anything
underhand!" cried Jack impetuously.

"I shall have every confidence in you," said Mr Stanforth gravely; "but
remember, I cannot regard you as pledged to my daughter by anything that
has passed to-day."  Jack made no answer, but he closed his lips with an
expression of determination.

When Alvar came back, having succeeded in instituting an inquiry into
the merits of Pedro's character, there was a discussion of plans, which
ended in the three brothers agreeing to go by the shortest route to
Seville, whence Jack could at once start for England; while the
Stanforths followed them by a longer and more picturesque road, and
after picking up their own property, would also go home _via_ Madrid
some week or two later.  Alvar was not nearly so much astonished as the
others, nor so much concerned.

"It was natural," he said, "since Jack's heart was not preoccupied, and
would doubtless pass away with absence."

Jack was so excessively indignant that he did not condescend to a reply,
only asking Cherry if he was too tired to start at once.

This proposal, however, was negatived by Mr Stanforth, who remarked
that he did not want to hear of any more adventures in the dusk; and it
was agreed that both parties should start early on the following
morning.  In the meantime the only rational thing was to behave as
usual.  Jack was, however, speechless and surly with embarrassment, and
stuck to Cheriton as if he was afraid to lose sight of him; while Gipsy
bore herself with a transparent affectation of unconsciousness, and,
though she blushed at every look, coined little remarks at intervals.
Miss Weston kindly professed to be seized with a desire to inspect the
Dominican Convent, and carried her and Alvar off for that purpose; while
Jack held by Cherry, who was glad to rest, though this startling
incident had one good effect, in driving away all the haunting memories
of the late alarm.

The next morning all were up with the sun, Gipsy busily dispensing the
chocolate and pressing it on Cheriton as he sat at the table.  Suddenly
she turned, and, with a very pretty gesture, half confident, half shy,
she held up a cup to Jack, who stood behind.

"Won't you have some?" she said, with a hint of her own mischief in her
eyes and voice.  Jack seized the cup, and--upset it over the deft, quick
hands that tendered it to him.

"Oh, I have burnt you!" he exclaimed, in so tragic a voice that all
present burst out laughing.

"No," said Gipsy, "early morning chocolate is not dangerously hot; but
you have spoiled my cuffs, and spilled it, and I don't think there's any
more of it."

"Jack's first attention!" said Cherry, under his breath; but he jumped
up and followed Alvar, who had gone to see about the mount provided for
them.  Miss Weston was tying various little bags on to her saddle.

"I say, Mr Stanforth," called Cherry, "there's such a picturesque mule
here; do come and see it."

He looked up with eyes full of mischievous entreaty as Mr Stanforth
obeyed his call.  "Well," said the latter with a smile, "I may ask _you_
to come and see me at Kensington, for I must get the picture finished."

"That was a much prettier picture, just now," said Cheriton; "and I'm
sure Jack would be happy to sit for it _any_ time."

When Gipsy, long afterwards, was pressed on the subject of that little
parting interview, she declared that Jack had done nothing but say that
he wouldn't make love to her on any account; but however that might be,
she soon came running out, rosy and bashful; while Cheriton put her on
her mule and gave her a friendly hand-squeeze and a look of all possible
encouragement.  Mr Stanforth went into the house and called Jack to bid
him a kind farewell.  After the party had set off, Gipsy looked back and
saw the crowd of mule drivers and peasants, the host and hostess, with
Mariquita kissing her hands, and the three brothers standing together in
the morning sunshine, waving their farewells.  As they passed out of
sight, her father touched her hand and made her ride up close to his
side.

"My little girl," he said, "this is a serious thing that has come to
you; I do not know how it may end for you.  I am sure that it will bring
you anxiety and delay.  Be honest with yourself, and do not exaggerate
the romance and excitement of these last few days into a feeling which
may demand from you much sacrifice."

Gipsy had never heard her father speak in this tone before--she was awed
and silenced.

"Be honest," repeated her father, "for I think it is a very honest heart
that you have won."

"Papa," said Gipsy, "I _am_ honest, and I think I know what you mean.
But I don't mind waiting if I know he is waiting too.  He said `begin at
the beginning' with him."

"Well," said Mr Stanforth with a sigh, "_Che sara sara_;" but with a
sudden turn, "_He_ is young, too, you know, and many things may happen
to change his views."

"I cannot help it now, papa," said Gipsy, who felt that those days and
nights of terror had developed her feelings more than weeks of common
life.  She gave her father's hand a little squeeze, and looked up in his
face with the tears on her black eyelashes.  She _meant_ to say, "I love
_you_ all the better because of this new love which has made everything
deeper and warmer for me," but all she managed to say was--"There!
There are all the things tumbling out of your knapsack!  I'm not going
to have _that_ happen again even if--if--whatever should take place in
the future."

"I hope, my dear, that nothing more will happen, at least till we are at
home again," said Mr Stanforth meekly; but Gipsy put the things into
the knapsack, and after a little silence they fell into a conversation
on the scenery as naturally as possible.

CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

A SUMMONS.

  "Once from high Heaven
  Is a father given.
  Once--and, oh, never again!"

After Jack returned home, with the understanding that the disclosure of
his holiday occupation should await his brother's return, and after the
Stanforths had also left Seville, Alvar and Cheriton spent several weeks
there without any adventures to disturb their tranquillity.  Alvar was a
good deal with his grandfather, whose health was not at this time good,
but who had evinced great curiosity as to the details of their detention
on the mountains.  He used also to go to the different clubs and meet
acquaintances, where they talked politics and scandal, and played at
cards, dominoes, and billiards.  It was an aimless existence, and
Cheriton sometimes fancied that Alvar grew restless under it, and would
not be sorry to return to England.  This, however, might have been owing
to Cheriton's own decided dislike to the young _Sevillanos_, who struck
him as almost justifying his grandmother's preconceived theory of
Alvar's probable behaviour.

"Ah, they do not suit you, that is not what you like," Alvar said
cheerfully; but he never said, "It is not _good_, this sort of life does
not make a nation great or virtuous."

Manoel was of another type, and perhaps a more respectable one; but they
saw very little of him.  Cheriton liked the ladies, who were kind, and
possessed many domestic virtues; and at Don Guzman's country place there
was something exceedingly pleasant in the cheerfulness and gaiety of the
peasants.  He would have liked to have found out something of the
working of the Church, of the views of the clergy, and how far they
differed, not only from those of an Anglican, but of an intelligent
Roman priest in more civilised countries, but on these subjects no one
would talk to him.  He heard mutterings of hatred towards the priests in
some quarters, and a good deal of chatter about processions and
ceremonies from the young ladies, but nothing further.  He did not want
for occupation.  He could now read and speak Spanish easily; and
although the Cid, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Armada, and the
Inquisition had been about the only salient points in his mind
previously, he made a study of Spanish history, without much increase of
his admiration for the Spaniards.  He was able, also, to do much more
sight-seeing than at first, and of the cathedral he never tired, and
never came to the end of its innumerable chapels, each with some great
picture, which Mr Stanforth had taught him how to see; never ceased to
find something new in the mystery and solemnity of its aisles with their
glory of coloured lights.

These quiet weeks formed a sort of resting-place, during which he was
able to think both of the past and of the future; he could dare now to
look away from the immediate present.  Cheriton's eyes were very clear,
his moral sense very keen, and he saw that he had been under a delusion,
that Ruth and he were as the poles asunder, that her deliberate
deception, her want of any sense of honour, had marked a nature that
never could have satisfied his.  Love in his case was no longer blind,
but it was none the less passionate, and, whatever else life might hold
for him, the memory of all his first, best hopes could never bring him
anything but pain.  This pain had been as much as he could bear, but
others, he thought, had suffered as keenly, and had led lives that were
neither ignoble nor unhappy.  Because one great love had gone out of his
life was nothing else worthy or dear?  "Nothing" had been the answer of
his first anguish, but Cheriton's nature was too rich in love for such
an answer to stand.  The help for which he had prayed had been sent to
him, and it came in the sense that home faces were still dear--_how_
dear his late alarm had taught him--home duties still paramount, that he
could be a good son and brother and friend still.  And he thought with a
sort of surprise of the many pleasant and not unhappy hours he had
passed of late; how much, after all, he had "enjoyed himself."  He
hardly knew that his quick intelligence was a gift to be thankful for,
or that his unselfish interest in others brought its own reward.  On
another side of his nature, also, he resisted the aimlessness of his
lost hopes.  The thought of Ruth had sweetened his success at Oxford,
but he would not be such a coward as to give up all his objects in life,
he would make a name for himself still, and show her that she had not
brought him to utter shipwreck.  This motive was strong in Cheriton,
though it ran alongside with much higher ones.

One picture in the cathedral exercised a great fascination over
Cheriton's mind.  It hangs in the Capella del Consuelo, over a side
altar, dedicated to the _Angel de la Guarda_, and is one of the many
masterpieces of Murillo to be found in Seville.  It represents a tall,
strong angel with wide-spread wings, and grave, benevolent face, leading
by the hand a child--a subject which has been of course repeated in
every form of commonplace prettiness.  But in this picture the figure of
the angel conveys a sense of heavenly might and unearthly guardianship
which no imitation or repetition could give.  It is called the "Guardian
Angel;" but Cheriton had been told by one of the priests that the name
given to it by the painter himself was "The Soul and the Church," which
for some reason or other had been changed by the monks of the Capuchin
Convent, to whom the picture had originally belonged.  It was a thought
and a carrying out of the thought which, seen among such surroundings,
was full of suggestion, how and why that Divine Guidance seemed here in
great measure to have gone astray, how the great angel's finger had not
always pointed upward, and yet how utterly helpless and rudderless the
nation was when it cast off the Guide of its fathers.  Then his thoughts
turned to his own life and to the Hand that held it, to the Guidance
that was sometimes so hard to recognise, so difficult to yield to, and
yet how the sense of a love and a wisdom above his own, speaking to him,
whether in the events of his own life, the better impulses of his own
heart, or in the visible forms of religion, was the one light in the
darkness.

  "O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
  The night is gone."

As he murmured the words half aloud a hand touched his shoulder.  He
looked up and saw Alvar standing beside him.

"_Mi querido_, I have been looking for you.  Will you come home?  I want
you," he said.

"There is something the matter," said Cheriton quickly, as he looked at
him.  "What is it?"

"Ah, I _must_ tell you!" said Alvar reluctantly.  "It is bad news,
indeed.  Sit down again--here--I have received this."  He took a
telegraph paper out of his pocket and put it into Cherry's hand.

  "Mrs Lester to Alvar Lester.

  "Your father has met with a dangerous accident.  He wishes to see you.
  Come home at once.  He desires Cheriton to run no risk."

  Cheriton looked up blankly for a moment, then started to his feet,
  crushing up the paper in his hand.

"Quick," he said, "we must go at once.  When?  By Madrid is the shortest
way."

"Yes--I--" said Alvar; "but see what he says."

"I _must_ go," said Cheriton.  "Don't waste any words about it.  I
_know_ he wants me.  I'll be careful enough, only make haste."

But he paused, and dropping on his knees on the altar step, covered his
face with his hands, rose, and silently led the way out of the
cathedral.

Alvar, with his usual tact, perceived at once that it would be
impossible to persuade him to stay behind, and did not fret him by the
attempt, though this hasty journey and the return to Oakby in the first
sharp winds of March were more on his own mind than the thought of what
news might meet them at the journey's end.

It was still early in the day, and they were able to start within a few
hours, only taking a few of their things with them, amid a confusion of
tears, sympathy, and regret; Don Guzman evidently parting from Alvar
with reluctance, and bestowing a tremendous embrace on Cheriton in
return for his thanks for the kindness that had been shown to him.
Manoel, on the other hand, was evidently relieved at their early
departure.

Some days later, on a wild, blustering morning in the first week of
March, Jack Lester stood on the step of the front door of Oakby.  The
trees were still bare, and scarcely a primrose peeped through the dead
leaves beneath them; pale rays of sun were struggling with the quick
driven clouds, the noisy caw of the rooks mingled with the rustle of the
leafless branches.  Jack was pale and heavy-eyed.  He looked across the
wide, wild landscape as if its very familiarity were strange to him,
then started, as up the park from a side entrance came a carnage and
pair as fast as it could be driven, and in another minute pulled up at
the door.

"Oh, Cherry, we have never dared to wish for you!" cried Jack, as
Cheriton sprang out and caught both his hands.  "Come in--come in!  Oh,
if you had _but_ come last night!"

"Not too late--not too late altogether?"  Jack shook his head, his voice
choked, but they knew too well what he would tell them, and the two
brothers stood just within the door, holding by each other, Jack sobbing
with relief from the strain of responsibility and loneliness, and
Cheriton dazed and silent, unable to utter a word.

The servants began to gather round them.  "Oh, Mr Cheriton, it's some
comfort to see you back, sir!" said the butler; and--"Thank heaven, sir,
you're come to help your poor grandmother!" cried the old housekeeper;
while Nettie, flying downstairs, threw herself into Cheriton's arms, as
if they were a refuge from the agony of new and most forlorn sorrow,
while he held her fast with long speechless kisses.

Alvar stood still.  In that instinctive mutual clinging in the first
shock of their common grief he had no share, and for the moment he stood
as much a stranger among them as when, more than a year before, he had
come into the midst of their Christmas merry-making, and had silenced
their laughter by his unwelcome presence.

Jack was the first to awaken to a sense of present necessity.

"You have been travelling all night," he said.  "Come and sit down--you
must be tired out."

"We had some breakfast at Hazelby, while we waited for the carriage,"
said Alvar; and Cherry, as Nettie released her hold, unfastened his
wraps, and moved over to the hall fire, sitting down in the great chair,
as they began to exchange question and answer.

"What happened--how was it?"

"Didn't you get my telegram?" said Jack.

"No; only granny's.  Where is she?"

"Asleep, I hope.  The meet was at Ashrigg, and old Rob fell in taking
the brook, just by Fletcher's farm.  And so--so he was thrown, and it
was an injury to the spine; but he was quite conscious, and sent that
telegram to Alvar.  After that he didn't often know us--till--till last
night.  And it was over before eleven.  We did not think you could
possibly get here till to-night, and we had no news of you, so I
telegraphed again as soon as I got home; but I suppose you missed the
message."

"We wrote and telegraphed from Madrid," said Alvar; "it is quite
possible that there should be delay there; and in Paris and London we
had hardly a moment to catch the trains.  Cherry has been too anxious to
feel the fatigue, but he _must_ rest now."

"There must be a great many things to attend to," said Cheriton,
standing up, and passing his hand over his eyes as if he were rousing
himself out of an unnatural dream.

"Not yet," said Jack, "it is so early.  Mr Ellesmere will come back
by-and-by."

Cherry looked round.  He noticed that a pair of antlers had been removed
from one of the panels, and an impulse came to him to ask why, and then
the oddest sense of the incongruity of the remark.  He rather knew than
felt the truth of the blow that had fallen on them, and all the
different aspects of this great change, even to remote particulars,
passed over his mind, as over the mind of a drowning man, but as
thoughts, not as realities.  Suddenly there was a bark and a scutter,
and Buffer, in an ecstasy of incongruous joy, rushed into the hall,
jumped upon him, yelping, licking, dancing, and writhing with rapture.
He was followed by Rolla, who came slowly in, and laid his great tawny
head on his master's knee, looking sorrowfully up in his face as much as
to say that _he_ knew well enough that this was like no other
home-coming.

Cheriton started up and pushed them all aside.  He walked away to the
window and stared out at the park, into the library and looked round it,
evidently hardly knowing what he was about.  Alvar, who had been
standing pale and silent, roused himself too, and followed him, putting
his arm over his shoulder.

"Come," he said; "come upstairs.  Jack, where is there a fire?"

Cheriton yielded instinctively to Alvar's hand and voice, and Jack led
them upstairs, saying that granny had insisted on their rooms being kept
ready for them.  Nettie withheld Buffer from following them, and
crouched down on the rug by the hall fire till Jack returned to her.

"They have both gone to bed for a little while," he said; "even Alvar is
tired out.  Nettie, you had better go to granny, as soon as she is
awake, and tell her that they are here, and that Cherry is pretty well."

"I suppose Cherry will tell us what to do," said Nettie, as she stood
up.

Discipline and absence from home had improved Nettie; she was less
childish and more considerate, remembering to tell Jack that he had had
no breakfast, and to order some to be ready when the travellers should
want it.

Bob, who had been sent for a day or two before, now joined them.  He had
grown as tall as Jack, but grief and awe gave him a heavy, sullen look,
and indeed they said very little to each other.  Jack wrote a few
necessary letters, and sent them off by one of the grooms, and
telegraphed to Judge Cheriton, who was coming that same evening, the
news of what he would find.  But their father had been so completely
manager and master, that Jack felt as if giving an order himself were
unjustifiable, and as soon as he dared, he went to see if Cherry were
able to talk to him.

"Come, Jack," said Cherry, as the boy came up to him; "come now, and
tell me everything."

Jack leaned against the foot of the bed, and in the half-darkened room
told all the details of the last few days.  There had not been much
suffering, nor long intervals of consciousness, so far as they knew.
Cherry could have done no good till last night.  Granny had done all the
nursing.  "I never thought," said Jack, "she loved any one so much."
Mr Ellesmere had been everything to them, and had written letters and
told them what to do.  "But last night father came more to himself, and
sent for Mr Ellesmere, and presently he fetched me, and father took
hold of my hand, and said to me quite clearly, `Remember, your eldest
brother will stand in my place; let there be no divisions among you.'
And then--then he told me to try and keep Bob straight, and that I had
been a good lad.  But oh, Cherry, if he had but known about Gipsy!  But
I couldn't say one word then.  And then Mr Ellesmere said, `Shall Jack
say anything to Cherry for you?'  And he smiled, and said, `My love and
blessing, for he has been the light of my eyes.'  And then he sent for
Bob and Nettie, and sent messages to old Wilson and some of the
servants.  And he said that he had tried to do his duty in life by his
children and neighbours, but that he had often failed, especially in one
respect, and also he had not ruled his temper as a Christian man should;
and he asked every one to forgive him, and specially the vicar, if he
had overstepped the bounds his position gave him; Mr Ellesmere said
something of `thanks for years of kindness.'  And then--we had the
communion.  And after a bit he said very low, `If my boy should live, I
know he will keep things together.'  Then I think he murmured something
about--about your coming--and the cold weather--and--and--you were not
to fret--it was only waiting a little longer.  And then quite quite loud
he said, `Fear God, and keep His commandments,' and then just whispered,
`Fanny.'  That was the last word; but he lived till eleven.  And poor
granny, she broke down into dreadful crying, and said, `The light of
_my_ eyes--the light of _my_ eyes is darkened.'  Nettie was very good
with her; but at last we all got to bed--and--oh, Cherry, it isn't quite
so bad now we have you!" and Jack pressed up to his side.

Cheriton had listened to all this long, faltering tale leaning on his
elbow, his wide-open eyes fixed on his brother, without interrupting him
by a word.  Jack cried, and he put his arm round his neck, and said,
"Poor boy!" but no tears came to him.

"I never thought--" said Jack, whose natural reserve was dispelled by
stress of feeling, "I never thought what a good man he was, and how much
he cared."

"Yes, he loved goodness," said Cherry, with a heavy sigh.

It was true.  With some prejudices and many weaknesses, Gerald Lester
had set his duty first; he had lived such a life that those around him
were the better for his existence, he had left a place empty and a work
to be done.  Who would fill the place--how would the work be done?

Through all the crush of personal grief, his two sons could not but ask
themselves this question; but they could not bring themselves to speak
of it to each other; and after a few minutes Cheriton said, "I think I
will get up now.  We must talk things over together; and I want to see
granny."

"If you have rested."

"Oh, yes, as much as is possible.  I am quite well, indeed.  Go down, my
boy.  I will come directly."

Jack went with a lightened heart.  If Cherry were well and able to take
the lead among them, everything could be borne.  When Cheriton came into
the library he found that Alvar had already appeared, and was eating
some breakfast, for it was still only twelve o'clock, while Mr
Ellesmere was standing by the fire.  The vicar greeted him kindly and
quietly, and Alvar poured out some coffee for him; and then Mr
Ellesmere began to explain some of the arrangements he had been obliged
to make, and that he had sent to their father's solicitor, Mr Malcolm,
to come in the afternoon.  Cheriton thanked him, and asked a few
questions; but Alvar did not seem to take the conversation to himself,
till the butler, having taken away the breakfast things, paused, and
after looking first at Cheriton, turned to Alvar, and said rather
awkwardly,--"Do you expect the judge by the five o'clock train, sir, and
shall the carriage be sent to Hazelby to meet him?"

There was a moment's silence, the three younger brothers coloured to
their very hair roots, and Cheriton made a half step away from Alvar's
side.  The sudden pang that shot through him by its very sharpness
brought its own remedy.  He put his hand on Alvar's arm as if to call
his attention.

"The train comes in at five--we had better send, hadn't we?" he said.

"Oh, yes!" said Alvar.

He had grown a little pale, and he turned his large black eyes on
Cheriton with a look half-proud, half-appealing, and so sad as to drown
all Cheriton's momentary shrinking in self-reproach.

"Alvar," said Mr Ellesmere, "if you will come with me, I have a message
for you from your father."

He led the way into Mr Lester's study, and Alvar followed him to the
room, of which his last vivid recollection was of the painful dispute
after the breach of his engagement.  He stood by the fire in silence,
and the vicar said,--

"Alvar, your father desired me to tell you that, of all the actions of
his life he most regretted the neglect which for so many years he showed
you.  He bid me say that on his death-bed he desired his son's
forgiveness."

"My father made me every amends in his power," said Alvar, in a low
voice.

"He commended your grandmother and your sister to your protection and
kindness; your brothers also, and thought thankfully of all that you and
Cherry have become to each other."

Alvar was much agitated, for some moments he was unable to speak, then
he said vehemently,--

"This is my inheritance, as it was my father's; but to my brothers I
seem an interloper.  This is the wrong my father did to me, he made me a
stranger in my own place."

"It was a wrong of which he deeply repented."

"It does not become me to speak of it," said Alvar proudly.

"You must not exaggerate," said Mr Ellesmere.  "It would be hard for
Cheriton to see any one in his father's place; but you have won from
him, at any rate, a brother's love."

"I am his dear friend," said Alvar; "but it is different with Jack."

"Don't draw these fine distinctions.  _Be_ a worthy successor to your
father; live here among your people, as he did, in the fear of God, and
doing your duty as an English gentleman, and be, as you have ever been,
patient and kind to your brothers.  Doubtless it seems a hard task to
you, but I earnestly believe that by God's blessing you may be all to
them that even Cheriton might be in your place.  Nay, the very
differences between you may be,--nay have been--the means of good."

"You are very kind to me, sir, and I thank you," said Alvar courteously;
but Mr Ellesmere felt as if his words had fallen a little flat.  He
felt sorry for Alvar, but he could not look forward to the future
without uneasiness.  He saw that the wrong was neither forgotten nor
forgiven, and that there was in the young Spaniard's nature a background
of immovable pride that promised ill for accommodating himself to
unfamiliar duties, and a want of moral insight that would be slow in
recognising them.

It seemed rather inconsistent when Alvar said meekly, "Cheriton will
tell me in all things what I should do," and led the way back to the
library.

Here they found the others gathered in a group by the fire; Nettie
sitting on a stool at Cheriton's feet, Jack leaning over the back of his
chair, and Bob close at hand.  How much alike they looked, with their
similar colouring and outline, and faces set in the same sorrowful
stillness and softened by the same feelings!  Alvar paused and looked at
them for a moment, but Cheriton, seeing him, rose and came forward.

"We have been waiting for you, Alvar," he said.  "I have been to see
grandmamma, but I did not stay--she could not bear it; but now--will you
come upstairs with us?"  He gave a look of invitation to Mr Ellesmere
also, and he followed them silently into the chamber of death.

There lay their father, all the irritable marks of human frailty
smoothed away, and the grand outline and long beard giving him a
likeness to some kingly monument.  The twins held by each other, their
grief almost overpowered by shrinking awe.  Jack frowned and set his
mouth hard, and wrung Cherry's hand in his stress of feeling till he
almost crushed it, while Cheriton stood quite still and calm by Alvar's
side.

"Let us pray," said Mr Ellesmere; and as they all knelt down he
repeated the Lord's Prayer, and such other words as came to him.

When they rose up again Cheriton bent down and kissed his father's brow,
and one by one the younger ones followed his example.  Only Alvar stood
still, till Cheriton turned to him, and taking his hand, with a look
that Mr Ellesmere never forgot, drew him forward.

Alvar obeyed him, but as his lips touched his father's face the thought
suddenly struck Cheriton that it must have been for the first time--that
never, even in babyhood, had a caress passed between the father and son;
and then, in contrast, he thought of himself, and the grief, hitherto
unrealised, broke forth at last.  He hid his face in his hands, and
hurried out of the room into his own, away from them all.

Part IV.

THE SQUIRE OF OAKBY.

  "A lord of fat prize oxen and of sheep,
  A raiser of huge melons and of pines,
  A patron of some thirty charities,
  A quarter-sessions chairman."

PART FOUR.

THE SQUIRE OF OAKBY.

  "A lord of fat prize oxen and of sheep,
  A raiser of huge melons and of pines,
  A patron of some thirty charities,
  A quarter-sessions chairman."

CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

THE FUNERAL.

  "Wild March wind, wilt thou never cease thy sighing?"

It was on a wild March morning, when sudden gleams of radiant sunlight
contended with heavy storm-clouds, that Mr Lester of Oakby was buried.
There was no rain, but the violent wind carried the sound of the knell
in fitful gusts over the mourning village, through the well-cared-for
fields and plantations of Oakby, away to Ashrigg and Elderthwaite,
bringing all the countryside in a great concourse to the funeral.  For
it was a real mourning, a real loss.  Long years ago, Fanny Lester, with
her bright smile, and clear, upward-looking eyes, had said to her
husband, "We have a piece of work in the world given to us, Gerald; let
us try and do it."  And under her strong influence the dutiful and
honourable traditions of conduct to which Gerald Lester was born,
widened and were drawn higher; the various offices he held were
exercised with conscientious effort for the benefit of his neighbours;
and his tenantry, mind, soul and body, were the better for his life
among them.  They could trust him, and if he sometimes made mistakes
from which the wise Fanny might have saved him, her death had
consecrated for him every simple duty that she had pointed out.  Now,
while "the old Squire" still meant his father, while he was still in the
strength of his manhood, he was gone; and at the head of his grave there
stood, not the son they knew, with his father's fair face and his
mother's fair soul, but the dark, stately stranger, who--among all those
north-country gentlemen, farmers, and labourers who crowded round, those
"neighbours" all so well known to each other--looked so strangely out of
place.

So thought another stranger who, when he had travelled northwards, had
little thought to find himself present at such a scene.

The Stanforths had long since returned to London, and Gipsy found
herself once more in the midst of as pleasant a home-circle as ever a
girl grew up in, while her attention was claimed by numerous interests,
social, intellectual, and domestic.  Her mother shook her head over the
story of Jack's proposal; but she said very little about the matter,
secretly hoping that Gipsy would cease to think of it on returning to
another atmosphere.  All the advances, she said to her husband, must now
come from the other side, and she could not but regard the future as
doubtful, and was slightly incredulous of the charms of the travelling
companions whom she had not herself seen.  But Jack, while he was at
Oxford, wrote to Mr Stanforth, about once a fortnight, rather formal
and sententious epistles, which did not contain one word about Gipsy,
but which in their regularity and simplicity impressed her mother
favourably.  One long, pleasant letter arrived from Cheriton during his
last weeks at Seville, and of this Gipsy enjoyed the perusal.  She did
not show any symptoms of low spirits, and being a girl of some
resolution of character, held her tongue and bided her time.  Perhaps a
bright and fairly certain expectation was all she as yet wanted or was
ready for.  She was young in feeling, even for her eighteen years, and
in truth they were "beginning at the beginning."

Still she wished ardently that her father should accede to a request
from Sir John Hubbard, that he should come down to Ashrigg Hall, and
paint a companion picture of his wife to the one that he had taken of
himself long ago.  Lady Hubbard was infirm and could not come to London,
or Sir John would not have made such a demand on Mr Stanforth's time,
now, of course, even more fully occupied than it had been ten years
before.

Mr Stanforth hesitated; he did not like the notion of any possible
meeting with Mr Lester, while Jack's views remained a secret from him;
but Sir John had shown him a good deal of kindness, and he felt curious
to hear something of his young friends in their own neighbourhood.  So
the first week in March found him at Ashrigg, in the midst of a large
family party, for the eldest son and his wife were staying there, and
there were several daughters at home.

"We had hoped to give a few of our friends the pleasure of meeting you,
Mr Stanforth," said Sir John, after dinner, when the wine was on the
table, "but our neighbourhood has sustained a great loss in the death of
a valued friend of ours, Mr Lester, of Oakby."

"Mr Lester of Oakby!  You don't say so!  Surely that is very sudden,"
said Mr Stanforth, infinitely shocked.  "I saw a great deal of his sons
in the south of Spain," he added in explanation.

"Indeed!  They are at home now, poor fellows.  They were just too late.
I had this note from Jack--that's the second son--no, the third--this
afternoon."

"I know Jack, too," said Mr Stanforth, as he took the note.  It was a
very brief one, merely announcing his father's death, and adding,--

"My brothers returned from Spain this morning.  We hope that the journey
has done Cheriton no harm."

"Ah, poor Cheriton!" said Mr Stanforth.  "I fear he must have run a
great risk.  It will be a terrible blow to him.  We formed something
more than a travelling acquaintance."

"Poor Mr Lester was here only a fortnight ago, speaking with delight of
Cheriton's entire recovery," said Lady Hubbard.

"Yes, he was much better," said Mr Stanforth, a little doubtfully, "and
full of enjoyment.  But this will be indeed a startling change."

"Yes," said Sir John; "one does not know how to think of Alvar in his
father's shoes.  It was a sadly mismanaged business altogether."

"There is a great deal to like in Alvar Lester," said Mr Stanforth;
"but of course the circumstances are very peculiar."

"Yes.  You see while the elder brother, Robert, was alive, no one
thought much of Gerald, and when this Spanish marriage came out, it was
a great shock.  And he was too ready to listen to all the excuses about
the boy's health.  If he had come home and been sent to school in
England he might have grown up like the rest, and black eyes instead of
blue ones would have been all the difference."

"I have always thought his long absence inexplicable."

"Well, Lester hated the thought of his boyish marriage, and these other
boys came, and Cherry was his darling.  His wife did make an effort
once, and Alvar was brought to France when he was about seven years old;
but they said he was ill, and took him back again.  Then when old Mrs
Lester came into power she opposed his coming, and things slipped on.  I
don't think he was expected to live at first, and, poor fellow! no one
wished that he should."

"The second Mrs Lester must have been a very remarkable person," said
Mr Stanforth.

"She was," said Lady Hubbard warmly.  "She was a person to raise the
tone of a whole neighbourhood.  She made another man of her husband, and
he worshipped her.  She was no beauty, and very small, but with the
brightest of smiles, and eyes that seemed to look straight up into
heaven.  No one could forget Fanny Lester.  She influenced every one."

There was much more talk, and many side lights were cast on Mr
Stanforth's mind when he heard of Alvar's broken engagement to Virginia
Seyton, and of her pretty cousin Ruth's recent marriage to Captain
Lester, "though at one time every one thought that there was something
between her and Cheriton."  He could not but think most of how his own
daughter's future might be affected by this sudden freeing of her young
lover from parental control; but he was full of sympathy for them all,
and the note that he wrote to Cheriton was answered by a request that he
would accompany Sir John Hubbard to the funeral: "They could never
forget all his kindness in another time of trouble."

It was a striking group of mourners.  Alvar stood in the midst,
dignified and impassive, and by his side a tall, girlish figure, with
bright hair gleaming through her crape veil, the three other brothers
together, looking chiefly as if they were trying to preserve an unmoved
demeanour; Rupert's face behind them, like enough to suggest kindred,
and Judge Cheriton's keen cultivated face; Mr Seyton, pale, worn, and
white-haired, and his brother's tanned, weather-beaten countenance,
ruddy and solemn, above his clerical dress.  Many a fine, powerful form
and handsome outline showed among the men, whose fathers had served Mr
Lester's; and behind, crowds of women, children, and old people filled
the churchyard and the lanes beyond.

As the service proceeded the heavy clouds parted, and a sudden gleam of
sunlight fell, lighting up the violet pall and the white wreaths laid on
it, the surplices of the choristers, and the bent heads of the mourners.
Cheriton looked up at last away from the open grave, through the break
in the clouds, but with a face strangely white and sad in the momentary
sunlight.  Jack, as they turned away, caught sight of Mr Stanforth, and
the sudden involuntary look of pleasure that lightened the poor boy's
miserable face was touching to see.  When all was over, and, in common
with most of those from a distance, Mr Stanforth had accompanied Sir
John Hubbard up to the house, Jack sought him out, hardly having a word
to say; but evidently finding satisfaction in his presence.

"Oh, we have nothing picturesque at home, but still I should like to
show you Oakby," Cheriton had said, as they walked together in the
beautiful streets of Seville; but the long table in the old oak
dining-room, covered with family plate, the sombre, faded richness of
colouring that told of years of settled dignified life, were not
altogether commonplace, any more than the pair of brothers who occupied
the two ends of the table.  It was not till there was a general move
that Cheriton came up and put his hand into his friend's.

"We all like to think that you have been here," he said.  "You will come
again while you are at Ashrigg?"

"I will, indeed.  And you,--these cold winds do not hurt you?"

"No, I think not.  My uncle wishes Sir John Hubbard to hear some of our
arrangements; you will not mind waiting for a little."

He spoke very quietly, but as if there were a great weight upon him,
while his attention was claimed by some parting guest.

"Well, Cheriton, good-bye; this is a sorrowful day for many.  You must
try and teach your poor brother to fill your father's place.  We are all
ready to welcome him among us, and we hope he will take an interest in
everything here."

"You are very land, Mr Sutton," said Cheriton, rather as if he thought
the kindness too outspoken.

Then a much older face and voice took a turn.

"Good-bye, my lad.  Your grandfather and I were friends always, and I
little thought to see this day.  Keep things going, Cherry, for the old
name's sake."

"I shall be in London soon," said Cherry ungraciously, for the echoes of
his own forebodings were very hard to bear.  Then Rupert came up with a
warm hand-shake.

"Good-bye, my dear fellow.  I hope we shall see you in London.  Don't
catch another bad cold.  I hope you'll all get along together."

"I dare say we shall.  But thank you, it was very good of you to come
just now."

"Just off your wedding trip, as I understand?" said the old gentleman.

"Yes; we came back from Paris a few days ago, and I must get back to
town to-night," said Rupert, as Cheriton moved away to join his uncle
for a sort of explanation of the state of affairs to the younger ones,
and for the reading of the will, though, its chief provisions were well
known to him.

Alvar, as his father had done before him, inherited the estate free from
debt or mortgage, with such an income as sounded to his Spanish notions
magnificent; but which those better versed in English expenditure knew
would find ample employment in all the calls of such a place as Oakby.
It was quite sufficient for the position, but no more.  The estate, of
course, still remained chargeable with old Mrs Lester's jointure.  Mr
Lester had enjoyed the interest of his wife's fortune during her life,
the bulk of which had come to her from an aunt, and was secured to her
daughter; her three sons succeeding to five thousand pounds apiece, and
for this money Judge Cheriton, and a certain General Fleming, a relation
of the Cheritons, were joint trustees.  So the will, made almost as soon
as Mr Lester inherited the property, had stood, and indeed most of its
provisions had been made by his father.  Since his illness, however, a
codicil had been added, stating that Mr Lester had intended to leave
the small amount of ready money at his disposal equally among his three
younger sons, but that now he decided to leave the whole to Cheriton,
"whose health might involve him in more expenses, and prevent him from
using the same exertions as his brothers."  He also joined his two elder
sons, with their uncle, Judge Cheriton, in the personal guardianship of
John, Robert, and Annette.  There were a few gifts and legacies to
servants and dependants, and that was all.

"Nothing," remarked Judge Cheriton, after a pause, "could be more proper
than this decision with regard to Cheriton, though we hope its necessity
has passed away; but under the very peculiar circumstances every one has
felt that it would have been well if a somewhat larger proportion of his
mother's fortune could have come to him."

"Of course," said Jack, "it is all right."

"But my father might have trusted him to me," said Alvar.

"Such things should always be in black and white," said the judge.
"Your father has shown marked confidence both in you and in Cheriton by
giving you a share in the charge of the younger ones, and this desire
will, of course, naturally affect our arrangements for them.  Annette's
home at least must be fixed by her grandmother's."

"But my grandmother will stay here," said Alvar, in a tone of surprise.
"Why should she change?  It will be all the same.  And the boys too, and
my sister, and Cheriton--of course--we must be together."

He spoke warmly, and crossing over to Cheriton, took his hand as he
spoke.

"This is your home, my brother, always."

"You are _very_ good to us, Alvar, thank you," said Cheriton, hardly
able to speak.

"Most kind," said the judge; "whatever may be decided on, your offer is
suggested by a most proper feeling, of which I hope all are sensible."

"Alvar is very kind," said Jack shyly.

"Would you not expect that Cheriton should be `kind' to you?  Then why
not I, as well?" said Alvar.

"Such an arrangement," said the judge, "would not be _binding_ on
Cheriton even in your place.  I am rejoiced to see so good an
understanding between you.  Alvar has a great deal of business before
him, and it would be a pity to make any changes at present.  But as for
you, Cheriton, is it wise to remain here so early in the year?"

"No," said Alvar; "I think we should go to the south for a little."

"I think the calls upon your time--" began the judge, but Cheriton
interposed.

"I don't think I am any the worse for the weather," he said, "and I
should not like to go away now.  We shall all have a great deal to do."

Sir John Hubbard spoke a few friendly words and offered any assistance
or advice to Alvar in his power, and then took his leave, as did Mr
Malcolm.  Alvar and Jack, with the judge, accompanied them into the
hall; and no sooner had the door of the study closed than Nettie, who
had been a silent spectator of the scene, suddenly burst out,--"I don't
care!  I will say it!  It may be very kind of Alvar, but it is horrible,
_horrible_ to think _he_ is master and may do what he pleases with us.
I hate to stay here if _he_ is to give us leave."

"I told you, Nettie," said Bob, with masculine prudence, "that no one
ought to _say_ those things."

"Nor feel them, I hope," said Cherry.  "Nettie, my dear child, you must
not make it worse for us all.  We feel our great loss; but you know the
future will not be easy for Alvar himself."

"I know," sobbed Nettie, with increasing vehemence, "that he will not be
like--like papa.  I can't _bear_ to think that the dear place all
belongs to _him_, and the things, and the animals even, and the horses.
_He_ doesn't love them, nor the place, and ice do!"

"Be silent, Nettie," said Cheriton, with unusual sternness; "I will
never listen to one word like this.  There is nothing wrong about it.
Think of all that Alvar has done for me, and then say if such words are
justifiable."

The severity of the tone silenced Nettie--it was meant to silence poor
Cheriton's own heart.  He was stern to his sister because he felt
severely towards himself; but Nettie thought him unjust, and only moved
by partiality for Alvar.  He saw complications far beyond her childish
jealousy, and yet he shared it.  And above all was the anguish of a
personal loss, a heavy grief that filled up all the intervals of
perplexing anticipations and business cares.

The twins went away together, and Cherry sat down in his father's chair
and leaned his head back against the cushion of it.  It was all over,
all the love that had had so many last thoughts for him, and, alas! no
last words.  They had indeed parted for ever in this life; but how
differently from what he had expected last year.  Over! and the future
looked difficult and dark.  "_He_ does not love them, and we do."  It
was too true.  Cherry was tired out with the long, hasty journey, the
succeeding strain of occupation, and with the sorrow that weighed him
down--a sorrow that only now seemed to come upon him in all its
strength.  He was not conscious of the passing of time till a hand was
laid on his shoulder, and Alvar's voice said softly, "I have been
looking for you, _Cherito mio_."

"Oh, I am very tired," said Cherry.

How strange it was to rouse himself from thoughts in which Alvar's image
brought such a sense of trouble and perplexity, to feel the accustomed
comfort of his presence!  How strange to shrink so painfully from the
thought of his foreign brother's rule in his father's place, and yet to
feel the fretting weariness soothed insensibly by the care on which he
had learned to depend.  He could not think this crooked matter straight,
he could not even feel compunction for his own fears.  He was tired and
wretched, and Alvar knew just what was restful and comforting to him.

CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

THE NEW MASTER.

  "Against each one did each contend,
  And all against the heir."

By the next morning Cheriton's thoughts had cleared themselves, and
matters began to take some shape; he could make up his mind to a certain
line of conduct, or at least could place a distinct aim before him.  He
had often before been forced to acknowledge that Alvar's character, as
well as his position, had its own rights; they must take him as they
found him; neither his faults nor his excellencies were theirs--and how
much Cherry owed to those very points in Alvar which had come on them
like a surprise!  Was it not the height both of ingratitude and of
conceit to think of him as of one to be altered and influenced before he
could be fit for his new station?  Why would not Alvar's gentleness,
honour, and courtesy, his undoubted power of setting himself aside, make
him as valuable a member of society as industry, integrity, and regard
for those about him had made of his father?  It was his misfortune, not
his fault, that he was a square man in a round hole; and what could
Cherry do but try to round off a few angles or poke a few corners for
them to stick into?  Was it prejudice and unworthy jealousy that made
him unable to accept this view, or was there something in Nettie's
vehement disapproval, however unkindly and arrogantly it was expressed?
If Alvar chose he could make a very good Squire Lester.  Yes, _if_--
There was the question.  The English Lesters sometimes did right, and
sometimes--some of them very often--did wrong; but they one and all
recognised that doing right was the business of their lives, and that if
they did wrong they must repent and suffer.  They certainly believed
that "conduct is nine-tenths of life," in other words, that they must
"do their duty in that state of life to which they were called."

But in Alvar this motive seemed almost non-existent.  He did not care
about his own duty or other people's.  Only such a sense, or the strong
influence of the religion from which in the main it sprang, or a sort of
enthusiasm equally foreign to him, could have roused an indolent nature
to the supreme effort of altering his whole way of living, of caring for
subjects hitherto indifferent to him--in short, of changing his entire
self.  No doubt Alvar would think something due to his position, and
something more to please Cheriton, but he would not regard shortcomings
as of any consequence; in short, it was not that Alvar's principles were
different from theirs, but that as motives of action he had not got any;
not that he had Spanish instead of English notions of property,
politics, or religion, but that he did not care to entertain any notions
at all.

Cheriton understood enough now of the shifting scenes of Spanish life to
understand that this might be their effect on an outsider who saw many
different schemes of life all produce an equally bad effect on society;
but it was none the less peculiarly ill-adapted to an owner of English
property; and he took leave to think that if Spanish gentlemen in past
generations had administered justice in their own neighbourhoods, mended
their own roads, and seen to the instruction of their own tenants, a
happier state of things might have prevailed at the present time in the
peninsula.  Anyhow, to him, as to his father, the welfare of Oakby was
very dear--dearer now than ever, for his father's sake.  One thought had
troubled Mr Lester's last hours, that by his own conduct he had allowed
Alvar to become unfit to succeed him: all, therefore, that Cheriton
could do to remove that unfitness was so much work done for his father's
sake; all, too, that made Alvar happy, was an undoing of the wrong that
he had suffered.  There was no real discord between what was right by
Alvar and by Oakby and by his own sense of right.  To make the best of
Alvar, to allow for all his difficulties, to help him in every possible
way, was not only due to that loving brother, but was the right way to
be loyal to his father's higher self, and to clear his memory from those
weaknesses and errors which cling to every one in this mortal life--was,
too, the only way to see his work carried on.

This "high endeavour" came to Cheriton, indeed, as "an inward light" to
brighten the perplexed path before him.  Sorrow, he had already learnt,
could be borne, difficulties might be overcome, now that his inmost
feelings were at peace.

Certainly he had enough on his hands.  Much of the correspondence with
old friends fell naturally to his share.  English "business" was
unintelligible to Alvar without his explanations, and though the new
Squire showed himself perfectly willing to receive from Mr Malcolm an
account of the various sources of his income, and submitted to go
through his father's accounts, and to hear reports from farmers and
bailiffs, he always insisted on Cheriton's presence at these interviews;
and though he was too easily satisfied with the fact that "my brother
understands," no one could have expected him to find it all quite easy
to understand himself.

Cherry apologised for putting his finger in every pie.

"Oh," said Alvar cheerfully; "I could not make the pie if I put in both
my hands."

But Cheriton knew perfectly well that the parish and the estate believed
themselves to be entering on the reign of King Log.  Any breakers,
however, in this direction were still far ahead; but within doors
difficulties and incongruities came sooner to a point, and Alvar was by
no means always to blame for them.

On the day after the funeral, Mrs Lester resumed her place in the
family; but her son's death had aged her much, and to see Alvar in his
place was gall and wormwood to her.  She accepted his offer of a home,
and thanked him for it with dignity and propriety; but she did not
attempt to conceal from the young ones that she grudged him the power to
make it.

The household arrangements went on as usual, and Alvar's behaviour to
her was irreproachable in its courtesy and consideration, nor did she
ever clash with him, but reserved her fears and her disapprobations for
Cherry's benefit.

Nettie had come back from London at Christmas, and nothing more had been
heard of Dick Seyton, who was then absent from home; but the
recollection of that episode prompted Mrs Lester to give a ready
consent to Judge Cheriton's proposal that she should go at Easter to
school for a year.  Bob, too, who had been taken away from school at
Christmas, where his career had not lately been satisfactory, was at
present reading with a clergyman at Hazelby, and was to be sent to a
tutor by-and-by.  In the meantime, both he and Nettie were as unhappy as
young creatures can be when their world is all changed for them; with
their hearts yearning towards what they already called old times.  And
all the force of their natures concentrated into a sort of fierce,
aggressive loyalty to every practice, opinion, and tradition of the
past, and to this code they viewed Cherry as a traitor.  It was a cruel
offence when he happened to say that he liked to drink chocolate, and
when Alvar made a point of his having some; when Alvar now and again
used Spanish expressions in speaking to him, when he pronounced Spanish
names in Spanish fashion, or, worst of all, regretted Spanish sunshine;
when he yielded to Alvar's care for his health, or seemed to turn to him
for sympathy--a hundred such pin-pricks occurred every day.  And yet the
foolish twins scrupulously did what they thought their duty.  That Alvar
owned their father's horses cost Nettie floods of tears; but she
insisted on Bob asking his permission before he took one to ride to
Hazelby, and she always showed him a kind of sulky deference.

"How can you be so silly, Nettie?" said Jack, in answer to a pettish
remark.  "Do you want Cherry to quarrel with Alvar?"

"No," said Nettie; "but I didn't think he would have _liked_ Spain, and
have talked so much about the pictures and things.  Last night he asked
Alvar to play to him."

"I should think you might be glad to see him pleased with anything; he
looks wretched enough."

"Well, I like what I'm used to," said Nettie, in a choked voice.  "I
don't care to hear about all the stupid people you met in Spain."

"The friends we made in Spain," said Jack, in high indignation, "were
people with whom it was a privilege to associate."

"I daresay," said Nettie; "but old acquaintances are good enough for me;
and old weather and everything.  Yes, Buffer, _I'll_ take you out, if it
_is_ a nasty cold morning."

And Nettie went off, with a train of dogs behind her, angry with all her
brothers, for even Bob had had the sense to grumble out "that people
must do as they pleased, and she had better let Cherry and Alvar alone,"
and feeling as if she only were faithful to the dear home standard.

As Jack stood by the hall fire, heavy-hearted enough himself, in spite
of his rebuke to his sister, there was a ring at the bell, and the cloud
cleared from his brow as he started forward to greet Mr Stanforth with
an eagerness unusual with him.

He was too unaffectedly pleased to be embarrassed, and began almost at
once,--

"My uncle Cheriton comes back to us to-night.  He had to leave us on the
day after we saw you; Cherry has promised to speak to him, that we may
come to an understanding before I go back to Oxford."  Mr Stanforth
smiled a little.

"When do you come of age, Jack?" he said.

"I shall be twenty next week," said Jack, in a tone of humiliation.  "If
I take a fair degree, I shall try for a mastership in one of the public
schools.  I should like that, and--and it is suitable to getting
married," concluded Jack blushing.

"Very well," said Mr Stanforth.  "Then you shall come and tell me of
your intentions for the future in a year's time from next week.  Wait a
bit," as Jack looked exceedingly blank.  "If circumstances had not so
sadly changed, no other decision would have been possible for you.  I
have no objection, in the meantime, to see you occasionally at my house,
as I think you should both have every opportunity of testing the
permanence of such quick-springing feelings."

Mr Stanforth smiled as he spoke; but Jack said after a moment,--

"You mean that I must earn her?  Well, I will."

There was a solemn abruptness in Jack's manner that provoked a smile;
but his self-confidence was tempered by a look of such absolute honesty
and sincerity in his bright blue eyes, he looked such a fine young
fellow in all the freshness and strength of his youth, that it would
have been difficult to doubt either his purposes or his power of
carrying them out.

"Don't you think you might have asked Mr Stanforth to take off his coat
and come into the library before entering on such an important subject?"
said Cheriton, joining them.

"I beg your pardon," said Jack.  "Please come in; I was not thinking--"

"Of anything but your own affairs?  No, that's very unfair, for I am
sure you have taken heed to every one else's," said Cherry, as he led
the way into the library, where on the table was a great accumulation of
papers, looking like the materials for a heavy morning's work.

Cherry sent Jack to find Alvar, and told him to order some wine to be
brought into the library, apologising to Mr Stanforth for not asking
him to lunch, as their grandmother was unequal to seeing a stranger; and
then, in Jack's absence, he listened to Mr Stanforth's ultimatum, and
owned that it was a great relief not to have to startle his relations
just now with what would seem an incongruous proposal; but praising
Jack's sense and consideration in their trouble, and speaking of him
with a kind of tender pride, unlike the tone of one so nearly on the
same level of age, and whose life also was but beginning.  He said that
he should come to London at Easter, but that in the meanwhile there was
much to be done at home.  English affairs were naturally puzzling to
Alvar, and a great deal of the business concerned them all.

"You must remember that you ought to be still taking holiday," said Mr
Stanforth.

"Oh, yes.  At least Alvar and Jack never let me forget it.  But, indeed,
I am quite well, and though I feel the cold, I don't think it means to
hurt me.  It is better to have plenty to do."

Cherry's manner was not uncheerful, and though he looked pale and
delicate, there was no longer the appearance of broken health and
spirits which had marked him at their first acquaintance; but the quick,
changeable brightness was gone also.  He was like one carrying a load
which took all his strength; but he carried it without staggering.

Alvar now came in with Jack, looking bright and cordial.

"My brother is teaching me how to be the Squire," he said to Mr
Stanforth, with a smile, as he put aside the papers to make room for the
tray that had been ordered; "but I am not a good scholar."

"You must go regularly to school, then," said Mr Stanforth.

"Ah," said Alvar; "I must know, it seems, about rents, and tenants, and
freeholds--so many things.  But there is something that we wish to ask
of Mr Stanforth, is there not, Cherry?"

"Yes--we spoke of it."

"It is that he will try to make a drawing of our father for us, for
there is none that my brothers like."

"I will try with pleasure, but I am afraid likenesses, under the
circumstances, are rarely quite satisfactory.  You have a photograph?"

Jack produced a very bad daguerreotype, and a photograph taken for
Cheriton before he left home.

"This is a good likeness," he said; "but Cherry thinks it wants fire and
spirit."

"I will take both," said Mr Stanforth, seeing that Cherry had turned
aside from the photograph, and took no part in the discussion.  "I will
make a little sketch, and when you are in London you can tell me what
you wish about it.  And now I think I must be getting back to Ashrigg;
to-morrow I go home."

Jack eagerly said that to-morrow he was going to London on his way to
Oxford, and received the longed-for permission to call at Kensington.
Poor boy! he could not keep himself from looking ecstatically happy even
while he told Mr Stanforth, as he walked through the park with him, how
sorry he was to leave Cheriton with so much on his hands.

Cheriton himself would gladly have kept Jack beside him.  He was capable
of seeing both sides of the difficult question, and was, moreover, so
individual and independent in his modes of thought, that home matters
were less personal to him.  He had, too, his own hopes, and had chalked
out his own career, so that, young as he was, he was a support to
Cherry's spirits, even while more than half the reason why his own were
less overpowered was that the brother who was all in all to him was
still left.  His presence did not always conduce to peace with Bob, for
he had grown away from him, and was disposed to lecture him; but though
he departed with more good advice to his family than was necessary, he
left another gap, and Cherry, trying to rouse himself from the added
feeling of loneliness, went over to Elderthwaite to see the old parson.
He had been away so long that every familiar place brought fresh
associations, and he tried to get the first sight of each one over
quickly and alone.

He could not walk past the stables and through the farm-buildings
without the image of his father meeting him at every turn.  Here they
had planned a new fence together, in this direction the very last walk
he had had strength for before leaving home had been taken.  How well he
remembered _then_ sitting on that bench under the stable wall, and
watching his father with a sad wonder if he should ever sit there again.
This was the short way from the station by which he used to come home
from school.  Here his father used to meet him--nay, suddenly he
recollected, with a memory that started into life after lying asleep for
years, _here_ he had parted for the last time from his mother, and the
long-past grief seemed to come back in the light of the new one.  He
said to himself that he ought to rejoice in the thought that his parents
were once more together; but in the strangest way he longed for this
long-lost mother to comfort him in the new grief of his father's death.

And then he walked on through the fir plantation, across the bit of
bare, bleak fell, into the woods of Elderthwaite.  And as he walked he
thought of Jack's bright hopes, and of that sweet and promising future
that was to make up to him for all that the past had taken from him.
Here, by the broken stile and ruinous wall, all hope of such a future
had been dashed away from Cheriton's heart.  _This_ memory had no
sweetness to temper its pain; and he hurried on through the plantation
and down the lane that led to the vicarage.  As he passed the church he
saw that some one was trimming the ivy round the windows, and it struck
him that they had been cleaned, and that the whole place had a somewhat
improved appearance.  A little girl made him a curtsey; she wore a smart
red flannel hood, and had a clean face; he thought that he had never
seen an Elderthwaite child look so respectable.  Nay, as he passed one
of the larger cottages, it shone upon him resplendent with whitewash,
and looking in at the open door he beheld a row of desks, and sundry
boys and girls seated thereat, and with curiosity much excited by this
evidence of reform, he hastened on towards the vicarage.

CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

PLANS AND EXPERIMENTS.

  "I am sick of the hall and the hill, I am sick of the moor and the
  main."

Virginia Seyton had spent her Christmas at Littleton, and after
returning to London for her cousin Ruth's marriage, had come home again
at the end of January.  At Littleton, more than one old friend had
advised her to reconsider her resolve to live at Elderthwaite; but
Virginia did not feel herself tempted by any proposal of cottage,
however charming, or companionship, however congenial.  She had been
lonely, unhappy, and forlorn at Elderthwaite; but somehow it pulled at
her heart-strings.  She could not rejoice over all the well-ordered
services at Littleton, much as they refreshed her spirits, as she did
over the new hymn which she and Mrs Clements drilled into the
Elderthwaite children; and she found herself believing, when receiving
the correct answers of her former scholars, that there was after all
"something" in the north-country intellect, however untrained, that was
superior in quality, if not in quantity, to that of the south.  When she
went back to London, common acquaintances brought her into contact with
the Stanforths.  She and Ruth went to an evening party at their house,
just as Mr Stanforth and Gipsy returned from Spain, and were invited to
come afterwards and see the Spanish sketches.  Ruth was glad to make all
the business that pressed on her an excuse for refusing; but Virginia
went, and was happier than she had been for months in hearing Alvar
spoken of, and spoken of in terms of praise.  Neither girl was conscious
of the other's interest in this meeting--how Gipsy listened to "some one
who had known Jack all his life," how Virginia watched Alvar's recent
companion; but Gipsy's blushes came in the right place, and in spite of
her extreme amaze at the idea of Jack in this new capacity, Virginia
guessed where the spark had been lighted, and so could listen fearlessly
to the story of the adventures at Ronda, and could look with pleasure at
the sketches of which Alvar's figure was a picturesque element.  It was
a pleasant peep at a new life linked with her old one.

Ruth's was a very brilliant wedding.  Everything was arranged by her
grandmother, and bridesmaids, dresses, breakfast, and even church, were
all chosen with exact regard to the correct fashion of the moment.  Ruth
wished it all to be over that she might find herself away with Rupert;
then perhaps she would feel at rest.  As it was, their rapid,
interrupted surface intercourse tantalised her almost as much as their
occasional interviews in the days of secrecy and silence.  And when they
were alone, Ruth was afraid to go deep.  Often had she said, "In _my_
love there shall be perfect confidence; there shall be nothing between
my soul and his."  And now her past transgression, however excusable it
might seem, erred against this perfect confidence.  And Rupert's "soul"
was not at all ready to display itself to her, or to himself either,
partly because he was not serious in his emotions, any more than in his
principles, but partly also because he not unnaturally considered that
when his deeds were satisfactory to Ruth, it was quite unnecessary to
analyse his feelings.  So she had no encouragement to confidence, and
the perfect union for which she had longed, disappointed her, partly
through her past falsity, but more from the want of any common aim or
principle to unite them.  Ruth was fairly happy; but she was the same
Ruth still, with a nature that could never be satisfied without
earnestness equalling her own, an earnestness from the purity and
simplicity of which she had turned aside to seek a sort of consecration
of life _which only a man of high principle and strong purpose could
really have helped her to find_, in a love which she thought more
powerful because it was more regardless of duty, in which view she did
but follow much teaching and many writers.

Ruth did not make the confession which would have set her right with
herself if not with Rupert, she had practised too much self-pleasing to
find the courage for it.  She married; and as life went on her
aspirations would either die into the commonplace she had despised, or
she might be driven to satisfy them elsewhere than with Rupert.

And Virginia, who equally with Ruth idealised life and its relations,
and who also found her ideal unfulfilled--unfulfilled, but not
destroyed.  She had lost her lover, but the good and holy life which she
had thought to lead with him, though its beauty took a sterner cast, was
possible without him.  Life was not purposeless, though it was very
difficult, and poor Virginia was diffident of her own powers, and was,
moreover, in many ways ill-fitted to live with those whose views of life
were uncongenial to her.

"If I had more tact I should get on better at home; if I had had more
patience, more charity, I should not have quarrelled with Alvar," she
thought, and with some truth.  But when she came back to Elderthwaite it
_was_ coming home.  Dick and Harry were glad to see her; her father said
it looked cheerful to have her about again; the little housemaid, whom
she had taught for an hour on Sundays, was enchanted, and had written
copies and learnt hymns in her absence; while she could not but be
welcome to her aunt, whom she found suffering from a severe attack of
rheumatism, which confined her to her room.  Virginia had no natural
skill in nursing, and Miss Seyton was not fond of attentions.  But,
though she was severely uncomplaining, Virginia's companionship was
enlivening, and, moreover, while she was incapacitated, her niece was
obliged to manage the house.  She had bought enough bitter experience
now not to be frightened and startled at the state of things, and she
perceived how much Miss Seyton had done to keep things straight.  But
the young, fresh influence brightened up the old dependents, and she
managed, too, to introduce some little comfort.  But a piece of home
work really within her powers came to her in an unexpected quarter.
Dick's examination was to take place in about six weeks, and she found
from Harry that he had been really reading for it, and to her great
surprise and pleasure he did not resent her interest in it.  Her French,
and history, and arithmetic were quite enough in advance of Dick's to
make her aid valuable to him, and finding how much he was behindhand,
spite of some honest though fitful efforts, she gave him some lessons
with the tutor at Hazelby to whom Bob Lester was sent, and as Dick
always brought his papers to her afterwards, there was no question that
he actually availed himself of the opportunity.

As for the old parson, he greeted her with a perfect effusion of
delight.  He had come to love her better than anything in the world
except Cheriton, whose illness had been a real sorrow to him.  The
little improvements had not been allowed to languish--indeed others had
been projected.  Mr Clements had not been idle.  A poor widow, whose
continued respectability had certainly been partly owing to her
attachment to Mr Seyton's rival or assistant, "the old Methody," had a
niece who had been trained as a pupil-teacher in a parish belonging to a
friend of Mr Ellesmere's, and, her health failing, the girl had come to
live with her aunt.  Hence a proposal for a little day-school; and
actually a subscription set on foot by Mr Clements.

[This of course took place before the passing of the Education Act.]

"So you see, Miss Seyton," he had said, "we have not been quite idle in
your absence."

"Indeed," said Virginia, smiling, "you seem to have done better without
me."

"No, Miss Seyton, whatever better things we may succeed in doing in
Elderthwaite in the future, it is your doing that the wish to improve
had been awakened."

Virginia blushed at this magnificent compliment; but it was true.  High
principle, recommended by gentleness and humility, must in the end win
its way.

These various changes formed a safe subject of conversation in a meeting
that could not fail on many accounts to be trying, when Cheriton, as he
came up to the vicarage, met Virginia going in there also.  He did not
want to talk about his own health or home difficulties, she could not
fail to be conscious; but the parson was only restrained, or _not_
restrained, by her presence from lamentations over Alvar's succession,
and looked unspeakably wicked when Cherry implied that they were getting
on smoothly.  So the new school came in handy, and Parson Seyton talked
about a "Government grant," and winked at Cherry over his shoulder.

"It's all getting beyond me, Cherry," he said; "I'm not the man for
these new lights."

"You'll have to get a curate, parson," said Cherry.

"Nay--nay!" said the parson sharply.  "I'll have no strangers prying
into all our holes and corners, and raking out the dust.  I don't like
curates--hate their long coats and long faces."

"You might put in the advertisement `round and rosy preferred,'" said
Cherry.

"Nay, nay, my lad; no curates for me, unless _you_ will apply for the
situation."

"Cherry has a _very_ long coat on," said Virginia, smiling and pointing
to his "ulster."

"And not too round a face nowadays, eh?  Never mind, if he came here I'd
let him wear--"

"A cassock, perhaps," said Cheriton.  "I feel all the force of the
compliment.  But I think Queenie is the best curate for Elderthwaite at
present."

Virginia's heart danced at the familiar brotherly name by which Cheriton
had learned from Ruth to call her in the days of her engagement, but
which had never become her home appellation, and something in her face
made him whisper under his breath as she rose to take leave,--

"Though Oakby grudges her to you."  Virginia hurried away, but she was
presently overtaken by Cheriton as she paused at a cottage door, and
they walked up the lane together, and talked of the Stanforths; and when
Virginia praised Gipsy, neither could help a smile of implied
comprehension and sympathy.

It was a bright, pleasant day, the puddles and ditches of the
Elderthwaite hedgerows sparkled in the spring sunshine, the blackthorn
put out its shy blossoms on each side.  Virginia smiled and looked up
gaily, and Cheriton's voice took its natural lively tone as he related
some of the humours of their Spanish journey.

"I must turn off here," said Cherry, as they came to a stile.  But
Virginia did not answer him, for, leaning against the fence, stood
Alvar, watching them as they approached.  A hayrick and tumble-down
cart-shed, and a waggon with its poles turned up in the air, formed a
strangely incongruous background for his graceful figure, his deep
mourning giving him an additional air of picturesque dignity.

There was no escape for Virginia.  She turned exceedingly pale, but with
a self-command that, in Cheriton's opinion, did her infinite credit, she
bowed--she had not courage to put out her hand--and said timidly,--

"Good morning."

Alvar's olive face coloured all over; he bowed, for once utterly and
evidently at a loss, while Cherry plunged into the breach.

"Hallo, Alvar, have you come to look for me?  I have been to see Parson
Seyton.  You have no idea what grand doings there are now in
Elderthwaite."

"I did not come to look for you," said Alvar, with some emphasis.

"Well, I was coming home."

Then Alvar turned, and with a sort of haughty politeness hoped that Mr
and Miss Seyton were well; and Virginia, in the sweet tones unheard for
so many months, replied to him, and after shaking hands with Cheriton,
walked away down the sunny lane, from which she could not turn aside,
and which afforded no shelter from any eyes that might choose to follow
her.

Alvar, however, turned away, and Cherry following, said,--

"I think a little light will dawn on Elderthwaite one day, thanks to
Virginia."

Alvar did not make any answer, and Cheriton was not at all sorry to see
how much the meeting had disturbed him.

He never alluded to it again, but whether from any feelings connected
with it or from the worries of his new position, he was less
even-tempered than usual.

There was much to try him.  So many matters pressed on him, and he was
so very much at fault as to the way of dealing with them.  Mr Lester
had kept a considerable portion of his property in his own hands; he had
also been a most active magistrate, sat upon innumerable county
committees, and had united in his own person the chief lay offices of
the parish.  In all these capacities he had done a considerable amount
of useful work, and though no one expected Alvar to take up the whole of
it, he ought to have endeavoured to make himself master of the more
necessary parts.

But the real defect of Alvar's nature--the intense pride, that made the
sense of being at a disadvantage hateful to him--worked at first in a
wrong direction.  The great effort of bending himself to learn to do
badly what those around him could do well, was beyond one who had never
felt the need of repentance, never acknowledged an error in himself; nor
did the sense of duty to his neighbour, that counteracted this tendency
in others of his name, appeal to the conscience of one who inherited the
selfish instincts of the Spanish grandee.  After the very first he grew
impatient of the tasks that were so new to him, and yet resentful of any
comment on his behaviour.  He resented the standard to which he would
not conform, all the more because an unspeakable soreness connected it
with Virginia's rejection of him.

Perhaps this was more hopeful than his former good-humoured
indifference, but it was with exceeding pain that Cheriton, before
Easter came, began to perceive that though Alvar would let him please
himself in any special instance, his hopes of exerting any general
influence were vain, and that Alvar would resent the attempt even from
him.

"_Did_ you expect to make the leopard change his spots by the force of
your will, Cherry?" said Mr Ellesmere to him, when some instance had
brought this prominently forward.  "You cannot do it, my boy, and excuse
me for saying that I think you should not try."

"I only wanted to help the leopard to accommodate his coat to our
climate," said Cherry, with rather a difficult smile.

"He must do that himself when stress of weather shows him the need.  If
he had married, such an influence as your mother's might have come into
his life; but, my dear boy, _even_ that could not have sufficed, unless
it had appealed to something higher."

"I know," said Cherry slowly.  "I know what you mean about it.  No man
ought to stand dictation as to his duty, and we all lay down the law to
each other.  But I cannot break myself of feeling that matters here are
my own concern."

"I think that is a habit of mind common to a great many people
hereabouts," said Mr Ellesmere kindly; "and, after all, what I said was
only meant as a warning."

"Much needed!  But I believe Alvar will find things out in time; and we
none of its make half enough allowance for him."

Jack came home for a few days at Easter, and there was a final
discussion and arrangement of plans, which resulted after all in a
general flitting.  Alvar declared that Oakby was too dull without his
brother, and that he should himself go to London for some time.  No one
could exactly find fault with this scheme, and if he had exerted himself
hitherto to get his new duties in train, they would have welcomed it, as
his resolute avoidance of the Seytons produced social difficulties, and
Jack thought Cheriton's London life so much of an experiment as to be
glad that he should not have to carry it out entirely alone.  But they
both knew that without any difference that would strike outsiders, there
was just the essential change from good to bad management, from care to
neglect, in every matter with which the master of Oakby was concerned.

Nettie was to go to a London boarding-school for a year.  This was the
express desire of Mrs Lester, who thought this amount of "finishing"
essential.  Lady Cheriton was choosing the school, and the brothers of
course consented, though Cheriton felt that it was like caging a wild
bird, and Alvar remarked with much truth,--

"My sister is a woman; it is foolish to send her to school."

Nettie wept torrents of tears over Rolla, Buffer, her pony, nay, every
living creature about the place; but she did not resist, it was part of
the plan of life to which she was accustomed.

If Mrs Lester herself had not insisted on sending Nettie away, the
others would have made no proposal which involved a separation; but to
the surprise of them all, she proposed spending the ensuing three months
at Whitby.  Lady Milford would be there, and it had always been an
occasional resort of Mrs Lester's, and with her old favourite maid, she
declared that she should be perfectly comfortable there; and if she was
dull, she would ask Virginia Seyton to stay with her.

One other member of the family remained to be disposed of, and while
Cheriton and Jack were consulting with each other what they could say to
their uncle with regard to Bob, he took the matter into his own hands,
and as he walked across the park with Cheriton to view some drainage
operations which had been begun by their father, and which Alvar was
very glad to let them superintend, he remarked suddenly,--

"Cherry, I wish you would let me go to Canada, or New Zealand, or some
such place, and take land.  It is the only thing I'm fit for."

Cheriton was taken by surprise, though the idea had crossed his own
mind.

"Do you really wish it?" he said.

"Yes," said Bob.  "I'm not going to try my hand in life at things other
fellows can beat me at."

"I'm afraid that rule would limit the efforts of most of us!"

"Well," said Bob, "I hate feeling like a fool; and besides, I don't see
the good of Latin and Greek.  But I mean to do some thing that's some
use in the world.  I approve of colonising."

"Really, Bob," said Cherry, "I don't think you were ever expected to go
in for more Latin and Greek than would prevent you from feeling like a
fool.  There's a great deal in what you say; but have you thought of a
farm in England or Scotland?"

"Yes; but I think that is generally a fine name for doing nothing.  Now,
I shall have some capital, and I'm big and strong, and can make my way.
Cherry, don't you think I should have been allowed to go?"

"Yes, Bob, I think you would; but you are too young to start off at once
on your own resources."

"Well, I could go to the agricultural college for a year, and there are
men out there who take fellows and give them a start.  You can talk it
over with Uncle Cheriton, and if you agree, I don't care for the
others."

"Does Nettie know about it?"

"Yes," said Bob; "she wouldn't speak to me for a week, she was so sorry.
But she came round, and says she shall come out and join me.  Of course
she won't--she'll get married."

They had reached a little bridge which crossed a stream, on either side
of which lay the swampy piece of ground which they had come to inspect.
Looking forward, was the wide panorama of heathery hills, known to them
with life-long knowledge; looking back, the wide, white house, in its
group of fir-trees, with the park stretching away towards the lake.  All
the woods were tinted with light spring green, and the air was full of
the song of numberless birds, and with that cawing of the rooks, which
Cheriton had once said at Seville was to him like the sound of the waves
to a person born by the sea.

"Of course," said Bob, "if one went a hundred thousand miles, one would
never forget this old place."

"No," said Cheriton; "nor, I sometimes fancy, if one went a longer
journey still!"

"But I hate it as it is now, and I shall come back when you're Lord
Chancellor, and Jack, Head Master of Eton."

"Well, Bob," said Cherry, "wherever we may any of us go, or whatever we
may be, I think we cannot be really parted, while we remember the old
place, and all that belongs to it."

CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

THE DRAGON SLAYER.

  "Life has more things to dwell on
  Than just one useless pain."

There are few places where the charm of a bright June day is felt more
perfectly than in a London garden.  The force of contrast may partly
account for this; but The Laurels, as the Stanforths' house was called,
was a lovely place in itself, dating from days before the villas by
which it was now almost surrounded.  Within its old brown sloping walls
flourished white and pink acacias, magnolias, wisterias, and quaint
trees only found in such old gardens; a cork-tree, more curious than
beautiful; a catalpa, which once in Gipsy's memory had put out its queer
brown and white blossoms; and a Judas-tree, still purple with its lovely
flowers.  The house, like the garden-walls, was built of brown old
brick, well draped with creepers; and Mr Stanforth's new studio had
been so cunningly devised that it harmonised wonderfully with the rest.
That garden was a very pleasant place in the estimation of a great many
people, who liked to come and idle away an hour there, and was famous
for pleasant parties all through the summer; while it was a delightful
play-place for the little Stanforths, a large party of picturesque and
lively-minded children, who, in spite of artistic frocks and hats, and
tongues trained to readiness by plenty of home society, were very
thoroughly educated and carefully brought up.  They were a great
amusement to Cheriton Lester, who was always a welcome guest at The
Laurels, and felt himself thoroughly at home there.

Cheriton's London life was in many ways a pleasant one.  He found
himself in the midst of old friends and schoolfellows, he could have as
much society as he wished for, he was free of his uncle's house and of
the `Stanforths', and he had none of the money anxieties which troubled
many of those who, like him, were beginning their course of preparation
for a legal life.  He saw a good deal, in and out, of Alvar, who had
established himself in town, and was an exceedingly popular person in
society; and as the obligations of his mourning, which he was careful to
observe, diminished, was full of engagements of all sorts, enjoyed
himself greatly, and thought as little of Oakby as business letters
allowed.  Lady Cheriton thought that he ought to have every opportunity
of settling, "so much the best thing for all of them," and arranged her
introductions to him accordingly; but Alvar walked through snares and
pitfalls, and did not even get himself talked of in connexion with any
young lady.  Cheriton was much less often to be met with; he found that
he could not combine late hours and anything like study, and so kept his
strength for his more immediate object--an object which, however, was
slowly changing into an occupation.  Cheriton soon found out that the
pleasures and pains of hard and successful labour were no longer for
him; that though he did not break down in the warm summer weather, the
winter would always be a time of difficulty, and that his strength would
not endure a long or severe strain--in short, that though reading for
the bar was just as well now as anything else for him, and might lead
the way to interests and occupations, he could not even aim at the
career of a successful lawyer.  Besides, London air made him unusually
languid and listless.

"Yes, he is a clever fellow, but he is not strong enough to do much.  It
is a great pity, but, after all, he has enough to live on, and plenty of
interests in life," said Judge Cheriton; and his wife made her house
pleasant to Cherry, and encouraged him to come there at all hours, and
no one ever said a word to him about working, or gave him good advice,
except not to catch cold; while he himself ceased to talk at all about
his prospects, but went on from day to day and took the pleasant things
that came to him.  And sometimes he felt as if his last hope in life was
gone--and sometimes, again, wondered why he did not care more for such a
disappointment.  But now and then, in these days that were so silent and
self-controlled, there came to him an indifference of a nobler kind, an
inward courage, a consoling trust, the reward of much struggling, which
a year ago he could never have brought to bear on such a trial.

Mr Stanforth's presence always gave him a sense of sympathy, and he
spent so many hours at The Laurels, that his aunt suspected him of
designs on Gipsy, though Jack's secret, preserved in his absence, was
likely to ooze out now that the end of the Oxford term had brought him
to London for a few days, previous to joining a reading party with some
of his friends.

The Laurels, with its pretty garden, might be a pleasant resting-place
for Cheriton, but it was a very Arcadia, a fairy-land to Jack, when he
found his way there late on one splendid afternoon, so shy that he had
walked up and down the road twice before he rang the bell, happy,
uncomfortable, and conscious all at once, looking at Gipsy, who had just
come home from a garden party, in a most becoming costume of cream
colour and crimson, but quite unable to say a word to her, as she sat
under the trees, and fanned herself with a great black fan, appealing to
Alvar, who was there with Cheriton, whether she had quite forgotten her
Spanish skill.  Gipsy was very happy, and not a bit shy as she peeped at
her solemn young lover over the top of the fan, and laughed behind it at
Jack's look of disgust when Cherry remarked that he had grown since
Easter.

"Don't be spiteful, Cherry," said Mr Stanforth, with a smile.  "Shall
we come and see the picture?"

Jack and Gipsy were left to the last as they came up towards the house,
and she made a little mischievous gesture of measuring herself against
him.

"Yes, I think it's true!"

"Well," said Jack gruffly, though his eyes sparkled, "I shall leave off
growing some time, I suppose.  I say, are you going to dine at my aunt's
to-morrow?"

"Yes," said Gipsy.  "Lady Cheriton has been here, and she brought your
sister.  How handsome she is; but she was so silent.  I was afraid of
her.  I wonder if she liked me," said Gipsy, blushing in her turn.

"Shy with Nettie?" exclaimed Jack.  "You might as well be shy of a wild
cat.  She doesn't like any one much but Bob and her pets."

"All, young ladies grow as well as young gentlemen," said Gipsy.  "Next
year--"

"Yes; next year--" said Jack; but Gipsy opened the studio door, and
ended the conversation.

Mr Stanforth's studio was arranged with a view more to the painting of
pictures than to the display of curtains, carpets, and china; but it was
still a pretty and pleasant place, with a few rare works of art by other
hands than those of its owner.  There were few finished pictures of Mr
Stanforth's there then; but one large canvas on which he was working,
and, besides various portraits in different stages, the drawing of Mr
Lester, which Jack had not hitherto seen.  Mr Stanforth brought it
forward, and asked him to make any comment that occurred to him.  It was
a fine drawing of a fine face, and brought out forcibly the union of
size and strength with beauty which none of the sons fully equalled,
though there might be more to interest in all their faces.  For, after
all, the little imperfections of expression, that which was wanting as
well as that which was present in the coming out and going in, the
pleasures, the duties, and the failures, the changes of mood and temper,
the smiles and the frowns of daily life, had made the individual man,
and could not be shown in a likeness so taken.  It was a picture that
would satisfy them better as the years went by.  Indeed Alvar thought it
perfect, and Jack could hardly say that he saw anything wanting; but
Cherry, after many praises and some hesitation, had said, "Yes, it is
very like, but it is as if one saw him from a distance.  Perhaps that is
best."

After this picture had been put away, Jack began to look round and to
relieve the impression made on him by a little artistic conversation,
evidently carefully studied from the latest Oxford authorities.  He
looked at the pictures on the wall, found fault so correctly with what
would have naturally been pleasing to him, and admired so much what a
few months before he would have thought hideous, that Cheriton's eyes
sparkled with fun, and Alvar, for once appreciating the humour of the
situation, said,--

"We must ask Jack to write a book about the pictures at Oakby;" while
Gipsy, seeing it all, laughed, spite of herself.

"Ah, Gipsy, he is carrying his lady's _colours_, like a true knight,"
said Cherry softly, as Jack faced round and inquired,--

"What are you laughing at?"

"Who lectures on art at Oxford, Jack?" said Cherry.  "What a first-rate
fellow he must be!"

"Ah, he is indeed a great teacher," said Alvar, "who has taught Jack to
love art."

"A mighty teacher," said Cherry, under his breath.

"Of course," said Jack, "as one sees more of the world, one comes to
take an interest in new fields of thought."

"Why, yes," said Gipsy, recovering from Cherry's words, and flying to
the rescue, "we all learned a great deal about art at Seville."

"My dear," said Mrs Stanforth, "aren't you going to show them the
knights?"

For she thought to herself that if a year was to pass before Jack's
intentions could meet with an acknowledgment, his visits had better be
few and far between, especially in the presence of Cherry's mischievous
encouragement.  "Mr Stanforth himself being as bad," as she afterwards
remarked to him.

Now, however, Mr Stanforth turned his easel round and displayed the
still unfinished picture for which he had begun to make sketches in
Spain, when struck with the contrast of his new acquaintances, and with
the capabilities of their appearance for picturesque treatment.

The picture was to be called "One of the Dragon Slayers," and
represented a woodland glade in the first glory of the earliest summer--
blue sky, fresh green, white blossoms, and springing bluebells and
primroses, all in full and yet delicate sunshine--a scene which might
have stood for many a poetic description from Chaucer to Tennyson, a
very image of nature, the same now as in the days of Arthur.

Dimly visible, as if he had crawled away among the brambles and bracken
to die, was the gigantic form of the slain dragon, while, newly arrived
on the scene, having dismounted from his horse, which was held by a page
in the distance, was a knight in festal attire--a vigorous, graceful
presentment of Alvar's dark face and tall figure--who with one hand drew
towards him the delivered maiden, a fair, slender figure in the first
dawn of youth, who clung to him joyfully, while he laid the other in
eager gratitude on the shoulder of the dragon slayer, who, manifestly
wounded in the encounter, was leaning against a tree-trunk, and who, as
he seemed to give the maiden back to her lover, with the other hand
concealed in his breast a knot of the ribbon on her dress; thus hinting
at the story, which after all was better told by the peculiar beaming
smile of congratulation, the look of victory amid strife, of conquest
over self and suffering--a look of love conquering pain, which was the
real point of the picture.

Jack stood looking in silence, and uttering none of his newly-acquired
opinions.

"Is it right, Jack?" said Mr Stanforth.  "Yes, I know," said Jack
briefly; and then, "Every one will know Alvar's portrait.  And who is
the lady?"

"She is a little niece of mine--almost a child," said Mr Stanforth;
while Cheriton interposed,--

"It is not a group of photographs, Jack.  Of course the object was the
idea of the picture, not our faces."

"Well, Cherry," said Mr Stanforth smiling, "your notion of sitting for
your picture partakes of the photographic.  You did not help me by
calling up the dragon slayer's look."

"That was for the artist to supply," said Cherry; "but it seems to me
exactly how the knight ought to have looked."

"For my part," said Alvar, "I should not have liked to have been too
late."

"It is very beautiful," said Jack; "but I don't think I approve of false
mediaevalism.  At that date these fellows would have fought, and the
best man would have had the girl."

"Pray, at what date do you fix the dragon?" said Cherry.

"Jack is as matter-of-fact as the maiden herself," said Mrs Stanforth,
"who will not be happy because her uncle will not tell her if the knight
got well and married somebody else."

"No--no, mamma," said one of the Stanforth girls, "he did no such thing;
he was killed in King Arthur's last battle.  We settled it yesterday--we
thought it was nicer."

"You don't think he gave in to the next dragon?" said Cherry, half to
tease her.

"No, indeed, that knight never gave in.  Did he, papa--did he?"

"My dear Minnie, I am not prepared with my knights' history.  There they
are, and I leave them to an intelligent public, who can settle whether
my object was to paint sunlight on primroses, or a smile on a wounded
knight's face--very hard matters both."

"Don't you really like it?" said Gipsy aside to Jack.

"Oh, yes," said Jack uneasily, "I have seen him look so.  I know what
your father means.  But I hate it.  I'd rather have had a picture of him
as he used to be, all sunburnt and jolly.  Yes, I know, it's the
picture, not Cherry; but I don't like it."

Gipsy demurred a little, and they fell into a long talk in the twilight
garden.  Jack kept his promise, he did not "make love" to her, but
never, even to Cheriton, had he talked as he talked then, for if he
might not talk of the future, he could at least make Gipsy a sharer in
all his past.  When Cheriton came out upon them to call Jack away, they
looked at him with half-dazzled eyes, as if he were calling them back
from fairy-land.

The dinner-party at Lady Cheriton's offered no such chances, though it
was a gathering together quite unexpected by some of the party.  Lady
Cheriton, when the question of a school for Nettie had been discussed,
had renewed her offer of having her to share the studies of her younger
daughters; and Cheriton, who thought that Nettie in a London
boarding-school would be very troublesome to others and very unhappy
herself, had succeeded in getting the plan adopted.  So here she was,
dignified and polished, in her long black dress, and bent, so said her
aunt, in a silent and grudging fashion, on acquiring sufficient
knowledge to hold her own among other girls.  She was wonderfully
handsome, and so tall that her height and presence marked her out as
much as her intensely red-and-white complexion and yellow hair.  There,
too, were Virginia and her brother Dick, Cherry being guilty of assuring
his aunt that there was no reason why Alvar should not meet them.  For
Dick's examination had at length been successfully passed, and an
arrangement had been made that he should board with some friends of Mr
Stanforth's, and Virginia had availed herself of an invitation from Lady
Cheriton to come to London with him.

"You did not tell me she was coming," said Alvar angrily to Cheriton.

"It is impossible that you should avoid so near a neighbour," replied
Cherry.

"I do not like it," said Alvar; and the effect on him was to shake his
graceful self-possession, make him uncertain of what he was saying, and
watch Virginia as she talked to Cherry of Dick's prospects, with a look
that was no more indifferent than the elaborate politeness of Jack's
greeting to Miss Stanforth.  She was more self-controlled, but she
missed no word or look.  But if Cheriton had played a trick on his
brother, he himself received a startling surprise when Mr and Mrs
Rupert Lester were announced.  "You cannot avoid meeting your cousins"
was as true as his excuse to Alvar; but he could not help feeling
himself watched; and as for Ruth, her brilliant, expressive face showed
a consciousness which perhaps she hardly meant to conceal from him as
she looked at him with all the past in her eyes.  Ruth liked excitement,
and the situation was not quite disagreeable to her; but while her look
thrilled Cheriton through and through, the fact that she could give it,
broke the last thread of his bondage to her.  She made him feel with a
curious revulsion that Rupert was his own cousin, and that she had tried
to make him forget that she was his cousin's wife; and as, being a man,
he attributed far too distinct a meaning to the glance of an excitable,
sentimental girl, it repelled him, though the pain of the repulsion was
perhaps as keen as any that she had made him suffer.  He did not betray
himself, and it was left to Jack to frown like a thunder-cloud.

When Cheriton came out of the dining-room, Nettie pursued him into a
corner, and began abruptly,--

"Cherry, I want to speak to you.  When Jack went to Spain did he tell
you anything about me?"

"Nothing that I recollect especially," said Cherry, surprised.

"Well, I am going to tell you about it.  Mind, I think I was perfectly
right, and Jack ought to have known I should be."

"Have you and Jack had a quarrel, then?"

"Yes," said Nettie, standing straight upright, and making her
communication as she looked down on Cherry, as he sat on a low chair.
"_I_ taught Dick to pass his examination."

"You!"

"Yes.  You know he wouldn't work at anything, and I used to make him
come and say his lessons to me--the kings of England, you know, and the
rivers, and populations, and French verbs.  Well, then, if he didn't
know them, I made him learn them till he did.  But of course he didn't
wish any one to know, so we had to get up early, and sit in the
hay-loft, or down by the bridge.  I could not help the boys knowing that
Dick and I went out together, and at last Jack found us in Clements'
hay-loft.  Dick ran away, but Jack was very angry with me, and insulted
me; and Cherry--he went and told papa, and they sent me to London.  But
I never told the reason, because I had promised Dick.  Now, Cherry,
wouldn't it have been very wrong to give up the chance of doing Dick
good because Jack chose to be ridiculous?  It just made him succeed, and
perhaps he will owe it to me that he is a respectable person, and earns
his living.  _You_ would have helped him, wouldn't you?"

"Why, yes," said Cherry; "but that is not quite the same thing."

"Because I am a girl.  Cherry, I think it would be mean to have let that
stop me.  But now he is through, I shall never do it again, of course;
and, Cherry, indeed I meant it just as if he had been a ploughboy."
Here Nettie hung her tall head, and her tone grew less defiant.

"But, after all, Nettie, you should not have done what you knew granny
and father would not like," said Cherry, much puzzled what to say to
her.

"It was because papa never knew that I told _you_," said Nettie rapidly.

Cheriton asked a few more questions, and elicited that Nettie had, very
early in their intimacy, taken upon herself the reform of Dick, and had
domineered over him with all the force of a strong will over a weak one.
Nettie had acted in perfect good faith, and had defied her brother's
attack on her; but as the lessons went on, her instinct had taught her
that Dick found her attractive, and came to learn to please himself, not
her.  The girl had all the self-confidence of her race, and having set
her mind on what she called "doing good" to Dick, she defied her own
consciousness of his motives, having begun in kindness dashed with
considerable contempt.  But lazy Dick had powers of his own, and by the
time of her quarrel with Jack, Nettie had felt herself on dangerous
ground.  "I shan't marry--no one is like our boys," she said to herself;
but there was just a little traitorous softening and an indefinite sense
of wrong-doing which had made her seek absolution from Cheriton, and
with the peculiar absence of folly, which was a marked characteristic of
the slow-thinking twins, she gave herself the protection of his
knowledge.

Cheriton's impulse was to take up Jack's line and give her a good
scolding, but he was touched by her appeal, and had learned to weigh his
words carefully.  He said something rather lame and inadequate about
being more particular in future, but he gave Nettie's hand a kind little
squeeze, and she felt herself off her own mind.  It had been a curious
incident, and had done much to make Nettie into a woman--too much of a
woman to look on her _protege_ with favouring eyes.  Dick, too, was
likely to find other interests, but Nettie had helped to give him a fair
start, and her scorn of his old faults could never be quite forgotten.

CHAPTER FORTY.

A NEW SUGGESTION.

  "Once remember
  You devoted soul and mind
  To the welfare of your brethren
  And the service of your kind,
  Now what sorrow can you comfort?"

Soon after the scenes recorded in the last chapter, Alvar received a
letter from Mrs Lester, in which she thanked him, in a dignified and
cordial manner, for his proposal that the home at Oakby should go on as
usual, but said she did not consider that her residence there would be
for the happiness of any one.  During her son's married life she had
lived in a house at Ashrigg, which was part of the Lester property, and
was called The Rigg.  This was now again vacant, and she proposed to
take it, making it a home for Nettie, and for any of her grandsons who
chose so to consider it.  The great sorrow of her dear son's death would
be more endurable to her, she said, anywhere but at Oakby.  The
neighbourhood of the Hubbards would provide friends for herself and
society for Nettie, who would be very lonely at Oakby in her brothers'
constant absences.  Alvar was sincerely sorry.  He was accustomed to the
idea of a family home being open to all, and did not, in any way, regard
himself as trammelled by his grandmother's presence there, while
Cheriton was utterly taken by surprise, and hated the additional change
and uprooting.  He did not think the step unwise, especially as regarded
Nettie, but he marvelled at his grandmother's energy in devising and
resolving on it.  He had expected a great outcry from Nettie, but she
proved not to be unprepared, and said briefly, "that she liked it better
than staying at home _now_."

"But you will not desert me?" said Alvar.  "Shall I drive you too away
from your home?"

"No," said Cherry.  "No, I'll come home for the holidays, and the boys,
too, if you will have them; though I suppose granny will want to see us
all sometimes."

"I wish that I could take you home now," said Alvar.  "I think you are
tired with London--you see too many people."

Cheriton coloured a little at the allusion, but he disclaimed any wish
to leave London then, shrinking indeed from breaking through the
externals of his profession.  It ended by Alvar going down to meet his
grandmother at Oakby, and to make arrangements for the change, during
which he proved himself so kind, courteous, and helpful to her, that he
quite won her heart; and Nettie, on her return, was astonished at
hearing Alvar's judgment deferred to, and "my grandson" quoted as an
authority, on several occasions.

Jack, after a few days in London, joined a reading party for the first
weeks of the vacation; and Bob, on his return from the gentleman who was
combining for him the study of farming and of polite literature, joined
Nettie in London, and took her down to Ashrigg; so that the early part
of August found only Cheriton and Alvar at Oakby.

Cherry liked this well enough, for though the house could not but seem
forlorn and empty to him, daily life was always pleasant with Alvar, and
he would have gladly helped him through all the arrears of business that
came to hand.  These were considerable, for Mr Lester's subordinates
had not been trained to go alone, and none of them had been allowed
universal superintendence.  Cheriton thought that Alvar required such
assistance, and that he ought to have an agent with more authority; but
oddly enough he did not take to the proposal, and in the meantime he
made mistakes, kept decisions waiting, failed to recognise the relative
importance of different matters, and, still worse, of different people.

One afternoon, towards the end of August, Cheriton went over to
Elderthwaite.  What with business at home, expeditions to Ashrigg, and a
great many calls on his attention from more immediate neighbours, he had
not seen very much of the parson, and as he neared the rectory he beheld
an unwonted sight in the field adjoining, namely, some thirty or forty
children drinking tea, under the superintendence of Virginia and one of
the Miss Ellesmeres.

"Hallo, Cherry," said the parson, advancing to meet him; "where have you
been?  Seems to me we must have a grand--what d'ye call it?--rural
collation before we can get a sight of you."

"As you never invited me to the rural collation, I was not aware of its
existence," said Cherry laughing, as Virginia approached him.

"Oh, Cherry, stay and start some games," she said.  "You know they are
so ignorant, they never even saw a school-feast before."

"Then, Virginia, I wonder at you for spoiling the last traces of such
refreshing simplicity.  Introducing juvenile dissipation!  Well, it
doesn't seem as if the natural child wanted much training to appreciate
plum-cake!"

"No; but if you could make the boys run for halfpence--"

"You think they won't know a halfpenny when they see one."

"Do have some tea!" said Lucy Ellesmere, running up to him.  "Perhaps
you are tired, and Virginia has given them _beautiful_ tea, and really
they're very nice children, _considering_."

So Cherry stayed, and advanced the education of the Elderthwaite youth
by teaching them to bob for cherries, and other arts of polite society,
ending by showing them how to give three cheers for the parson, and
three times three for Miss Seyton; and while Virginia was dismissing her
flock with final hunches of gingerbread, the parson called him into the
house.

"Poor lassie!" he said; "she is fond of the children, and thinks a great
deal of doing them good; but it's little good she can do in the face of
what's coming."

"How do you mean?" said Cheriton.  "Is anything specially amiss?"

"Come in and have a pipe.  A glass of wine won't come amiss after so
much tea and gingerbread."

They went into the dining-room, and the parson poked up the fire into a
blaze, for even August afternoons were not too warm at Elderthwaite for
a fire to be pleasant, and as he subsided into his arm-chair, he said
gravely,--

"Eh, Cherry, we Seytons have been a bad lot--a bad lot--and the end of
it'll be we shall be kicked out of the country."

"Oh, I hope not!" said Cherry, quite sincerely.  "What is the matter?"

"Well, look round about you.  Is there a wall that's mended, or a
plantation preserved as it ought to be?  Look at the timber--what is
there left of it? and what's felled lies rotting on the ground for want
of carting.  There's acres of my brother's hay never was led till the
rain came and spoiled it.  Look at the cottages.  Queenie gets the
windows mended, but she can't make the roofs water-tight.  Look at those
woods down by the stream, why, there's not a head of game in them, and
once they were the best preserves in the country!"

"Things are bad, certainly," said Cherry.

"And yet, Cherry, we've loved the place, and never have sold an acre of
it, spite of mortgages and everything.  Well, my brother's not long for
this world.  He has been failing and failing before his time, and though
he has led a decent life enough, things have gone more to the bad with
years of doing nothing, than with all the scandals of my father's time."

"Is Mr Seyton ill?" said Cheriton.

"Not ill altogether; but mark my words, he'll not last long.  Well, at
last, he was so hard up that he wrote to Roland--and I know, Cheriton,
it was the bitterest pill he ever swallowed--and asked his consent to
selling Uplands Farm.  What does Roland do but write back and say, with
all his heart; so soon as it came into his hands he should sell every
acre, house and lands, advowson of living and all, and pay his debts.
He hated the place, he said, and would never live there.  Sell it to the
highest bidder.  There were plenty of fortunes made in trade, says he,
that would give anything for land and position.  So there, the old
place'll go into the hands of some purse-proud stranger.  But not the
church--he shan't go restoring and improving that with his money.  I'm
only fifty-nine, and a good life yet, and I'll stick in the church till
I'm put into the churchyard!"

Cherry smiled, it was impossible to help it; but the parson's story made
him very sad.  He knew well enough that it was a righteous retribution,
that Roland's ownership would be a miserable thing for every soul in
Elderthwaite, and that the most purse-proud of strangers would do
something to mend matters; and yet his heart ached at the downfall, and
his quick imagination pictured vividly how completely the poor old
parson would put himself in the wrong, and what a disastrous state of
things would be sure to ensue.

"I'd try and not leave so much `restoration' for any stranger to do," he
said.

"Eh, what's the good?" said the parson.  "She had better let it alone
for the `new folks.'"

"Nay," said Cherry, "you cannot tell if the `new folks,' as you call
them, will be inclined for anything of the sort, and all these changes
may not take place for years.  It doesn't quite pay to do nothing
because life is rather more uncertain to oneself than to other people."

Cheriton spoke half to himself, and the parson went on with his own
train of thought.

"Ay, I'll stick to the old place, though I thought it a heavy clog round
my neck once; and if you knew all the ins and outs of that transaction,
you'd say, maybe, I ought to be kicked out of it now."

"No, I should not," said Cherry, who knew, perhaps, more of the
Elderthwaite traditions than the parson imagined.  "Things are as they
are, and not as they might have been, and perhaps you could do more than
any one else to mend matters."

The parson looked into the fire, with an odd, half humble, half comical
expression, and Cherry said abruptly,--

"Do you think Mr Seyton would sell Uplands to me?"

"To you?  What the dickens do you want with it?"

"Why--I don't think it would be a bad speculation, and I should like, I
think, to have it."

"What?  Does your brother make Oakby too hot to hold you?"

"No, indeed.  He is all that is kind to me," said Cherry indignantly.
"Every one misconstrues him.  But I should like to have a bit of land
hereabouts, all the same."

"Well, you had better ask my brother yourself.  He may think himself
lucky, for I don't know who would buy a bit of land like that wedged in
between the two places.  Ah, here's Queenie to say good-night.  Well, my
lassie, are you pleased with your sport?"

"Yes, uncle; and the children were very good."

Cheriton walked a little way with Virginia, beyond the turning where
they parted from Lucy Ellesmere.  He found that she was unaware of the
facts which the parson had told him, and though somewhat uneasy about
her father, very much disposed to dwell on the good accounts of Dick and
Harry, and on the general awakening in the place that seemed to demand
improvements.  Oakby offered a ready-made pattern, and other farmers had
been roused by Mr Clements to wish for changes, while some, of course,
were ready to oppose them.

"They begin to wish Uncle James would have a curate, Cherry," she said;
"but I don't think he ever will find one that he could get on with.  No
one who did not know all the ins and outs of the place could get on
either with him or with the people."

"It would be difficult," said Cheriton thoughtfully; "yet I do believe
that a great deal might be done for parson as well as people."

"Ah, Cherry," said Virginia, with a smile, "if you hadn't got another
vocation, Uncle James would let _you_ do anything you liked.  I wish
_you_ were a clergyman, and could come and be curate of Elderthwaite;
for you are the only person who could fit into all the corners."

Virginia spoke in jest, as of an impossible vision, but Cheriton
answered her with unexpected seriousness.

"It would be hard on Elderthwaite to put up with a failure, and an
offering would not be worth much which one had waited to make till one
had nothing left worth giving; I'm afraid, too, my angles are less
accommodating than you suppose--ask Alvar."  Cherry finished his
sentence thoughtlessly, and was recalled by Virginia's blush; but she
said as they parted, "That is a safe reference for you."

Cheriton laughed; but as he walked homeward he turned and looked back on
the tumble-down, picturesque village at his feet.  Loud, rough sounds of
a noisy quarrel in the little street came to his ears, and some boys
passed him manifestly the worse for drink, though they pulled themselves
up and tried to avoid his notice.  It was not quite a new idea which
Virginia had put into shape; but as the steep hill forced him to slacken
his steps, he could not see that the strength which had proved
insufficient for a more selfish object was likely to be worth
consecrating to the service of his neighbours.

CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

A NEW AMBITION.

  "Like a young courtier of the king's--like the king's young courtier."

In the first week of September Jack came home, and Bob also came over
from Ashrigg to assist in demolishing the partridges.  The empty, lonely
house affected the spirits of the two lads in a way neither of them had
foreseen; the unoccupied drawing-room, the absence of Nettie's rapid
footsteps, the freedom from their grandmother's strictures on dress and
deportment--all seemed strange and unnatural; and when they were not
absolutely out shooting, they hung about disconsolately, and grumbled to
Cheriton over every little alteration.  Jack, indeed, recovered himself
after a day or two, but he looked solemn, and intensified Cherry's sense
that things were amiss, strongly disapproving of his principle of
non-interference.  He contrived, too, whether innocently or not, to ask
questions that exposed Alvar's ignorance of the names and qualities of
places and people, and betrayed delays in giving orders, misconceptions
of requirements, and many a lapse from order and method.  Moreover, the
way in which some of the excellent old dependents showed their loyalty
to the old _regime_, was by doing nothing without orders.  Consequently,
a hedge remained unmended till the cows got through into a plantation,
and ate the tops off the young trees,--"Mr Lester had given no order on
the subject;" and a young horse was thrown down and broke his knees
through Mr Lester desiring the wrong person to exercise him.  Then, of
two candidates for a situation, Alvar often managed to choose the wrong
one, and with the sort of irritability that seemed to be growing on him,
would not put up with suggestions.

"What?" said Jack; "one of those poaching, thieving Greens taken on as
stable-boy!  And Jos, too--the worst of the lot!  Why, he has been in
prison twice.  A nice companion for all the other lads about the place!
I saw little Sykes after him this morning.  I should have thought you
would have stopped _that_, Cherry, at least!"

"I did not know of it, Jack, till too late," said Cherry quietly.

"Well," said Jack, driving his hands into his pockets and frowning
fiercely, "I don't think it's right to let such things pass without a
protest.  Something will happen that cannot be undone.  I don't approve
of systems by which people's welfare is thrown into the hands of a few;
but if they are--if you are those few, it's--it's more criminal than
many things of which the law takes cognisance, to neglect their
interest.  It's destroying the last relics of reality, and bringing the
whole social edifice to destruction."

"What I think," said Bob, "is that if a man's a gentleman, and has been
accustomed to see things in a proper point of view, he acts
accordingly."

"A gentleman!  A man's only claim to be a gentleman is that he
recognises the whole brotherhood of humanity and his duties as a human
being."

"Come, I don't know," said Bob, not quite sure where these expressions
were leading him.

"His duty to his neighbour," said Cheriton.

"You worry yourself fifty times too much about it all," said Jack, with
vehement inconsistency.

"Well, perhaps I do," said Cheriton, glad to turn the conversation.
"Come, tell me how you got on in Wales, I have never heard a word of
it."

Jack looked at him for a moment, and with something of an effort began
to talk about his reading party; but presently he warmed with the topic,
and Cherry brightened into animation at the sound of familiar names and
former interests; they began to laugh over old jokes, and quarrel over
old subjects of disputation; and they were talking fast and eagerly
against each other, with a sort of chorus from Bob, when, looking up,
Cherry suddenly saw Alvar standing before them with a letter in his
hand.

He was extremely pale, but his eyes blazed with such intensity of wrath,
he came up to them with a gesture expressive of such passion, that they
all started up; while he burst out,--

"I have to tell you that I am scorned, injured, insulted.  My
grandfather has died--"

"Your grandfather, Don Guzman?  Alvar, I am sorry," exclaimed Cheriton;
but Alvar interrupted him,--

"Sorrow insults me!  I learn that he has made his will, that he leaves
all to Manoel, that _I_--I, his grandson--am not fit to be his heir,
`since I am a foreigner and a heretic, and unfit to be the owner of
Spanish property.'"

"That seems very unjust," said Cheriton, as Alvar paused for a moment.

"Unjust!" cried Alvar.  "I am the victim of injustice.  Here and there--
it is the same thing.  I have been silent--yes, yes--but I will not bear
it.  I will be what I please, myself--there, here, everywhere!"

"Nay, Alvar," said Cherry gently; "_here_ at least, you have met with no
injustice."

"And why?" cried Alvar, with the sudden abandonment of passion which now
and then broke through his composure.  "_You_ are doubtless too
honourable to plot and scheme; but your thoughts and your wishes, are
they not the same--the same as this most false and unnatural traitor,
who has stolen from me my inheritance and my grandfather's love?  What
do you wish, my brothers--wish in your hearts--would happen to the
intruder, the stranger, who takes your lands from you?  Would you not
see me dead at your feet?"

"We never wished you were dead," said Bob indignantly, as Alvar walked
about the room, threw out his hands with vehement gestures, stamped his
foot, and gave way to a violence of expression that would have seemed
ludicrous to his brothers but for the fury of passion, which evidently
grew with every moment, as if the injury of years was finding vent.  All
the strong temper of his father seemed roused and expressed with a rush
of vindictive passion, his southern blood and training depriving him at
once of self-consciousness and self-control.

"What matter what you wish?  Am I not condemned to a life which I abhor,
to a place that is hateful to me, despised by one whose feet I would
kiss, disliked by you all, insulted by those who should be my slaves?
What is this country to me, or I to it?  I care not for your laws, your
magistrates, your people--who hate me, who would shoot me if they dared.
And this--this--has lost me the place where I was as good as others.  I
lose my home for this--for you who stand together and wonder at me.  I
curse that villain who has robbed me; I curse the fate that has made me
doubly an outlaw; most of all, I curse my father, whose neglect--"

"Silence!" said Cheriton; "you do not speak such words in our presence."

The flood of Alvar's words, half Spanish, half English, had fairly
silenced the three brothers with amazement.  Now he faced round
furiously on Cheriton,--

"I will speak--"

"You will _not_," said Cheriton, grasping his hand, and looking full in
his face.  "You forget yourself, Alvar.  Don't say what we could never
forget or forgive."

But Alvar flung him off with a violence and scorn that roused the two
lads to fury, and made Cheriton's own blood tingle as Jack sprang
forward,--

"I won't have that," he said, in a tone as low as Alvar's was high, but
to the full as threatening.

"I'll give you a licking if you touch my brother," shouted Bob, with a
rough, schoolboy enforcement of the threat.

"Hush!" said Cheriton; "for God's sake, stop--all of you!  We are not
boys now, to threaten each other.  Stop, while there is time.  Stand
back, I say, Jack, and be silent!"

The whole thing had passed in half a minute; Alvar's own furious gesture
had sobered him, and he threw himself into a seat; while Cheriton's
steady voice and look controlled the two lads, and gave Jack time to
recollect himself.

There was a moment's silence.  Then Alvar stood up, bowed haughtily,
like a duellist after the encounter, and walked out of the room.  Jack,
after a minute, broke into an odd, harsh laugh, and, pushing open the
window, leant out of it.

"One wants air.  That was a critical moment," he said.

"I'll not stand that sort of thing; I'll go back to Ashrigg; I'll not
come here again," said Bob.  "What did you stop us for, Cherry, when we
were going to show him a piece of our minds?"

"I did not think anybody's mind was fit to be exhibited," said Cheriton.
"Don't begin to quarrel with me too, Bob; and do not go away to-day on
any account."

"Well!" said Bob; "if you like such a hollow peace--but I'll not shoot
his partridges, nor ride his horses; I'll go for a walk, and I shan't
come in to dinner!"

Bob flung out of the room, banging the door behind him.

At first the other two hardly spoke a word to each other.  Cherry sat
down a little apart, and mechanically took up a newspaper.  Jack sat in
the window, and as his heat subsided, thought over the scene that had
passed.  He felt that it was more than a foolish outburst of violent
temper; it had been a revelation to themselves and to each other of a
state of feeling that it seemed to him impossible any longer to ignore.
He knew that Cheriton's presence of mind had saved them from words and
actions that might have parted them for ever; but what was the use of
pretending to get on with Alvar after such a deadly breach?  Better
leave him to do the best he could in his own way, and go theirs.  And
Jack's thoughts turned to his own way in the future that he hoped for,
success and congenial labour, and sweet love to brighten it.  After all,
a man's early home was not everything to him.  And then he looked
towards Cheriton, who had dropped his newspaper, and sat looking
dreamily before him, with a sad look of disappointment on his face.

"What are you going to do, Cherry?" said Jack.

"Do?  Nothing.  What can I do?" said Cherry.  Then he added, "We must
not make too much of what passed to-day; let us all try and forget it.
Alvar has been ill-treated, and we are none of us so gentle as not to
know what a little additional Spanish fire might make of us."

"To be rough with you!" said Jack.

"Oh, that was accidental.  It is the terrible resentment.  There, I did
not mean to speak of it.  Let us get out into the air, and shake it
off."

"It is too wet and cold for you," said Jack, looking out.

Cheriton flushed at the little check with an impatience that showed how
hardly the scene had borne on him.

"Nonsense; don't be fanciful," he said.  "It won't hurt me--what if it
did?"

Jack followed him in silence, and as they walked Cherry talked
resolutely of other matters, though with long pauses of silence between.

In the meantime Alvar endured an agony of self-disgust.  He could not
forgive himself for his loss of dignity, nor his brothers for having
witnessed it.  Cheriton had conquered him, and the thought rankled so as
to obscure even the love he bore him; while all the bitter and
vindictive feelings, never recognised as sinful, took possession of him,
and held undisputed sway.  He was enough of an Englishman to reject his
first impulse of rushing back to Seville and calling out his cousin and
fighting him.  After all, the bitterness was here; and at dinner-time he
appeared silent and sullen in manner.  Cheriton looked ill and tired,
and could hardly eat; but Alvar offered no remark on it, and the younger
boys (for Bob did come back) were shy and embarrassed.  Alvar answered
when Cheriton addressed him with a sort of stiff politeness, and by the
next morning had resumed a more ordinary demeanour; but when Bob again
suggested going back to Ashrigg, Cheriton and Jack agreed that he had
better do so, only charging him not to let Nettie or their grandmother
guess at any quarrel.

"And, Cherry," Jack said, "suppose we come somewhere together for a
little while?  A little sea air would do you good--and you could help me
with my reading.  No one could think it strange, and I am sure you want
rest and quiet."

"No, Jack," said Cherry.  "It is very good of you, my boy, but--I'll try
a little longer.  Alvar and I could not come together again if I went
away now, and I'll not give up hoping that after all things may right
themselves.  Think of all he has been to me.  But you must do as you
think best yourself."

"I shall not leave you here without me," said Jack; "but I don't see the
use of staying."

"Well--I shall stay," said Cherry.

Alvar never alluded again to his letter from Spain; and the others were
afraid to start the subject.  He was very polite to them, and together
they formed engagements, went over to Ashrigg, and led their lives in
the usual manner; but there was no real approach, and Cheriton missed
Alvar's caressing tenderness, and the tact that had always been
exercised on his behalf.

He did not, with all this worry, find as much strength to face the
coming winter as he had hoped for, and while he thought that going back
to London would put an end to the present discomfort, he believed that
he would do no good there; and would not a parting from Alvar now be a
real separation?

Alvar, meanwhile, took a fit of attending to business.  He spent much
time about the place, insisted on being consulted on all subjects, and
still more on being instantly obeyed; King Log had vanished, and a very
peremptory king Stork appeared in his place.  The gentle, courteous,
indifferent Alvar seemed possessed with a captious and resentful spirit
that brooked no opposition.  No one had ever dared to disobey Mr
Lester's orders; but then they had been given with a due regard to
possibility, and often after consultation with those by whom they were
to be obeyed.

Alvar now proved himself to be equally determined; but he was often
ignorant of what was reasonable and of what was not, and though the
sturdy north-countrymen had given in against their inclination to their
superior, they thought it very hard to be driven against their judgment
when they were right and "t' strange squire" was wrong, or at least
innovating.  Now Alvar did know something about horses, and his views of
stable management differed somewhat from those prevailing at Oakby, and
being based on the experience of a different climate and different
conditions, were not always applicable there, and could only of course
be carried, as it were, at the sword's point.

Full of this new and intense desire to feel himself master, and to prove
himself so, Alvar not unnaturally concentrated his efforts on the one
subject where he had something to say.  He _could_ not lay down the law
about turnips and wheat; but he did think that he knew best how to treat
the injuries the young horse had received by his own mistaken order.

Perhaps he did; but so did not think old Bill Fisher, who had been about
the stables ever since he was twelve, and who, though past much active
work, still considered himself an authority from which there was no
appeal.

Alvar visited the horse, and desired a certain remedy to be applied to a
sprained shoulder, taking some trouble to explain how it was to be made.

Old Bill listened in an evil silence, and instead of saying that so far
as he knew one of the ingredients was unattainable at Oakby, or giving
his master an alternative, said nothing at all in reply to Alvar's
imperious--"Remember, this must be done at once;" but happening soon
after to encounter Cheriton, requested him to visit the horse, and
desired his opinion of the proper treatment.

Cheriton, ignorant of what had passed, naturally quoted the approved
remedy at Oakby, adding,--

"Why, Bill, I should have thought you would have known that for
yourself."

"Ay, no one ever heard tell of no other," muttered the old man,
proceeding to apply it with some grumbling about strangers, which
Cheriton afterwards bitterly rued having turned a deaf ear to.

The next morning Alvar went to see if his plans had been carried out,
and discovering how his orders had been disregarded, turned round, and
said sternly,--

"How have you dared to disobey me?"

"Eh, sir," said Bill, rather appalled at his master's face, "this stuffs
cured our horses these fifty year."

"You have disobeyed me," said Alvar, "and I will not suffer it.  I
dismiss you from my service--you may go.  I will not forgive you."

Old Bill lifted up his bent figure, and stared at his master in utter
amaze.

"I served your honour's grandfather--me and mine," he said.

"You cannot obey me.  What are your wages?  I will pay them--you may
go."  Neither the old man himself, nor the helpers who had begun to
gather round, belonged to a race of violent words, or indeed of violent
deeds; but there was more hate in the faces that were turned on Alvar
than would have winged many an Irish bullet.  All were silent, till a
little brother of Cherry's friends, the Flemings, called out, saucily
enough,--"'Twas Mr Cherry's orders."

As if stung beyond endurance, Alvar turned, caught the boy by the
shoulder, and raising his cane, struck him once, twice, several times,
with a violence of which he himself was hardly conscious.

This was the scene that met Cheriton's startled eyes as he came up to
the stable to inquire for the sick horse.

He uttered a loud exclamation of astonishment and dismay, and put his
hand on Alvar's shoulder.

Alvar, with a final blow, threw the lad away from him, and faced round
on Cheriton, drew himself up, and folded his arms, as he said,
regardless of the spectators,--

"I will not have it that you interfere with me, to alter my orders, or
to stop me in what I do.  You shall not do it."

"I have never interfered with you!" cried Cheriton fiercely.  "Assuredly
I never will.  I--I--" He checked himself with a strong effort, and
said, very low, "We are forgetting ourselves by disputing here.  If you
have anything to say to me, it can be said at a better moment."

Then, without trusting himself with a word or look, he walked slowly
away.

Alvar said emphatically,--

"Remember, I have said what I desire," and turned off in another
direction; while those left behind held such an "indignation meeting" as
Oakby had never seen.

CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

NO USE.

  "Learn that each duty makes its claim
       Upon one soul, not each on all;
  How if God speaks thy brother's name,
       Dare thou make answer to the call?"

Cheriton had encountered greater sorrows, he had met with more startling
disappointments, but never, perhaps, had he endured such a complication
of feeling as when he turned away and left Alvar in the stable yard.
Perhaps he had never been so angry, for Alvar's accusation was
peculiarly galling, peculiarly hard to forgive, and impossible to
forget.  And then there was the bitter sense of utter failure--failure
of influence, of tact, of affection, and, in so far as he identified
himself with the place and the people, there was yet a deeper sense of
injury.  Every old prejudice, every old distaste, surged up in his mind,
and yet he loved Alvar well enough to sharpen the sting.  He walked on
faster and faster, till want of breath stopped him, and brought on one
of the fits of coughing to which overhaste or agitation always rendered
him liable.  He just managed to get back to the house and into the
library, where Jack started up, as he threw himself into a chair.

"Cherry, what _is_ the matter?"

Cherry could not speak for a moment; and Jack, much frightened,
exclaimed,--

"What _have_ you been doing?  Let me call Alvar."

Cheriton caught his arm as he turned away; and, after a few moments, as
he began to get his breath,--

"Don't be frightened.  I walked too fast up hill."

"How could you be so foolish?"

"Jack, I suppose I must tell you; indeed, I want to find out the rights
of it; and _I_ can ask no questions," he added, with a sudden hurry in
his accent.

"What do you mean?  What has happened?"

The instinct of not irritating Jack enabled Cheriton to control his own
indignation, and he said very quietly,--

"When I went up to the stable I found Alvar giving little Chris Fleming
a tremendous licking.  He was very much vexed with me for--I suppose for
trying to interpose; but there were so many people about that we could
not discuss it there.  I wish you would go and ask old Bill what Chris
had been doing, then come and tell me.  Don't say anything to Alvar
about it."

Jack was keen enough to see that this was not quite an adequate account
of the matter.  He saw that Cheriton was deeply moved in some way; but
he was so unfit for discussion just then, that Jack thought the best
course was to hurry off on his errand.

He came back in about half-an-hour, looking very serious--too much so to
be ready to improve the occasion.

"Alvar has given old Bill warning--do you know that?"

"_No_.  What was that for?" cried Cheriton, starting up.

"He would not speak a word to me, and Chris had gone off to his
brother's; but John Symonds told me what had passed."  Here Jack
repeated the story of the ointment, old Bill's disobedience, and Chris's
declaration that it had been done by Cheriton's orders.

Cheriton's face cleared a little.

"Ah, I understand now.  No wonder Alvar was vexed!  I can explain that
easily.  But old Bill, it _was_ very unjustifiable; but if Alvar will
not overlook it I do believe it will kill him."

"I don't see what he would have to live on," said Jack.  "You know that
bad son spent his savings.  But Alvar will let him off if you ask him, I
daresay."

"I think you had better do so," said Cheriton quietly.

At this moment Alvar came into the room, and Cheriton addressed him at
once.

"Alvar, when old Bill asked me about the ointment, I did not know that
you had been giving any orders about it.  I am very sorry for the
mistake."

"It is not of consequence," said Alvar.  "Do not trouble yourself about
it."

The words were kind, but the tone was less so; and there was something
in Alvar's manner which made it difficult even for Jack to say,--"I'm
afraid old Bill Fisher was provoking.  He should have told you that he
could not get the stuff; but he is such an old servant, and so faithful.
I hope you won't dismiss him for it.  He seems to belong to us
altogether."

"I shall not change," said Alvar.

"But it's an extremely harsh measure, and will make every one about the
place detest you," said Jack, still considering himself to be speaking
with praiseworthy moderation.

"I will judge myself of the measure."  Then Cherry conquered his pride,
and said pleadingly,--

"I wish it very much."

"I am sorry to grieve you," said Alvar, more gently; "but I have
determined."

"Well," said Jack, losing patience, "we spoke as much for your sake as
for Bill's.  Every one will consider it harsh dealing and a great shame.
You'll make them hate you."

"I will make them fear me," said Alvar.

"Claptrap and nonsense!" said Jack; but Cheriton interposed,--

"Hush, Jack, we have no right to say any more.  What must be must."

To do Alvar justice, he was not aware how deeply he was grieving
Cheriton; he felt himself to be asserting his rights, and in the worst
corner of his heart knew that any relenting would be ascribed to his
brother's influence.

It was a very miserable day.  After some hours of astonished sulking,
the poor old groom put his pride in his pocket, and came humbly "to beg
t' squire's pardon," and to entreat Cheriton to intercede for him,
recapitulating his years of long service, and his recollections of the
old squire's boyhood, till he nearly broke Cherry's heart; and induced
him to promise to make another attempt at interceding--a promise which
was not given without quite as severe a rebuke as Alvar had ever
inflicted, for disrespect to his master's orders.

He was closely followed by the eldest of the Fleming brothers, in great
indignation.

Nowhere but at Oakby, as the young man took care to observe, would Chris
have been allowed to take such a situation, in spite of his love of
horses, and troublesomeness at home.

"Chris was impertinent to Mr Lester," said Cheriton, hardly knowing
what line to take.

Young Fleming was very sorry; in that case he was better at home, and he
hoped it would not be inconvenient if he took him away at once.

"I suppose it might be best," said Cheriton, thoroughly sympathising
with the grievance, and thankful to Fleming for not obliging him to hear
or say much about it.

"Then, sir, maybe you will tell the squire that such is our wish."

"No; I think you had better write him a note about it."

The two young men looked at each other, and though Cheriton turned his
eyes quickly away, he knew well enough that Fleming understood the whole
matter.

"As you please, sir," he said; "I wouldn't wish for _you_ to be annoyed,
Mr Cherry, and _so_ I'll keep out of the squire's way.  But
Westmoreland men are not black slaves, which no doubt the squire is
accustomed to, and accounts for his conduct.  It's plain, sir, to any
one that can read the newspapers, that there's no liberty in foreign
parts, where they're all slaves and papists.  Education, sir, teaches us
that.  And folks do remark that the squire doesn't keep his church as
others do; and I _have_ heard that he means to establish a Popish chapel
like the one at Ravenscroft."

"Then you have heard the greatest piece of nonsense that ever was
invented.  Education might cure you of such notions," said Cherry.  "You
must do as you think best for Chris.  I am very sorry."

The last words were involuntary, and Cherry hurried away before he was
betrayed into any further discussion.

Some hours later, as it was growing dusk, he was lying on the
window-seat in the library, thinking of how he could plead old Fisher's
cause without giving offence, and coming slowly to the conclusion that
his presence there was doing far more harm than good, that he was
risking peace with Alvar, and had better give up the straggle, when
Alvar himself came into the room, and came up to him.

"Are you not well?" he said, rather constrainedly.

"Only very tired."

"What have you been doing?" said Alvar, sitting down on the end of the
broad-cushioned seat, and looking at him.

The words certainly gave an opening; but Cheriton, famous all his life
for the most audacious coaxing, could not summon a smile or a joke.

"I have been tired all day," he said, to gain time for reflection.

"See," said Alvar suddenly, "you are unhappy about this old man, whom I
have dismissed."

"Yes.  I don't defend him, far from it; but he is old and crochety, and
I think you were harsh with him," said Cherry resolutely.

"But it is I who should decide what to do with him," said Alvar.

"Of course.  Don't imagine I dispute it," said Cheriton, thinking this
assertion rather foolish.

"You tell me that I should be master; you have told me so often.  Well,
then, I can be harsh to my servants if I please."

"If you please, remembering that you and they serve the same Master
above."

Alvar paused for a moment, then said,--

"I do not please, at present.  I have grieved you, as when I hurt
Buffer.  I will not be ruled by any one, but the old man shall live in
his cottage, and have his wages; but he shall not come into the stables
nor near my horses.  Does that please you, my brother?"

Cherry had his doubts as to how old Bill might regard or fulfil the
conditions, and certainly forbidding a servant to do any work was rather
an odd way of punishing him; but he answered gratefully,--

"Yes, thank you, you have taken a great weight off my mind."

"You cough," said Alvar, after a few moments; "the weather is getting
too cold for you."

"I thought," said Cherry, forcing himself to take advantage of the
excuse, "that I would go to the sea for a little while before the
winter."

"Yes; where shall we go?" said Alvar, in a tone of interest.  "Look," he
continued, with wonderful candour; "here we vex each other because we do
not think the same.  We are angry with each other; but we will come
away, and I will take care of you.  Then you shall go to London, and I
shall come back, and you will see, I will yet be the squire.  Where
shall we go, _mi caro_?"

It was almost a dismissal, and so Cheriton felt it to be; but after all
it was his own decision, and the return of Alvar's old kindness was very
comfortable to him.

"I had hardly thought about that," he said.

"Well," returned Alvar, "we can talk about it.  Now, it is cold here in
the window; come nearer to the fire and rest till dinner-time."

As Cheriton sat up and looked out at the stormy sunset, he saw little
Chris Fleming coming up the path that led round to the back door.

"Ah," said Alvar cheerfully, following his eyes, "I do not wish to
punish that boy any more.  He has had enough, that little rascal."

Evidently, Alvar's conscience was quite at ease, and he did not suppose
that he had in any way compromised himself.  He began to perceive that
Alvar had his own ideas as to what would make him really master of
Oakby.

Just after dinner a note was brought to Alvar.

"If you please, sir, this note was found in the passage, just inside the
back door."

Alvar took the letter, lit one of the candles on the chimney-piece, and
proceeded to read it.

  "Moor End Farm, _September 29th_.

  "Honoured Sir,--After the events of this morning, I consider it for
  the best that my brother Christopher should leave your service at
  once.  I have no objection to forfeit any wages due to him, as I do
  not feel able to give the usual month's notice after what has passed.

  "I remain, honoured sir,--

  "Your obedient servant,--

  "Edward Fleming."

Alvar coloured deeply as he read.  "What is this?" he exclaimed.  "May I
not punish even a little boy, who insults me?  Look!" and he threw the
letter to his brother.

"It is very awkward," said Cheriton.

"I think it is insolent," said Alvar.

"I think there is a great effort to avoid any want of respect in the
letter."

"To take the boy away because he was punished!"

"Well, Alvar, if you or I were in Ned Fleming's place, we shouldn't have
liked it."

"Did you know that this letter was coming?"

"Yes, I did."

"It is perhaps as you have advised Fleming?"

"No.  I gave him no advice; but I knew he would not let the boy stay
here."

"Do you then approve?" said Alvar, in a curious sort of voice.

"From their point of view--yes.  You are right in saying that you must
make yourself felt as the master; but there is no good in enforcing your
authority in a way that is not customary, to say the least of it.  In
England we can't lay hands on other people; and they _might_ have
summoned you for an assault, you know."

"What! before a judge?"

"Before a magistrate."

"I?" exclaimed Alvar, in a tone of such amazement that Cheriton nearly
laughed.  "Who would listen to that little boy against me, who am a
gentleman and his master?"

"The little boy is your equal in the eyes of the law, and might meet
with more attention just because you _are_ his master.  Not that I mean
to say it would not be regarded as very annoying to convict you," said
Cheriton, thinking of the feelings of Sir John Hubbard on such an
emergency.

"I will myself be a magistrate," said Alvar.

"That you never will," said Cherry, losing patience, "while these
stories get about, for no one would trust you."

"Can I not be a magistrate if I choose?"

"Not unless the Lord Lieutenant gives you a commission, of course."

"I think there is power for every one but me!" said Alvar.  "I may not
punish that little--what is your word?--vulgar, common boy.  I do not
like so much law.  Gentlemen should do as they wish.  You talk so much
about my being landlord and squire.  What is the use of it if I may not
do as I will?  Well, I will send away Fleming from his farm--that is
mine at least."

"I am afraid he has a twenty-one years lease in it," said Cheriton,
rather wickedly, and Alvar, fancying himself laughed at, suddenly put
the letter in his pocket and turned away, as the gong sounded for
dinner.  He disappeared afterwards when they went back to the library,
and Cheriton had the forbearance to abstain from giving Jack the benefit
of Alvar's peculiar views on the British constitution, though they could
not fail to speak of the events of the morning, and Jack said,--

"Well, at least he has heard reason about old Bill, and that was of most
consequence; but I should think you would be glad to be back in London,
and out of the way of it all."

"I am not quite sure about London, Jack," said Cheriton, after a moment.

"What, don't you feel well enough?"

"I don't think I shall ever be good for much there; and besides--I think
I should like to talk to you a little, Jack, if you'll listen."

"Well?"

"You know how I always looked forward to settling in London, and how
Uncle Cheriton wished it, and meant to help me on.  In fact I never
thought of anything else."

"Yes, I know," said Jack, briefly.

"There was a time when I desired that sort of success intensely, and
when things were very much changed for me, I thought it would still--be
satisfactory."

"Yes?"

"But of course, as you know, I soon perceived that the hard continuous
work, necessary for anything like success, was quite out of the question
for me--I feel sure that it always will be; and, moreover, I never felt
well in London.  I was much better here when I first came back."

Poor Jack looked as if the disappointment were much fresher and harder
to him than to the speaker himself.

"You must know," Cheriton continued, "that a doctor once told me at
Oxford that the damp soft air there was very bad for a native of such a
place as this, and I see now that the last few months there began the
mischief; and London has something the same effect on me.  That seems to
settle the question."

"I suppose so," said Jack, so disconsolately, that Cherry half smiled,
as he resumed,--

"Otherwise the pleasant idle life there might have its charms.  Though,
after all, Jack, I shouldn't like it as things are now.  When I expected
to be a London man, I expected, as you know--a good deal else.  And
afterwards even, while all home ties here were safe and sound, one would
not get selfish and aimless.  But now I couldn't be happy, I think,
without a home-world that really belonged to me."

"And so home is being spoilt for you too?" said Jack.

"I see," returned Cheriton, "that it won't do.  If Alvar is left to
himself here, he will fight his way now, I think, to some means of
managing proper to himself."

"Or improper," said Jack.

"Well, to be honest, I am afraid he will make a great many mistakes, and
do a great deal of mischief.  But if I were here--I mean if this place
were still to be home to me so that I still felt--as I should feel--a
personal concern in all the old interests, Alvar would quarrel with me.
I might prevent individual evils; but in the long run I should do harm.
He thought at first that I should guide him.  Perhaps I thought so too;
but it is a false and impossible relation, and it must be put a stop
to."

"But, Cherry, I think father looked to you to keep things straight."

"Yes," said Cherry, "but not to make them more crooked, by such disputes
as we have had lately."

Cheriton spoke resolutely, though with a quiver of the lip, and Jack
could guess well enough at the pain the resolve was costing him.  "Alvar
is quite changed to you!" he said, savagely.

"Yes, because he himself is changing.  He is different in many ways, and
conscious of all sorts of difficulties."

"But what do you mean to do?"

"Oh, nothing desperate, nothing till the winter is over.  Probably I
shall go to the sea with Alvar, as he suggests.  Then if I am pretty
well, I shall go and see granny.  I have a notion that I should be
better here in the cold weather than in London.  I want to try."

"Had you all this in your mind when you settled to buy Uplands?" said
Jack suddenly.  "Yes--in part I had."

"But, you are not thinking of living _there_!  What are you driving at,
Cherry, I can't understand you?"

"Well, Jack," said Cherry, slowly and with rising colour, "I will tell
you, but I wanted to show you the process.  And you must remember that
it is only an idea known to no one, and very probably may prove
impossible, perhaps undesirable."

"Tell me," said Jack, more gently.  Any scheme for the future was a
relief from listening to the laying aside of hopes which he knew had
been so much a part of Cheriton's being.

"Well," said Cherry again, "I'm afraid my motives are rather poor ones.
You see, after Oakby there's no place for me like Elderthwaite.  I want
the feeling, as I say, of a place and neighbours of my own.  I suppose I
am used to playing first fiddle, and to looking after other people's
concerns.  Granny always said I was a gossip.  Then I'm narrow-minded,
perhaps I have had too much taken out of me to think of starting fresh.
And you know the old parson will always put up with me, and so will
Elderthwaite people.  And I want an object in life--if you knew how
dreary it is to be without one!  If they had a strange curate he would
set them all by the ears, and the parson would make a fool of himself!
So if Mr Ellesmere thinks the bishop would consent, and approves, and
if I am fit for anything, I thought that I would try."

Jack was silent for some moments.  He understood Cheriton well enough to
"follow the process," but it affected him strongly, and at last he said,
gravely,--

"I am afraid all the vexation here has put this into your head."

"Partly," said Cherry, simply, "this actual thing.  I can't say anything
of other motives of course, Jack.  I know that it looks like, that in
fact it _is_ turning to this--which ought to be the offering of all
one's best--when other careers have failed me.  And I know that those
who sympathise the least will be the most inclined to say so.  But it is
not quite so.  I _have_ always wished to be of use, of service, here
especially.  I thought I saw how.  I have the same wish still, and this
seems to offer me a way.  It is but a gathering up of the fragments, but
I trust He will accept."

Jack's view rather was that the plan was not good enough for his
brother, than that his brother was not good enough for it.

"You were always good enough for anything, if that is what you mean," he
said.  "But I do understand, Cherry, about wanting an object; only--only
it's such an odd one."

"I tell you," said Cherry, brightly, for the disclosure was a great
relief to him, "that that's the very point.  I don't think I get on
amiss with any one, even with the _Sevillanos_, but down at the bottom
of my heart, Jack, I'm not far removed--we none of us are--from `There's
a stranger, 'eave 'alf a brick at him,' and when I think of any direct
dealing with people, anything like clerical work, why, except to my own
kith and kin, I should have nothing to say.  The self-denial of
missionaries seems to me incredible.  I could not do as Bob means to do,
I think, if health and strength were to be the reward of it.  It's a
very unworthy weakness, I know, but I can't help it."

"You would get on very well anywhere," said Jack; "that is all nonsense.
I don't believe Elderthwaite would agree with you, and you could
overwork yourself just as well there as anywhere else."

"Well, as to the place agreeing with me, that remains to be proved.
It's a very small church, and a small place; and I hope I might be able
to do the little they are fit for--at present.  But I know it may prove
to be out of the question."

Jack was silent.  He could not bear to vex Cherry by opposing a scheme
which seemed to offer him some pleasure in the midst of his annoyances,
and if his brother had proposed to take orders with more ordinary
expectations, it would have been quite in accordance with the Oakby code
of what was fitting.  But there was something in the consecration of
what Cheriton evidently viewed as a probably short life and failing
powers to an object so unselfish, and yet, as it seemed to Jack, so
commonplace, it was so like Cherry, and yet showed such a conquest of
himself--there was such humility in the acknowledgment that he was only
just fit for the sort of imperfect work that offered itself, and yet
such a complete sense that no one else could manage that particular bit
of work so well--it was, as Jack said, "so odd," that it thrilled him
through and through, and he was glad that Alvar's entrance saved him
from a reply.

CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

REVENGE.

  "`Now, look you,' said my brother, `you may talk,
  Till, weary with the talk, I answer nay.'"

Alvar, having avoided his brothers after dinner, came back into the
hall, and, sitting down by the fire, lighted a cigarette.  As he sat
there in the great chair by himself, the flames flickering on the oak
panels, and the subdued light of the lamp failing to penetrate the dark
corners of the old hall, his face took an expression of melancholy, and
there was an air of loneliness about his solitary figure--a loneliness
which was not merely external.  He was perplexed and unhappy, and the
fact that his unhappiness had roused in his breast pride and jealousy
and anger, did not make it less real.  He had not come to the point of
owning himself in the wrong, and yet he felt puzzled.  He could not see
how he had offended.  It was a critical moment.  Gentle and affectionate
as Cheriton was, and happy as the relations had hitherto been between
them, Alvar felt himself judged and condemned by his brother's higher
standard, now that he had at last become aware of its existence.  He had
never been distressed by Virginia's way of looking at things, she was a
woman, and her view's could not affect his; and for a long time, as has
been said, he had regarded Cheriton's ideas of duty as as much an
idiosyncrasy as his fair complexion, or his affection for Rolla and
Buffer.  Now he perceived that Cheriton himself did not so regard them,
but with whatever excuses and limitations, expected them to be binding
on Alvar himself; and Alvar's whole nature kicked against the criticism.
Cheriton had been clear-sighted enough to perceive this, and so judged
it better to draw back; but Alvar, through clouds and darkness, had seen
a glimpse of the light.  He _knew_ that Cheriton was right, and the
knowledge irritated him.  In a fitful, dark sort of way he tried to
assert his independence and yet justify himself to Cheriton.  It was
doubtful whether he would gradually follow the light thus held out to
him, or decidedly turn away from it, and just now his wounded pride
prompted him to the latter course.  He would go his own way; and when he
had settled his affairs to his mind, his brothers should own that he was
right.  And yet--did he not owe a debt, never to be forgotten, to the
kind hand that had welcomed him, the bright face that had smiled on him,
long ago, on that dreary Christmas Eve?  Alvar did _not_ say to himself,
as he perhaps might have done with truth, that he had repaid Cheriton's
early kindness to him tenfold; but he thought of the joyous, active
youth, whose animal spirits, constant activity, and frequent laughter
had been such a new experience to him.

As Alvar thought how great the change had been, his softer feelings
revived, and with them the instinct of caving for his brother's comfort
in a thousand trifling ways.  He remembered that Cheriton had hardly
eaten any dinner, and rose, intending to go to him and persuade him to
have some of the chocolate for which he had never lost the liking gained
in Spain.  As he moved towards the library the butler came into the
hall, and, with some excitement, told him that Fletcher, his farm
bailiff, wanted to speak to him.

"But it is too late," said Alvar.  "He may come to-morrow."

"Indeed, sir, I think it is of consequence.  Some ill-disposed persons,
sir, have set one of your ricks on fire, as I understand," said the
butler, with the air of elevation with which the news of any
misdemeanour is usually communicated.

"Tell him, then, to come in," said Alvar, coolly; and Fletcher
appearing, deposed that a certain valuable hayrick, in a field about a
mile from the house, on a small farm called Holywell, which had always
been managed, together with the home farm, by Mr Lester himself, had
been discovered by one of the men going home from work to be on fire.
In spite of all their efforts, a great part had been burnt, and the rest
much injured by the water used to put out the fire.

"And how did the hay catch fire?" asked Alvar, with composure.

"Well, sir, that young lad Fleming was found hanging about behind a
hedge, as soon as we had eyes for anything but the flames; and after
this morning's work, and words that many have heard him drop, the
constable thought it his duty to take him up on suspicion, and he is in
the lock-up at Hazelby."

Fletcher eyed his master as he spoke, to see how the intelligence would
be received.

"Ah, then," said Alvar, "he will be sent to prison."

"The magistrates meet on Thursday, sir--day after to-morrow; but arson
being a criminal offence, he'll be committed for trial at
quarter-sessions," said Fletcher, in an instructive manner.  "Wilfully
setting fire to property we name arson, sir; the sentence is
transportation for a term of years, sir."

"It is the passion of revenge," said Alvar, calmly.  "It does not
surprise me."

Fletcher looked as if the squire surprised him greatly; but Alvar wished
him good-night, and dismissed him.

"Why--the old squire would have been up at Holywell and counted the very
sticks of hay that was left!" he thought to himself as he withdrew;
while Alvar went and communicated the intelligence to his brothers.

Cheriton listened, dismayed, while Jack exclaimed,--

"I don't believe it!  No Fleming ever was such a fool."

"But he was angry with me," said Alvar.  "He might have stabbed me out
of revenge."

"Nonsense! we don't live in Ireland, nor in Spain either!  They'll never
forgive you, of course, to their dying day, but they won't put you in
the right by breaking the law--we're too far north for that."

"Fletcher doesn't belong to these parts, you know," said Cherry; "He
might take up an idea.  I do think it most unlikely that a boy brought
up like Chris would commit such an act.  Besides, we saw him down here.
When was the fire seen?"

"I do not know," said Alvar; "but Fletcher said that he was there."

"It can't be," said Cheriton; "I cannot believe it.  But they'll never
get over the boy being taken up at all.  Why on earth did they never let
us know what was going on!  I wish I had been there."

"Yes; a fire, and for us never to know of it!" said Jack, regretfully.

"I think that Chris is a bad boy, and that he has done it," said Alvar.
"But I do not care about the hay.  What does that matter?"

"Why, the rick was worth forty pounds," said Cherry.

"I do not care for forty pounds.  I care that I shall be obeyed," said
Alvar.

A great deal more discussion followed, chiefly between Alvar and Jack;
the latter at last relieving his mind of much of the good advice which
he had long been burning to bestow.  He showed Alvar his errors at
length, and in the clearest language.  Alvar took it very coolly, and
without much more interest than if it had been an essay.  He was not, as
they would have expected, enraged at the burnt rick; indeed Cheriton
could not help fancying that he regarded it as a justification of his
violence towards Chris.  As usual, it was the sense of Cheriton's
opposing view rather than the thing itself that annoyed him.

"Don't worry yourself, Cherry," said Jack, as he wished him good-night.
"I'll go the first thing in the morning and find out the rights of it."

Accordingly, before either of his brothers appeared, Jack started off
through wind and rain, and investigated the story of the burnt rick.

He returned in high feather, and found them still at breakfast; for
Alvar by no means held his father's opinion as to the merits of early
rising.

"Well," said Jack, "it's clear that Chris had nothing to do with it.  He
left home at half-past four, went straight to old Bill's cottage, where
Alice Fisher gave him some tea, and where no doubt they indulged in a
good crack, left them at half-past five, and came straight up here with
the note for Alvar, when you saw him."

"Yes," said Cherry, "I looked at the clock when I came over to the
fire."

"Well, then, John Kitson saw the rick on fire exactly at half-past five,
he heard the church clock strike; so if you and Alvar go over to Hazelby
to-morrow, and prove that Chris came here on his way from old Bill's at
that time, you can set it all to rights in a moment.  And if that idiot
Fletcher had sent for you--for Alvar--last night, poor Chris would never
have been suspected."

"Well, Jack, you have done a good morning's work," said Cherry, much
relieved.

"Yes.  Give me some coffee, I had hardly any breakfast," said Jack,
cutting himself some cold beef.  "It is such a cold morning, too."

"And who did set the rick on fire, then?" said Cherry.

"Ah, that's not so clear.  Fletcher and Jos Green had a shindy a day or
two ago, and that lad is capable of anything; but, after all, it may
have been an accident."

Alvar all this time had eaten his breakfast in silence.  He did not
disbelieve Jack's evidence, but perhaps he hardly felt its force, and
the sense of having been nearly concerned in committing an injustice,
did not strike him as forcibly as it did the others.  He felt, perhaps
not unnaturally, a sense of intense irritation against the whole Fleming
family, and a wish never to hear their names again.  Besides, Jack was
openly triumphant, and he could not doubt that Cherry was secretly so.

The conversation dropped therefore, and Alvar, as the weather
brightened, ordered his horse and went out.  Jack retreated to his
books; and presently came the vicar, to hear the rights of the story
about Chris Fleming.

Cheriton said as little as he could, declaring that the arrest had been
an entire mistake, which they much regretted, and that Alvar would take
care that it was set right to-morrow.

"Have you heard of the outbreak of reforming zeal at Elderthwaite?"
asked Mr Ellesmere.

"Yes," said Cheriton, colouring.  "Miss Seyton told me about it, and
besides, Clements was full of it when I saw him last.  You see some new
blood has come into the place, and there is a violent reaction, of
course only among the few."

"Yes.  Clements came to consult me about writing to the bishop.  They
want to have a curate; but I am afraid the old parson has set all his
strength against it, and there are plenty to back him up.  Besides, I
don't see how the payment could be managed, as, of course, Miss Seyton
will not act against her uncle.  I told Clements to have patience; but a
good deal of ill-feeling is cropping up.  I wish you would go over and
see if you can smooth things down a little."

"Do you think I could?"

"Why, yes; you always take Elderthwaite abuses under your protection.
You would be the only curate to please the parson and his parishioners,
too!"

Mr Ellesmere spoke entirely in jest, and was exceedingly surprised when
Cheriton answered seriously,--

"Indeed, I have thought so;" and then proceeded, at greater length than
he had done with Jack, to unfold his project.  He did not try to
prepossess the vicar in its favour, nor touch on his home difficulties,
save by saying that an idle life at Oakby would not suit him.  He said
plainly that he felt that only the peculiar circumstances of
Elderthwaite, and his own independent means, could justify such a step
in one who believed himself likely to have but little time and less
strength before him.  Would Mr Ellesmere explain the whole state of the
case to the bishop, and ask--other matters being satisfactory--would he
ordain him if the next spring he found himself capable of doing
anything.

"And would this really content you, Cherry?" said Mr Ellesmere.  "It
would be clerical work in its most unattractive form, among, I should
say, very unattractive people?"

"Not to me," said Cheriton.  "It would not be a distasteful life to me."

"And then the climate here--"

"That the doctors shall decide next spring," said Cherry, smiling.

"I don't see my way to it, my boy," said Mr Ellesmere, struck by his
fragile look.  "You must not run risks, and you would take
responsibilities upon you which would make each particular risk seem
unavoidable."  Cheriton evidently did not see his way to a reply.  His
face fell.  The vivid, vigorous nature, checked at every turn, was ever
striving after a fresh outlet.  The instinct to be up and doing, to put
his hand to everything that came to it, could not be stifled by loss and
disappointment, or even by want of physical health and strength.  After
a pause he said, in an altered voice,--

"There are things that make it seem as if that did not much matter.  I
mean it is my own concern _now_.  A short life and a busy one is better
than a few more months, or years even, like mine."

"I do not think your life has ever been useless yet, Cherry, even under
the limitations that have been laid on it," said Mr Ellesmere, quietly.

Cheriton sat looking into the fire in silence, then he turned round and
smiled with much of his old playful defiance, though there was a deeper
undercurrent.

"You can keep a look-out on me all the winter, and tell the Elderthwaite
reformers that they don't know what may happen, if they will only have
patience.  Then next spring I'll come and ask your advice again, and if
you make out a very good case against me, why, _I'll give in_."

He uttered the last words slowly, and Mr Ellesmere fully understood all
that they implied.  He feared that the question might be answered for
him before next spring.

Cherry himself felt that he had not taken a very favourable moment for
putting forward his designs, for he was neither looking nor feeling
well; and could hardly point to himself as a proof of the suitability of
his native climate.  Still the communication had given a certain point
to look forward to, and was an individual interest apart from the
confusing worry of affairs at Oakby.  If, after the present crisis had
subsided, Alvar still held to his intention of going to the sea with
him, their old friendliness would soon supersede the present irritation.
Then, afterwards, he would go to London, break up his arrangements
there, and see the Stanforths, and would then spend Christmas with his
grandmother.  In the meantime he would be exceedingly prudent; and
having regard both to the bad weather and to the charge of interference,
would leave Alvar to go by himself to Hazelby to-morrow.

Alvar's ride had been interrupted by an encounter with Edward Fleming,
full of resentment, by no means unnatural, though it was by this time
somewhat unreasonable, for he could hardly help believing that the
accusation against Chris had been intentional.  A very sturdy and
recalcitrant north-countryman he showed himself, respectful indeed in
word to the squire, but intensely conscious of his injuries, and giving
the squire very plainly to understand that a full explanation before all
the magistrates at Hazelby, not to say a full apology, was no more than
his duty, and fully to be expected of him.  It was an unfortunate
meeting.  An appeal to Alvar's generosity and protection would have been
instantly responded to; but the one form of pride roused the other, and
stirred up the fear of dictation in his mind.  He looked down at the
sullen, resolute face of the young farmer with an expression of intense
haughtiness, a look which, on the dark foreign face, seemed utterly
hateful to Fleming, and said, as he made his horse move on,--

"That is as I shall please."

"If you let my brother be wronged, sir," said Fleming, "mark me, you'll
repent it.  'Tis not the way your father would treat an old tenant, nor
your brother either.  A dog had his rights at their hands."

And in a rage, intensified by his consciousness of Alvar's scorn, he
flung off with a sense of injury which would have led an Irishman to
fire a shot, but which, in the English farmer, meant opposing the squire
in Church and State, disobliging him on every private and parochial
question, taking on every occasion the other side, and carrying on this
line of conduct till his dying day.

He was young, too, and, as he had remarked to Cheriton, had education,
and he might confide his grievance to the county paper.  But he was both
too proud and too generous to appeal again to Cheriton; and, besides, he
never supposed for a moment that the squire would withhold his evidence.

But Alvar's wrath was hot within him.  As master against servant, as
head of the family against his juniors, above all, as gentleman against
peasant, he felt bound to assert himself and his authority.  No one
should threaten him into begging off the boy who had insulted him, and
whose family had so defied him.  He would not yield to any one's view of
his duty.  Let the insolent boy have a few weeks more of suspense; what
did it matter?  When the real trial came he would condescend to give
evidence in his favour (_subpoenas_ did not at that moment occur to his
mind), and would explain to the judge why he had chosen to delay his
evidence.  Then every one would see with what vigour he could administer
his estate; and perhaps he would, to please Cheriton, then of his own
free will confer some benefit on the Flemings which would make
everything smooth.

Of course Alvar was not so foolish as his intentions, but all his past
negligence had resulted in an amount of present ignorance of his
surroundings which made such a scheme appear possible to him.  It did
strike him that Cheriton might take the matter into his own hands, and
go to Hazelby himself; but so great a point had been made of his own
going that he hardly knew how far this would supersede the need for it,
and he did not mean to provoke a discussion.

Circumstances favoured him; Jack was going to dine and sleep at Ashrigg,
he himself had another dinner engagement, and on the next day he had
really promised to go early and shoot with Lord Milford.  Cheriton had
forgotten all about this, and, anxious not to irritate Alvar, said
nothing about the magistrates' meeting during the short time they were
together.

CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

A NEW LIFE.

  "His peaceful being slowly passes by
  To some more perfect peace."

The next morning Cheriton slept late, and awoke to the consciousness
that he had caught a slight cold, "which," as he said to himself, "might
happen to any one."

"Will you ask Mr Lester to come to me before he goes to Hazelby?" he
said, not feeling quite able to satisfy himself that Alvar had all the
needful evidence clear in his head.

"Mr Lester is not going to Hazelby, sir," said the man; "he went to
Lord Milford's early this morning in the dog-cart.  He left word that he
would not disturb you, sir."

The engagement at Milford flashed across Cheriton's mind, and with
dismay and indignation he perceived that Alvar had not thought it worth
while to break it on Chris Fleming's account.  In a moment he recognised
the utter ruin that would fall on all chance of Alvar's success with his
tenants, still more the disgrace that he would bring on himself in the
eyes of the whole bench of magistrates, by the neglect of such an
obvious duty, while on his own part he felt that it was such an
unkindness as he hardly knew how to forgive.  His first impulse was to
let the matter alone, and to leave Alvar to bear the brunt of his own
misdoings.  But then the thought came of the distress to the Flemings,
of the fatal injury to the boy from the weeks of undeserved detention,
and, after all, the discredit would fall on them all alike.  He forgot
all his intention of nursing his cold, forgot its very existence, as he
perceived, on looking at his watch, that he had barely time to reach
Hazelby for the meeting.

"It is all the same," he said, "my going to Hazelby will answer every
purpose.  Tell them to bring Molly round at once.  As Mr Lester has the
dog-cart, I will ride."

"There is a very cold wind, and it looks like rain, sir."

"That can't be helped," said Cheriton, "there is no time to lose."

He tried to make his expedition seem a matter of course; but every one
in the house believed that he went because the squire had gone off on
his own pleasure, or out of what the old cook did not hesitate to call
"nasty spite," had refused to justify little Fleming.  Indeed, as
Cheriton rode hurriedly away, he could hardly divest himself of the same
opinion.

In the meanwhile, Alvar no sooner found himself well on the way to
Milford than he began to feel pangs of compunction.  The cold wind and
drizzling rain beat in his face, as the conviction was borne in upon
him, that Cheriton would certainly go to Hazelby in his place.  He had
not been at Milford since the day of the great rejoicing, when Cheriton,
with all his fresh honours, had met them there, had wooed, and, as he
thought, won Ruth Seyton; when he himself was Virginia's acknowledged
lover.  He called her to mind, as she had walked by his side in smiling
content, as she played with the children--felt _now_, as he never had
then, the wistfulness of her eyes when they met his, and almost for the
first time he recognised that the want of devotion had been on his side.
He had not loved her enough.  A sense of discouragement and despondence
seized on him, a deep melancholy softened the resentment which he had
been cherishing.  As he looked back on the years of his father's
neglect, on Virginia's dismissal, on his brother's views of what his
position required, for once the sense of his shortcomings overpowered
his sense of the many excuses for them.  His indifference to the chance
of Cheriton's running a great risk touched him with a self-reproach for
which his theories of life offered no palliative.  He could not rest,
and with a suddenness and vehemence of action most unusual with him, he
turned to Lord Milford as they prepared to start on their day's sport,
declared that he had suddenly recollected an important engagement, and
must beg them to excuse him at once; overruled all objections on the
score of his horse wanting rest by declaring that he would only drive to
the station, and go by train to Hazelby.

"I am humiliated by my want of courtesy to your lordship, but it is
necessary that I should go," he said; but what with the delay of
starting, and the absence of a train at the last moment, the
magistrates' meeting was over long before he reached Hazelby, every one
had dispersed, and the court-house was shut.

He could not bring himself to ask any questions; but ordered a
conveyance and started on his way back to Oakby, hardly knowing whether
to reveal his change of purpose or not.  On the road he passed the three
Fleming brothers, trudging home through the mud.  They looked away, and
omitted to touch their hats to him.  Alvar said to himself that he did
not care; but the sense of unpopularity can never be other than bitter.
He thought to himself that after all English gentlemen did not always
live on their estates.  There were hundreds of his father's rank who did
not hold his father's view of their duties.  He could shut Oakby up, let
it, go where he would never see it again.  But where?  Never as the
disinherited heir would he set foot in Seville, and he had no craving to
hunt tigers in India, or buffaloes on the prairies.  He did not wish to
go yachting; did not care to travel; he hated the fogs and the
colourlessness of London.  He was as little ready to cut himself loose
from all his moorings as Cheriton himself.  Suddenly, as he drove on, he
saw one of the Oakby grooms riding fast towards him.  The man pulled up
as he passed.

"Mr Cheriton is ill, sir; Mrs Lester is there, and she sent me for the
doctor."

Alvar felt as if he had been shot.

"Ride on," he said, breathlessly; then seized the driver of the trap by
the shoulder--"Drive fast; I will give you five pounds if you will drive
fast.  My brother is ill; he will want me."

"Ay, sir--all right, sir," said the lad, lashing up his horse.

Alvar felt as if a telegraph would have been slow; but he folded his
arms, and sat like a statue till they reached the door, when he sprang
out, and at the foot of the stairs saw Jack.

"Alvar! you here!" he exclaimed.

"What is it?--where is he?--what has happened?--tell me!" cried Alvar.

"Cherry went to Hazelby, of course, to clear Chris, as you were out of
the way.  He was so done up when he came back, and seems so evidently in
for just such a bad attack as he had before, that granny, who came back
here with me, sent for Mr Adamson.  Yes, he is in bed; he was wet
through."

Jack's face was like thunder; but Alvar dashed past him upstairs, and
opened the door of his brother's room.

Cheriton was sitting up in bed.  He had recovered a little from the
exhaustion of his hasty ride, and though suffering much pain and
oppression, was spending some of the little breath he had left, in
trying to explain matters to his grandmother.

"You always were a perverse lad, or you would not be using your voice
now, Cherry," she said.  "When your brother comes back, I shall give him
a piece of my mind."

"There he is," cried Cherry.  There was a look in his eyes for a moment
as if he hardly knew how they were to meet; but as Alvar advanced into
the room, all his vehemence subsided.  He came up to the bed, and laid
his hand on Cheriton's with the old tender touch.

"You are ill, _mi caro_.  I think you must not talk so much just now."

Cheriton looked up in his face, and read in it, steady as was the voice,
an altogether new terror and trouble.

"_This_ is my own fault," he said.  "I was in such a hurry--that--I
would not wait for the carriage.  After all, there would have been
time."

"Oh, my brother--my brother!" cried Alvar, losing his self-control,
"your fault!  Grandmother, it is I who have let him kill himself."

"You are just crazy," said Mrs Lester, agitated and angry, as Alvar
rushed up to her, and threw himself on his knees beside her chair,
clasping her hands in his.  "I don't care whose fault it is.  No doubt
you are one as bad as the other.  For the last half hour I have been
trying to make Cherry hold his tongue, and now you make a worse turmoil
than ever.  Since my poor son went there is no one to look to."

Mrs Lester was shaken and terrified by the shock of sudden alarm, and
agitated by Alvar's extraordinary behaviour, and thus her still fresh
grief came back on her, and she burst into tears.

"Oh, granny, don't--don't!" cried Cherry, and the distress of his tone
recalled Alvar to his senses.

"Oh, I am a fool!" he said, and getting up, he applied himself to soothe
his grandmother with all the tact of which he was master, and was so
successful, that in a few minutes she went away in search of some remedy
for Cheriton, who, as he was left alone with his brother, felt, spite of
his increasing suffering, the old sense of repose in Alvar's care creep
over him.

"As violent an attack as the last, and much less strength to meet it,"
was the doctor's verdict, and the great common terror hushed for the
time all disputes and differences.

Mrs Lester remained at Oakby, Nettie had returned to London a few days
previously, and both she and Bob held themselves ready for a sudden
summons.

Mrs Lester questioned Alvar on that first evening about all that had
passed, in a dry, caustic fashion, while he answered, meekly enough.
"Why, ye'll have made yourself a laughing-stock to the whole place," was
her only comment on the story of the horsewhipping.

Alvar coloured to his temples, but said nothing; the reproach of Jack's
silent misery was much harder to bear.  He who knew how all the last
weeks had been troubled by Alvar's fault, could not forgive, and felt
that if Cheriton died, he could never bear the sight of Alvar again.

Alvar himself was shaken and disturbed as he had never been before.  He
had lost all the calm hopefulness and power of living in the present,
that had made him such a support in Cheriton's previous illness; and
though he was still a devoted and efficient nurse to him, there were
times when he was quite unable to control his distress.  He was
frightened, and expected the worst; and poor Jack had to try to
encourage him, a process that much softened his indignation.

All this was fully apparent to Cheriton.  There was no longer the daze
and confusion of that first attack of illness, the boyish astonishment
at the fact of being ill at all, the novelty of all the surroundings,
now, alas! so familiar; no longer, too, the sense that the exceeding
sweetness of life made death incredible; no longer the same instinctive
dependence on those around.  Since then Cheriton had travelled a long
way on the road of life, had looked across the dark river, and grown
familiar with the thought of its other shore; he was no longer
frightened at his own suffering, or at its probable result, and, as his
senses were generally clear, except sometimes at night, or when under
the influence of the remedies, he was able to think for others--a habit
in which he had gained considerable skill.

He made Alvar write to Mr Stanforth, and beg that Gipsy might write to
Jack, knowing that the surprise and joy of such a letter, and the relief
of pouring out his heart in the answer, must lighten the heavy weight of
the poor boy's anxiety; and so, in truth, it did, though Jack could
never trust himself to thank Cherry for his kind thought.  He also made
the vicar go to Edward Fleming, and tell him that Alvar had only been a
few minutes too late in coming to give evidence, and to entreat him to
lay aside any ill-feeling for the misunderstanding "which," he said,
"was partly caused by my bad management."  He thought much about the
state of affairs at Elderthwaite, or rather, perhaps, recalled at
intervals much previous thinking.  He was not equal to anything like a
connected conversation, and he knew that no one would let the poor
vehement old parson come near him; but he greatly astonished his
grandmother by telling her that he had an especial desire to see
Virginia Seyton.

"I cannot talk enough to tell you why," he said; "but, granny, do get
her to come."

Mrs Lester promised; for how could she refuse him?  He gave a good many
directions to Mr Ellesmere, and in especial desired that a certain cup,
won many years ago at some county athletic sports in a contest with his
cousin Rupert, should be given to him as a remembrance.

From only one thing Cheriton's whole heart shrank, and that was from
forcing Jack to listen to parting words.  He had several things to say
to him, but he put them off; he could not bear the sight of Jack's
grief, and in this case could not trust his own self-command.  It was
the one parting that he could not yet face.

With Alvar it was different.  In one way, he had with him much less
sense of self-restraint, and in another, things lay between them that
must be cleared away.

This state of things lasted for several days, and all the while the hard
struggle between the remedies and the disease went on, a hand-to-hand
fight indeed, and Cheriton's strength ebbed away, till he knew that he
dared wait no longer for what he wanted to say.

It had been raining, but the yellow, level light of an October evening
was shining through the thinly-clothed boughs of the great elms, and
lighting up the russet and amber of the woodlands; while the purple
hills beyond were still heavy with clouds--clouds receding more and more
as the clear blue spread over the sky.

As Cheriton listened to the noise of the rooks, and looked out at the
sunset, he recalled the awe and strange curiosity, the clinging to the
dear home, to the dearer love which had made life so dear; the attempted
submission, the dim trust that death, if it came, must be well for him,
with which he had first said to himself that he must die; remembered,
too, other hours, when, in weakness of body and anguish of soul, he had
found it still harder to believe that it must be well for him that he
should live.  The passionate joy, the passionate sorrow, had passed
away, or rather, had been offered at last as a willing sacrifice, and
the loving kindly spirit had found sweetness in life without the first,
while much anxiety, much trying disappointment, had succeeded to the
second.  Now there came over him a wonderful peace, as he summoned his
strength for what he had in his mind to say.

With a look and sign he called Alvar over to him; and Jack, who was
sitting apart in the window, watched and listened.

"Alvar," he said, taking hold of his hand, "I see it clearly."  And the
intent, wide-open eyes, seemed to Jack as if they could indeed look
beyond the mists of life.  "We were wrong to wish you like ourselves.
Forgive me.  You--yourself--can be as good for Oakby as--I--yes--as my
father.  But there is only one way for us both--to love God with all our
hearts, and our neighbour as ourself.  To take pains about it for His
sake.  That is the truth, Alvar--the truth as I know it!"

"Ah!" cried Alvar, "but I do not love my neighbours! that _is_ the
difference.  But I love you, oh! my brother--my brother!  Is it religion
that will make me what you wish?  I will be religious; I will no longer
be careless; but oh, _caro--caro mio_! if I lose you, I have no heart to
change.  I have grieved you.  Oh! what punishment is there for me?  I
would do penance like Manoel.  What can I do?"

Alvar flung himself on his knees, the tears started in his eyes and
choked his voice.  At last he was stirred to the depths, and instincts
deeper than teaching or training came to the surface.

"You know Who bore our sins for us," said Cheriton, "because He loved
us."

How much, or how little, Alvar knew, after his formal teaching, and
careless, unmoved youth, would be hard to say; probably Cheriton could
not conceive how little; but face, voice, and manner had moved Alvar's
soul to a great conviction, however little he realised what Cheriton had
meant to say.

He called on that name which his brothers had never heard from his lips
before, save in some careless foreign oath.

"I swear," he said--"I swear that I will be a religious man, and that I
will be a good squire to Oakby.  I make it a vow if my brother
recovers--"

"Oh, hush--hush!" interposed Cheriton.  "If not--we shall meet again--
and you _must_ be good to Oakby.  Let me know you will!"

"I will!  I will!" cried Alvar, completely carried away.  He would have
thrown his arms round Cheriton, but Jack interposed--

"Alvar!  Alvar! this is enough.  He _must_ not have this agitation."
Alvar yielded, but, too much overcome to control himself, rushed out of
the room.

As he hurried blindly down the stairs he met Mr Ellesmere, and with a
sudden impulse caught hold of his hand.

"Mr Ellesmere, you are a priest.  I have sworn to him that I will
change, that I will be religious.  I give myself up to you.  I will do
whatever you wish.  I swear to obey you--"

"Gently, gently!" said the astonished vicar.  "You are too much agitated
to know what you say.  Come with me into the study; tell me what has
passed.  Believe me that I desire to help you in this great sorrow."

Alvar followed him, and as Mr Ellesmere talked and listened to him, he
began to hope that, in spite of an ignorance which he had hitherto had
neither the conscientious desire nor the intellectual curiosity to
diminish, in spite of blind impulses rashly followed, the will for good
that must bring a blessing had at last been awakened, even in this
strange longing for vow and penance, an instinct that seemed inherited
without the faith from which it had sprung.  Alvar was in the mood which
might have made his Spanish ancestors vow all their worldly goods away
and think to buy a blessing, and to listen to him without unduly
checking his vehemence, and yet to lead his thoughts upward, was a hard
task; since Alvar was left subdued and quieted, and yet with an inkling
of what had been really wrong with him, it may be inferred that Mr
Ellesmere succeeded better than he had hoped to do.

Meanwhile, to poor Jack, every word of Cheriton's had thrilled with a
thousand meanings.  He knew that silence was imperative, and did not
mean to say another word; but Cherry felt his hand tremble as he gave
him some water, and looked up at him with a smile.

"You will have Gipsy soon," he whispered, "my own dear boy."

Jack pressed his hand.  "To take pains for His sake."  With his whole
heart Jack recognised this key-note.  Nothing else would do.  Even Gipsy
could not by herself give his life the full joy of a sufficient purpose;
but as he thought of all the currents through which he must steer, and
knew too well which way they often set, he shuddered.

"If I had not you to talk everything out with!" he said, inadequately
enough.

"Oh, Jack, if I can't help you still, it will be because the work is
done better.  I don't fancy now that everything hangs on me.  I am
content."

And Jack felt that the memory of that perfect contentment could never
pass away from him.

CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

MY LADY AND MY QUEEN.

  "Let all be well--be well."

"So, Queenie, you see there will soon be an end of it all!"

The speaker was Miss Seyton.  She stood looking down at her niece with
an odd quiver in lip and voice, even while her tone was not altogether a
sad one.  Virginia sat in dismayed silence; she had been arranging a
bunch of autumn leaves and berries to brighten up the dark old
drawing-room, which bore many a trace of her presence in bits of
needlework and tokens of pleasant occupation, though the house was
duller and quieter than ever now that Mr Seyton's rapidly failing
health gave him the habits of an invalid, and that both the boys were
absent.  Miss Seyton looked more faded than ever, but she was kind and
friendly with Virginia, even though she could not divest her voice of
its sarcastic tone as she continued,--

"You are a person of consequence, and you ought to understand the state
of the case."

"That Roland means to sell Elderthwaite?" said Virginia, slowly.

"Yes.  We can't afford, Virginia, to make pretences to each other, and
we know that it will come before many months.  Then what are we to do?"

However much it went against Virginia to discuss the results of her
father's death, she felt that there was some truth in her aunt's words,
that they ought to be prepared for so great a change; and she had also
learnt to practise great directness in dealing with Miss Seyton.

"I have sometimes supposed that you would live at the vicarage, Aunt
Julia," she said.

"Not if I have a penny to live on elsewhere," replied Miss Seyton.
"James and I were never friends, and I'll not see the place in the hands
of strangers.  Besides, I've had a thirty years' imprisonment, and I'd
like my freedom.  Look here--when I was a girl I was just like the
others; I loved pleasure as well as they did, and had it too.  I was as
daring as ever a Seyton of them all.  However, I meant to marry and live
in the south, and I was quite good enough, my dear, for the man I was
engaged to.  Then he quarrelled with James, and that began the breach.
I didn't marry, as you may see, and when _my_ father died my portion
couldn't be paid off without a sale, and things were in such a mess I
had no power to claim it.  So here I stayed, and, let me tell you, I've
stopped up a good many holes, and been quite as great a blessing to my
family as they deserved."

Virginia laughed in spite of herself, though her answer was grave.

"Yes, I know that, now."

"But _now_, d'ye see, Virginia, I'm tired of it.  I'm only fifty, and
it'll go hard if I don't get some pickings out of the sale of the
estate.  Do you know, we have some old cousins living in Bath, a Ruth
and Virginia of another generation?  I'm inclined to think I should like
to go into society--to `come out,' in fact, in a smart cap, and to live
within reach of a circulating library and scandal.  That's my view, and
that's what I mean to aim at when the time comes.  What do you say?"

"I should like the boys to have a home somehow," said Virginia.
"Perhaps that would make some place into home for me."

"I don't wish to desert you," said Miss Seyton, "but candidly I think we
should be happier apart.  We shouldn't amuse each other if we lived
together.  But won't James want to keep you?"

"I don't know," said Virginia.  "I am afraid it would not be a good plan
for the boys to go there for holidays--if this place is to be given up.
But oh, Aunt Julia, how _can_ we tell what will happen?  I can't make
plans; I don't feel as if it mattered; and Roland seems to want to cast
us all off."

"Yes; he's a selfish fellow.  But, my dear, just consider how much worse
it would be, if we had to _take him on_.  Thank your stars that he means
to stay in India.  And as for the place, with its paint and its fences
and its broken glass, let it go.  We're better free of it.  He is right,
there.  The worst part of the story is poor old James who must stay."

"He can't forgive Roland."

"No--you see, Queenie, it's wits that tell.--James hasn't brains, and he
has never thought of cutting himself loose.  He couldn't live away from
Elderthwaite, any more than he could live without his skin.  But when he
hasn't the family dignity to keep him up, I'm afraid he'll go down."

"He is so wretched now about Cheriton Lester."

"Yes.  He is the only Lester worth fretting for.  As for that prig Jack,
I'd like to see him make a fool of himself.  I'd like to see him `exceed
his allowance considerably.'  There's a pretty way of putting it for
you!"

With which parting shot Miss Seyton went away, and Virginia sat
sorrowful and perplexed, and with something of the family bitterness in
her heart.  Life was very hard to her.  Her love for each one of her
relations was a triumph over difficulties, and the sweet spontaneous
passion that had promised to make her happy had been in its turn
triumphed over by the uncongeniality of her lover.  The softness of
early youth and of her previous training had been replaced by something
of the strength that expects little and makes the best of a bad
business, but at a risk, the risk of the sense that evil is inevitable.
Virginia was always outwardly gentle; but she had been thrown back on
herself till she had gained a self-reliance that the Seyton blood in her
was ready to exaggerate into scorn.  For even Ruth was slow in answering
her letters, and never wrote as in her girlish days.

As she sat musing a note was brought to her.  It was from Mrs Lester,
containing Cheriton's imperative request that she would come and see
him.  Would she come at once?

Virginia's cheeks flamed as if the missive had been from Alvar himself.
She got up and put the note in her pocket, dressed herself, and leaving
word with one of the servants that she meant to take a walk, set forth
without delay for Oakby, walking through the plantations, across the
fell, and through the fir-wood, as she had scarcely ever done alone
before.  She remembered going as Alvar's betrothed to ask for Cheriton
during his first illness, and Alvar's absorption and indifference to her
presence.  Now that would be natural enough.  Still she could scarcely
think of Cheriton in her dread and wonder as to who might greet her, as
she rang at the bell, and asked for Mrs Lester, who came forward into
the hall to receive her.

"My dear," she said, "I do not know what Cherry wants with you; but we
can't refuse him.  Will you come at once?"

Virginia was afraid to ask questions, she followed the old lady's slow
progress up the dusky staircase, and into Cheriton's room.

The daylight was now fast fading, but its last rays fell on Cheriton's
wide-opened eyes and flushed face.

He took hold of her hand, and said with extreme difficulty,--

"Thank you--my love to the parson.  Ask Jack what I meant to do--and
then tell him.  Tell him--I say--he must reform Elderthwaite for my
sake.  He must do it himself.  I know he can.  Don't let him _be_ one of
the abuses.  Don't get into despair."  He paused for breath, and then
with an accent and smile that through all the suffering had something of
his old playful daring, "I _mustn't_ say anything else to you, but that
will come right too."

"I will tell him," faltered Virginia, awed, bewildered, and yet with a
strange sense of encouragement; she let herself be drawn away, heard
Mrs Lester say that it was too dark for her to go home alone, she
should send Jack with her to get a breath of air, while Cherry was
suffering less.  He was so fully himself it was hard to believe in the
danger, but the attacks of coughing were most exhausting, and he could
hardly take anything, she was very hopeless, and "my grandson"--this
always meant Alvar--thought badly of him.  "Come in here, my dear, and I
will fetch Jack."

As Mrs Lester put her into the library, and left her there alone in the
dusk, the tears that she had hitherto restrained broke forth.

She thought that she was crying for Cheriton, but all her own sad
future, all her yearnings for the lost past, mingled together, and she
wept the more because, she knew not how, Cheriton had given her a sort
of indefinite comfort.

She did not hear the study door open, nor see Alvar come through the
room, nor did he see her in the dim light, till he heard her sobbing.

"Who is it?" he exclaimed, becoming aware of a woman's figure near the
fire.  She started up, and with her first movement he knew her.  "_Mi
dona_!" he cried in his astonishment.

"Cherry asked to see me," she faltered.  "He is so ill--I could not help
crying."

"Ah, no!" said Alvar; "and _I_ may not comfort you!"

But he came close and stood by her side, and she saw that he too was
greatly agitated.  She wanted to speak about Cheriton, but she could not
command her voice, nor think of a word to say.

Suddenly Alvar turned and clasped her hand.

"Ah!" he cried, with such vehemence as she had never seen in him before.
"My heart is breaking!  Can you never forgive?  I love you; I have
always loved you.  When you sent me from you, it was my pride that let
me submit!  In my own country I knew that for your sake I was English--
English altogether.  I am not worthy, but I repent.  I have confessed.
Help me, and I will be a good Englishman!  For I have now no other
country, and I cannot live without you.  Give me your hand once more!"

Alvar poured forth this torrent with such burning eagerness, such
abandonment of entreaty, that he did not see how weak were the defences
he was attacking.

"Indeed," she whispered, "it was not _that_--not that I thought you
were--not good--I thought you did not love me--much."

"I did--I do love you--I love you as my life!  But you?"

"I have always loved you.  I could not change," she said, with something
of her old gentle dignity.  "But--I have been very unhappy all this
time."

"Ah, now you shall be happy!  Yet, what do I say?  How can _I_ make any
one happy!  I who have grieved and vexed my brother with my unkindness--
nay, caused his illness even--I cannot make you happy!" said Alvar, in a
tone of real self-blame.

"I think you can!" said Virginia softly; but the words had hardly passed
her lips when she started away from him, as Jack came into the room.

"Granny says I am to walk home with you, Virginia.  What, Alvar, are you
here? they have been looking for you.  Do go to Cherry--he is so
restless now!"

"I will go," said Alvar.  "Take care of her, Jack, for I must not come.
Farewell, _mi regna_!"  He took both her hands and kissed them, then put
her towards Jack, and hurried away; while poor Virginia glanced in much
confusion at her escort; but he was too much absorbed in grief and
anxiety to take in what had passed, or to heed it if he did.  He walked
on by her side without speaking; till she, trying to collect her
thoughts, and actuated by a very unnecessary fear of what he would think
of her silence, bethought herself to ask him what Cheriton wished her to
tell her uncle.

"He said I was to ask you?"

"He wanted to take orders, and be curate of Elderthwaite," said Jack.
"You know London did not suit him, and the work was too hard, and life
at home was so worrying for him.  Besides, he hated being idle.  He
thought that he could manage to get things right at Elderthwaite, and he
said that he should like it, and be happy there."

Jack spoke in a dull, heavy voice, his use of the past tense marking how
completely he regarded the possibilities of which he spoke as at an end;
and something in the tone showing that the proposal had been distasteful
to him.

"Would Cherry have given himself for _that_?" exclaimed Virginia.

"Yes," said Jack.  "I didn't like it.  It seemed a great sacrifice, and
besides--he was not half strong enough."

"But did he care so much?  I don't mean that I can't understand his
wishing to take orders--but just for _Elderthwaite_!"

"He is very fond of Elderthwaite.  And he said that it was only because
he fancied that he could be more useful there than any one else; and
because he has money, that he was justified in proposing it--because he
was ill, I mean."

"Indeed, he could do good there!  He always did!"

"You know," said Jack, rather more freely, "that Cherry has a notion
that when a person seems specially marked out for any situation, he is
likely, in the long run, to be the best person for it.  He says you
can't destroy evil without good.  That people _fit_ their own places,
and so he believes that Elderthwaite would do better, in the long run,
if Parson Seyton could be encouraged to make things a little more
ship-shape, than it would with a new man, if he were driven away.  You
see he gets fond of people.  _I_ don't see it; I think it's fanciful.
All reformers begin with a clean sweep.  Then Cherry said valuables were
sometimes found in the dust; nobody would reform if you ran at them with
a besom.  Of course _he_ could persuade people; at any rate, he always
thought he could."

"He thinks the sun is more powerful than the north wind," said Virginia.
"I am sure Uncle James would have given in to him."

"So he said.  But he was mistaken in one case, and then he blamed
himself, and I suppose--I suppose--he has conquered at last!  Any way,
Virginia, you were to tell your uncle what he wished to do."

"I will tell him.  He is breaking his heart about Cherry now."

"I suppose so.  I can't come in.  Good-bye; we'll send over in the
morning."  Jack turned away.  Cheriton's kindly theories might seem
fanciful to him; but he would never have the chance of knocking them on
the head any more.  He was so miserable that even the thought of Gipsy
only made him feel her absence, and wonder if so bright a creature could
continue to care for him, when he had grown into a stern, hard-hearted
person, without any power of softening.  Poor Jack's hard heart was very
heavy, and beat so fast as he came up to the house, that he could hardly
ask if there was any change.

CHAPTER FORTY SIX.

MY DEAR!

  "But still be a woman to you."

Early the next morning Virginia received a letter from Alvar, written at
intervals during his night watch in Cheriton's room.  Perhaps it was the
first real communication she had ever received from him, and in it he
made a sort of confession of his shortcomings, as far as he himself
understood them.  He told her that he had been "revengeful" towards his
father, and that in the affair of the Flemings he had allowed "the
passion of jealousy" to overcome him.  He recounted his promise to
Cheriton, and with the simplicity that was at once so strange and so
engaging a part of his character, assured her "that he was no longer
indifferent to religion," but would follow the instructions of Mr
Ellesmere.  "I think," he added, "that this will give you pleasure."

There was a great deal about Cheriton, Alvar declaring that he could not
_now_ despair of anything, but that he should have written to _her_ at
such a time, and about _himself_, was enough to mark the change in his
former relations with Virginia.

The change in himself she was ready to take for granted.  All must be
right where there was such humility and power of repentance; and perhaps
she did him more justice than even Cheriton could have done.  For Alvar
had undergone no change of intellectual conviction, that element was
wanting, both in his former carelessness, and in his present acceptance
of a new obligation, and in the excitement of feeling under which he was
acting love and remorse towards his brother had the largest share.  But
he had recognised himself as erring, and intended to amend, and such a
resolution must bring a blessing.  But as his brothers would only have
altered any settled line of conduct, after infinite heart-searchings and
perplexities, they could not have conceived how simple the matter
appeared to Alvar, when he had once made up his mind that he could
possibly have been in fault.

Virginia had said nothing the night before of her changed prospects; she
knew that the Lesters could have no thought to spare for her; but when
her aunt suggested sending over to inquire, she could not pretend
ignorance, and her blush and few words of explanation were enough for
Miss Seyton.

"Ah, well," she said, "you might have saved yourselves a great deal of
trouble if you had found this out a little sooner."

"We cannot speak of it just now, auntie."

"No; but you say, don't you, that everything happens for good?  Now this
good has come out of Cherry's illness; perhaps he'll get well."

After these characteristic congratulations Virginia took her way to the
vicarage.  She found her uncle in his "study," a room which was
sufficiently well lined with ancient and orthodox divinity to merit the
name, though the highly respectable volumes, descended from some
unwontedly learned Seyton vicar, did not often see the light.

The parson was looking out of the window down the road.

"Ah, how d'ye do, my dear?" he said, in unwontedly quiet accents.  "I
was just looking out, for I sent over to Oakby to inquire how that poor
lad is to-day."

"We have heard," said Virginia.  "I don't think he is any worse.  And,
uncle, I saw him yesterday; he sent for me to give me a message for
you."

"A message!  Well, my lassie, what did he say?"

Virginia came and stood behind the chair in which her uncle had seated
himself.

"He wished me to tell you that he had been making up his mind to take
orders, and that he loved Elderthwaite so much that he meant to ask you
if you would let him come and be your curate, that you and he together
might set things right here.  But he said that now that will never be.
And he sent his love, and I was to ask you to reform Elderthwaite for
his sake.  He said, `Tell him I know he can, better than any one, if he
will.'"

Virginia paused, as her voice faltered.

"Why, bless my soul," cried the parson, "what does the lad mean?  Why,
I'm one of the old abuses myself."

"Yes--yes--uncle.  But that is what he said.  You must not be one of the
abuses.  He said you might do it all, if you would, because you love the
place more than any one can."

There was a silence.  The parson sat still.

"He is a good lad--he always was a good lad," he said, after a pause.
"And did he think to come here, to spend his time over a parcel of
scamps and drunkards?  Eh!  I shouldn't have believed it.  He had heard
that they want me to have a curate, I suppose," he added, quickly.

"Oh, yes, uncle; but he was afraid that you would not like it."

"Look here, my lassie, I like the old methody in his proper place; but
I'll have no psalm-singers in my church.  I'm a sound Churchman, and I
don't approve of it."

Virginia, finding an objection to psalm-singing in church rather
difficult to reply to, was silent, and her uncle went on rapidly,--

"I hate the whole tribe of your _earnest_, hard-working, `self-devoted'
young fellows--find it pay, and bring them into the society of
gentlemen--write letters in trumpery newspapers, and despise their
elders.  Newspapers have nothing to do with religion.  The Prayer-book's
the Prayer-book, and a paper's a paper.  Give me _Bell's Life_.  Bless
you, my dear, do you think I keep my eyes shut?"

"You are not just, uncle," said Virginia.  "But Cheriton would not have
been like that."

Mr Seyton's twinkling eyes softened, and the angry resistance to a
higher standard, that mingled with the half-shrewd, half-scornful malice
of his words, subsided, as he said, in quite a different tone,--

"I would have had Cheriton for my curate, my dear."

He said no more, and Virginia could not press him; and when he spoke it
was only to question her about Cheriton's condition.

But when she went away he took his hat and walked out through his bit of
garden towards the church, and sitting down on the low stone wall,
looked over the churchyard, where a fine growth of nettles half
smothered the broken gravestones; and as he sat there he thought of his
past life, of his dissipated, godless youth, of the sense of desperation
with which, to pay his debts, he had "gone into the Church," of the
horrible evils he had never tried to check, and yet of the certain
kindliness he had entertained towards his own people.  How he had defied
censure and resisted example till his fellow-clergy looked askance at
him, and though he might affect to despise them, he did not like their
contempt.  He thought of the family crash that was coming, and he was
keen enough to know how he would be regarded by new comers--"as an old
abuse."  And he thought of Cheriton's faith in him, and the project
inspired as much by love for him as by the zeal for reform.  He thought
of the first time he had read the service, the sense of incongruity, of
shame-facedness; how a sort of accustomedness had grown upon him till he
had felt himself a parson after a sort, and how, on a low level, he had
in a way adapted his life to the requirements of his profession.

Then he thought of the way Cheriton had proposed such a step to himself,
and, without entering into any of those higher feelings which might have
repelled rather than attracted him, he contrasted with his his own the
unselfishness of the motive that prompted Cheriton.

He made no resolutions, drew no conclusions, but unconsciously he was
looking at life from a new standpoint.

Virginia did not see Alvar, nor hear directly from him all that day; and
but for the letter in her possession, her interview with him would have
seemed like a dream.

The next morning was sunny and still.  She stood on the steps at the
garden door, looking over the lawn, now glistening with thick autumn
dew.  The sky was clear and blue, the wild overgrown shrubberies that
shut out the landscape were tinted with brown and gold, an "autumn
blackbird" sang low and sweet.  All was so peaceful that it seemed as if
ill news could not break in upon it; yet, as the old church clock chimed
the hour, and through the still air that of Oakby sounded in the
distance, Virginia started lest it should be the beginning of the knell.
As the sound of the clock died away, the gate in the shrubbery clicked,
a quick step sounded, and Alvar came up the path.

Virginia could wait no longer.  She ran to meet him, gathering hope from
his face as she approached.

"Yes, he is better.  There is hope now; but all yesterday he grew weaker
every moment.  I thought he would die."

Alvar's voice trembled, and he spoke with more abandonment than was
usual with him; he looked very pale, and had evidently gone through
much.  He added details of their suspense, and of Cherry's condition,
"as if," Virginia thought, "he _wanted_ to talk to me."

"You are very tired," she said.  "Come in and have some breakfast.
Auntie and I always have it here."

She took him into the drawing-room, where there was a little table near
the fire, and made him sit down, while she waited on him, and poured out
the tea.  She did not feel a bit afraid of him now, and, spite of his
punctilious gallantry, he submitted to her attentions without any of the
forms and ceremonies with which he had previously made a distance
between them.

"You have been up all night.  I think you ought to have gone to bed,
instead of coming here," she said, sure of a contradiction.

"It is a great deal better than going to sleep to see you, my dear!"
said Alvar, quaintly; and Virginia thought she liked the homely English
better than the magnificent Spanish in which he had been wont to term
her his lady and his queen.

"I am getting very hungry, Virginia," said Miss Seyton, opening the
door.  "May I come in to breakfast?"

"Oh, but that is shocking!" cried Alvar, springing up and advancing to
meet her.  "Miss Seyton, I have brought good news of my brother.  But I
must go home now, he may want me.  Perhaps if he is still better I can
come again by-and-by."

"Only think," said Virginia, as she went with him through the garden on
her way to the vicarage to tell the good news to her uncle, "only think,
when the clock struck just before you came, I was afraid it was the
beginning of the knell!"

"Ah, I trust we shall not hear that terrible sound now!" said Alvar,
gravely.

And yet before that day closed the old bell of Elderthwaite church was
tolling, startling every one with the sudden conviction that that
morning's hope had proved delusory.  It frightened Mr Ellesmere as he
came home from a distant part of his parish, though a moment's
reflection showed him that his own church tower was silent.  What could
be the matter elsewhere?

There was a rush of people to the lodge gates at Oakby, to be met there
by eager questions as to what was the matter at Elderthwaite?

"It must be old Mr Seyton, took off on a sudden," they said.  "Well, so
long as Mr Cherry was getting better--"

But before curiosity could take any one down the lane to verify this
opinion, up came the parson's man from Elderthwaite with a letter for
Mr Lester, and the news that a telegram had been received two hours
before at the hall, to say that Mr Roland had been killed out
tiger-hunting in India.

There was more consternation than grief.  Roland had not felt nor
inspired affection in his own family; in the neighbourhood his character
was regarded with disapproval, and his sarcastic tongue remembered with
dislike.  He had intensified all the worst characteristics of the
family.

Virginia had scarcely ever seen him; his father and uncle had so
resented his determination to sell the estate, though it had perhaps
been the wisest resolve he had ever come to, that he had been to them as
an enemy.

But still the chief sense in all their minds was that the definite, if
distasteful, prospect, to which they had been beginning to look forward,
had melted away, and that all the future was chaos.

Dick, suddenly became a person of importance, and now within a month or
two of coming of age, was sent for from London.  He had improved in
looks and manner, and seemed duly impressed with the gravity of the
situation.  He was told what Roland's intentions had been, and that his
father's life could not be prolonged for many months; listened to Mr
Seyton's faltering and confused explanations of the state of affairs,
and to his uncle's more vigorous, but not much more lucid, denunciation
of it.  Dick said not a word in reply, he asked a few questions, and at
last went down into the drawing-room where his sister was sitting alone.
He walked over to the window and stood looking out of it.

"Virginia," he said, "_I_ don't wish to sell Elderthwaite."

"Do you think it can be helped, Dick?" she said, eagerly.

"I don't know.  _I'm_ not in debt like Roland--that is, anything to
speak of.  I don't want to wipe the family out of the county for good
and all.  Why couldn't the place be let for a term of years?"

"But--it is so much out of repair!"

"Yes," said Dick, shrewdly, "but it's an awfully gentlemanly-looking
place yet.  Fellows who have made a fortune in trade want to get their
position settled before they _buy_ an estate, or to make a little more
money first.  I heard Mr Stanforth talking about some old place in the
south where there were fine pictures, which had been let in that way.
Well then, of course, some sacrifices must be made; something was done
with the money Cheriton Lester paid for Uplands.  Then there's all that
part out Ashrigg way--Cuddiwell, you know, and High Ashrigg.  Those two
farms have always paid rent.  If they were sold--they're handy either
for the Lesters or the Hubbards--we might put things to rights a little
in that way."

"I am _glad_ you care about Elderthwaite, Dick," said Virginia,
impetuously.

"Oh, as to that," returned Dick, "I don't know that I go in for any
sentiment about it.  Of course, I couldn't live here for years to come.
I'm not quite such a fool as I was once, Virginia, thanks to you and
some others I could name; and I should go on as I am for the present.
But it makes a difference in a man's position to have a place like this
in the background, even if it is tumbling to pieces.  A girl with money
might think twice whether she wouldn't be Mrs Seyton of Elderthwaite."

"Oh, Dick! don't marry a girl for her money," said Virginia, half
laughing; but she could never have imagined herself listening with so
much respect to Dick's sentiments.

In truth, want of sense and insight had never been the cause of the
Seytons' errors; but just as in some men a warm heart and tender
conscience fail to make head against violent passion, so that they feel
their sins while they commit them, so in the Seytons a shrewd _mental_
sense of their own folly had always co-existed with the headstrong
self-will which had overridden it.  Dick had a less passionate nature,
and was, moreover, less at the mercy of circumstances than if he had
been brought up as the heir, and his friends in London were sensible
people.

"Perhaps," said his sister, "you might ask Alvar what he thinks of it."

"Alvar?  Oh, ho! is that come to pass again?  So, you've made it up.
Well, it is a good thing that you have some one to take care of you,"
said Dick, sententiously.

Alvar was taken into counsel, and the results of much discussion and
consideration may be briefly told.

Dick's plans were hailed by his father and uncle as an escape from a
prospect, which had made death doubly bitter to the one, and the rest of
life distasteful to the other.  And an unexpected purchaser of the two
farms was found in Judge Cheriton, who had been talking for some time of
buying a small property which might be a home for him when his public
career was over, and a holiday retreat for the present.  There was a
farm-house at High Ashrigg which might be improved into a modern antique
of the style at present admired.  The two farms were therefore purchased
at once of Mr Seyton himself, and with his full consent and approval.

The rest of Dick's plan could not be carried out in his father's
lifetime, but it was agreed to by Mr Seyton as the best thing his heir
could do.

All this time Cheriton was mending slowly, but with much uncertainty as
to how far his recovery would be complete.  He very soon detected the
turn that Alvar's affairs had taken, much to his satisfaction; but Jack,
guessing that the news of Roland's death would be a shock to him, it was
not till he had begun to insist that his own state must not again delay
Alvar's marriage, that he heard the story of which it might have been
said "that nothing in Roland Seyton's life became him like the leaving
of it;" for it proved that he had met his death by an act of
considerable bravery, which had saved the lives of others of the party.
Perhaps Cheriton, unable to be untender to the memory of his boyish
ideal, gave him a truer regret than any of his own family.

He listened with great interest to all the future arrangements, and was
the first to suggest that his old acquaintance, Mr Wilson's son, was to
be married to a young lady of fortune, and might form a possible future
tenant for Elderthwaite.

As for the rest, even setting her deep mourning aside, Virginia would
not hear of marrying while her father grew daily weaker; nor was
Cheriton at all equal to the inevitable excitement and difficulty of
arranging plans for the winter which must have ensued.

It ended, as soon as he was able to bear the journey, in his going to
Torquay with Alvar, to stay for the present.  Mrs Lester went back to
Ashrigg, and Oakby was once more left solitary.

CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.

THE YEOMANRY MEETING.

  "All's right with the world."

It was a bright morning just before Whitsuntide in the ensuing year,
when the bluebells were still adorning the Elderthwaite plantations, and
the ivy on the church was fresh with young green shoots.  Once more
Parson Seyton sat on the churchyard wall watching his nettles, which
now, however, were falling beneath the scythe, while a space had
previously been carefully cleared and trimmed round a handsome
cross-marked stone of grey granite, which showed the spot where Mr
Seyton had rested, now for nearly three months.  Suddenly a step came up
the lane and through the gate, and the parson sprang up joyfully as
Cheriton Lester came towards him.

"Well, my boy--well?  So here you are, back at last.  And how are you?"

"Oh, I am very well--quite well now," said Cheriton.

And indeed, though the figure was still very slight, the hand he held
eagerly out still over-white and thin, the colour too bright and
variable for perfect health and strength, he looked full of life and
spirits, overjoyed, as he said, to find himself at home again.

"Oh, yes, Alvar is here, of course, and we started together; but we met
Virginia in the lane, and then--I thought I would come and find you.
How lovely it all looks!"

"Ah, more to your taste than Mentone?"

Cherry laughed.  "My taste was always a prejudiced one," he said; "but
Mr Stanforth and I were very jolly at Mentone, especially when Jack
joined us.  How did Alvar get on up here by himself at Christmas?"

"He got on very well _here_--if by here you mean Elderthwaite.  As for
Oakby, he attended all the dinners and suppers and meetings and
institutions like a hero.  But I suspect he and his tenants still look
on one another from a respectful distance."

"All, they won't be able to resist him next week, he'll look so
picturesque in his yeomanry uniform.  We shall have a grand meeting."

"The volunteers keep the ground, I understand?" said the parson.

"Yes, myself included.  There doesn't seem to be much for them to do,
and they wished me to come very much.  Then, you know, we have had a
grand explanation about Jack's affairs, and granny and Nettie have got
Gipsy with them; so Sir John found out that the pictures wanted Mr
Stanforth, and he is coming down.  Then Jack couldn't resist, and
managed to get a couple of days' leave.  So the only thing to wish for
is fine weather.  But I am not forgetting," continued Cherry, in a
different tone, "that _here_ you have all had a good deal of trouble."

"Well," said the parson, "it was a great break up and turn out; and I'm
bound to own your brother was a great help in getting through it.
Julia, she is gone off to Bath, and writes as if she liked it; and I was
very glad that Virginia should stay here with me for the present.  Mr
Wilson has taken the place for his son, and it is being put in order.
But all in the old style, you know, Cherry," said the parson, with a
wink, "no vulgar modernisms."

"Fred Wilson's a very nice fellow," said Cherry.

He had sat down on the wall by the parson, and now, after a pause, began
abruptly,--

"I saw Dr A--again as we came through London.  He says that I am much
better; indeed, there is nothing absolutely the matter with me.  I
haven't got disease of the lungs, though of course there is a tendency
to it, and I shall always be liable to bad attacks of cold.  He says I
should be better for some definite occupation, partly out of doors.  He
does not think London would suit me, but this sort of bracing air might
do better than a softer one, as I was born here, except perhaps for a
month or two in the winter.  I _may_ get much stronger, he thinks, or--
But it was a very good account to get, wasn't it?"

"Yes, my lad, I'm glad to hear it--as far as it goes," said the parson,
looking intently at him.  Cheriton looked away with deepening colour,
and said, rather formally,--

"I thought that I ought to tell you all this, sir, because I have never
yet felt justified in referring to what I asked Virginia to tell you
last year.  But my wishes remain the same, and if you think with such
doubtful health I could be of any service to you or to the place--I--I
should like to try it."

"Why, if you have your health, you might do better than be my curate,"
said the parson.

"But I won't exemplify a certain proverb!  In short," said Cherry,
looking up and speaking in a more natural manner, "if you'll have me,
parson, I'll come."

"And suppose I say I won't have you?"

"Then I should have to ask the bishop to find me another curacy," said
Cheriton.  "I have quite made up my mind; even if I could follow the
career I once looked forward to, which is impossible, I should not wish
it.  I've had some trouble, only _one_ thing has made it bearable.  I
should, like to help others to find that out.  But I want to help my old
neighbours most.  I made up my mind with this place chiefly in my
thoughts.  I care for it, for many reasons.  But nothing now would
induce me to change my intention of taking orders if I have the health
to carry it out."

An odd sort of struggle was evident in the old parson's weather-beaten
face.

"They'd work him to death in some fine church at a watering-place, with
music and sermons, and all sorts of services," he muttered to himself.

"Yes; I don't think that that would suit me as well as Elderthwaite."

"Then, my lad," said the parson, with some dignity, "I will have you.
And, Cherry, I--I _understand_ you.  I know that you have stood by me,
ever since you dusted out the old church for the bishop."

"That's just what I want to do now!" said Cherry.  "Thank you; you have
made me very happy.  There are Alvar and Queenie," and with a hearty
squeeze of the hand he started up and went to meet them.  The parson
remained behind, and as Cheriton moved away from him he lifted his rusty
old felt hat for a moment, and said emphatically,--

"I'm an old sinner!"

The morning of the Yeomanry Review dawned fair and bright, and brought
crowds together to the wide stretch of moorland above Ashrigg, where the
review was to take place.  Whitsuntide was a time to make holiday, and
half Oakby and Elderthwaite was there to see.  The only drawback was
that Virginia's mourning was still too deep to admit of her sharing in
so large a county gathering, for which she cared the less, as Alvar, in
his blue and silver, mounted on the best horse in the Oakby stables, and
looking as splendid as a knight of romance, rode round by the vicarage
to show himself to her.

But Parson Seyton was present in a new black coat and a very conspicuous
white tie, mounted, he assured Cheriton, to do credit to his future
curate.

Cheriton himself appeared in the grey and green to which he had once
been enthusiastically devoted, and which was now worn for the last time
before he began his preparation for the autumn ordination.  In the
meantime he could stay at Oakby, while Uplands was being made habitable,
and could begin to feel his way among the Elderthwaite people, while
Virginia was still there to help him, for she and Alvar meant to be
married quietly in the summer.

But the happiest of all happy creatures on that bright morning, was
perhaps Gipsy Stanforth, as she sat with Nettie and Sir John and Lady
Hubbard, while Jack was on horseback near at hand.  The two young ladies
excited much interest, for it was Miss Lester's first appearance on
leaving school, and people had begun to say that she was a great beauty,
as she sat perfectly dressed and perfectly behaved, her handsome face
with its pure colouring and fine outline as impassive "as if," thought
Dick Seyton, "she had never seen a hay-loft in her life."

Gipsy, on the other hand, could not help sparkling and beaming at every
pleasant sight and sound.  This was Jack's world, and it was such a
splendid one, and every one was so kind to her; for Nettie, though she
secretly thought Gipsy rather too clever, knew how to behave to her
brother's betrothed.  Gipsy could not keep her tongue still in her happy
exultation, and very amusing were her remarks and comments, till, if
people came up to the carriage to look at Miss Lester, they frequently
remained to talk to Miss Stanforth.

Her father was in another carriage with the rest of the Hubbard party,
enjoying the brilliant scene perhaps more than any one present, since no
quaint incident, and no picturesque combination escaped his keen and
kindly notice.

"Nettie looks like coming out sheep-farming in Australia in that swell
get-up, doesn't she?" said Bob to Jack, as they had drawn off to a
little distance together.

"She doesn't look like it," said Jack; "but if she set her mind to that
or to anything else, she would do it."

"Oh," said Bob, "it's all nonsense.  I sha'n't marry out there.  I
shouldn't like a colonial girl; but I shall come home in a few years'
time, and look about me.  Nettie will be married before then, I hope, in
a proper way.  I hope you'll all be very careful about her
acquaintances."

"Well, we'll try," said Jack, smiling.  "She will have Virginia to go
about with."

"Yes, I like Virginia.  She'll do Alvar good," said Bob,
condescendingly.  "And I like Gipsy too, Jack; she's very jolly."

"Thank you," said Jack, "she is."

"I suppose you'll be a master in a school somewhere when I get back, and
Cherry will be a parson.  Well, he'll make a very good one."

"Yes," said Jack, shortly.  He did not like discussions as to Cherry's
future; it hung, in his eyes, by too slender a thread.

"Good heavens!" cried Bob, suddenly, "look there!"

Sir John Hubbard had left his carriage, and his young horses, which had
been already excited by the numbers and the noise; frightened by some
sudden chance movement among the crowd, no one could tell what--the bark
of a dog, the sudden crossing of an old woman with a tray of
ginger-beer--shied so violently that the coachman, who was holding the
reins loosely, was thrown off the box, the horses dashed forward down
the hillside, towards an abrupt descent and break in the ground, at the
bottom of which ran a little stony brook.

Jack and Bob were far behind, and even as they spurred forward they felt
it would be all in vain; while Nettie, springing on to the front seat,
tried to climb up and reach the reins; but they swung far beyond her
reach.  She looked on and saw all the danger, saw the rough descent
ahead, heard the cries of horror on all sides, saw too, one of the
yeomanry officers gallop at headlong speed towards them, dash in between
them and the bank, and seize the reins.  A violent jolt and jerk, as the
horses were thrown back on their haunches, and she recognised Alvar, as
he was flung off his own horse and down the bank by the shock and the
struggle, as other hands forced the carriage back from its deadly peril,
and Jack, dashing up, his face white as marble, dismounted and caught
the trembling Gipsy in his arms.

Nettie heeded none of them; she sprang out and down the bank, and in a
moment was kneeling by Alvar's side, who lay senseless.  She had lifted
his head and unfastened his collar, before her brothers were beside her.

"No, no; I'll do it," she cried, pushing Jack's hand aside.

"Hush, Nettie, nonsense; let us lift him up.  Get some water."

There were a few moments of exceeding terror, how few they never could
believe, as they carried Alvar to smooth ground, and tried to revive
him, before he opened his eyes, looked round, and after a minute or two,
said faintly,--

"What has happened?  Ah--I remember," trying to sit up.  "Are they
safe?"

"Yes--yes--but you?  Oh, Alvar, are you killed?" cried Nettie.

"No, no," said Alvar, "my arm is hurt a little.  I think it is
sprained--it is nothing.  Do not let Cherry be frightened."

"I never thought of him!" said Jack.  "Oh, he won't know anything of
it--he is not here.  You are sure your arm is not broken?"

"No.  Ah, there he is!  Help me up, Jack!  Cherry, it is nothing."

Cheriton, who had been considerately summoned with the news of a
dreadful accident, but they hoped Mr Lester was not killed, was
speechless with mingled terror and relief.  He knelt down by Alvar's
side, and took his hand, hardly caring to ask a question as to how the
accident had come about; but now Sir John Hubbard's voice broke in,--

"I never saw such a splendid thing in my life, never--the greatest
gallantry and presence of mind!  A moment later and they would have been
over!  My dear fellow, I owe you more than I can say--Lady Hubbard, and
your own sister, and Jack's pretty little Gipsy--my horses starting off
in that way.  I can never thank you--never.  I couldn't have believed
it.  And I thought it was all over with you!"

"I am not seriously hurt, sir," said Alvar, sitting up, "and there was
nothing else to be done; it is not worth your thanks."

"Is not it?" cried Mr Stanforth, unable to restrain himself.  "More
thanks than can be spoken."

"I'll accept them all for him," said Cheriton, looking up, his face full
of triumph; while Nettie, hitherto steady, broke down, to her own
disgust, into sobs.

"I'm not frightened--no!" she said, as Gipsy tried to soothe her.  "But
I thought he wasn't worth anything--and _he is_!"

"Come," said Sir John, "we must not have any more heroics, and the hero
must go home and rest--to Ashrigg, I mean.  And you too, Cherry, go and
look after him; here's your grandmother's carriage, while I see if my
horses are fit to be trusted with the ladies."

Alvar was still dizzy and shaken, though he said that the hurt to his
arm was a trifle, and now stood up and inquired after his horse, which
had been caught by a bystander, and was unhurt.  Sir John's coachman had
also escaped with some severe bruises; and there was a general move.
Jack, seeing Gipsy with her father, followed his brothers, anxious about
them both, and overflowing with gratitude towards Alvar for his
darling's safety.

But as they turned to drive away they were obliged to cross the ground,
and there rose from all sides such a thundering shout as threatened a
repetition of the former danger; yeomanry, volunteers, and spectators,
all joining in such an outburst of enthusiasm as had never echoed over
Ashrigg Moors before.  Their driver pulled up in the centre of the field
with the obvious information,--

"They're cheering, sir; it's for you."  Alvar stood up, with his hand on
Jack's shoulder, and bowed with a grace and self-possession from which
his pale face and hastily extemporised sling did not detract, and which
his brothers--agitated, and ashamed of their agitation, were far from
rivalling, as Jack desired the driver to "get on quick," and Cheriton
bent down his head, quivering in every nerve under the wonderful
influence of that unanimous shout.

Some hours later, as Alvar lay on a sofa at Ashrigg, resting in
preparation for the public dinner at Hazelby, for which every one had
declared he _must_ be well enough, the doctor included, he looked at
Cherry, who sat near him, and said, with a smile,--"_Cherito mio_, I
think they would all have grieved for me--the twins and all--if I had
been killed.  They would have been sorry for me--now."

"Don't--don't talk of it.  Of course they would," said Cherry, with a
shudder.

"Ah!  I fear you will dream of it, as you used of the mountain at Ronda.
It will hurt you more than it has hurt me."

"No," said Cherry; "but if we had lost you!  We can hardly believe yet
that we have you safe."

"But," said Alvar, with unusual persistency, "then _you_ would have been
the squire, after all.  Ah!  I am cruel to hurt you; but, Cheriton,
_once_ they would not have grieved."

Cheriton could not command an answer, and Alvar quitted the subject; but
the unmistakable affection showed to him at last by his brothers and
sister healed the old wounds as nothing else would have done.

No one would own that the fright and agitation demanded a quiet evening,
and the ladies all repaired to Hazelby, to sit in the gallery at the
Town-hall to hear the speeches, Mrs Lester, who had happily not been
present in the morning, accompanying them; and Jack, going to fetch
Virginia, and after overwhelming her with the story of the alarm,
assuring her that she _must_ come and hear Alvar's health drunk.  Sir
John Hubbard intended it should be done.

And so, when the usual toasts were over, old Sir John rose, and, full of
compunction for past prejudices, and of gratitude for what Alvar had
done for him, said that this was really the first public occasion they
had had of welcoming Mr Lester among them; spoke of his father's
merits, of the difficulty a stranger might have in accommodating himself
to their north-country fashions; touched lightly and gracefully on the
reason of Alvar's recent absence, and their pleasure in welcoming back
again "one long known and loved," and how much was owing to the elder
brother's care; hinted how Alvar had won "one of the best of their
county prizes;" and then, out of the fulness of his heart, thanked him
for his heroic behaviour in saving the life of Lady Hubbard, and himself
from an irreparable loss, and, moreover, a frightful sense of
responsibility.

Then Alvar's health was drunk with all the honours, and it was long
before the enthusiasm subsided sufficiently to allow him to reply.

He stood up, in his unusual height and dignity, and said, slowly and
simply, "I thank you _much_, gentlemen.  Sir John Hubbard need not thank
me for rescuing my sister, and the betrothed of my brother.  I was at
hand, and of the danger I did not think."  ("No, no; of course not,"
cried a voice.) "I have been a stranger, but I have no other country but
England now, and it is my wish to be your friend and your neighbour, as
my father was.  I will endeavour to fill his place to my tenants; but I
am ignorant, and have little skill.  I think it is not perhaps permitted
to me to name the one who will most help me in future, one of whom I am
all unworthy.  But there is another, who has always given me love, whom
I love most dearly, as I think you do also.  My brother Cheriton has
taught me how to be an English squire."

And among all those who cheered Alvar's speech, the voice that was
raised the loudest was Edward Fleming's.

The next morning Cheriton went alone along the path from Oakby to
Elderthwaite.  His great wish was granted; his father's place would be
worthily filled.  Alvar would never be a nobody in the county again,
would never seem again out of place as their head.  All old sores were
healing, all were turning out well--how much better than he could ever
have hoped!

Even for hopeless Elderthwaite things looked hopeful; and Cheriton's
quick and kindly thoughts turned to his share in the work of mending
them.  "If I may," he thought, "but if not, I think I shall never fear
for any one or any place again."

Too much, perhaps, for the impetuous spirit to promise for itself; but
come what might, those who loved Cheriton Lester had little cause to
fear for the real welfare of one who loved them so well and looked
upward so steadily.

EPILOGUE.

"Mr Ellesmere!  I saw your name in the visitors' book.  So you are
taking a holiday in Switzerland?"

"Mr Stanforth!  Very glad to meet you.  You will put us up to all we
ought to see and admire.  Are you alone?"

"Yes; you know I have lost my travelling companion.  My next girl is
still in the schoolroom, and I think will never be so adventurous as
Gipsy."

"You have good accounts, I hope, of Mrs Jack, as we irreverently call
her."

"Excellent; she adores the boys, and the boys adore her; her letters are
very educational and aesthetic.  She has picked up more `art' as a
schoolmaster's wife than ever she learnt as an artist's daughter, and
could, doubtless, set me right on tones and colours."

"Cherry told me that Jack had taken to the new culture."

"Yes, he was much amused at the development produced by
house-furnishing.  But double firsts have a right to vagaries.  But tell
me something of the Oakby world.  It is a very long time since I have
been there, and one does not see much of people at a wedding, though I
thought Cheriton looking very well."

"Yes, he is fairly well, _very_ useful, and, I think, quite content.
Alvar has settled into his position, and fills it well.  He is indignant
if he is supposed to be ignorant of anything English; and his sweet
graceful wife guides him as much as `Fanny' did his father thirty years
ago.  His one trouble is that little Gerald is as dark as all his
Spanish ancestors, and even Frances is like the Seytons, but that he can
forgive."

"Does she promise to rival her aunt?  What a beautiful creature Miss
Lester is!"

"Splendid! and still Miss Lester, which is rather a trouble to her
grandmother.  Whether she will ever be Lady Milford--or whether--Any
way, Nettie can keep her own counsel."

"And now, tell me about Elderthwaite.  Has Cheriton justified his
experiment?"

"Yes, I think I may say that he has.  He has done a great deal.  No one
else could have done so much good, and certainly no one would have done
so little harm."

"And the old parson is resigned to improvements?"

"Yes, but there have been fewer external changes than you would expect,
or than Cherry would wish if he were his own master, or even if he could
depend on himself.  But of course his health has weighted him heavily,
and he cannot promise perfect regularity in services or arrangements."

"I wonder he can manage at all."

"Well, I think on the whole his health _has_ improved, and he is well
enough off to contrive things--has a horse and waggonette for bad
weather; and his house is near the church, and he has built on a great
room to it, and fitted it up with books and games, and he makes a sort
of club of it for the boys and young men.  His sitting-room opens into
it, and he has classes and talks, and gets them to come and see him one
by one.  If he cannot do one thing he does another.  And they have
evening services in the summer, and early ones when it is possible.  I
think the sort of resolute way in which Cheriton has recognised the need
of special care of himself, if he is to be useful, and carries it out,
is one of the most remarkable things about him.  Many young men might
have killed themselves with hard work, and many would forget the danger
when well and in good spirits, but he has recognised the limitations set
to him, and bows to them."

"Yes, and he does not offend his vicar."

"Rarely, he has never failed to recognise his right to respect--never
allowed the Wilsons, who are ardent and enthusiastic, to force anything
on him.  And there's a great change.  I don't mean that the old fellow
is cut after any modern pattern yet; but he is considerably more
decorous, and sometimes there's a sort of humility about him in
admitting his shortcomings that is very touching.  Cherry is the very
light of his eyes."

"And how does Cherry hit it off with the modern element?"

"Well, there I think his position has been a great advantage to him;
they are a little afraid of him.  But he gets on admirably with them,
and you know they have improved the church immensely this last year, and
what is more to the point, perhaps, it is filled with good
congregations."

"Is Cheriton a fine preacher?"

"Well, his people like him.  I have rarely heard him; he is very
difficult to get.  Yes, I like his sermons; but he has not much voice,
you see, and his manner is very quiet.  He has not the sort of vehement
eloquence you might have expected.  I made some comment once to him, and
he looked at me, and said, `I daren't get eager and tire myself.'  I saw
then how little strength he had to work with."

"Poor fellow!  But this life--does it satisfy him?  Is he happy in it?"

"He is just as merry and full of fun as ever.  He has a wonderful
capacity for taking an interest in every one and everything; and though
Alvar does not depend on him in the old exclusive way, he is most tender
and careful of him, and Cherry delights in the children.  I _think_
Jack's marriage _was_ rather a wrench; those two do cling together so
closely, and Jack was a great deal with him; but still there are grand
plans for the holidays, and he is very fond of your daughter."

"I don't think that marriage will loosen the tie."

"No; and he is much too unselfish really to regret it.  Then all his
village boys bring him pets; he says everything makes a link from a
horse to a hedgehog.  And my curates and the Ashrigg ones run after him,
and think it a privilege to take a service for him; and he has done one
rather feather-pated fellow, I know, a world of good."

"That I can believe."

"Yes; for, after all, Mr Stanforth, it is not his being a Lester of
Oakby, nor a man of means, nor his wonderful tact, nor even his great
charm of manner in itself that counterbalances his weak health and
frequent absences, or makes a life spent among rather uncongenial
elements sufficient to him.  It is that he has the root of the matter in
him as very few have.  What he does and says may be less in quantity,
but it is infinitely above in quality the ordinary work of his
profession.  He looks deep and he looks high, and men feel it.  He has
come through much tribulation, and--well, Mr Stanforth, the dragon
slayers have their reward."

"Yes, one must touch a high note in thinking of him."

"So high, that one fears `to mar by earthly praise,' one who I verily
believe is as true a saint, as full of love and zeal.--Well, being so,
as I truly think, he has what some holy souls have lacked, the gift of a
gracious manner and a most sympathetic nature; and if a few more years
and a little more experience could be granted to him, I believe he will
have a great spiritual influence, if not wide, deep.  Any way he will
leave in one place the memory of a pure and holy life, and will lead
others to follow the Master he loves so well."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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