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Title: Alice Lorraine - A Tale of the South Downs
Author: Blackmore, R. D. (Richard Doddridge)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            ALICE LORRAINE:
                     _A TALE OF THE SOUTH DOWNS_.

                                  BY
                     RICHARD DODDRIDGE BLACKMORE,
           AUTHOR OF “THE MAID OF SKER,” “LORNA DOONE,” ETC.

                οὕτως ἔχει σοι ταῦτα, καὶ δείξεις τάχα,
                εἴτ’ εὐγενὴς πέφυκας, εἴτ’ ἐσθλῶν κακή.
                                                    SOPH. _Ant._

                      _NEW AND CHEAPER EDITION._

                                LONDON:
                    SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON & COMPANY,
                              _LIMITED_,
                         St. Dunstan’s House,
                    FETTER LANE, FLEET STREET, E.C.

                                 1893.

                                LONDON:
             PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
                  STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.

                                  To
                  PROFESSOR OWEN, C.B., F.R.S., &c.,
                     WITH THE WRITER’S GRATITUDE,
                   FOR WORDS OF TRUE ENCOURAGEMENT,
                      AND MANY ACTS OF KINDNESS,
                               This Work
                      MOST HEARTILY IS DEDICATED

                            _April, 1875._



CONTENTS.


     CHAPTER                                       PAGE
          I.--ALL IN THE DOWNS                        1
         II.--COOMBE LORRAINE                         3
        III.--LINEAGE AND LINEAMENTS                  5
         IV.--FATHER AND FAVOURITE                    7
          V.--THE LEGEND OF THE ASTROLOGER           11
         VI.--THE LEGEND CONTINUED                   14
        VII.--THE LEGEND CONCLUDED                   17
       VIII.--ASTROLOGICAL FORECAST                  20
         IX.--THE LEGACY OF THE ASTROLOGER           24
          X.--A BOY AND A DONKEY                     27
         XI.--CHAMBER PRACTICE                       35
        XII.--WITH THE COSTERMONGERS                 45
       XIII.--TO THE CHERRY-ORCHARDS                 49
        XIV.--BEAUTIES OF THE COUNTRY                55
         XV.--OH, RUDDIER THAN THE CHERRY!           59
        XVI.--OH, SWEETER THAN THE BERRY!            66
       XVII.--VERY SHY THINGS                        72
      XVIII.--THE KEY OF THE GATE                    78
        XIX.--FOUR YOUNG LADIES                      84
         XX.--A RECTOR OF THE OLDEN STYLE            92
        XXI.--A NOTABLE LADY                         96
       XXII.--A MALIGNANT CASE                      100
      XXIII.--THE BAITER BAITED                     105
       XXIV.--A FATHERLY SUGGESTION                 109
        XXV.--THE WELL OF THE SIBYL                 112
       XXVI.--AN OPPORTUNE ENVOY                    117
      XXVII.--A GOOD PARSON’S HOLIDAY               121
     XXVIII.--NOT TO BE RESISTED                    126
       XXIX.--ABSURD SURDS                          130
        XXX.--OUR LAD STEENIE                       135
       XXXI.--IN A MARCHING REGIMENT                139
      XXXII.--PUBLIC AND PRIVATE OPINION            144
     XXXIII.--RAGS AND BONES                        149
      XXXIV.--UNDER DEADLY FIRE                     157
       XXXV.--HOW TO FRY NO PANCAKES                161
      XXXVI.--LADY COKE UPON LITTLETON              166
     XXXVII.--ACHES _v._ ACRES                      172
    XXXVIII.--IN THE DEADLY BREACH                  177
      XXXIX.--SHERRY SACK                           183
         XL.--BENEATH BRIGHT EYES                   191
        XLI.--DONNAS PRAY AND PRACTISE              195
       XLII.--AN UNWELCOME ESCORT                   200
      XLIII.--IN AMONG THE BIG-WIGS                 209
       XLIV.--HOW TO TAKE BAD TIDINGS               216
        XLV.--INNOCENCE IN NO SENSE                 220
       XLVI.--HARD RIDING AND HARD READING          226
      XLVII.--TRY TO THINK THE BEST OF ME           234
     XLVIII.--SOMETHING WORTH KISSING               239
       XLIX.--A DANGEROUS COMMISSION                245
          L.--STERLING AND STRIKING AFFECTION       250
         LI.--EMPTY LOCKERS                         259
        LII.--BE NO MORE OFFICER OF MINE            264
       LIII.--FAREWELL, ALL YOU SPANISH LADIES      268
        LIV.--GOING UP THE TREE                     275
         LV.--THE WOEBURN                           281
        LVI.--GOING DOWN THE HILL                   290
       LVII.--THE PLEDGE OF A LIFE                  297
      LVIII.--A HERO’S RETURN                       304
        LIX.--THE GRAVE OF THE ASTROLOGER           312
         LX.--COURTLY MANNERS                       316
        LXI.--A SAMPLE FROM KENT                    322
       LXII.--A FAMILY ARRANGEMENT                  327
      LXIII.--BETTER THAN THE DOCTORS               332
       LXIV.--IMPENDING DARKNESS                    335
        LXV.--A FINE CHRISTMAS SERMON               341
       LXVI.--COMING DOWN IN EARNEST                344
      LXVII.--THE LAST CHANCE LOST                  348
     LXVIII.--THE DEATH-BOURNE                      353
       LXIX.--BOTTLER BEATS THE ELEMENTS            357
        LXX.--OH, HARO! HARO! HARO!                 361
       LXXI.--AN ARGUMENT REFUTED                   367
      LXXII.--ON LETHE’S WHARF                      370
     LXXIII.--POLLY’S DOLL                          374
      LXXIV.--FROM HADES’ GATES                     377
       LXXV.--SOMETHING LIKE A LEGACY               380
      LXXVI.--SCIENTIFIC SOLUTION                   385
     LXXVII.--HER HEART IS HIS                      387
    LXXVIII.--THE LAST WORD COMES FROM BONNY        390



ALICE LORRAINE.



CHAPTER I.

ALL IN THE DOWNS.


Westward of that old town Steyning, and near Washington and Wiston, the
lover of an English landscape may find much to dwell upon. The best way
to enjoy it is to follow the path along the meadows, underneath the
inland rampart of the Sussex hills. Here is pasture rich enough for
the daintiest sheep to dream upon; tones of varied green in stripes
(by order of the farmer), trees as for a portrait grouped, with the
folding hills behind, and light and shadow making love in play to one
another. Also, in the breaks of meadow and the footpath bendings,
stiles where love is made in earnest, at the proper time of year, with
the dark-browed hills imposing everlasting constancy.

Any man here, however sore he may be from the road of life, after
sitting awhile and gazing, finds the good will of his younger days
revive with a wider capacity. Though he hold no commune with the
heights so far above him, neither with the trees that stand in quiet
audience soothingly, nor even with the flowers still as bright as
in his childhood, yet to himself he must say something--better said
in silence. Into his mind, and heart, and soul, without any painful
knowledge, or the noisy trouble of thinking, pure content with his
native land and its claim on his love are entering. The power of the
earth is round him with its lavish gifts of life,--bounty from the lap
of beauty, and that cultivated glory which no other land has earned.

Instead of panting to rush abroad and be lost among jagged obstacles,
rather let one stay within a very easy reach of home, and spare an
hour to saunter gently down this meadow path. Here in a broad bold gap
of hedge, with bushes inclined to heal the breach, and mallow-leaves
hiding the scar of chalk, here is a stile of no high pretence, and
comfortable to gaze from. For hath it not a preface of planks,
constructed with deep anatomical knowledge, and delicate study of
maiden decorum? And lo! in spite of the planks--as if to show what
human nature is--in the body of the stile itself, towards the end of
the third bar down, are two considerable nicks, where the short-legged
children from the village have a sad habit of coming to think. Here,
with their fingers in their mouths, they sit and muse, and scrape their
heels, and stare at one another, broadly taking estimate of life. Then
with a push and scream, the scramble and the rush down hill begin,
ending (as all troubles should) in a brisk pull-up of laughter.

However, it might be too much to say that the cleverest child beneath
the hills, or even the man with the licence to sell tea, coffee, snuff,
and tobacco, who now comes looking after them, finds any conscious
pleasure, or feels quickening influence from the scene. To them it is
but a spread of meadows under a long curve of hill, green and mixed
with trees down here, brown and spotted with furze up there; to the
children a play-ground; to the men a farm, requiring repairs and a good
bit of manure.

So it is: and yet with even those who think no more of it, the place,
if not the scenery, has its aftermath of influence. In later times,
when sickness, absence, or the loss of sight debars them, men will
feel a deep impression of a thing to long for. To be longed for with
a yearning stronger than mere admiration, or the painter’s taste can
form. For he, whatever pleasure rises at the beauty of the scene,
loses it by thinking of it; even as the joy of all things dies in the
enjoying.

But to those who there were born (and never thought about it),
in the days of age or ailment, or of better fortune even in a
brighter climate, how at the sound of an ancient name, or glimpse
of faint resemblance, or even on some turn of thought untraced and
unaccountable--again the hills and valleys spread, to aged vision truer
than they were to youthful eyesight; again the trees are rustling in
the wind as they used to rustle; again the sheep climb up the brown
turf in their snowy zigzag. A thousand winks of childhood widen into
one clear dream of age.



CHAPTER II.

COOMBE LORRAINE.


“How came that old house up there?” is generally the first question put
by a Londoner to his Southdown friend leading him through the lowland
path. “It must have a noble view; but what a position, and what an
aspect!”

“The house has been there long enough to get used to it,” is his
host’s reply; “and it is not built, as they are where you live, of the
substance of a hat.”

That large old-fashioned house, which looks as if it had been much
larger, stands just beneath the crest of a long-backed hill in a
deep embrasure. Although it stands so high, and sees much less of
the sun than the polestar, it is not quite so weather-beaten as a
stranger would suppose. It has some little protection, and a definite
outline for its grounds, because it was built on an old and extensive
settlement of the chalk; a thing unheeded in early times, but now very
popular and attractive, under the name of “landslip.” Of these there
are a good many still to be traced on the sides of the Sussex hills,
caused (as the learned say) by the shifting of the green-sand, or silt,
which generally underlies the more stable chalk. Few, however, of them
are so strongly marked and bold as this one, which is known as “Coombe
Lorraine.” It is no mere depression or irregular subsidence, but a
sheer vertical drop, which shows as if a broad slice had been cut out
from the chine to the base of the highland.

Here, in the time of William Rufus, Roland de Lorraine, having a
grant from him, or from the Conqueror, and trusting the soil to
slide no more, or ignorant that it had ever slidden, built himself
a dwelling-place to keep a look-out on his property. This abode, no
doubt, was fitted for warlike domesticity, being founded in the fine
old times when every gentleman was bound to build himself a castle.

It may have been that a little jealousy of his friend, De Braose (who
had taken a larger grant of land, although he was of newer race, and
had killed fewer men than Sir Roland), led this enterprising founder
to set up his tower so high. At any rate, he settled his Penates so
commandingly, that if Bramber Castle had been in sight, he might have
looked down its chimneys as freely as into his villeins’ sheepcotes.
Bramber Castle, however, happened to be round the corner.

This good knight’s end, according to the tradition of the family, was
not so thoroughly peaceful as a life of war should earn. One gentle
autumnal evening, Sir Roland and his friend and neighbour, William de
Braose, were riding home to a quiet supper, both in excellent temper
and spirits, and pleasant contempt of the country. The harvest-moon was
rising over breadths of corn in grant to them, and sheep and cattle
tended by their villeins, once the owners. Each congratulated the other
upon tranquil seizin, and the goodwill of the neighbourhood; when
suddenly their way was stopped by a score of heavy Englishmen.

These, in their clumsy manner, sued no favour, nor even justice; only
to be trodden down with fairness and show of reason.

“Ye shall be trodden all alike,” De Braose shouted fiercely, having
learned a good deal of English from the place he lived in; “clods are
made to be trodden down. Out of my road, or I draw my sword!”

The men turned from him to Sir Roland, who was known to be kind of
heart.

“Ye do the wrong thing to meet me thus,” he answered in his utmost
English; “the thing, that is to say I hearken; but not with this
violence.”

Speaking thus he spurred his horse, and the best of the men made way
for him. But one of them had an arrow straining on the cord, with
intent to shoot--as he said to the priest at the gallows--De Braose,
and him only. As the two knights galloped off, he let his arrow, in
the waning of the light, fly after them; and it was so strongly sped
that it pierced back-harness, and passed through the reins of Roland de
Lorraine. Thus he died; and his descendants like to tell the story.

It is not true, although maintained by descendants of De Braose, that
he was the man that was shot, and the knight who ran away Sir Roland.
The pious duties rendered by the five brave monks from Fécamp were for
the soul of Sir Roland, as surely as the arrow was for the body of
De Braose. But after eight hundred years almost, let the benefit go
between them.

Whichever way this may have chanced, in an age of unsettled principles,
sure it is that the good knight died, either then or afterwards. Also,
that a man was hanged at a spot still shown in his behalf, and that
he felt it such an outrage on his sense of justice, after missing his
proper shot, that even now he is often seen, when the harvest-moon is
lonely, straining a long bow at something, but most careful not to
shoot.

These, however, are mere legends, wherewith we have nought to do. And
it would have been as well to leave them in their quiet slumber, if it
could have been shown without them how the house was built up there.
Also one may fairly fancy that a sweet and gallant knight may have
found his own vague pleasure in a fine and ample view. Regarding which
matter we are perhaps a little too hard on our ancestors; presuming
that they never owned such eyes as ours for “scenery,” because they
knew the large impossibility of describing it.



CHAPTER III.

LINEAGE AND LINEAMENTS.


Whether his fathers felt, or failed to see, the beauty beneath their
eyes, the owner of this house and land, at the time we have to speak
of, deserved and had the true respect of all who dwelled below him.

It is often said that no direct descendant, bred from sire to son,
still exists (or at any rate can show that he has right to exist) from
any knight, or even cook, known to have come with the Conqueror. The
question is one of delicacy, and therefore of deep feeling. But it must
be owned, in candour, upon almost every side, that there are people,
here and there, able to show something. The present Sir Roland Lorraine
could show as much in this behalf as any other man in England. Here was
the name, and here the place; and here that more fugitive being, man,
still belonging to both of them.

Whether could be shown or not the strict red line of lineage, Sir
Roland Lorraine was the very last man likely to assert it. He had his
own opinions on that all-important subject, and his own little touches
of feeling when the matter came into bearing. His pride was of so
large a nature, that he seldom could be proud. He had his pleasant
vein of humour about almost everything, wholly free from scoffing, and
most sensitive of its limit. Also, although he laid no claim to any
extensive learning, or especially accurate scholarship, his reading had
been various; and his knowledge of the classics had not been allowed to
fade away into misty memory.

Inasmuch as he added to these resources the further recommendation of
a fine appearance and gentle manners, good position and fair estates,
it may be supposed that Sir Roland was in strong demand among his
neighbours for all social purposes. He, however, through no petty
feeling or small exclusiveness, but from his own taste and likings,
kept himself more and more at home, and in quietude, as he grew older.
So that ere he turned sixty years, the owner of Coombe Lorraine had
ceased to appear at any county gatherings, or even at the hospitable
meetings of the neighbourhood.

His dinner-party consisted only of himself and his daughter Alice.
His wife had been dead for many years. His mother, Lady Valeria, was
still alive and very active, and having just numbered fourscore years,
had attained the right of her own way. By right or wrong, she had
always contrived to enjoy that special easement; and even now, though
she lived apart, little could be done without her in the household
management.

Hilary, Sir Roland’s only son, was now at the Temple, eating his way
to the bar, or feeding for some other mischief; and Alice, the only
daughter living, was the baronet’s favourite companion, and his darling.

Now, whether from purity of descent, or special mode of selection,
or from living so long on a hill with northern consequences, or
from some other cause, to be extracted by philosophers from bestial
analogies--anyhow, one thing is certain, these Lorraines were not,
and had not for a long time been, at all like the rest of the world
around them. It was not pride of race that made them unambitious, and
well content, and difficult to get at. Neither was it any other ill
affection to mankind. They liked a good man, when they saw him; and
naturally so much the more, as it became harder to find him. Also they
were very kind to all the poor people around them, and kept well in
with the Church, and did whatever else is comely. But long before Sir
Roland’s time all Sussex knew, and was content to know, that, as a
general rule, “those Lorraines went nowhere.”

Neighbours who were conscious of what we must now begin to call
“co-operative origin” felt that though themselves could claim justices
of the peace, high sheriffs, and knights of the shire among their
kin, yet they could not quite leap over that romantic bar of ages
which is so deterrent, perhaps because it is so shadowy. Neither did
they greatly care to press their company upon people so different
from themselves, and so unlikely to admire them. But if any one asked
where lay the root of the difference, which so long had marked the old
family on the hill, perhaps no one (least of all any of the Lorraines
themselves) could have given the proper answer. Plenty of other folk
there were who held aloof from public life. Simplicity, kindness, and
chivalry might be found, by a man with an active horse, in other places
also: even a feeling, as nearly akin as our nature admits to contempt
of money, at that time went on somewhere. How, then, differed these
Lorraines from other people of equal rank and like habits with them?

Men who differ from their fellows seem, by some law of nature, to
resent and disclaim the difference. Those who are proud, and glory in
their variance from the common type, seldom vary much from it. So that
in the year of grace 1811, the mighty comet that scared the world,
spreading its tail over good and bad, overhung no house less conscious
of anything under its roof peculiar, than the house of Coombe Lorraine.

With these Lorraines there had been a tradition (ripened, as traditions
ripen, into a small religion), that a certain sequence of Christian
names must be observed, whenever allowed by Providence, in the
heritage. These names in right order were Roland, Hilary, and Roger;
and the family had long believed, and so had all their tenants, that
a certain sequence of character, and the events which depend upon
character, might be expected to coincide with the succession of these
names. The Rolands were always kindly proud, fond of home and of their
own people, lovers of a quiet life, and rather deep than hot of heart.
A Hilary, the next of race, was prone to the opposite extremes, though
still of the same root-fibre. Sir Hilary was always showy, affable,
and romantic, eager to do something great, pleased to give pleasure to
everybody, and leaving his children to count the cost. After him there
ought to arise a Roger, the saviour of the race; beginning to count
pence in his cradle, and growing a yard in common-sense for every inch
of his stature, frowning at every idea that was not either of land or
money, and weighing himself and his bride, and most of his principles,
by troy-weight.



CHAPTER IV.

FATHER AND FAVOURITE.


Upon a very important day (as it proved to be, in his little world),
the 18th of June, 1811, Sir Roland Lorraine had enjoyed his dinner with
his daughter Alice. In those days men were not content to feed in the
fashion of owls, or wild ducks, who have lain abed all day. In winter
or summer, at Coombe Lorraine, the dinner-bell rang at half-past four,
for people to dress; and again at five, for all to be down in the
drawing-room. And all were sure to be prompt enough; for the air of the
Southdown hills is hungry; and Nature knew what the demand would be,
before she supplied her best mutton there.

When the worthy old butler was gone at last, and the long dark room lay
silent, Alice ran up to her father’s side, to wish him, over a sip of
wine, the good old wish that sits so lightly on the lips of children.

“Darling papa, I wish you many happy, happy returns of the day, and
good health to enjoy them.”

Sir Roland was sixty years old that day; and being of a cheerful, even,
and pleasant, though shy temperament, he saw no reason why he should
not have all the bliss invoked on him. The one great element in that
happiness now was looking at him, undeniably present and determined to
remain so.

His quick glance told that he felt all this; but he was not wont to
show what he felt; and now he had no particular reason to feel more
than usual. Nevertheless he did so feel, without knowing any reason,
and turned his eyes away from hers, while he tried to answer lightly.

This would not do for his daughter Alice. She was now in that blush of
time, when everything is observed by maidens, but everything is not
hinted at. At least it used to be so then, and still is so in good
places. Therefore Alice thought a little, before she began to talk
again. The only trouble, to her knowledge, which her father had to deal
with, was the unstable and romantic character of young Hilary. This he
never discussed with her, nor even alluded to it; for that would have
been a breach of the law in all duly-entailed conservatism, that the
heir of the house, even though a fool, must have his folly kept sacred
from the smiles of inferior members. Now, Hilary was not at all a fool;
only a young man of large mind.

Knowing that her father had not any bad news of Hilary, from whom
he had received a very affectionate letter that morning, Alice was
sorely puzzled, but scarcely ventured to ask questions; for in this
savage island then, respect was shown and reverence felt by children
towards their parents; and she, although such a petted child, was full
of these fine sentiments. Also now in her seventeenth year, she knew
that she had outgrown the playful freedoms of the babyhood, but was
not yet established in the dignity of a maiden, much less the glory
of womanhood. So that her sunny smile was fading into the shadow of a
sigh, when instead of laying her pretty head on her father’s shoulder,
she brought the low chair and favourite cushion of the younger times,
and thence looked up at him, hoping fondly once more to be folded back
into the love of childhood.

Whatever Sir Roland’s trouble was, it did not engross his thoughts so
much as to make him neglect his favourite. He answered her wistful gaze
with a smile, which she knew to be quite genuine; and then he patted
her curly hair, in the old-fashioned way, and kissed her forehead.

“Lallie, you look so profoundly wise, I shall put you into caps after
all, in spite of your sighs, and tears, and sobs. A head so mature in
its wisdom must conform to the wisdom of the age.”

“Papa, they are such hideous things! and you hate them as much as I do.
And only the other day you said that even married people had no right
to make such frights of themselves.”

“Married people have a right to please one another only. A narrow view,
perhaps, of justice; but--however, that is different. Alice, you never
will attend when I try to teach you anything.”

Sir Roland broke off lamely thus, because his child was attending,
more than himself, to what he was talking of. Like other men, he was
sometimes given to exceed his meaning; but with his daughter he was
always very careful of his words, because she had lost her mother, and
none could ever make up the difference.

“Papa!” cried Alice, with that appealing stress upon the paternity
which only a pet child can throw, “you are not at all like yourself
to-day.”

“My dear, most people differ from themselves, with great advantage. But
you will never think that of me. Now let me know your opinion as to all
this matter, darling.”

Her father softened off his ending suddenly thus, because he saw the
young girl’s eyes begin to glisten, as if for tears, at his strange new
way.

“What matter, papa? The caps? Oh no; the way you are now behaving. Very
well then, are you quite sure you can bear to hear all you have done
amiss?”

“No, my dear, I am not at all sure. But I will try to endure your most
heartrending exaggerations.”

“Then, dear papa, you shall have it all. Only tell me when to stop. In
the first place, did you or did you not, refuse to have Hilary home for
your birthday, much as you knew that I wanted him? You confess that you
did. And your only reason was something you said about Trinity term,
sadly incomprehensible. In the next place, when I wanted you to have a
little change to-day, Uncle Struan for dinner, and Sir Remnant, and one
or two others----”

“My dear, how could I eat all these? Think of your Uncle Struan’s size.”

“Papa, you are only trying now to provoke me, because you cannot
answer. You know what I mean as well as I do, and perhaps a little
better. What I mean is, one or two of the very oldest friends and
relations to do what was nice, and help you to get on with your
birthday; but you said, with unusual ferocity, ‘Darling, I will have
none but you!’”

“Upon my word, I believe I did! How wonderfully women--at least I mean
how children--astonish one, by the way they touch the very tone of
utterance, after one has forgotten it.”

“I don’t know what you mean, papa. And your reflection seems to be
meant for yourself, as everything seems to be for at least a week, or I
might say----”

“Come, Lallie, come now, have some moderation.”

“Well, then, papa, for at least a fortnight. I will let you off with
that, though I know it is much too little. And when you have owned
to that, papa, what good reason can you give for behaving so to
me--me--me, as good a child as ever there was?”

“Can ‘me, me, me,’ after living through such a fortnight of
mortification--the real length of the period being less than four
hours, I believe--can she listen to a little story without any
excitement?”

“Oh, papa, a story, a story! That will make up for everything. What a
lovely pleasure! There is nothing I love half so much as listening to
old stories. I seem to be living my old age over, before I come to any
age. Papa, I will forgive you everything, if you tell me a story.”

“Alice, you are a little too bad. I know what a very good girl you are;
but still you ought to try to think. When you were only two years old,
you looked as if you were always thinking.”

“So I am now, papa; always thinking--how to please you, and do my
best.”

Sir Roland was beaten by this, because he knew the perfect truth of it.
Alice already thought too much about everything she could think of.
Her father knew how bad it is when the bright young time is clouded
over with unreasonable cares; and often he had sore misgivings, lest
he might be keeping his pet child too much alone. But she only laughed
whenever he offered to find her new companions, and said that her
cousins at the rectory were enough for her.

“If you please, papa,” she now broke in upon his thinking, “how long
will it be before you begin to tell me this beautiful story?”

“My own darling, I forgot; I was thinking of you, and not of any
trumpery stories. But this is the very day of all days to sift our
little mystery. You have often heard, of course, about our old
astrologer.”

“Of course I have, papa--of course! And with all my heart I love him.
Everything the shepherds tell me shows how thoroughly good he was.”

“Very well, then, all my story is about him, and his deeds.”

“Oh, papa, then do try, for once in your life, to be in a hurry. I do
love everything about him; and I have heard so many things.”

“No doubt you have, my dear; but perhaps of a somewhat fabulous order.
His mind, or his manners, or appearance, or at any rate something seems
to have left a lasting impression upon the simple folk hereabout.”

“Better than a pot of money; an old woman told me the other day it was
better than a pot of money for anybody to dream of him.”

“It would do them more good, no doubt. But I have not had a pinch of
snuff to-day. You have nearly broken me, Alice; but still you do allow
me one pinch, when I begin to tell you a good story.”

“Three, papa; you shall have three now, and you may take them all at
once, because you never told such a story, as I feel sure it is certain
to be, in all the whole course of your life before. Now come here,
where the sun is setting, so that I may watch the way you are telling
every word of it; and if I ask you any questions you must nod your
head, but never presume to answer one of them, unless you are sure
that it will go on without interrupting the story. Now, papa, no more
delay.”



CHAPTER V.

THE LEGEND OF THE ASTROLOGER.


Two hundred years before the day when Alice thus sat listening, an
ancestor of hers had been renowned in Anatolia. The most accomplished
and most learned prince in all Lesser Asia was Agasicles Syennesis,
descended from Mausolus (made immortal by his mausoleum), and from
that celebrated king, Syennesis of Cilicia. There had been, after both
these were dead, and much of their repute gone by, creditable and happy
marriages in and out their descendants, at a little over and a little
under, twenty-two centuries ago; and the best result and issue of all
these was now embodied in Prince Agasicles.

The prince was not a patron only, but also an eager student of the
more recondite arts and sciences then in cultivation. Especially he
had given his mind to chemistry (including alchemy), mineralogy, and
astrology. Devoting himself to these fine subjects, and many others,
he seems to have neglected anthropology; so that in his fiftieth year
he was but a lonesome bachelor. Troubled at this time of his life with
many expostulations--genuine on the part of his friends, and emphatic
on that of his relatives--he held a long interview with the stars, and
taking their advice exactly as they gave and meant it, married a wife
the next afternoon, and (so far as he could make out) the right one.
This turned out well. His wife went off on the occasion of her first
confinement, leaving him with a daughter, born A.D. 1590, and all women
pronounced her beautiful.

The prince now spent his leisure time in thought and calculation.
He had almost made his mind up that he was sure to have a son; and
here was his wife gone; and how could he risk his life again so? Upon
the whole, he made up his mind, that matters might have been worse,
although they ought to have been much better, and that he must thank
the stars, and not be too hard upon any one; and so he fell to at his
science again, and studied almost everything.

In that ancient corner of the world, old Caria, the fine original
Leleges looked up to the prince, and loved him warmly, and were ready
by night or day to serve him, or to rob him. They saw that now was the
finest chance (while he was looking at the stars, with no wife to look
out for him) for them to do their duty to their families by robbing
him; and this they did with honest comfort, and a sense of going home
in the proper way to go.

Prince Agasicles, growing older, felt these troubles more and more.
As a general rule, a man growing older has a more extensive knowledge
that he must be robbed of course; and yet he scarcely ever seems to
reconcile himself with maturing wisdom to the process. And so it
happened to this good prince; not that he cared so very much about
little trifles that might attract the eye of taste and the hand of
skill, but that he could not (even with the aid of all the stars) find
anything too valuable to be stolen. Hence, as his daughter, Artemise,
grew to the fulness of young beauty, he thought it wise to raise the
most substantial barrier he could build betwixt her and the outer world.

There happened to be in that neighbourhood then an active supply of
villains. Of this by no means singular fact the prince might well
assure himself, by casting his eyes down from the stars to the narrow
bosom of his mother earth. But whether thus or otherwise forewarned
of local mischief, the Carian prince took a very strong measure, and
even a sacrilegious one. In or about the year of our reckoning, 1606,
he walled off his daughter, and other goods, in a certain peninsula of
his own, clearly displayed in our maps, and as clearly forbidden to be
either trenched or walled by a Pythia skilled in trimeter tone, who
seems to have been a lady of exceptionally clear conservatism.

The prince, as the sage of the neighbourhood, knew all about this
prohibition, and that it was still in force, and must have acquired
twenty-fold power by the lapse of twenty centuries; and as the sea
had retreated a little during that short period, it was evident that
Jove had been consistent in the matter. “He never meant it for an
island, else he would have made it one.” Agasicles therefore felt
some doubt about the piety of his proceeding, retaining as he did, in
common with his neighbours, some respect for the classic gods. His
respect, however, for the stars was deeper, and these told him that
young Artemise was likely to be run away with by some bold adventurer.
A peninsula was the very thing to suit his purpose, and none could
be fairer or snugger than this of his own, the very site of ancient
Cnidos, whereof Venus once was queen.

Undeterred by this local affection, or even the warnings of Delphi,
the learned prince exerted himself, and by means of a tidy hedge of
paliure and aspalathus made the five stades of isthmus proof against
even thick-trousered gentlemen, _a fortiori_ against the natives all
unendowed with pantaloons. Neither might his fence be leaped by any of
the roving horsemen--Turks, Cilicians, Pamphylians, Karamanians, or
reavers from the chain of Taurus.

This being fixed to his satisfaction, with a couple of sentries at the
gate, and one at either end, prompt with matchlocks, and above all,
the young lady inside provided with many proverbs, Prince Agasicles
set forth on a visit to an Armenian sage, reputed to be as wise as
himself almost. With him he discussed Alhasen, Vitellio, and their own
contemporary, Kepler, and spent so many hours aloft, that on his return
to his native place he discovered his own little oversight. This was so
very simple that it required at least a sage and great philosopher to
commit it. The learned man appears to have forgotten that the sea is
navigable. So it chanced that a gay young Englishman, cruising about in
an armed speronera, among the Ægæan islands, and now in the Carpathian
sea, hunting after pirates, heard of this Eastern Cynosure, and her
walled seclusion. This of course was enough for him. Landing under the
promontory where the Cnidian Venus stood, he fell, and falling dragged
another, into the wild maze of love.

Mazed they seemed of course, and nearly mad no doubt to other folk. To
themselves, however, they were in a new world altogether, far above the
level and the intellect of the common world. Artemise forgot her pride,
her proverbs, and pretensions; she had lost her own way in the regions
of a higher life; and nothing to her was the same as it had been but
yesterday. Heart and soul, and height and depth, she trusted herself to
the Englishman, and even left her jewels.

Therefore they two launched their bark upon the unknown waters; the
damsel with her heart in tempest of the filial duties shattered, and
the fatherland cast off, yet for the main part anchored firmly on the
gallant fluke of love; the youth in a hurry to fight a giant, if it
would elevate him to her.

Artemise, with all her rashness, fared much better than she deserved
for leaving an adoring father the wrong side of the quickset hedge. The
bold young mariner happened to be a certain Hilary Lorraine, heir of
that old house or castle in the Southdown coombe. Possessed with the
adventurous spirit of his uncles, the famous Shirley brothers, he had
sailed with Raleigh, and made havoc here and there, and seen almost as
much of the world as was good for himself or it.

Enlarged by travel, he was enabled to suppress rude curiosity about
the wishes of the absent prince; and deferring to a better season
the pleasure of his acquaintance, he made all sail with the daughter
on board, as set forth already; and those two were made into one,
according to the rites of the old Greek Church, in the classic shades
of Ida. And to their dying day it never repented either of them--much.

When the prince returned, and found no daughter left to meet him, he
failed for a short time to display that self-command upon which he had
for years been wont to plume himself. But having improved his condition
of mind by a generous bastinado of servants, peasants, and matchlock
men, he found himself reasonably remounting into the sphere of pure
intellect. In a night or two an interesting conjunction of heavenly
bodies happened, and eclipsed this nebulous world of women.

In a few years’ time he began to get presents, eatable, drinkable, and
good. Gradually thus he showed his wisdom, by foregoing petty wrath;
and when he was summoned to meet a star, militant to his grandson, he
could not help ordering his horse.



CHAPTER VI.

THE LEGEND CONTINUED.


Although this prince knew so much more of the heaven above than the
earth beneath, he did not quite expect to ride the whole of the way
to England. At Smyrna he took ship, and after some difficulties
and dangers, landed at Shoreham, full of joy to behold his four
grandchildren, who proved to be five by the time he saw them. The
Sussex roads were as bad as need be, and worse than could be anywhere
else; but the sturdy oxen set their necks to drag through all things,
thick or thin; and the prince stuck fast to his coach, as firmly as
the coach stuck fast with him. Having never seen any roads before, he
thought them a wonderful institution, and though misled by the light of
nature to grumble at some of his worst upsets, a little reflection led
him softly back into contentment. A mind “irretrievably analytic” at
once distinguished wisdom’s element in the Sussex reasoners.

“Gin us made thase hyur radds gooder, volk ’ood be radin’ down droo
’em avery dai, a’most! The Lard in heaven never made radds as cud ever
baide the work, if stranngers cud goo along, wi’out bin vorced to zit
down, and mend ’un.”

When this was interpreted to his Highness, he was so struck with its
clear sound sense, and logical sequence, that he fell back, and for
the rest of his journey admired the grandeur of English character.
This sentiment, so deeply founded, was not likely to be impaired by
further acquaintance with our great nation. For more than a twelvemonth
Prince Agasicles made his home in England, and many of his quaint
remarks abode on Sussex shepherds’ tongues for generations afterwards,
recommended as they were by the vantage of princely wisdom. For he
picked up quite enough of the language to say odd things as a child
does, and with a like simplicity. With this difference, however,
that while the great hits of the little ones, by the proud mother
chronicled, are the lucky outbursts of happy inexperience, the old
man’s sage words were the issue of unhappy experience.

Nevertheless he must have owned a genial nature still at work. For
he loved to go down the village lane, when the wind was cold on the
highland, and there to wait at a cottage door, till the children came
to stare at him. And soon these children had courage to spy that,
in spite of his outlandish dress, pockets were about him, and they
whispered as much to one another, while their eyes were testing him. At
other times when the wind was soft, and shadows of gentle clouds were
shed in chase of one another, this great man who had seen the world,
and knew all the stars hanging over it--his pleasure was to wander in
and out of the ups and downs and nooks of quaintly-plaited hills, and
feast his eyes upon their verdure. After that, when the westering light
was spreading the upland ridge with gold, and the glades with grey
solemnity, this man of declining years was well content to lean on a
bank of turf, and watch the quiet ways of sheep. Often thus his mind
was carried back to the land of childhood, soothed as in his nurse’s
arms by nature’s peace around him. And if his dreams were interrupted
by the crisp fresh sound of browsing, and the ovine tricks as bright
as any human exploits, he would turn and do his best to talk with the
lonely shepherds.

These, in their simple way, amused him, with their homely saws, and
strange content, and independence: and he no less delighted them by
unaccustomed modes of speech, and turns of thought beyond their minds,
and distant wisdom quite brought home. Thus, and by many other means,
this ancient prince, of noble presence, and of flowing snow-white hair,
and vesture undisgraced by tailors, left such trace upon these hills,
that even his ghost was well believed to know all the sheep-tracks
afterwards.

Pleased with England, and with English scenery and customs, as well as
charmed with having five quite baby stars to ephemerise, this great
astrologer settled to stay in our country as long as possible. He
sent his trusty servant, Memel, in a merchant-ship from Shoreham to
fetch his implements and papers, precious things of many kinds, and
curiosities long in store. Memel brought all these quite safe, except
one little thing or two, which he accounted trifles; but his master was
greatly vexed about them.

The prince unpacked his goods most carefully in his own eight-sided
room, allowing none but his daughter to help him, and not too sure
about trusting her. Then forth he set for a real campaign among the
stars of the Southdowns--and supper-call and breakfast-bell were no
more than the bark of a dog to him. And thus he spent his nights, alas!
forgetful of the different clime, under the cold stars, when by rights
he should have been under the counterpane.

This grew worse and worse, until towards the middle of the month
of June, A.D. 1611, his mind was altogether much above the proper
temperature. Great things were pending in the heavens, which might be
quoted as pious excuse for a little human restlessness. The prince,
with his implements always ready either in his lantern-chamber, or at
his favourite spot of the hills, according to the weather, grew more
and more impatient daily for the sun to be out of the way, and more
and more intolerant every night of any cloudiness. Self-perplexed,
downcast, and moody (except when for a few brief hours a brighter
canopy changed his gloom into a nervous rapture), he wasted and waned
away in body, as his mind grew brighter. After the hurried night, he
dragged his faint way home in the morning, and his face of exhausted
power struck awe into the household. No one dared to ask him what had
happened, or why he looked so; and he like a true philosopher kept all
explanations to himself. And then he started anew, and strode with his
Samian cloak around him, over the highest, darkest, and most lonesome
hill, out of people’s sight.

One place there was which beyond all others suited his purposes and
his mood. A well-known land-mark now, and the scene of many a merry
picnic, Chanctonbury Ring was then a lonely spot imbued with terror
of a wandering ghost,--an ancient ghost with a long white beard
walking even in the afternoon, with its head bowed down in search of
something--a vain search of centuries. This long-sought treasure has
now been found; not by the ghost, however, but a lucky stroke of the
ploughshare; and the spectral owner roves no more. He is supposed, with
all the assumption required to make a certainty, to have been a tenant
on Chancton Manor, under Earl Gurth, the brother of Harold, and being
slain at Hastings, to have forgotten where his treasure lay.

The Ring, as of old, is a height of vantage for searching all the
country round with a telescope on a breezy day. It is the salient
point and foreland of a long ridge of naked hills, crowned with darker
eminence by a circle of storm-huddled trees. But when the astrologer
Agasicles made his principal night-haunt here, the Ring was not
overhung with trees, but only outlined by them; and the rampart of the
British camp (if such it were) was more distinct, and uninvaded by
planters. So that here was the very place for a quiet sage to make his
home, sweeping a long horizon and secure from interruption. To such a
citadel of science, guarded by the fame of ghosts, even his daughter
Artemise, or his trusty servant Memel, would scarce dare to follow him;
much less any of the peasants, who, from the lowland, seeing a distant
light, crossed themselves; for that fine old custom flourished still
among them. Therefore, here his tent was pitched, and here he spent the
nights in gazing, and often the days in computation, not for himself,
but for his descendants; until his frame began to waste, and his great
dark eyes grew pale with it.



CHAPTER VII.

THE LEGEND CONCLUDED.


Artemise, and all around the prince, had been alarmed of late by many
little symptoms. He always had been rashly given to take no heed of his
food or clothes; but now he went beyond all that, and would have no one
take heed for him, or dare to speak of the matter much. Hence, without
listening to any nonsense, all the women were sure of one thing--the
prince was wearing himself away.

The country people who knew him, and loved him with a little mystery,
said it was no wonder that he should worry himself, for being so long
away from home, in manners, and in places also. “Sure it must be a
trial for him; out all night in the damp and fog; and he no sense of
breeches!”

There was much of truth in this, no doubt, as well as much outside it.
Yet none of them could enter into his peculiar state of mind. So that
he often reproached himself for having been rude, but could not help
it. Every one made allowance for him, as Englishmen do for a foreigner,
as being of a somewhat lower order, in many ways, in creation. Yet with
a mixture of mind about it, they admired him more and more.

The largeness of his nature still was very conspicuous in this,--he
never brought his telescope to bear on his own planet. His heart was
reaching so far forward into future ages, that he strove to follow
downwards nine or ten entails of stars. To know what was to become of
all that were to be descended from him; a highly interesting, but also
a deeply exhausting question. This perpetual effort told very hard
upon his constitution, for nothing less than fatal worry could have so
impaired his native grace and lofty courtesy.

Yet before his sudden end, a softer and more genial star was culminant
one evening. When one’s time comes to be certain--whether by earthly
senses, or by influence of heaven--of the buoyant balance turning,
and the slender span outspun, tender thinkings, and kind wishes,
flow to the good side of us. Through this power, the petty troubles,
and the crooked views of life, and the ambition to make others
better than we care to be, and every other little turn of wholesome
self-deception--these drop off, and leave us sinking into a sense of
having lived, and made a humble thing of it.

Whether this be so or not, upon the 18th day of June in the year 1611,
Prince Agasicles came home rather hot, and very tired, and fain for
a little sleep, if such there were, to wear out weariness. But still
he had heavy work left for that night; as a mighty comet had lately
appeared, and scared the earth abundantly; yet now he had two or three
hours to spare, and they might as well be happy ones. Therefore he sent
for his daughter to come, and see to his food and such like, and then
to sit with him some few minutes, and to watch the sunset.

Artemise, still young and lovely, knew of course, from Eastern wisdom,
that woman’s right is to do no wrong. So that she came at once when
called, and felt as a mother ought to feel, that she multiplied her
obedience vastly, by bringing all her children. Being in a soft state
of mind, the old man was glad to see them all, and let them play with
him as freely as childhood’s awe of white hair allowed. Then he laid
his hand upon Roger, the heir of the house, and blessed him on his
way to bed; and after that he took his supper, waited on by Artemise,
who was very grateful for his kindness to her children. So that she
brought him the right thing, exactly at the right moment, without
overcrowding him; and then she poured him sparkling wine, and comforted
his weary feet, and gave him a delicious pipe of Persian meconopsis,
free from the bane of opium, yet more dreamy than tobacco. Also she
sprinkled round him delicate attar of the Vervain (sprightlier and less
oppressive than the scent of roses), until his white beard ceased to
flutter, and the strong lines of his face relaxed into soft drowsiness.

Observing thence the proper time when sweet sleep was encroaching, and
haste, and heat, and sudden temper were as far away as can be from a
man of Eastern blood, Artemise, his daughter, touched him with the
smile which he used to love, when she was two years old and upward; and
his thoughts without his knowledge flew back to her mother.

“Father to me, father dearest,” she was whispering to him, in the
native tongue which charms the old, as having lulled their cradles;
“father to me, tell what trouble has together fallen on you in this
cold and foreign land.”

Melody enough was still remaining, in the most melodious of all mortal
languages, for a child to move a father into softer memories, at the
sound of ancient music thus revived, and left to dwell.

“Child of my breast,” the prince replied, in the very best modern
Hellenic, “a strong desire to sleep again hath overcome mine intellect.”

“Thus is it the more suited, father, for discourse with such as mine.
Let your little one share the troubles of paternal wisdom.”

Suasion more than this was needed, and at every stage forthcoming, more
skilfully than English words or even looks could render, ere ever the
paternal wisdom might be coaxed to unfold itself; and even so it was
not disposed to be altogether explicit.

“Ask me no more,” he said at last; “enough that I foresee great
troubles overhanging this sad house.”

“Oh, father, when, and how, and what? How shall we get over them, and
why should we encounter them? And will my husband or my children----”

The prince put up one finger as if to say, “Ask one thing at a time,”
the while he ceased not to revolve many and sad counsels in his
venerable head; and in his gaze deep pity mingled with a father’s pride
and love. Then he spoke three words in a language which she did not
comprehend, but retained their sound, and learned before her death that
they meant this--“Knowledge of trouble trebles it.”

“Now best-loved father,” she exclaimed, perceiving that his face was
set to tell her very little, “behold how many helpless ones depend upon
my knowledge of the evils I must shield them from. It is--nay, by your
eyes--it is the little daughter whom you always cherished with such
love and care, who now is the cause of a mind perplexed, as often she
has been to you. Father, let not our affairs lay such burden on your
mind, but spread them out and lighten it. Often, as our saying hath it,
oftentimes the ear of folly is the purse for wisdom’s gems.”

“I hesitate not, I doubt no longer. I do not divide my mind in twain.
The wisdom of them that come after me carries off and transcends mine
own, as a mountain doth a half-peck basket. Wherefore, my daughter,
Artemise, wife of the noble Englishman with whom she ran away from
Caria, and mother of my five grandchildren, she is worthy to know all
that I have learned from heaven; ay, and she shall know it all.”

“Father to me dearest, yes! Oh, how noble and good of you!”

“She shall know all,” continued the prince, with a gaze of ingenuous
confidence, and counting on his fingers slowly; “it may be sooner, or
it may be later; however, I think one may safely promise a brilliant
knowledge of everything in five years after we have completed the
second century from this day. But now the great comet is waiting for
me. Let me have my boots again. Uncouth, barbarous, frightful things!
But in such a country needful.”

His daughter obeyed without a word, and hid her disappointment. “It
is only to wait till to-morrow,” she thought, “and then to fill him a
larger pipe, and coax him a little more perhaps, and pour him more wine
of Burgundy.”

To-morrow never came for him, except in the way the stars come. In the
morning he was missed, and sought for, and found dead and cold at the
end of his longest telescope. In Chanctonbury Ring he died, and must
have known, for at least a moment, that his death was over him; for
among the stars of his jotting-chart was traced, in trembling charcoal,
“Sepeli, ubi cecidi”--“Bury me where I have fallen.”



CHAPTER VIII.

ASTROLOGICAL FORECAST.


Alice Lorraine, with no small excitement, heard from her father’s lips
this story of their common ancestor. Part of it was already known to
her through traditions of the country; but this was the first time the
whole had been put into a connected narrative. She wondered, also, what
her father’s reason could be for thus recounting to her this piece of
family history, which had never been (as she felt quite sure) confided
to her brother Hilary; and, like a young girl, she was saying to
herself as he went on--“Shall I ever be fit to compare with that lovely
Artemise, my ever-so-long-back grandmother, as the village people call
it? and will that fine old astrologer see that the stars do their duty
to us? and was the great comet that killed him the one that frightens
me every night so? and why did he make such a point of dying without
explaining anything?”

However, what she asked her father was a different question from all
these.

“Oh, papa, how kind of you to tell me all that story! But what became
of Artemise----‘Lady Lorraine’ I suppose she was?”

“No, my dear; ‘Mistress Lorraine,’ or ‘Madame Lorraine’ perhaps they
called her. The old earldom had long been lost, and Roger, her son,
who fell at Naseby, was the first baronet of our family. But as
for Artemise herself--the daughter of the astrologer, and wife of
Hilary Lorraine, she died at the birth of her next infant, within a
twelvemonth after her father; and then it was known why he had been so
reluctant to tell her anything.”

“Oh, I am so sorry for her! Then she is that beautiful creature hanging
third from the door in the gallery, with ruches beautifully picked out
and glossy, and wonderful gold lace on her head, and long hair, and
lovely emeralds hanging down as if they were nothing?”

“Yes,” said Sir Roland, smiling at his daughter’s style of description,
“that of course is the lady; and the portrait is clearly a likeness. At
one time we thought of naming you after her--‘Artemise Lorraine’--for
your nurse discovered that you were like her at the mature age of three
days.”

“Oh, papa, how I wish you had! It would have sounded so much nicer, and
so beautifully romantic.”

“Just so, my child; and therefore, in these matter-of-fact times, so
deliciously absurd. Moreover, I hope that you will not be like her,
either in running away from your father, or in any other way--except
her kindness and faithfulness.”

He was going to say, “in her early death;” but a sudden touch of our
natural superstition stopped him.

“Papa, how dare you speak as if any one ever, in all the world, could
be fit to compare with you? But now you must tell me one little
thing--why have you chosen this very day, which ought to be such a
happy one, for telling me so sad a tale, that a little more would have
made me cry?”

“The reason, my Lallie, is simple enough. This happens to be the very
day when the two hundred years are over; and the astrologer’s will, or
whatever the document is, may now be opened.”

“His will, papa! Did he leave a will? And none of us ever heard of it!”

“My dear, your acquaintance with his character is, perhaps, not
exhaustive. He may have left many wills without wishing to have them
published; at any rate, you shall have the chance, before it grows
dark, to see what there is.”

“Me! or I--whichever is right?--me, or I, to do such a thing! Papa,
when I was six years old I could stand on my head; but now I have lost
the art, alas!”

“Now, Alice, do try to be sensible, if you ever had such an opening.
You know that I do not very often act rashly; but you will make me
think I have done so now, unless you behave most steadily.”

“Papa, I am steadiness itself; but you must make allowance for a little
upset at the marvels heaped upon me.”

“My dear child, there are no marvels; or, at any rate, none for you to
know. All you have to do is to go, and to fetch a certain document.
Whether you know any more about it, is a question for me to consider.”

“Oh, papa--to raise me up so, and to cast me down like that! And I was
giving you credit for having trusted me so entirely! And very likely
you would not even have sent me for this document, if you had your own
way about it.”

“Alice,” Sir Roland answered, smiling at her knowledge of him, “you
happen to be particularly right in that conjecture. I should never
have thought of sending you to a lonely and forsaken place, if I were
allowed to send any one else, or to go myself. And I have not been
happy at thinking about it, ever since the morning.”

“My father, do you think that I could help rejoicing in such an errand?
It is the very thing to suit me. Where are the keys, papa? Do be quick.”

“I have no intention, my dear child, of hurrying either you or myself.
There is plenty of time to think of all things. The sun has not set,
and that happens to be one of the little things we have to look to.”

“Oh, how very delightful, papa! That makes it so much more beautiful.
And it is the astrologer’s room, of course.”

“My dear, it strikes me that you look rather pale, in the midst of all
your transports. Now, don’t go if you are at all afraid.”

“Afraid, papa! Now you want to provoke me. You quite forget both my
age, it appears, and the family I belong to.”

“My pet, you never allow us to be very long forgetful of either of
those great facts; but I trust I have borne them both duly in mind, and
I fear that I should even enhance, most needlessly, your self-esteem,
if I were to read you the directions which I now am following. For,
strangely enough, they do contain predictions as to your character such
as we cannot yet perceive (much as we love you) to have come to pass.”

“Oh, but who are the ‘we,’ papa? If everybody knows it--even
grandmamma, for instance--what pleasure can I hope to find in ever
having been predicted?”

“You may enjoy that pleasure, Alice, as exclusively as you please. Even
your grandmother knows nothing of the matter we have now in hand; or
else--at least I should say perhaps that, if it were otherwise----”

“She would have been down here, of course, papa, and have marched up
to the room herself; but, if the whole thing belongs to one’s self,
nothing can be more delightful than to have been predicted, especially
in glowing terms, such as I beg you now, papa, to read in glowing tones
to me.”

“Alice, I do not like that style of--what shall I call it?--on your
part. _Persiflage_, I believe, is the word; and I am glad that there
is no English one. It is never graceful in any woman, still less in a
young girl like you. Hilary brought it from Oxford first: and perhaps
he thought it excellent. Lay it aside now, once and for all. It hopes
to seem a clever thing, and it does not even succeed in that.”

At these severe words, spoken with a decided attempt at severity, Alice
fell back, and could only drop her eyes, and wonder what could have
made her father so cross upon his birthday. But, after the smart of the
moment, she began to acknowledge to herself that her father was right,
and she was wrong. This flippant style was foreign to her, and its
charms must be foregone.

“I beg your pardon, father dear,” she said, looking softly up at him;
“I know that I am not clever, and I never meant to seem so.”

“Quite right, Alice; never attempt to do anything impossible.” Saying
this to her, Sir Roland said to himself that, after all, he should like
to know very much where to find any girl half so clever as Lallie, or
any girl even a quarter so good, and so loving, and so beautiful.

“The sun is almost gone behind the curve of the hill, and the scrubby
beech, and the nick cut in the gorsebush. Alice, you know we only see
it for just the Midsummer week like that.”

Alice came, with her eyes already quit of every trace of tears; with
vanity and all petty feelings melting into larger thought. The beauty
of the world would often come around and overcome her, so that she felt
nothing else.

“The sun must always be the same,” Sir Roland said, rather doubtfully,
after waiting for Alice to begin. “No doubt he must always be the
same; but still the great Herschel seems to think that even the sun is
changing. If he is fed by comets (as our old astronomers used to say),
he ought to be doing very well just now. Alice, the sun is above ground
still, for people on the hill-top, and there is the comet already
kindling!”

“Of course he is, papa; he never waits for the sun’s convenience. But
I must not say that--I forgot. There would be no English name for
it--would there now, papa?”

“You little tyrant, what troubles I would inflict upon you if I studied
the stars! But I scarcely know the belt of Orion from the Northern
Crown. Astronomy does not appear to have taken deep root in our family;
but look, there is part of the sun again emerging under Chancton! In
five minutes more he will be quite gone; now is the time for me to read
these queer directions, which contain so poetical an account of you.”

Alice, warned by his former words, and reduced to proper humility, did
not speak while her father opened the small strip of parchment, at
which she had so long been peeping curiously.

“It is written in Latin,” Sir Roland said, “and has been handed from
father to son unsealed, and as you see it, from the time of the prince
till our time.”

“May I see it, papa? What a very clear hand! but you must translate it
for me.”

“Then here it is:--‘To the father and master of the family of Lorraine,
whoever shall be in the year, according to Christian computation, 1811,
Agasicles Syennesis, the Carian, bids hail. Do thou, on the 18th day
of June, when the sun has well descended, or departed’--_decesserit_,
the word is--‘send thy eldest daughter, without any companion, to the
astronomer’s _cœnaculum_’--why, he never ate supper, the poor old
fellow, unless it was the one he died of--‘and there let her search
in a closet or cupboard’--_in secessu muri_, the words are, as far as
I can make out--‘and she will find a small document, which to me has
been in great price. There will also be something else, to be treated
_pro re nata_’--that means according to circumstances--‘and according
to the orders in the document aforesaid. The virgin will be brave, and
beautiful, ready to give herself for the house, and of swiftly-growing
prudence. If there be no such virgin then the need for her will not
have arisen. It is necessary that no young man should go, and my
document must lie hidden for another century. It is not possible that
any one of uncertain skill should be certain. But there ought to be a
great comet also burning in the sky, of the same complexion as the one
that makes my calculations doubtful. Farewell, whosoever thou shalt be,
from me descended, and obey me.’”

“Papa, I declare it quite frightens me. How could he have predicted me,
for instance, and this great comet, and even you?”

“Then you think that you answer to your description! My darling, I do
believe that you do. But you never shall ‘give yourself for the house,’
or for fifty thousand houses. Now, will you have anything to do with
this strange affair; or will you not? Much rather would I hear you say
that you will have nothing to do with it, and that the old man’s book
may sleep for at least another century.”

“Now, papa, you know how much you would be disappointed in me. And do
you think that I could have any self-respect remaining? And beside all
that, how could I hope to sleep in my bed with all those secrets ever
dangling over me?”

“That last is a very important point. With your excitable nature, you
had better go always through a thing. It was the same with your dear
mother. Here are the keys, my daughter. I really feel ashamed to dwell
so long on a mere superstition.”



CHAPTER IX.

THE LEGACY OF THE ASTROLOGER.


The room known as the Astrologer’s (by the maids, less reverently
entitled the “star-gazer’s closet”) was that old eight-sided, or
lantern-chamber, which has been mentioned in the short account of the
Carian sage and his labours. He had used it alternately, with his other
quarters in the Chancton Ring; for this had outlook of the rising, as
the other had of the setting stars. At the eastern end of the house, it
stood away from roofs and chimney-tops, commanding the trending face of
hill, and the amplitude of the world below, from north-west round the
north and east, to the rising point of Fomalhault.

To this room Alice now made her way, as if she had no time to spare.
With quick, light steps she passed through the hall, and then the
painted library, as it was called from some old stained glass--and
at the further end she entered a little room with double doors, her
father’s favourite musing-place. In the eastern end of this quiet
chamber, and at the eastern end of all, there was a low and narrow
door. This was seldom locked, because none of the few who came so far
would care to go any further. For it opened to a small landing-place,
dimly lit, as well as damp, and leading to a newel staircase, narrow,
and made of a chalky flint, angular and irregular.

Alice stopped to think a little. All things looked so uninviting
that she would rather keep her distance. Surely now that the sun had
departed--whether well or otherwise--some other time would do as nicely
for going on with the business. There was nothing said of any special
hurry, so far as she could remember; and what could be a more stupid
thing than to try to unlock an ancient door without any light for the
keyhole? She had a very great mind to go back, and to come again in the
morning.

She turned with a quick turn towards the light, and the comfort, and
the company; then suddenly she remembered how she had boasted of her
courage; and who would be waiting to laugh at her, if she came back
without her errand. Fearing further thought, she ran like a sunset
cloud up the stairway.

Fifty or sixty steps went by her before she had time to think of them;
a few in the light of loopholes, but the greater part in governed
gloom, or shadowy mixture flickering. Then at the top she stopped to
breathe, and recover her wits, for a moment. Here a long black door
repelled her--a door whose outside she knew pretty well, but had no
idea of the other side. Upon this, she began to think again; and her
thoughts were almost too much for her.

With a little sigh that would have moved all imaginable enemies, the
swiftly sensitive girl called up the inborn spirit of her race, and her
own peculiar romance. These in combination scarcely could have availed
her to turn the key, unless her father had happened to think of oiling
it with a white pigeon’s feather.

When she heard the bolt shoot back, she made the best of a bad affair.
“In for a penny, in for a pound;” “faint heart is fain;” “two bites at
a cherry;” and above all, “noblesse oblige.” With all these thoughts to
press her forward, in she walked, quite dauntlessly.

And lo, there was nothing to frighten her. Everything looked as old and
harmless as the man who had loved them all; having made or befriended
them. His own little lathe, with its metal bed (cast by himself from
a mixture of his own, defying the rust of centuries), wanted nothing
more than dusting, and some oil on the bearings. And the speculum he
had worked so hard at, for a reflecting telescope--partly his own
idea, and partly reflected (as all ideas are) some years ere the time
of Gregory--the error in its grinding, which had driven him often to
despair, might still be traced by an accurate eye through the depth of
two hundred dusty years. Models, patterns, moulds, and castings,--many
of which would have shown how slowly our boasted discoveries have
grown,--also favourite tools, and sundry things past out of their
meaning, lay about among their fellows, doomed alike to do no work,
because the man who had kept them moving was shorter-lived than they
were.

Now young Alice stood among them, in a reverential way. They were, of
course, no more than other things laid by to rust, according to man’s
convenience. And yet she could not make up her mind to meddle with any
one of them. So that she only looked about, and began to be at home
with things.

Her eager mind was always ready to be crowded with a rash young
interest in all things. It was the great fault of her nature that she
never could perceive how very far all little things should lie beneath
her notice. So that she now had really more than she could contrive to
take in all at once.

But while she stood in this surprise, almost forgetting her errand
among the multitude of ideas, a cloud above the sunset happened to be
packed with gorgeous light. Unbosoming itself to the air in the usual
cloudy manner, it managed thereby to shed down some bright memories of
the departed one. And hence there came a lovely gleam of daylight’s
afterthought into the north-western facet of the old eight-sided room.
Alice crossed this glance of sunset, wondering what she was to do,
until she saw her shadow wavering into a recess of wall. There, between
the darker windows to the right hand of the door, a little hover of
refraction, striking upon reflection, because it was fugitive, caught
her eyes. She saw by means of this a keyhole in a brightened surface,
on a heavy turn of wall that seemed to have no meaning. In right of
discovery up she ran, passed her fingers over a plate of polished
Sussex iron, and put her key into the hole, of course.

The lock had been properly oiled perhaps, and put into working order
sometimes, even within the last hundred years. But still it was so
stiff that Alice had to work the key both ways, and with both hands,
ere it turned. And even after the bolt went back, she could not open
the door at once, perhaps because the jamb was rusty, or the upper
hinge had given forward. Whatever the hesitation was, the girl would
have no refusal. She set the key crosswise in the lock, and drew one
corner of her linen handkerchief through the loop of it, and then tied
a knot, and, with both hands, pulled. Inasmuch as her handkerchief
was not made of gauze, or lace, or gossamer, and herself of no feeble
material, the heavy door gave way at last, and everything lay before
her.

“Is that all? oh, is that all?” she cried in breathless disappointment,
and yet laughing at herself. “No jewels, no pearls, no brooches, or
buckles, or even a gold watch! And the great Astrologer must have
foreseen how sadly, in this year of our reckoning, I should be longing
for a gold watch! Alas! without it, what is the use of being ‘brave and
beautiful’? Here is nothing more than dust, mouldy old deeds, and a
dirty cushion!”

Alice had a great mind at first to run back to her father and tell
him that, after all, there was nothing found that would be worth the
carrying. And she even turned, and looked round the room, to support
this strong conclusion. But the weight of ancient wisdom (pressed on
the young imagination by the stamp of mystery) held her under, and made
her stop from thinking her own thoughts about it. “He must have known
better, of course, than I do. Only look at his clever tools! I am sure
I could live in this room for a week, and never be afraid of anything.”

But even while she was saying this to herself, with the mind in command
of the heart, and a fine conscientious courage, there came to her ears,
or seemed to come, a quiet, low, unaccountable sound. It may have
been nothing, as she tried to think, when first she began to recover
herself; or it may have been something, quite harmless, and most easily
traced to its origin. But whatever it was, in a moment it managed to
quench her desire to live in that room. With quick hands, now delivered
from their usual keen sense of grime, she snatched up whatever she saw
in the cupboard, and banged the iron door and locked it, with a glance
of defiant terror over the safer shoulder first, and then over the one
that was nearer the noise.

Then she knew that she had done her duty very bravely; and that it
would be a cruel thing to expect her to stay any longer. And, so to
shut out all further views of anything she had no right to see, she
slipped back the band of her beautiful hair, and, under that cover,
retreated.



CHAPTER X.

A BOY AND A DONKEY.


At this very time there happened to be a boy of no rank, and of unknown
order, quietly jogging homeward. He differed but little from other
boys; and seemed unworthy of consideration, unless one stopped to
consider him. Because he was a boy by no means virtuous, or valiant,
neither gifted by nature with any inborn way to be wonderful. Having
nothing to help him much, he lived among the things that came around
him, to his very utmost; and he never refused a bit to eat, because it
might have been a better bit. And now and then, if he got the chance
(without any more in the background than a distant view of detection),
he had been imagined perhaps to lay hand upon a stray trifle that would
lie about, and was due, but not paid, to his merits. Nobody knew where
this boy came from, or whether he came at all indeed, or was only the
produce of earth or sky, at some improper conjuncture. Nothing was
certain about him; except that there he was; and he meant to stay; and
people, for the most part, liked him. And many women would been glad
to love him, in a protective way, but for the fright by all of them
felt, by reason of the magistrates.

These had settled it long ago, at every kind of session, that this boy
(though so comparatively honest) must not be encouraged much. He had
such a manner of looking about, after almost anything; and of making
the most of those happy times when luck embraces art; above all, he
had such exhaustive knowledge of apple-trees, and potato-buries, and
cows that wanted milking, as well as of ticklish trout, and occasional
little ducks that had lost their way--that after long-tried lenience,
and allowance for such a neglected child, justice could no longer take
a large and loving view of “Bonny.”

Bonny held small heed of justice (even in the plural number) whenever
he could help it. The nature of his birth and nurture had been such as
to gift him with an outside view of everything. If people liked him, he
liked them, and would be the last to steal from them; or at any rate
would let them be the last for him to steal from. His inner meaning was
so honest, that he almost always waited for some great wrong to be done
to him, before he dreamed of making free with almost anybody’s ducks.

Widely as he was known, and often glanced at from a wrong point of
view, even his lowest detractor could not give his etymology. Many
attempted to hold that he might have been called, in some generative
outburst, “Bonnie,” by a Scotchman of imagination. Others laughed this
idea to scorn, and were sure that his right name was “Boney,” because
of his living in spite of all terror of “Bonyparty.” But the true
solution probably was (as with all analytic inquiries) the third,--that
his right name was “Bony,” because his father, though now quite a
shadowy being, must have, at some time or other, perhaps, gone about
crying, “Rags and Bones, oh!”

These little niceties of origin passed by Bonny as the idle wind. He
was proud of his name, and it sounded well; and wherever he went, the
ladies seemed to like him as an unknown quantity. Also (which mattered
far more to him) the female servants took to him. And, with many of
these, he had such a way, that it found him in victuals, perhaps twice
in a week.

Nevertheless, he was forced to work as hard as could be, this summer.
The dragging weight of a hopeless war (as all, except the stout
farmers, now were beginning to consider it) had been tightening, more
and more, the strain upon the veins of trade, and the burden of the
community.

This good boy lived in the side of a hill, or of a cliff (as some might
call it), white and beautiful to look at from a proper distance. Here
he had one of those queer old holes, which puzzle the sagest antiquary,
and set him in fiercest conflict with the even sager geologist. But in
spite of them all, the hole was there; and in that hole lived Bonny.

Without society, what is life? Our tenderest and truest affections
were not given us for naught. The grandest of human desires is to have
something or other to wallop; and fate (in small matters so hard upon
Bonny) had known when to yield, and had granted him this; that is to
say, a donkey.

A donkey of such a clever kind, and so set up with reasoning powers
and a fine heart of his own, that all his conclusions were almost
right, until they were beaten out of him. His name was “Jack,” and his
nature was of a level and sturdy order, resenting wrongs, accepting
favours, with all the teeth of gratitude, and braying (as all clever
asses do) at every change of weather. His personal appearance also was
noble, striking, and romantic; and his face reminded all beholders of a
well-coloured pipe-bowl upside down. For all his muzzle and nose were
white, as snowy white as if he always wore a nosebag newly floured from
the nearest windmill. But just below his eyes, and across the mace of
his jaws, was a ring of brown, and above that not a speck of white,
but deepening into cloudy blackness, throughout all his system. Then
(like the crest of Hector) rose a menacing frontlet of thick hair, and
warlike ears as long as horns, yet genially revolving; and body and
legs, to complete the effect, conceived in the very best taste to match.

These great virtues of the animal found their balance in small
foibles. A narrow-minded, self-seeking vein, a too vindictive memory,
an obstinacy more than asinine, no sense of honour, and a habit of
treating too many questions with the teeth or heels. These had lowered
him to his present rank; as may be shown hereafter.

To any worked and troubled mind, escaping into the country, it would
have been a treat to happen (round some corner suddenly, when the sun
throws shadows long) upon Bonny and his jackass. In the ripe time
of the evening, when the sun is at his kindest, and the earth most
thankful, and the lines of every shadow now are well accustomed;
when the air has summer hope of never feeling frost again; and every
bush, and tump, and hillock quite knows how to stand and look; when
the creases of yellow grass, and green grass, by the roadside, leave
themselves for explanation, till the rain shall settle it; and the
thick hedge in the calm air cannot rustle, unless it holds a rabbit
or a hare at play,--when all these things, in their quiet way, guide
the shadowy lines of evening, and the long lanes of farewell, what can
soothe the spirit more than the view of a boy on a donkey?

Bonny, therefore, was in keeping with the world around him (as he
always contrived to be) when he came home on Jack, that evening from
a long day’s work at Shoreham. The lane was at its best almost, with
all the wild flowers that love the chalk, mixed with those that hug
the border where the chalk creams into loam. Among them Bonny whistled
merrily, as his favourite custom was; to let the Pixies and the
Fairies, ere he came under the gloom of the hill, understand that he
was coming and nobody else to frighten them.

Soothed with the beauty of the scene and the majesty of the sunset,
Jack drew back his ears and listened drowsily to his master. “Britannia
rule the waves” was then the anthem of the nation; and as she seemed to
rule nothing else, though fighting very grandly, all patriotic Britons
found main comfort in commanding water.

The happiness of this boy and donkey was of that gleeful see-saw
chancing, which is the heartiest of all. This has a snugness of its
own, which nothing but poverty can afford, and luck rejoice to revel
in. As a rich man hugs his shivers, when he has taken a sudden chill,
and huddles in over a roaring fire, and boasts that he cannot warm
himself, so a poor fellow may cuddle his home, and spread his legs as
he pleases, for the sake of its very want of comfort, and the things
it makes him think of; all to be hoped for by-and-by. And Bonny was so
destitute, that he had all the world to hope for. He lived in a hole
in the scarp of chalk, at the foot of the gully of Coombe Lorraine;
and many of his delightful doings might have been seen from the lofty
windows, if anyone ever had thought it worth while to slope a long
telescope at him. But nobody cared to look at Bonny and scatter his
lowly happiness--than which there is no more fugitive creature, and
none more shy of inspection.

Being of a light and dauntless nature, Bonny kept whistling and singing
his way, over the grass and through the furze, and in and out the
dappled leafage of the summer evening; while Jack, with his brightest
blinkings, picked the parts of the track that suited him. The setting
sun was in their eyes, and made them wink every now and then, and threw
the shadow of long ears, and walking legs, and jogging heads, here
and there and anywhere. Also a very fine lump of something might in
the shadows be loosely taken to hang across Jack in his latter parts,
coming after Bonny’s legs, and choice things stowed in front of them.

The meaning of this was that they had been making a very lucky
’long-shore day at the mouth of the river Adur; and on their way home
had received some pleasing tribute to their many merits in the town
of Steyning, and down the road. Jack had no panniers, for his master
could not provide such luxuries; but he had what answered as well, or
better--a long and trusty meal-sack, strongly stitched at the mouth,
and slit for inlet some way down the middle. So that as it hung well
balanced over his sturdy quarters, anything might be popped in quickly;
and all the contents must abide together, and churn up into fine
tenderness.

As for Bonny himself, the shadows did him strong injustice, such as he
was wont to take from all the world, and make light of. The shadows
showed him a ragged figure, flapping and flickering here and there,
and random in his outlines. But the true glow of the sunset, full upon
his face, presented quite another Bonny. No more to be charged as a
vagabond than the earth and the sun himself were; but a little boy who
loved his home, such as it was, and knew it, and knew little else.
Dirty, perhaps, just here and there, after the long dry weather--but if
he had been ugly, could he have brought home all that dripping?

To the little fellow himself as yet the question of costume was more
important than that of comeliness. And his dress afforded him many
sources of pride and self-satisfaction. For his breeches were possessed
of inexhaustible vitality, as well as bold and original colour, having
been adapted for him by the wife of his great patron, Bottler the
pigman, from a pair of Bottler’s leggings, made of his own pigskin.
The skin had belonged, in the first place, to a very remarkable boar,
a thorough Calydonian hog, who escaped from a farm-yard, and lived
for months a wild life in St. Leonard’s Forest. Here he scared all
the neighbourhood, until at last Bottler was invoked to arise like
Meleager, and to bring his pig-knife. Bottler met him in single combat,
slew him before he had time to grunt, and claiming him as the spoils
of war, pickled his hams at his leisure. Then he tanned the hide which
was so thick that it never would do for cracklings, and made himself
leggings as everlasting as the fame of his exploit.

With these was Bonny now endued over most of his nether moiety. Shoes
and stockings he scorned, of course, but his little shanks were clean
and red, while his shoulders and chest were lost in the splendour of a
coachman’s crimson waistcoat. At least they were generally so concealed
when he set forth in the morning, for he picked up plenty of pins, and
showed some genius in arranging them; but after a hard day’s work,
as now, air and light would always reassert their right of entrance.
Still, there remained enough of the mingled charm of blush and plush to
recall in soft domestic bosoms bygone scenes, for ever past--but oh, so
sweet among the trays!

To judge him, however, without the fallacy of romantic tenderness--the
breadth of his mouth, and the turn of his nose, might go a little way
against him. Still, he had such a manner of showing bright white teeth
in a jocund grin, and of making his frizzly hair stand up, and his
sharp blue eyes express amazement, at the proper moment; moreover, his
pair of cheeks was such (after coming off the downs), and his laugh
so dreadfully infectious, and he had such tales to tell--that several
lofty butlers were persuaded to consider him.

Even the butler of Coombe Lorraine--but that will come better
hereafter. Only as yet may be fairly said, that Bonny looked up at
the house on the hill with a delicate curiosity; and felt that his
overtures might have been somewhat ungraceful, or at least ill-timed,
when the new young footman (just taken on) took it entirely upon
himself to kick him all the way down the hill. This little discourtesy,
doubling of course Master Bonny’s esteem and regard for the place, at
the same time introduced some constraint into his after intercourse.
For the moment, indeed, he took no measures to vindicate his honour;
although, at a word (as he knew quite well), Bottler, the pigman, would
have brought up his whip and seen to it. And even if any of the maids
of the house had been told to tell Miss Alice about it, Bonny was sure
of obtaining justice, and pity, and even half-a-crown.

Quick as he was to forget and forgive the many things done amiss to
him, the boy, when he came to the mouth of the coombe, looked pretty
sharply about him for traces of that dreadful fellow, who had proved
himself such a footman. With Jack to help him, with jaw and heel,
Bonny would not have been so very much afraid of even him; such a
“strong-siding champion” had the donkey lately shown himself. Still, on
the whole, and after such a long day’s work by sea and shore, the rover
was much relieved to find his little castle unleaguered.

The portal thereof was a yard in height, and perhaps fifteen inches
wide; not all alike, but in and out, according to the way the things,
or the boy himself, went rubbing it. A holy hermit once had lived
there, if tradition spoke aright. But if so, he must have been as
narrow of body to get in, as wide of mind to stop there. At any rate,
Bonny was now the hermit, and less of a saint than a sinner.

The last glance of sunset was being reflected under the eaves of
twilight, when these two came to their home and comfort in the bay of
the quiet land. From the foot of the steep white cliff, the green sward
spread itself with a gentle slope, and breaks of roughness here and
there, until it met the depth of cornland, where the feathering bloom
appeared--for the summer was a hot one--reared upon its jointed stalk,
and softened into a silver-grey by the level touch of evening. The
little powdered stars of wheat bloom could not now be seen, of course;
neither the quivering of the awns, nor that hovering radiance, which
in the hot day moves among them. Still the scent was on the air, the
delicate fragrance of the wheat, only caught by waiting for it, when
the hour is genial.

Bonny and Jack were not in the humour now to wait for anything. The
scent of the wheat was nothing to them; but the smell of a loaf was
something. And Jack knew, quite as well as Bonny, that let the time
be as hard as it would--and it was a very hard time already, though
nothing to what came afterward--nevertheless, there were two white
loaves, charmed by their united powers, out of maids who were under
notice to quit their situations. Also on their homeward road, they had
not failed entirely of a few fine gristly hocks of pork, and the bottom
of a skin of lard, and something unknown, but highly interesting, from
a place where a pig had been killed that week--a shameful outrage to
any pig, in the time of hearted cabbages.

“Now, Jack, tend thee’zell,” said Bonny, with the air of a full-grown
man almost, while he was working his own little shoulders in betwixt
the worn hair on the ribs, and the balanced bag overhanging them. Jack
knew what he was meant to do; for he brought his white nose cleverly
round, just where it was wanted, and pushed it under one end of the
bag, and tossed it carefully over his back, so that it slid down
beautifully.

When this great bag lay on the ground (or rather, stood up, in a clumsy
way, by virtue of what was inside of it), the first thing everybody did
was to come, and poke, and sniff at it. And though the everybody was no
more than Bonny and his donkey, the duty was not badly done, because
they were both so hungry.

When the strings were cut, and the bag in relief of tension panted,
ever so many things began to ooze, and to ease themselves, out of it.
First of all two great dollops of oar-weed, which had well performed
their task of keeping everything tight and sweet with the hungry
fragrance of the sea. Then came a mixture of almost anything, which a
boy of no daintiness was likely to regard as eatable, or a child of no
kind of “culture” to look upon as a rarity. Bonny was a collector of
the grandest order; the one who collects everything. Here was food of
the land, and food of the sea, and food of the tidal river, mingled
with food for the mind of a boy, who had no mind--to his knowledge. In
the humblest way he groped about, and admired almost everything.

Now he had things to admire which (in the heat of the day and the
work) had been caught and stowed away anyhow. The boy and the donkey
had earned their load with such true labour that now they could not
remember even half of it. Jack, by hard collar-work at the nets;
Bonny, by cheering him up the sand, and tugging himself with his puny
shoulders, and then by dancing, and treading away, and kicking with
naked feet among the wastrel fish, full of thorns and tails, shed from
the vent of the drag-net by the spent farewell of the shoaling wave.

For, on this very day, there had been the great Midsummer haul at
Shoreham. It was the old custom of the place; but even custom must
follow the tides, and the top of the summer spring-tides (when the fish
are always liveliest) happened, for the year 1811, to come on the 18th
day of June. Bonny for weeks had been looking forward and now before
him lay his reward!

After many sweet and bitter uses of adversity, this boy, at an early
age, had caught the tail of prudence. It had been to his heart at
first, a friendly and a native thing, to feast to the full (when he got
the chance) and go empty away till it came again. But now, being grown
to riper years, and, after much consideration, declared to be at least
twelve years old by the only pork-butcher in Steyning, Bonny began to
know what was what, and to salt a good deal of his offal.

For this wise process he now could find a greater call than usual;
because, through the heat of the day, he had stuck to his first and
firmly-grounded principle--never to refuse refuse. So that many other
fine things were mingled, jumbled, and almost churned, among the sundry
importations of the flowing tide and net. All these, now, he well
delivered (so far as sappy limbs could do it) upon a cleanish piece of
ground, well accustomed to such favours. Then Bonny stood back, with
his hands on his knees, and Jack spread his nose at some of it.

Loaves of genuine wheaten bread were getting scarce already. Three or
four bad harvests, following long arrears of discontent, and hanging on
the heavy arm of desperate taxation, kept the country, and the farmers,
and the people that must be fed, in such a condition that we (who
cannot be now content with anything) deserve no blame when we smack our
lips in our dainty contempt of our grandfathers.

Bonny was always good to Jack, according to the way they had of looking
at one another; and so, of the choicest spoils, he gave him a half-peck
loaf, of a fibre such as they seldom softened their teeth with. Jack
preferred this to any clover, even when that luxury could be won by
clever stealing; and now he trotted away with his loaf to the nearest
stump where backing-power against his strong jaws could be got. Here he
laid his loaf against the stump, and went a little way back to think
about it, and to be sure that every atom was for him. Then, without
scruple or time to spare, he tucked up his lips, and began in a hurry
to make a bold dash for the heart of it.

“More haste, less speed,” is a proverb that seems, at first sight, one
of the last that need be impressed upon a donkey. Yet, in the present
instance, Jack should have spared himself time to study it; for in less
than a moment he ran up to Bonny, with his wide mouth at its widest,
snorting with pain, and much yearning to bellow, but by the position
disabled. There was something stuck fast in the roof of his mouth, in a
groove of the veiny black arches; and work as he might with his wounded
tongue, he was only driving it further in. His great black eyes, as
he gasped with fright, and the piteous whine of his quivering nose,
and his way altogether so scared poor Bonny, that the chances were he
would run away. And so, no doubt, he must have done (being but a little
boy as yet), if it had not chanced that a flash of something caught
his quick eye suddenly, something richly shining in the cavern of the
donkey’s mouth.

This was enough, of course, for Bonny. His instinct of scratching,
and digging, and hiding was up and at work in a moment. He thrust his
brown hand between Jack’s great jaws, and drew it back quickly enough
to escape the snap of their glad reunion. And in his hand was something
which he had drawn from the pouch of the net that day, but scarcely
stopped to look at twice, in the huddle of weeds and the sweeping.
It had lain among many fine gifts of the sea--skates, and dog-fish,
sea-devils, sting-rays, thorn-backs, inky cuttles, and scollops,
cockles, whelks, green crabs, jelly-fish, and everything else that
makes fishermen swear, and then grin, and then spit on their palms
again. Afterwards in Bonny’s sack it had lain with manifold boons of
the life-giving earth, extracted from her motherly feeling by one or
two good butchers.

Bonny made no bones of this. Fish, flesh, fowl, or stale
red-herring--he welcomed all the works of charity with a charitable
nose, and fingers not of the nicest. So that his judgment could
scarcely have been “prejudicially affected by any preconceived
opinion”--as our purest writers love to say--when he dropped this
thing, and smelled his thumb, and cried, “Lord, how it makes my hands
itch!”

After such a strong expression, what can we have to say to him? It is
the privilege of our period to put under our feet whatever we would
rather not face out. At the same time, to pretend to love it, and lift
it by education. Nevertheless, one may try to doubt whether Bonny’s
grandchildren (if he ever presumed to have any) thrive on the lesson,
as well as he did on the loaf, of charity.



CHAPTER XI.

CHAMBER PRACTICE.


There used to be a row of buildings, well within the sacred precincts
of the Inner Temple, but still preserving a fair look-out on the
wharves, and the tidal gut at their back, till the whole view was
swallowed by gas-works. Here for long ages law had flourished on the
excrete things of outlawry, fed by the reek of Whitefriars, as a good
nettle enjoys the mixen.

Already, however, some sweeping changes had much improved this
neighbourhood; and the low attorneys who throve on crime, and of whom
we get unpleasant glimpses through our classic novelists, had been
succeeded by men of repute, and learning, and large practice. And
among all these there was not one more widely known and respected than
Glanvil Malahide, K.C.; an eminent equity-barrister, who now declined
to don the wig in any ordinary cause. He had been obliged, of course,
to fight, like the rest of mankind, for celebrity; but as soon as this
was well assured, he quitted the noisier sides of it. But his love of
the subtleties of the law (spun into fairer and frailer gossamer by the
soft spider of equity), as well as the power of habit, kept him to his
old profession; so that he took to chamber practice, and had more than
he could manage.

Sir Roland Lorraine had known this gentleman by repute at Oxford, when
Glanvil Malahide was young, and believed to be one of the best scholars
there; in the days when scholarship often ripened (as it seldom does
now) to learning. For the scholarship now must be kept quite young, for
the smaller needs of tuition.

Hence it came to pass that as soon as Hilary Lorraine was quite acquit
of Oxford leading-strings, and had scrambled into some degree, his
father, who especially wished (for some reasons of his own) to keep the
boy out of the army, entered him gladly among the pupils of Mr. Glanvil
Malahide. Not that Hilary was expected ever to wear the horsehair much
(unless an insane desire to do so should find its way into his open
soul), but that the excellent goodness of law might drop, like the
gentle dew from heaven, and grow him into a Justice of the Peace.

Hilary looked upon this matter, as he did on too many others, with a
sweet indifference. If he could only have had his own way, he would
have been a soldier long ago; for that was the time when all the spirit
of Britain was roused up to arms. But this young fellow’s great fault
was, to be compact of so many elements that nothing was settled amongst
them. He had “great gifts,” as Mr. Malahide said--“extraordinary
talents,” we say now--but nobody knew (least of all their owner) how to
work them properly. This is one of the most unlucky compositions of the
human mind--to be applicable to everything, but applied to nothing. If
Hilary had lain under pressure, and been squeezed into one direction,
he must have become a man of mark.

This his father could not see. As a general rule a father fails to
know what his son is fit for; and after disappointment, fancies (for a
little time at least) himself a fool to have taken the boy to be all
that the mother said of him. Nevertheless, the poor mother knows how
right she was, and the world how wrong.

But Hilary Lorraine, from childhood, had no mother to help him. What
he had to help him was good birth, good looks, good abilities, a very
sweet temper, and a kind and truly genial nature. Also a strongish
will of his own (whenever his heart was moving), yet ashamed to stand
forth boldly in the lesser matters. And here was his fatal error; that
he looked upon almost everything as one of the lesser matters. He had,
of course, a host of friends, from the freedom of his manner; and
sometimes he would do such things that the best, or even the worst of
them, could no longer walk with him. Things not vicious, but a great
deal too far gone in the opposite way--such as the snatching up of a
truly naked child and caressing it, or any other shameful act, in the
face of the noblest Christendom. These things he would do, and worse;
such as no toady with self-respect could smile at in broad daylight,
and such as often exposed the lad to laughter in good society. One of
his best friends used to say that Hilary wanted a vice or two to make
his virtues balance. This may have been so; but none the less, he had
his share of failings.

For a sample of these last, he had taken up and made much of one of his
fellow-pupils in these well-connected chambers. This was one Gregory
Lovejoy, a youth entirely out of his element among fashionable sparks.
Steadfast ambition of a conceptive mother sent him, against his stars,
to London; and here he became the whetstone for those brilliant blades,
his fellow-pupils; because he had been at no university, nor even so
much as a public school, and had no introduction to anybody who had
never heard of him.

Now the more the rest disdained this fellow, the more Lorraine regarded
him; feeling, with a sense too delicate to arise from any thought,
that shame was done to good birth even by becoming conscious of it,
except upon great occasions. And so, without giving much offence, or
pretending to be a champion, Hilary used to shield young Lovejoy from
the blunt shafts of small humour continually levelled at him.

Mr. Malahide’s set of chambers was perhaps the best to be found in
Equity Walk, Inner Temple. His pupils--ten in number always, because
he would accept no more, and his high repute insured no less--these
worthy youths had the longest room, facing with three whitey-brown
windows into “Numa Square.” Hence the view, contemning all “utilitarian
edifices,” freely ranged, across the garden’s classic walks of
asphodel, to the broad Lethean river on whose wharves we are such
weeds. For “Paper Buildings,” named from some swift sequence of
suggestion, reared no lofty height as yet to mar the sedentary view.

All who have the local key will enter into the scene at once; so far,
at least, as necessary change has failed to operate. But Mr. Malahide’s
pupils scarcely ever looked out of the windows. None, however, should
rashly blame them for apathy as to the prospect. They seldom looked out
of the windows, because they were very seldom inside them.

In the first place, their attendance there was voluntary and
precarious. They paid their money, and they took their choice whether
they ever did anything more. Each of them paid--or his father for
him--a fee of a hundred guineas to have the “run of the chambers,” and
most of them carried out their purpose by a runaway from them. The
less they came, the less trouble they caused to Mr. Glanvil Malahide;
who always gave them that much to know, when they paid their fee of
entrance. “If you mean to be a lawyer,” he said, “I will do my best
to make you one. If you only come for the name of it, I shall say but
little more to you.” This, of course, was fair enough, and the utmost
that could be expected of him: for most of his pupils were young men
of birth, or good position in the English counties, to whom in their
future condition of life a little smattering of law, or the credit of
owning such smattering, would be worth a few hundred guineas. Common
Law, of course, was far more likely to avail them, in their rubs of
the world, than equity; but of that fine drug they had generally taken
their dose in Pleaders’ Chambers, and were come to wash the taste away
in the purer shallows of equity.

Hilary, therefore, might be considered, and certainly did consider
himself, a remarkably attentive pupil, for he generally was to be
found in chambers four or even five days of the week, coming in time
to read all the news, before the five o’clock dinner in Hall. Whereas
the Honourable Robert Gumption, and Sir Francis Kickabout, two of his
fellow-pupils, had only been seen in chambers once since they paid
their respective fees; and the reason of their attendance then was
that they found the towels too dirty to use at the billiard-rooms in
Fleet Street. The clerks used to say among themselves, that these young
fellows must be dreadful fools to pay one hundred guineas, because
any swell with the proper cheek might easy enough have the go of the
chambers, and nobody none the wiser; for they wouldn’t know him, nor
the other young gents, and least of all old “horsewig.”

However, there chanced to be two or three men who made something more
than a very expensive lounge of these eminent chambers. Of these
worthy fellows, Rice Cockles was one (who had been senior wrangler
two years before, and from that time knew not one good night’s rest,
till the Woolsack broke his fall into his grave), and another was
Gregory Lovejoy. Cockles was thoroughly conscious--as behoves a senior
wrangler--of possessing great abilities; and Lovejoy knew, on his own
behalf, that his mother at least was as sure as could be of all the
wonders he must do.

Hilary could not bear Rice Cockles, who was of a dry sarcastic vein;
but he liked young Lovejoy more and more, the more he had to defend
him. Youths who have not had the fortune to be at a public school or
a college seldom know how to hold their tongues, until the world has
silenced them. Gregory, therefore, thought no harm to boast opportunely
one fine May morning (when some one had seen a tree blossoming
somewhere) of the beauty of his father’s cherry-trees. How noble and
grand they must be just now, one sheet of white, white, white, he said,
as big as the Inner and the Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn, all put
together! And then how the bees were among them buzzing, knowing which
sorts first to milk; and the tortoiseshell butterflies quite sure to
be out, for the first of their summering. But in the moonlight, best
of all, when the moon was three days short of full, then was the time
an unhappy Londoner must be amazed with happiness. Then to walk among
them was like walking in a fairy-land, or being lost in a sky of snow,
before a flake begins to fall. A delicate soft world of white, an
in-and-out of fancy lace, a feeling of some white witchery, and almost
a fright that little white blossoms have such power over one.

“Where may one find this grand paradise?” asked Rice Cockles, as if he
could scarcely refrain his feet from the road to it.

“Five miles the other side of Sevenoaks,” Gregory answered, boldly.

“I know the country. Does your father grow cherries for Covent Garden
market?”

“Of course he does. Didn’t you know that!” Thenceforth in chambers
Lovejoy was always known as “Cherry Lovejoy.” And he proudly answered
to that name.

It was now the end of June, and the cherries must be getting ripe. The
day had been very hot and sultry, and Hilary came into chambers later
than his usual time, but fresh as a lark, as he always was. Even Mr.
Malahide had felt the weight of the weather, and of his own threescore
years and five, and in his own room was dozing. The three clerks, in
their little den, were fit for next to nothing, except to be far away
in some meadow, with sleepy beer, under alder-trees. Even Rice Cockles
had struck work with one of those hopeless headaches which are bred by
hot weather from satire, a thing that turns sour above freezing-point;
and no one was dwelling in the long hot room save the peaceful and
steady Gregory.

Even he, with his resolute will to fulfil his mother’s prophecies,
could scarcely keep his mind from flagging, or his mouth from yawning,
as he went through some most elaborate answer to a grand petition
in equity--the iniquity being, to a common mind, that the question
could have arisen. But Mr. Malahide, of course, regarded things
professionally.

“Lovejoy, thy name is ‘Love misery,’” cried young Lorraine, who never
called his fellow-pupil “Cherry,” though perfectly welcome to do so. “I
passed an optician’s shop just now, and the thermometer stands at 96°.
That quill must have come from an ostrich to be able to move in such
weather. Even the Counsellor yields to the elements. Hark how he winds
his sultry horn! Is it not a great and true writer who says, ‘I tell
thee that the quills of the law are the deadliest shafts of the Evil
One’? Come, therefore, and try a darting match.”

Gregory felt no inclination for so hot a pastime; he had formed,
however, a habit of yielding to the impulsive and popular Hilary,
which led him into a few small scrapes, and one or two that were not
small. Lorraine’s unusual brightness of nature, and personal beauty,
and gentle bearing, as well as an inborn readiness to be pleased with
everybody, insured him a good liking with almost all kinds of people.
How then could young Lovejoy, of a fine but unshapen character, and
never introduced to the very skirts of good society, help looking up
to his champion Hilary as a charming deity? Therefore he made way at
once for Hilary’s sudden freak for darts. The whole world being at war
just then (as happens upon the average in every generation), Cherry
Lovejoy slung his target, a legal almanac for the year. Then he took
four long quills, and pared them of their plumes, and split the shafts,
and fitted each with four paper wings, cut and balanced cleverly. His
aptness in the business showed that this was not his first attempt; and
it was a hard and cruel thing that he should now have to prepare them.
But the clerks had a regular trick of stealing the “young pups’” darts
from their unlocked drawers, partly for practice among themselves, but
mainly to please their families.

“Capital! Beautifully done!” cried Hilary, as full of life as if the
only warmth of the neighbourhood were inside him. “We never turned out
such a good lot before; I could never do that like you. But now for the
tips, my dear fellow!”

“Any fool can do what I have done. But no one can cut the tip at all,
to stick in the target and not bounce back; only you, Mr. Lorraine.”

“Mister Lorraine! now, Gregory Lovejoy, I thought we liked one another
well enough to have dropped that long ago. If you will only vouchsafe
to notice, you shall see how I cut the tip, so that the well-sped
javelin pierces even cover of calf-skin.” It was done in a moment, by
some quick art, inherited, perhaps, from Prince Agasicles; and then
they took their stations.

From the further end of the room they cast (for thirty feet or more
perhaps) over two great tables scarred by keen generations of lawyers.
Hilary threw the stronger shaft, but Gregory took more careful aim; so
that in spite of the stifling heat, the contest grew exciting.

“Blest if they young donkeys knows hot from cold!” said the senior
clerk, disturbed in his little room by the prodding and walking, and
the lively voices.

“Sooner them, than you nor me!” the second clerk muttered sleepily.
When the most ungrammatical English is wanted, a copying clerk is the
man to supply it.

In spite of unkindly criticism, the brisk aconitic strife went on. And
every hit was chronicled on a long sheet of draft paper.

“Sixteen to you, eighteen to me!” cried Gregory, poising his long
shadowed spear, while his coat and waistcoat lay in the folds of a
suit that could never terminate, and his square Kentish face was even
redder than a ripe May-Duke. At that moment the door was opened, and in
came Mr. Malahide.

“Just so!” he said, in his quiet way; “I now understand the origin of a
noise which has often puzzled me. Lorraine, what a baby you must be!”

“Can a baby do that?” said Hilary, as he stepped into poor Gregory’s
place, and sped his dart into the Chancellor’s eye, the bull’s-eye of
their target.

“That was well done,” Mr. Malahide answered; “perhaps it is the only
good shot you will ever make in your profession.”

“I hope not, sir. Under your careful tuition I am laying the
foundations of a mighty host of learning.”

At this the lawyer was truly pleased. He really did believe that he
took some trouble with his pupils; and his very kind heart was always
gratified by their praises. And he showed his pleasure in his usual way
by harping on verbal niceties.

“Foundations of a host, Lorraine! Foundations of a pile, you mean; and
as yet, _lusisti pilis_. But you may be a credit to me yet. Allowance
must be made for this great heat. I will talk to you to-morrow.”

With these few words, and a pleasant smile, the eminent lawyer withdrew
to his den, feigning to have caught no glimpse of the deeply-blushing
Lovejoy. For he knew quite well that Gregory could not afford to play
with his schooling; and so (like a proper gentleman) he fell upon the
one who could. Hilary saw his motive, and with his usual speed admired
him.

“What a fine fellow he is!” he said, as if in pure self-commune; “from
the time he becomes Lord Chancellor, I will dart at no legal almanac.
But the present fellow--however, the weather is too hot to talk of him.
Lovejoy, wilt thou come with me? I must break out into the country.”

“What!” cried Gregory, drawing up at the magic word from his stool of
repentance, and the desk of his diminished head. “What was that you
said, Lorraine?”

“Fair indeed is the thing thou hast said, and fair is the way thou
saidst it. Tush! shall I never get wholly out of my ignorant knowledge
of Greek plays? Of languages that be, or have been, only two words
survive this weather, in the streets of London town; one is ‘rus,’ and
the other ‘country.’”

“‘It is a sweet and decorous thing to die on behalf of the country.’
That line I remember well; you must have seen it somewhere?”

“It is one of my earliest memories, and not a purely happy one. But
that is ‘patria,’ not ‘rus.’ ‘Patria’ is the fatherland; ‘rus’ is a
fellow’s mother. None can understand this parable till they have lived
in London.”

“Lorraine,” said Gregory, coming up shyly, yet with his brown eyes
sparkling, and a steadfast mouth to declare himself, “you are very much
above me, of course, I know.”

“I am uncommonly proud to hear it,” Hilary answered, with his most
sweet smile, “because I must be a much finer fellow than I ever could
have dreamed of being.”

“Now, you know well enough what I mean. I mean, in position of life,
and all that, and birth, and society--and so on.”

“To be sure,” said Hilary gravely, making a trumpet of blotting paper;
“any other advantage, Gregory?”

“Fifty, if I could stop to tell them. But I see that you mean to argue
it. Now, argument is a thing that always----”

“Now, Gregory, just acknowledge me your superior in argument, and I
will confess myself your superior in every one of those other things.”

“Well, you know, Lorraine, I could scarcely do that. Because it was
only the very last time----”

“Exactly,” said Hilary; “so it was--the very last time, you left me no
more than a shadow caught in a cleft stick. Therefore, friend Gregory,
say your say, without any traps for the sole of my foot.”

“Well, what I was thinking was no more than this--if you would take it
into consideration now--considering what the weather is, and all the
great people gone out of London, and the streets like fire almost, and
the lawyers frightened by the comet, quite as if, as if, almost----”

“As if it were the devil come for them.”

“Exactly so. Bellows’ clerk told me, after he saw the comet, that he
could prove he had never been articled. And when you come to consider
also that there will be a row to-morrow morning--not much, of course,
but still a thing to be avoided till the weather cools--I thought; at
least, I began to think----”

“My dear fellow, what? Anxiety in this dreadful weather is fever.”

“Nothing, nothing at all, Lorraine. But you are the sweetest-tempered
fellow I ever came across; and so I thought that you would not mind--at
least, not so very much, perhaps----”

“My sweet temper is worn out. I have no mind to mind anything, Gregory;
come and dine with me.”

“That is how you stop me always, Lorraine; I cannot be for ever coming,
and come, to dine with you. I always like it; but you know----”

“To be sure, I know that I like it too. It is high time to see about
it. Who could dine in Hall to-day, and drink his bottle of red-hot
port?”

“I could, and so could a hundred others. And I mean to do it,
unless----”

“Unless what? Mysterious Gregory, by your face I know that you
have some very fine thing to propose. Have you the heart to keep me
suspended, as well as uncommonly hungry?”

“It is nothing to make a fuss about. Lorraine, you want to get out of
town, for a little wholesome air. I want to do the same; and something
came into my head quite casually.”

“Such things have an inspiration. Out with it at last, fair Gregory.”

“Well, then, if you must have it, how I should like for you to come
with me to have a little turn among my father’s cherry-trees!”

“What a noble thought!” said Hilary; “a poetic imagination only
could have hit on such a thought. The thermometer at 96°--and the
cherries--can they be sour now?”

“Such a thing is quite impossible,” Gregory answered gravely; “in a
very cold, wet summer they are sometimes a little middling. But in such
a splendid year as this, there can be no two opinions. Would you like
to see them?”

“Now, Lovejoy, I can put up with much; but not with maddening
questions.”

“You mean, I suppose, that you could enjoy half-a-dozen cool red
cherries, if you had the chance to pick them in among the long green
leaves?”

“Half-a-dozen! Half-a-peck; and half-a-bushel afterwards. Where have I
put my hat? I am off, if it costs my surviving sixpence.”

“Lorraine, all the coaches are gone for the day. But you are always in
such a hurry. You ought to think a little, perhaps, before you make up
your mind to come. Remember that my father’s house is a good house, and
as comfortable as any you could wish to see; still it may be different
from what you are accustomed to.”

“Such things are not worth thinking about. Custom, and all that, are
quite below contempt; and we are beginning to treat it so. The greatest
mistake of our lives is custom; and the greatest delight is to kick it
away. Will your father be glad to see me?”

“He has heard me talk of you, many a time; and he would have been glad
to come to London (though he hates it so abominably), to see you and
to ask you down, if he thought that you would require it. It is a very
old-fashioned place; you must please to bear that in mind. Also, my
father, and my mother, and all of us, are old-fashioned people, living
in a quiet way. You would carry on more in an hour, than we do in a
twelvemonth. We like to go all over things, ever so many times, perhaps
(like pushing rings up and down a stick), before we begin to settle
them. But when we have settled them, we never start again; as you seem
to do.”

“Now, Gregory, Gregory, this is bad. When did you know me to start
again? Ready I am to start this once, and to dwell in the orchards for
ever.”

In a few words more, these two young fellows agreed to take their luck
of it. There was nothing in chambers for Lovejoy to lose, by going away
for a day or two; and Hilary long had felt uneasy at leaving a holiday
overdue. Therefore they made their minds up promptly for an early
start next morning, ere the drowsy town should begin to kick up its
chimney-pots, like a sluggard’s toes.

“Gregory,” said Lorraine, at last, “your mind is a garden of genius. We
two will sit upon bushel-baskets, and watch the sun rise out of sacks.
Before he sets, we will challenge him to face our early waggon. Covent
Garden is our trysting spot, and the hour 4 a.m. Oh, day to be marked
with white chalk for ever!”

“I am sure I can’t tell how that may be,” answered the less fervent
Gregory. “There is no chalk in our grounds at all; and I never saw
black chalk anywhere. But can I trust you to be there? If you don’t
come, I shall not go without you; and the whole affair must be put off.”

“No fear, Gregory; no fear of me. The lark shall still be on her
nest;--but wait, my friend, I will tell the Counsellor, lest I seem to
dread his face.”

Lovejoy saw that this was the bounden duty of a gentleman, inasmuch as
the learned lawyer had promised his young friend a little remonstrance
upon the following morning. The chances were that he would forget it:
and this, of course, enhanced the duty of making him remember it.
Therefore Hilary gave three taps on the worm-eaten door of his good
tutor, according to the scale of precedence. This rule was--inferior
clerk, one tap; head-clerk, two taps; pupil (being no clerk at all, and
paying, not drawing, salary), as many taps as he might think proper, in
a reasonable way.

Hilary, of course, began, as he always managed to begin, with almost
everybody.

“I am sorry to disturb you, sir; and I have nothing particular to say.”

“In that case, why did you come, Lorraine? It is your usual state of
mind.”

“Well, sir,” said Hilary, laughing at the terse mood of the master, “I
thought you had something to say to me--a very unusual state of mind,”
he was going to say, “on your part;” but stopped, with a well-bred
youth’s perception of the unbecoming.

“Yes, I have something to say to you. I remember it now, quite clearly.
You were playing some childish game with Lovejoy, in the pupil’s room.
Now, this is all well enough for you, who are fit for nothing else,
perhaps. Your father expects no work from you; and if he did, he would
never get it. You may do very well, in your careless way, being born to
the gift of indifference. But those who can and must work hard--is it
honest of you to entice them? You think that I speak severely. Perhaps
I do, because I feel that I am speaking to a gentleman.”

“It is uncommonly hard,” said Hilary, with his bright blue eyes half
conscious of a shameful spring of moisture, “that a fellow always gets
it worse for trying to be a gentleman.”

“You have touched a great truth,” Mr. Malahide answered, labouring
heavily not to smile; “but so it always must be. My boy, I am sorry
to vex you; but to be vexed is better than to grieve. You like young
Lovejoy--don’t make him idle.”

“Sir, I will dart at him henceforth, whenever I see him lazy; instead
of the late Lord Chancellor, now sitting upon asphodel.”

“Lorraine,” the great lawyer suddenly asked, in a flush of unusual
interest, “you have been at Oxford quite recently. They do all sorts of
things there now. Have they settled what asphodel is?”

“No, sir, I fear that they never will. There are several other moot
questions still. But with your kind leave, I mean to try to settle that
point to-morrow.”



CHAPTER XII.

WITH THE COSTERMONGERS.


Martin Lovejoy, Gregory’s father, owned and worked a pleasant farm in
that part of Kent which the natives love to call the “Garden of Eden.”
In the valley of the upper Medway, a few miles above Maidstone, pretty
hamlets follow the soft winding of the river. Here an ancient race of
settlers, quiet and intelligent, chose their home, and chose it well,
and love it as dearly as ever.

To argue with such people is to fall below their mercy. They stand at
their cottage-doors, serenely as thirty generations of them have stood.
A riotous storm or two may have swept them; but it never lasted long.
The bowers of hop and of honeysuckle, trimmed alleys, and rambling
roses, the flowering trees by the side of the road, and the truest of
true green meadows, the wealth of deep orchards retiring away--as all
wealth does--to enjoy itself; and where the land condescends to wheat,
the vast gratitude of the wheat-crop,--nobody wonders, after a while,
that these men know their value.

The early sun was up and slurring light upon London housetops, as a
task of duty only, having lost all interest in a thing even he can make
no hand of. But the brisk air of the morning, after such a night of
sweltering, and of strong smells under slates, rode in the perpetual
balance of the clime, and spread itself. Fresh, cool draughts of
new-born day, as vague as the smile of an infant, roved about; yet
were to be caught according to the dew-lines. And of these the best
and truest followed into Covent Garden, under the force of attraction
towards the green stuff they had dwelt among.

Here was a wondrous reek of men before the night had spent itself. Such
a Babel, of a market-morning in “the berry-season,” as makes one long
to understand the mother-tongue of nobody. Many things are nice and
handsome; fruit and flowers are fair and fresh; life is as swift as
life can be; and the pulse of price throbs everywhere. Yet, upon the
whole, it is wiser not to say much more of it.

Martin Lovejoy scarcely ever ventured into this stormy world. In summer
and autumn he was obliged to send some of his fruit to London; but he
always sent it under the care of a trusty old retainer, Master John
Shorne, whose crusty temper and crisp wit were a puzzle to the Cockney
costermonger. Throughout the market, this man was known familiarly as
“Kentish Crust,” and the name helped him well in his business.

Now, in the summer morning early, Hilary Lorraine, with his most
sprightly walk and manner, sought his way through the crowded alleys,
and the swarms of those that buy and sell. Even the roughest of rough
customers (when both demand and supply are rough), though they would
not yield him way, at any rate did not shove him by. “A swell, to buy
fruit for his sweetheart,” was their conclusion in half a glance at
him. “Here, sir, here you are! berries for nothing, and cherries we
pays you for eating of them!”

With the help of these generous fellows, Hilary found his way to John
Shorne and the waggon. The horses, in unbuckled ease, were munching
their well-earned corn close by; for at that time Covent Garden was not
squeezed and driven as now it is. The tail-board of the waggon was now
hanging upon its hinges, and “Kentish Crust,” on his springy rostrum,
dealt with the fag-end of his goods. The market, in those days, was not
flooded with poor foreign produce, fair to the eye, but a fraud on the
belly, and full of most dangerous colic. Englishmen, at that time, did
not spend their keenest wits upon the newest and speediest measures for
robbing their brother Englishmen; and a native would really buy from
his neighbour as gladly as from his born enemy.

Master John Shorne had a canvas bag on the right side of his breeches,
hanging outside, full in sight, defying every cut-purse. That age was
comparatively honest; nevertheless, John kept a club, cut in Mereworth
wood, quite handy. And, at every sale he made, he rang his coin of the
realm in his bag, as if he were calling bees all round the waggon. This
generally led to another sale. For money has a rich and irresistible
joy in jingling.

Hilary was delighted to watch these things, so entirely new to him. He
had that fatal gift of sliding into other people’s minds, and wondering
what to do there. Not as a great poet has it (still reserving his own
strength, and playing on the smaller nature kindly as he loves it),
but simply as a child rejoices to play with other children. So that
he entered eagerly into the sudden changes of John’s temper, according
to the tone, the bidding, and, most of all, the importance of the
customers that came to him. By this time the cherries were all sold
out, having left no trace except some red splashes, where an over-ripe
sieve had been bleeding. But the Kentish man still had some bushels of
peas, and new potatoes, and bunches of coleworts, and early carrots,
besides five or six dozens of creamy cauliflowers, and several scores
of fine-hearted lettuce. Therefore he was dancing with great excitement
up and down his van, for he could not bear to go home uncleared; and
some of his shrewder customers saw that by waiting a little longer they
would be likely to get things at half-price. Of course he was fully
alive to this, and had done his best to hide surplus stock, by means of
sacks, and mats, and empty bushels piled upon full ones.

“Crusty, thou must come down, old fellow,” cried a one-eyed
costermonger, winking first at John and then through the rails, and
even at the springs of the van; “half the load will go back to Kent, or
else to the cowkeeper, if so be you holds on so almighty dear.”

“Ha, then, Joe, are you waiting for that? Go to the cow-yard and take
your turn. They always feeds the one-eyed first. Gentlemen, now--while
there’s anything left! We’ve kept all the very best back to the last,
’cos they chanced to be packed by an Irishman. ‘First goes in, must
first come out.’ Paddy, are you there to stick to it?”

“Be jabers, and how could I slip out, when the hape of you was atop of
me? And right I was, be the holy poker; there it all is the very first
in the bottom of the vhan!”

“Now, are you nearly ready, John?” asked Gregory, suddenly appearing
through the laughter of the crowd; “here is the gentleman going with
us, and I can’t have him kept waiting.”

“Come up, Master Greg, and help sell out, if you know the time better
than I do.” John Shorne was vexed, or he would not so have spoken to
his master’s son.

To his great surprise, with a bound up came not Gregory Lovejoy, who
was always a little bit shy of the marketing, but Hilary Lorraine,
declared by dress and manner (clearly marked, as now they never can be)
of an order wholly different from the people round him.

“Let me help you, sir,” he said; “I have long been looking on; I am
sure that I understand it.”

“Forty years have I been at ’un, and I scarcely knows ’un now. They
takes a deal of mannerin’, sir, and the prices will go in and out.”

“No doubt; and yet for the sport of it, let me help you, Master Shorne.
I will not sell a leaf below the price you whisper to me.”

In such height of life and hurry, half a minute is enough to fetch a
great crowd anywhere. It was round the market in ten seconds that
a grand lord was going to sell out of Grower Lovejoy’s waggon. For
a great wager, of course it must be; and all who could rush, rushed
to see. Hilary let them get ready, and waited till he saw that their
money was burning. Meanwhile Crusty John was grinning one of his most
experienced grins.

“Don’t let him; oh, don’t let him,” Gregory shouted to the salesman, as
Hilary came to the rostrum with a bunch of carrots in one hand and a
cauliflower in the other--“What would his friends say if they heard it?”

“Nay, I’ll not let ’un,” John Shorne answered, mischievously taking the
verb in its (now) provincial sense; “why should I let ’un? It can’t
hurt he, and it may do good to we.”

In less than ten minutes the van was cleared, and at such prices as
Grower Lovejoy’s goods had not fetched all through the summer. Such
competition arose for the honour of purchasing from a “nobleman,” and
so enchanted were the dealers’ ladies, many of whom came thronging
round, with Hilary’s bright complexion, gay address, and complaisancy.

“Well done, my lord! well done indeed!” Crusty John, to keep up the
fiction, shouted when he had pouched the money--“Gentlemen and ladies,
my lord will sell again next week; he has a heavy bet about it with the
Prince Reg----tush, what a fool I am! they will send me to prison if I
tell!”

As a general rule, the more suspicious people are in some ways, the
more credulous are they in all the rest. Kentish Crust was aware of
this, and expected and found for the next two months extraordinary
inquiry for his goods.

“Friend Gregory, wherefore art thou glum?” said Hilary to young
Lovejoy, while the horses with their bunched-up tails were being
buckled to again. Lorraine was radiant with joy, both at his recent
triumph in a matter quite unknown to him, and even more because of many
little pictures spread before him by his brisk imagination far away
from London. Every stamp of a horse’s hoof was as good as a beat of the
heart to him.

“Lorraine,” the sensible Gregory answered, after some hesitation, “I am
vexed at the foolish thing you have done. Not that it really is at all
a disgrace to you, or your family, but that the world would take it so;
and we must think as the world does.”

“Must we?” asked Hilary, smiling kindly; “well, if we must, let us
think it on springs.”

At the word he leaped into the fruit-van so lightly that the strong
springs scarcely shook; and Gregory could do no better than climb in
calmly after him. “Gee-wugg,” cried Master Shorne; and he had no need
to say it twice; the bright brass harness flashed the sun, and the
horses merrily rang their hoofs, on the road to their native land of
Kent.



CHAPTER XIII.

TO THE CHERRY-ORCHARDS.


Hilary Lorraine enjoyed his sudden delivery from London, and the fresh
delight of the dewy country, with such loud approval, and such noisy
lightsomeness of heart, that even Crusty John, perched high on the
driving-box above him, could not help looking back now and then into
the van, and affording the horses the benefit of his opinion. “A right
down hearty one he be, as’ll make some of our maids look alive. And the
worst time of year for such work too, when the May-Dukes is in, and the
Hearts a colouring!”

Hilary was sitting on an empty “half sieve,” mounted on an empty
bushel, and with his usual affability enjoying the converse of “Paddy
from Cork,” as everybody called the old Irishman, who served alike for
farm, road, or market, as the “lad of all work.” But Gregory Lovejoy,
being of a somewhat grave and silent order, was already beginning to
doubt his own prudence in bringing their impulsive friend so near
to a certain fair cousin of his now staying at the hospitable farm,
in whom he felt a tender interest. Poor Lovejoy feared that his
chance would be small against this dashing stranger; and he balanced
uncomfortably in his mind whether or not he should drop a hint, at the
first opportunity, to Lorraine, concerning his views in that quarter.
Often he almost resolved to do so; and then to his diffidence it seemed
presumptuous to fancy that any young fellow of Hilary’s birth and
expectations would entangle himself in their rustic world.

At Bromley they pulled up, to bait “man and beast,” three fine horses
and four good men, eager to know the reason why they should not have
their breakfast. Lorraine, although very short of cash (as he always
found the means to be), demanded and stood out for leave to pay for
everybody. This privilege was obtained at last--as it generally is by
persistency--and after that it was felt that Hilary could no longer be
denied his manifest right to drive the van. He had driven the Brighton
four-horse coach, the whole way to London, times and again; and it was
perfectly absurd to suppose that he could not manage three horses.
Master John Shorne yielded his seat, apparently to this reasoning,
but really to his own sure knowledge that the horses after so long
a journey would be, on their way to stall, as quiet as lambs in the
evening. Therefore he rolled himself up in the van, and slept the sleep
of the man who has been up and wide-awake all night, for the sake of
other people.

The horses well knew the true way home, and offered no cause for bit
or whip; and they seemed to be taken sometimes with the pleasure which
Hilary found in addressing them. They lifted their tails, and they
pricked their ears, at the proper occasions genially; till the heat of
the day settled down on their backs, and their creases grew dark and
then lathery. And the horsefly (which generally forbears the pleasure
of nuisance till July) in this unusually hot summer was earnest in his
vocation already. Therefore, being of a leisurely mind, as behoves all
genuine sons of the soil, Master Shorne called a halt, through the
blazing time of noon, before battling with the “Backbone of Kent,” as
the beautiful North Down range is called. Here in a secluded glen they
shunned the heats of Canicula under the sign of the “Pig and Whistle.”

Thus the afternoon was wearing when they came to Sevenoaks, and passing
through that pleasant town descended into the weald of Kent. No one but
Hilary cared for the wonderful beauty and richness of the view, breadth
upon breadth of fruit-land, woven in and out with hops and corn; and
towards the windings of the Medway, pastures of the deepest green even
now after the heat of the sun, and thirst of the comet that drank the
dew. Turning on the left from the Tunbridge road, they threaded their
way along narrow lanes, where the hedges no longer were scarred with
chalk, but tapestried with all shades of green, and even in the broken
places, rich with little cascades of loam. Careless dog-rose played
above them with its loose abandonment; and honeysuckle was almost ready
to release its clustered tongues. But “Travellers Joy”--the joy that
makes all travellers long to rest in Kent--abode as yet in the hopeful
bud, a pendent shower of emerald.

These things were not heeded much, but pleasantly accepted, by the four
men and three horses. All felt alike that the world was made for them,
and for them to enjoy themselves; and little they cared to go into the
reason, when they had the room for it. With this large sense of what
ought to be, they came to the gate of Old Applewood farm, a great white
gate with a padlock on it. This stopped the road, and was meant to do
so; for Martin Lovejoy, Gregory’s father, claimed the soil of the road
from this point, and denied all right of way, public or even private,
to all claimants of whatsoever kind. On the other hand the parish
claimed it as a public thoroughfare, and two farmers further on vowed
that it was an “occupation road;” and what was more they would use it
as such. “Grower Lovejoy,” as the neighbourhood called him--not that he
was likely to grow much more, but because of his cherry-orchards--here
was the proper man to hold the gate against all his enemies. When they
sawed it down, he very promptly replaced it with cast iron; and when
this was shattered with a fold-pitcher, he stopped their premature
triumph by a massive barrier of wrought metal case-hardened against
rasp or cold chisel. Moreover he painted it white, so that any
nocturnal attack might be detected at a greater distance.

When Paddy had opened this gate with a key which he had carried to
London, they passed through an orchard of May-Duke cherries, with the
ripe fruit hanging quite over the road. “No wonder you lock the gate,”
said Lorraine, as Crusty John, now on the box again, handed him a noble
cluster with the dark juice mantling richly under the ruddy gloss of
skin.

“Do you mean that we should get them stolen?” Gregory asked, with some
indignation; for his Kentish pride was touched: “oh, no, we should
never get them stolen. Nobody about here would do such a thing.”

“Then they don’t know what’s good,” answered Hilary, jumping at another
cluster; “I was born to teach the Kentish public the proper way to
steal cherries.”

“Well, they do take them sometimes,” the truthful Gregory confessed;
“but we never call it stealing, any more than we do what the birds
take.”

“Valued fellow-student, thy strong point will not be the criminal law.
But you must have a criminal love of the law, to jump at it out of
these cherry-trees.”

“It was my mother’s work, as you know. Ah, there she is, and my Cousin
Phyllis!”

For the moment Lovejoy forgot his duty to his friend and particular
guest, and slipping down from the tail of the van, made off at full
speed through the cherry-trees. Hilary scarcely knew what to do. The
last thing that ever occurred to him was that any one had been rude
to him; still it was rather unpleasant to drive, or be driven, up to
the door of his host, sitting upon a bushel basket, and with no one
to say who he was. Yet to jump out and run after Gregory, and collar
him while he saluted his mother, was even a worse alternative. In a
very few moments that chance was gone; for the team, with the scent of
their corn so nigh, broke into a merry canter, and rattled along with
their ears pricked forward, and a pleasant jingling. Neither did they
stop until they turned into a large farm-yard, with an oast-house at
the further end of it. The dwelling-house was of the oldest fashion,
thatched in the middle, at each end gabled, tiled in some places, and
at some parts slabbed. Yet, on the whole, it looked snug, dry, and
happy. Here, with one accord, halted the nags, and shook themselves in
their harness, and answered the neighs of their friends in the stables.

Hilary, laughing at his own plight, but feeling uncommonly stiff in the
knees, arose from his basket, and looked around; and almost the first
thing that met his gaze destroyed all his usual presence of mind. This
was a glance of deep surprise, mingled with timid inquiry and doubt,
from what Master Hilary felt at once to be the loveliest, sweetest, and
most expressive brown eyes in the universe. The young girl blushed
as she turned away, through fear of having shown curiosity; but the
rich tint of her cheeks was faint, compared with the colour of poor
Lorraine’s. That gay youth was taken aback so utterly by the flash of
a moment, that he could not find a word to say, but made pretence in a
wholesale manner to see nothing at all particular. But the warm blood
from his heart belied him, which he turned away to hide, and worked
among the baskets briskly, hoping to be looked at, and preparing to
have another look as soon as he felt that it could be done.

Meanwhile, that formidable creature, whose glance had produced such a
fine effect, recovered more promptly from surprise, and felt perhaps
the natural pride of success, and desire to pursue the fugitive. At any
rate, she was quite ready to hear whatever he might have to say for
himself.

“I must ask you to forgive me,” Lorraine began in a nervous manner,
lifting his hat, and still blushing freely, “for springing so suddenly
out of the earth--or rather, out of this van, I mean; though that can’t
be right, for I still am in it. I believe that I have the pleasure of
speaking to Miss Phyllis Catherow. Your cousin, Mr. Lovejoy, is a very
great friend of mine indeed; and he most kindly asked, or rather, what
I mean to say is, invited me to come down for a day or two to this
delightful part of the world; and I have enjoyed it so much already,
that I am sure--that--that in fact----”

“That I hope you may soon enjoy it more.” She did not in the least mean
any sarcasm or allusion to Hilary’s present state; still he fancied
that she did; until the kind look, coming so sweetly from the kind warm
heart, convinced him that she never could be so cruel.

“I see the most delightful prospect I ever could imagine of enjoying
myself,” Lorraine replied, with a glance, imparting to his harmless
words the mischief of that which nowadays we call “a most unwarrantable
personal allusion.” But she did not, or would not, take it so.

“How kind of you to be pleased so lightly! But we do our best, in our
simple way, when any one kindly comes to see us.”

“Why, Miss Catherow, I thought from what your cousin said to me that
you were only staying here for a little time yourself.”

“You are quite right as to Miss Catherow. But I am not my Cousin
Phyllis. I am only Mabel Lovejoy, Gregory Lovejoy’s sister.”

“By Jove, how glad I am!” cried Hilary, in his impetuous way; “what a
fool I must have been not to know it, after I saw him run to meet his
cousin in the orchard! But that treacherous Gregory never told me that
he even had a sister. Now, won’t I thoroughly give it to him?”

“You must not be angry, Mr. Lorraine, with poor Gregory,
because--because Phyllis is such a beautiful girl.”

“Don’t let me hear about beautiful girls! As if--as if there could be
any----”

“Good enough for Gregory,” she answered, coming cleverly to his rescue,
for he knew that he had gone too far; “but wait till you have seen
Cousin Phyllis.”

“There is one thing I shall not defer for the glory of seeing a
thousand Miss Catherows, and that is the right that I have to shake
hands with my dear friend Gregory’s sister.”

He had leaped from the van some time ago, and now held out his hand (a
good strong one, pleasingly veined with cherry-juice), and she, with
hospitable readiness, laid her pretty palm therein. He felt that it was
a pretty hand, and a soft one, and a hearty one; and he found excuse to
hold it longer while he asked a question.

“Now, how did you know my name, if you please, while I made such a
stupid mistake about yours?”

“By your bright blue eyes,” she was going to answer, with her native
truthfulness; but the gaze of those eyes suggested that the downright
truth might be dangerous. Therefore, for once, she met a question with
a question warily.

“Was it likely that I should not know you, after all I have heard of
you?” This pleased him well in a general way. For Hilary, though too
free (if possible) from conceit and arrogance, had his own little share
of vanity. Therefore, upon the whole, it was lucky, and showed due
attention to his business, that Grower Lovejoy now came up, to know
what was doing about the van.

Martin Lovejoy was not a squatter, by seven years stamped into “tenant
right,” which means very often landlord’s wrong. Nor was he one of
those great tenant farmers who, even then, were beginning to rise, and
hold their own with “landed gentry.” His farm was small, when compared
with some; but it was outright his own, having descended to him through
long-buried generations. So that he was one of the ever-dwindling class
of “franklins,” a class that has done good work for England, neither
obtaining nor craving thanks.

Old Applewood farm contained altogether about six hundred acres,
whereof at least two-thirds lay sweetly in the Vale of Medway, and
could show root, stem, or bine against any other land in Kent, and,
therefore, any in England. Here was no fear of the heat of the sun or
the furious winter’s rages, such a depth of nature underlay the roots
of everything. Nothing ever suffered from that poverty of blood which
makes trees canker on a shallow soil; and no tree rushed into watery
strength (which very soon turns to weakness), through having laid hold
upon something that suited only a particular part of it.

And not the trees alone, but all things, grew within that proper usage
of a regulated power (yet with more of strength to come up, if it
should be called for), which has made our land and country fertile
over all the world; receiving submissively the manners and the manure
of all nations. This is a thing to be proud of; but the opportunity for
such pride was not open to the British mind at the poor old time now
dealt with.

Martin Lovejoy knew no more than that the rest of Europe was amassed
against our island; and if England meant to be England, every son of
that old country must either fight himself or pay. Martin would rather
have fought than paid, if he had only happened to be a score and a half
years younger.

Hilary Lorraine knew well (when Martin Lovejoy took his hand, and
welcomed him to Old Applewood) that here was a man to be relied on, to
make good his words and mind. A man of moderate stature, but of sturdy
frame, and some dignity; ready to meet everybody pretty much as he was
met.

“Glad to see you, sir,” he said; “I have often heard of you, Master
Lorraine; it is right kind of you to come down. I hope that you are
really hungry, sir.”

“To the last degree,” answered Hilary; “I have been eating off and
on, but nothing at all to speak of, in the noble air I have travelled
through.”

“Our air has suited you, I see by the colour of your cheeks and eyes.
Aha! the difference begins, as I have seen some scores of times, at
ten miles out of London. And we are nearly thirty here, sir, from that
miserable place. Excuse me, Master Lorraine, I hope I say nothing to
offend you.”

“My dear sir, how can you offend me? I hate London heartily. There must
be a million people there a great deal too good to live in it. We are
counting everybody this year; and I hear that when it is made up there
will be a million and a quarter!”

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. There never was such a deal
before. And how can there want to be so many now? This numbering of
the people is an unholy thing, that leads to plagues. All the parsons
around here say that this has brought the comet. And they may show
something for it; and they preach of Jerusalem when it was going to be
destroyed. They have frightened all our young maids terribly. What is
said in London, sir?”

“Scarcely anything, Mr. Lovejoy: scarcely anything at all. We only see
him every now and then, because of the smoke between us. And when we
see him, we have always got our own work to attend to.”

“Wonderful, wonderful!” answered the Grower; “who can make out them
Londoners? About their business they would go, if Korah, Dathan, and
Abiram were all swallowed up in front of them. For that I like them. I
like a man--but come in to our little supper, sir.”



CHAPTER XIV.

BEAUTIES OF THE COUNTRY.


The next day was Sunday; and Hilary (having brought a small bag of
clothes with him) spent a good deal of the early time in attending to
his adornment. For this he had many good reasons to give, if only he
had thought about them; but the only self-examination that occurred to
him was at the looking-glass. Here he beheld himself looking clean and
bright, as he always did look; and yet he was not quite satisfied (as
he ought to have been) with his countenance. “There is room for a lot
of improvement,” he exclaimed at himself, quite bitterly: “how coarse,
and how low, I begin to look! But there is not a line in her face
that could be changed without spoiling it. There again! Hairs, hairs,
coming almost everywhere! Beautiful girls have none of that stuff. How
they must despise us! All their hair is ornamental, and ours comes so
disgracefully!”

When he had no one else to talk to, Hilary always talked to himself.
He always believed that he knew himself better than anybody else could
know him. And so he had a right to do; and so he must have done just
now, if doubtful watch of himself and great shaking of his head could
help him.

At last he began to be fit to go down, according to his own ideas,
though not at all sure that he might not have managed to touch himself
up just a little bit more--which might make all the difference. He
thought that he looked pretty well; but still he would have liked
to ask Gregory before it was too late to make any change, and the
beautiful eyes fell upon him. But Gregory, and all the rest, were
waiting for him in the breakfast-room; and no one allowed him to
suspect how much he had tried their patience.

Young Lovejoy showed a great deal of skill in keeping Lorraine to the
other side of the table from Phyllis Catherow; and Hilary was well
content to sit at the side of Mabel. Phyllis, in his opinion, was a
beautiful girl enough, and clever in her way, and lively; but “lovely”
was the only word to be used at all about Mabel. And she asked him to
have just a spoonful of honey, and to share a pat of butter with her,
in such a voice, and with such a look, that if she had said, “Here are
two ounces of cold-drawn castor oil--if you take one, I’ll take the
other,” he must have opened his mouth for it.

So they went on; and neither knew the deadly sin they were dropping
to--that deadly sin of loving when the level and entire landscape of
two lives are different.

Through the rich fields, and across a pretty little wandering brook,
which had no right to make a quarter of the noise it was making, this
snug party went to church. Accurate knowledge of what to do, as well as
very pretty manners, and a sound resolve to be over-nice (rather than
incur the possibility of pushing), led the two young men from London
rather to underdo the stiles, and almost go quite away, than to express
their feelings by hands, whenever the top-bar made a tangle, according
to the usual knot of it. The two girls entered into this, and said to
themselves, what a very superior thing it was to have young men from
London, in comparison with young hop-growers, who stood here and there
across them and made them so blush for each inch of their legs. What
made it all the more delicate, and ever so much more delightful, was,
that the excellent Grower was out of the way, and so was Mrs. Lovejoy.
For the latter, being a most kind-hearted woman, had rheumatic pains
at the first church-bell, all up the leaders of her back; so that the
stiles were too many for her, and Master Lovejoy was compelled to drive
her in the one-horse shay.

By the time these staid young men and maidens came to the little
churchyard gate, everything was settled between them, as if by deed
under hand and seal, although not so much as a wave of the air, much
less any positive whisper of the wind, had stirred therein. The import
of this unspoken and even undreamed covenant was, that Gregory now must
walk with Phyllis, and see to her, and look at her, without her having
any second thoughts concerning Hilary. Hilary, on the other hand, was
to be acknowledged as the cavalier of Mabel; to help her when she
wanted helping, and to talk when she wanted talking; although it might
be assumed quite fairly that she could do most of that for herself.
Feeling the strength of good management, all of them marched into
church accordingly.

In the very same manner they all marched out, after behaving uncommonly
well, and scarcely looking at one another, when the clergyman gave
out that the heat of the weather had not allowed him to write a
new discourse that week; but as the same cause must have made them
forgetful of what he had said last Sunday (when many of them seemed
inattentive), he now proposed, with the divine assistance, to read the
same sermon again to them.

With the unconverted youthful mind, a spring (like that of
Jack-out-of-the-box) at the outer door of the church jumps up, after
being so long inside, into that liberal goodwill, which is one of our
noblest sentiments. Anybody is glad to see almost everybody; and people
(though of one parish) in great joy forego their jangling. The sense of
a grand relief, and a conscience wiped clean for another week, leads
the whole lot to love one another as far as the gate of the churchyard.

But our young people were much inclined to love one another much
further. The more they got into the meadow-land, and the strength of
the summer around them, with the sharp stroke of the sun, and the brisk
short shadows of one another, the more they were treading a dangerous
path, and melting away to each other. Hilary saw with romantic pride
that Mabel went on as well as ever, and had not a bead on her clear
bright cheeks; while at the same time Phyllis, though stopping to rest
every now and then--but Hilary never should have noticed this. Such
things are below contempt.

In this old and genial house, the law was that the guest should appoint
the time for dinner, whenever the cares of the outer work permitted it.
And as there were no such cares on Sunday, Hilary had to choose the
time for the greatest event of the human day. This had been talked of
and settled, of course, before anybody got the prayer-books; and now
the result at two o’clock was a highly excellent repast. To escape the
power of the sun they observed this festival in the hall of the house,
which was deliciously cool even now, being paved with stone, and shaded
by a noble and fragrant walnut-tree. Mrs. Lovejoy knew, what many even
good housekeepers seem not to know--to wit that, to keep a room cool,
it is not necessary to open the windows when the meridian sun bombards.
“For goodness’ sake, let us have some air in such weather as this!”
they cry, when they might as well say, “let us cool the kitchen by
opening the door of the oven.”

Lorraine was one of those clever fellows who make the best of
everything; which is the cleverest thing that can be done by a human
being. And he was not yet come to the time of life when nothing is good
if the dinner is bad; so that he sat down cheerily, and cheered all the
rest by doing so.

Of course there were many things said and done, which never would have
been said, or thought of, at the dinner-table of Coombe Lorraine. But
Hilary (though of a very sensitive fibre in such matters) neither saw,
nor heard, nor felt, a single thing that irked him. There was nothing
low about anybody; whereas there was something as high as the heavens
ambrosially busy with the very next plate. He made himself (to the very
utmost of his power) agreeable, except at the moments when his power
of pleasing quite outran himself. Then he would stop and look at his
fork--one of the fine old two-pronged fellows--and almost be afraid to
glance, to ask what she was thinking.

She was thinking the very things that she should have known so much
better than to think. But what harm could there possibly be in scarcely
thinking, so much as dreaming, things that could have nothing in them?
Who was she, a country-girl, to set herself up, and behave herself,
as if anybody meant anything? And yet his eyes, and the bend of his
head, and his choice of that kidney-potato for her (as if he were born
a grower)--and then the way he poured her beer--if there was nothing
in all this, why then there was nothing in all the world, save empty
delusion and breaking of heart.

Hilary, sitting at her knife-hand, felt a whole course of the like
emotions, making allowance for gender. How beautifully she played
her knife, with a feminine tenderness not to make a cruel slice of
anything! And how round her little wrist was, popping in and out of
sleeves, according as the elbow went; and no knob anywhere to be seen,
such as women even of the very latest fashion have. And then her hair
was coming towards him (when she got a bit of gristle) so that he could
take a handful, if the other people only would have the manners not
to look. And oh, what lovely hair it was! so silky, and so rich, and
bright, and full of merry dances to the music of her laugh! And he did
not think he had ever seen anything better than her style of eating,
without showing it. Clearly enjoying her bit of food, and tempting all
to feed their best; yet full of mind at every mouthful, and of heart at
every help. But above all, when she looked up, quite forgetting both
knife and fork, and looked as if she could look like that into no other
eyes but his; with such a gentle flutter, and a timid wish to tell no
more, and yet a sudden pulse of glad light from the innocent young
heart--nothing could be lovelier than the way in which she raised her
eyes, except her way of dropping them.

These precious glances grew more rare and brief the more he sought for
them; and he wondered whether anybody else ever could have been treated
so. Then, when he would seem to be doubtful, and too much inclined to
stop, a look of surprise, or a turn of the head, would tempt him to go
on again. And there would be little moments (both on his side and on
hers) of looking about at other people with a stealthy richness. With
a sense of some great treasure, made between them, and belonging to
themselves in private; a proud demand that the rest of the world should
attend to its proper business; and then, with one accord, a meeting of
the eyes that were beginning, more and more, to mean alike.

All this was as nice as could be, and a pretty thing to see. Still, in
a world that always leaves its loftiest principles to accumulate, at
the lowest interest (and once in every generation to be a mere drug
in the market), “love” is used, not in games alone, as the briefest
form of “nothing.” All our lovers (bred as lovers must be under school
boards) know what they are after now, and who can pay the ninepence.
But in the ancient time, the mothers had to see to most of that.

Mrs. Lovejoy, though she did not speak, or look particularly, had her
own opinion as to what was going on close by. And she said to herself,
“I will see to this. It is no good interfering now. I shall have Miss
Mabel all to myself in three-quarters of an hour.”



CHAPTER XV.

OH, RUDDIER THAN THE CHERRY!


Mrs. Lovejoy’s lecture to her daughter seemed likely to come just a
little too late, as so many excellent lessons do. For as soon as he
saw that all had dined, the host proposed an adjournment, which was
welcomed with no small delight by all except the hostess.

“Now, Master Lorraine, and my niece Phyllis, what say you, if we gather
our fruit for ourselves in the shady places; or rather, if we sit on
the bank of the little brook in the orchard, where there is a nice
sheltered spot; and there we can have a glass of wine while the maidens
pick the fruit for us?”

“Capital,” answered Hilary; “what a fine idea, Mr. Lovejoy! But surely
we ought to pick for the ladies, instead of letting them pick for us.”

“No, sir, we will let them have the pleasure of waiting upon us. It is
the rule of this neighbourhood, and ought to be observed everywhere.
We work for the ladies all the week, serve, honour, and obey them. On
Sundays they do the like for us, and it is a very pleasant change.
Mabel, don’t forget the pipes. Do you smoke, Master Lorraine? If so, my
daughter will fill a pipe for you.”

“That would be enough to tempt me, even if I disliked it, whereas I
am very fond of it. However, I never do smoke, because my father has
a most inveterate prejudice against it. I promised him some time ago
to give it up for a twelvemonth. And the beauty of it is that there is
nothing he himself enjoys so much as a good pinch of snuff. Ah, there I
am getting my revenge upon him. My sister will do anything I ask her;
and he will do anything she asks him: and so, without his knowledge, I
am breaking him of his snuff-box.”

“Aha, well done! I like that. And I like you too, young man, for your
obedience to your father. That virtue is becoming very rare; rarer and
rarer every year. Why, if my father had knocked me down I should have
lain on the ground, if it was a nettle-bed, till he told me to get up.
Now, Greg, my boy, what would you do?”

“Well, sir, I think that I should get up as quick as I could, and tell
my mother.”

“Aha! and I should have the nettles then. Well said, Greg, my boy; I
believe it is what all the young fellows nowadays would do. But I don’t
mean you, of course, Master Lorraine. Come along, come along. Mabel,
you know where that old Madeira is that your poor Uncle Ambrose took
three times to Calcutta. Ah, poor man, I wish he was here! As fine a
fellow as ever shotted a cannon at a Frenchman. Nelson could have done
no better. And it did seem uncommonly hard upon him never to go to
churchyard. However, the will of the Lord be done! Now mind, the new
patent cork-screw.”

Mabel was only too glad to get this errand to the cellar. With filial
instinct she perceived how likely she was to “catch it,” as soon as
her mother got the chance. Not that she deserved it. Oh no, not in the
least; her conscience told her that much. Was she to be actually rude
to her father’s guest, and her brother’s friend? And as if she was not
old enough now, at eighteen and a quarter, to judge for herself in such
childish matters as how to behave at dinner-time!

By the side of a pebbly brook--which ran within stone-throw of the
house, sparkling fresh and abundant from deep well-springs of the
hill-range--they came to a place which seemed to be made especially
for enjoyment: a bend of the grassy banks and rounded hollow of the
fruit-land, where cherry, and apple, and willow-tree clubbed their
hospitable shade, and fugitive water made much ado to quiver down
the zigzag rill. Here in cool and gentle shelter, the Grower set his
four legs down; _i.e._, the four legs of his chair, because, like
all that in gardens dwell, he found mother earth too rheumatic for
him, especially in hot weather when deep sluggish fibres radiate. The
Groweress also had her chair, borne by the sedulous Hilary. All the
rest, like nymphs and shepherds, strewed their recumbent forms on turf.

“God Almighty,” said Master Lovejoy, fearing that he might be taking
it too easy for the Sabbath-day, “really hath made beautiful things
for us His creatures to rejoice in, with praise, thanksgiving, and
fruitfulness. Mabel, put them two bottles in the brook--not there, you
stupid child; can’t you see that the sun comes under that old root? In
the corner where that shelf of stone is. Thank you, Master Lorraine.
What a thing it is to have a headpiece! But God Almighty never made,
among all His wonderful infinite works, the waters and the great
whales, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit, whose seed is in itself, and
the green herb for meat, which means to come to table with the meat;
His mercy endureth for ever; and He never showed it as when He made
tobacco, and clay for tobacco pipes--the white clay that He made man
of.” With this thanksgiving he began to smoke.

“Now, Martin, I never could see that,” answered Mrs. Lovejoy; “the best
and greatest work of the Lord ought to have been for the women first.”

“Good wife, then it must have been the apple. Ah, Gregory, I had your
mother there! However, we won’t dispute on a Sunday; it spoils all the
goodness of going to church, and never leaves anything settled. Mabel,
run away now for the fruit, while Gregory feels if the wine is cold.
Master Lorraine, I hope our little way of going on, and being over free
on a Sunday perhaps, does not come amiss to you.”

Hilary did not look as if anything came amiss to him, as now he lay at
the feet of Mabel, on the slope of the sweet rich sward, listening only
for her voice, more liquid than even the tone of the brook. He listened
for it, but not to it; inasmuch as one of those sudden changes, which
(at less than half a breath) vapour the glass of the feminine mind,
was having its turn with the maiden. Mabel felt that she had not kept
herself to herself, as she should have done. Who was this gentleman,
or what, that she should be taken with him so suddenly as to feel her
breath come short, every time that she even thought of her mother? A
gentleman from London too, where the whole time of the Court was spent,
as Master Shorne brought news every week, in things that only the
married women were allowed to hear of. In the present case, of course,
she knew how utterly different all things were. How lofty and how grand
of heart, how fearful even to look at her much--still, for all that, it
would only be wise to show him, or at least to let him see--that at any
rate, for the present----

“Now, Mabel, when are you going for the cherries? Phyllis--bless my
heart alive! Gregory, are you gone to sleep? What are all the young
people made of, when a touch of summer spreads them only fit to sprawl
about?”

“Bring three sorts of cherries Mabel,” Gregory shouted after her; “Mr.
Lorraine must be tired of May-Dukes, I am sure. The Black Geans must
be ripe, and the Eltons, and the Early Amber. And go and see how the
White-hearts are on the old tree against the wall.”

“Much he knows about cherries, I believe!” grumbled Mr. Lovejoy; “John
Doe and Richard Roe be more to his liking than the finest Griffins.
Why, the White-hearts haven’t done stoning yet! What can the boy be
thinking of?” It was the Grower’s leading grievance that neither of
his two sons seemed likely to take to the business after him. Here was
the elder being turned by his mother into a “thieves’ counsellor,” and
the younger was away at sea, and whenever he came home told stories
of foreign fruit which drove his father into a perfect fury. So that
now it was Martin’s main desire to marry his only daughter to some one
fitted to succeed him, who might rent the estate from Gregory the heir;
for the land had been disgavelled.

It is a pleasing thing to a young man--ay, and an old one may be
pleased--to see a pretty girl make herself useful in pretty and natural
attitudes; and that pleasure now might be enjoyed at leisure and in
duplicate. For Phyllis Catherow was a pretty, or rather a beautiful
young woman, slender, tall, and fair of hue. Not to be compared with
Mabel, according to Hilary’s judgment; but infinitely superior to her,
in the opinion of Gregory. All that depends upon taste, of course; but
Mabel’s beauty was more likely to outlast the flush of youth, having
the keeping qualities of a bright and sweet expression, and the kind
lustre of sensible eyes.

These two went among the cherry-trees, with fair knowledge what to do,
and having light scarves on their heads, brought behind their ears and
tied under the curves of their single chins. Because they knew that the
spars and sprays would spoil their lovely Sunday hats, even without
the drip of a cherry wounded by some thirsty thrush. The blackbirds
pop them off entire, and so do the starlings; but the thrushes sit and
peck at them, with the juice dripping down on their dappled breasts,
and a flavour in their throats, which they mean to sing about at
their leisure. But now the birds, that were come among them, meant to
have them wholesale. Phyllis, being a trifle taller, and less deft of
finger, bent the shady branches down, for Mabel to pluck the fruit.
Mabel knew that she must take the northern side of the trees, of
course; and the boughs where the hot sun had not beaten through the
leaves and warmed the fruit. Also she knew that she must not touch
the fruit with her hand and dim the gloss; but above all things to be
careful--as of the goose with the golden eggs--to make no havoc of the
young buds forming, at the base of every cluster, for the promise of
next year’s crop.

Hilary longed to go and help them; but his host being very proud of
the grandeur of his Madeira wine, would not even hear of it. And Mrs.
Lovejoy, for other reasons, showed much skill in holding him; so that
he could but sit down and admire the picture he longed to be part of.
Hence he beheld, in the happy distance, in and out the well-fed trees,
skill, and grace, and sprightly movements, tiny baskets lifted high,
round arms bent for drawing downward, or thrown up for a jumping catch,
and everything else that is so lovely, and safe to admire at a distance.

By-and-by the maids came back, bearing their juicy treasure, and blithe
with some sage mysticism of laughter. They had hit upon some joke
between them, or something that chanced to tickle them; and when this
happens with girls, they never seem to know when the humour is out of
it; and of course they make the deepest mystery of a diminutive jest so
harmless that it hits no one except themselves. Mrs. Lovejoy looked at
them strongly. Her time for common-sense was come; and she thought they
were stealing a march upon her, by some whispers about young men, the
last thing they should ever think of.

Whereas the poor girls had no thought of anything of the kind. Neither
would they think one atom more than they could help, of what did not
in the least concern them; if their elders, who laid down the law,
would only leave them to themselves. And it was not long till this
delightful discretion was afforded them. For, after a glass or two of
wine, the heat of the day began to tell, through the cool air of the
hollow, on that worthy couple, now kindly hand in hand, and calmly
going down the slope of life. They hoped they had got a long way to go
yet; and each thought so of the other. Neither of them had much age,
being well under threescore years; just old enough to begin to look
on the generation judiciously. But having attained this right at last,
after paying heavily, what good could they have of it, if young people
were ever so far beyond their judgment? Meditating thus they dozed;
and youthful voice, and glance, and smile, were drowned in the melody
of--nose.

The breeze that comes in the afternoon of every hot day (unless the
sky is hushing up for a thunderstorm) began to show the underside of
leaves and the upper gloss of grass, and with feeble puffs to stir the
stagnant heat into vibration, like a candle quivering. Every breath at
first was hot, and only made the air feel hotter, until there arrived a
refreshing current, whether from some water-meadows, or from the hills
where the chalk lay cool.

“The heat is gone,” said Martin Lovejoy, waking into the pleasant
change; “it will be a glorious afternoon. Pooh, what is this to call
hot weather? Only three years ago, in 1808, I remember well----”

“It may have been hotter then, my dear,” said Mrs. Lovejoy, placidly;
“but it did not make you forget your pipe, and be ungrateful to
Providence about me.”

“Why, where can the children be?” cried the Grower. “I thought they
were all here just this moment! It is wonderful how they get away
together. I thought young Lorraine and Gregory were as fast asleep as
you or I! Oh, there, I hear them in the distance, with the girls, no
doubt, all alive and merry!”

“Ay, and a little too merry, I doubt,” answered Mrs. Lovejoy; “a little
too much alive for me. Why, they must be in the wall-garden now!
Goodness, alive, I believe they are, and nobody to look after them!”

“Well, if they are, they can’t do much harm. They are welcome to
anything they can find, except the six strawberries I crossed, and
Mabel will see that they don’t eat those.”

“Crossed strawberries indeed! now, Martin,”--Mrs. Lovejoy never could
be brought to understand cross-breeding;--“they’ll do something
worse than cross your strawberries, unless you keep a little sharper
look-out. They’ll cross your plans, Master Martin Lovejoy, and it’s bad
luck for any one who does that.”

“I don’t understand you, wife, any more than you understand the
strawberries. How could they cross them at this time of year?”

“Why, don’t you see that this gay young Lorraine is falling over head
and ears in love with our darling Mabel?”

“Whew! That would be a sad affair,” the Grower answered carelessly: “I
like the young fellow, and should be sorry to have him so disappointed.
For of course he never could have our Mab, unless he made up his mind
to turn grower. Shorne says that he is a born salesman; perhaps he is
also a born grower.”

“Now, husband, why do you vex me so? You know as well as I do that he
is the only son of a baronet, belonging, as Gregory says, to one of
the proudest families in England; though he doesn’t show much pride
himself, that’s certain. Is it likely they would let him have Mabel?”

“Is it likely that we would let Mabel have him? But this is all
nonsense, wife; you are always discovering such mare’s-nests. Tush!
why, I didn’t fall in love with you till we fell off a horse three
times together.”

“I know that, of course. But that was because they wanted us to do
it. The very thing is that it happens at once when everybody’s face
is against it. However, you’ve had your warning, Martin, and you only
laugh at it. You have nobody but yourself to thank, if it goes against
your plots and plans. For my own part, I should be well pleased if
Mabel were really fond of him, and if the great people came round in
the end, as sooner or later they always do. There are very few families
in the kingdom that need be ashamed of my daughter, I think. And he is
a most highly accomplished young man. He said last night immediately
after prayer-time that I might try for an hour, and he would be most
happy to listen to me, but I never, never could persuade him that I was
over forty years old. Therefore, husband, see to it yourself. Things
may take their own course for me.”

“Trust me, trust me, good wife,” said Martin; “I can see, as far as
most folk can. What stupes boys and girls are, to be sure, to go
rushing about after watery fruit, and leave such wine as this here
Madeira. Have another glass, my dear good creature, to cheer you up
after your prophecies.”

Meanwhile, in the large old-fashioned garden, which lay at the east
end of the house, further up the course of the brook, any one sitting
among the currant-bushes might have judged which of the two was right,
the unromantic franklin, or his more ambitious but sensible wife.
Gregory and Phyllis were sitting quietly in a fine old arbour, having a
steady little flirt of their own, and attending to nothing in the world
besides. Phyllis was often of a pensive cast, and she never looked
better than in this mood, when she felt the deepest need of sympathy.
This she was receiving now, and pretending of course not to care for
it; her fingers played with moss and bark, the fruits of the earth were
below her contempt, and she looked too divine for anybody.

On the other hand, the rarest work and the most tantalizing tricks were
going on, at a proper distance, between young Mabel and Hilary. They
had straggled off into the strawberry-beds, where nobody could see
them; and there they seemed likely to spend some hours if nobody should
come after them. The plants were of the true Carolina, otherwise called
the “old scarlet pine,” which among all our countless new sorts finds
no superior, perhaps no equal; although it is now quite out of vogue,
because it fruits so shyly.

What says our chief authority?[1] “Fruit medium-sized, ovate, even,
and regular, and with a glossy neck, skin deep red, flesh pale red,
very firm and solid, with a fine sprightly and very rich pine flavour.”
What lovelier fruit could a youth desire to place between little pearly
teeth, reserving the right to have a bite, if any of the very firm
flesh should be left? What fruit more suggestive of elegant compliments
could a maid open her lips to receive, with a dimple in each mantled
cheek--lips more bright than the skin of the fruit, cheeks by no
means of a pale red now, although very firm and solid--and as for the
sprightly flavour of the whole, it may be imagined, if you please, but
is not to be ascertained as yet?

“Now, I must pick a few for you, Mr. Lorraine. You are really giving me
all you find. And they are so scarce--no, thank you; I can get up very
nicely by myself. And there can’t be any brier in my hair. You really
do imagine things. Where on earth could it have come from? Well, if you
are sure, of course you may remove it. Now I verily believe you put it
there. Well, perhaps I am wronging you. It was an unfair thing to say,
I confess. Now wait a moment, while I run to get a little cabbage-leaf!”

“A cabbage leaf! Now you are too bad. I won’t taste so much as the
tip of a strawberry out of anything but one. How did you eat your
strawberries, pray?”

“With my mouth, of course. But explain your meaning. You won’t eat what
I pick for you out of what?”

“Out of anything else in the world except your own little beautiful
palm.”

“Now, how very absurd you are! Why, my hands are quite hot.”

“Let me feel them and judge for myself. Now the other, if you please.
Oh, how lovely and cool they are! How could you tell me such a story,
Mabel, beautiful Mabel?”

“I am not at all beautiful, and I won’t be called so. And I know not
what they may do in London. But I really think, considering--at least
when one comes to consider that----”

“To consider what? You make me tremble, you do look so ferocious. Ah, I
thought you couldn’t do it long. Inconsiderate creature, what is it I
am to consider?”

“You cannot consider! Well, then, remember. Remember, it is not
twenty-four hours since you saw me for the very first time; and surely
it is not right and proper that you should begin to call me ‘Mabel,’ as
if you had known me all your life!”

“I must have known you all my life. And I mean to know you all the rest
of my life, and a great deal more than that----”

“It may be because you are Gregory’s friend you are allowed to do
things. But what would you think of me, Mr. Lorraine, if I were to call
you ‘Hilary’--a thing I should never even dream of?”

“I should think that you were the very kindest darling, and I should
ask you to breathe it quite into my ear--‘Hilary, Hilary!’--just like
that; and then I should answer just like this, ‘Mabel, Mabel, sweetest
Mabel, how I love you, Mabel!’ and then what would you say, if you
please?”

“I should have to ask my mother,” said the maiden, “what I ought
to say. But luckily the whole of this is in your imagination. Mr.
Lorraine, you have lost your strawberries by your imagination.”

“What do I care for strawberries?” Hilary cried, as the quick girl
wisely beat a swift retreat from him. “You never can enter into my
feelings, or you never would run away like that. And I can’t run after
you, you know, because of Phyllis and Gregory. There she goes, and she
won’t come back. What a fool I was to be in such a hurry! But what
could I do to help it? I never know where I am when she turns those
deep rich eyes upon me. She never will show them again, I suppose, but
keep the black lashes over them. And I was getting on so well--and here
are the stalks of the strawberries!”

Of every strawberry she had eaten from his daring fingers he had kept
the stalk and calyx, breathed on by her freshly fragrant breath, and
slyly laid them in his pocket; and now he fell to at kissing them. Then
he lay down in the Carolinas, where her skirt had moved the leaves; and
to him, weary with strong heat, and a rush of new emotions, comfort
came in the form of sleep. And when he awoke, in his open palm most
delicately laid he found a little shell-shaped cabbage-leaf piled with
the fruit of the glossy neck.

[1] That admirable writer, Dr. Hogg.



CHAPTER XVI.

OH, SWEETER THAN THE BERRY!


These doings of Hilary and his love--for his love he declared her to
be for ever, whether she would have him for hers or not--seem to have
taken more time almost in telling than in befalling. Although it had
been a long summer’s day, to them it had passed as a rapid dream. So
at least they fancied, when they began to look quietly back at it,
forgetting the tale of the golden steps so lightly flitted over by the
winged feet of love.

Martin Lovejoy watched his daughter at supper-time that Sunday; and he
felt quite sure that his wife was wrong. Why, the girl scarcely spoke
to Lorraine at all, and even neglected his plate so sadly, that her
mother was compelled to remind her sharply of her duties. Upon which
the Grower despatched to his wife a smile of extreme sagacity, which
(being fetched out of cipher and shorthand, by the matrimonial key)
contained all this,--“Well you are a silly, as you always are, when
you want to advise me. The girl is cold-shouldering that young fellow,
the same as she does all the young hop-growers. And well she knows how
to do it too. She gets her intellect from her father. Now please not to
put in your oar, Mrs. Lovejoy, another time, till it is asked for.”

Moreover, he thought that if Mabel took the smallest delight in Hilary,
she could not have answered as she had done, when that pious youth,
in the early evening, expressed his sincere desire to attend another
performance of Divine service.

“I had no idea,” said the simple Gregory, “that you made a point of
going to church at least twice every Sunday. I seldom see you of a
Sunday in London. But the very last place I should go to, to find you,
would probably be the Temple church.”

“That is quite a different thing, don’t you see? A country church, and
a church in London, are as different as a meadow and a market-place.”

“But surely, Mr. Lorraine, you would find the duty of attending just
the same.” Thus spoke Mrs. Lovejoy, who seldom missed a chance of
discharging her duty towards young people.

“Quite so, of course I do, Mrs. Lovejoy. But then we always perform
our duties best, when they are pleasures. And besides that, I have a
special reason for feeling bound, as one might say, to go to church
well in the country.”

“I suppose one must not venture to ask you what that reason is, sir.”

“Oh, yes, to be sure. It is just this. I have an uncle, my mother’s
brother, who is a country clergyman.”

“Well done, Master Lorraine!” said the Grower, while the rest were
laughing. “You take a very sensible view, sir, of things. It is too
much the fashion nowadays to neglect our trade-connections. But Gregory
will go with you, and Phyllis, and Mabel. The old people stay at home
to mind the house. For we always let the maid-servants go.”

“Oh father,” cried Mabel; “poor Phyllis is so overcome by the heat,
that she must not go. And I must stop at home to read to her.”

So that the good Lorraine took nothing by his sudden religious fervour,
except a hot walk with Gregory, and a wearisome doze in a musty pew
with nobody to look at.

With fruit-growers, Monday is generally the busiest day of the week,
except Friday. After paying all hands on the Saturday night, and
stowing away all implements, they rest them well till the Sunday is
over, having in the summer-time earned their rest by night-work as well
as day-work, through the weary hours of the week. This is not the case
with all, of course. Many of them, especially down in Kent, grow their
fruit, or let it grow itself, and then sell it by the acre, or the
hundred acres, to dealers, who take all the gathering and marketing
off their hands altogether. But for those who work off their own crops,
the toil of the week begins before the daystar of the Monday. At least
for about six weeks it is so, according to the weather and the length
of the “busy season.” Before the stars fade out of the sky, the pickers
advance through the strawberry quarters, carrying two punnets each,
yawning more than chattering even, whisking the grey dew away with
their feet, startling the lark from his nest in the row, groping among
the crisp leaves for the fruit, and often laying hold of a slug instead.

That is the time for the true fruit-lover to try the taste of a
strawberry. It should be one that refused to ripen in the gross heat of
yesterday, but has been slowly fostering goodness, with the attestation
of the stars. And now (if it has been properly managed, properly picked
without touch of hand, and not laid down profanely), when the sun
comes over the top of the hedge, the look of that strawberry will be
this--at least, if it is of a proper sort. The beard of the footstalk
will be stiff, the sepals of the calyx moist and crisp, the neck will
show a narrow band of varnish, where the dew could find no hold, the
belly of the fruit will be sleek and gentle, firm however to accept its
fate; but the back that has dealt with the dew, and the sides where the
colour of the back slopes downward, upon them such a gloss of cold and
diamond chastity will lie, that the human lips get out of patience with
the eyes in no time.

Everybody was so busy with the way the work went on, all for their
very life pretending scarcely to have time to breathe, whenever the
master looked at them, that the “berries” were picked, and packed, and
started, long before the sun grew hot--started on the road to London,
the cormorant of the universe.

Hilary helped with all his heart; enjoying it, with that triumphant
entrance into any novelty, which always truly distinguished him. He
carried his punnets, and kept his row (as soon as they had shown him
how), as well as the very best of them, dividing his fruit into firsts,
and seconds, and keeping the “toppers” separate. Of course he broke off
many trusses entire--ripe fruit, green fruit, and barren blossom--until
he learned how to “meet his nails,” and how much drag to put on the
stalks. A clever fellow learns all that from an hour or two of practice.

But one thing there is which the cleverest fellows can learn by no
experience--how to carry the head for hours upside down without hurting
it. How to make the brain so hard that it cannot shift; or else so
soft that the top is as good as the bottom. The question is one for
a great physician; who, to understand it, must keep his row, and
pick by the job. Then let him say if he has learned how to explain
the well-established fact that a woman can pick twice as fast as a
man; for who could assent to the reason assigned by one of themselves
magnanimously--that “women was generally always used to keep their
heads turned upside down”?

Leaving such speculative inquiries to go on for ever, Hilary (who knew
better than to say a word about them) came in for his breakfast at six
o’clock, and ate it as thoroughly as he had earned it. The master, a
man of true Kentish fibre, obstinate, placable, hearty, and dry, made
known to his wife and to everybody else his present opinion of Hilary.
Martin Lovejoy never swore. He never went beyond “God knows,” or “The
Lord in heaven look down on us,” or some other good exclamation,
sanctioned by the parish vicar. As a general rule--proved by many
exceptions--the Kentish men seldom swear very hard.

“Heart alive, young sir!” he exclaimed, piling Hilary’s plate, as he
spoke, with the jellied delights of cold pigeon pie; “you have been the
best man of the morning. Ah! don’t you be in a hurry, good wife. No
tea or coffee our way, thank ye. No, nor any cask-wash. We’ve worked
a little too hard for that. Mabel, whatever has come to you, that you
keep always out of the way so? And I never saw you anigh the baskets.
Now don’t pipe your eye, child. I’m not going to scold thee, if thou
didst have a little lie-a-bed. Here, take this here key, child. A
wink’s as good as a nod--ah, she knows pretty well what to do with it.”

For Mabel was glad to turn away as quickly as possible, after a
little well-managed curtsey to Hilary, whom she had not seen for the
morning--certainly through no fault of his--and without a word she
went to the dresser (for in these busy times they took their breakfast
wisely in the kitchen), and from the wooden crook unhung a quaint
little jug, with a narrow neck and a silver lip and handle. With
this she set off down a quiet passage and some steps to a snug stone
cellar, where the choicest of the home-brewed ale was kept. Although
it lay well beneath the level of the ground, and no ray of sun pierced
the wired lattice, the careful mistress of the house had the barrels
swathed closely with wetted sacks. The girl, with her neat frock
gathered up--for she always was cleanliness itself--went carefully to
the corner cask, and lifted the wet sack back from the head, lest any
dirty water should have the chance of dripping upon her sleeve. Then
she turned the tap, and a thin bright thread ran out of it sideways,
being checked by some hops in the tube perhaps, or want of air at the
vent-peg. But Mabel held the jug with all patience, although her hand
shook just a little.

“Now,” said the Grower, to Hilary, when she came back and placed the
jug at her father’s side without a word, “Master Lorraine, let me pour
you a drop, not to be matched in Kent; nor yet in all England, I do
believe. Home-grown barley, and home-grown hops, and the soft water out
of the brook that has taken the air of the sky for seven mile or more,
without a drain anigh it. Ah, those brewers can never do that! They
must buy their malt, and their musty hops, and pump up their water, and
boil it down, to get the flint-stones out of it. But our brook hath
cast the flint-stones and the other pebbles all along. That makes a
sight of difference, sir. Every water is full of stones, and if you
pump it up from the spring, the stones be all alive in it. But let it
run seven miles or eight, and then it is fit to brew with.”

“Ah, to be sure. Now that explains a great many things I never
understood.” Hilary would have swallowed a camel, rather than argue, at
this moment.

“Young sir, just let me prove it to you. Just see the colour it runs
out, and the way the head goes creaming! Lord, ha’ mercy, if she has
gived us a glass, or a stag’s horn from the mantelpiece! Why, Mabel,
child--Mabel, art thou gone? Why nobody wants to poison thee.”

“I think, sir, I saw your daughter go round the corner by the
warming-pan, this side of where the broom hangs.”

“Then all I can say is, she is daft. She worked very hard last week,
poor thing. And yesterday she was a-moving always, when the Lord’s day
bids us rest. I must beg your pardon, Master Lorraine. Our Kentish
maids always look after our guests. When I was at school, I read in the
grammar that the moon always managed the women; but now I do believe it
is the comet. Let the comet come, say I. When the markets are so bad,
I feel that I am ready to face almost anything. And now we must drink
from the jug, I reckon!”

Hilary saw that his host was vexed; but he felt quite certain in his
own heart that Mabel could never be so rude, or show such resentment
of any little excess of honey on his part, as to go away in that sour
earnest, and make the two of them angry. A dozen things might have
happened to upset her, or turn her a little askew; and her own father
ought to know her better than he seemed to do. And lo, ere the Grower
had quite finished grumbling, Mabel reached over his shoulder unseen,
and set his own pet glass before him; and then round Hilary’s side she
slid, without ever coming too nigh him, and the glass of honour of the
house, cut in countless facets, twinkled, like the Pleiads, at him!

“Adorn me!” said the Grower; “now I call that a true good girl! Girls
were always made, Master Lorraine, for the good of those around them.
If anybody treats them any way else, they come to nothing afterwards.
Mabel, dear, give me a kiss. You deserve it; and there it is for you.
Now be off, like a good maid, and see what they be at in Vale Orchard,
while Master Lorraine and I think a bit over these here two glasses.”

The rest of the day was much too busy, and too much crowded with
sharp eyes, for any fair chance of love-making. For they all set to
at the cherry-trees, with ladders, crooks, and hanging baskets, and
light boys to scale the more difficult antlers, strip them, and drop
upon feather-beds. And though the sun broke hot and bright through
the dew-cloud of the morning, and quickly drank the beaded freshness
off the face of herb and tree, yet they picked, and piled, and packed
(according to their sort and size) the long-stalked dancers that fringe
the bough, and glance in the sun so ruddily.

“You must have had a deal too much of this,” young Lovejoy said to
Hilary, when the noon-day meal had been spread forth, and dealt with,
in a patch of fern near a breezy clump: “if I had worked as you have
done, my fingers would scarcely have been fit for a quill, this side of
next Hilary term.”

“My dear fellow, be not, I pray you, so violently facetious. The brain,
when outraged, takes longer to resume its functions than the fingers
do. Moreover, I trust that my fingers will hold something nobler than a
quill, ere the period of my namesake.”

“Sir Hilary charged at Agincourt; I hope you will do nothing of the
sort;” said Gregory, with unwitting and unprecedented poetry.

“Lovejoy, my wits are unequal altogether to this encounter. The
brilliancy of your native soil has burst out so upon you, that I must
go back to the Southdown hills before I dare point a dart with you.
Nevertheless, on your native soil, I beat you at picking cherries.”

“That you do, and strawberries too. And still more so at eating them!
But if you please, you must stop a little. My mother begs, as a great
favour, to have a little private talk with you.”

Hilary’s bright face lost its radiance, as his conscience pricked him.
Was it about Mabel? Of course it must be. And what the dickens was he
to say? He could not say a false thing. That was far below his nature.
And he must own that he did love Mabel; and far worse than that--had
done his utmost to drag that young and innocent Mabel into love with
him. And if he were asked about his father--as of course he must be--on
the word of a true man he must confess that his father would be sadly
bitter if he married below his rank in life: also, that though he was
the only son, there were very peculiar provisions in the settlement
of the Lorraine estates, which might throw him entirely upon his own
wits, if his father turned against him: also, that though his father
was one of the very best men in the world, and the kindest and loftiest
you could find; still there was about him something of a cold and
determined substance. And worst of all (if the whole truth was to be
shelled out, as he must unshell it), he knew in his heart that his
father loved his sister’s little finger more than all the members put
together of his own too lively frame.



CHAPTER XVII.

VERY SHY THINGS.


Mrs. Lovejoy sat far away from all the worry, and flurry, and fun of
picking, and packing, and covering up. She had never entirely given
herself to the glories of fruit-growing; and she never could be much
convinced that any glory was in it. She belonged to a higher rank of
life than any of such sons of Cain. Her father had been a navy-captain;
and her cousin was Attorney-General. This office has always been
confounded, in the provincial mind, with rank in a less pugnacious
profession. Even Mrs. Lovejoy thought, when the land was so full of
“militiamen,” that her cousin was the General of the “Devil’s Own” of
the period. Therefore she believed herself to know more than usual
about the law; as well as the army, and of course the navy. And this
high position in the legal army of so near a relation helped, no doubt,
to foster hopes of the elevation of Gregory.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Lorraine,” she began, as Hilary entered the
bower, to which she had just retired, “for calling you away from a
scene, which you enjoy perhaps from its novelty; and where you make
yourself, I am sure, so exceedingly active and useful. But I feared, as
you must unluckily so very soon return to London, that I might have no
other chance of asking what your candid opinion is upon a matter I have
very near at heart.”

“Deuce and all!” thought Hilary within himself, being even more vexed
than relieved by this turn of incidence; “she is much cleverer than I
thought. Instead of hauling me over the coals, she is going to give me
the sack at once; and I didn’t mean to go, for a week at least!” Mrs.
Lovejoy enjoyed his surprise, as he stammered that any opinion he could
form was entirely at her service.

“I am sure that you know what it is about. You must have guessed at
once, of course, when I was rude enough to send for you, what subject
is nearest to a mother’s heart. I wish to ask you, what they think of
my son Gregory, in London.”

Lorraine, for the moment, was a little upset. His presence of mind had
been worked so hard, that it was beginning to flutter and shift. And
much as he liked his fellow-pupil, he had not begun to consider him yet
as a subject of public excitement.

“I think--I really think,” he said, while waiting for time to think
more about it, “that he is going on as well as ever could be expected,
ma’am.”

If he had wanted to vex his hostess--which to his kind nature would
have been one of the last things wanted--he scarcely could have hit on
a phrase more fitted for his purpose.

“Why, Mr. Lorraine, that is exactly what the monthly nurses say! I hope
you can say something a little better than that of Gregory.”

“I assure you, Mrs. Lovejoy, nothing can be finer than the way he is
going on. His attention, punctuality, steadiness, and everything else,
leave nothing to be desired, as all the wine-merchants always say. Mr.
Malahide holds him up as a pattern to be avoided, because he works so
hard; and I think that he really ought to have country air, at this
time of year, and in such weather, for a week, at the very shortest.”

“Poor boy! Why should he overwork himself? Then you think that three
days’ change is scarcely enough to set him up again?”

“He wants at least a fortnight, ma’am. He has a sort of a hacking
cough, which he does his best to keep under. And the doctors say
that the smell of ink out of a pewter inkstand, and the inhaling of
blotting-paper--such as we inhale all day--are almost certain, in hot
weather, to root a tussis, or at any rate a pituita, inwards.”

Mrs. Lovejoy was much impressed; and tenfold so when she tried to think
what those maladies might be.

“Dear me!” she said: “it is dreadful to think of. I know too well what
those sad complaints are. My dear grandfather died of them both. Do you
think now, Mr. Lorraine, that Mr. Malahide could be persuaded to spare
you both for the rest of the week?”

“I scarcely think that he could, Mrs. Lovejoy. We are his right hand,
and his left. Your son, of course, his dexter hand; and my poor self
the weaker member. Still, if you were to write to him, nicely (as of
course you would be sure to write), he might make an effort to get on,
with some of his inferior pupils.”

“It shall be done, before the van goes--by the very next mail, I mean.
And if they can spare you, do you think that you could put up with your
very poor quarters, for a few days longer, Mr. Lorraine?”

“I never was in such quarters before. And I never felt so comfortable,”
he answered, with a gush of truth, to expiate much small hypocrisy. And
thereby he settled himself for ever in her very best graces. If Mrs.
Lovejoy had any pride--and she always told herself she had none--that
pride lay in her best feather-beds.

A smile quite worthy of her larger husband, and of her pleasant
homestead, spread itself over her thoughtful face; and Hilary, for the
first time, saw that her daughter, after all, was born of her. What can
be sweeter than a smile, won from a sensible woman like that?

“Then you give us some hope that we may endeavour to keep you a few
days more, sir?”

“The endeavour will be on my part,” he answered with his most elegant
bow; “as all the temptation falls on me.”

“I do hope that Mr. Malahide will do his best to spare you both. Though
to lose both his right hand and his left hand must be very melancholy.”

“To a lawyer, Mrs. Lovejoy, that is nothing. We think nothing of such
trifles. We are ready to fight when we have no hands, nor even a leg to
stand upon.”

“Yes, to be sure, you live by fighting, as the poor sailors and
soldiers do. The general of the attorneys now is my first cousin, once
removed. Now can you tell me what opinion he has formed of my Gregory?
Of course there must be a number of people trying to keep my poor
boy back. Pressing him down, as they always do, with all that narrow
jealousy. But his mother’s cousin might be trusted to give him fair
play, now, don’t you think?”

“One never can tell,” answered Hilary; “the faster a young fellow goes
up the tree, the harder the monkeys pelt him. But if I only had a
quarter of your son’s ability, I would defy them all at once, from the
Lord Chief-Justice downward.”

“Oh no, now, Mr. Lorraine; that really would be bad advice. He has not
been called to the Bar as yet; and he must remember that there are
people many years in front of him. No, no; let Gregory wait for his
proper time in its proper course, and steadily rise to the top of the
tree. With patience, Mr. Lorraine, you know, with patience all things
come to pass. But I must go to the house at once, and write to Mr.
Malahide. Do you think that he would be offended, if I asked him to
accept a basket of our choicest cherries and strawberries?”

“I scarcely think that he would regard it as a mortal injury;
especially if you were to put it as a tribute from his grateful pupil,
Hilary Lorraine.”

“How kind of you to let me use your name! And you have such influence
with him, Gregory is always telling me. No doubt he will accept them
so.”

However, when she came to consider the matter, Mrs. Lovejoy, with
shameful treachery, sent them as a little offering from that grateful
pupil her own son: while she laid upon Hilary all the burden of this
lengthened mitching-time; as in the main perhaps was just. Moreover,
she took good care that Shorne should have no chance of appearing in
chambers, as he was only too eager to do; for her shrewd sense told
her that the sharp wits there would find him a joy for ever, and an
enduring joke against Gregory.

It is scarcely needful to say, perhaps, that throughout the rest of the
week, Lorraine did his utmost to bring about snug little interviews
with Mabel. And she, having made up her mind to keep him henceforth at
his distance, felt herself bound by that resolution to afford him a
glimpse or two, once in a way. For she really had a great deal to do;
and it would have been cruel to deny her even the right to talk of it.
And Hilary carried a basket so much better than anybody else, and his
touch was so light, and he stepped here and there so obediently and so
cleverly, and he always looked away so nicely, if any briery troubles
befell--as now and then of course must be--that Mabel began every day
to think how dreadfully she would miss him.

And then, as if it were not enough to please her ears, and eyes, and
mind, he even contrived to conciliate the most grateful part of the
human system, as well as the most intelligent. For on the Tuesday
afternoon, the turn of the work, and the courses of fruit, led them
near a bushy corner, where the crafty brook stole through. As clever
and snug a dingle as need be, for a pair of young people to drop
accidentally out of sight and ear-shot. For here, the corner of the
orchard fell away, as a quarry does, yet was banked with grass, and
ridges, so that children might take hands and run. But if they did so,
they would be certain to come to grief at the bottom, unless they could
clear at a jump three yards, which would puzzle most of them. For here
the brook, without any noise, came under a bank of good brown loam,
with a gentle shallow slide, and a bottom content to be run over.

“Trout, as I’m a living sinner!” cried Hilary with a fierce delight,
as he fetched up suddenly on the brink, and a dozen streaks darted up
the stream, like the throw of a threaded shuttle. “My prophetic soul,
if I didn’t guess it! But I seem to forget almost everything. Why Miss
Lovejoy, Miss Mabel Lovejoy, Mabel Miss Lovejoy (or any other form,
insisting on the prefix despotically), have I known you for a century
or more, and you never told me there were trout in the brook!”

“Oh, do let me see them; please to show me where,” cried Mabel, coming
carefully down the steep, lest her slender feet should slip: “they are
such dears, I do assure you. My mother and I are so fond of them. But
my father says they are all bones and tail.”

“I will show them to you with the greatest pleasure, only you must do
just what I order you. They are very shy things, you know, almost as
shy as somebody----”

“Mabel, Mabel, Mab, where are you?” came a loud shout over the crest;
and then Gregory’s square shoulders appeared--a most unwelcome
spectacle.

“Why, here I am to be sure,” she answered; “where else do you suppose I
should be? The people must be looked after, I suppose. And if you won’t
do it, of course I must.”

“I don’t see any people to look after here, except indeed--however, you
seem to have looked so hard, it has made you quite red in the face, I
declare!”

“Now Greg, my boy,” cried Hilary, suddenly coming to the rescue; “I
called your sister down here on purpose to tell me what those things
in the water are. They look almost like some sort of fish!”

“Why trout, Lorraine! Didn’t you know that? I thought that you were a
great fisherman. If you like to have a try at them I can fit you out.
Though I don’t suppose you could do much in this weather.”

“Miss Lovejoy, did you ever taste a trout?” Hilary asked this question,
as if not a word had yet passed on the subject.

“Oh, yes,” answered Mabel, no less oblivious; “my brother Charles used
to catch a good many. They are such a treat to my dear mother, and so
good for her constitution. But I don’t think my father appreciates
them.”

“Allow me to help you up this steep rise. It was most inconsiderate of
me to call you down, Miss Lovejoy.”

“Pray do not mention it, Mr. Lorraine. Gregory, how rude you are to
give Mr. Lorraine all this trouble! But you never were famous for good
manners.”

“If I meddle with them again,” thought Gregory, “may I be ‘adorned,’
as my father says! However, I must keep a sharp look-out. The girl is
getting quite independent; and I,--oh, I am to be nobody! I’ll just go
and see what Phyllis thinks of it.”

But Mabel, who had not forgiven him yet for his insolent remark about
her cheeks, deprived him of even that comfort.

“Now Gregory dear, you have done nothing all day but wander about with
cousin Phyllis. Just stay here for a couple of hours; if you can’t work
yourself, your looking on will make the other people work. I am quite
ashamed of my inattention to Mr. Lorraine all the afternoon. I am sure
he must want a glass of ale, after all he has gone through. And while
he takes it, I may be finding Charlie’s tackle for him. I know where it
is, and you do not. And Charlie left it especially under my charge, you
remember.”

“That is the first I have heard of it. However, if Lorraine wants beer,
why so do I. Send Phyllis out with a jug for me.”

“Yes, to be sure, dear. To be sure. How delighted she will be to come!”

“As delighted as you are to go,” he replied; but she was already out
of hearing; and all he took for his answer was an indignant look from
Hilary.

An excellent and most patient fisherman used to say that the greatest
pleasure of the gentle art was found in the preparation to fish. In the
making of flies, and the knotting of gut, and the softening of collars
that have caught fish, and the choosing of what to try this time, and
how to treat the river. The treasures of memory glow again, and the
sparkling stores of hope awake to a lively emulation.

Hilary’s mind had securely landed every fish in the brook at least, and
laid it at the feet of Mabel, ere ever his tackle was put to rights,
and everything else made ready. At last he was at the very point of
starting, with his ever high spirits at their highest pitch, when Mabel
(scarcely a whit behind him in the excitement of this great matter) ran
in for the fiftieth time at least, but this time wearing her evening
frock. That frock was of a delicate buff, and she had a suspicion that
it enhanced the clearness of her complexion, and the kind and deep
loveliness of her eyes.

“You must be quite tired of seeing me, I am as sure as sure can be.
But I am not come now to tie knots, or untie: and you quite understand
all I know about trout, and all that my dear brother Charlie said. Ah,
Mr. Lorraine, you should see him. Gregory is a genius, of course. But
Charlie is not; and that makes him so nice. And his uniform, when he
went to church with us--but to understand such things, you must see
them. Still, you can understand this now, perhaps.”

“I can understand nothing, when I look at you. My intellect seems to be
quite absorbed in--in--I can’t tell you in what.”

“Then go, and absorb it in catching trout. Though I don’t believe you
will ever catch one. It requires the greatest skill and patience, when
the water is bright, and the weather dry. So Charlie always said,
when he could not catch them. Unless you take to a worm, at least, or
something a great deal nastier.”

“A worm! I would sooner lime them almost. Now you know me better than
that, I am sure.”

“How should I know all the different degrees of cruelty men have
established? But I came to beg you just to take a little bit of food
with you. Because you must be away some hours, and you are sure to lose
your way.”

“How wonderfully kind you are, Mabel!--you must be Mabel now.”

“Well, I suppose I have been Mabel ever since they christened me. But
that has nothing at all to do with it. Only I came to make you put this
half of cold duck into your basket, and this pinch of salt, and the
barley-cake, and a drop of our ale in this stone bottle. To drink it,
you must do like this.”

“Do you know what I shall be wanting, every bit of the time, and for
ever?”

“Oh, the mustard--how stupid of me! But I hoped that the stuffing would
do instead.”

“Instead of the cold half duck, I shall want every atom of the whole
duck, warm.”

“Well, there they are, Mr. Lorraine, in the yard. Fourteen of them now
coming up from the pond. Take one of them, if you can eat it raw. But
my mother will make you pay for it.”

“I will pay for my duck,” he said, lifting his hat; “if it costs me
every farthing I have, or shall ever have, in this world, or another.”

And so he went fishing; and she ran upstairs, and softly cried, as she
watched him going; and then lay down, with her hand on her heart.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE KEY OF THE GATE.


The trout knew nothing of all this. They had not tasted a worm for a
month, except when a sod of the bank fell in, through cracks of the
sun, and the way cold water has of licking upward. And even the flies
had no flavour at all; when they fell on the water, they fell flat, and
on the palate they tasted hot, even in under the bushes.

Hilary followed a path through the meadows, with the calm bright sunset
casting his shadow over the shorn grass, or up in the hedgerow, or on
the brown banks where the drought had struck. On his back he carried a
fishing-basket, containing his bits of refreshment; and in his right
hand a short springy rod, the absent sailor’s favourite. After long
council with Mabel, he had made up his mind to walk up stream, as far
as the spot where two brooks met, and formed body enough for a fly
flipped in very carefully to sail downward. Here he began, and the
creak of his reel, and the swish of his rod, were music to him, after
the whirl of London life.

The brook was as bright as the best cut glass, and the twinkles of
its shifting facets only made it seem more clear. It twisted about
a little, here and there; and the brink was fringed now and then
with something, a clump of loosestrife, a tuft of avens, or a bed of
flowering water-cress, or any other of the many plants that wash and
look into the water. But the trout, the main object in view, were
most objectionably too much in view. They scudded up the brook, at
the shadow of a hair, or even the tremble of a blade of grass; and no
pacific assurance could make them even stop to be reasoned with. “This
won’t do,” said Hilary, who very often talked to himself, in lack of a
better comrade: “I call this very hard upon me. The beggars won’t rise,
till it is quite dark. I must have the interdict off my tobacco, if
this sort of thing is to go on. How I should enjoy a pipe just now! I
may just as well sit on a gate and think. No, hang it, I hate thinking
now. There are troubles hanging over me, as sure as the tail of that
comet grows. How I detest that comet! No wonder the fish won’t rise.
But if I have to strip, and tickle them in the dark, I won’t go back
without some for her.”

He was lucky enough to escape the weight of such horrible poaching upon
his conscience. For suddenly to his ears was borne the most melodious
of all sounds, the flop of a heavy fish sweetly jumping after some
excellent fly or grub.

“Ha, my friend!” cried Hilary; “so you are up for your supper, are you?
I myself will awake right early. Still I behold the ring you made. If
my right hand forget not his cunning, you shall form your next ring in
the frying-pan.”

He gave that fish a little time to think of the beauty of that
mouthful, and get ready for another; the while he was putting a white
moth on, in lieu of his blue-upright. He kept the grizzled palmer still
for tail-fly, and he tried his knots, for he knew that this trout was a
Triton.

Then, with a delicate sidling and stooping, known only to them that
fish for trout in very bright water of the summer-time--compared
with which art, the coarse work of the salmon-fisher is as that of
a scene-painter to Mr. Holman Hunt’s--with, or in, and by a careful
manner, not to be described to those who have never studied it, Hilary
won access of the water, without any doubt in the mind of the fish
concerning the prudence of appetite. Then he flipped his short collar
in, not with a cast, but a spring of the rod, and let his flies go
quietly down a sharpish run into that good trout’s hover. The worthy
trout looked at them both, and thought; for he had his own favourite
spot for watching the world go by, as the rest of us have. So he let
the grizzled palmer pass, within an inch of his upper lip; for it
struck him that the tail turned up in a manner not wholly natural, or
at any rate unwholesome. He looked at the white moth also, and thought
that he had never seen one at all like it. So he drew back under his
root again, hugging himself upon his wisdom, never moving a fin, but
oaring and helming his plump spotted sides with his tail.

“Upon my word, it is too bad!” said Hilary, after three beautiful
throws, and exquisite management down stream; “everything Kentish beats
me hollow. Now, if that had been one of our trout, I would have laid my
life upon catching him. One more throw, however. How would it be if I
sunk my flies? That fellow is worth some patience.”

While he was speaking, his flies alit on the glassy ripple, like gnats
in their love-dance; and then by a turn of the wrist he played them
just below the surface, and let them go gliding down the stickle, into
the shelfy nook of shadow, where the big trout hovered. Under the
surface, floating thus, with the check of ductile influence, the two
flies spread their wings, and quivered, like a centiplume moth in a
spider’s web. Still the old trout, calmly oaring, looked at them both
suspiciously. Why should the same flies come so often, and why should
they have such crooked tails, and could he be sure that he did not spy
the shadow of a human hat about twelve yards up the water? Revolving
these things he might have lived to a venerable age--but for that noble
ambition to teach, which is fatal to even the wisest. A young fish,
an insolent whipper-snapper jumped in his babyish way at the palmer,
and missed it through over-eagerness. “I’ll show you the way to catch a
fly,” said the big trout to him: “open your mouth like this, my son.”

With that he bolted the palmer, and threw up his tail, and turned to
go home again. Alas! his sweet home now shall know him no more. For
suddenly he was surprised by a most disagreeable sense of grittiness,
and then a keen stab in the roof of his mouth. He jumped in his wrath
a foot out of the water, and then heavily plunged to the depths of his
hole.

“You’ve got it, my friend.” cried Hilary, in a tingle of fine emotions;
“I hope the sailor’s knots are tied with professional skill and care.
You are a big one, and a clever one too. It is much if I ever land you.
No net, or gaff, or anything. I only hope there are no stakes here. Ah,
there you go! Now comes the tug.”

Away went the big trout down the stream, at a pace very hard to
exaggerate, and after him rushed Hilary, knowing that his line was
rather short, and if it ran out, all was over. Keeping his eyes on
the water only, and the headlong speed of the fugitive, headlong over
a stake he fell, and took a deep wound from another stake. Scarcely
feeling it, up he jumped, lifting his rod, which had fallen flat, and
fearing to find no strain on it. “Aha! he is not gone yet!” he cried as
the rod bowed like a springle-bow.

He was now a good hundred yards down the brook, from the corner where
the fight began. Through his swiftness of foot, and good management,
the fish had never been able to tighten the line beyond yield of
endurance. The bank had been free from bushes, or haply no skill could
have saved him; but now they were come to a corner where a nutbush
quite overhung the stream.

“I am done for now,” said the fisherman; “the villain knows too well
what he is about. Here ends this adventure.”

Full though he was of despair, he jumped anyhow into the water, lowered
the point of his rod to pass, reeled up a little (as the fish felt
weaker), and just cleared the drop of the hazel-boughs. The water
flapped into the pockets of his coat, and he saw red streaks flow
downward. And then he plunged out to an open reach of shallow water and
gravel slope.

“I ought to have you now,” he cried; “though nobody knows what a rogue
you are; and a pretty dance you have led me!”

Doubting the strength of his tackle to lift even the dead weight of
the fish, and much more to meet his despairing rally, he happily saw a
little shallow gut, or backwater, where a small spring ran out. Into
this, by a dexterous turn, he rather led than pulled the fish, who was
ready to rest for a minute or two; then he stuck his rod into the bank,
ran down stream, and with his hat in both hands appeared at the only
exit from the gut. It was all up now with the monarch of the brook. As
he skipped and jumped, with his rich yellow belly, and chaste silver
sides, in the green of the grass, joy and glory of the highest merit,
and gratitude, glowed in the heart of Lorraine. “Two and three quarters
you must weigh. And at your very best you are! How small your head is!
And how bright your spots are!” he cried, as he gave him the stroke of
grace. “You really have been a brave and fine fellow. I hope they will
know how to fry you.”

While he cut his fly out of this grand trout’s mouth, he felt for the
first time a pain in his knee, where the point of the stake had entered
it. Under the buckle of his breeches, blood was soaking away inside his
gaiters; and then he saw how he had dyed the water. After washing the
wound, and binding it with dock-leaves and a handkerchief, he followed
the stream through a few more meadows, for the fish began to sport
pretty well as the gloom of the evening deepened; so that by the time
the gables of the old farm-house appeared (by the light of a young
moon and the comet), Lorraine had a dozen more trout in his basket,
silvery-sided and handsome fellows, though none of them over a pound,
perhaps, except his first and redoubtable captive.

Herewith he resolved to be content; for his knee was now very sore and
stiff, and the growing darkness baffled him; while having forgotten his
food, as behoved him, he was conscious of an agreeable fitness for the
supper-table. Here, of course, he had to tell, at least thrice over,
his fight with the Triton; who turned the scale at three pounds and a
quarter, and was recognized as an old friend and twice conqueror of the
absent Charlie. Mrs. Lovejoy (as was to be expected) made a great ado
about the gash in the knee--which really was no trifle--while Mabel
said nothing, but blamed herself deeply for having equipped him to such
misfortune.

For the next few days, Master Hilary was compelled to keep his active
frame in rest, and quiet, and cosseting. Even the Grower, a man of
strong manhood, accustomed to scythe-cuts, and chopper-hits, and
pole-springs, admitted that this was a case for broth, and low feeding,
and things that the women do. For if inflammation set up, the boy
might have only one leg left for life. It was high time, however, for
the son of the house to return to his beloved law-books; so that he
tore himself away from Phyllis, and started in the van, about noon
on Friday, having promised to send back by John Shorne all that his
fellow-pupil wanted.

Lorraine soon found that his kind and quick hostess loved few things
better than a cheerful, dutiful, and wholesome-blooded patient; and
therefore he rejected with scorn all suggestions as to his need of a
“proper doctor.” And herein the Grower backed him up.

“Adorn me, if any one of them ever lays finger on me, any more than on
my good father before me! They handle us when we are born, of course,
and come to no manner of judgment: but if we let them handle us
afterwards, we deserve to go out of the world before them.”

This sound discretion (combined with the plentiful use of cold water
and healing herbs) set Hilary on his legs again, in about eight or
ten days’ time. Meanwhile, he had seen very little of Mabel, whether
through her fault or that of others he could not tell--only so it
was. Whenever his hostess was out of the way, Phyllis Catherow, and
the housemaid, did their best to supply her place; and very often the
Grower dropped in, to enjoy his pipe, and to cheer his guest. By means
of simple truth, they showed him that he was no burden to them, even at
this busy time.

After all this, it was only natural that Hilary should become
much attached, as well as grateful, to his entertainers. Common
formality was dropped, and caste entirely sunk in hearty liking and
loving-kindness. And young Lorraine was delighted to find how many
pleasant virtues flourished under the thatch of that old house,
uncoveted and undisturbed; inasmuch as their absence was not felt in
the mansions of great people.

This affection for virtue doubtless made him feel sadly depressed and
lonely, when the time at length arrived for quitting so much excellence.

“In the van he came, and in the van he would go,” he replied to all
remonstrance; and the Grower liked him all the better for his loyalty
to the fruit-coach. So it was settled when Crusty John was “going up
light” for a Thursday morning, that Hilary should have a mattress laid
in the body of the vehicle, and a horse-cloth to throw over him, if the
night should prove a cold one. For now a good drop of rain had fallen,
and the weather seemed on the change awhile.

“I must catch you another dish of trout,” said Hilary to Mrs. Lovejoy;
“when shall I have such a chance again? The brook is in beautiful order
now; and thanks to your wonderful skill and kindness, I can walk again
quite grandly.”

“Yes, for a little way you can. But you must be sure not to overdo it.
You may fish one meadow, and one only. Let me see. You may fish the
long meadow, Hilary; then you will have neither stile nor hedge. The
gate at this end unlatches, mind. And I will send Phyllis to let you
out at the lower end, and to see that you dare not go one step further.
She shall be there at half-past six. The van goes at eight, you know,
and we must sit down to supper at seven exactly.”

Upon this understanding he set forth, about five o’clock in the
afternoon, and meeting Miss Catherow in the lane, he begged her, as an
especial favour, to keep out of Mrs. Lovejoy’s way for the next two
hours only. Phyllis, a good-natured girl on the whole (though a little
too proud of her beauty perhaps), readily promised what he asked,
and retired to a seat in the little ash coppice, to read a poem, and
meditate upon the absent Gregory.

Lorraine was certainly in luck to-day, for he caught a nice basket of
fish down the meadow; and towards the last stickle near the corner,
where silver threads of water crossed, and the slanting sunshine cast
a plaid of softest gold upon them, light footsteps came by the side of
the hedge, and a pretty shadow fell near him.

“Miss Lovejoy!” cried Hilary; “how you amaze me! Why, I thought it was
Phyllis who was coming to fetch me. I may call her Phyllis,--oh yes,
she allows me. She is not so very ceremonious. But some people are all
dignity.”

“Now you want to vex me the very last thing. And they call you so
sweet-tempered! I am so sorry for your disappointment about your dear
friend Phyllis. But I am sure I looked for her everywhere, before I was
obliged to come myself. Now I hope you have not found the poor little
trout quite so hard to please as you are.”

“At any rate, not so shy of me, as somebody has been for a fortnight.
Because I was in trouble, I suppose, and pain, and supposed to be
groaning.”

“How can you say such bitter things? It shows how very little you
care--at least, that is not what I mean at all.”

“Then, if you please, what is it that you do mean?”

“I mean that here is the key of the gate. And my father will expect you
at seven o’clock.”

“But surely you will have a look at my trout? They cannot bite, if I
can.”

He laid his fishing-creel down on the grass, and Mabel stooped over it
to hide her eyes; which (in spite of all pride and prudence) were not
exactly as she could have wished. But they happened to be exactly as
Hilary wished, and catching a glimpse of them unawares, he lost all
ideas except of them; and basely compelled them to look at him.

“Now, Mabel Lovejoy,” he said, slowly, and with some dread of his
own voice; “can you look me in the face, and tell me you do not care
twopence for me?”

“I am not in the habit of being rude,” she answered, with a sly glance
from under her hat; “that I leave for other people.”

“Well, do you like me, or do you not?”

“You do ask the most extraordinary questions. We are bound to like our
visitors.”

“I will ask a still more extraordinary question. Do you love me, Mabel?”

For a very long time he got no answer, except a little smothered sob,
and two great tears that would have their way. “Darling Mabel, look
up and tell me. Why should you be ashamed to say? I am very proud of
loving you. Lovely Mabel, do you love me?”

“I--I--I am--very--much afraid--I almost do.”

She shrank away from his arms and eyes, and longed to be left to
herself for a little. And then she thought what a mean thing it was
to be taking advantage of his bad leg. With that she came back, and to
change his thoughts, said, “Show me a trout in the brook now, Hilary.”

“You deserve to see fifty, for being so good. There, you must help me
along, you know. Now just stand here and let me hold you, carefully and
most steadily. No, not like that. That will never do. I must at least
have one arm round you, or in you go, and I have to answer for your
being ‘drownded’!”

“Drowned! You take advantage now to make me so ridiculous. The water is
scarcely six inches deep. But where are the little troutsies?”

“There! There! Do you see that white stone? Now look at it most
steadfastly, and then you are sure not to see them. Now turn your head
like that, a little,--not too much, whatever you do. Now what do you
see, most clearly?”

“Why, I see nothing but you and me, in the shadow of that oak-tree,
standing over the water as if we had nothing better in the world to do!”

“We are standing together, though. Don’t you think so?”

“Well, even the water seems to think so. And what can be more
changeable?”

“Now look at me, and not at the water. Mabel, you know what I am.”

“Hilary, I wish I did. That is the very thing that takes such a long
time to find out.”

“Now, did I treat you in such a spirit? Did I look at you, and
think,‘here is a rogue I must find out’?”

“No, of course you never did. That is not in your nature. At the same
time, perhaps, it might not matter so long to you, as it must to me.”

She met his glad eyes with a look so wistful, yet of such innocent
trust (to assuage the harm of words), that Hilary might be well excused
for keeping the Grower’s supper waiting, as he did that evening.



CHAPTER XIX.

FOUR YOUNG LADIES.


The excellent people of Coombe Lorraine as yet were in happy ignorance
of all these fine doings on Hilary’s part. Sir Roland knew only too
well, of course, that his son and heir was of a highly romantic,
chivalrous, and adventurous turn. At Eton and Oxford many little
scrapes (which seemed terrible at the time) showed that he was sure to
do his best to get into grand scrapes, as the landscape of his youthful
world enlarged.

“Happen what will, I can always trust my boy to be a gentleman,” his
father used to say to himself, and to his only real counsellor, old Sir
Remnant Chapman. Sir Remnant always shook his head; and then (for fear
of having meant too much) said, “Ah, that is the one thing after all.
People begin to talk a great deal too much about Christianity.”

At any rate, the last thing they thought of was the most likely thing
of all--that Hilary should fall in love with a good, and sweet, and
simple girl, who, for his own sake, would love him, and grow to him
with all the growth of love. “Morality”--whereby we mean now, truth,
and right, and purity--was then despised in public, even more than now
in private life. Sir Remnant thought it a question of shillings, how
many maids his son led astray; and he pitied Sir Roland for having a
son so much handsomer than his own.

Little as now he meddled with it, Sir Roland knew that the world was
so; and the more he saw of it, the less he found such things go down
well with him. The broad low stories, and practical jokes, and babyish
finesse of oaths, invented for the ladies--many of which still survive
in the hypocrisy of our good tongue--these had a great deal to do
with Sir Roland’s love of his own quiet dinner-table, and shelter of
his pet child, Alice. And nothing, perhaps, except old custom and the
traditions of friendship, could have induced him to bear, as he did,
with Sir Remnant’s far lower standard. Let a man be what he will, he
must be moved one way or another by the folk he deals with. Even Sir
Roland (though so different from the people around him) felt their
thoughts around him rambling, and very often touching him: and he never
could altogether help wanting to know what they thought about him. So
must the greatest man ever “developed” have desired a million-fold,
because he lived in each one of the million.

However, there were but two to whom Sir Roland Lorraine ever yielded a
peep of his deeply treasured anxieties. One was Sir Remnant; and the
other (in virtue of his office, and against the grain) was the Rev.
Struan Hales, his own highly respected brother-in-law.

Struan Hales was a man of mark all about that neighbourhood. Everybody
knew him; and almost everybody liked him. Because he was a genial,
open-hearted, and sometimes noisy man; full of life--in his own form
of that matter--and full of the love of life, whenever he found other
people lively. He hated every kind of humbug, all revolutionary ideas,
methodism, asceticism, enthusiastic humanity, and exceedingly fine
language. And though, like everyone else, he respected Sir Roland
Lorraine for his upright character, lofty honour, and clearness of
mind; while he liked him for his generosity, kindness of heart, and
gentleness; on the other hand he despised him a little, for his shyness
and quietude of life. For the rector of West Lorraine loved nothing
better than a good day with the hounds, and a roaring dinner-party
afterwards. Nothing in the way of sport ever came amiss to him; even
though it did--as no true sport does--depend for its joy upon cruelty.

Here, in his red house on the glebe, under the battlement of the hills,
with trees and a garden of comfort, and snug places to smoke a pipe in,
Mr. Hales was well content to live and do his duty. He liked to hunt
twice in a week, and he liked to preach twice every Sunday. Still he
could not do either always; and no good people blamed him.

Mrs. Hales was the sweetest creature ever seen, almost anywhere. She
had plenty to say for herself, and a great deal more to say for others;
and if perfection were to be found, she would have been perfection to
every mind except her own, and perhaps her husband’s. The rector used
to say that his wife was an angel, if ever one there were: and in his
heart he felt that truth. Still he did not speak to her always, as if
he were fully aware of being in colloquy with an angel. He had lived
with her “ever so long,” and he knew that she was a great deal better
than himself; but he had the wisdom not to let her know it; and she
often thought that he preached at her. Such a thing he never did.
No honest parson would ever do it; of all mean acts it would be the
meanest. Yet there are very few parsons’ wives who are not prepared for
the chance of it; and Mrs. Hales knew that she “had her faults,” and
that Mr. Hales was quite up to them. At any rate, here these good folk
were, and here they meant to live their lives out, having a pretty old
place to see to, and kind old neighbours to see to them. Also they had
a much better thing--three good children of their own; enough to make
work and pleasure for them, but not to be a perpetual worry, inasmuch
as they all were girls--three very good girls, of their sort--thinking
as they were told to think, and sure to make excellent women.

Alice Lorraine liked all these girls. They were so kind, and sweet,
and simple; and when they had nothing whatever to say, they always
said it so prettily. And they never pretended to interfere with any of
her opinions, or to come into competition with her, or to talk to her
father, when she was present, more than she well could put up with.
For she was a very jealous child; and they were well aware of it; and
they might let their father be her mother’s brother ten times over,
before she would hear of any “Halesy element”--as she once had called
it--coming into her family more than it had already entered: and they
knew right well, while they thought it too bad, that this young Alice
had sadly quenched any hopes any one of them might have cherished of
being a Lady Lorraine some day. She had made her poor brother laugh
over their tricks, when they were sure that they had no tricks; and she
always seemed to throw such a light upon any little harmless thing
they did. Still they could afford to forget all that; and they did
forget it; especially now, when Hilary would soon be at home again.

It was now July; and no one had heard for weeks from that same Hilary.
But this made no one anxious, because it was the well-known manner of
the youth. Sometimes they would hear from him by every post, although
the post now came thrice in a week; and then again for weeks together,
not a line would he vouchsafe. And as a general rule he was getting on
better, when he kept strict silence.

Therefore Alice had no load on her mind, at all worth speaking of,
while she worked in her sloping flower-garden, early of a summer
afternoon. It was now getting on for St. Swithin’s day; and the sun was
beginning to curtail those brief attentions which he paid to Coombe
Lorraine. He still looked fairly at it, as often as clouds allowed in
the morning, almost up to eight o’clock; and after that he could still
see down it over the shoulder of the hill. But he felt that his rays
made no impression (the land so fell away from him), they seemed to do
nothing but dance away downward, like a lasher of glittering water.

Therefore, in this garden grew soft and gentle-natured plants, and
flowers of delicate tint, that sink in the exhaustion of the sunglare.
The sun, in almost every garden, sucks the beauty out of all the
flowers; he stains the sweet violet even in March; he spots the
primrose and the periwinkle; he takes the down off the heartsease
blossom; he browns the pure lily-of-the-valley in May; and, after that,
he dims the tint of every rose that he opens: and yet, in spite of all
his mischief, which of them does not rejoice in him?

The bold chase, cut in the body of the hill, has rugged sides, and
a steep descent for a quarter of a mile below the house--the cleft
of the chalk on either side growing deeper towards the mouth of the
coombe. The main road to the house goes up the coombe, passing under
the eastern scarp, but winding away from it, here and there, to obtain
a better footing. The old house, facing down the hill, stands so close
to the head of the coombe, that there is not more than an acre or so
of land behind and between it and the crest; and this is partly laid
out as a courtyard, partly occupied by out-buildings, stables, and so
on, and the ruinous keep ingloriously used as a lime-kiln; while the
rest of the space is planted, in and out, with spruce and birch-trees,
and anything that will grow there. Among them winds a narrow outlet to
the upper and open Downs--not much of a road for carriage-wheels, but
something in appearance betwixt a bridle-path and a timber-track, such
as is known in those parts by the old English name, a “borstall.”

As this led to no dwelling-house for miles and miles away, but only
to the crown of the hills and the desolate tract of sheep-walks,
ninety-nine visitors out of a hundred to the house came up the coombe,
so that Alice from her flower-garden, commanding the course of the
drive from the plains, could nearly always foresee the approach of any
interruption. Here she had pretty seats under laburnums, and even a
bower of jessamine, and a noble view all across the weald, even to the
range of the North Downs; so that it was a pleasant place for all who
love soft sward and silence, and have time to enjoy that rare romance
of the seasons--a hot English summer.

Only there was one sad drawback. Lady Valeria’s windows straightly
overlooked this pleasant spot, and Lady Valeria never could see why she
should not overlook everything. Beyond and above all other things, she
took it as her own special duty to watch her dear granddaughter Alice;
and now in her eighty-second year she was proud of her eyesight, and
liked to prove its power.

“Here they come again!” cried Alice, talking to herself, or her rake,
and trowel; “will they never be content? I told them on Monday that I
knew nothing; and they will not believe it. I have a great mind to hide
myself in my hole, like that poor rag-and-bone boy. It goes beyond my
patience quite, to be cross-examined and not believed.”

Those whom she saw coming up the steep road at struggling and panting
intervals, were her three good cousins from the rectory--Caroline,
Margaret, and Cecil Hales; rather nice-looking and active girls,
resembling their father in face and frame, and their excellent mother
in their spiritual parts. The Anglican period of young ladies--the time
of wearing great crosses, and starving, and sticking as a thorn in the
flesh of mankind, lay as yet in the happy future. A parson’s daughters
were as yet content to leave the parish to their father, helping him
only in the Sunday-school; and for the rest of the week, minding their
own dresses, or some delicate jobs of pastry, or gossip.

Though Alice had talked so of running away, she knew quite well that
she never could do it, unless it were for a childish joke; and swiftly
she was leaving now the pretty and petty world of childhood, sinking
into that distance whence the failing years recover it. Therefore,
instead of running away, she ran down the hill to meet her cousins; for
truly she liked them decently.

“Oh, you dear, how are you? How wonderfully good to come to meet
us! Madge, I shall be jealous in a moment if you kiss my Alice so.
Cecil--what are you thinking of? Why, you never kissed your cousin
Alice.”

“Oh yes, you have all done it very nicely. What more could I wish?”
said Alice; “but what could have made you come up the hill, so early in
the day, dears?”

“Well, you know what dear mamma is. She really fancied that we might
seem (now there is so much going on) really unkind and heartless,
unless we came up to see how you were. Papa would have come; but he
feels it so steep, unless he is coming up to dinner; and pony, you
know--Oh, she did such a thing! The wicked little dear, she got into
the garden, and devoured £10 worth of the grand new flower, just
introduced by the Duchess--‘Dallia,’ or ‘Dellia,’ I can’t spell the
name. And mamma was so upset that both of them have been unwell ever
since.”

“Oh, Dahlias!” answered Alice, whose grapes were rather sour, because
her father had refused to buy any; “flaunty things in my opinion. But
Caroline, Madge, and Cecil, have you ever set eyes on my new rose?”

Of course they all ran to behold the new rose; which was no other
than the “Persian yellow,” a beautiful stranger, not yet at home. The
countless petals of brilliant yellow folding inward full of light, and
the dimple in the centre, shy of yielding inlet to its virgin gold, and
then the delicious fragrance, too refined for random sniffers,--these
and other delights found entry into the careless beholder’s mind.

“It makes one think of astrologers,” cried Caroline Hales; “I declare
it does! Look at all the little stars! It is quite like a celestial
globe.”

“So it is, I do declare!” said Madge. But Cecil shook her head. She
was the youngest, and much the prettiest, and by many degrees the most
elegant of the daughters of the rectory. Cecil had her own opinion
about many things; but waited till it should be valuable.

“It is much more like a cowslip-ball,” Alice answered, carelessly.
“Come into my bower now. And then we can all of us go to sleep.”

The three girls were a little hot and thirsty, after their climb of the
chalky road; and a bright spring ran through the bower, as they knew,
ready to harmonize with sherbet, sherry-wine, or even shrub itself; as
had once been proved by Hilary.

“How delicious this is! How truly sweet!” cried the eldest, and perhaps
most loquacious, Miss Hales; “and how nice of you always to keep a
glass! A spring is such a rarity on these hills; papa says it comes
from a different stratum. What a stratum is I have no idea. It ought
to be straight, one may safely say that; but it always seems to be
crooked. Now, can you explain that, darling Alice? You are so highly
taught, and so clever.”

“Now, we don’t want a lecture,” said Madge, the blunt one; “the hill is
too steep to have that at the top. Alice knows everything, no doubt, in
the way of science, and all that. But what we are dying to know is what
came of that grand old astrologer’s business.”

“This is the seventh or eighth time now,” Alice answered, hard at bay,
“that you will keep on about some little thing that the servants are
making mountains of. My father best knows what it is. Let us go to his
room and ask him.”

“Oh no, dear! oh no, dear? How could we do that? What would dear uncle
say to us? But come, now tell us. You do know something. Why are you so
mysterious? Mystery is a thing altogether belonging to the dark ages,
now. We have heard such beautiful stories, that we cannot manage to
sleep at night, without knowing what they are all about. Now, do tell
us everything. You may just as well tell us every single thing. We are
sure to find it all out, you know; and then we shall all be down on
you. Among near relations, dear mamma says, there is nothing to compare
with candour.”

“Don’t you see, Alice,” Madge broke in, “we are sure to know sooner or
later; and how can it matter which it is?”

“To be sure,” answered Alice, “it cannot matter. And so you shall all
know, later.”

This made the three sisters look a little at one another, quietly. And
then, as a desperate resource, Madge, the rough one, laid eyes upon
Alice, and, with a piercing look, exclaimed, “You don’t even understand
what it means yourself.”

“Of course, I do not,” answered Alice; “how many times have I told you
so; yet you always want further particulars! Dear cousins, now you must
be satisfied with a conclusion of your own.”

“I cannot at all see that,” said Caroline.

“Really, you are too bad,” cried Margaret.

“Do you think that this is quite fair?” asked Cecil.

“You are too many for me, all of you,” Alice answered, steadfastly.
“Suppose I came to your house and pried into some piece of gossip about
you, that I had picked up in the village. Would you think that I had a
right to do it?”

“No, dear, of course not. But nobody dares to gossip about us, you
know. Papa would very soon stop all that.”

“Of course he would. And because my father is too high-minded to meddle
with it, am I to be questioned perpetually? Come in, Caroline, come in,
Margaret, come in, dear Cecil; I know where papa is, and then you can
ask him all about it.”

“I have three little girls at their first sampler--such little sweets!”
said Caroline; “I only left them for half an hour, because we felt
sure you must want us, darling. It now seems as if you could hold your
own in a cross-stitch we must not penetrate. It is nothing to us. What
could it be? Only don’t come, for goodness’ sake, don’t come rushing
down the hill, dear creature, to implore our confidence suddenly.”

“Dear creature!” cried Alice, for the moment borne beyond her young
self-possession--“I am not quite accustomed to old women’s words.
Nobody shall call me a ‘dear creature’ except my father (who knows
better) and poor old Nanny Stilgoe.”

“Now, don’t be vexed with them,” Cecil stopped to say in a quiet
manner, while the two other maidens tucked up their skirts, and down
the hill went, rapidly; “they never meant to vex you, Alice; only you
yourself must feel how dreadfully tantalizing it is to hear such sweet
things as really make us afraid of our own shadows; and then to be told
not to ask any questions!”

“I am sorry if I have been rude to your sisters,” the placable Alice
answered; “but it is so vexatious of them that they doubt my word so.
Now, tell me what you have heard. It is wonderful how any foolish story
spreads.”

“We heard, on the very best authority, that the old astrologer appeared
to you, descending from the comet in a fire-balloon, and warned you to
prepare for the judgment-day, because the black-death would destroy in
one night every soul in Coombe Lorraine; and as soon as you heard it
you fainted away; and Sir Roland ran up, and found you lying, as white
as wax, in a shroud made out of the ancient gentleman’s long foreign
cloak.”

“Then, beg Cousin Caroline’s pardon for me. No wonder she wanted to
hear more. And I must not be touchy about my veracity, after lying
in my shroud so long. But truly I cannot tell you a word to surpass
what you have heard already; nor even to come up to it. There was not
one single wonderful thing--not enough to keep up the interest. I was
bitterly disappointed; and so, of course, was every one.”

“Cousin Alice,” Cecil answered, looking at her pleasantly, “you are
different from us, or, at any rate, from my sisters. You scarcely seem
to know the way to tell the very smallest of small white lies. I am
very sorry always; still I must tell some of them.”

“No, Cecil, no. You need tell none; if you only make up your mind not
to do it. You are but a very little older than I am, and surely you
might begin afresh. Suppose you say at your prayers in the morning,
‘Lord, let me tell no lie to-day!’”

“Now, Alice, you know that I never could do it. When I know that I mean
to tell ever so many; how could I hope to be answered? No doubt I am a
story-teller--just the same as the rest of us; and to pray against it,
when I mean to do it, would be a very double-faced thing.”

“To be sure, it would. It never struck me in that particular way
before. But Uncle Struan must know best what ought to be done in your
case.”

“We must not make a fuss of trifles,” Cecil answered, prudently; “papa
can always speak for himself; and he means to come up the hill to do
it, if Mr. Gates’ pony is at home. And now I must run after them, or
Madge will call me a little traitor. Oh, here papa comes, I do declare.
Good-bye, darling, and don’t be vexed.”

“It does seem a little too bad,” thought Alice, as the portly form
of the rector, mounted on a borrowed pony, came round the corner at
the bottom of the coombe, near poor Bonny’s hermitage--“a little too
bad that nothing can be done, without its being chattered about. And
I know how annoyed papa will be, if Uncle Struan comes plaguing him
again. We cannot even tell what it means ourselves; and whatever it
means, it concerns us only. I do think curiosity is the worst, though
it may be the smallest, vice. He expects to catch me, of course, and
get it all out of me, as he declared he would. But sharp as his eyes
are, I don’t believe he can have managed to spy me yet. I will off to
my rockwork, and hide myself, till I see the heels of his pony going
sedately down the hill again.”

With these words, she disappeared; and when the good rector had mounted
the hill, “Alice, Alice!” resounded vainly from the drive among the
shrubs and flowers, and echoed from the ramparts of the coombe.



CHAPTER XX.

A RECTOR OF THE OLDEN STYLE.


One part of Coombe Lorraine is famous for a sevenfold echo, connected
by tradition with a tale of gloom and terror. Mr. Hales, being proud
of his voice, put this echo through all its peals, or chime of waning
resonance. It could not quite answer, “How do you do?” with “Very well,
Pat, and the same to you”--and its tone was rather melancholy than
sprightly, as some echoes are. But of course a great deal depended on
the weather, as well as on the time of day. Echo, for the most part,
sleeps by daylight, and strikes her gong as the sun goes down.

Failing of any satisfaction here, the Rev. Struan Hales rode on. “Ride
on, ride on!” was his motto always; and he seldom found it fail.
Nevertheless, as he rang the bell (which he was at last compelled to
do), he felt in the crannies of his heart some wavers as to the job
he was come upon. A coarse nature often despises a fine one, and yet
is most truly afraid of it. Mr. Hales believed that in knowledge of
the world he was entitled to teach Sir Roland; and yet could not help
feeling how calmly any impertinence would be stopped.

The clergyman found his brother-in-law sitting alone, as he was too
fond of doing, in his little favourite book-room, walled off from
the larger and less comfortable library. Sir Roland was beginning to
yield more and more to the gentle allurements of solitude. Some few
months back he had lost the only friend with whom he had ever cared
to interchange opinions, a learned parson of the neighbourhood, an
antiquary, and an elegant scholar. And ever since that he had been
sinking deeper and deeper into the slough of isolation and privacy.
For hours he now would sit alone, with books before him, yet seldom
heeded, while he mused and meditated, or indulged in visions, mingled
of the world he read of, and the world he had to deal with. As no
less an authority than Dr. Johnson has it--“This invisible riot of the
mind, this secret prodigality of being, is secure from detection, and
fearless of reproach. The dreamer retires to his apartment, shuts out
the cares and interruptions of mankind, and abandons himself to his own
fancy.” And again--“This captivity it is necessary for every man to
break, who has any desire to be wise or useful. To regain liberty, he
must find the means of flying from himself; he must, in opposition to
the Stoic precept, teach his desires to fix upon external things; he
must adopt the joys and the pains of others, and excite in his mind the
want of social pleasures and amicable communication.”

Sir Roland Lorraine was not quite so bad as the gentleman above
depicted; still he was growing so like him, that he was truly sorry to
see the jovial face of his brother-in-law. For his mind was set out
upon a track of thought, which it might have pursued until dinner-time.
But, of course, he was much too courteous to show any token of
interruption.

“Roland, I must have you out of this. My dear fellow, what are you
coming to? Books, books, books! As if you did not know twice too much
already! Even I find my flesh falling away from me, the very next day
after I begin to punish it with reading.”

“That very remark occurs in the book which I have just put down.
Struan, let me read it to you.”

“I thank you greatly, but would rather not. It is in Latin or Greek,
of course. I could not do my duty as I do, if I lost my way in those
dead languages. But I have the rarest treat for you; and I borrowed a
pony, to come and fetch you. Such a badger you never saw! Sir Remnant
is coming to see it, and so is old General Jakes, and a dozen more. We
allow an hour for that, and then we have a late dinner at six o’clock.
My daughters came up the hill, to fetch your young Alice to see the
sport. But they had some blaze-up about some trifle; as the chittish
creatures are always doing. And so pretty Alice perhaps will lose it.
Leave them to their own ways, say I: leave them to their own ways, Sir
Roland. They are sure to cheat us, either way; and they may just as
well cheat us pleasantly.”

“You take a sensible view of it, according to what your daughters
are,” Sir Roland answered, more sharply than he either meant or could
maintain; and immediately he was ashamed of himself. But Mr. Hales was
not thin of skin; and he knew that his daughters were true to him.
“Well, well,” he replied, “as I said before, they are full of tricks.
At their age and sex it must be so. But a better and kinder team of
maids is not to be found in thirteen parishes. Speak to the contrary
who will.”

“I know that they are very good girls,” Sir Roland answered kindly;
“Alice likes them very much: and so does everybody.”

“That is enough to show what they are. Nobody ever likes anybody,
without a great deal of cause for it. They must have their faults,
of course, we know; and they may not be quite butter-lipped, you
know--still I should like to see a better lot, take them in and out and
altogether. Now you must come and see Fox draw that badger. I have ten
good guineas upon it with Jakes; Sir Remnant was too shy to stake. And
I want a thoroughly impartial judge. You never would refuse me, Roland,
now?”

“Yes, Struan, yes; you know well that I will. You know that I hate and
despise cruel sports: and it is no compliment to invite me, when you
know that I will not come.”

“I wish I had stayed at the bottom of the hill, where that young scamp
of a boy lives. When will you draw that badger, Sir Roland, the pest of
the Downs, and of all the county?”

“Struan, the boy is not half so bad as might be expected of him. I have
thought once or twice that I ought to have him taught, and fed, and
civilized.”

“Send him to me, and I’ll civilize him. A born little poacher! I have
scared all the other poachers with the comet; but the little thief
never comes to church. Four pair of birds, to my knowledge, nested in
John Gates’ vetches, and hatched well, too, for I spoke to John--where
are they? Can you tell me where they are?”

“Well, Struan, I give you the shooting, of course; but I leave it to
you to look after it. But it does seem too cruel to kill the birds,
before they can fly for you to shoot them.”

“Cruel! I call it much worse than cruel. Such things would never be
dreamed of upon a properly managed property.”

“You are going a little too far,” said Sir Roland, with one of his very
peculiar looks; and his brother-in-law drew back at once, and changed
the subject clumsily.

“The shooting will do well enough, Sir Roland; I think, however,
that you may be glad of my opinion upon other matters. And that had
something to do with my coming.”

“Oh, I thought that you came about the badger, Struan. But what are
these, even more serious matters?”

“Concerning your dealings with the devil, Roland. Of course, I never
listen to anything foolish. Still, for the sake of my parish, I am
bound to know what your explanation is. I have not much faith in
witchcraft; though in that perhaps I am heterodox; but we are bound to
have faith in the devil, I hope.”

“Your hope does you credit,” Sir Roland answered; “but for the moment I
fail to see how I am concerned with this orthodoxy.”

“Now, my dear fellow, my dear fellow, you know as well as I do, what I
mean. Of course there is a great deal of exaggeration; and knowing you
so well, I have taken on myself to deny a great part of what people
say. But you know the old proverb, ‘No smoke without fire;’ and I could
defend you so much better, if I knew what really had occurred. And
besides all that, you must feel, I am sure, that you are not treating
me with that candour which our long friendship and close connection
entitle me to expect from you.”

“Your last argument is the only one requiring any answer. Those based
on religious, social, and even parochial grounds, do not apply to this
case at all. But I should be sorry to vex you, Struan, or keep from you
anything you claim to know in right of your dear sister. This matter,
however, is so entirely confined to those of our name only; at the same
time so likely to charm all the gossips who have made such wild guesses
about it; and, after all, it is such a trifle except to a superstitious
mind; that I may trust your good sense to be well content to hear no
more about it, until it comes into action--if it ever should do so.”

“Very well, Sir Roland, of course you know best. I am the last man in
the world to intrude into family mysteries. And my very worst enemy
(if I have one) would never dream of charging me with the vice of
curiosity.”

“Of course not. And therefore you will be well pleased that we should
drop this subject. Will you take white wine, or red wine, Struan? Your
kind and good wife was quite ready to scold me, for having forgotten my
duty in that, the last time you came up the hill.”

“Ah, then I walked--to-day I am riding. I thank you, I thank you, Sir
Roland; but the General and Sir Remnant are waiting for me.”

“And, most important of all, the badger. Good-bye, Struan; I shall see
you soon.”

“I hardly know whether you will or not,” the rector answered testily;
“this is the time when those cursed poachers scarcely allow me a good
night’s rest. And to come up this hill; and hear nothing at the top! It
is too bad at my time of life! After two services every Sunday, to have
to be gamekeeper all the week!”

“At your time of life!” said Sir Roland, kindly: “why, you are the
youngest man in the parish, so far as life and spirits go. To-day you
are not yourself at all. Struan, you have not sworn one good round
oath!”

“Well, what can you expect, Roland, with these confounded secrets held
over one? I feel myself many pegs down to-day. And that pony trips so
abominably. Perhaps, after all, I might take one glass of red wine,
before I go down the hill.”

“It is a duty you owe to the parish. Now come, and let me try to find
Alice, to wait upon you. Alice is always so glad to see you.”

“And I am always so glad to see her. How narrow your doors are in these
old houses! Those Normans must have been a skewer-shouldered lot. Now,
Roland, if I have said anything harsh, you will make all allowance for
me, of course; because you know the reason.”

“You mean that you are a little disappointed----”

“Not a bit of it. Quite the contrary. But after such weather as
we’ve had, and nothing but duty, duty, to do--one is apt to get
a little crotchety. What kind of sport can be got anywhere? The
landrail-shooting is over, of course, and the rabbits are running in
families; the fish are all sulky, and the water low, and the sea-trout
not come up yet. There are no young hounds fit to handle yet; and the
ground cracks the heels of a decent hack. One’s mouth only waters at
oiling a gun; all the best of the cocks are beginning to mute; and if
one gets up a badger-bait, to lead to a dinner-party, people will come,
and look on, and make bets, and then tell the women how cruel it was!
And with all the week thus, I am always expected to say something new,
every Sunday morning!”

“Nay, nay, Struan. Come now; we have never expected that of you. But
here comes Alice, from her gardening work! Now, she does look well;
don’t you think she does?”

“Not a rose in June, but a rose in May!” the rector answered gallantly,
kissing his hand to his niece, and then with his healthy bright lips
saluting her: “you grow more and more like your mother, darling. Ah,
when I think of the bygone days, before I had any wife, or daughters,
things occur to me that never----”

“Go and bait your badger, Struan, after one more glass of wine.”



CHAPTER XXI.

A NOTABLE LADY.


Nature appears to have sternly willed that no man shall keep a secret.
There is a monster, here and there perhaps to be discovered, who can
sustain his boast of never whispering anything; but he ought to expect
to be put aside, in our estimate of humanity. And in compensation, the
powers above provide him, for the most part, with a wife of fecund
loquacity.

A word is enough on such parlous themes; and the least said, the
soonest mended. What one of us is not exceeding wise, in his own, or
his wife’s opinion? What one of us does not pretend to be as “reticent”
as Minerva’s owl; and yet in his heart confess that a secret is apt to
fly out of his bosom?

Nature is full of rules; and if the above should happen to be one of
them, it was illustrated in the third attack upon Sir Roland’s secrecy.
For scarcely had he succeeded in baffling, without offending, his
brother-in-law, when a servant brought him a summons from his mother,
Lady Valeria.

According to all modern writers, whether of poetry or prose, in our
admirable language, the daughter of an earl is always lovely, graceful,
irresistible; almost to as great an extent as she is unattainable.
This is but a natural homage on the part of nature to a power so far
above her; so that this daughter of an Earl of Thanet had been, in
every outward point, whatever is delightful. Neither had she shown any
slackness in turning to the best account these notable gifts in her
favour. In short, she had been a very beautiful woman, and had employed
her beauty well, in having her own will and way. She had not married
well, it is true, in the opinion of her compeers; but she had pleased
herself, and none could say that she had lowered her family. The
ancestors of Lord Thanet had held in villeinage of the Lorraines, some
three or four hundred years after the Conquest, until, from being under
so gentle a race, they managed to get over them.

Lady Valeria knew all this; and feeling as all women feel, the
ownership of her husband (active or passive, whichever it be), she
threw herself into the nest of Lorraine, and having no portion, waived
all past obligation to parental ties. This was a noble act on her part,
as her husband always said. He, Sir Roger Lorraine, lay under her
thumb, as calmly as need be; yet was pleased as the birth of children
gave some distribution of pressure. For the lady ruled the house, and
lands, and all that was therein, as if she had brought them under her
settlement.

Although Sir Roger had now been sleeping, for a good many years, with
his fathers, his widow, Lady Valeria, showed no sign of any preparation
for sleeping with her mothers. Now in her eighty-second year, this lady
was as brisk and active, at least in mind, if not in body, as half
a century ago she had been. Many good stories (and some even true)
were told concerning her doings and sayings in the time of her youth
and beauty. Doings were always put first, because for these she was
more famous, having the wit of ready action more than of rapid words,
perhaps. And yet in the latter she was not slack, when once she had
taken up the quiver of the winged poison. She had seen so much of the
world, and of the loftiest people that dwell therein--so far at least
as they were to be found at the Court of George the Second--that she
sat in an upper stratum now over all she had to deal with. And yet she
was not of a narrow mind, when unfolded out of her creases.

Her set of rooms was the best in the house, of all above the
ground-floor at least; and now she was waiting to receive her son, with
her usual little bit of state. For the last five years she had ceased
to appear at the table where once she ruled supreme; and the servants,
who never had blessed her before, blessed her and themselves for that
happy change. For she would have her due as firmly and fairly (if not a
trifle more so), as and than she gave the same to others, if undemanded.

In her upright seat she was now beginning--not to chafe, for such a
thing would have been below her--but rather to feel her sense of right
and duty (as owing to herself) becoming more and more grievous to her
the longer she was kept waiting. She had learned long ago that she
could not govern her son as absolutely as she was wont to rule his
father; and having a clearer perception of her own will than of large
principles, whenever she found him immovable, she set the cause down as
prejudice. Yet by feeling her way among these prejudices carefully, and
working filial duty hard, and flying as a last resort to the stronghold
of her many years, she pretty nearly always managed to get her own way
in everything.

But few of those who pride themselves on their knowledge of the
human face would have perceived in this lady’s features any shape of
steadfast will. Perhaps the expression had passed away, while the
substance settled inwards: but however that may have been, her face
was pleasant, calm, and gentle. Her manner also to all around her was
courteous, kind, and unpretending; and people believed her to have
no fault, until they began to deal with her. Her eyes, not overhung
with lid, but delicately set and shaped, were still bright, and of a
pale-blue tint; her forehead was not remarkably large, but straight,
and of beautiful outline; while the filaments of fine wrinkles took,
in some lights, a cast of silver from snowy silkiness of hair. For
still she had abundant hair, that crown of glory to old age; and, like
a young girl, she still took pleasure in having it drawn through the
hands, and done wisely, and tired to the utmost vantage.

Sir Roland came into his mother’s room with his usual care and
diligence. She with ancient courtesy rose from her straight-backed
chair, and offered him one little hand, and smiled at him; and from the
manner of that smile he knew that she was not by any means pleased, but
thought it as well to conciliate him.

“Roland, you know that I never pay heed,” she began, with a voice that
shook just a little, “to rumours that reach me through servants, or
even allow them to think of telling me.”

“Dear mother, of course you never do. Such a thing would be far beneath
you.”

“Well, well, you might wait till I have spoken, before you begin to
judge me. If I listen to nothing, I must be quite unlike all the other
women in the world.”

“And so you are. How well you express it! At last you begin to
perceive, my dear mother, what I perpetually urge in vain--your own
superiority.”

What man’s mother can be expected to endure mild irony, even half so
well as his wife would?

“Roland, this manner of speech,--I know not what to call it, but I have
heard of it among foreign people years ago,--whatever it is, I beg you
not to catch it from that boy Hilary.”

“Poetical justice!” Sir Roland exclaimed; for his temper was always in
good control, by virtue of varied humour; “this is the self-same whip
wherewith I scourged little Alice, quite lately! Only I feel that I was
far more just.”

“Roland, you are always just. You may not be always wise, of course;
but justice you have inherited from your dear father, and from me.
And this is the reason why I wish to know what is the meaning of the
strange reports, which almost any one, except myself, would have been
sure to go into, or must have been told of long ago. Your thorough
truthfulness I know. And you have no chance to mislead me now.”

“I will imitate, though perhaps I cannot equal, your candour, my dear
mother, by assuring you that I greatly prefer to keep my own counsel in
this matter.”

“Roland, is that your answer? You admit that there is something
important, and you refuse to let your own mother know it!”

“Excuse me, but I do not remember saying anything about ‘importance.’
I am not superstitious enough to suppose that the thing can have any
importance.”

“Then why should you make such a fuss about it? Really, Roland, you are
sometimes very hard to understand.”

“I was not aware that I had made a fuss,” Sir Roland answered, gravely;
“but if I have, I will make no more. Now, my dear mother, what did you
think of that extraordinary bill of Bottler’s?”

“Bottler, the pigman, is a rogue,” said her ladyship, peremptorily:
“his father was a rogue before him; and those things run in families.
But surely you cannot suppose that this is the proper way to treat the
subject.”

“To my mind a most improper way--to condemn a man’s bill on the ground
that his father transmitted the right to overcharge!”

“Now, my dear son,” said Lady Valeria, who never called him her son at
all, unless she was put out with him, and her “dear son” only when she
was at the extremity of endurance--“my dear son, these are sad attempts
to disguise the real truth from me. The truth I am entitled to know,
and the truth I am resolved to know. And I think that you might have
paid me the compliment of coming for my advice before.”

Finding her in this state of mind, and being unable to deny the
justice of her claim, Sir Roland was fain at last to make a virtue of
necessity, while he marvelled (as so many have done) at the craft of
people in spying things, and espying them always wrongly.

“Is that all?” said Lady Valeria, after listening carefully; “I thought
there must have been something a little better than that, to justify
you in making it such a mystery. Nothing but a dusty old document,
and a strange-looking package, or case like a cone! However, I do not
blame you, my dear Roland, for making so small a discovery. The old
astrologer appears to me to have grown a little childish. Now, as I
keep to the old-fashioned hours, I will ask you to ring the bell for my
tea; and while it is being prepared, you can fetch me the case itself,
and the document to examine.”

“To be sure, my dear mother, if you will only promise to obey the
commands of the document.”

“Roland, I have lived too long ever to promise anything. You shall read
me these orders, and then I can judge.”

“I will make no fuss about such a trifle,” he answered, with a pleasant
smile; “of course you will do what is honourable.”

Surely men, although they deny so ferociously this impeachment, are
open at times to at least a little side-eddy of curiosity; Sir Roland,
no doubt, was desirous to know what were the contents of that old
case, which Alice had taken for a “dirty cushion,” as it lay at the
back of the cupboard in the wall; while his honour would not allow him
comfortably to disobey the testator’s wish. At the same time he felt,
every now and then, that to treat such a matter in a serious light, was
a proof of superstition, or even childishness, on his part. And now, if
his mother should so regard it, he was not at all sure that he ought to
take the unpleasant course of opposing her.



CHAPTER XXII.

A MALIGNANT CASE.


Sir Roland smiled at his mother’s position, and air of stern attention,
as he came back from his book-room with a small but heavy oaken box.
This he placed on a chair, and without any mystery, unlocked it. But no
sooner had he flung back the lid and shown the case above described,
than he was quite astonished at the expression of Lady Valeria’s face.
Something more than fear, a sudden terror, as if at the sight of
something fatal, had taken the pale tint out of her cheeks, and made
her fine forehead quiver.

“Dear mother, how foolish I am,” he said, “to worry you with these
trifles! I wish I had kept to my own opinion----”

“It is no trifle; you would have been wrong to treat it as a trifle.
I have lived a long life, and seen many strange things; it takes more
than a trifle to frighten me.”

For a minute or two she lay back, and was not fit to speak or be spoken
to; only she managed to stop her son from ringing for her maid or
the housekeeper. He had never beheld her so scared before, and could
scarcely make out her signs to him that she needed no attendance.

Like most men who are at all good and just, Sir Roland was prone to
think softly and calmly, instead of acting rapidly; and now his mother,
so advanced in years, showed less hesitation than he did. Recovering,
ere long, from that sudden shock, she managed to smile at herself and
at his anxiety about her.

“Now, Roland, I will not meddle with this formidable and clumsy thing.
It seems to be closed most jealously. It has kept for two centuries,
and may keep for two more, so far as I am concerned. But if it will not
be too troublesome to you, I should like to hear what is said about it.”

“In this old document, madam? Do you see how strangely it has been
folded? Whoever did that knew a great deal more than now we know about
folding.”

“The writing to me seems more strange than the folding. What a cramped
hand! In what language is it written?”

“In Greek, the old Greek character, and the Doric dialect. He seems to
have been proud of his classic descent, and perhaps Dorian lineage.
But he placed a great deal too much faith in the attainments of his
descendants. Poor Sedley would have read it straight off, I daresay;
but the contractions, and even some of the characters, puzzled me
dreadfully. I have kept up, as you know, dear mother, whatever little
Greek I was taught, and perhaps have added to it; but my old Hedericus
was needed a great many times, I assure you, before I got through this
queer document; and even now I am not quite certain of the meaning of
one or two passages. You see at the head a number of what I took at
first to be hieroglyphics of some kind or other; but I find that they
are astral or sidereal signs, for which I am none the wiser, though
perhaps an astronomer would be. This, for instance, appears to mean the
conjunction of some two planets, and this----”

“Never mind them, Roland. Read me what you have made out of the
writing.”

“Very well, mother. But if I am at fault, you must have patience with
me, for I am not perfect in my lesson yet. Thus it begins:--

“‘Behold, ye men, who shall be hereafter, and pay heed to this matter.
A certain Carian, noble by birth and of noble character, to whom is the
not inglorious name, Agasicles Syennesis, hath lived not in the pursuit
of wealth, or power, or reputation, but in the unbroken study of the
most excellent arts and philosophies. Especially in the heavenly stars,
and signs of the everlasting kosmos, hath he disciplined his mind, and
surpassed all that went before him.’ There is nothing like self-praise,
is there, now, dear mother?”

“I have no doubt that he speaks the truth,” answered the Lady Valeria:
“I did not marry into a family accustomed to exaggerate.”

“Then what do you think of this? ‘Not only in intellect and
forethought, but also in goodwill and philanthropy, modesty, and
self-forgetfulness, did this man win the prize of excellence; and he it
is who now speaks to you. Having lived much time in a barbarous island,
cold, and blown over with vaporous air, he is no longer of such a sort
as he was in the land of the fair afternoons. And there is when it is
to his mind a manifest and established thing, that the gates of Hades
are open for him, and the time of being no longer. But he holds this to
be of the smallest difference, if only the gods produce his time to the
perfect end of all the things lying now before him.’”

“How good, and how truly pious of him, Roland? Such a man’s daughter
never could have had any right to run away from him.”

“My dear mother, I disagree with you, if he always praised himself in
that style. But let him speak for himself again, as he seems to know
very well how to do: ‘These things have not been said, indeed, for
the sake of any boasting, but rather to bring out thoroughly forward
the truth in these things lying under, as if it were a pavement of
adamant. Now, therefore, know ye, that Agasicles, carefully pondering
everything, has found (so to say the word) an end to accomplish, and
to abide in. And this is no other thing, than to save the generations
descended from him, from great evil fortunes about to fall, by the
ill-will of some divinity, at a destined time, upon them. For a man,
of birth so renowned and lofty, has not been made to resemble a
hand-worker, or a runaway slave; but has many stars regarding him,
from many generations. And now he perceives, that his skill and wisdom
were not given to him to be a mere personal adornment; but that he
might protect his descendants, to the remote futurity. To him, then--it
having been revealed, that in the seventh generation hence, as has
often come to pass with our house, or haply in the tenth (for the
time is misty), a great calamity is bound to happen to those born
afar off from Syennesis--the sage has laboured many labours, though
he cannot avert, at least to make it milder, and to lessen it. He has
not, indeed, been made to know, at least up to the present time, what
this bane will be; or whether after the second, or after the third
century from this period. But knowing the swiftness of evil chance, he
expects it at the earlier time; and whatever its manner or kind may
be, Agasicles in all his discoveries has discovered no cure for human
evils, save that which he now has shut up in a box. This box has been
so constructed, that nothing but dust will meet the greedy eyes of any
who force it open, in the manner of the tomb of Nitocris. But if be
opened with the proper key, and after the proper interval, when the
due need has arisen--there will be a fairer sight than ever broke upon
mortal eyes before.’

“There mother, now, what do you think of all that? I am quite out of
breath with my long translation, and I am not quite sure of all of it.
For instance, where he says----”

“Roland,” his mother answered quickly, “I am now much older than the
prince, according to tradition, can have been. But I make no pretence
to his wisdom; and I have reasons of my own for wondering. What have
you done with the key of that case?”

“I have never seen it. It was not in the closet. And I meant to have
searched, throughout his room, until I found out the meaning of this
very crabbed postscript--‘That fool, Memel, hath lost the key. It will
cost me months to make another. My hands now tremble, and my eyes are
weak. If there be no key found herewith, let it be read that Nature,
whom I have vanquished, hath avenged herself. Whether, or no, have I
laboured in vain? Be blest now, and bless me, my dear descendants.’”

“That appears to me,” said the Lady Valeria, being left in good manners
by her son, to express the first opinion, “to be of the whole of this
strange affair the part that is least satisfactory.”

“My dear mother, you have hit the mark. What satisfaction can one find
in having a case without a key, and knowing that if we force it open
there will be nothing but dust inside? Not a quarter so good as a
snuff-box. I must have a pinch, my dear mother, excuse me, while you
meditate on this subject. You are far more indulgent in that respect
than little Alice ever is.”

“All gentlemen take snuff,” said the lady; “who is Alice, to lay down
the law? Your father took a boxful three times a week. Roland, you let
that young girl take great liberties with you.”

“It is not so much that I let her take them. I have no voice in the
matter now. She takes them without asking me. Possibly that is the
great calamity foretold by the astrologer. If not, what other can it
be, do you think?”

“Not so,” she answered, with a serious air, for all her experience of
the witty world had left her old age quite dry of humour; “the trouble,
if any is coming, will not be through Alice, but through Hilary. Alice
is certainly a flighty girl, romantic, and full of nonsense, and
not at all such as she might have been, if left more in my society.
However, she never has thought it worth while to associate much with
her grandmother; the result of which is that her manners are unformed,
and her mind is full of nonsense. But she has plenty, and (if it were
possible) too much of that great preservative--pride of birth. Alice
may come to affliction herself; but she never will involve her family.”

“Any affliction of hers,” said Sir Roland, “will involve at least her
father.”

“Yes, yes, of course. But what I mean is the honour and rank of the
family. It is my favourite Hilary, my dear, brave, handsome Hilary, who
is likely to bring care on our heads, or rather upon your head, Roland;
my time, of course, will be over then, unless he is very quick about
it.”

“He will not be so quick as that, I hope,” Sir Roland answered, with
some little confusion of proper sentiments; “although in that hotbed of
mischief, London, nobody knows when he may begin. However, he is not in
London at present, according to your friend Lady de Lampnor. I think
you said you had heard so from her.”

“To be sure, Mr. Malahide told her himself. The dear boy has
overworked himself so, that he has gone to some healthy and quiet
place, to recruit his exhausted energies.”

“Dear me,” said Sir Roland, “I could never believe it, unless I knew
from experience, what a very little work is enough to upset him. To
write a letter to his father, for instance, is so severe an exertion,
that he requires a holiday the next day.”

“Now, Roland, don’t be so hard upon him. You would apprentice him to
that vile law, which is quite unfit for a gentleman. I am not surprised
at his being overcome by such odious labour; you would not take my
advice, remember, and put him into the only profession fit for one of
his birth--the army. Whatever happens, the fault is your own. It is
clear, however, that he cannot get into much mischief where he is just
now--a rural and quiet part of Kent, she says. It shows the innocence
of his heart to go there.”

“Very likely. But if he wanted change, he might have asked leave to
come home, I think. However, we shall have him here soon enough.”

“How you speak, Roland! Quite as if you cared not a farthing for your
only son! It must be dreadfully galling to him, to see how you prefer
that Alice.”

“If he is galled, he never winces,” answered Sir Roland with a quiet
smile; “he is the most careless fellow in the world.”

“And the most good-natured, and the most affectionate,” said Lady
Valeria, warmly; “nothing else could keep him from being jealous, as
nine out of ten would be. However, I am tired of talking now, and on
that subject I might talk for ever. Take away that case, if you please,
and the writing. On no account would I have them left here. Of course
you will lock them away securely, and not think of meddling with them.
What is that case made of?”

“I can scarcely make out. Something strong and heavy. A mixture, I
think, of shagreen and some metal. But the oddest thing of all is the
keyhole. It is at the top of the cone, you see, and of the strangest
shape, an irregular heptagon, with some rare complications of points
inside. It would be next to impossible to open this case, without
shattering it altogether.”

“I do not wish to examine the case, I wish to have it taken away, my
son. There, there, I am very glad not to see it; although I am sure I
am not superstitious. We shall do very well, I trust, without it. I
think it is a most extraordinary thing that your father never consulted
me about the writing handed down to you. He must have been bound by
some pledge not to do so. There, Roland, I am tired of the subject.”

With these words the ancient lady waved her delicate hand, and
dismissed her son, who kissed her white forehead, according to usage,
and then departed with case and parchment locked in the oaken box
again. But the more he thought over her behaviour, the more he was
puzzled about it. He had fully expected a command to open the case, at
whatever hazard; and perhaps he had been disappointed at receiving no
such order. But above all, he wanted to know why his mother should have
been taken aback, as she was, by the sight of these little things. For
few people, even in the prime of life, possessed more self-command and
courage than Lady Valeria, now advancing into her eighty-second year.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE BAITER BAITED.


At the top of the hill, these lofty themes were being handled worthily;
while, at the bottom, little cares had equal glance of the democrat
sun, but no stars allotted to regard them. In plain English,--Bonny and
Jack were as busy as their betters. They had taken their usual round
that morning, seeking the staff of life--if that staff be applicable
to a donkey--in village, hamlet, and farm-house, or among the lanes
and hedges. The sympathy and goodwill between them daily grew more
intimate, and their tastes more similar; so that it scarcely seemed
impossible that Bonny in the end might learn to eat clover, and Jack to
rejoice in money. Open air, and roving life, the ups and downs of want
and weal, the freedom of having nothing to lose, and the joyful luck of
finding things--these, and perhaps a little spice of unknown sweetness
in living at large on their fellow-creatures’ labours, combined to make
them as happy a pair, as the day was long, or the weather good. In the
winter--ah! why should we think of such trouble? Perhaps there will
never be winter again.

At any rate, Bonny was sitting in front of the door of his castle (or
rather in front of the doorway, because he was happy enough not to
have a door), as proud and contented as if there could never be any
more winter of discontent. He had picked up a hat in a ditch that day,
lost by some man going home from his inn; and knowing from his patron,
the pigman Bottler, that the surest token of a blameless life is to
be found in the hat of a man, the boy, stirred by the first heave of
ambition, had put on this hat, and was practising hat-craft (having
gone with his head as it was born hitherto), to the utter surprise, and
with the puzzled protest, of his beloved donkey. It was a most steady
church-going hat of the chimney-pot order (then newly imported into
benighted regions, but now of the essence of a godly life all over this
free country), neither was it such a shocking bad hat as a man would
cast away, if his wife were near. For Bonny’s young head it was a world
too wide, but he had padded it with a blackbird’s nest; and though it
seemed scarcely in harmony with his rakish waistcoat, and bare red
shanks (spread on the grass for exhibition, and starred with myriad
furze and bramble), still he was conscious of a distinguished air, and
nodded to the donkey to look at him.

While these were gazing at one another, with free interchange of
opinion, the rector of the parish, on his little pony, turned the
corner bluntly. He was on his way home, at the bottom of the coombe,
not in the very best temper perhaps, in spite of the sport in prospect;
because Sir Roland had met so unkindly his kind desire to know things.

“What have you got on your lap, boy?” Mr. Hales so strongly shouted,
that sulky Echo pricked her ears; and “on your lap, boy,” went all up
the lonely coombe melodiously.

Bonny knew well what was on his lap--a cleverly-plaited hare-wire.
Bottler had shown him how to do it, and now he was practising
diligently, under the auspices of his first hat. Mr. Hales was a
“beak,” of course; and the aquiline beak of the neighbourhood. Bonny
had the honour of his acquaintance, in that fierce aspect, and in no
other. The little boy knew that there was a church, and that great
people went there once a-week, for still greater people to blow them
up. But this only made him the more uneasy, to clap his bright eyes on
the parson.

“Hold there! whoa!” called the Rev. Struan, as Bonny for his life began
to cut away; “boy, I want to talk to you.”

Bonny was by no means touched with this very fine benevolence. Taking,
perhaps, a low view of duty, he made the ground hot, to escape what we
now call the “sacerdotal office.” But Struan Hales (unlike our parsons)
knew how to manage the laity. He clapped himself and his pony, in no
time, between Master Bonny and his hole, and then in calm dignity
called a halt, with his riding-whip ready at his button-hole.

“It is--it is--it is!” cried Bonny, coming back with his head on his
chest, and meaning (in the idiom of the land) that now he was beaten,
and would hold parley.

“To be sure, it is!” the rector answered, keeping a good balance on his
pony, and well pleased with his own tactics. He might have chased Bonny
for an hour in vain, through the furze, and heather, and blackberries;
but here he had him at his mercy quite, through his knowledge of human
nature. To put it coarsely--as the rector did in his mental process
haply--the bigger thief anybody is, the more sacred to him is his
property. Not that Bonny was a thief at all; still, that was how Mr.
Hales looked at it. In the flurry of conscience, the boy forgot that a
camel might go through the eye of a needle with less exertion than the
parish incumbent must use to get into the Bonny-castle.

“Oh hoo, oh hoo, oh hoo!” howled Bonny, having no faith in clerical
honour, and foreseeing the sack of his palace, and home.

“Give me that wire,” said Mr. Hales, in a voice from the depth of his
waistcoat. “Now, my boy, would you like to be a good boy?”

“No, sir; no, sir; oh no, plaize, sir! Jack nor me couldn’t bear it,
sir.”

“Why not, my boy? It is such a fine thing. Your face shows that you
are a sharp boy. Why do you go on living in a hole, and poaching, and
picking, and stealing?”

“Plaize, sir, I never steals nothin’, without it is somethin’ as don’t
belong to me.”

“That may be. But why should you steal even that? Shall I go in, and
steal your things now?”

“Oh hoo, oh hoo, oh hoo! Plaize, sir, I ha’n’t got nothin’ for ’e to
steal.”

“I am not at all sure of that,” said the rector, looking at the
hermit’s hole longingly; “a thief’s den is often as good as the bank.
Now, who taught you how to make this snare? I thought I knew them all
pretty well; but this wire has a dodge quite new to me. Who taught you,
you young scamp, this moment?”

“Plaize, sir, I can’t tell ’e, sir. Nobody taught me, as I knows on.”

“You young liar, you couldn’t teach yourself. What you mean is, that
you don’t choose to tell me. Know, I must, and know I will, if I
have to thrash it out of you.” He had seized him now by his gorgeous
waistcoat, and held the strong horsewhip over his back. “Now, will you
tell, or will you not?”

“I ’ont, I ’ont. If ’e kills me, I ’ont,” the boy cried, wriggling
vainly, and with great tears of anticipation rolling down his sun-burnt
cheeks.

The parson admired the pluck of the boy, knowing his own great strength
of course, and feeling that if he began to smite, the swing of his arm
would increase his own wrath, and carry him perhaps beyond reason.
Therefore he offered him one chance more. “Will you tell, sir, or will
you not?”

“I ’ont tell; that I ’ont,” screamed Bonny; and at the word the lash
descended. But only once, for the smiter in a moment was made aware of
a dusty rush, a sharp roar of wrath, and great teeth flashing under
mighty jaws. And perhaps he would never have walked again if he had not
most suddenly wheeled his pony, and just escaped a tremendous snap,
well aimed at his comely and gaitered calf.

“Ods bods!” cried the parson, as he saw the jackass (with a
stretched-out neck, and crest erect, eyes flashing fire, and a lashing
tail, and, worst of all terrors, those cavernous jaws) gathering legs
for a second charge, like an Attic trireme, Phormio’s own, backing
water for the diecplus.

“May I be dashed,” the rector shouted, “if I deal any more with such
animals! If I had only got my hunting-crop; but, kuk, kuk, kuk, pony!
Quick, for God’s sake! Off with you!”

With a whack of full power on the pony’s flanks, away went he at full
gallop; while Jack tossed his white nose with high disdain, and then
started at a round trot in pursuit, to scatter them more disgracefully,
and after them sent a fine flourish of trumpets, to the grand old
national air of hee-haw.

While the Rev. Struan Hales was thus in sore discomfiture fleeing away
as hard as his pony could be made to go, and casting uneasy glances
over one shoulder at his pursuer, behold, he almost rode over a
traveller footing it lightly round a corner of the lane!

“Why, Uncle Struan!” exclaimed the latter; “is the dragon of St.
Leonard’s flying after you? Or is this the usual style of riding of the
beneficed clergy?”

“Hilary, my dear boy,” answered the rector; “who would have thought
of seeing you? You are just come in time to defend your uncle from a
ravenous beast of prey. I was going home to bait a badger, but I have
had a pretty good bait myself. Ah, you pagan, you may well be ashamed
of yourself, to attack your clergyman!”

For Jack, perceiving the reinforcement, and eyeing the stout stick
which Hilary bore, prudently turned on his tail and departed, well
satisfied with his exploit.

“Why, Hilary, what has brought you home?” asked his uncle, when a few
words had passed concerning Jack’s behaviour. “Nobody expects you, that
I know of. Your father is a mysterious man; but Alice would have been
sure to tell me. Moreover, you must have walked all the way from the
stage, by the look of your buckles; or perhaps from Brighton even.”

“No; I took the short cut over the hills, and across by way of Beeding.
Nobody expects me, as you say. I am come on important business.”

“And, of course, I am not to know what it is. For mystery, and for
keeping secrets, there never was such a family.”

“As if you did not belong to it, uncle!” Hilary answered,
good-naturedly. “I never heard of any secrets that I can remember.”

“And good reason too,” replied the rector; “they would not long have
been secrets, my boy, after they came to your ears, I doubt.”

“Then let me establish my reputation by keeping my own, at any rate.
But, after all, it is no secret, uncle. Only, my father ought to know
it first.”

“Alas, you rogue, you rogue! Something about money, no doubt. You used
to condescend to come to me when you were at school and college. But
now, you are too grand for the purse of any poor Sussex rector. I could
put off our badger for half-an-hour, if you think you could run down
the hill again. I should like you particularly to see young Fox; it
will be something grand, my boy. He is the best pup I ever had in all
my life.”

“I know him, uncle; I know what he is. I chose him first out of the
litter, you know. But you must not think of waiting for me. If I come
down the hill again, it will only be about eight o’clock for an hour’s
rabbit-shooting.”

Since he first met Mabel Lovejoy, Hilary had been changing much, and
in every way for the better. Her gentleness, and soft regard, and
simple love of living things (at a time when cruelty was the rule, and
kindness the rare exception), together with her knowledge of a great
deal more than he had ever noticed in the world around, made him feel,
in his present vein of tender absence from her, as if he never could
bear to see the baiting of any badger. Therefore he went on his way to
his father, pitying all things that were tormented.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A FATHERLY SUGGESTION.


Sir Roland Lorraine, in his little book-room, after that long talk with
his mother, had fallen back into the chair of reflection, now growing
more and more dear to him. He hoped for at least a good hour of peace
to think of things, and to compare them with affairs that he had read
of. It was all a trifle, of course, and not to be seriously dwelt
upon. No man could have less belief in star, or comet, or even sun, as
glancing out of their proper sphere, or orbit, at the dust of earth. No
man smiled more disdainfully at the hornbooks of seers and astrologers:
and no man kept his own firm doubtings to himself more carefully.

And yet he was touched, as nobody now would be in a case of that sort,
perhaps by the real grandeur of that old man in devoting himself
(according to his lights) to the stars that might come after him. Of
these the brightest now broke in; and the dreamer’s peace was done for.

What man has not his own queer little turns? Sir Roland knew quite well
the step at the door--for Hilary’s walk was beyond mistake; yet what
did he do but spread hands on his forehead, and to the utmost of all
his ability--sleep?

Hilary looked at his male parent with affectionate sagacity. He had
some little doubts about his being asleep, or, at any rate, quite so
heartily as so good a man had a right to repose. Therefore, instead of
withdrawing, he spoke.

“My dear father, I hope you are well. I am sorry to disturb you,
but--how do you do, sir; how do you do?”

The schoolboy’s rude answer to this kind inquiry--“None the better for
seeing you”--passed through Hilary’s mind, at least, if it did not
enter his father’s. However, they saluted each other as warmly as can
be expected reasonably of a British father and a British son; and
then they gazed at one another, as if it was the first time either had
enjoyed that privilege.

“Hilary, I think you are grown,” Sir Roland said, to break the silence,
and save his lips from the curve of a yawn. “It is time for you to give
up growing.”

“I gave it up, sir, two years ago; if the standard measures of the
realm are correct. But perhaps you refer to something better than
material increase. If so, sir, I am pleased that you think so.”

“Of course you are,” his father answered; “you would have grown out of
yourself, to have grown out of pleasant self-complacency. How did you
leave Mr. Malahide? Very well? Ah, I am glad to hear it. The law is the
healthiest of professions; and that your countenance vouches. But such
a colour requires food after fifty miles of travelling. We shall not
dine for an hour and a half. Ring the bell, and I will order something
while you go and see your grandmother.”

“No, thank you, sir. If you can spare the time, I should like to have a
little talk with you. It is that which has brought me down from London,
in this rather unceremonious way.”

“Spare me apologies, Hilary, because I am so used to this. It is a
great pleasure to see you, of course, especially when you look so well.
Quite as if there was no such thing as money--which happens to you
continually, and is your panacea for moneyed cares. But would not the
usual form have done--a large sheet of paper (with tenpence to pay),
and, ‘My dear father, I have no ready cash--your dutiful son, H. L.’?”

“No, my dear father,” said Hilary, laughing in recognition of his
favourite form; “it is a much more important affair this time. Money,
of course, I have none; but still, I look upon that as nothing. You
cannot say I ever show any doubt as to your liberality.”

“You are quite right. I have never complained of such diffidence on
your part. But what is this matter far more important than money in
your estimate?”

“Well, I scarcely seem to know,” said Hilary, gathering all his
courage, “whether there is in all the world a thing so important as
money.”

“That is quite a new view for you to take. You have thrown all your
money right and left. May I hope that this view will be lasting?”

“Yes, I think, sir, that you may. I am about to do a thing which will
make money very scarce with me.”

“I can think of nothing,” his father answered, with a little impatience
at his prologues, “which can make money any scarcer than it always is
with you. I know that you are honourable, and that you scorn low vices.
When that has been said of you, Hilary, there is very little more to
say.”

“There might have been something more to say, my dear father, but
for you. You have treated me always as a gentleman treats a younger
gentleman dependent upon him--and no more. You have exchanged (as you
are doing now) little snap-shots with me, as if I were a sharpshooter,
and upon a level with you. I am not upon a level with you. And if it is
kind, it is not fair play.”

Sir Roland looked at him with great surprise. This was not like Hilary.
Hilary, perhaps, had never been under fatherly control as he ought to
be; but still, he had taken things easily as yet, and held himself shy
of conflict.

“I scarcely understand you, Hilary,” Sir Roland answered, quietly. “If
you have any grievance, surely there will be time to discuss it calmly,
during the long vacation, which you are now beginning so early.”

“I fear, sir, that I shall not have the pleasure of spending my long
vacation here. I have done a thing which I am not sure that you will at
all approve of.”

“That is to say, you are quite sure that I shall disapprove of it.”

“No, my dear father; I hope not quite so bad at that, at any rate. I
shall be quite resigned to leave you to think of it at your leisure. It
is simply this--I have made up my mind, if I can obtain your consent,
to get married.”

“Indeed,” exclaimed the father, with a smile of some contempt. “I will
not say that I am surprised; for nothing you do surprises me. But who
has inspired this new whim, and how long will it endure?”

“All my life!” the youth replied, with fervour and some irritation;
for his father alone of living beings knew how to irritate him. “All
my life, sir, as sure as I live! Can you never believe that I am in
earnest?”

“She must be a true enchantress so to have improved your character! May
I venture to ask who she is?”

“To be sure, sir. She lives in Kent, and her name is Mabel Lovejoy, the
daughter of Mr. Martin Lovejoy.”

“Lovejoy! A Danish name, I believe; and an old one, in its proper form.
What is Mr. Martin Lovejoy by profession, or otherwise?”

“By profession he is a very worthy and long-established grower.”

“A grower! I fail to remember that branch of the liberal professions.”

“A grower, sir, is a gentleman who grows the fruits of the earth, for
the good of others.”

“What we should call a ‘spade husbandman,’ perhaps. A healthful and
classic industry--under the towers of Œbalia. I beg to be excused all
further discussion; as I never use strong language. Perhaps you will go
and enlist your grandmother’s sympathy with this loyal attachment to
the daughter of the grower.”

“But, sir, if you will only allow me----”

“Of course; if I would only allow you to describe her virtues--but that
is just what I have not the smallest intention of allowing. Spread
the wings of imagination to a more favourable breeze. This interview
must close on my part with a suggestive (but perhaps self-evident)
proposition. Hilary, the door is open.”



CHAPTER XXV.

THE WELL OF THE SIBYL.


In the village of West Lorraine, which lies at the foot of the South
Down ridge, there lived at this moment, and had lived for three
generations of common people, an extraordinary old woman of the name
of Nanny Stilgoe. She may have been mentioned before, because it was
next to impossible to keep out of her, whenever anybody whosoever
wanted to speak of the neighbourhood. For miles and miles around she
was acknowledged to know everything; and the only complaint about her
was concerning her humility. She would not pretend to be a witch; while
everybody felt that she ought to be, and most people were sure that she
was one.

Alice Lorraine was well-accustomed to have many talks with Nanny;
listening to her queer old sayings, and with young eyes gazing at the
wisdom or folly of the bygone days. Nanny, of course, was pleased with
this; still she was too old to make a favourite now of any one. People
going slowly upward towards a better region have a vested interest
still in earth, but in mankind a mere shifting remainder.

Therefore all the grace of Alice and her clever ways and sweetness, and
even half a pound of tea and an ounce and a half of tobacco, could not
tempt old Nanny Stilgoe to say what was not inside of her. Everybody
made her much more positive in everything (according as the months
went on, and she knew less and less what became of them) by calling
upon her, at every new moon, to declare to them something or other. It
was not in her nature to pretend to deceive anybody, and she found it
harder, from day to day, to be right in all their trifles.

But her best exertions were always forthcoming on behalf of Coombe
Lorraine, both as containing the most conspicuous people of the
neighbourhood, and also because in her early days she had been a trusty
servant under Lady Valeria. Old Nanny’s age had become by this time
almost an unknown quantity, several years being placed to her credit
(as is almost always done), to which she was not entitled. But, at
any rate, she looked back upon her former mistress, Lady Valeria, as
comparatively a chicken, and felt some contempt for her judgment,
because it could not have grown ripe as yet. Therefore the venerable
Mrs. Stilgoe (proclaimed by the public voice as having long since
completed her century) cannot have been much under ninety in the year
of grace 1811.

Being of a rather stiff and decided--not to say crabbed--turn of mind,
this old woman kept a small cottage to herself at the bend of the road
beyond the blacksmith’s, close to the well of St. Hagydor. This cottage
was not only free of rent, but her own for the term of her natural
life, by deed of gift from Sir Roger Lorraine, in gratitude for a
brave thing she had done when Roland was a baby. Having received this
desirable cottage, and finding it followed by no others, she naturally
felt that she had not been treated altogether well by the family. And
her pension of three half-crowns a-week, and her Sunday dinner in a
basin, made an old woman of her before her time, and only set people
talking.

In spite of all this, Nanny was full of goodwill to the family,
forgiving them all their kindness to her, and even her own dependence
upon them; foretelling their troubles plentifully, and never failing
to enhance them. And now on the very day after young Hilary’s conflict
with his father, she had the good luck to meet Alice Lorraine, on her
way to the rectory, to consult Uncle Struan, or beg him to intercede.
For the young man had taken his father at his word, concluding that the
door, not only of the room, but also of the house, was open for him,
in the inhospitable sense; and, casting off his native dust from his
gaiters, he had taken the evening stage to London, after a talk with
his favourite Alice.

Old Nanny Stilgoe had just been out to gather a few sticks to boil
her kettle, and was hobbling home with the fagot in one hand, and in
the other a stout staff chosen from it, which she had taken to help
her along. She wore no bonnet or cap on her head, but an old red
kerchief tied round it, from which a scanty iron-grey lock escaped, and
fluttered now and then across the rugged features and haggard cheeks.
Her eyes, though sunken, were bright and keen, and few girls in the
parish could thread a fine needle as quickly as she could. But extreme
old age was shown in the countless seams and puckers of her face, in
the knobby protuberance where bones met, and, above all, in the dull
wan surface of skin whence the life was retiring.

“Now, Nanny, I hope you are well to-day,” Alice said, kindly, though by
no means eager to hold discourse with her just now; “you are working
hard, I see, as usual.”

“Ay, ay, working hard, the same as us all be born to, and goes out of
the world with the sweat of our brow. Not the likes of you, Miss Alice.
All the world be made to fit you, the same as a pudding do to a basin.”

“Now, Nanny, you ought to know better than that. There is nobody born
to such luck, and to keep it. Shall I carry your fagot for you? How
cleverly you do tie them!”

“’Ee may carr the fagot as far as ’ee wool. ’Ee wunt goo very far,
I count. The skin of thee isn’t thick enow. There, set ’un down now
beside of the well. What be all this news about Haylery?”

“News about Hilary, Nanny Stilgoe! Why, who has told you anything?”

“There’s many a thing as comes to my knowledge without no need of
telling. He have broken with his father, haven’t he? Ho, ho, ho!”

“Nanny, you never should talk like that. As if you thought it a very
fine thing, after all you have had to do with us!”

“And all I owes you! Oh yes, yes; no need to be bringing it to my mind,
when I gets it in a basin every Sunday.”

“Now, Mrs. Stilgoe, you must remember that it was your own wish to have
it so. You complained that the gravy was gone into grease, and did we
expect you to have a great fire, and you came up and chose a brown
basin yourself, and the cloth it was to be tied in; and you said that
then you would be satisfied.”

“Well, well, you know it all by heart. I never pays heed to them little
things. I leaves all of that for the great folk. Howsever, I have a
good right to be told what doth not consarn no strangers.”

“You said that you knew it all without telling! The story, however, is
too true this time. But I hope it may be for a short time only.”

“All along of a chield of a girl--warn’t it all along of that? Boys
thinks they be sugar-plums always, till they knows ’en better.”

“Why, Nanny, now, how rude you are! What am I but a child of a girl?
Much better, I hope, than a sugar-plum.”

“Don’t tell me! Now, you see the water in that well. Clear and bright,
and not so deep as this here stick of mine is.”

“Beautifully cool and sparkling even after the long hot weather. How I
wish we had such a well on the hill! What a comfort it must be to you!”

“Holy water, they calls it, don’t ’em? Holy water, tino! But it do well
enough to boil the kittle, when there be no frogs in it. My father
told me that his grandfather, or one of his forebears afore him, seed
this well in the middle of a great roaring torrent, ten feet over top
of this here top step. It came all the way from your hill, he said. It
fetched more water than Adur river; and the track of it can be followed
now.”

“I have heard of it,” answered Alice, with a little shiver of
superstition; “I have always longed to know more about it.”

“The less you knows of it the better for ’ee. Pray to the Lord every
night, young woman, that you may never see it.”

“Oh, that is all superstition, Nanny. I should like to see it
particularly. I never could understand how it came; though it seems
to be clear that it does come. It has only come twice in five hundred
years, according to what they say of it. I have heard the old rhyme
about it ever--oh, ever since I can remember.”

“So have I heered. But they never gets things right now; they be so
careless. How have you heered of it, Miss Alice?”

“Like this--as near as I can remember:--

    “‘When the Woeburn brake the plain,
    Ill it boded for Lorraine.
    When the Woeburn came again,
    Death and dearth it brought Lorraine.
    If it ever floweth more,
    Reign of the Lorraines is o’er.’

Did I say it right now, Nanny?”

“Yes, child, near enough, leastways. But you haven’t said the last
verse at all.

    “‘Only this can save Lorraine,
    One must plunge to rescue twain.’”

“Why, I never heard those two lines, Nanny?”

“Like enough. They never cares to finish anything nowadays. But that
there verse belongeth to it, as sure as any of the Psalms of David.
I’ve heerd my father say it scores of times, and he had it from his
grandfather. Sit you down on the stone, child, a minute, while I go in
and start the fire up. Scarcely a bit of wood fit to burn round any of
the hedges now, they thieving children goes everywhere. Makes my poor
back stiff, it doth, to get enow to boil a cow’s foot or a rind of
bakkon.”

Old Nanny had her own good reasons for not wanting Alice in her cottage
just then. Because she was going to have for dinner a rind of bacon
truly, but also as companion thereto a nice young rabbit with onion
sauce; a rabbit, fee-simple whereof was legally vested in Sir Roland
Lorraine. But Bottler, the pigman, took seizin thereof, _vi et armis_,
and conveyed it _habendum, coquendum, et vorandum_, to Mrs. Nanny
Stilgoe, in payment for a pig-charm.

Meanwhile, Alice thought sadly over the many uncomfortable legends
concerning her ancient and dwindled race. The first outbreak of the
“Woeburn,” in the time of Edward the Third, A.D. 1349, was said to
have brought forth deadly poison from the hill-side whence it sprang.
It ran for seven months, according to the story to be found in one of
their earliest records, confirmed by an inscription in the church;
and the Earl of Lorraine and his seven children died of the “black
death” within that time. Only a posthumous son was left, to carry on
the lineage. The fatal water then subsided for a hundred and eleven
years; when it broke forth suddenly in greater volume, and ran for
three months only. But in that short time the fortune of the family
fell from its loftiest to its lowest; and never thenceforth was it
restored to the ancient eminence and wealth. On Towton field, in as
bloody a battle as ever was fought in England, the Lorraines, though
accustomed to driving snow, perished like a snow-drift. The bill of
attainder, passed with hot speed by a slavish Parliament, took away
family rank and lands, and left the last of them an outcast, with the
block prepared for him.

Nanny having set that coney boiling, and carefully latched the door,
hobbled at her best pace back to Alice, and resumed her subject.

“Holy water! Oh, ho, ho! Holy to old Nick, I reckon; and that be why
her boileth over so. Three wells there be in a row, you know, Miss, all
from that same spring I count; the well in Parson’s garden, and this,
and the uppest one, under the foot of your hill, above where that gipsy
boy harboureth. That be where the Woeburn breaketh ground.”

“You mean where the moss, and the cotton-grass is. But you can scarcely
call it a well there now.”

“It dothn’t run much, very like; and I ha’n’t been up that way for
a year or more. But only you try to walk over it, child; and you’d
walk into your grave, I hold. The time is nigh up for it to come out,
according to what they tells of it.”

“Very well, Nanny, let it come out. What a treat it would be this hot
summer! The Adur is almost dry, and the shepherd-pits everywhere are
empty.”

“Then you pay no heed, child, what is to come of it, if it ever comes
out again. Worse than ever comed afore to such a lot as you be.”

“I cannot well see how it could be worse than death, and dearth, and
slaughter, Nanny.”

“Now, that shows how young girls will talk, without any thought of
anything. To us poor folk it be wise and right to put life afore
anything, according to natur’; and arter that, the things as must go
inside of us. There let me think, let me think a bit. I forgets things
now; but I know there be some’at as you great folks count more than
life, and victuals, and natur’, and everythin’. But I forgets the word
you uses for it.”

“Honour, Nanny, I suppose you mean--the honour, of course, of the
family.”

“May be, some’at of that sort, as you builds up your mind upon. Well,
that be running into danger now, if the old words has any truth in ’em.”

“Nonsense, Nanny, I’ll not listen to you. Which of us is likely to
disgrace our name, pray? I am tired of all these nursery stories.
Good-bye, Mrs. Stilgoe.”

“It’ll not be you, at any rate,” the old woman muttered wrathfully,
as Alice, with sparkling eyes, and a quick firm step, set off for the
rectory: “if ever there was a proud piece of goods--even my ’bacco
her’ll never think of in her tantrums now! Ah, well! ah, well! We
lives, and we learns to hold our tongues in the end, no doubt.” The
old lady’s judgment of the world was a little too harsh in this case,
however; for Alice Lorraine, on her homeward way, left the usual
shilling’s-worth of tobacco on old Nanny’s window-sill.



CHAPTER XXVI.

AN OPPORTUNE ENVOY.


“It is worse than useless to talk any more,” Sir Roland said to Mr.
Hales, who by entreaty of Alice had come to dine there that day, and to
soften things: “Struan, you know that I have not one atom of obstinacy
about me. I often doubt what is right, and wonder at people who are so
positive. In this case there is no room for doubt. Were you pleased
with your badger yesterday?”

“A capital brock, a most wonderful brock! His teeth were like a
rat-trop. Fox, however, was too much for him. The dear little dog, how
he did go in! I gave the ten guineas to my three girls. Good girls,
thoroughly good girls all. They never fall in love with anybody. And
when have they had a new dress--although they are getting now quite old
enough?”

“I never notice those things much,” Sir Roland (who had given them many
dresses) answered, most inhumanly; “but they always look very good and
pretty. Struan, let us drink their healths, and happy wedlock to them.”

The rector looked at Sir Roland with a surprise of geniality. His
custom was always to help himself; while his host enjoyed by proxy.
This went against his fine feelings sadly. Still it was better to have
to help himself, than be unhelped altogether.

“But about that young fellow,” Mr. Hales continued, after the toast had
been duly honoured; “it is possible to be too hard, you know.”

“That sentiment is not new to me. Struan, you like a capeling with your
port.”

“Better than any olive always. And now there are no olives to be had.
Wars everywhere, wars universal! The powers of hell gat hold of me.
Antichrist in triumph roaring! Bloodshed weltering everywhere! And I am
too old myself; and I have no son to--too fight for Old England.”

“A melancholy thought, but you were always pugnacious, Struan.”

“Now, Roland, Roland, you know me better. ‘To seek peace and to ensue
it,’ is my text and my tactic everywhere. And with them that be of
one household, what saith St. Paul the apostle in his Epistle to the
Ephesians? You think that I know no theology, Roland, because I can sit
a horse and shoot?”

“Nay, nay, Struan, be not thus hurt by imaginary lesions. The great
range of your powers is well known to me, as it is to every one.
Particularly to that boy whom you shot in the hedge last season.”

“No more of that, an you love me. I believe the little rascal peppered
himself to get a guinea out of me. But as to Hilary, will you allow me
to say a few words without any offence? I am his own mother’s brother,
as you seem very often to forget, and I cannot bear to see a fine young
fellow condemned and turned out of house and home for what any young
fellow is sure to do. Boys are sure to go falling in love until their
whiskers are fully grown. And the very way to turn fools into heroes
(in their own opinion) is to be violent with them.”

“Perhaps those truths are not new to me. But I was not violent--I never
am.”

“At any rate you were harsh and stern. And who are you to find fault
with him? I care not if I offend you, Roland, until your better sense
returns. But did you marry exactly in your own rank of life, yourself?”

“I married a lady, Struan Hales--your sister--unless I am misinformed.”

“To be sure, to be sure! I know well enough what you mean by that;
though you have the most infernal way of keeping your temper, and
hinting things. What you mean is that I am making little of my own
sister’s memory, by saying that she was not your equal.”

“I meant nothing of the sort. How very hot your temper is! I showed my
respect for your family, Struan, and simply implied that it was not
graceful, at any rate, on your part----”

“Graceful, be hanged! Sir Roland, I cannot express myself as you
can--and perhaps I ought to thank God for that--but none the less for
all that, I know when I am in the right. I feel when I am in the right,
sir, and I snap my fingers at every one.”

“That is right. You have an unequalled power of explosion in your
thumb-joint--I heard it through three oaken doors the last time you
were at all in a passion; and now it will go through a wall at least.
Nature has granted you this power to exhibit your contempt of wrong.”

“Roland, I have no power at all. I do not pretend to be clever at
words; and I know that you laugh at my preaching. I am but a peg in a
hole, I know, compared with all your learning; though my churchwarden,
Gates, won’t hear of it. What did he say last Sunday?”

“Something very good, of course. Help yourself, Struan, and out with
it.”

“Well, it was nothing very wonderful. And as he holds under you, Sir
Roland----”

“I will not turn him out, for even the most brilliant flash of his
bramble-hook.”

“You never turn anybody out. I wish to goodness you would sometimes.
You don’t care about your rents. But I do care about my tithes.”

“This is deeply disappointing, after the wit you were laden with. What
was the epigram of Churchwarden Gates?”

“Never you mind. That will keep--like some of your own mysteries. You
want to know everything and tell nothing, as the old fox did in the
fable.”

“It is an ancient aphorism,” Sir Roland answered, gently, “that
knowledge is tenfold better than speech. Let us endeavour to know
things, Struan, and to satisfy ourselves with knowledge.”

“Yes, yes, let us know things, Roland. But you never want us to know
anything. That is just the point, you see. Now as sure as I hold this
glass in my hand, you will grieve for what you are doing.”

“I am doing nothing, Struan; only wondering at your excitement.”

“Doing nothing! Do you call it nothing to drive your only son from your
doors, and to exasperate your brother-in-law until he blames the Lord
for being the incumbent instead of a curate, to swear more freely?
There, there! I will say no more. None but my own people ever seem to
know what is inside of me. No more wine, Sir Roland, thank you. Not so
much as a single drop more. I will go, while there is good light down
the hill.”

“You will do nothing of the kind, Struan Hales,” his host replied, in
that clear voice which is so certain to have its own clear way; “you
will sit down and take another glass of port, and talk with me in a
friendly manner.”

“Well, well, anything to please you. You are marvellous hard to please
of late.”

“You will find me most easy to please, if only (without any further
reproaches, or hinting at things which cannot concern you) you will
favour me with your calm opinion in this foolish affair of poor Hilary.”

“The whole thing is one. You so limit me,” said the parson, delighted
to give advice, but loth to be too cheap with it; “you must perceive,
Roland, that all this matter is bound up, so to speak, altogether. You
shake your head? Well, then, let us suppose that poor Hilary stands on
his own floor only. Every tub on its own bottom. Then what I should
do about him would be this: I would not write him a single line, but
let him abide in his breaches or breeches--whichever the true version
is--and there he will soon have no halfpence to rattle, and therefore
must grow penitent. Meanwhile I should send into Kent an envoy, a man
of penetration, to see what manner of people it is that he is so taken
up with. And according to his report I should act. And thus we might
very soon break it off; without any action for damages. You know what
those blessed attorneys are.”

Sir Roland thought for a little while; and then he answered pleasantly.

“Struan, your advice is good. I had thought of that course before you
came. The stupid boy soon will be brought to reason; because he is
frightened of credit now; he was so singed at Oxford. And I can trust
him to do nothing dishonourable, or cold-blooded. But the difficulty of
the whole plan is this. Whom have I that I can trust to go into Kent,
and give a fair report about this mercenary Grower, and his crafty
daughter?”

“Could you trust me, Roland?”

“Of course I could. But, Struan, you never would do such a thing?”

“Why not? I should like to know, why not? I could get to the place in
two days’ time; and the change would do me a world of good. You laity
can never understand what it is to be a parson. A deacon would come for
a guinea, and take my Sunday morning duty, and the congregation for the
afternoon would rejoice to be disappointed. And when I come back, they
will dwell on my words, because the other man will have preached so
much worse. Times are hard with me, Roland, just now. If I go, will you
pay the piper?”

“Not only that, Struan; but I shall thank you to the uttermost stretch
of gratitude.”

“There will be no gratitude on either side. I am bound to look after my
nephew’s affairs: and I sadly want to get away from home. I have heard
that there is a nice trout stream there. If Hilary, who knows all he
knows from me, could catch a fine fish, as Alice told me,--what am I
likely to do, after panting up in this red-hot chalk so long? Roland,
I must have a pipe, though you hate it. I let you sneeze; and you must
let me blow.”

“Well, Struan, you can do what you like, for this once. This is so very
kind of you.”

“I believe if you had let that boy Hilary smoke,” said the Rector,
warming unto his pipe, “you never would have had all this bother with
him about this trumpery love-affair. Cupid hates tobacco.”



CHAPTER XXVII.

A GOOD PARSON’S HOLIDAY.


On the second evening after the above discourse, a solitary horseman
might have been seen (or, to put it more indicatively, a lonely ponyman
was seen) pricking gallantly over the plains, and into the good town
of Tonbridge, in the land of Kent. Behind him, and strapped to his
saddle, he bore what used to be called a “vady;” that is to say, a
small leather cylinder, containing change of raiment, and other small
comforts of the traveller. The pony he bestrode was black, with a white
star on her forehead, a sturdy trudger, of a spirited nature, and
proud of the name of “Maggie.” She had now recovered entirely from her
ten-guinea feast of dahlias, and was as pleased as the Rector himself,
to whisk her tail in a change of air. Her pace was quite brisk, and
her ears well pricked, especially when she smelled the smell which
all country towns have of horses, and of rubbing down, hissing, and
bucketing, and (best of all) of good oats jumping in a sieve among the
chaff.

Maggie was proud of her master, and thought him the noblest man that
ever cracked a whip, having imbibed this opinion from the young smart
hunter, who was up to everything. And it might have fared ill with Jack
the donkey, if Maggie had carried her master when that vile assault was
perpetrated. But if Maggie was now in good spirits, what lofty flight
of words can rise to the elation of her rider?

The Rector now, week after week, had been longing for a bit of sport.
His open and jovial nature had been shut up, pinched, and almost
poisoned for want of proper outlet. He hated books, and he hated a
pen, and he hated doing nothing; and he never would have horse-whipped
Bonny, if he had been as he ought to be. Moreover, he had been greatly
bothered, although he could not clearly put it, by all these reports
about Coombe Lorraine, and Sir Roland’s manner of scorning them.

But now here he was, in a wayfaring dress, free from the knowledge of
any one, able to turn to the right or the left, as either side might
predominate; with a bagful of guineas to spend as his own, and yet feel
no remorse about them. Tush! that does not express it at all. With a
bagful of guineas to spend as he chose, and rejoice in the knowledge
that he was spending another man’s money, for his own good, and the
benefit of humanity. This is a fine feeling, and a rare one to get the
luck of. Therefore, whosoever gets it, let him lift up his heart, and
be joyful.

Whether from that fine diffidence, which so surely accompanies merit,
or from honourable economy in the distribution of trust-funds, or
from whatever other cause it was,--in the face of all the town of
Tonbridge, this desirable traveller turned his pony into the quiet
yard of the old-fashioned inn, “The Chequers.” All the other ostlers
grunted disapprobation, and chewed straws; while the one ostler of “The
Chequers” rattled his pail with a swing of his elbow, hissed in the
most enticing attitude, and made believe to expect it.

Mr. Hales, in the manner of a cattle-jobber (which was his presentment
now), lifted his right leg over the mane of the pony, and so came
downward. Everybody in the yard at once knew thoroughly well what his
business was. And nobody attempted to cheat him in the inn; because
it is known to be a hopeless thing to cheat a cattle-jobber, in any
other way than by gambling. So that with little to say, or be said,
this unclerkly clerk had a good supper, and smoked a wise pipe with his
landlord.

Of course he made earnest inquiries about all the farmers of the
neighbourhood, and led the conversation gently to the Grower and his
affairs; and as this chanced to be Master Lovejoy’s own “house of call”
at Tonbridge, the landlord gave him the highest character, and even the
title of “Esquire.”

“Ah, yes,” he exclaimed, with his rummer in one hand, and waving his
pipe with the other; “there be few in these here parts to compare
with Squire Lovejoy. One of the true old Kentish stock, sir; none of
your come-and-go bagmen. I have heered say that that land have been a
thousand year in the family.”

“Lord bless me!” cried Mr. Hales; “why, we get back to the time of the
Danes and Saxons!”

“There now!” said the landlord, giving him a poke of admiration with
his pipe; “you knows all about it, as well as if I had told ’ee. And
his family brought up so respectable! None of your sitting on pillions.
A horse for his self, and a horse for his son, and a horse for his
pretty darter. Ah, if I were a young man again--but there, she be above
me altogether! Though ‘The Chequers,’ to my thinking, is more to the
purpose, than a bigger inn might be, sir.”

“You are right, I believe,” replied his guest. “How far may it be to
Old Applewood farm?”

“Well, sir, how far? Why, let me see: a matter of about five mile,
perhaps. You’ve heered tell of the Garden of Eden, perhaps?”

“To be sure! Don’t I read about it”--he was going to say “every
Sunday,” but stopped, in time to dissemble the parson.

“And the finest ten mile of turnpike in England. You turns off from it,
about four mile out. And then you keeps on straight forrard.”

“Thank you, my good friend. I shall ask the way to-morrow. Your
excellent punch is as good as a nightcap. But I want to combine a
little pleasure with business, if I can, to-morrow. I am a bit of a
sportsman, in a small way. Would Mr. Lovejoy allow me to cast a fly in
his water, think you?”

“Ay, that he will, if you only tell him that you be staying at the
‘Chequers Inn.’”

The Rector went to bed that night in a placid humour, with himself, and
his landlord, and all the country. And sleeping well after change of
air, a long ride, and a good supper, he awoke in the morning, as fresh
as a lark, in a good state of mind for his breakfast.

Old Applewood farm was just “taking it easy,” in the betwixt and
between of hard work. The berry season was over now, and the hay
was stacked, and the hops were dressed; John Shorne and his horses
were resting freely, and gathering strength for another campaign--to
cannonade London with apples and pears. All things had the smell of
summer, passing rich, and the smell of autumn, without its weight
leaning over the air. The nights were as warm as the days almost, yet
soft with a mellow briskness; and any young man who looked out of his
window said it was a shame to go to bed. Some people have called this
the “saddest time of the whole sad twelvemonth;” the middle or end of
July, when all things droop with heavy leafiness. But who be these to
find fault with the richest and goodliest prime of nature’s strength?
Peradventure the fault is in themselves. All seasons of the year are
good to those who bring their seasoning.

And now, when field, and wood, and hedge stand up in flush of
summering, and every bird, and bat, and insect of our British island
is as active as he ought to be (and sometimes much too much so); also,
when good people look at one another in hot weather, and feel that
they may have worked too hard, or been too snappish when the frosts
were on (which they always are, except in July), and then begin to
wonder whether their children would like to play with the children of
one another, because they cannot catch cold in such weather; and after
that, begin to speak of a rubber in the bower, and a great spread of
delightfulness,--when all this comes to pass, what right have we to
make the worst of it?

That is neither here nor there. Only one thing is certain, that our
good parson, looking as unlike a parson as he could--and he had a good
deal of capacity in that way--steered his pony Maggie round the corner
into the Grower’s yard, and looked about to see how the land lay. The
appearance of everything pleased him well; for comfort, simplicity,
and hospitality shared the good quarters between them. Even a captious
man could hardly, if he understood the matter, find much fault with
anything. The parson was not a captious man, and he knew what a good
farm-yard should be, and so he said “Capital, capital!” twice, before
he handed Maggie’s bridle to Paddy from Cork, who of course had run out
with a sanguine sense of a shilling arrived.

“Is Squire Lovejoy at home?” asked the visitor, being determined to
“spake the biggest,” as Paddy described it afterwards. For the moment,
however, he only stared, while the parson repeated the question.

“Is it the maisther ye mane?” said Paddy; “faix then, I’ll go, and ax
the missus.”

But before there was time to do this, the Grower appeared with a spud
on his shoulder. He had been in the hop-ground; and hearing a horse,
came up to know what was toward. The two men looked at one another,
with mutual approval. The parson tall, and strong, and lusty, and
with that straightforward aspect which is conferred, or at least
confirmed, by life in the open air, field sports, good living, and
social gatherings. His features, too, were clear and bold, and his jaws
just obstinate enough to manage a parish; without that heavy squareness
which sets church and parish by the ears. The Grower was of moderate
height, and sturdy, and thoroughly useful; his face told of many
dealings with the world; but his eyes were frank, and his mouth was
pleasant. His custom was to let other people have their say before he
spoke; and now he saluted Mr. Hales in silence, and waited for him to
begin.

“I hope,” said his visitor, “you will excuse my freedom in coming to
see you thus. I am trying this part of the country, for the first time,
for a holiday. And the landlord of the ‘Chequers Inn’ at Tonbridge,
where I am staying for a day or two, told me that you perhaps would
allow me to try for a fish in your river, sir.”

“In our little brook! There be none left, I think. You are kindly
welcome to try, sir. But I fear you will have a fool’s errand of it. We
have had a young gentleman from London here, a wonderful angler, sure
enough, and I do believe he hath caught every one.”

“Well, sir, with your kind permission, there can be no harm in trying,”
said the Rector, laughing, in his sleeve, at Hilary’s crude art
compared with his own. “The day is not very promising, and the water of
course is strange to me. But have I your leave to do my best?”

“Ay, ay, as long as you like. My ground goes as far up as there is any
water, and down the brook to the turnpike road. We will see to your
nag; and if you would like a bit to eat, sir, we dine at one, and we
sup at seven; and there be always a bit in the larder ’tween whiles.
Wil’t come into house before starting?”

“I thank you for the kind offer; but I think I’d better ask you the
way, and be off. There is just a nice little coil of cloud now; in an
hour it may be gone; and the brook, of course, is very low and clear.
Whatever my sport is, I shall call in and thank you, when I come back
for my pony. My name is Hales, sir, a clerk from Sussex; very much at
your service and obliged to you.”

“The same to you, Master Halls; and I wish you more sport than you will
get, sir. Your best way is over that stile; and then when you come to
the water, go where you will.”

“One more question, which I always ask; what size do you allow your
fish to be taken?”

“What size? Why, as big, to be sure, as ever you can catch them. The
bigger they are, the less bones they have.”

With a laugh at this answer, the parson set off, with his old fly-book
in his pocket, and a rod in his hand which he had borrowed (by grace
of his landlord) in Tonbridge. His step was brisk, and his eyes were
bright, and he thought much more of the sport in prospect than of the
business that brought him there.

“Aha!” he exclaimed, as he hit on the brook, where an elbow of bank
jutted over it, “very fine tackle will be wanted here, and one fly is
quite enough for it. It must be fished downward, of course, because it
cannot be fished upward. It will take all I know to tackle them.”

So it did; and a great deal more than he knew. He changed his fly
every quarter of an hour, and he tried every dodge of experience; he
even tried dapping with the natural fly, and then the blue-bottle and
grasshopper; but not a trout could he get to rise, or even to hesitate,
or show the very least sign of temptation.

So great was his annoyance (from surety of his own skill, and vain
reliance upon it), that after fishing for about ten hours, and catching
a new-born minnow, the Rector vehemently came to a halt, and repented
that he had exhausted already his whole stock of strong language. When
a good man has done this, a kind of reaction (either of the stomach or
conscience) arises, and leads him astray from his usual sign-posts,
whether of speech, or deed, or thought.

The Rev. Struan Hales sate down, marvelling if he were a clumsy oaf,
and gave Hilary no small credit for catching such deeply sagacious and
wary trout. Then he dwelled bitterly over his fate, for having to go
and fetch his pony, and let every yokel look into his basket and grin
at its beautiful emptiness. Moreover, he found himself face to face
with starvation of the saddest kind; that which a man has challenged,
and superciliously talked about, and then has to meet very quietly.

Not to exaggerate--if that were possible--Mr. Hales found his inner
man (thus rashly exposed to new Kentish air) “absolutely barking at
him,” as he strongly expressed it to his wife, as soon as he was
truly at home again. But here he was fifty miles from home, with not
a fishing-basket only, but a much nearer and dearer receptacle, full
of the purest vacuity. “This is very sad,” he said; and all his system
echoed it.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

NOT TO BE RESISTED.


While the Rector still was sitting on the mossy hump of an apple-tree,
weary and disconsolate, listening to the murmuring brook, with louder
murmurings of his own, he espied a light, well-balanced figure crossing
the water on a narrow plank some hundred yards up the streamway.

“A pretty girl!” said the parson; “I am sure of it, by the way she
carries herself. Plain girls never walk like that. O that she were
coming to my relief! But the board looks rather dangerous. I must go
and help her. Ah, here she comes! What a quick light foot! My stars, if
she hasn’t got a basket! Nothing for me, of course. No such luck, on
this most luckless of all days.”

Meanwhile she was making the best of her way, as straight as the
winding stream allowed, towards this ungrateful and sceptical grumbler;
and presently she turned full upon him, and looked at him, and he at
her.

“What a lovely creature!” thought Mr. Hales; “and how wonderfully her
dress becomes her! Why, the mere sight of her hat is enough to drive
a young fellow out of his mind almost! Now I should like to make her
acquaintance; if I were not starving so. ‘Acrior illum cura domat,’ as
Sir Roland says.”

“If you please, sir,” the maiden began, with a bright and modestly
playful glance, “are you Mr. Halls, who asked my father for leave to
fish this morning?”

“Hales, fair mistress, is my name; a poor and unworthy clerk from
Sussex.”

“Then, Mr. Hales, you must not be angry with me for thinking that you
might be hungry.”

“And--and thirsty!” gasped the Rector. “Goodness me, if you only knew
my condition, how you would pity me!”

“It occurred to me that you might be thirsty too,” she answered,
producing from her basket, a napkin, a plate, a knife and fork, half
a loaf, and something tied up in a cloth, whose fragrance went to the
bottom of the parson’s heart; and after that a stone pipkin, and a
half-pint horn, and last of all a pinch of salt. All these she spread
on a natural table of grass, which her clever eyes discovered over
against a mossy seat.

“I never was so thankful in all my life--I never was; I never was. My
pretty dear, what is your name, that I may bless you every night?”

“My name is Mabel Lovejoy, sir. And I hope that you will excuse me,
for having nothing better to bring than this. Most fishermen prefer
duck, I know; but we happened only to have in the larder this half, or
so, of a young roast goose----”

“A goose! An infinitely finer bird. And so much more upon it! Thank God
it wasn’t a duck, my dear. Half a duck would scarcely be large enough
to set my poor mouth watering. For goodness’ sake, give me a drop to
drink! What is it--water?”

“No, sir, ale; some of our own brewing. But you must please to eat a
mouthful first. I have heard that it is bad to begin with a drink.”

“Right speedily will I qualify,” said the parson, with his mouth quite
full of goose; “delicious,--most delicious! You must be the good
Samaritan, my dear; or at any rate you ought to be his wife. Your very
best health, Mistress Mabel Lovejoy; may you never do a worse action
than you have done this day; and I never shall forget your kindness.”

“Oh, I am so glad to see you enjoy it. But you must not talk till you
have eaten every mouthful. Why, you ought to be quite famishing.”

“In that respect I fulfil my duty. Nay more, I am downright famished.”

“There is a little stuffing in here, sir; let me show you; underneath
the apron. I put it there myself, and so I know.”

“What most noble, most glorious, most transcendent stuffing! Whoever
made that was born to benefit, retrieve, and exalt humanity.”

“You must not say that, sir; because I made it.”

“Oh, Dea certe! I recover my Latin under such enchantment. But how
could you have found me out? And what made you so generously think of
me?”

“Well, sir, I take the greatest interest in fishermen, because--oh,
because of my brother Charlie: and one of our men passed you this
afternoon, and he said he was sure that you had caught nothing, because
he heard you--he thought he heard you----”

“No, no, come now, complaining mildly,--not ‘swearing,’ don’t say
‘swearing.’”

“I was not going to say ‘swearing,’ sir. What made you think of such a
thing? I am sure you never could have done it; could you? And so when
you did not even come to supper, it came into my head that you must
want refreshment; especially if you had caught no fish to comfort you
for so many hours. And then I thought of a plan for that, which I would
tell you in case I should find you unlucky enough to deserve it.”

“I am unlucky enough to deserve it thoroughly; only look here, pretty
Mistress Mabel.” With these words he lifted the flap of his basket, and
showed its piteous emptiness.

“West Lorraine!” she cried--“West Lorraine!” For his name and address
were painted on the inside wicker of the lid. “Oh, I beg your pardon,
Mr. Hales: I had no right to notice it.”

“Yes, you had. But you have no right to turn away your head so. What
harm has West Lorraine done you, that you won’t even look at its
rector?”

“Oh, please not; oh, please don’t! I never would have come, if I could
have only dreamed----”

“If you could have dreamed what? Pretty Mistress Mabel, a parson has a
right to an explanation, when he makes a young lady blush so.”

“Oh, it was so cruel of you! You said you were a clerk, of the name of
‘Halls!’”

“So I am, a clerk in holy orders; but not of the name of ‘Halls.’ That
was your father’s mistake. I gave my true name; and here you see me
very much at your service, ma’am. The uncle of a fine young fellow,
whose name you never heard, I daresay. Have you ever happened to hear
of a youth called Hilary Lorraine?”

“Oh, now I know why you are come! Oh dear! It was not for the fishing,
after all! And perhaps you never fished before. And everything must be
going wrong. And you are come to tell me what they think of me. And
very likely you would be glad if you could put me in prison!”

“That would be nice gratitude; would it not? You are wrong in almost
every point. It happens that I have fished before; and that I did come
for the fishing partly. It happens that nothing is going wrong; and I
am not come to say what they think of you; but to see what I think of
you--which is a very different thing.”

“And what do you think of me?” asked Mabel, casting down her eyes,
standing saucily, and yet with such a demure expression, that his first
impulse was to kiss her.

“I think that you are rogue enough to turn the head of anybody. And I
think that you are good enough to make him happy ever afterwards.”

“I am not at all sure of that,” she answered, raising her sweet eyes,
and openly blushing; “I only know that I would try. But every one is
not like a clergyman, to understand good stuffing. But if I had only
known who you were, I would never have brought you any dinner, sir.”

“What a disloyal thing to say! Please to tell me why I ought to starve,
for being Hilary’s uncle.”

“Because you would think that I wanted to coax you to--to be on my
side, at least.”

“To make a goose of me, with your goose! Well, you have me at your
mercy, Mabel. I shall congratulate Hilary on having won the heart of
the loveliest, best, and cleverest girl in the county of Kent.”

“Oh no, sir, you must not say that, because I am nothing of the sort;
and you must not laugh at me, like that. And how do you know that he
has done it? And what will every one say, when they hear that he--that
he would like to marry the daughter of a Grower?”

“What does his father say? That is the point. It matters very little
what others say. And I will not conceal from you, pretty Mabel, that
his father is bitterly set against it, and turned him out of doors,
when he heard of it.”

“Oh, that is why he has never written. He did not know how to break it
to me. I was sure there was something bad. But of course I could expect
nothing else. Poor, poor sillies, both of us! I must give him up, I see
I must. I felt all along that I should have to do it.”

“Don’t cry so; don’t cry, my dear, like that. There is plenty of time
to talk of it. Things will come right in the end, no doubt. But what
does your father say to it?”

“I scarcely know whether he knows it yet. Hilary wanted to tell him;
but I persuaded him to leave it altogether to me. And so I told my
mother first; and she thought we had better not disturb my father about
it, until we heard from Hilary. But I am almost sure sometimes that he
knows it, and is not at all pleased about it; for he looks at me very
strangely. He is the best and kindest man living, almost; but he has
very odd ways sometimes; and it is most difficult to turn him.”

“So it is with most men who are worth their salt. I despise a
weathercock. Would you like me to come in and see him; or shall I fish
a little more first? I am quite a new man since you fed me so well; and
I scarcely can put up with this disgrace.”

“If you would like to fish a little longer,” said Mabel, following the
loving gaze, which (with true angling obstinacy) lingered still on the
coy fair stream, “there is plenty of time to spare. My father rode
off to Maidstone, as soon as he found that you were not coming in to
supper; and he will not be back till it is quite dark. And I should
have time for a talk with my mother, while you are attempting to catch
a trout.”

“Now, Mabel, Mabel, you are too disdainful. Because I am not my own
nephew (who learned what little he knows altogether from me), and
because I have been so unsuccessful, you think that I know nothing;
women always judge by the event, having taken the trick from their
fathers perhaps. But you were going to tell me something, to make up
for my want of skill.”

“Yes; but you must promise not to tell any one else, upon any account.
My brother Charlie found it out; and I have not told even Hilary of it,
because he could catch fish without it.”

“You most insulting of all pretty maidens; if you despise my science
thus, I will tell Sir Roland that you are vain and haughty.”

“Oh dear!”

“Very ill-tempered.”

“No, now, you never could say that.”

“Clumsy, ill-dressed, and slatternly.”

“Well done, well done, Mr. Hales!”

“Yes, and fearfully ugly.”

“Oh!”

“Aha! I have taken your breath away with absolute amazement. I wish
Hilary could see you now; he’d steal something very delightful, and
then knock his excellent uncle down. But now, make it up like a dear
good girl; and tell me this great secret.”

“It is the simplest thing in the world. You just take a little bit of
this--see here, I have some in my basket; and cut a little delicate
strip, and whip it on the lower part of your fly. I have done it for
Charlie many a time. I will do one for you, if you like, sir.”

“Very well. I will try it, to please you; and for the sake of an
experiment. Good-bye, good-bye till dark, my dear. We shall see whether
a clerk can catch fish or no.”

When Mr. Hales returned at night to the hospitable old farm-house, he
carried on his ample back between two and three dozen goodly trout;
for many of which he confessed himself indebted to Mabel’s clever
fingers. Mrs. Lovejoy had been prepared by her daughter to receive him;
but the Grower was not yet come home from Maidstone; which, on the
whole, was a fortunate thing. For thus the Rector had time enough to
settle with his hostess what should be done on his part and on hers,
towards the removal, or at any rate the gradual reduction, of the many
stumbling-blocks that lay, as usual, upon true love’s course. For both
foresaw that if the franklin’s pride should once be wounded, he would
be certain to bar the way more sternly than even the baronet himself.
And even without that, he could hardly be expected to forego, all in
a moment, his favourite scheme above described, that Mabel’s husband
should carry on the ancestral farm, and the growth of fruit. In his
blunt old fashion, he cared very little for baronets, or for Norman
blood; and like a son of Tuscan soil, was well content to lead his life
in cleaving paternal fields with the hoe, and nourishing household
gods, and hearth.



CHAPTER XXIX.

ABSURD SURDS.


It is a fine thing to have quarters in an English country-town, where
nobody knows who the sojourner is, and nobody cares who he may be. To
begin (at gentle leisure) to feel interest in the place, and quicken
up to the vein of humour throbbing through the High Street. The third
evening cannot go over one’s head without a general sense being gained
of the politics of the town, and, far more important--the politicians;
and if there only is a corporation, wisdom cries in the streets, and
nobody can get on with anybody. However, when the fights are over,
generally speaking, all cool down.

But this is about the last thing that a stranger should exert his
intellect to understand. It would be pure waste of time; unless he
means to buy a house and settle down, and try to be an alderman in
two years’ time, and mount ambition’s ladder even to the giddy height
of mayoralty; till the hand of death comes between the rungs and
vertically drags him downward. And even then, for three months shall he
be, “our deeply lamented townsman.”

But if this visitor firmly declines (as, for his health, he is bound
to do) these mighty combats, which always have the eyes of the nation
fixed on them--if he is satisfied to lounge about, and say “good
morning” here and there, to ascertain public sentiment concerning
the state of the weather, and to lay out sixpence judiciously in
cultivating good society--then speedily will he get draughts of
knowledge enough to quench the most ardent thirst; while the yawn of
indolence merges in the quickening smile of interest. Then shall he get
an insight into the commerce, fashion, religious feeling, jealousies,
and literature of the town, its just and pleasant self-esteem, its
tolerance and intolerance (often equally inexplicable), its quiet
enjoyments, and, best of all, its elegant flirtations.

These things enabled Mr. Hales to pass an agreeable week at Tonbridge,
and to form acquaintance with some of its leading inhabitants; which in
pursuit of his object he was resolved, as far as he could, to do. And
from all of these he obtained very excellent tidings of the Lovejoys,
as being a quiet, well-conducted, and highly respectable family,
admitted (whenever they cared to be so) to the best society of the
neighbourhood, and forgiven for growing cherries, and even for keeping
a three-horsed van.

Also, as regarded his own impressions, the more he saw of Old Applewood
farm, the more he was pleased with it and with its owners; and calling
upon his brother parson, the incumbent of the parish, he found in
him a congenial soul, who wanted to get a service out of him. For
this Mr. Hales was too wide awake, having taken good care to leave
sermons at home; because he had been long enough in holy orders to
know what delight all parsons find in spoiling one another’s holidays.
Moreover, he had promised himself the pleasure of sitting in a pew,
for once, repossessing the right to yawn _ad libitum_, and even fall
into a murmurous nap, after exhausting the sweetness of the well-known
Lucretian sentiment--to gaze in safety at another’s labours; or, as the
navvy more tersely put it, when asked of his _summum bonum_, to “look
on at t’other beggars.”

Meanwhile, however, many little things were beginning to go crosswise.
For instance, Hilary walked down headlong, being exceedingly short of
cash, to comfort Mabel, and to get good quarters, and perhaps to go
on about everything. Luckily, his uncle Struan met him in the street
of Sevenoaks (whither he had ridden for a little change), and amazed
him with very strong language, and begged him not to make a confounded
fool of himself, and so took him into a public-house. The young man, of
course, was astonished to see his uncle carrying on so, dressed as a
layman, and roving about without any wife or family.

But when he knew for whose sake it was done, and how strongly his uncle
was siding with him, his gratitude and good emotions were such that he
scarcely could finish his quart of beer.

“My boy, I am thoroughly ashamed of you,” said his uncle, looking
queerly at him. “You are most immature for married life, if you give
way to your feelings so.”

“But uncle, when a man is down so much, and turned out of doors by his
own father----”

“When a ‘man’! When a ‘boy’ is what you mean, I suppose. A man would
take it differently.”

“I am sure I take it very well,” said Hilary, trying to smile at it.
“There, I will drink up my beer; for I know that sort of thing always
vexes you. Now, can you say that I have kicked up a row, or done
anything that I might have done?”

“No, my boy, no; quite the opposite thing; you have taken it most
angelically.”

“Angelically, without an angelus, uncle, or even a stiver in my pocket!
Only the cherub aloft, you know----”

“I don’t know anything about him; and the allusion, to my mind, is
profane.”

“Now, uncle, you are hyperclerical, because I have caught you dressed
as a bagman!”

“I don’t understand your big Oxford words. In my days they taught
theology.”

“And hunting; come now, Uncle Struan, didn’t they teach you hunting?”

“Well,” said the Rector, stroking his chin; “I was a poor young man, of
course, and could not afford that sort of thing.”

“Yes, but you did, you know, Uncle Struan; I have heard you boast of it
fifty times.”

“What a plague you are, Hilary! There may have been times--however, you
are going on quite as if we were sitting and having a cozy talk after
dinner at West Lorraine.”

“I wish to goodness we were, my dear uncle. I never shall have such a
pleasure again.”

“My dear boy, my dear boy; to talk like that, at your time of life!
What a thing love is, to be sure! However, in that state, a dinner is
no matter.”

“Well, I shall be off now for London again. A bit of bread and cheese,
after all, is as good as anything. Good-bye, my dear uncle, I shall
always thank you.”

“You shall thank me for two things before you start. And you should not
start, except that I know it to be at present best for you. You shall
thank me for as good a dinner as can be got in a place like this; and
after that for five gold guineas, just to go on for a bit with.”

Thus the Rector had his way, and fed his nephew beautifully, and sent
him back with a better heart in his breast, to meet the future. Hilary
of course was much aggrieved, and inclined to be outrageous, at having
walked four-and-twenty miles, with eager proceeding at every step, and
then being balked of a sight of his love. However, he saw that it was
for the best; and five guineas (feel as you will) are something.

His good uncle paid his fare back by the stage, and saw him go off,
and kissed hands to him; feeling greatly relieved as soon as ever he
was round the corner; for he must have spoiled everything at the farm.
Therefore this excellent uncle returned to his snug little sanded
parlour, to smoke a fresh pipe; and to think, in its influence, how to
get on with these new affairs.

Here were heaps of trouble rising; as peaks of volcanoes come out of
the sea. And who was to know how to manage things, so as to make them
all subside again? Hilary might seem easy to deal with, so long as he
had no money; but even he was apt to take strange whims into his head,
although he might feel that he could not pay for them. And then there
was the Grower, an obstinate factor in any calculation; and then the
Grower’s wife, who might appeal perhaps to the Attorney-General; also
Sir Roland, with his dry unaccountable manner of regarding things; and
last, not least, the Rector’s own superior part of his household. If
he could not manage them, anybody at first sight would say that the
fault must be altogether his own--that a man who cannot lay down the
law to his own wife and daughters, really is no man, and deserves to be
treated accordingly. Yet this depends upon special gifts. The Rector
could carry on very well, when he understood the subject, even with his
wife and daughters, till it came to crying. Still in the end (as he
knew in his heart), he always got the worst of it.

Now what would all these ladies say, if the incumbent of the parish,
the rector of the rectory, the very husband or father of all of
themselves--as the case might be--were to depart from his sense of
right, and the principles he had laid down to them, to such an extent
as to cherish Hilary in black rebellion against his own father? Suasion
would be lost among them. It is a thing that may be tried, under
favourable circumstances, as against one lady, when quite alone; but
with four ladies all taking different views of the matter in question,
yet ready in a moment to combine against any form of reason,--a
bachelor must be Quixotic, a husband and father idiotic, if he relies
upon any other motive power than that of his legs. But the Rector was
not the man to run away, even from his own family. So, on the whole,
he resolved to let things follow their own course, until something new
should begin to rise. Except at least upon two little points--one, that
Hilary should be kept from visiting the farm just now; and the other,
that the Grower must be told of all this love-affair.

Mr. Hales, as an owner of daughters, felt that it was but a father’s
due, to know what his favourite child was about in such important
matters; and he thought it the surest way to set him bitterly against
any moderation, if he were left to find out by surprise what was going
on at his own hearth. It happened, however, that the Grower had a
shrewd suspicion of the whole of it, and was laughing in his sleeve,
and winking (in his own determined way) at his good wife’s manœuvres.
“I shall stop it all, when I please,” he said to himself, every night
at bed-time; “let them have their little game, and make up their minds
to astonish me.” For he, like almost every man who has attained the age
of sixty, looked back upon love as a brief excrescence, of about as
much importance as a wart.

“Ay, ay, no need to tell me,” he answered, when Mrs. Lovejoy, under
the parson’s advice, and at Mabel’s entreaty, broke the matter to him.
“I don’t go about with my eyes shut, wife. A man that knows every pear
that grows, can tell the colour on a maiden’s cheek. I have settled to
send her away to-morrow to her Uncle Catherow. The old mare will be
ready at ten o’clock. I meant to leave you to guess the reason; you are
so clever all of you. Ha, ha! you thought the old Grower was as blind
as a bat; now, didn’t you?”

“Well, at any rate,” replied Mrs. Lovejoy, giving her pillow an angry
thump, “I think you might have consulted me, Martin: with half her
clothes in the wash-tub, and a frayed ribbon on her Sunday hat! Men
are so hot and inconsiderate. All to be done in a moment, of course!
The least you could have done, I am sure, would have been to tell me
beforehand, Martin; and not to pack her off like that.”

“To be sure! Just as you told me, good wife, your plan for packing her
off, for life! Now just go to sleep; and don’t beat about so. When I
say a thing I do it.”



CHAPTER XXX.

OUR LAD STEENIE.


When the flaunting and the flouting of the summer-prime are over; when
the leaves of tree, and bush, and even of unconsidered weeds, hang on
their stalks, instead of standing upright, as they used to do; and very
often a convex surface, by the cares of life, is worn into a small
concavity: a gradual change, to a like effect, may be expected in the
human mind.

A man remembers that his own autumn is once more coming over him; that
the light is surely waning, and the darkness gathering in; that more of
his plans are shed and scattered, as the sun “draws water” among the
clouds, or as the gossamer floats idly over the sere and seeded grass.
Therefore it is high time to work, to strengthen the threads of the
wavering plan, to tighten the mesh of the woven web, to cast about here
and there for completion--if the design shall be ever complete.

So now, as the summer passed, a certain gentleman, of more repute
perhaps than reputation, began to be anxious about his plans.

Sir Remnant Chapman owned large estates adjoining the dwindled but
still fair acreage of the Lorraines, in the weald of Sussex. Much
as he differed from Sir Roland in tastes and habits and character,
he announced himself, wherever he went, as his most intimate friend
and ally. And certainly he was received more freely than any other
neighbour at Coombe Lorraine, and knew all the doings and ways of the
family, and was even consulted now and then. Warm friendship, however,
can scarcely thrive without mutual respect; and though Sir Remnant
could never escape from a certain unwilling respect for Sir Roland, the
latter never could contrive to reciprocate the feeling.

Because he knew that Sir Remnant was a gentleman of a type already even
then departing, although to be found, at the present day, in certain
parts of England. A man of fixed opinions, and even what might be
accounted principles (at any rate by himself) concerning honour, and
birth, and betting, and patriotism, and some other matters, included
in a very small et-cetera. It is hard to despise a man who has so many
points settled in his system; but it is harder to respect him, when he
sees all things with one little eye, and that eye a vicious one. Sir
Remnant Chapman had no belief in the goodness of woman, or the truth of
man--in the beautiful balance of nature, or even the fatherly kindness
that comforts us. Therefore nobody could love him; and very few people
paid much attention to his dull hatred of mankind. “Contempt,” he
always called it; but he had not power to make it that; neither had he
any depth of root, to throw up eminence. A “bitter weed” many people
called him; and yet he was not altogether that. For he liked to act
against his nature, perhaps from its own perversity; and often did kind
things, to spite his own spitefulness, by doing them. As for sense of
right and wrong, he had none outside of his own wishes; and he always
expected the rest of the world to move on the same low system. How
could such a man get on, even for an hour, with one so different--and
more than that, so opposite to him--as the good Sir Roland? Mr. Hales,
who was not (as we know) at all a tight-laced man himself, and may
perhaps have been a little jealous of Sir Remnant, put that question
to himself, as well as to his wife and family; and echo only answered
“how?” However, soever, there was the fact; and how many facts can we
call to mind ever so much stranger?

Sir Remnant’s only son, Stephen Chapman, was now over thirty years of
age, and everybody said that it was time for him to change his mode
of life. Even his father admitted that he had made an unreasonably
long job of “sowing his wild oats,” and now must take to some better
culture. And nothing seemed more likely to lead to this desirable
result than a speedy engagement to an accomplished, sensible, and
attractive girl. Therefore, after a long review and discussion of all
the young ladies round, it had been settled that the heir of all the
Chapmans should lay close siege to young Alice Lorraine.

“Captain Chapman”--as Stephen was called by courtesy in that
neighbourhood, having held a commission in a fashionable regiment,
until it was ordered to the war--this man was better than his father
in some ways, and much worse in others. He was better, from weakness;
not having the strength to work out works of iniquity; and also from
having some touches of kindness, whereof his father was intact. He was
worse, because he had no sense of honour, no rudiment of a principle;
not even a dubious preference for the truth, at first sight, against
a lie. Captain Chapman, however, could do one manly thing, and only
one. He could drive, having cultivated the art, in the time when it
meant something. Horses were broken then, not trained--as nowadays
they must be--and skill and nerve were needed for the management of a
four-in-hand. Captain Chapman was the first in those parts to drive
like Ericthonius, and it took him a very long time to get his father
to sit behind him. For the roads were still very bad and perilous, and
better suited for postilions, than for Stephen Chapman’s team.

He durst not drive up Coombe Lorraine, or at any rate he feared the
descent as yet, though he meant some day to venture it. And now that
he was come upon his wooing, he left his gaudy equipage at the foot of
the hill, to be sent back to Steyning and come for him at an appointed
time. Then he and his father, with mutual grumblings, took to the steep
ascent on foot.

Sir Roland had asked them, a few days ago, to drive over and dine with
him, either on Thursday, or any other day that might suit them. They
came on the Thursday, with their minds made up to be satisfied with
anything. But they certainly were not very well pleased to find that
the fair Mistress Alice had managed to give them the slip entirely. She
was always ready to meet Sir Remnant, and discharge the duties of a
hostess to him; but, from some deep instinctive aversion, she could not
even bear to sit at table with the Captain. She knew not at all what
his character was; neither did Sir Roland know a tenth part of his ill
repute; otherwise he had never allowed him to approach the maiden. He
simply looked upon Captain Chapman as a fashionable man of the day, who
might have been a little wild perhaps, but now meant to settle down in
the country, and attend to his father’s large estates.

However, neither of the guests suspected that their visit had fixed
the date of another little visit pending long at Horsham; and one girl
being as good as another to men of the world of that stamp, they were
well content, when the haunch went out, to clink a glass with the
Rector’s daughters, instead of receiving a distant bow from a diffident
and very shy young lady.

“Now, Lorraine,” began Sir Remnant, after the ladies had left the
room, and the Captain was gone out to look at something, according to
arrangement, and had taken the Rector with him, “we have known one
another a good many years; and I want a little sensible talk with you.”

“Sir Remnant, I hope that our talk is always sensible; so far at least
as can be expected on my part.”

“There you are again, Lorraine, using some back meaning, such as no one
else can enter into. But let that pass. It is your way. Now I want to
say something to you.”

“I also am smitten with a strong desire to know what it is, Sir
Remnant.”

“Well, it is neither more nor less than this. You know what dangerous
times we live in, with every evil power let loose, and Satan, like a
roaring lion, rampant and triumphant. Thank you, yes, I will take a
pinch; your snuff is always so delicious. With the arch-enemy prowling
about, with democracy, nonconformity, infidelity, and rick-burnings----”

“Exactly so. How well you express it! I was greatly struck with it in
the _George and Dragon’s_ report of your speech at the farmers’ dinner
at Billinghurst.”

“Well, well, I may have said it before; but that only makes it the more
the truth. Can you deny it, Sir Roland Lorraine?”

“Far be it from me to deny the truth. I am listening with the greatest
interest.”

“No, you are not; you never do. You are always thinking of something to
yourself. But what I was going to say was this, that it is high time to
cement the union, and draw close the bonds of amity between all good
men, all men of any principle--by which I mean--come now, you know.”

“To be sure: you mean all stanch Tories.”

“Yes, yes; all who hold by Church and State, land and the constitution.
I have educated my son carefully in the only right and true principles.
Train up a child--you know what I mean. And you, of course, have
brought up your daughter upon the same right system.”

“Nay, rather, I have left her to form her own political opinions. And,
to the best of my belief, she has formed none.”

“Lorraine, I am heartily glad to hear it. That is how all the girls
should be. When I was in London, they turned me sick with asking my
opinion. The less they know, the better for them. Knowledge of anything
makes a woman scarcely fit to speak to. My poor dear wife could read
and write, and that was quite enough for her. She did it on the
jam-pots always, and she could spell most of it. Ah, she was a most
wonderful woman!”

“She was. I often found much pleasure in her conversation. She knew so
many things that never come by way of reading.”

“And so does Stephen. You should hear him. He never reads any sort of
book. Ah, that is the true learning. Books always make stupid people.
Now it struck me that--ah, you know, I see. A wink’s as good as a nod,
of course. No catching a weasel asleep.” Here Sir Remnant screwed up
one eye, and gave Sir Roland a poke in the ribs, with the most waggish
air imaginable.

“Again and again I assure you,” said his host, “that I have not the
smallest idea what you mean. Your theory about books has in me the most
thorough confirmation.”

“Aha! it is all very well--all very well to pretend, Lorraine. Another
pinch of snuff, and that settles it. Let them set up their horses
together as soon as ever they please--eh?”

“Who? What horses? Why will you thus visit me with impenetrable
enigmas?”

“Visit you! Why, you invited me yourself! Who indeed? Why, of course,
our lad Steenie, and your girl Lallie!”

“Captain Chapman and my Alice! Such a thought never entered my mind. Do
you know that poor Alice is little more than seventeen years old? And
Captain Chapman must be--let me see----”

“Never mind what he is. He is my son and heir, and there’ll be fifty
thousand to settle on his wife, in hard cash--not so bad nowadays.”

“Sir Remnant Chapman, I beg you not to say another word on the subject.
Your son must be twice my daughter’s age, and he looks even more than
that----”

“Dash my wig! Then I am seventy, I suppose. What the dickens have his
looks got to do with the matter? I don’t call him at all a bad-looking
fellow. A chip of the old block, that’s what he is. Ah, many a fine
woman, I can tell you----”

“Now, if you please,” Sir Roland said, with a very clear and determined
voice--“if you please, we will drop this subject. Your son may be a
very good match, and no doubt he is in external matters; and if Alice,
when old enough, should become attached to him, perhaps I might not
oppose it. There is nothing more to be said at present; and, above all
things, she must not hear of it.”

“I see, I see,” answered the other baronet, who was rather short of
temper. “Missy must be kept to her bread-and-milk, and good books, and
all that, a little longer. By the by, Lorraine, what was it I heard
about your son the other day--that he had been making a fool of himself
with some grocer’s daughter?”

“I have not heard of any grocer’s daughter. And as he will shortly
leave England, people perhaps will have less to say about him. His
commission is promised, as perhaps you know; and he is not likely to
quit the army because there is fighting going on.”

Sir Remnant felt all the sting of that hit; his face (which showed
many signs of good living) flushed to the tint of the claret in his
hand, and he was just about to make a very coarse reply, when luckily
the Rector came back suddenly, followed by the valiant Captain. Sir
Roland knew that he had allowed himself to be goaded into bad manners
for once, and he strove to make up for it by unwonted attention to the
warrior.



CHAPTER XXXI.

IN A MARCHING REGIMENT.


It was true that Hilary had attained at last the great ambition of his
life. He had changed the pen for the sword, the sand for powder, and
the ink for blood; and in a few days he would be afloat, on his way to
join Lord Wellington. His father’s obstinate objections had at last
been overcome; for there seemed to be no other way to cut the soft net
of enchantment and throw him into a sterner world.

His Uncle Struan had done his best, and tried to the utmost stretch
the patience of Sir Roland, with countless words, until the latter
exclaimed at last, “Why, you seem to be worse than the boy himself!
You went to spy out the nakedness of the land, and you returned in a
fortnight with grapes of Eschol. Truly this Danish Lovejoy is more
potent than the great Canute. He turns at his pleasure the tide of
opinion.”

“Roland, now you go too far. It is not the Grower that I indite of,
but his charming daughter. If you could but once be persuaded to see
her----”

“Of course. Exactly what Hilary said. In him I could laugh at it; but
in you---- Well, a great philosopher tells us that every jot of opinion
(even that of a babe, I suppose) is to be regarded as an equal item
of the ‘universal consensus.’ And the universal consensus becomes,
or forms, or fructifies, or solidifies, into the great homogeneous
truth. I may not quote him aright, and I beg his pardon for so lamely
rendering him. However, that is a rude sketch of his view, a brick
from his house--to mix metaphors--and perhaps you remember it better,
Struan.”

“God forbid! The only thing that I remember out of all my education is
the stories--what do you call them?--mythologies. Capital some of them
are, capital! Ah, they do so much good to boys--teach them manliness
and self-respect.”

“Do they? However, to return to this lovely daughter of the Kentish
Alcinous--by the way, if his ancestors were Danes who took to
gardening, it suggests a rather startling analogy. The old Corycian is
believed (though without a particle of evidence) to have been a pirate
in early life, and therefore have taken to pot-herbs. Let that pass. I
could never have believed it, except for this instance of Lovejoy.”

“And how, if you please,” broke in the Rector, who was always jealous
of “Norman blood,” because he had never heard that he had any; “how
were the Normans less piratical, if you please, than the Danes, their
own grandfathers? Except that they were sick at sea--big rogues all of
them, in my opinion. The Saxons were the only honest fellows. Ay, and
they would have thrashed those Normans, but for the slightest accident.
When I hear of those Normans, without any shoulders--don’t tell me;
they never would have built such a house as this is, otherwise--what do
you think I feel ready to do, sir? Why, to get up, and to lift my coat,
and----”

“Come, come, Struan; we quite understand all your emotions without
that. This makes you a very bigoted ambassador in our case. You meant
to bring back all the truth, of course. But when you found the fishing
good, and the people roughly hospitable, and above all, a Danish smack
in their manners, and figures, and even their eyes, which have turned
on the Kentish soil, I am told, to a deep and very brilliant brown----”

“Yes, Roland, you are right for once. At any rate, it is so with her.”

“Very well. Then you being, as you always are, a sudden man--what did
you do but fall in love (in an elderly fatherly manner, of course) with
this--what is her name, now again? I never can recollect it.”

“You do. You never forget anything. Her name is Mabel. And you may be
glad to pronounce it pretty often, in your old age, Sir Roland.”

“Well, it is a pretty name, and deserves a pretty bearer. But, Struan,
you are a man of the world. You know what Hilary is; and you know
(though we do not give ourselves airs, and drive four horses in a
hideous yellow coach, and wear diamond rings worth a thousand pounds),
you know what the Lorraines have always been--a little particular in
their ways, and a little inclined to, to, perhaps----”

“To look down on the rest of the world, without ever letting them know
it, or even knowing it yourselves, perhaps. Have I hit it aright, Sir
Roland?”

“Not quite that. Indeed, nothing could be further from what I was
thinking of.” Sir Roland Lorraine sighed gently here; and even his
brother-in-law had not the least idea why he did so. It was that Sir
Roland, like all the more able Lorraines for several centuries, was at
heart a fatalist. And this family taint had perhaps been deepened by
the infusion of Eastern blood. This was the bar so often fixed between
them and the rest of the world--a barrier which must hold good, while
every man cares for his neighbour’s soul, so much more than his own for
ever.

“Is it anything in religion, Roland?” the Rector whispered kindly. “I
know that you are not orthodox, and a good deal puffed up with carnal
knowledge. Still, if it is in my line at all; I am not a very high
authority--but perhaps I might lift you over it. They are saying all
sorts of things now in the world; and I have taken two hours a-day,
several days--now you need not laugh--in a library we have got up at
Horsham, filled with the best divinity; so as to know how to answer
them.”

“My dear Struan,” Sir Roland replied, without so much as the gleam of
a smile, “that was really good of you. And you now have so many other
things to attend to with young dogs, and that; and the 1st of September
next week, I believe! What a relief that must be to you!”

“Ay, that it is. You cannot imagine, of course, with all your many ways
of frittering time away indoors, what a wearing thing it is to have
nothing better than rabbit-shooting, or teaching a dog to drop to shot.
But now about Hilary: you must relent--indeed you must, dear Roland.
He is living on sixpence a-day, I believe--virtuous fellow, most rare
young man! Why, if that dirty Steve Chapman now had been treated as you
have served Hilary--note of hand, bill-drawing, post-obits,--and you
might even think yourself lucky if there were no big forgery to hush
up. Ah, his father may think what he likes; but I look on Hilary as a
perfect wonder, a Bayard, a Crichton, a pelican!”

“Surely you mean a paragon, Struan? What young can he have to feed from
his own breast?”

“I meant what I said, as I always do. And how can you know what young
he has, when you never even let him come near you? Ah, if I only had
such a son!” Here the Rector, who really did complain that he had no
son to teach how to shoot, managed to get his eyes a little touched
with genial moisture.

“This is grievous,” Sir Roland answered; “and a little more than I ever
expected, or can have enabled myself to deserve. Now, Struan, will you
cease from wailing, if I promise one thing?”

“That must depend upon what it is. It will take a good many things, I
am afraid, to make me think well of you again.”

“To hear such a thing from the head of the parish! Now, Struan, be not
vindictive. I ought to have let you get a good day’s shooting, and then
your terms would have been easier.”

“Well, Roland, you know that we can do nothing. The estates are tied
up in such a wonderful way, by some lawyer’s trick or other, through a
whim of that blessed old lady--she can’t hear me, can she?--that Hilary
has his own sister’s life between him and the inheritance; so far as
any of us can make out.”

“So that you need not have boasted,” answered Sir Roland, with a quiet
smile, “about his being a Bayard, in refraining from post-obits.”

“Well, well; you know what I meant quite well. The Jews are not yet
banished from England. And there is reason to fear they never will be.
There are plenty of them to discount his chance, if he did what many
other boys would do.”

Sir Roland felt the truth of this. And he feared in his heart that he
might be pushing his only son a little too hard, in reliance upon his
honour.

“Will you come to the point for once?” he asked, with a look of
despair and a voice of the same. “This is my offer--to get Hilary a
commission in a foot-regiment, pack him off to the war in Spain; and if
in three years after that he sticks to that Danish Nausicaa, and I am
alive--why, then, he shall have her.”

Mr. Hales threw back his head--for he had a large, deep head, and when
it wanted to think it would go back--and then he answered warily:

“It is a very poor offer, Sir Roland. At first sight it seems fair
enough. But you, with your knowledge of youth, and especially such a
youth as Hilary, rely upon the effects of absence, change, adventures,
dangers, Spanish beauties, and, worst of all, wider knowledge of the
world, and the company of coarse young men, to make him jilt his love,
or perhaps take even a worse course than that.”

“You are wrong,” said Sir Roland, with much contempt. “Sir Remnant
Chapman might so have meant it. Struan, you ought to know me better.
But I think that I have a right, at least, to try the substance of such
a whim, before I yield to it, and install, as the future mistress,
a--well, what do you want me to call her, Struan?”

“Let it be, Roland; let it be. I am a fair man, if you are not; and I
can make every allowance for you. But I think that your heir should at
least be entitled to swing his legs over a horse, Sir Roland.”

“I, on the other hand, think that it would be his final ruin to do so.
He would get among reckless fellows, to whom he is already too much
akin. It has happened so with several of my truly respected ancestors.
They have gone into cavalry regiments, and ridden full gallop through
their estates. I am not a penurious man, as you know; and few think
less of money. Can you deny that, even in your vitiated state of mind?”

“I cannot deny it,” the Rector answered; “you never think twice about
money, Roland--except, of course, when you are bound to do so.”

“Very well; then you can believe that I wish poor Hilary to start
afoot, solely for his own benefit. There is very hard fighting just now
in Spain, or on the confines of Portugal. I hate all fighting, as you
are aware. Still it is a thing that must be done.”

“Good Lord!” cried the Rector, “how you do talk! As if it was so many
partridges!”

“No, it is better than that--come, Struan--because the partridges carry
no guns you know.”

“I should be confoundedly sorry if they did,” the Rector answered, with
a shudder. “Fancy letting fly at a bird who might have a long barrel
under his tail!”

“It is an appalling imagination. Struan, I give you credit for it. But
here we are, as usual, wandering from the matter which we have in hand.
Are you content, or are you not, with what I propose about Hilary?”

In this expressly alternative form, there lurks a great deal of vigour.
If a man says, “Are you satisfied?” you begin to cast about and wonder,
whether you might not win better terms. Many side-issues come in and
disturb you; and your way to say “yes” looks too positive. But if he
only clench his inquiry with the option of the strong negative, the
weakest of all things, human nature that hates to say “no,” is tampered
with. This being so, Uncle Struan thought for a moment or so; and then
said, “Yes, I am.”



CHAPTER XXXII.

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE OPINION.


Is it just or even honest--fair, of course, it cannot be--to deal so
much with the heavy people, the eldermost ones and the bittermost, and
leave altogether with nothing said of her--or not even let her have her
own say--as sweet a young maiden as ever lived, and as true, and brave,
and kind an one? Alice was of a different class altogether from Mabel
Lovejoy. Mabel was a dear-hearted girl, loving, pure, unselfish, warm,
and good enough to marry any man, and be his own wife for ever.

But Alice went far beyond all that. Her nature was cast in a different
mould. She had not only the depth--which is the common property of
women--but she also had the height of loving. Such as a mother has for
her children; rather than a wife towards her husband. And yet by no
means an imperious or exacting affection, but tender, submissive, and
delicate. Inasmuch as her brother stood next to her father, or in some
points quite on a level with him, in her true regard and love, it was
not possible that her kind heart could escape many pangs of late. In
the first place, no loving sister is likely to be altogether elated by
the discovery that her only brother has found some one who shall be
henceforth more to him than herself is. Alice, moreover, had a very
strong sense of the rank and dignity of the Lorraines; and disliked,
even more than her father did, the importation of this “vegetable
product,” as she rather facetiously called poor Mabel, into their
castle of lineage. But now, when Hilary was going away, to be drowned
on the voyage perhaps, or at least to be shot, or sabred, or ridden
over by those who had horses--while he had none--or even if he escaped
all that, to be starved, or frozen, or sunstruck, for the sake of his
country--as our best men are, while their children survive to starve
afterwards--it came upon Alice as a heavy blow that she never might
happen to see him again. Although her father had tried to keep her from
the excitement of the times, and the gasp of the public for dreadful
news (a gasp which is deeper and wider always, the longer the time
of waiting is), still there were too many mouths of rumour for truth
to stop one in ten of them. Although the old butler turned his cuffs
up--to show what an arm he still possessed--and grumbled that all this
was nothing, and a bladder of wind in comparison with what he had known
forty years agone; and though Mrs. Pipkins, the housekeeper, quite
agreed with him and went further; neither was the cook at all disposed
to overdo the thing; it was of no service--they could not stay the
torrent of public opinion.

Trotman had been taken on, rashly (as may have been said before), as
upper footman in lieu of the old-established and trusty gentleman,
who had been compelled by fierce injustice to retire, and take to a
public-house--with a hundred pounds to begin upon--being reft of the
office of footman for no other reason that he could hear of, except
that he was apt to be, towards nightfall, not quite able to “keep his
feet.”

To him succeeded the headlong Trotman: and one of the very first things
he did was--as declared a long time ago, with deep sympathy, in this
unvarnished tale--to kick poor Bonny, like a hopping spider, from the
brow of the hill to the base thereof.

Trotman may have had good motives for this rather forcible movement:
and it is not our place to condemn him. Still, in more than one quarter
it was believed that he had acted thus, through no zeal whatever for
virtue or justice; but only because he so loved his perquisites, and
suspected that Bonny got smell of them. And the butler quite confirmed
this view, and was much surprised at Trotman’s conduct; for Bonny was
accustomed to laugh at his jokes, and had even sold some of his bottles
for him.

In such a crisis, scarcely any one would regard such a trivial matter.
And yet none of us ought to kick anybody, without knowing what it may
lead to. Violence is to be deprecated: for it has to be paid for beyond
its value, in twelve cases out of every dozen. And so it was now; for,
if Coombe Lorraine had been before this, as Mrs. Pipkins declared
(having learned French from her cookery-book), “the most Triestest
place in the world,” it became even duller now that Bonny was induced,
by personal considerations, to terminate rather abruptly his overtures
to the kitchenmaid. For who brought the tidings of all great events and
royal proceedings? Our Bonny. Who knew the young man of every housemaid
in the vales of both Adur and Arun? Our Bonny. Who could be trusted to
carry a scroll (or in purer truth perhaps, a scrawl) that should be
treasured through the love-lorn hours of waiting--at table--in a zebra
waistcoat? Solely and emphatically Bonny!

Therefore every tender domestic bosom rejoiced when the heartless
Trotman was compelled to tread the track of his violence, lamely and
painfully, twice every week, to fetch from Steyning his _George and the
Dragon_, which used to be delivered by Bonny. Mr. Trotman, however,
was a generous man, and always ready to share, as well as enjoy, the
delights of literature. Nothing pleased him better than to sit on the
end of a table among the household ladies and gentlemen, with Mrs.
Pipkins in the chair of honour, and interpret from his beloved journal,
the chronicles of the county, the country, and the Continent.

“Why, ho!” he shouted out one day, “what’s this? Can I believe my
heyes? Our Halary going to the wars next week!”

“No, now!” “Never can be!” “Most shameful!” some of his audience
exclaimed. But Mrs. Pipkins and the old butler shook their heads at one
another, as much as to say, “I knowed it.”

“Mr. Trotman,” said the senior housemaid, who entertained connubial
views; “you are sure to be right in all you reads. You are such a
bootiful scholard! Will you obleege us by reading it out?”

“Hem! hem! Ladies all, it is yours to command, it is mine to obey. ‘The
insatiable despot who sways the Continent seems resolved to sacrifice
to his baleful lust of empire all the best and purest and noblest of
the blood of Britain. It was only last week that we had to mourn the
loss sustained by all Sussex in the most promising scion of a noble
house. And now we have it on the best authority that Mr. H. L., the
only son of the well-known and widely-respected baronet residing not
fifty miles from Steyning, has received orders to join his regiment at
the seat of war, under Lord Wellington. The gallant young gentleman
sails next week from Portsmouth in the troopship Sandylegs’--or some
such blessed Indian name!”

“The old scrimp!” exclaimed the cook, a warm ally to poor Hilary.
“To send him out in a nasty sandy ship, when his birth were to go on
horseback, the same as all the gentlefolks do to the wars!”

“But Mrs. Merryjack, you forget,” explained the accomplished Trotman,
“that Great Britain is a hisland, ma’am. And no one can’t ride from a
hisland on horseback; at least it was so when I was a boy.”

“Then it must be so now, John Trotman; for what but a boy are you now,
I should like to know! And a bad-mannered boy, in my humble opinion, to
want to teach his helders their duty. I know that I lives in a hisland,
of course, the same as all the Scotchmen does, and goes round the sun
like a joint on a spit: and so does nearly all of us. But perhaps John
Trotman doesn’t.”

With this “withering sarcasm,” the ladycook turned away from poor
Trotman, and then delivered these memorable words--

“Sir Rowland will repent too late. Sir Rowland will shed the briny
tear, the same as might any one of us, even on £3 a-year, for sending
his only son out in a ship, when he ought to a’ sent ’un on horseback.”

Mrs. Pipkins nodded assent, and so did the ancient butler: and Trotman
felt that public opinion was wholly against him, until such time as it
should be further educated.

But such a discussion had been aroused, that there was no chance of
its stopping here; and Alice, who loved to collect opinions, had many
laid before her. She listened to all judiciously, and pretended to
do it judicially; and after that she wondered whether she had done
what she ought to do. For she knew that she was only very young, with
nobody to advise her; and the crushing weight of the world upon her,
if she tripped or forgot herself. Most girls of her age would have
been at school, and taken childish peeps at the world, and burnished
up their selfishness by conflict with one another; but Sir Roland had
kept to the family custom, and taught and trained his daughter at
home, believing as he did that young women lose some of their best
and most charming qualities by what he called “gregarious education.”
Alice therefore had been under care of a good and a well-taught
governess--for “masters” at that time were proper to boys--until her
mind was quite up to the mark, and capable of taking care of itself.
For, in those days, it was not needful for any girl to know a great
deal more than was good for her.

Early one September evening, when the day and year hung calmly in
the balance of the sun; when sensitive plants and clever beasts were
beginning to look around them, and much of the growth of the ground was
ready to regret lost opportunities; when the comet was gone for good at
last, and the earth was beginning to laugh at her terror (having found
him now clearly afraid of her), and when a sense of great deliverance
from the power of drought and heat throbbed in the breast of dewy
nurture, so that all took breath again, and even man (the last of all
things to be pleased or thankful) was ready to acknowledge that there
might have been worse moments,--at such a time fair Alice sat in her
garden thinking of Hilary. The work of the summer was over now, and
the fate of the flowers pronounced and settled, for better or worse,
till another year; no frost, however, had touched them yet, while the
heavy dews of autumnal night, and the brisk air flowing from the open
downs, had gladdened, refreshed, and sweetened them. Among them, and
between the shrubs, there spread and sloped a pleasant lawn for all
who love soft sward and silence, and the soothing sound of leaves.
From the form of the ground and bend of the hills, as well as the
northerly aspect, a peculiar cast and tingle of the air might be found,
at different moments, fluctuating differently. Most of all, in a fine
sunset of autumn (though now the sun was behind the ridge), from the
fulness of the upper sky such gleam and glance fell here and there,
that nothing could be sure of looking as it looked only a minute ago.
At such times all the glen seemed thrilling like one vast lute of trees
and air, drawing fingered light along the chords of trembling shadow.
At such a time, no southern slope could be compared with this, for
depth of beauty and impressive power, for the charm of clear obscurity
and suggestive murmuring mystery. A time and scene that might recall
the large romance of grander ages; where wandering lovers might shrink
and think of lovers whose love was over; and even the sere man of the
world might take a fresh breath of the boyish days when fear was a
pleasant element.

Suddenly Alice became aware of something moving near her; and almost
before she had time to be frightened, Hilary leaped from behind a
laurel. He caught her in his arms, and kissed her, and then stepped
back to leave plenty of room for contemplative admiration.

“I was resolved to have one more look. We sail to-morrow, they are in
such a hurry. I have walked all the way from Portsmouth. At least I got
a little lift on the road, on the top of a waggon-load of wheat.”

“How wonderfully good of you, Hilary dear!” she exclaimed, with tears
in her eyes, and yet a strong inclination to smile, as she watched him.
“How tired you must be! Why, when did you leave the dépôt? I thought
they kept you at perpetual drill.”

“So they did. But I soon got up to all that. I can do it as well as
the best of them now. What a provoking child you are! Well, don’t you
notice anything?”

For Alice, with true sisterly feeling, was trying his endurance to the
utmost, dissembling all her admiration of his fine fresh “uniform.” Of
course, this was not quite so grand as if he had been (as he had right
to be) enrolled as an “_eques auratus_;” still it looked very handsome
on his fine straight figure, and set off the brightness of his clear
complexion. Moreover, his two months of drilling at the dépôt had given
to his active and well-poised form that vigorous firmness which alone
was needed to make it perfect. With the quickness of a girl, his sister
saw all this in a moment; and yet, for fear of crying, she laughed at
him.

“Why, how did you come so ‘spick and span’? Have you got a sheaf of
wheat inside your waistcoat? It was too cruel to put such clothes on
the top of a harvest-waggon. I wonder you did not set it all on fire.”

“Much you know about it!” exclaimed the young soldier, with vast
chagrin. “You don’t deserve to see anything. I brought my togs in a
haversack, and put them on in your bower here, simply to oblige you;
and you don’t think they are worth looking at!”

“I am looking with all my might; and yet I cannot see anything of a
sword. I suppose they won’t allow you one yet. But surely you must have
a sword in the end.”

“Alice, you are enough to wear one out. Could I carry my sword in a
haversack? However, if you don’t think I look well, somebody else
does--that is one comfort.”

“You do not mean, I hope,” replied Alice, missing his allusion
carefully, “to go back to your ship without coming to see papa, dear
Hilary?”

“That is exactly what I do mean; and that is why I have watched for you
so. I have no intention of knocking under. And so he will find out in
the end; and somebody else, I hope, as well. Everybody thinks I am such
a fool, because I am easy-tempered. Let them wait a bit. They may be
proud of that never-do-well, silly Hilary yet. In the last few months,
I can assure you, I have been through things--however, I won’t talk
about them. They never did understand me at home; and I suppose they
never will. But it does not matter. Wait a bit.”

“Darling Hilary! don’t talk so. It makes me ready to cry to hear you.
You will go into some battle, and throw your life away, to spite all of
us.”

“No, no, I won’t. Though it would serve you right for considering me
such a nincompoop. As if the best, and sweetest, and truest-hearted
girl in the universe was below contempt, because her father happens to
grow cabbages! What do we grow? Corn, and hay, and sting-nettles, and
couch-grass. Or at least our tenants grow them for us, and so we get
the money. Well, how are they finer than cabbages?”

“Come in and see father,” said Alice, straining her self-control to
shun argument. “Do come, and see him before you go.”

“I will not,” he answered, amazing his sister by his new-born
persistency. “He never has asked me; and I will not do it.”

No tears, no sobs, no coaxings moved him; his troubles had given him
strength of will; and he went to the war without seeing his father.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

RAGS AND BONES.


One man there is, or was, who ought to have been brought forward long
ago. Everybody said the same thing of him--he wanted nothing more than
the power of insisting upon his reputation, and of checking his own
bashfulness, to make him one of the foremost men anywhere in or near
Steyning. His name was Bottler, as everybody knew; and through some
hereditary veins of thought, they always added “the pigman”--as if he
were a porcine hybrid!

He was nothing of the sort. He was only a man who stuck pigs, when they
wanted sticking; and if at such times he showed humanity, how could
that identify him with the animal between his knees? He was sensitive
upon this point at times, and had been known to say, “I am no pigman;
what I am is a master pork-butcher.”

However, he could not get over his name, any more than anybody else
can. And if such a trifle hurt his feelings, he scarcely insisted upon
them, until he was getting quite into his fifth quart of ale, and
discovering his true value.

A writer of the first eminence, who used to be called “Tully,” but
now is euphoniously cited as “Kikero,” has taught us that to neglect
the world’s opinion of one’s self is a proof not only of an arrogant,
but even of a dissolute mind. Bottler could prove himself not of an
arrogant, and still less of a dissolute mind; he respected the opinion
of the world; and he showed his respect in the most convincing and
flattering manner, by his style of dress. He never wore slops, or an
apron even, unless it were at the decease or during the obsequies of a
porker. He made it a point of honour to maintain an unbroken succession
of legitimate white stockings--a problem of deep and insatiable anxiety
to every woman in Steyning town. In the first place, why did he wear
them? It took several years to determine this point; but at last it
was known, amid universal applause, that he wore them in memory of his
first love. But then there arose a far more difficult and excruciating
question--how did he do it? Had he fifty pairs? Did he wash them
himself, or did he make his wife? How could he kill pigs and keep his
stockings perpetually unsullied? Emphatically and despairingly,--why
had they never got a hole in them?

He, however, with an even mind, trode the checkered path of life, with
fustian breeches and white stockings. His coat was of West of England
broadcloth, and of a rich imperial blue, except where the colour had
yielded to time; and all his buttons were of burnished brass. His
honest countenance was embellished with a fine candid smile, whenever
he spoke of the price of pigs or pork; and no one had ever known him to
tell a lie--or at any rate he said so.

This good and remarkable man was open to public inspection every
morning in his shop, from eight to twelve o’clock. He then retired to
his dinner, and customers might thump and thump with a key or knife, or
even his own steel, on the counter, but neither Mr. nor Mrs. Bottler
would condescend to turn round for them. Nothing less than the chink
of a guinea would stir them at this sacred time. But if any one had a
guinea to rattle on the board, and did it cleverly, the blind across
the glass door was drawn back on its tape, and out peeped Bottler.

When dinner and subsequent facts had been dealt with, this eminent
pigman horsed his cart, hoisted his favourite child in over the
footboard, and set forth in quest of pigs, or as he put it more
elegantly, “hanimals german to his profession.” That favourite child,
his daughter Polly, being of breadth and length almost equal, and
gifted with “bow-legs” (as the public had ample means of ascertaining),
was now about four years old, and possessed of remarkable gravity even
for that age. She would stand by the hour between her father’s knees,
while he guided the shambling horse, and gaze most intently at nothing
at all; as if it were the first time she ever had enjoyed the privilege
of inspecting it.

Rags and bones (being typical of the beginning and end of humanity)
have an inner meaning of their own, and stimulate all who deal in them.
At least it often seems to be so, though one must not be too sure of
it. Years of observation lead us to begin to ask how to observe a
little.

Bonny had not waited for this perversity of certainty. He had long been
taking observations of Polly Bottler--as he could get them--and the
more he saw her, the more his finest feelings were drawn forth by her,
and the way she stood between her father’s legs. Some boys have been
known to keep one virtue so enlarged and fattened up, like the liver of
a Strasburg goose, that the flavour of it has been enough to abide--if
they died before dissolution--in the rue of pious memory.

Exactly so it was with that Bonny. He never feigned to be an honest
boy, because it would have been dishonest of him: besides that, he did
not know how to do it, and had his own reasons for waiting a bit; yet
nothing short of downright starvation could have driven him at any time
to steal so much as one pig’s trotter from his patron’s cart, or shop,
or yard. Now this deserves mention, because it proves that there does,
or at any rate did, exist a discoverable specimen of a virtue so rare,
that its existence escaped all suspicion till after the classic period
of the Latin tongue.

A grateful soul, or a grateful spirit--we have no word to express
“animus,” though we often express it towards one another--such was
the Roman form for this virtue, as a concrete rarity. And a couple of
thousand years have made it two thousand times more obsolete.

In one little breast it still abode, purely original and native, and
growing underneath the soil, shy of light and hard to find, like the
truffle of the South Downs. Bonny was called, in one breath every
day, a shameful and a shameless boy; and he may have deserved but a
middling estimate from a lofty point of view. It must be admitted that
he slipped sometimes over the border of right and wrong, when a duck or
a rabbit, or a green goose haply, hopped or waddled on the other side
of it, in the tempting twilight. But even that he avoided doing, until
halfpence were scarce and the weather hungry.

Now being, as has been said before, of distinguished countenance
and costume, he already had made a tender impression upon the heart
of Polly Bottler; and when she had been very good and conquered the
alphabet up to P the pig--at which point professional feeling always
overcame the whole family--the reward of merit selected by herself
would sometimes be a little visit to Bonny, as the cart came back from
Findon. There is room for suspicion, however, that true love may not
have been the only motive power, or at least that poor Bonny had a very
formidable rival in Jack the donkey: inasmuch as the young lady always
demanded, as the first-fruit of hospitality, a prolonged caracole
on that quadruped, which she always performed in cavalier fashion,
whereto the formation of her lower members afforded especial facility.

Now one afternoon towards Allhallows day, when the air was brisk and
the crisp leaves rustled, some under foot and some overhead, Mr.
Bottler, upon his return from Storrington, with four pretty porkers in
under his net, received from his taciturn daughter that push on his
right knee, whose import he well understood. It meant--“We are going to
see Bonny to-day. You must turn on this side, and go over the fields.”

“All right, little un,” the pigman answered, with never-failing smile.
“Daddy knows as well as you do a’most; though you can’t expect him to
come up to you.”

Polly gave a nod, which was as much as any one ever expected of her
all the time she was out of doors. At home she could talk any number
to the dozen, when the mood was on her; but directly she got into the
open air, the size of the world was too much for her. All she could do
was to stand, and wonder, and have the whole of it going through her,
without her feeling anything.

After much jolting, and rattling, and squeaking of pigs at the
roughness of sod or fallow, they won the entrance of Coombe Lorraine,
and the hermitage of Bonny. That exemplary boy had been all day
pursuing his calling with his usual diligence, and was very busy now,
blowing up his fire to have some hot savoury stew to warm him. All his
beggings and his buyings, &c., were cast in together; and none but the
cook and consumer could tell how marvellously they always managed to
agree among themselves, and with him. A sharp little turn of air had
set in, and made every rover of the land sharp set; and the lid of the
pot was beginning to lift charily and preciously, when the stubble
and bramble crackled much. Bonny ensconced in his kitchen corner, on
the right hand outside his main entrance, kept stirring the fire, and
warming his hands, and indulging in a preliminary smell. Bearing ever
in mind the stern duty of promoting liberal sentiments, he had felt,
while passing an old woman’s garden, how thoroughly welcome he ought
to be to a few sprigs of basil, a handful of onions, and a pinch of
lemon-thyme; and how much more polite it was to dispense with the
frigid ceremony of asking.

As the cart rattled up in the teeth of the wind, Polly Bottler began to
expand her frank ingenuous nostrils; inhaled the breeze, and thus spake
with her mouth--

“Dad, I’se yerry hungy.”

“No wonder,” replied the paternal voice; “what a boy, to be sure, that
is to cook! At his time of life, just to taste his stoos! He’ve got
a born knowledge what to put in--ay, and what to keep out; and how
long to do it. He deserveth that pot as I gived him out of the bilin’
house; now dothn’t he? If moother worn’t looking for us to home, with
chittlings and fried taties, I’d as lief sit down and sup with him. He
maketh me in the humour, that he doth.”

As soon as he beheld his visitors, Bonny advanced in a graceful manner,
as if his supper was of no account. He had long been aware, from the
comments of boys at Steyning (who were hostile to him), that his
chimney-pot hat was not altogether in strict accord with his character.
This had mortified him as deeply as his lightsome heart could feel;
because he had trusted to that hat to achieve his restoration into the
bosom of society. The words of the incumbent of his parish (ere ever
the latter began to thrash him) had sunk into his inner and deeper
consciousness and conscience; and therein had stirred up a nascent
longing to have something to say to somebody whose fore-legs were not
employed for locomotion any longer.

Alas, that ghost of a definition has no leg to stand upon! No two great
authorities (perfect as they are, and complete in their own system)
can agree with one another concerning the order of a horse’s feet,
in walking, ambling, or trotting, or even standing on all fours in
stable. The walk of a true-born Briton is surely almost as important
a question. Which arm does he swing to keep time with which leg; and
bends he his elbows in time with his knees; and do all four occupy the
air, or the ground, or himself, in a regulated sequence; and if so,
what aberration must ensue from the use of a walking-stick? Œdipus,
who knew all about feet (from the tenderness of his own soles), could
scarcely be sure of all this, before the time of the close of the
market.

This is far too important a question to be treated hastily. Only, while
one is about it, let Bonny’s hat be settled for. Wherever he thought
to have made an impression with this really guinea-hat, ridicule and
execration followed on his naked heels; till he sold it at last for
tenpence-halfpenny, and came back to his naked head. Society is not to
be carried by storm even with a picked-up hat.

Jack, the donkey, was always delighted to have Polly Bottler upon
his back. Not perhaps from any vaticination of his future mistress,
but because she was sure to reward him with a cake, or an apple, or
something good; so that when he felt her sturdy little legs, both
hands in his mane, and the heels begin to drum, he would prick his
long ears, and toss his fine white nose, and would even have arched
his neck, if nature had not strictly forbidden him. On the present
occasion, however, Polly did not very long witch the world with noble
donkeymanship; although Mr. Bottler sat patiently in his cart, smiling
as if he could never kill a pig, and with paternal pride stamped on
every wrinkle of his nose; while the brief-lived porkers poked their
snouts through the net, and watched with little sharp hairy eyes the
very last drama perhaps in which they would be spectators only. The
lively creatures did not suspect that Bonny’s fire, the night after
next, would be cooking some of their vital parts, with a truly fine
smell of sausages.

Sausages were too dear for Bonny; as even the pigs at a glance were
aware; but he earned three quarters of a pound for nothing, by noble
hospitality. To wit, his angel of a Polly had not made more than three
or four parades, while he (with his head scarcely reaching up to the
mark at the back of the donkey’s ears, where the perspiration powdered)
shouted, and holloaed, and made-believe to be very big--as boys must
do, for practice towards their manhood--when by some concurrent
goodwill of air and fire, and finer elements, the pot-lid arose, to
let out a bubble of goodness returning to its native heaven; and the
volatile virtue gently hovered to leave a fair memory behind.

The merest corner of this fragrance flipped into Polly Bottler’s nose,
as a weaker emanation had done, even before she began her ride. And
this time her mouth and her voice expressed cessation of hesitation.

“’Et me down, ’et me down,” she cried, stretching her fat short arms to
Bonny; “I ’ants some; I’se so hungy.”

“Stop a bit, miss,” said Bonny, as being the pink of politeness to
all the fair: “there, your purty little toes is on the blessed ground
again. Stop a bit, miss, while I runs into my house, for to get the
spoon.”

For up to this time he had stirred his soup with a forked stick made
of dogwood, which helps to flavour everything; but now as a host, he
was bound to show his more refined resources. Polly, however, was
so rapt out of her usual immobility, that she actually toddled into
Bonny’s house to make him be quick about the spoon. He, in amazement,
turned round and stared, to be sure of his eyes that such a thing could
ever have happened to him. The jealousy of the collector strove with
the hospitality of the householder and the chivalry of the rover. But
the finer feelings conquered, and he showed her round the corner. Mr.
Bottler, who could not get in, cracked his whip and whistled at them.

Polly, with great eyes of wonder and fright at her own daring, longed
with one breath to go on, and with the next to run back again. But the
boy caught hold of her hand, and she stuck to him through the ins and
outs of light, until there was something well worth seeing.

What is the sweetest thing in life? Hope, love, gold, fame, pride,
revenge, danger--or anything else, according to the nature of the
liver. But with those who own very little, and have “come across” all
that little, with risk and much uncertainty, the sweetest thing in
life is likely to be the sense of ownership. The mightiest hoarder of
gold and silver, Crœsus, Rhampsinitus, or Solomon, never thought half
so much of his stores, or at any rate, never enjoyed them as much as
this rag-and-bone collector his. When he came to his room he held his
breath, and watched with the greatest anxiety for corresponding emotion
of Polly.

The room was perhaps about twelve feet long, and eight feet wide at
its utmost, scooped from the chalk without any sharp corners, but with
a grand contempt of shape. The floor went up and down, and so did the
roof, according to circumstances; the floor appearing inclined to rise,
and the roof to come down if called upon. Much excellent rubbish was
here to be found; but the window was the first thing to seize and hold
any stranger’s attention. It must have been built either by or for the
old hermit who once had dwelt there; at any rate no one could have
designed it without a quaint ingenuity. It was cut through a three-foot
wall of chalk, the embrasure being about five feet in span, and three
feet deep at the crown of the arch. In the middle, a narrow pier of
chalk was left to keep the arch up, and the lights on either side
were made of horn, stained glass, and pig’s bladder. The last were of
Bonny’s handiwork, to keep out the wind when it blew too cold among the
flaws of ages. And now as the evening light fetched round the foot of
the hills, and gathered strongly into this western aspect, the richness
of colours was such that even Polly’s steadfast eyes were dazed.

Without vouchsafing so much as a glance at Bonny’s hoarded glories,
the child ran across the narrow chamber, and spread out her hands and
opened her mouth wider even than her eyes, at the tints now streaming
in on her. The glass had been brought perhaps from some ruined chapel
of the hill-side, and glowed with a depth of colour infused by
centuries of sunset; not one pane of regular shape was to be found
among them; but all, like veins of marble, ran with sweetest harmony of
hue, to meet the horn and the pig’s bladder. From the outside it looked
like a dusty slate traversed with bits of a crusted bottle; it required
to be seen from the inside, like an ancient master’s painting.

Polly, like the rest of those few children who do not overtalk
themselves, spent much of her time in observation, storing the entries
inwardly. And young as she was, there might be perhaps a doubt
entertained by those who knew her whether she were not of a deeper and
more solid cast of mind than Bonny. Her father at any rate declared,
and her mother was of the same opinion, that by the time she was ten
years old she would buy and sell all Steyning. However, they may have
thought all this because all their other children were so stupid.

Now, be they right or be they wrong--as may be shown hereafter--Polly
possessed at least the first and most essential of all the many
endowments needful to approach success. Polly Bottler stuck to her
point. And now, even with those fine old colours, like a century of
rainbows, puzzling her, Polly remembered the stew in the pot, and
pointed with her finger to the window-ledge where something shone in a
rich blue light.

“Here’s a ’poon, Bonny!” she exclaimed; “here’s a ’poon! ’Et me have
it, Bonny.”

“No, that’s not a spoon, miss; and I can’t make out for the life of
me whatever it can be. I’ve a seed a many queer things, but I never
seed the likes of that afore. Ah, take care, miss, or you’ll cut your
fingers!”

For Polly, with a most resolute air, had scrambled to the top of an old
brown jar (the salvage from some shipwreck) which stood beneath the
window-sill, and thence with a gallant sprawl she reached and clutched
the shining implement which she wanted to eat her stew with. The boy
was surprised to see her lift it with her fat brown fingers, and hold
it tightly without being cut or stung, as he expected. For he had a
wholesome fear of this thing, and had set it up as a kind of fetish,
his mind (like every other) requiring something to bow down to. For the
manner of his finding it first, and then its presentment in the mouth
of Jack, added to the interest which its unknown meaning won for it.

With a laugh of triumph, the bow-legged maiden descended from her
dangerous height, and paying no heed to all Bonny’s treasures, waddled
away with her new toy, either to show it to her father, or to plunge
it into the stewpot perhaps. But her careful host, with an iron spoon
and a saucer in his hands, ran after her, and gently guided her to the
crock, whither also Mr. Bottler sped. This was as it should be; and
they found it so. For when the boy Bonny, with a hospitable sweep,
lifted the cover of his cookery, a sense of that void which all nature
protests against rose in the forefront of all three, and forebade them
to seek any further. Bottler himself, in the stress of the moment, let
the distant vision fade--of fried potatoes and combed chittlings--and
lapsed into that lowest treason to Lares and Penates--a supper abroad,
when the supper at home is salted, and peppered, and browning.

But though Polly opened her mouth so wide, and smacked her lips, and
made every other gratifying demonstration, not for one moment would she
cede possession of the treasure she had found in Bonny’s window. Even
while most absorbed in absorbing, she nursed it jealously on her lap;
and even when her father had lit his pipe from Bonny’s bonfire, and
was ready to hoist her again over the footboard, the child stuck fast
to her new delight, and set up a sturdy yell when the owner came to
reclaim it from her.

“Now don’t ’ee, don’t ’ee, that’s a dear,” began the gentle
pork-butcher, as the pigs in the cart caught up the strain, and echo
had enough to do; for Polly of course redoubled her wailings, as all
little dears must, when coaxed to stop; “here, Bonny, here lad, I’ll
gie thee sixpence for un, though her ain’t worth a penny, I doubt.
And thou may’st call to-morrow, and the Misses ’ll gie thee a clot of
sassages.”

Bonny looked longingly at his fetish; but gratitude and true love got
the better of veneration. Polly, moreover, might well be trusted to
preserve this idol, until in the day when he made his own, it should
return into his bosom. And so it came to pass that this Palladium of
the hermitage was set up at the head of Polly Bottler’s little crib,
and installed in the post of her favourite doll.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

UNDER DEADLY FIRE.


Though Coombe Lorraine was so old a mansion, and so full of old
customs, the Christmas of the “comet year” was as dull as a Sunday in
a warehouse. Hilary (who had always been the life of the place) was
far away, fed upon hardships and short rations. Alice, though full
sometimes of spirits, at other times would run away and fret, and blame
herself, as if the whole of the fault was on her side. This was of
course an absurd idea; but sensitive girls, in moods of dejection, are
not good judges of absurdity; and Alice at such times fully believed
that if she had not intercepted so much of her father’s affection from
her brother, things would have been very different. It might have been
so; but the answer was, that she never had wittingly stood between
them; but on the contrary had laid herself out, even at the risk of
offending both, to bring their widely different natures into kinder
unity.

Sir Roland also was becoming more and more reserved and meditative.
He would sit for hours in his book-room, immersed in his favourite
studies, or rather absorbed in his misty abstractions. And Lady
Valeria did not add to the cheer of the household, although perhaps
she did increase its comfort, by suddenly ceasing to interfere with
Mrs. Pipkins and everybody else, and sending for the parson of the
next parish, because she had no faith in Mr. Hales. That worthy’s
unprofessional visits, and those of his wife and daughters, were now
almost the only pleasant incidents of the day or week. For the country
was more and more depressed by gloomy burden of endless war, the
scarcity of the fruits of the earth, and the slaughter of good brave
people. So that as the time went on, what with miserable expeditions,
pestilence, long campaigns, hard sieges, furious battles, and
starvation--there was scarcely any decent family that was not gone into
mourning.

Even the Rector, as lucky a man as ever lived, had lost a nephew, or at
least a nephew of his dear wife,--which, he said, was almost worse to
him--slain in battle, fighting hard for his country and constitution.
Mr. Hales preached a beautiful sermon, as good as a book, about it; so
that all the parish wept, and three young men enlisted.

The sheep were down in the lowlands now, standing up to their knees in
litter, and chewing very slowly; or sidling up against one another
in the joy of woolliness; or lying down, with their bare grave noses
stretched for contemplation’s sake, winking with their gentle eyes, and
thanking God for the roof above them, and the troughs in front of them.
They never regarded themselves as mutton, nor their fleeces as worsted
yarn: it was really sad to behold them, and think that the future could
not make them miserable.

No snow had fallen; but all the downs were spread with that sombre
brown which is the breath or the blast of the wind-frost. But Alice
Lorraine took her daily walk, for her father forbade her to ride on the
hill-tops in the bleak and bitter wind. Her thoughts were continually
of her brother; and as the cold breeze rattled her cloak, or sprayed
her soft hands through her gloves, many a time she said to herself: “I
suppose there is no frost in Spain; or not like this at any rate. How
could the poor fellow sleep in a tent in such dreadful weather as this
is?”

How little she dreamed that he had to sleep (whenever he got such a
blissful chance) not in a tent, but an open trench, with a keener wind
and a blacker frost preying on his shivering bones, while cannon-balls
and fiery shells in a pitiless storm rushed over him! It was no
feather-bed fight that was fought in front of Ciudad Rodrigo. About the
middle of January, A.D. 1812, desperate work was going on.

For now there was no time to think of life. Within a certain number
of days the fort must be taken, or the army lost. The defences were
strong, and the garrison brave, and supplied with artillery far
superior to that of the besiegers; the season also, and the bitter
weather, fought against the British; and so did the indolence of their
allies; and so did British roguery. The sappers could only work in
the dark (because of the grape from the ramparts); and working thus,
the tools either bent beneath their feet or snapped off short. The
contractor had sent out false-grained stuff, instead of good English
steel and iron; and if in this world he earned his fortune, he assured
his fate in the other.

At length by stubborn perseverance, most of these troubles were
overcome, and the English batteries opened. Roar answered roar, and
bullet bullet, and the black air was striped with fire and smoke; and
men began to study the faces of the men that shot at them, until after
some days of hard pounding, it was determined to rush in. All who care
to read of valour know what a desperate rush it was,--how strong men
struggled, and leaped, and clomb, hung, and swung, on the crest of
the breach, like stormy surges towering, and then leaped down upon
spluttering shells, drawn swords, and sparkling bayonets.

Before the signal to storm was given, and while men were talking of it,
Hilary Lorraine felt most uncomfortably nervous. He did not possess
that solid phlegm which is found more often in square-built people;
neither had he any share of fatalism, cold or hot. He was nothing
more than a spirited young Englishman, very fond of life, hating
cruelty, and fearing to have any hand in it. Although he had been in
the trenches, and exposed to frequent dangers, he had not been in
hand-to-hand conflict yet; and he knew not how he might behave. He knew
that he was an officer now in the bravest and hardiest armies known on
earth since the time of the Samnites--although perhaps not the very
best behaved, as they proved that self-same night. And not only that,
but an officer of the famous Light Division, and the fiercest regiment
of that division--everywhere known as the “Fighting-cocks”; and he was
not sure that he could fight a frog. He was sure that he never could
kill anybody, at least in his natural state of mind; and worse than
that, he was not at all sure that he could endure to be killed himself.

However, he made preparation for it. He brought out the Testament Mabel
had given him as a parting keepsake, in the moment of true love’s
piety; and he opened it at a passage marked with a woven tress of
her long rich hair--“Soldiers, do that is commanded of you;” and he
wondered whether he could manage it. And while he was trembling, not
with the fear of the enemy, but of his own young heart, the Colonel of
that regiment came, and laid his one hand on Hilary’s shoulder, and
looked into his bright blue eyes. In all the army there was no braver,
nobler, or kinder-hearted man, than Colonel C---- of that regiment.

Hilary looked at this true veteran with all the reverence, and even
awe, which a young subaltern (if fit for anything) feels for commanding
experience. Never a word he spoke, however, but waited to be spoken to.

“You will do, lad. You will do,” said the Colonel, who had little time
to spare. “I would rather see you like that, than uproarious, or even
as cool as a cucumber. I was just like that, before my first action.
Lorraine, you will not disgrace your family, your country, or your
regiment.”

The Colonel had lost two sons in battle, younger men than Hilary,
otherwise he might not have stopped to enter into an ensign’s mind. But
every word he spoke struck fire in the heart of this gentle youth. True
gratitude chokes common answers; and Hilary made none to him. An hour
afterwards he made it, by saving the life of the Colonel.

The Light Division (kept close and low from the sight of the sharp
French gunners) were waiting in a hollow curve of the inner parallel,
where the ground gave way a little, under San Francisco. There had been
no time to do anything more than breach the stone of the ramparts; all
the outer defences were almost as sound as ever. The Light Division had
orders to carry the lesser breach--cost what it might--and then sweep
the ramparts as far as the main breach, where the strong assault was.
And so well did they do their work, that they turned the auxiliary into
the main attack, and bodily carried the fortress.

For, sooth to say, they expected, but could not manage to wait for,
the signal to storm. No sooner did they hear the firing on the right
than they began to stamp and swear; for the hay-bags they were to throw
into the ditch were not at hand, and not to be seen. “Are we horses,
to wait for the hay?” cried an Irishman of the Fifty-second; and with
that they all set off as fast as ever their legs could carry them.
Hilary laughed--for his sense of humour was never very far to seek--at
the way in which these men set off, as if it were a game of football;
and at the wonderful mixture of fun and fury in their faces. Also, at
this sudden burlesque of the tragedy he expected--with heroes out at
heels and elbows, and small-clothes streaming upon the breeze. For the
British Government, as usual, left coats, shoes, and breeches, to last
for ever.

“Run, lad, run,” said Major Malcolm, in his quiet Scottish way; “you
are bound to be up with them, as one might say; and your legs are unco
long. I shal na hoory mysell, but take the short cut over the open.”

“May I come with you?” asked Hilary, panting.

“If you have na mither nor wife,” said the Major; “na wife, of course,
by the look of you.”

Lorraine had no sense what he was about; for the grapeshot whistled
through the air like hornets, and cut off one of his loose fair locks,
as he crossed the open with Major Malcolm, to head their hot men at the
crest of the glacis.

Now, how things happened after that, or even what things happened at
all, that headlong young officer never could tell. As he said in his
letter to Gregory Lovejoy--for he was not allowed to write to Mabel,
and would not describe such a scene to Alice--“the chief thing I
remember is a lot of rushing and stumbling, and swearing and cheering,
and staggering and tumbling backward. And I got a tremendous crack on
the head from a cannon laid across the top of the breach, but luckily
not a loaded one; and I believe there were none of our fellows in front
of me; but I cannot be certain, because of the smoke, and the row,
and the rush, and confusion; and I saw a Crapaud with a dead level
at Colonel C----. I suppose I was too small game for him,--and I was
just in time to slash his trigger-hand off (which I felt justified in
doing), and his musket went up in the air and went off, and I just
jumped aside from a fine bearded fellow, who rushed at me with a
bayonet; and before he could have at me again, he fell dead, shot by
his own friends from behind, who were shooting at me--more shame to
them--when our men charged with empty muskets. And when the breach was
our own, we were formed on the top of the rampart, and went off at
double-quick, to help at the main breach, and so we did; and that is
about all I know of it.”

But the more experienced warriors knew a great deal more of Hilary’s
doings, especially Colonel C---- of his regiment, and Major Malcolm,
and Captain M’Leod. All of these said that “they never saw any young
fellow behave so well, for the first time of being under deadly fire;
that he might have been ‘off his head’ for the moment, but that would
very soon wear off--or if it did not, all the better, so long as he
always did the right thing thus; and (unless he got shot) he would be
an honour to the country, the army, and the regiment!”



CHAPTER XXXV.

HOW TO FRY NO PANCAKES.


Having no love of bloodshed, and having the luck to know nothing about
it, some of us might be glad to turn into the white gate across the
lane, leading into Old Applewood farm--if only the franklin would
unlock it for anybody, in this war-time. But now he has been getting
sharper and sharper, month after month; and hearing so much about
sieges and battles, he never can be certain when the county of Kent
will be invaded. For the last ten years, he has expected something
of the sort at least; and being of a prudent mind, keeps a duck-gun
heavily loaded.

Moreover, Mabel is back again from exile with Uncle Catherow; and
though the Grower only says that “she is well enough, for aught he
knows,” when compliments are paid him, about her good looks, by the
neighbourhood, he knows well enough that she is more than that; and
he believes all the county to be after her. It is utterly useless to
deny--though hot indignation would expand his horticultural breast
at the thought--that he may have been just a little set up, by that
trifling affair about Hilary. “It never were the cherries,” he says
to himself, as the author of a great discovery; “aha, I seed it all
along! Wife never guessed of it, but I did”--shame upon thee, Grower,
for telling thyself such a dreadful “caulker!”--“and now we can see,
as plain as a pikestaff, the very thing I seed, when it was that big!”
Upon this he shows himself his thumb-nail, and feels that he has earned
a glass of his ale.

Mabel, on the other hand, is dreadfully worried by foreign affairs. She
wants to know why they must be always fighting; and as nobody can give
any other reason, except that they “suppose it is natteral,” she only
can shake her head very sadly, and ask, “How would you like to have to
do it?”

They turn up the udders of the cows, to think out this great question,
and the spurting into the pail stops short, and the cow looks round
with great bountiful eyes, and a flat broad nose, and a spotted tongue,
desiring to know what they are at with her. Is her milk not worth the
milking, pray?

This leads to no satisfaction whatever, upon behalf of any one; and
Mabel, after a shiver or two, runs back to the broad old fireplace,
to sit in the light and the smell of the wood, to spread her pointed
fingers forth, and see how clear they are, and think. For Mabel’s hands
are quite as pretty as if they were of true Norman blood, instead of
the elder Danish cast; and she is very particular now not to have even
a brown line under her nails.

And now in the month of February, 1812, before the witching festival
of St Valentine was prepared for, with cudgelling of brains, and
violent rhymes, and criminal assaults upon grammar, this “flower of
Kent”--as the gallant hop-growers in toasting moments entitled her--was
sitting, or standing, or drooping her head, or whatever suits best to
their metaphor, at or near the fireplace in the warm old simple hall.
Love, however warm and faithful, is all the better for a good clear
fire, ere ever the snowdrops begin to spring. Also it loves to watch
the dancing of the flames, and the flickering light, and even in the
smoke discovers something to itself akin. Mabel was full of these
beautiful dreams, because she was left altogether to herself; and
because she remembered so well what had happened along every inch of
the dining-table; and, above all, because she was sleepy. Long anxiety,
and great worry, and the sense of having no one fit to understand a
girl--but everybody taking low, and mercenary, and fickle views, and
even the most trusty people giving base advice to one, in those odious
proverbial forms,--“a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” “fast
find fast bind,” “there is better fish in the sea,” &c.; Mabel thought
there never had been such a selfish world to deal with.

Has not every kind of fame, however pure it may be and exalted, its
own special disadvantage, lest poor mortals grow too proud? At any
rate Mabel now reflected, rather with sorrow than with triumph, upon
her fame for pancakes--because it was Shrove-Tuesday now, and all her
tender thrills and deep anxieties must be discarded for, or at any
rate distracted by, the composition of batter. Her father’s sense of
propriety was so strong, and that of excellence so keen, that pancakes
he would have on Shrove-Tuesday, and pancakes only from Mabel’s
hand. She had pleaded, however, for leave to make them here in the
dining-hall, instead of frying at the kitchen fireplace, because she
knew what Sally the cook and Susan the maid would be at with her.
Those two girls would never leave her the smallest chance of retiring
into her deeper nature, and meditating. Although they could understand
nothing at all, they would take advantage of her good temper, to enjoy
themselves with the most worn-out jokes. Such trumpery was below Mabel
now; and some day or other she would let them know it.

Without thinking twice of such low matters, the maiden was now in great
trouble of the heart, by reason of sundry rumours. Paddy from Cork had
brought home word from Maidstone only yesterday, that a desperate fight
had been fought in Spain, and almost everybody had been blown up. Both
armies had made up their minds to die, so that, with the drums beating
and the colours flying, they marched into a powder-magazine, and tossed
up a pin which should be the one to fire it, and blow up the others.
And the English had lost the toss, and no one survived to tell the
story.

Mabel doubted most of this, though Paddy vowed that he had known the
like, “when wars was wars, and the boys had spirit;” still she felt
sure that there had been something, and she longed most sadly to know
all about it. Her brother Gregory was in London, keeping his Hilary
term, and slaving at his wretched law-books; and she had begged him,
if he loved her, to send down all the latest news by John Shorne every
market-day--for the post would not carry newspapers. And now, having
mixed her batter, she waited, sleepy after sleepless nights, unable to
leave her post and go to meet the van, as she longed to do, the while
the fire was clearing.

Pensively sitting thus, and longing for somebody to look at her, she
glanced at the face of the clock, which was the only face regarding
her. And she won from it but the stern frown of time--she must set to
at her pancakes. Batter is all the better for standing ready-made for
an hour or so, the weaker particles expire, while the good stuff grows
the more fit to be fried, and to turn over in the pan properly. With a
gentle sigh, the “flower of Kent” put her frying-pan on, just to warm
the bottom. No lard for her, but the best fresh-butter--at any rate for
the first half-dozen, to be set aside for her father and mother; after
that she would be more frugal perhaps.

But just as the butter began to oose on the bottom of the pan, she
heard, or thought that she heard, a sweet distant tinkle coming through
the frosty air; and running to the window she caught beyond doubt the
sound of the bells at the corner of the lane, the bells that the horses
always wore, when the nights were dark and long; and a throb of eager
hope and fear went to her heart at every tinkle.

“I cannot wait; how can I wait?” she cried, with flushing cheeks and
eyes twice-laden between smiles and tears; “father’s pancakes can wait
much better. There, go back,” she spoke to the frying-pan, as, with
the prudent care of a fine young housewife, she lifted it off and laid
it on the hob, for fear of the butter burning; and then, with quick
steps, out she went, not even stopping to find a hat, in her hurry to
meet the van, and know the best or the worst of the news of the war.
For “Crusty John,” who would go through fire and water to please Miss
Mabel, had orders not to come home without the very latest tidings.
There was nothing to go to market now; but the van had been up, with a
load of straw, to some mews where the Grower had taken a contract; and,
of course, it came loaded back with litter.

While Mabel was all impatience and fright, John Shorne, in the most
deliberate manner, descended from the driving-box, and purposely
shunning her eager glance, began to unfasten the leader’s traces, and
pass them through his horny hands, and coil them into elegant spirals,
like horns of Jupiter Ammon. Mabel’s fear grew worse and worse, because
he would not look at her.

“Oh, John, you never could have the heart to keep me waiting like this,
unless----”

“What! you there, Missie? Lor’ now, what can have brought ’ee out this
weather?”

“As if you did not see me, John! Why you must have seen me all along.”

“This here be such a dreadful horse to smoke,” said John, who always
shunned downright fibs, “that railly I never knows what I do see,
when I be longside of un. Ever since us come out of Sennoaks, he have
a been confusing of me. Not that I blames un, for what a can’t help.
Now there, now! The watter be frozen in trough. Go to the bucket,
jackanapes!”

“Oh John, you never do seem to think--because you have got so many
children only fit to go to school, you seem to think----”

“Why, you said as I couldn’t think now, Missie, in the last breath of
your purty mouth. Well, what is it as I ought to think? Whoa there!
Stand still, wull’ee?”

“John, you really are too bad. I have been all the morning making
pancakes, and you shan’t have one, John Shorne, you shan’t, if you keep
me waiting one more second.”

“Is it consarning they fighting fellows you gets into such a hurry,
Miss? Well, they have had a rare fight, sure enough! Fourscore officers
gone to glory, besides all the others as was not worth counting!”

“Oh John, you give me such a dreadful pain here! Let me know the worst,
I do implore you.”

“He ain’t one of ’em. Now, is that enough?” John Shorne made so little
of true love now, and forgot his early situations so, in the bosom of a
hungry family, that he looked upon Mabel’s “coorting” as an agreeable
play-ground for little jokes. But now he was surprised and frightened
at her way of taking them.

“There, don’t ’ee cry now, that’s a dear,” he said, as she leaned on
the shaft of the waggon, and sobbed so that the near wheeler began in
pure sympathy to sniff at her. “Lord bless ’ee, there be nothing to cry
about. He’ve abeen and dooed wonders, that ’a hath.”

“Of course he has, John; he could not help it. He was sure to do
wonders, don’t you see, if only--if only they did not stop him.”

“He hathn’t killed Bonypart yet,” said John, recovering his vein of
humour, as Mabel began to smile through her tears; “but I b’lieve he
wool, if he gooeth on only half so well as he have begun. For my part,
I’d soonder kill dree of un than sell out in a bad market, I know. But
here, you can take it, and read all about un. Lor’ bless me, wherever
have I put the papper?”

“Now do be quick, John, for once in your life. Dear John, do try to be
quick, now.”

“Strornary gallantry of a young hofficer! Could have sworn that it were
in my breeches-pocket. I always thought ‘gallantry’ meant something
bad. A running after strange women, and that.”

“Oh no, John--oh no, John; it never does. How can you think such
dreadful things? but how long are you going to be, John?”

“Well, it did when I wor a boy, that’s certain. But now they changes
everything so--even the words we was born to. It have come to mean
killing of strange men, hath it? Wherever now can I have put that
papper? I must have dropped un on the road, after all.”

“You never can have done such a stupid thing!--such a wicked, cruel
thing, John Shorne! If you have, I will never forgive you. Very likely
you put it in the crown of your hat.”

“Sure enough, and so I did. You must be a witch, Miss Mabel. And here’s
the very corner I turned down when I read it to the folk at the Pig and
Whistle. ‘Glorious British victory--capture of Shoedad Rodleygo--eighty
British officers killed, and forty great guns taken!’ There, there,
bless your bright eyes! now will you be content with it?”

“Oh, give it me, give it me! How can I tell until I have read it ten
times over?”

Crusty John blessed all the girls of the period (becoming more and more
too many for him) as his master’s daughter ran away to devour that
greasy journal. And by the time he had pulled his coat off, and shouted
for Paddy and another man, and stuck his own pitchfork into the litter,
as soon as they had backed the wheelers, Mabel was up in her own little
room, and down on her knees to thank the Lord for the abstract herself
had made of it. Somehow or other, the natural impulse of all good
girls, at that time, was to believe that they had a Creator and Father,
whom to thank for all mercies. But that idea has been improved since
then.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

LADY COKE UPON LITTLETON.


At Coombe Lorraine these things had been known and entered into some
time ago. For Sir Roland had not left his son so wholly uncared
for in a foreign land as Hilary in his sore heart believed. In his
regiment there was a certain old major, lame, and addicted to violent
language, but dry and sensible according to his lights, and truthful,
and upright, and quarrelsome. Burning to be first, as he always did in
every desperate conflict, Major Clumps saw the young fellows get in
front of him, and his temper exploded always.

“Come back, come back, you----” condemned offspring of canine lineage,
he used to shout; “let an honest man have a fair start with you!
Because my feet are--there you go again; no consideration, any of you!”

This Major Clumps was admirably “connected,” being the nephew of Lord
de Lampnor, the husband of Lady Valeria’s friend. So that by this means
it was brought round that Hilary’s doings should be reported. And Lady
Valeria had received a letter in which her grandson’s exploits at the
storming of Ciudad Rodrigo were so recounted that Alice wept, and the
ancient lady smiled with pride; and even Sir Roland said, “Well, after
all, that boy can do something.”

The following afternoon the master of Coombe Lorraine was sent for,
to have a long talk with his mother about matters of business. Now
Sir Roland particularly hated business; his income was enough for all
his wants; his ambition (if ever he had any) was a vague and vaporous
element; he left to his lawyers all matters of law; and even the
management of his land, but for his mother’s strong opposition, he
would gladly have left to a steward or agent, although the extent of
his property scarcely justified such an appointment. So he entered his
mother’s room that day with a languid step and reluctant air.

The lady paid very little heed to that. Perhaps she even enjoyed
it a little. Holding that every man is bound to attend to his own
affairs, she had little patience and no sympathy with such philosophic
indifference. On the other hand, Sir Roland could not deny himself a
little quiet smile, when he saw his mother’s great preparations to
bring him both to book and deed.

Lady Valeria Lorraine was sitting as upright as she had sat throughout
her life, and would sit, until she lay down for ever. On the table
before her were several thick and portentously dirty documents,
arranged and docketed by her own sagacious hand; and beyond these,
and opened at pages for reference, lay certain old law-books of a most
deterrent guise and attitude. Sheppard’s “Touchstone” (before Preston’s
time), Littleton’s “Tenures,” Viner’s “Abridgment,” Comyn’s “Digest,”
Glanville, Plowden, and other great authors, were here prepared to
cause delicious confusion in the keenest feminine intellect; and Lady
Valeria was quite sure now that they all contradicted one another.

After the formal salutation, which she always insisted upon, the
venerable lady began to fuss about a little, and pretend to be at a
loss with things. She was always dressed as if she expected a visit
from the royal family; and it was as good as a lecture for any slovenly
young girls to see how cleverly she avoided soil of dirty book, or
dirtier parchment, upon her white cuffs or Flemish lace. Even her
delicate pointed fingers, shrunken as they were with age, had a knack
of flitting over grime, without attracting it.

“I daresay you are surprised,” she said, with her usual soft and
courteous smile, “at seeing me employed like this, and turning lawyer
in my old age.”

Sir Roland said something complimentary, knowing that it was expected
of him. The ancient lady had always taught him--however erroneous the
doctrine--that no man who is at a loss for the proper compliment to a
lady deserves to be thought a gentleman. She always had treated her son
as a gentleman, dearer to her than other gentlemen; but still to be
regarded in that light mainly. And he, perhaps by inheritance, had been
led to behave to his own son thus--a line of behaviour warmly resented
by the impetuous Hilary.

“Now I beg you to attend--you must try to attend,” continued Lady
Valeria: “rouse yourself up, if you please, dear Roland. This is
not a question of astrologers, or any queer thing of that sort, but
a common-sense matter, and, I might say, a difficult point of law,
perhaps.”

“That being so,” Sir Roland answered, with a smile of bright relief,
“our course becomes very simple. We have nothing that we need trouble
ourselves to be puzzled with uncomfortably. Messrs. Crookson, Hack, and
Clinker--they know how to keep in arrear, and to charge.”

“It is your own fault, my dear Roland, if they overcharge you.
Everybody will do so, when they know that you mean to put up with it.
Your dear father was under my guidance much more than you have ever
been, and he never let people overcharge him--more than he could help,
I mean.”

“I quite perceive the distinction, mother. You have put it very
clearly. But how does that bear upon the matter you have now to speak
of?”

“In a great many ways. This account of Hilary’s desperate behaviour, as
I must call it upon sound reflection, leads me to consider the great
probability of something happening to him. There are many battles yet
to be fought, and some of them may be worse than this. You remember
what Mr. Malahide said when your dear father would insist upon that
resettlement of the entire property in the year 1799.”

Sir Roland knew quite well that it was not his dear father at all, but
his mother, who had insisted upon that very stringent and ill-advised
proceeding, in which he himself had joined reluctantly, and only by
dint of her persistence. However, he did not remind her of this.

“To be sure,” he replied, “I remember it clearly; and I have his
very words somewhere. He declined to draw it in accordance with the
instructions of our solicitors, until his own opinion upon it had been
laid before the family--a most unusual course, he said, for counsel in
chambers to adopt, but having some knowledge of the parties concerned,
he hoped they would pardon his interference. And then his words were to
this effect--‘The operation of such a settlement may be most injurious.
The parties will be tying their own hands most completely, without--as
far as I can perceive--any adequate reason for doing so. Supposing,
for instance, there should be occasion for raising money upon these
estates during the joint lives of the grandson and granddaughter, and
before the granddaughter is of age, there will be no means of doing
it. The limitation to her, which is a most unusual one in such cases,
will preclude the possibility of representing the fee-simple. The young
lady is now just five years old, and if this extraordinary settlement
is made, no marketable title can be deduced for the next sixteen
years, except, of course, in the case of her decease.’ And many other
objections he made, all of which, however, were overruled; and after
that protest, he prepared the settlement.”

“The matter was hurried through your father’s state of health; for at
that very time he was on his deathbed. But no harm whatever has come of
it, which shows that we were right, and Mr. Malahide quite wrong. But I
have been looking to see what would happen, in case poor Hilary--ah, it
was his own fault that all these restrictions were introduced. Although
he was scarcely twelve years old, he had shown himself so thoroughly
volatile, so very easy to lead away, and, as it used to be called by
vulgar people, so ‘happy-go-lucky,’ that your dear father wished,
while he had the power, to disable him from lessening any further our
lessened estates. And but for that settlement, where might we be?”

“You know, my dear mother, that I never liked that exceedingly
complicated and most mistrustful settlement. And if I had not been so
sick of all business, after the loss of my dear wife, even your powers
of persuasion would have failed to make me execute it. At any rate, it
has had one good effect. It has robbed poor Hilary, to a great extent,
of the charms that he must have possessed for the Jews.”

“How can they discover such things? With a firm of trusty and most
respectable lawyers--to me it is quite wonderful.”

“How many things are wondrous! and nothing more wondrous than man
himself--except, of course, a Jew. They do find out; and they never let
us find out how they managed it. But do let me ask you, my dear mother,
what particular turn of thought has compelled you to be so learned?”

“You mean these books? Well, let me think. I quite forget what it was
that I wanted. It is useless to flatter me, Roland, now. My memory is
not as it was, nor my sight, nor any other gift. However, I ought to be
very thankful; and I often try to be so.”

“Take a little time to think,” Sir Roland said, in his most gentle
tone; “and then, if it does not occur to you, we can talk of it some
other time.”

“Oh, now I remember! They told me something about the poor boy being
smitten with some girl of inferior station. Of course, even he would
have a little more sense than ever to dream of marrying her. But
young men, although they mean nothing, are apt to say things that
cost money. And above all others, Hilary may have given some grounds
for damages--he is so inconsiderate! Now, if that should be so, and
they give a large verdict, as a low-born jury always does against a
well-born gentleman, several delicate points arise. In the first place,
has he any legal right to fall in love under this settlement? And if
not, how can any judgment take effect on his interest? And again, if
he should fall in battle, would that stay proceedings? And if all
these points should be settled against us, have we any power to raise
the money? For I know that you have no money, Roland, except what you
receive from land; as under my advice every farthing of accumulation
has been laid out in buying back, field by field, portions of our lost
property.”

“Yes, my dear mother; and worse than that; every field so purchased
has been declared or assured--or whatever they call it--to follow the
trusts of this settlement; so that I verily believe if I wanted £5000
for any urgent family purposes, I must raise it--if at all--upon mere
personal security. But surely, dear mother, you cannot find fault with
the very efficient manner in which your own desires have been carried
out.”

“Well, my son, I have acted for the best, and according to your dear
father’s plans. When I married your father,” the old lady continued,
with a soft quiet pride, which was quite her own, “it was believed, in
the very best quarters, that the Duchess Dowager of Chalcorhin, of whom
perhaps you may have heard me speak----”

“Truly yes, mother, every other day.”

“And, my dear son, I have a right to do so of my own godmother, and
great-aunt. The sneering spirit of the present day cannot rob us of all
our advantages. However, your father (as was right and natural on his
part) felt a conviction--as those low Methodists are always saying of
themselves--that there would be a hundred thousand pounds, to help him
in what he was thinking of. But her Grace was vexed at my marriage; and
so, as you know, my dear Roland, I brought the Lorraines nothing.”

“Yes, my dear mother, you brought yourself, and your clear mind, and
clever management.”

“Will you always think that of me, Roland, dear? Whatever happens, when
I am gone, will you always believe that I did my best?”

Sir Roland was surprised at his mother’s very unusual state of mind.
And he saw how her delicate face was softened from its calm composure.
And the like emotion moved himself; for he was a man of strong feeling,
though he deigned so rarely to let it out, and froze it so often with
fatalism.

“My dearest mother,” he answered, bowing his silver hair over her
snowy locks, “surely you know me well enough to make such a question
needless. A more active and devoted mind never worked for one especial
purpose--the welfare of those for whose sake you have abandoned show
and grandeur. Ay, mother, and with as much success as our hereditary
faults allowed. Since your labours began, we must have picked up fifty
acres.”

“Is that all you know of it, Roland?” asked Lady Valeria, with a short
sigh; “all my efforts will be thrown away, I greatly fear, when I am
gone. One hundred and fifty-six acres and a half have been brought back
into the Lorraine rent-roll, without even counting the hedge-rows.
And now there are two things to be done, to carry on this great work
well. That interloper, Sir Remnant Chapman, a man of comparatively
modern race, holds more than two thousand acres of the best and oldest
Lorraine land. He wishes young Alice to marry his son, and proposes a
very handsome settlement. Why, Roland, you told me all about it--though
not quite as soon as you should have done.”

“I do not perceive that I neglected my duty. If I did so, surprise must
have ‘knocked me out of time,’ as our good Struan expresses it.”

“Mr. Hales! Mr. Hales, the clergyman! I cannot imagine what he
could mean. But it must have been something low, of course; either
badger-baiting, or prize-fighting--though people of really good
position have a right to like such things. But now we must let that
poor stupid Sir Remnant, who cannot even turn a compliment, have his
own way about silly Alice, for the sake of more important things.”

“My dear mother, you sometimes try me. What can be more important than
Alice? And to what overpowering influence is she to be sacrificed?”

“It is useless to talk like that, Sir Roland. She must do her best,
like everybody else who is not of ignoble family. The girl has plenty
of pride, and will be the first to perceive the necessity. ’Twill not
be so much for the sake of the settlement, for that of course will go
with her; but we must make it a stipulation, and have it set down under
hand and seal, that Sir Remnant, and after his time his son, shall sell
to us, at a valuation, any pieces of our own land which we may be able
to repurchase. Now, Roland, you never would have thought of that. It is
a most admirable plan, is it not?”

“It is worthy of your ingenuity, mother. But will Sir Remnant agree to
it? He is fond of his acres, like all landowners.”

“One acre is as good as another to a man of modern lineage. Some of
that land passed from us at the time of the great confiscation, and
some was sold by that reckless man, the last Sir Hilary but one. The
Chapmans have held very little of it for even so much as two centuries;
how then can they be attached to it? No, no. You must make that
condition, Roland, the first and the most essential point. As for the
settlement, that is nothing; though of course you will also insist upon
it. For a girl of Alice’s birth and appearance we could easily get a
larger settlement and a much higher position, by sending her to London
for one season, under Lady de Lampnor. But how would that help us
towards getting back the land?”

“You look so learned,” said Sir Roland, smiling, “with all those books
which you seem to have mastered, that surely we may employ you to draw
the deed for signature by Sir Remnant.”

“I have little doubt that I could do it,” replied the ancient lady,
who took everything as in earnest; “but I am not so strong as I was,
and therefore I wish you to push things forward. I have given up, as
you know, my proper attention to many little matters (which go on very
badly without me) simply that all my small abilities might be devoted
to this great purpose. I hope to have still a few years left--but
two things I must see accomplished before I can leave this world in
peace. Alice must marry Captain Chapman, upon the conditions which I
have expressed, and Hilary must marry a fortune, with special clauses
enabling him to invest it in land upon proper trusts. The boy is
handsome enough for anything; and his fame for courage, and his martial
bearing, and above all his regimentals, will make him irresistible. But
he must not stay at the wars too long. It is too great a risk to run.”

“Well, my dear mother, I must confess that your scheme is a very fine
one. Supposing, I mean, that the object is worth it; of which I am by
no means sure. I have not made it the purpose of my life to recover
the Lorraine estates; I have not toiled and schemed for that end;
although,” he added with dry irony, which quite escaped his mother’s
sense, “it is of course a far less exertion to sell one’s children,
with that view. But there are several hitches in your little plan: for
instance, Alice hates Captain Chapman, and Hilary loves a girl without
a penny--though the Grower must have had good markets lately, according
to the price of vegetables.” Clever as Sir Roland was, he made the
mistake of the outer world: there are no such things as “good markets.”

“Alice is a mere child,” replied her grandmother, smiling placidly;
“she cannot have the smallest idea yet, as to what she likes, or
dislikes. The Captain is quite as well bred as his father; and he can
drive four-in-hand. I wonder that she has shown such presumption, as
either to like or dislike him. It is your fault, Roland. Perpetual
indulgence sets children up to such dreadful things; of which they must
be broken painfully, having been encouraged so.”

“My dear mother,” Sir Roland answered, keeping his own opinions to
himself, “you clearly know how to manage young girls, a great deal
better than I do. Will you talk to Alice (in your own convincing and
most eloquent manner) if I send her up to you?”

“With the greatest pleasure,” said Lady Valeria, having long expected
this: “you may safely leave her to me, I believe. Chits of girls must
be taught their place. But I mean to be very quiet with her. Let me
see her to-morrow, Roland; I am tired now, and could not manage her,
without more talking than I am fit for. Therefore I will say ‘good
evening.’”



CHAPTER XXXVII.

ACHES _v._ ACRES.


Alice had “plenty of spirit of her own,” which of course she called
“sense of dignity;” but in spite of it all, she was most unwilling to
encounter her valiant grandmother. And she knew that this encounter was
announced the moment she was sent for.

“Is my hair right? Are my bows right? Has the old dog left any
paw-marks on me?” she asked herself; but would rather have died--as
in her quick way she said to herself--than have confessed her fright
by asking any of the maids to tell her. Betwixt herself and her
grandmother there was little love lost, and still less kept; for
each looked down upon the other from the heights of impartial duty.
“A flighty, romantic, unfledged girl, with no deference towards her
superiors”--“A cold-blooded, crafty, plotting old woman, without a bit
of faith in any one;”--thus each would have seen the other’s image, if
she had looked into her own mind, and faced its impressions honestly.

The elder lady, having cares of her own, contrived for the most part to
do very well without seeing much of her grandchild; who on the other
hand was quite resigned to the affliction of this absence. But Alice
could never perceive the justice of the reproaches wherewith she was
met, whenever she came, for not having come more often where she was
not wanted.

Now with all her courage ready, and not a sign in eye, face, or
bearing, of the disquietude all the while fluttering in the shadow of
her heart, the young lady looked at the ancient lady respectfully,
and saluted her. Two fairer types of youth and age, of innocence and
experience, of maiden grace and matron dignity, scarcely need be sought
for; and the resemblance of their features heightened the contrast of
age and character. A sculptor might have been pleased to reckon the
points of beauty inherited by the maiden from the matron--the slim
round neck, the graceful carriage of the well-shaped head, the elliptic
arch of brow, the broad yet softly-moulded forehead, as well as the
straight nose and delicate chin--a strong resemblance of details, but
in the expression of the whole an even stronger difference. For Alice,
besides the bright play of youth and all its glistening carelessness,
was gifted with a kinder and larger nature than her grandmother. And as
a kind, large-fruited tree, to all who understand it, shows--even by
its bark and foliage and the expression of its growth--the vigour of
the virtue in it, and liberality of its juice; so a fine sweet human
nature breathes and shines in the outer aspect, brightens the glance,
and enriches the smile, and makes the whole creature charming.

But Alice, though blest with this very nice manner of contemplating
humanity, was quite unable to bring it to bear upon the countenance of
her grandmother. We all know how the very best benevolence perpetually
is pulled up short; and even the turn of a word, or a look, or a breath
of air with a chill in it scatters fine ideas into corners out of
harmony.

“You may take a chair, my dear, if you please,” said Lady Valeria,
graciously; “you seem to be rather pale to-day. I hope you have not
taken anything likely to disagree with you. If you have, there is still
a little drop left of my famous ginger cordial. You make a face! That
is not becoming. You must get over those childish tricks. You are--let
me see, how old are you?”

“Seventeen years and a half, madam; about last Wednesday fortnight.”

“It is always good to be accurate, Alice. ‘About’ is a very loose word
indeed. It may have been either that day or another.”

“It must have been either that day or some other,” said Alice, gravely
curtsying.

“You inherit this catchword style from your father. I pass it over, as
you are so young. But the sooner you leave it off, the better. There
are many things now that you must leave off. For instance, you must not
pretend to be witty. It is not in our family.”

“I did not suppose that it was, grandmother.”

“There used to be some wit, when I was young, but none of it has
descended. There is nothing more fatal to a young girl’s prospects than
a sad ambition for jesting. And it is concerning your prospects now,
that I wish to advise you kindly. I hear from your father a very sad
thing--that you receive with ingratitude the plans which we have formed
for you.”

“My father has not told me of any plans at all about me.”

“He may not have told you; but you know them well. Consulting your
own welfare and the interest of the family, we have resolved that you
should at once receive the addresses of Captain Chapman.”

“You cannot be so cruel, I am sure. Or if you are, my father cannot. I
would sooner die than so degrade myself.”

“Young girls always talk like that when their fancy does not happen
to be caught. When, however, that is the case, they care not how they
degrade themselves. This throws upon their elders the duty of judging
and deciding for them, as to what will conduce to their happiness.”

“To hear Captain Chapman’s name alone conduces to my misery.”

“I beg you, Alice, to explain what you mean. Your expressions are
strong; and I am not sure that they are altogether respectful.”

“I mean them to be quite respectful, grandmother; and I do not mean
them to be too strong. Indeed I should despair of making them so.”

“You are very provoking. Will you kindly state your objections to
Captain Chapman?”

Alice for the first time dropped her eyes under the old lady’s
steadfast gaze. She felt that her intuition was right, but she could
not put it into words.

“Is it his appearance, may I ask? Is he too short for your ideal? Are
his eyes too small, and his hair too thin? Does he slouch in walking,
and turn his toes in? Is it any trumpery of that sort?” asked Lady
Valeria, though in her heart such things were not scored as “trumpery.”

“Were such things trumpery when you were young?” her grandchild longed
to ask, but duty and good training checked her.

“His appearance is bad enough,” she replied, “but I do not attach much
importance to that.” “As if I believed it!” thought Lady Valeria.

“Then what is it that proves fatal to him in your sagacious judgment?”

“I beg you as a favour not to ask me, madam. I cannot--I cannot explain
to you.”

“Nonsense, child,” said the old lady smiling, “you would not be so
absurd if you had only seen a little good society. If you are so
bashful, you may look away; but at any rate you must tell me.”

“Then it is this,” the maiden answered, with her grey eyes full on her
grandmother’s face, and a rich blush adding to their lustre: “Captain
Chapman is not what I call a good man.”

“In what way? How? What have you heard against him? If he is not
perfect, you can make him so.”

“Never, never! He is a very bad man. He despises all women; and he--he
looks--he stares quite insolently--even at me!”

“Well, this is a little too good, I declare!” exclaimed her
grandmother, with as loud a laugh as good breeding ever indulges in.
“My dear child, you must go to London; you must be presented at Court;
you must learn a little of the ways of the world; and see the first
gentleman in Europe. How his Royal Highness will laugh, to be sure! I
shall send him the story through Lady de Lampnor, that a young lady
hates and abhors her intended, because he even ventures to look at her!”

“You cannot understand me, madam. And I will not pretend to argue with
you.”

“I should hope not indeed. If we spread this story at the beginning of
the season, and have you presented while it is fresh, we may save you,
even yet, from your monster, perhaps. There will be such eagerness to
behold you, simply because you must not be looked at, that everybody
will be at your feet, all closing their eyes for your sake, I should
hope.”

Alice was a very sweet-tempered girl; but all the contempt with which
in her heart she unconsciously regarded her grandmother was scarcely
enough to keep her from flashing forth at this common raillery. Large
tears of pride and injured delicacy formed in her eyes, but she held
them in; only asking with a curtsy, “May I go now, if you please?”

“To be sure, you may go. You have done quite enough. You have made
me laugh so that I want my tea. Only remember one serious thing--the
interest of the family requires that you should soon learn to be looked
at. You must begin to take lessons at once. Within six months you must
be engaged, and within twelve months you must be married to Captain
Stephen Chapman.”

“I trow not,” said Alice to herself, as with another curtsy, and a
shudder, she retreated.

But she had not long been sitting by herself, and feeling the
bitterness of defeat, before she determined, with womanly wit, to have
a triumph somewhere; so she ran at once to her father’s room, and he
of course was at home to her. “If you please, dear papa, you must shut
your books, and you must come into this great chair, and you must not
shut even one of your eyes, but listen in the most respectful manner to
all I have to say to you.”

“Well, my dear,” Sir Roland answered; “what must be must. You are
a thorough tyrant. The days are certainly getting longer; but they
scarcely seem to be long enough for you to torment your father.”

“No candles, papa, if you please, as yet. What I have to say can be
said in the dark, and that will enable you to look at me, papa, which
otherwise you could scarcely do. Is it true that you are plotting to
marry me to that odious Captain Chapman?”

Sir Roland began to think what to say; for his better nature often told
him to wash his hands of this loathsome scheme.

“Are you so tired of me already,” said the quick girl, with sound of
tears in her voice; “have I behaved so very badly, and shown so little
love for you, that you want to kill me so very soon, father?”

“Alice, come Alice, you know how I love you; and that all that I care
for is your own good.”

“And are we so utterly different, papa, in our tastes, and perceptions,
and principles, that you can ever dream that it is good for me to marry
Mr. Chapman?”

“Well, my dear, he is a very nice man, quiet, and gentle, and kind to
every one, and most attentive to his father. He could place you in a
very good position, Alice; and you would still be near me. Also, there
are other reasons making it desirable.”

“What other reasons, papa, may I know? Something about land, I suppose.
Land is at the bottom of every mischief.”

“You desperate little radical! Well, I will confess that land has a
good deal to do with it.”

“Papa, am I worth twenty acres to you? Tell the truth now, am I?”

“My darling, you are so very foolish. How can you ask such a question!”

“Well, then, am I worth fifty? Come now, am I worth as much as fifty?
Don’t be afraid now, and say that I am, if you really feel that I am
not.”

“How many fifties--would you like to know? Come to me, and I will tell
you.”

“No, not yet, papa. There is no kiss for you, unless you say I am worth
a thousand!”

“You little coquette; You keep all your coquetries for your own old
father, I do believe.”

“Then tell me that I am worth a thousand, father--a thousand acres of
good rich land with trees and hedges, and cows and sheep--surely I
never can be worth all that: or at any rate not to you, papa.”

“You are worth to me,” said Sir Roland Lorraine--as she fell into his
arms, and sobbed, and kissed him, and stroked his white beard, and
then sobbed again--“not a thousand acres, but ten thousand--land, and
hearth, and home, and heart!”

“Then after all you do love me, father. I call nothing love that loves
anything else. And how much,” she asked, with her arms round his neck,
and her red lips curving to a crafty whisper--“how much should I be
worth, if I married a man I despise and dislike? Enough for my grave,
and no more, papa; just the size of your small book-table.”

Here she fell away, lost in her father’s arms, and for the moment could
only sigh, with her lips and eyelids quivering; and Sir Roland watching
her pale loving face, was inclined to hate his own mother. “You shall
marry no one, my own child,” he whispered through her unbraided hair;
“no one whom you do not love dearly, and who is not thoroughly worthy
of you.”

“Then I will not marry any one, papa,” she answered, with a smile
reviving; “for I do not love any one a bit, papa, except my own father,
and my own brother; and Uncle Struan, of course, and so on, in an outer
and milder manner. And as for being worthy of me, I am not worth very
much, I know. Still, if I am worth only half an acre, I must be too
good for that Captain Chapman.”



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

IN THE DEADLY BREACH.


The stern and strong will of a single man is a very fine thing for
weaker men--and still more so for women--to dwell upon. But the stern
strong will of a host of men, set upon one purpose, and resolved to
win it or die for it, is a power that conquers the powers of earth and
of nature arrayed against them. The British army was resolved to carry
by storm Badajos; and their vigorous manner of setting about it, and
obstinate way of going on with it, overcame at last the strength of all
that tried to stand before them.

This was the more to their credit, because--the worst of all things
for a man to get over--even the weather itself was against them.
Nothing makes a deeper depression in the human system than long spite
of weather does. The sense of luck is still over us all (in spite of
philosophy and mathematics), and of all the behaviour of fortune, what
comes home to our roofs and hats so impressively as the weather does?

Now, thoroughly as these British men were resolved to get within the
wall, with equal thoroughness very brave Frenchmen were resolved to
keep them out. And these had the weather in their favour; for it is
an ill wind that blows no one any good; and the rain that rains on
the just and unjust seems to have a preference for the latter. Though
it must be acknowledged in the present case, that having a view to
justice, a man of equal mind might say there was not too much on either
side. At any rate, the rain kept raining, for fear of any mistake among
them.

Moreover, the moon, between the showers, came out at night, or the sun
by day--according to the habits of each of them--exactly when they
were wanted by the Frenchmen, and not at all by the Englishmen. If an
Englishman wanted to work in the dark the moon would get up just behind
his back; and muskets, rifles, and cannon itself were trained on him,
as at a target; and his only chance was to fall flat on his stomach,
and shrink back like a toad in a bed of strawberries. And this made us
eager to advance, _per contra_.

And after being shot at for a length of time, almost every man one
can meet with desires to have his turn of shooting. Not for the sake
of revenge, or anything low at all in that way; but simply from that
love of fairness which lies hidden--too deep sometimes--somewhere or
other in all of us. We are anxious to do, one to another, as the others
desire to do to us; and till we come to a different condition, men must
shoot and be shot at.

All these peaceable distinctions, and regards of right and wrong, were
utterly useless and out of place in front of the walls of Badajos.
Right or wrong, the place must be taken; and this was the third time of
trying it. Fury, frenzy, rushing slaughter, and death (that lies still
when the heat is over), who can take and tell them truly; and if he
could, who would like to do it, or who would thank him to hear of it?

All the British army knew that the assault was to be made that night;
and the Frenchmen, as appeared by-and-by, knew right well what was
coming. For when the April sun went down in the brightest azure of all
blue skies, a hush of wonder and of waiting fell and lay upon all the
scene.

The English now were grown to be what they always grow to be with much
fighting--solid in their ways, and (according to the nature of things)
hot or cool with discipline, square in their manner of coming up, and
hard to be sent back again, certain sure of their strength to conquer,
and ready to charge the devil himself if he had the courage to wait
for them. They were under a man who knew how to lead them, and trusted
them to follow him; their blood was stirred without grand harangues or
melo-dramatic eloquence.

Every man in that solid army knew his own work, and meant to do it,
shoulder to shoulder, with rival hardihood and contagious scorn of
death.

The walls were higher and the approach much harder than at Ciudad
Rodrigo; the garrison stronger, and the captain a strenuous and
ingenious warrior. Therefore on the 6th of April, 1812, as the storming
parties watched the sunset fading along the Guadiana, and the sudden
fall of night, which scarcely gives a bird time to twitter on his
roost, they wanted no prophet to tell them how different their number
would be to-morrow. But still, as the proper and comforting law of
human nature ordains it, every man thought, or at any rate hoped,
that his messmate rather than himself was the one to leave a widow and
orphans by midnight.

Hilary Lorraine was now beginning to get used to fighting. At first, in
spite of all his talk about his sword and so on, blows and bloodshed
went against the grain of his kind and gay nature. He even thought, in
his fresh aversion at so many corpses, that war was a worse institution
than law. That error, however, he was beginning to abjure, through the
power of custom, aided by two sapient reflections. The first of these
was that without much slaughter there can be no real glory--an article
which the young man had now made up his mind to attain; and his other
wise recollection was that a Frenchman is the natural enemy of the
human race, and must, at all hazards and at any sacrifice of pious
lives, be extirpated. Moreover, he may have begun to share, by virtue
of his amiability, the views of his brother-officers, which of course
were duly professional. So that this young fellow, upon the whole, was
as full of fight as the best of them.

“No man died that night with more glory--yet many died, and there was
much glory.” So writes the Thucydides of this war; not about Hilary (as
good-luck willed it), but one of his senior officers. And that such a
sentence should ever have been written, is a thing to think about. With
all that dash of bright carnage fresh on the page of one who did his
duty so grandly both with sword and pen, peaceful writers (knowing more
of sandy commons and the farm-house fagot than of fascines and gabions,
of capons than of caponnières, and of shot grapes than of grapeshot)
wisely may stick to the gardening-knife, or in fiercest moments the
pruning-hook; and have nothing to say to the stark sword-blade.

Such duty becomes tenfold a pleasure, when the sword-blades not only
swing overhead or glitter at the unarmed breast; but, bolted into great
beams of wood at the most offensive angles, are flashing in the dark at
the stomach of a man, like a vast electric porcupine; while bursting
shells and powder-barrels, and blasts of grapeshot thick as hail
(drowning curses, shrieks, and wails), sweep the craggy rampart clear,
or leave only corpses roasting. Such, and worse by a thousandfold than
words may render or mind conceive, was the struggle of that awful
night at the central breach of Badajos; and here was Hilary Lorraine,
wounded, spent with fruitless efforts, dashed backward on spikes and
on bayonet-points, trampled under foot, and singed by the beard of a
smouldering comrade, yet glad even to lie still for a minute in the
breathless depths of exhaustion. “All up with me now” he was faintly
thinking--“perhaps my father will be satisfied. Good-bye, dear Alice,
and darling Mabel--and good night to this poor Hilary!”

And here his career--of fame or of shame--must have been over and
done with, if he had not already won good-liking among the men of his
company. For one of them with his next step ready to be planted on the
young officer’s breast, caught a view of his face, by the light of a
fire-ball, stopped short, and stooped over him.

“Blow me!” he exclaimed, while likely to be blown into a thousand
pieces; “if this bain’t the very young chap as saved me when I wur a
dropping upon the road. One good turn desarves another. Here, Bob, lend
a hand, my boy.”

“A hand! I can’t lend thee a hinch,” cried Bob; “they be squazing me up
like a squatting match.”

For while all the front men were thus lying dead, the men from the rear
would not stop from shoving, and bodily heaving the others before them,
as buffaloes rush when they lose their wits. They thrust, every man his
front man on the _chevaux de frise_, as if it were a joke, with that
bitter recklessness of life and readiness to take their own turn at
death which drive in one solid mass all true Britons, and their cousins
across the Atlantic, whenever the strong blood is churned within them.
And yet all this time they know what they are about.

And so did these two soldiers now. Neither time nor room had they to
lift poor Hilary out of the bed of shattered granite where he lay, with
wedged spikes sticking into him. And the two men who wanted to do it
were swept by the surge of living bodies upwards. But first they did
this--which saved his life--they threw two muskets across him. Loaded
or empty, they knew not; and of course it could not matter so long as
the climbing men (clambering hard to their death) found it readier for
their feet to tread on the bridge of these muskets (piered with blocks
of granite) than on the ribs of poor Hilary. So the struggle went on;
and there he lay, and began to peep under other people’s legs.

In this rather difficult position he failed to make out anything at all
to satisfy or to please him. Listeners hear little good of themselves,
and lurking gazers have about the same luck. Not that Hilary was to be
blamed for lying in this groove, inasmuch as he really had no chance or
even time to get out of it. A great hulking Yorkshireman (as he turned
out) had fallen obliquely upon Hilary’s bridge, and was difficult to
push aside, and quite impossible to lift up. He groaned a good deal,
but he was not dead--if he had not been a Yorkshireman the one fact
might have implied the other, but Yorkshiremen do groan after death:
however, he was not dead; and he keeps a mill on the Swale at this
minute.

Hilary, under these disadvantages, naturally tried to lessen them; and
though he was pretty safe where he lay--unless a shell came through the
Yorkshireman, and that would have needed a very strong charge--still he
became discontented. What with the pain of his wound or wounds (for he
knew to his cost that he had several of them), also the violent thirst
which followed, as well as the ache of his cramped position, and a
piece of spiked plank that worried him, he began to grow more and more
desirous of a little change of air.

“Now, my dear sir,” he said, with his usual courtesy, to the
Yorkshireman, “you do not mean to be in my way of course, but the fact
is that I can’t get out of this hole by reason of your incumbency. If
you could only, without inconvenience, give a little roll to the right
or left, you would be in quite as good a position yourself; or if you
have grown attached to this particular spot, I would try to replace you
afterwards.”

“Grah!” was the Yorkshireman’s only reply, a grunt of contempt and of
surly temper, which plainly meant “go to--Halifax.”

“This is uncivil of you,” answered Hilary; “it is getting so hot in
here that I shall be forced to retort, I fear, your discourtesy. I beg
your pardon a thousand times for making this sharp suggestion.”

With these words he pricked the great son of the north in a sensitive
part with a loose spike he had found by the light of a French
fire-ball; whereupon, with a curse, the fellow rolled over, like one of
his father’s millstones. Then Hilary crawled from his hole of refuge,
and stiffly resting on his hand and knees, surveyed the scene of
carnage.

The moon had now risen, and was shining gloomily under a stripe of
heavy cloud, over the bastion of the Trinidad, and into the channel of
the fatal breach, down which the sultry night wind sighed, laden with
groans, whenever curses and roar of artillery left room for them. The
breach itself was still unstormed, and looked more terrible than ever;
for the sword-blades fixed at the top were drenched and reeking to the
hilt with red, and three had corpses impaled upon them with scarlet
coats, gay in the moonlight. The rest, like the jaws of a gorging
crocodile, presented their bloody jaggedness, clogged here and there
with limbs, or heads, or other parts of soldiers. For the moment the
British had fallen back to the other side of the ravelin, and their
bugles were sounding for the retreat, while the triumphant French were
shooting, and shouting “Why enter you not all at Badajos, messieurs? It
is a good place for the English health. Why enter you not then Badajos?”

The sullen Britons answered not, but waited for orders to begin again;
recovering breath, and heart, and spirit, and gathering closer to one
another, to be sure that anybody was alive. For more than two thousand
men lay dead or dying in a space of one hundred yards square. Of the
survivors, every man felt that every other man had done his best--but
how about himself? Could he be sure that he never had flinched, nor
even hung back for a foot or so, nor pushed any other man on to the
spikes to save himself from going there? And was that cursed fortress
never to be taken by any skill or strength? was even Lord Wellington
wrong for once in setting them to do it? and was it to be said in every
British churchyard that Britons were not of the stuff of their fathers?

Sadly thus thinking, but after the manner of our nation not declaring
it, they were surprised by a burst of light, and a flight of glittering
streaks in it. And almost before these came down again, they saw that
the murderous _cheval de frise_ had a great gap in its centre. With a
true British cheer, stirring every British heart, out they rushed from
their shelter, and up the dark breach, and into Badajos.

One form, however, passed first into Badajos with undisputed
precedence, because it happened to be close by, when the sword-blades
rocketed away so. And not only that, but the act of that one had
enabled the others to follow--an act of valour inspired by luck, and
incited by bodily anguish.

It was thus. In the depth of that horrible pause and dejection of the
assailants, Hilary, getting relieved of his cramp, rose slowly and
stood in a sheltered spot, to recover himself before running away.
Everything seemed much against him, so far as he could discover; and no
one with a social turn was there to discuss the position.

Moreover, his wounds were beginning at once to sting him and to stiffen
him--a clever arrangement made by nature to teach men not to fight so
much. Nearly mad with pain--which is felt tenfold as much by quick-born
Normans as by slow-born Dutchmen--he saw a shell fall and roll very
kindly just between his dragging feet. It carried a very long fusee,
sticking out of it, at a handsome curve, and steadily spluttering with
fire, like the tail of a rat, when bad boys have ignited it.

“For better, for worse,” cried Hilary, talking to himself, even in his
agony, by the power of habit: “go into that hole, my friend, and do
your utmost there.” So much had he been knocked about, that the shell
(although a light one) was as much as he could stagger with; till he
dropped it into a shelfy hole, which he had long been looking at, under
the baulk of six-inch beam, into which the swords were rivetted. Then
down he fell--whether from exhaustion or presence of mind he could
never tell. Through the jags of the riven granite he heard the shell in
a smothered way sputtering (like a “devil” in a wasp’s nest), and then
with a thunderous roar and whiz, and a rush through the air of wood,
stone, and iron, the Frenchman’s deadly bar was burst.

For a moment Lorraine was so stunned and shaken that all he could
do was to stay on the ground; but the shock made one of his wounds
bleed afresh, and this perhaps revived him. At any rate he arose, and
feebly tottered in over the crest of the breach. The soldiers of the
Forty-third and Fifty-second Regiments gave him a cheer as they ran up
the steep, while on the part of the enemy not a weapon was levelled at
him. This, however, was not from any admiration of his valour--though
Frenchmen are often most chivalrous foes--but because these heroic
defenders at last were compelled to abandon the breaches. Being taken
in the rear by the Fifth Division, which had forced its way in at San
Vincente, knowing also that the castle had fallen, and seeing their
main defence lie shattered, they retired through the town and across
the bridge of the Guadiana.

And now it is an accursed truth that the men who had been such glorious
heroes, such good brethren to one another, strong, and grand, and
pitiful turned themselves within half an hour into something lower
than the beasts that perish. They proved that the worst of war is
not bloodshed, agony, and slow death; not even trampled freedom,
hatred, tyranny, and treachery. On that same night of heroism,
patriotism, and grand devotion, the nicest and most amiable vice
indulged by those very same heroes and devoted patriots, was swinish
and wallowing drunkenness. Rapine, arson, fury, murder, and outrages
unspeakable--even their own allies the Spaniards, glad to be quit of
the French, and to welcome warmly these deliverers, found bitter cause,
ere sunrise, to lament the British victory.

So it came to pass that young Lorraine, weak and weary, and vainly
seeking a surgeon to bind up his wounds, was compelled to fight once
more that night, before he could lay him down and rest.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

SHERRY SACK.


There would seem to be times, and scenes, and cases, in which human
nature falls helpless under sudden contamination, a mental outbreak of
black murrain, leprosy, or plague. A panic, a superstitious fervour, a
patriotic or social rush, a rebellion, a “revival”--all of these drive
men in masses, like swine down a precipice; but the sack of a large
town bloodily stormed is more maddening than all the rest put together.

Even good and steady soldiers caught the taint of villainy. They
confessed (when their headaches began to get better) how thoroughly
ashamed they were of themselves, for having been led into crime and
debauch by the scamps and the scum of the regiment. Still, at the
moment, they were as bad as, or even worse than consistent blackguards;
because they had more strength to rush astray.

Hilary knew mankind very little, and only from a gentleman’s point of
view; so that when he found, or lost, his way into the great square of
the town, he was quite amazed, in his weak state of mind, by the scene
he was breaking into. Here, by the light of a blazing bonfire, made
of costly furniture, he descried Major Clumps, of his regiment, more
neatly than pleasantly attached to the front door of a large mansion.
Across his breast and arms a couple of musket-straps were tightly
strained and pegged with bayonets into the timber so firmly that this
active officer could not even put foot to the ground. On his head was
a very conspicuous fool’s cap made of a copy of a proclamation, with
that word in large type above his brows; while a gigantic grenadier,
as tipsy as a fiddler, was zealously conducting the exhibition, by
swinging him slowly to and fro, to the tune of Margery Daw, even as
children swing each other on a farm-yard gate. The Major’s fury and the
violence of his language may be imagined, but must not be reported.
He had always been famous for powers of swearing; but in this case he
outdid himself, renewing (every moment) and redoubling the grins of all
spectators.

“You shall swing for this,” he screamed to his showman, just as Hilary
came up; “you shall swing for this, you,” etc., etc.

“You shwing first, old cock, at any rate,” the grenadier answered, with
a graceful sweep of the door and the pendent major.

“Oh Lorraine, Lorraine,” cried the latter, as the arc of his revolution
brought him face to face with Hilary; “for heaven’s sake, stop these
miscreants--ah, you can do nothing, I see--you are hit badly, my poor
boy.”

“My friend,” said Hilary to the grenadier, with that persuasive grace
which even the costermongers could not resist; “you are much too good
a soldier to make a laughing-stock of a brave British officer. I
cannot attempt to use force with you, for you are lucky enough to be
unwounded. Thank God for that, and release your prisoner--remember he
is not a Frenchman, but a brave and good English major.”

With these, and perhaps some more solid persuasions, he obtained the
relief of his senior officer, who for some moments could scarcely
speak, through excitement and exhaustion. But he made signs to Hilary
that he had something to say of great importance, and presently led him
into a narrow archway.

“There will be vile work done in that house,” he contrived at last to
tell Hilary; “the men were bad enough at Rodrigo, but they will be ten
times worse to-night. We are all so scattered about that no man has his
own officer near him, and he don’t care a button for any others. It was
for trying to restrain some scoundrels of the Fifth Division that I was
treated in that cursed way. Only think how we should feel, Lorraine, if
our own daughters were exposed so!”

“I haven’t got any daughters,” said Hilary, groaning with pain, perhaps
at the thought. “But I’d drive my sword through any man’s heart--that
is to say, if I had got any sword, or any arm to drive it with.” His
sword had been carried away by a grapeshot, and his right arm hung
loose in a cluster of blood; for he had nothing to bind it up with.

“You are a man, though a wounded man,” the Major replied, being
touched a little by Hilary’s strength of expression, inasmuch as he had
two nice pretty daughters, out of harm’s way in England: “it is most
unlucky that you are hit so hard.”

“That is quite my own opinion. However, I can hold out a good bit,
Major, for any work that requires no strength.”

“Do you know where to find any of our own fellows? They would be quite
ready to fight these blackguards; they are very sore about the way
those scoundrels stole into the town. We have always been the foremost
hitherto. Your legs are all right, I suppose, my boy.”

“All right, except that I am a trifle light-headed, and that always
flies to the legs--or at least we used to say so at Oxford.”

“Never mind what you said at Oxford. Only mind what you say in Badajos.
Collect every man you can find of ours. Tell him the Fifth are
murdering, robbing, cheating us again, as they did by sneaking in at a
corner, and insulting our best officers. Drunk, or sober, bring them
all. The more our men drink, the more sober they get.” It is likely
enough that officers of the Fifth Division would have thought the same
paradox of their own men.

“I cannot get along at my usual pace,” said Hilary; “but I will do my
best. But will not the mischief be done already?”

“I hope not. I asked Count Zamora, who seems to be the foremost man of
the town, which he thought most of--his wine, or his daughters. And he
answered of course as a gentleman must. His cellars contain about 300
butts; it will take some time for our men to drink that. And I spread a
report of their quality, and a rumour that all the ladies had escaped.
The night is hot. All the men will plunge into those vast cellars
first. And when they come up, any sober man will be a match for twenty.”

“What a pest that I am so knocked about!” cried Hilary, quite
forgetting his pain, in the chivalry of his nature. “Major, if only
for half-an-hour you can hold back the devilry, I will answer for the
safety of the household. But beware of fire.”

“You need not tell me about that, young man. I have seen this work
before you were born. I shall pick up a cloak and berette, and cork
my eyebrows, and be a Spaniard; major-domo, or whatever they call it.
I can jabber the tongue a bit; enough to go down with English ears. I
will be the steward of the cellars, and show them where the best wine
is; and they don’t know wine from brandy. And they will not know me, in
their cups, till I order them all into custody. Be quick; there is no
more time to lose.”

Hilary saw that Major Clumps was going to play a very dangerous part;
for many of the men had their muskets loaded, and recked not at whom
they fired them. However, there was nothing better for it; and so he
set out upon his own errand, when he ought to have been in hospital.

At first he was very unfortunate, meeting no men of his own regiment,
and few even of his own division; for most of them doubtless were
busy in the houses, laying hold of everything. But after turning many
corners, he luckily hit upon Corporal White of his own company, a very
steady man, who knew the importance of keeping sober, at a time of
noble plundering. This man was a martinet, in a humble way, but popular
in the ranks in spite of that; and when he heard of the outrage to a
major of his regiment, and his present danger; and knew that a rich
Don’s family was threatened by rascals of the Fifth Division--he vowed
that he would fetch a whole company to the rescue, ere a man could say
“Jack Robinson.”

“And now, sir,” he said, “you are not able to go much further, or do
any more. Round the corner there is a fountain of beautiful spring
water, worth all the wines and spirits these fellows are disgracing of
themselves with. Ah, I wish I had a glass of good English ale--but that
is neither here nor there. And for want of that a thirsty man may be
glad of a drop of this water, sir. And when you have drunk, let it play
on your arm. You have a nasty place, sir.”

With these words he ran off; and Hilary, following his directions,
enjoyed the greatest of all the mere bodily joys a man can be blessed
with--the slaking of furious thirst with cold delicious crystal water.
He drank, and drank, and sighed with rapture, and then began to laugh
at himself; and yet must have another drink. And then for the moment he
was so refreshed, that his wounds were not worth heeding.

“I will go and see what those villains are about,” he said to himself
and the pretty Saint Isidore (to whose pure statue bending over the
gracious water he lifted hat, as a gentleman ought to do); “I have
drunk of your water, and thank you, Saint; though I have no idea what
your name is. Our family was Catholic for five hundred years; and I
don’t know why we ever left it off.”

“Rub-a-dub, dubbledy, dulluby-dub”--what vowels and dissonants can set
forth the sound of a very drunken drummer, set upon his mettle to drum
on a drum, whose head he has been drinking from. Having no glasses, and
having no time to study the art of sloping a bottle between the teeth
with drainage, they truly had happened on a fine idea. They cracked the
bottles on the rim of the drum, and put down their mouths and drank
well of it. The drum was not so much the worse for this proceeding as
they were, because they allowed no time for the liquor to soak into
the greasy parchment: but as many as could stand round were there,
and plenty of others came after them. So that the drumhead never once
brimmed over, though so many dozens were cracked on it. No wonder, when
such work was toward, that many a musket-shot rang along the firelit
streets of Badajos, and many a brave man who had baffled the fury of
the enemy fell dead in the midst of his frolicking.

Hilary felt that he had been shot enough, and to spare, already; and
so, while slowly and painfully plodding his way back to the great
square of the town, from corner to corner he worked a traverse, in
shelter (wherever the shelter offered) of porch, or pier, or any other
shadowy folds of the ancient streets. And thus, without any more
damage, he returned to the house of the Count of Zamora.

Here he found the main door closely fastened--by the fellows inside, no
doubt, to keep their villainous work to themselves--and as the great
bonfire was burning low, he thought that he might have mistaken the
house, until with his left hand he felt the holes where the bayonets
had pegged up the good major. And while he did this, a great roar from
the cellars quickened his eagerness to get in.

“This is a nice thing,” he said to himself; “the major inside, and no
getting at him! Such a choleric man in the power of those scamps! And
they cannot take him for a Spaniard long, for he is sure to use strong
English. And not only Clumps, but the whole of the household at their
will and pleasure!”

But even while calling in question his superior officer’s self-control,
he did not show himself possessed of very wonderful coolness. For
hearing a rush as of many feet upward from the lower quarters, Hilary
made the best of his way to the smouldering bonfire, and seized with
his left hand--for his right was useless--a chunk of some fine wood too
hard to burn (perhaps of the African black-wood, or the bread-fruit
tree, or brown cassia), and came back with it in a mighty fury, and
tried to beat the door in. But the door was of ancient chestnut-wood,
and at his best he could not have hurt it. So now, in his weakness, he
knocked and knocked; and nobody even heard him.

“This is enough to wear any one out,” he said to himself, in his poor
condition--for the lower the state of a man is, the more he relapses
upon his nature, and Hilary’s nature was to talk to himself--“if I
cannot get in, like this, I must do something or other, and get in
somehow.”

This would have cost him little trouble in his usual strength and
activity. For the tipsy rascals had left wide open a window within
easy reach from the street to a man sound of limb and vigorous. But
Lorraine, in his present condition, had no small pain and difficulty in
making his way through the opening. This being done at last, he found
himself in a dark passage floored with polished timber, upon which he
slipped and fell.

“What an evil omen!” he cried, lightly--little imagining how true his
words would prove--“to fall upon entering a strange house, even though
it be by the window. However, I am shaken more than hurt. Goodness
knows I can’t afford to bleed again.”

Fastening again his loosened bandage--for he had bound his arm now
with a handkerchief--he listened and heard a great noise moving
somewhere in the distance. Nothing can be less satisfactory than to
hear a great noise, and hearken very steadfastly for its meaning, yet
not learn what it can be about, or even where it comes from. Hilary
listened, and the noise seemed now to come from one way, and then from
another. For the old house was peopled with indolent echoes, lazily
answering one another, from corner to corner of passages, like the
clapping of hands at a banquet. Wherefore Lorraine, being puzzled, went
onwards, as behoves a young Englishman. And herein instinct served him
well--at least as the luck of the moment seemed--for it led him into
the main hall, whence niches and arches seemed leading away anywhere
and everywhere. Hilary here stopped short, and wondered. It was so
different from an English house; and he could not tell whether he liked
it or not. There was some light of wax, and some of oil, and some of
spluttering torches stuck into anything that would hold them, throwing
a fugitive gleam on the floor, where the polish of the marble answered
it. In other places there were breadths of shadow, wavering, jumping,
and flickering.

“This is a queer sort of place,” said Hilary; “what is the proper thing
for me to do?”

The proper thing for him to do became all at once quite manifest; for
a young girl suddenly sprang into the hall, like a hunted butterfly
darting.

“They cannot catch me,” she exclaimed in Spanish--“they are too slow,
the intoxicated men. I may always laugh at them. Here I will let them
have another chase.”

Flitting in and out the shadows, as softly as if she were one of them,
she stopped by the side of Hilary Lorraine, in a dark place, without
seeing him. And he, without footfall, leaned back in a niche, and
trembled at being so close to her. For a gleam of faint light glanced
upon her, and suggested strange wild beauty. For the moment, Hilary
could only see glittering abundance of loosened hair, a flash of dark
eyes, and raiment quivering from the quick turn of the form inside. And
then he heard short breath, sudden sight, and the soothing sound of a
figure settling from a great rush into quietude.

“This beats almost everything I ever knew,” said he to himself, quite
silently. “I can’t help her. And she seems to want no help, so far as I
can judge. I wonder who she is, and what she would be like by daylight?”

Before he could make up his mind what to do, in a matter beyond
experience, a great shout arose in some upstair places, and a shriek
or two, and a noise of trampling. “Holy Virgin! they have caught
Camilla!” cried the young lady at Hilary’s side. “She ought to have a
little more of wisdom. Must I peril myself to protect her?” Without
further halt to consider that question--swifter than the slow old lamps
cast shadow, she rushed betwixt pillars, and up a stone stairway. And
young Lorraine, with more pain than prudence, followed as fast as he
could get along.

At the top of the stairs was a broad stone gallery, leading to the
right and left, and lit as badly as a village street. But Hilary was
not long in doubt, for he heard on the right hand a clashing noise,
and soon descried broken shadows flitting, and felt that roguery was
going on. So he made at his best pace towards it. And here he had not
far to seek; for in a large room, hung with pictures, and likely to be
too full of light, the fate of the house was being settled. In spite
of all drunken stupidity, and the time spent in the wine-cellars, the
plunderers had found out the inmates, and meant to make prizes of war
of them. Small wonder that British intervention was not considered
a Godsend, when our allies were treated so. But British soldiers,
however brutal in the times gone by (especially after furious carnage
had stirred the worst elements in a man, and ardent liquor fired
them), still had one redeeming point, the national love of fair play
and sport. They had stolen this Spanish gentleman’s wines, burned his
furniture in the square, and done their best to set his house on fire,
as long as they thought that he skulked away. But now that they touched
his dearer honour, and he came like a man to encounter them, something
moved their tipsy hearts to know what he was made of.

Miguel de Montalvan, the Count of Zamora, was made of good stuff,
as he ought to be, according to his lineage. He was fighting for
his children’s honour, and he knew how to use a rapier. Two wounded
roysterers on the floor showed that, though his hair was white, his
arm was not benumbed with age. And now, with his slender Toledo blade,
he was holding his own against the bayonet of his third antagonist,
a man of twice his strength and weight--the very same tall grenadier
who had pegged Major Clumps to the door of the house, and swung him so
despitefully.

At the further end of the room two young and beautiful ladies stood or
knelt, in horrible dread and anguish. It was clear at a glance that
they were sisters, although they behaved very differently. For one
was kneeling in a helpless manner, with streaming eyes, and strained
hands clasping the feet of a marble crucifix. She had not the courage
to look at the conflict, but started convulsively from her prayers at
clash of steel or stamp of foot. The other stood firmly, with her hair
thrown back, one hand laid on her sister’s head and the other grasping
a weapon, her lips set hard and her pale cheeks rigid, while her black
eyes never left the face of the man who was striking at her father. At
the first glance Hilary knew her to be the brave girl who had escaped
to the hall, and returned to share her sister’s fate.

Things cannot be always done chivalrously, or in true heroic fashion.
From among the legs of the reeling Britons (who, with pipes and bottles
and shouts of applause, were watching the central combat) Hilary
snatched up with his left hand a good-sized wine-bag, roughly rent
at the neck, but still containing a part of its precious charge. The
rogues had discovered it in the cellar, and guessed that its contents
were good. And now, as the owner of the house, hard pressed and unable
to reach his long-armed foe, was forced to give way, with the point of
the bayonet almost entering his breast, and bearing him back on his
daughters, Lorraine, with a sweep of his left arm, brought the juicy
bag down on the back of the head of the noble grenadier. At the blow,
the rent opened and discharged a gallon of fine old crusted port and
beeswing down the warrior’s locks, and into his eyes, and the nape of
his neck. Blinded with wine, and mad with passion, he rushed at his
new assailant; but the Count, as he turned, passed his rapier neatly
between the tendons of his right arm. Down fell his musket, and Hilary
seized it, and pointed it at the owner’s breast. And now the grenadier
remembered what he had quite forgotten throughout his encounter with
the Spaniard--his musket was loaded, and on the full cock! So he
dropped (like a grebe or goosander diving), having seen smart practice
with skirmishers.

However, it must have gone ill with Hilary, as well as the Count and
his household, if succour had not come speedily. For the wassailers,
who had shown wondrous temper--Mars being lulled on the lap of
Bacchus--suddenly awoke, with equal reason, to wild fury. With much
reviling, and condemnation of themselves and one another, they formed
front (having discipline even in their cups), and bore down the long
room upon the enemy.

Drunk as they were, this charge possessed so much of their accustomed
weight and power, that the Don looked on all as lost, and could only
stand in front of his daughters. But Hilary, with much presence of
mind, faced them, as if he were in command, and cried “Halt!” as their
officer.

With one accord they halted, and some of them tumbled down in doing
it; and before they could form for another charge, or mutiny against
orders, Corporal White, with half a company of his famous regiment,
took them in the rear, and smote right and left; and they fled with
staggered consciences.



CHAPTER XL.

BENEATH BRIGHT EYES.


As soon as the Count and his daughters knew how much they owed to
Hilary, and saw the weak and wounded plight in which he had laboured
for their good, without any loss of time they proved that Spaniards
are not an ungrateful race. The Count took the young man in his arms,
as well as he could without hurting him, and kissed him upon either
cheek; and though the young ladies could not exactly follow their
father’s example, they made it clear that it was not want of emotion
which deterred them. They kissed the left hand of the wounded youth,
and bent over it, and looked at him with eyes so charming and so full
of exquisite admiration, that Major Clumps, who was lying on the floor
corded--and far worse, actually gagged--longed to rap out a great oath;
but failed in his struggle to break the commandment.

“Oh, he is so hurt, my father!” cried the braver, and if possible, the
lovelier of the two fair maidens; “you do not heed such things, because
you are so free yourself to wound. But the cavalier must be taken to
bed. See, he is not capable now of standing!”

For Hilary, now that all danger was past, grew faint; while he scorned
himself for doing so in the presence of the ladies.

“It is to death; it is to death!” exclaimed the timid damsel. “What
shall we do? Oh holy saints! To save us and to have slain himself!”

“Be tranquil, Camilla,” said the Spanish gentleman, kindly, and without
contempt. “You have not shown the spirit of our house; but we cannot
help our natures. Claudia, you are as brave as a man; seek for the good
woman Teresina; she has not run away like the rest; she must be hiding
somewhere. Camilla, release that other brave senhor. Gentlemen all,
pray allow us to pass.”

Corporal White drew his men aside, while the Count, concealing his
own slight wounds, led and supported young Lorraine through a short
passage, and into a bedroom, dark, and cool, and comfortable. Here he
laid him to rest on a couch, and brought cold water, and sponged his
face. And presently old Teresina came, and moaned, and invoked the
Virgin a little, and then fell to and pulled all his clothes off, as if
he were her daughter’s baby. And Hilary laughed at her way of working,
and soothing him like some little pet; so that he almost enjoyed the
pain of the clotted places coming off.

For after all he had not received--like Brigadier Walker that hot
evening--twenty-seven wounds of divers sorts; but only five, and two
bad bruises, enough to divert the attention. If a man has only one
place of his body to think about, and to be full of, he is scarcely
better off than a gourmand, or a guest at a Lord Mayor’s dinner.
But if he finds himself peppered all over, his attention is not
over-concentrated, and he finds a new pleasure in backing one hole of
his body against another. In the time of the plague this thing was so;
and so it must be in the times of war.

From the crown and climax of human misery, Lorraine (by the grace of
the Lord) was spared. No doctor was allowed to come near him. That
fatal step in the strongest man’s life (the step tempting up to the
doctor’s bell), happily in his case was not trodden; for the British
surgeons were doing their utmost at amputating dead men’s legs; while
Senhor Gines de Passamonte (the only Spanish graduate of medicine in
good circles) had been roasted at one of the bonfires, to enable him to
speak English. This was a well-meant operation, and proved by no means
a fatal measure; the jack, however, revolved so well, that he went on
no medical rounds for three months.

“Senhor, we can no doctor get,” said the anxious Count to Hilary,
having made up his mind to plunge into English, of which he had tried
some private practice. “Senhor, what is now to do? I can no more speak
to please.”

“You can speak to please most nobly; I wish that I could speak the
grand Hispanic tongue at all, sir.”

“Senhor, you shall. So brave a gentleman never will find bad to teach.
The fine Angles way of speaking is to me very strong and good; in one
year, two year, three year, sir. Alas! I behold you laughing.”

“Count, it was but a twinge of pain. You possess a great knowledge of
my native tongue. But I fear that after such a night as this you will
care to cultivate it no more.”

“From what cause? I have intelligence of you. But the thing has itself
otherwise. The Angles are all very good. They incend my goods, and
they intoxicate my wines. They are--what you call--well to come. They
make battle with me for the Donnas, but fairly, very fairly; and with
your valiant assistance I victor them. I have no complaint. Now I make
adventure to say that you can speak the French tongue. I can do the
very same affair, and so can my daughters two. But in this house it
must not be. We will speak the Angles until you have intelligence of
the Spanish. With your good indulgence, Senhor. Does that recommend
itself to you?”

“Excellently, Count,” said Hilary. And then, in spite of pain, he
added, with his usual courtesy, “I have often longed to learn your
magnificent language. This opportunity is delightful.”

“I have, at this time, too prolonged,” Don Miguel answered, with such
a bow as only a Spaniard can make, and a Spaniard only when highly
pleased; “sleep, sir, now. The good Teresina will sit always on your
head.”

The good Teresina could not speak a word of any tongue but her own,
and in that she could do without any answers, if only she might make
to herself as many as she pleased of them. She saw that Hilary had no
bones broken, nor even a bullet in his body--so far as she could yet
make out--but was sadly hacked about, and worn, and weak with drains of
bleeding. Therefore what he wanted now was nourishment, cold swathes,
and sleep; and all of these he obtained abundantly under the care of
that good nurse.

Meanwhile, poor Major Clumps (to whom the Count and his daughters owed
quite as much as they did to young Lorraine) did not by any means
become the object of overpowering gratitude. He was neither wounded,
nor picturesque; and his services, great as they were, had not been
rendered in a striking manner. So that although he did his best--as
most old officers are inclined to do--to get his deserts attended to,
his reward (like theirs) was the unselfish pleasure of seeing inferior
merit preferred.

“Of course,” he cried, after a preface too powerful to have justice
done to it--“of course this is what one must always expect. I get
bruised, and battered, and laughed at, and swung on a door, and gagged
and corded, the moment I use a good English word; and then the girls
for whose sake I did it, and turned myself into a filthy butler,
because I am not a smart young coxcomb, and my wounds are black instead
of being red, begad, sir, they treat me as if I had been all my life
their father’s butler!”

The loss of his laurels was all the more bitter to the brave and
choleric Major, not only because it was always happening--which
multiplied it into itself at every single recurrence--but also because
he had been rapidly, even for his time of life, subdued by the tender
and timorous glances of the sweet young Donna Camilla. The greater the
fright this girl was in, the better it suited her appearance; and when
she expected to be immolated (as the least of impending horrors), her
face was as that of an angel. The Major, although trussed tight with
whipcord, and full of an old stocking in his mouth, had enjoyed the
privilege of gazing at her while she clasped her crucifix. And that
picture would abide upon his retentive, stubborn, and honest brain as
long as the brain itself abode. He loved an Angelical girl, because his
late wife had been slightly Demoniac.

Now, by the time that our British soldiers had finished their sack of
Badajos--which took them three days, though they did their best--and
were beginning to be all laid up (in spite of their iron trim and
training) by their own excesses, Lorraine was able to turn in his
bed, and to pay a tender heed to things. He began to want some sort
of change from the never-wearying, but sometimes wearisome, tendence
of old Teresina, whose rugged face and pointed cap would dwell in his
dreams for ever. Of course he was most grateful to her, and never
would forget her kindness. Still he longed for a sight of somebody
else; ugly or beautiful he cared not--only let it be some other face.
And his wish was granted, as generally happened, and sometimes only too
graciously.

Our very noble public schools and ancient universities know, and always
have known, how to educate young people. From long experience, they
are well aware that all languages are full of mischief; and a man who
desires that element finds it almost wherever he pleases. So that our
authorities did well to restrict themselves to the grand old form, and
the distance of two thousand years. Hence, as a matter of course, poor
Hilary had not learned, either at school or college, even one irregular
verb of the fine pervasive and persuasive language of all languages. To
put it more simply, he could not speak French. In print he could follow
it, off and on (as most men, with Latin to lead them, can); but from
live lips it was gibberish to him, as even at this day it is to nine
and a half out of ten good Britons.

And now, when suddenly a soft rich voice came over his shoulder (just
turned once more in great disgust from the dreary door) and asked,
in very good French indeed, “How do you carry yourself, sir?” Hilary
was at a pinch to answer, “Most well, a thousand thanks, most well.”
And after this Anglo-Gallic triumph, he rolled on his bandages very
politely (in spite of all orders to the contrary) to see who it was,
and to look at her.

Even in the gloom of the shaded windows, and of his own enfeebled
sight, he could not help receiving an impression of wondrous beauty--a
beauty such as it is not good for any young man to gaze upon, unless he
is of a purely steadfast heart, and of iron self-control. And Hilary
was not of either of these, as himself and his best friends knew too
well.

The Count of Zamora’s younger daughter, Claudia de Montalvan, was of
Andalusian birth, and more than Andalusian beauty. Form, and bloom,
and brilliant change, and harmony, and contrast, with the charm of
soft expression, and the mysterious power of large black eyes--to all
of these, in perfection, add the subtle grace of high lineage, and the
warmth of southern nature, and it must be confessed that the fairest
English maid, though present in all her beauty, would find a very
dangerous rival.

“I quite forgot,” said the senhorita, approaching the bed with most
graceful movement, and fixing her radiant eyes on poor Hilary--“there
is one thing, sir, that I quite forgot. My good father will not allow
French to be spoken by any child of his. He is so patriotic! What a
pity, since you speak French so well!”

Hilary took some time to make out this. Then, knowing how barbarous his
accent was, he weakly endeavoured with his languid eyes to pierce the
depth of the Spanish maiden’s, and learn whether she were laughing at
him. Neither then, nor afterwards, when his sight was as keen again as
ever, did he succeed in penetrating the dark profundity of those bright
eyes.

“How shall we manage it?” the young lady continued, dropping her long
curved lashes, and slightly flushing under his steadfast gaze. “You
cannot speak the Spanish, I fear, not even so well as the droll old
senhor, who makes us laugh so much downstairs. On the contrary, I
cannot speak the English. But, in spite of that, we must hold converse.
Otherwise, how shall we ever thank you, and nurse you, and recover you?
One thing must be begun at once--can I, without pain, lift your hand?”

Great part of this speech was dark to Hilary; but he understood the
question about his hand, and kept the disabled one out of sight, and
nodded, and said, “Oui, senhora.” Whereupon, to his great surprise,
beautiful Claudia fell on her knees by the side of the couch, caught
his left hand in both of hers, and pressed it in the most rapturous
manner, ever so many times, to her sweet cool lips. And a large tear,
such as large eyes should shed, gently trickled on each fair cheek, but
was cleverly kept from dripping on his hand, because he might not have
liked it. And then, with her face not far from his, she looked at him
with a long soft gaze, and her hair (with the gloss and the colour of
a filbert over the Guadiana) fell from her snowy forehead forward; and
Hilary was done for.



CHAPTER XLI.

DONNAS PRAY AND PRACTISE.


A sad and sorry task it is to follow the lapse of a fine young fellow,
from the straight line of truth and honour, into the crooked ways
of shame. Hilary loved Mabel still, with all his better heart and
soul; her pure and kind and playful glance, and the music of her true
voice, never wholly departed from him. In the hot infatuation to which
(like many wiser and older men) he could not help but yield himself,
from time to time a sudden pang of remorse and of good love seized
him. Keenly alive to manly honour, and to the goodness of womankind,
he found himself playing false to both, and he hated himself when
he thought of it. But the worst of him was that he did not think
habitually and steadfastly; he talked to himself, and he thought of
himself, but he very seldom examined himself. He felt that he was a
very good fellow, in the main, and meant no harm; and if he set up for
a solid character, who would ever believe him? The world had always
insisted upon it that he was only a trifler; and the world’s opinion
is very apt to create what it anticipates. He offered excuses enough
to himself, as soon as he saw what a wrong he was doing. But the only
excuse a good man can accept is the bitterness of his punishment.

The British army, having exhausted havock to the lees and dregs,
marched upon its glorious way, in quest of other towns of our allies
no less combustible. But many wounded champions were left behind in
Badajos, quartered on the grateful townsmen, to recover (if they could)
and rejoin as soon as possible. Lieutenant Lorraine was one of these,
from the necessity of his case; and Major Clumps managed to be another,
from his own necessities. But heavily wounded as he was (by one of Don
Miguel’s daughters), the fighting Major would never have got himself
certified on the sick-list, unless he had known, from the course of the
war, that no battle now was imminent.

Regardless of his Horace, and too regardful of cruel Glycera, more than
too much pined Major Clumps, and would have chanted mournful ditties in
a minor key, if nature had only gifted him with any other note but D.
Because his junior shone beyond him, with breach of loyal discipline.
He might console himself, however, with the solace offered by the
sprightly bard--the endless chain of love revolving with links on the
wrong cog for ever. Major Clumps was in love with Camilla; the saintly
Camilla declined from him with a tender slope towards Hilary; Hilary
went downhill too fast with violent pangs towards Claudia; and Claudia
rose at the back of the wheel, with her eyes on the distant mountains.

Of all Lorraine’s pure bodily wounds, the worst (though not the most
painful, as yet) was a gash in his left side, made by pike, or sword,
or bayonet, or something of a nasty poignancy. Hilary could give no
account of it, when he took it, or where, or how: he regretted deeply
to have it there; but beyond that he knew nothing. It seemed to have
been suggested cleverly, instead of coarsely slashing down; so far as
a woman who had not spent her youth in dissecting-rooms could judge.
But Major Clumps (too old a warrior to lose his head to anything less
perturbing than a cannon-ball) strenuously refused to believe in
Hilary’s ignorance about it. He had a bad opinion of young men, and
believed that Hilary had fallen into some scrape of which he was now
ashamed. At the same time, he took care to spread it abroad (for the
honour of the regiment) that their young lieutenant had been the first
to leap on the sword-blades of the breach, even as afterwards he was
first to totter through the gap he made. But now it seemed likely that
either claim would drop into abeyance, until raked up as a question of
history.

For the wound in Hilary’s side began to show very ugly tokens. It had
seemed to be going on very nicely for about a fortnight; and Teresina
praised and thanked the saints, and promised them ten days’ wages, in
the form of candles. But before her vow was due, or her money getting
ready, the saints (whether making too sure of their candles, or
having no faith in her promises) suddenly struck work, and left this
good woman, rags, bottles, and bones, in a miserable way. For violent
inflammation began to kindle beneath the bandages, and smiles were
succeeded by sighs and moaning, and happy sleep by weary tossings and
light-headed wakefulness.

By way of encouraging the patient, Major Clumps came in one day with a
pair of convalescent Britons, and a sheet of paper, and pressed upon
him the urgent necessity for making his will; to leave the world with
comfort and composure. Hilary smiled, through all his pain, at the
thought of his having in the world anything but itself to leave; and
then he contrived to say, pretty clearly--

“Major, I don’t mean to leave the world. And if I must, I have nothing
but my blessing to leave behind me.”

“Then you do more harm than good by going; and none need wish to hurry
you. Sergeant Williams, you may go, and so may Private Bodkin. You will
get no beer in this house, I know; and you have both had wine enough
already. Be off! what are you spying for?”

The two poor soldiers, who had looked forward to getting a trifle for
their marks, glanced at one another sadly, and knowing what the Major
was, made off. For ever since the tricks played with him by drunken
fellows who knew him not, Major Clumps had been dreadful towards every
sober man of his own regiment. The course of justice never does run
smooth.

This was a thing such as Hilary would have rejoiced to behold, and
enter into, if he had been free from pain. But gnawing, wearing,
worrying pain sadly dulls the sense of humour and power of observation.
Yet even pain, and the fear of the grave, with nothing to leave behind
him, could not rob him of all perception of a sudden brightness shed
softly over all around. Two lovely maidens were come to pray for him,
and to scatter his enemies.

Claudia de Montalvan led her gentle and beautiful sister Camilla, to
thank, once for all, and perhaps to say farewell to, their preserver.
Camilla, with her sad heart beating tremulously, yet controlled by
maiden dignity and shame, followed shyly, fearing deeply that her eyes
would tell their tale. And thus, even through the more brilliant beauty
of her braver sister, the depth of love and pity made her, for the
time, more beautiful. Between the two sisters there was but little,
even for the most careful modeller to perceive, of difference. Each
had the purely moulded forehead, and the perfect arch of eyebrow, and
the large expressive eyes, well set and clearly cut and shaded; also
the other features shaped to the best of all nature’s experience. This
made it very nice to notice how distinct their faces were by inner
difference of mind and will.

“Senhor,” said Claudia to Major Clumps, who could manage to make out
Spanish; “we have heard that he is very ill. We are come to do the
best for him. Camilla will pray--it is so good--and I will do anything
that may need. But it is not right to detain you longer. The gentlemen
cannot pray at all, till they are in the holy orders.”

The Major bowed, and grimly smiled at this polite dismissal; and then
with a lingering glance at Camilla, stumped away in silence to a proper
swearing distance.

His glance might have lingered till dark night fell, before that young
Donna returned it. All her power of thought or feeling, fearing,
hoping, or despairing, was gathered into one sad gaze at her guest, her
saviour, and her love. Carefully as she had watched him through the
time when there was no danger, she had not been allowed by the ancient
nurse to come near him for the last three days. And even now she had
been content to obey Teresina’s orders, and to trust in the saints,
with her calm sweet faith--the saints who had sent this youth to save
her--but for her stronger sister’s will.

“Disturb him not, sister, but let him rest,” said Claudia, whose fair
bosom never was a prey to gratitude; “see you not how well he lies? If
we should happen to cause disturbance, he might roll over, and break
into bleeding; and then you could pray for his soul alone.”

“Sister mine, you do not speak well,” Camilla answered, gently; “he has
shed so much blood for us, that he is not likely to bleed more. It is
now the want of the blood, and the fever, that will make us mourn for
ever. Cavalier, brave cavalier, can you not look up, and muse?”

Hilary, being thus invoked, though he had no idea what was meant--the
language being pure Castilian--certainly did look up, and try with very
bad success to muse. His eyes met kind Camilla’s first (because she was
leaning over him), but in spite of close resemblance, found not what
they wanted in them, and wandered on, and met the eyes of Claudia, and
rested there.

Camilla, with the speed of love outwinging all the wings of thought,
felt, like a stab, this absence from her and this presence elsewhere.
And having plenty of inborn pride, as behoved her and became her well,
she turned away to go, and leave her sister (who could not pray at all)
to pray for what seemed to be more her own. And her heart was bitter,
as she turned away.

Claudia (who cared not one half-real for Hilary, or what became of
him; and who never prayed for herself, or told her beads, or did any
religious thing) was also ready to go, with a mind relieved of a
noxious duty; when her softer, and therefore nobler, sister came back,
with her small pride conquered.

“It is not a time to dispute,” she said, “nor even to give one’s self
to pray, when violent pain is tearing one. My sister, I have prayed
for days, and twice as much by night: and yet everything grows much
worse, alas! Last night I dreamed a dream of great strangeness. It
may have come from my birthday saint. The good Teresina is having her
dinner; and she always occupies one large hour in that consummation. Do
a thing of courage, sister; you always are so rich in courage.”

“What do you mean?” asked Claudia, smiling; “you seem to have all the
courage now.”

“Alas! I have no courage, Claudia. You are laughing at me. But if you
would only raise the bandage--I dare not touch the poor cavalier--where
the sad inflammation is, that makes him look at you so--it is possible
that I could, or perhaps that you could--”

“Could what?” asked Claudia, who was not of a long-enduring temper;
“I have no fear to touch him; and he seems to be all bandages. There
now, is that what you require?” Camilla shuddered as her sister firmly
(as if she were unswathing a mummy of four thousand years) untied
Teresina’s knots, and laid bare the angry wound, which was eating
Hilary’s life away. Then a livid virulent gash appeared, banked with
proud flesh upon either side, and Claudia could not look at it.

But Camilla gathered the courage often latent in true gentleness,
and heeded only in her heart how the poor young fellow fell away and
fainted from the bold exposure, and falling back, thus made his wound
open and gape wider.

“I see it! I see it! I shall save him yet,” she cried, in feminine
ecstasy; and while Claudia thought her mad, she snatched from the chain
at her zone a little steel implement, often carried by Spanish girls
for beauty’s sake. With dainty skimmings, and the lightest touch, she
contrived to get this well inside all the mere outward mischief, and
drew out a splinter of rusty iron, and held it up to the light in
triumph; and then she went down on her knees and sobbed, but still held
fast her trophy.

“What is it? Let me see!” cried Claudia, being accustomed to take the
lead: “Saint plague, what is a mere shred like that, to cause so much
emotion? It may be something the old nurse put there, and so you have
done more harm than good.”

“Do nurses put pieces of jagged iron into a wound to heal it? It is
part of a cruel Frenchman’s sword. Behold the fangs of it, and the
venomous rust! What agony to the poor cavalier! Now sponge his forehead
with the vinegar; for you are the best and most welcome nurse. And when
he revives show him this, and his courage will soon be renewed to him.
I can stay here no longer, I feel so faint. I will go to my saint, and
thank her.”

When old Teresina returned, and found her patient looking up at
Claudia, with his wound laid bare, she began to scold and wring her
hands, and order her visitor out of the room; but the proud young lady
would have none of that.

“A pretty nurse you are,” she cried, “to leave this in your patient’s
wound! Is this your healing instrument, pray? What will the Count of
Zamora say, when I show him this specimen of your skill? How long will
he keep you in this house? Oh blind, demented, gorging, wallowing, and
most despicable nurse!”

That last word she pronounced with such a bitterness of irony, that
poor Teresina’s portly form and well-fed cheeks shook violently. “For
the love of all the saints, sweet Donna, do not let my lord know
this. The marvellous power of your bright eyes has cast their light
on everything. That poor old I, with these poor members, might have
gazed and gazed for ever; when lo! the most beautiful and high-born
lady under heaven appears, and saves the life of the handsome lord that
loves her.”

“We will speak no more upon this matter,” Claudia answered,
magnanimously. And the nurse thenceforth was ready to vow, and Hilary
only too glad to believe, that the sorely wounded soldier owed his life
to a beautiful maiden. And so he did; but not to Claudia.



CHAPTER XLII.

AN UNWELCOME ESCORT.


Along the northern brow and bend of the Sussex hills, the winter
lingers, and the spring wakes slowly. The children of the southern
slope, towards Worthing and West Tarring, have made their cowslip
balls, and pranked their hats and hair with blue-bells, before their
little northern cousins have begun to nurse and talk to, and then pull
to pieces, their cuckoo-pint, and potentilla, dead-nettle, and meadow
crowfoot.

The daffodil that comes and “takes the winds of March with beauty,”
here reserves that charming capture for the early breeze of May; for
still the “black-thorn winter” buffets the folds of chilly April’s
cloak, and the hail-fringed mantle of wan sunlight. This is the time
when a man may say, “Hurrah! Here is summer come at last, I verily do
believe. For goodness’ sake, wife, give us air, and take those hot
things from the children’s necks. If you want me, I shall be in the
bower, having a jolly pipe at last.” And then by the time all the
windows are open, and the little ones are proud to show their necks and
the scratches of their pins, in rushes papa, with his coat buttoned
over, and his pipe put out by hail.

None the less for all that, the people who like to see things
moving--though it be but slowly--have opportunity now of watching small
delights that do them good. How trees, and shrubs, and plants, and even
earth and stone, begin to feel the difference coming over them. How
little points, all black one day, and as hard as the tip of a rook’s
bill the next time of looking at them, show a little veiny shining.
And then as the people come home from church, and are in their most
observant humour, after long confinement, a little child finds a real
leaf (most likely of an elder-tree), and many young faces crowd around
it; while the old men, having seen too many springs, plod on and doubt
this for a bad one.

Much of this had been done, with slow advance from Sunday to Sunday,
and the hedges began to be feathered with green, and the meadows to
tuft where the good stuff lay, and the corn in the gloss of the sun to
glisten; when everybody came out of church one Sunday before Pentecost.
The church was that which belonged to the Rev. Struan Hales (in his
own opinion), and so did the congregation, and so did everything,
except the sermon. And now the Rector remained in the vestry, with his
favourite daughter Cecil, to help him off with his “academicals,” and
to put away his comb.

“I hope your mother will be quick, my dear,” said the Parson, stooping
his broad shoulders, as his daughter tugged at him; “she cannot walk as
she used, you know; and for the last half-hour I have been shuddering
and trembling about our first fore-quarter.”

“I saw that you were uncomfortable, papa, just as you were giving out
your text. You seemed to smell something burning, didn’t you?”

“Exactly!” said the Rector, gazing with surprise at his clever and
queer Cecil. “Now how could you tell? I am sure I hope none of the
congregation were up to it. But 9_d._ a pound is no joke for the father
of three hungry daughters.”

“And with a good appetite of his own, papa. Well, I’ll tell you how I
knew it. You have a peculiar way of lifting your nose when the meat
is too near the fire, as it always is with our new cook; and then you
looked out of that round-arched window, as if you expected to see some
smoke.”

“Lift my nose, indeed!” answered the Rector; “I shall lift something
else; I shall lift your lips, if you laugh at your poor old father so.
And I never shaved this morning, because of Sir Remnant’s dinner-party
to-morrow. There, what do you think of that, Miss Impudence?”

“Oh papa, what a shameful beard! You preached about the stubble being
all burned up; perhaps because you were thinking of our lamb. But I do
declare you have got as much left as Farmer Gate’s very largest field.
But talking about Sir Remnant, did you see who skulked into church in
the middle of the anthem, and sate behind the gallery pillar, in one of
the labourers’ free seats?”

“No, I did not. You ought to be ashamed of looking about in church so,
Cecil. Nothing escapes you, except the practical application of my
doctrine.”

“Well, papa, now, you must have been stupid, or had your whole mind
upon our new cook, if you didn’t see Captain Chapman!”

“Captain Chapman!” cried the Rector, with something which in any other
place would have been profane; “why, what in the world could he want
here? He never came to hear me; that’s certain.”

“No, papa; nor to hear anything at all. He came to stare at poor Alice
all the time; and to plague her with his escort home, I fear.”

“The poor child, with that ungodly scamp! Who were in the servants’
pew? I know pretty well; but you are sure to know better.”

“Oh, not even one of the trusty people. Neither the old butler, nor
Mrs. Pipkins, nor even Mrs. Merryjack. Only that conceited ‘Mister
Trotman,’ as he calls himself, and his ‘under-footman,’ as he calls the
lad; and three or four flirty housemaids.”

“A guinea will send them all round the other way; and then he will
pester Alice all the way back. Run home, that’s a dear, you are very
quick of foot; and put the lamb back yourself nine inches; and tell Jem
to saddle Maggie quick as lightning, and put my hunting-crop at the
green gate, and have Maggie there; and let your mother know that sudden
business calls me away to Coombe Lorraine.”

“Why, papa, you quite frighten me! As if Alice could not take care of
herself!”

“I have seen more of the world than you have, child. Do as I order you,
and don’t argue. Stop, take the meadow way, to save making any stir in
the village. I shall walk slowly, and be at the gate by the time you
have the pony there.”

Cecil Hales, without another word, went out of the vestry door to a
stile leading from the churchyard into a meadow, and thence by an easy
gap in a hedge she got into the rectory shrubbery.

“Just my luck,” said the Rector to himself, as he took to the rambling
village-street, to show himself as usual. “The two things I hate most
are a row, and the ruin of a good dinner. Hashes and cold meat ever
since Wednesday; and now when a real good joint is browning--oh,
confound it all!--I quite forgot the asparagus--the first I have cut,
and as thick as my thumb! Now if I only had Mabel Lovejoy here! I do
hope they’ll have the sense not to put it on; but I can’t very well
tell Jem about it; it will look so mollyish. Can I send a note in? Yes,
I can. The fellow can’t read; that is one great comfort.”

No sooner said than done; he tore out the fly-leaf of his sermon, and
under his text, inculcating the duty of Christian vigilance, wrote in
pencil, “Whatever you do, don’t put on the asparagus.”

This he committed to the care of Jem; and then grasping his
hunting-whip steadfastly, he rode up the lane, with Maggie neighing at
this unaccustomed excursion. For horses know Sunday as well as men do,
and a great deal better.

Struan Hales was a somewhat headlong man; as most men of kind heart,
and quick but not very large understanding, are apt to be. Like most
people of strong prejudices, he was also of strong impulses; for the
lowest form of prejudice is not common--the abstract one, and the
negative. His common sense and his knowledge of the world might have
assured him that Captain Chapman would do nothing to hurt or even
to offend young Alice. And yet, because he regarded Stephen with
inveterate dislike, he really did for the moment believe it his duty
thus to ride after him.

Meanwhile the gallant and elegant captain had done at least one thing
according to the Rector’s anticipation. By laying a guinea in Trotman’s
palm, he had sent all the servants home over the hill, and thus secured
for himself a private walk with his charmer along the lane that winds
so prettily under the high land. Now his dress was enough to win the
heart of any rustic damsel, and as he passed the cottage-doors, all
the children said, “Oh my!” This pleased him greatly, and could not
have added less than an inch to his stature and less than a pound to
the weight of his heel at each strut. This proves that he was not a
thorough villain; for thorough villains attach no importance to the
opinion of children.

Unaware of the enemy in advance, Alice walked through the little
village, with her aunt and two cousins, as usual; and she said
“Good-bye” to them at the rectory gate; knowing that they wanted to
please her uncle with his early Sunday dinner. Country parsons, unless
they are of a highly distinguished order, like to dine at half-past
one very punctually on a Sunday. Throughout the week (when they shoot
or fish, or ride to hounds, etc.) they manage to retard their hunger
to five, or even six o’clock. On Sunday it is healthily otherwise. A
sinking feeling begins to set in, about halfway through the sermon.
And why? In an eloquent period, the parson looks round, to infect his
congregation. He forgets for the moment that he is but a unit, while
his hearers are an hundredfold. What happens? All humanity is, at
eloquent moments, contagious, sensitive, impressible. A hundred people
in the church have got their dinner coming on at one o’clock; they are
thinking of it, they are dwelling on the subject; and the hundred and
first, the parson himself (without knowing it, very likely, and even
while seven heavens above it) receives the recoil of his own emotions,
in epidemic appetite.

That may be all wrong of course, even unsacerdotal, or unscientific
(until the subject is tabulated); but facts have large bones: and the
fact stands thus. Alice Lorraine was aware of it, though without scent
of the reason; so she kissed her aunt and cousins two--Cecil being (as
hath been seen) in clerical attendance--and lightly went her homeward
way. She stopped for a minute at Nanny Stilgoe’s, to receive the usual
grumbling sauced with the inevitable ingratitude. And then, supposing
the servants to be no very great distance before her, she took to the
lonely Ashwood lane with a quick light step, as usual.

Presently she came to a place where the lane dipped suddenly into the
hollow of a dry old watercourse--the course of the Woeburn, according
to tradition, if anybody could believe it. There was now not a thread
of open water: but a little dampness, and a crust of mud, as if some
underground duct were anxious to maintain use of its right of way. By
the side of the lane, an old oak-trunk (stretched high above the dip,
and furnished with a broken handrail) showed that there must have been
something to cross; though nobody now could remember it. In this hollow
lurked the captain, placid and self-contented, and regarding with much
apparent zest a little tuft of forget-me-not.

Alice, though startled for a moment by this unexpected encounter, could
not help smiling at the ill-matched brilliance of her suitor’s apparel.
He looked like a smaller but far more costly edition of Mr. Bottler,
except that his waistcoat was of crimson taffety, with a rolling collar
of lace; and instead of white stockings, he displayed gold-buttoned
vamplets of orange velvet. Being loth to afford him the encouragement
of a smile, the young lady turned away her face as she bowed, and with
no other salutation continued her homeward course, at a pace which
certainly was not slower. But Stephen Chapman came forth, and met her
with that peculiar gaze which would have been insolent from a more
powerful man, but as proceeding from a little dandy bore rather the
impress of impudence.

“Miss Lorraine, you will not refuse me the honour of escorting you to
your home. This road is lonely. There still are highway men. One was on
the Brighton road last week. I took the liberty of thinking, or rather,
perhaps, I should say of hoping, that you might not altogether object
to a military escort.”

“Thank you,” said Alice; “you are very kind; but I have not the least
fear; and our servants are not very far away, I know. They have orders
to keep near me.”

“They must have mistaken your route, I think. I am rather famous
for long sight; and I saw the Lorraine livery just now going up the
footpath that crosses the hill.”

Alice was much perplexed at this. She by no means enjoyed the prospect
of a long and secluded walk in the company of this gallant officer. And
yet her courage would not allow her to retrace her steps, and cross the
hill; neither could she well affront him so; for much as she disliked
this man, she must treat him as any other lady would.

“I am much obliged to you, Captain Chapman,” she answered as graciously
as she could; “but really no kind of escort is wanted, either military
or civilian, in a quiet country road like this, where everybody knows
me. And perhaps it will be more convenient for you to call on my father
in the afternoon. He is always glad when you can stay to dinner.”

“No, thank you; I must dine at home to-day. I wish to see Sir Roland
this morning, if I may. And surely I may accompany you on your way
home; now, may I not?”

“Oh yes,” she answered with a little sigh, as there seemed to be no
help for it; but she determined to make the Captain walk at a speed
which should be quite a novelty to him.

“Dear me, Miss Lorraine! I had no idea that you were such a walker.
Why, this must be what we call in the army ‘double-quick march’ almost.
Too fast almost to keep the ranks unbroken, when we charge the enemy.”

“How very dreadful!” cried Alice, with a little grimace, which greatly
charmed the Captain. “May I ask you one particular favour?”

“You can ask none,” he replied, with his hand laid on his crimson
waistcoat; “or to put it more clearly, to ask a favour, is to confer a
greater one.”

“How very kind you are! You know that my dear brother Hilary is in the
thick of very, very sad fighting. And I thought that perhaps you would
not mind (as a military escort), describing exactly how you felt when
first you charged the enemy.”

“The deuce must be in the girl,” thought the Captain; “and yet she
looks so innocent. It can be only an accident. But she is too sharp to
be romanced with.”

“Miss Lorraine,” he answered, “I belonged to the Guards; whose duty
lies principally at home. I have never been in action.”

“Oh, I understand; then you do not know what a sad thing real fighting
is. Poor Hilary! We are most anxious about him. We have seen his name
in the despatches; and we know that he was wounded. But neither he, nor
Major Clumps (a brave officer in his regiment) has sent us a line since
it happened.”

“He was first through the breach at Badajos. He has covered himself
with glory.”

“We know it,” said Alice, with tears in her eyes; and for a moment she
liked the Captain. “But if he has covered himself with wounds, what is
the good of the glory?”

“A most sensible question,” Chapman answered, and fell once more to
zero in the opinion of his charmer. With all the contempt that can be
expressed by silence, when speech is expected, she kept on so briskly
towards Bonny’s castle, that her suitor (who, in spite of all martial
bearing, walked in the manner of a pigeon) became hard set to keep up
with her.

“The view from this spot is so lovely,” he said, “I must really beg you
to sit down a little. Surely we need not be in such a hurry.”

“The air is chilly, and I must not loiter. My father has a bad headache
to-day. That was the reason he was not at church.”

“Then surely he can be in no hurry for his luncheon. I have so many
things to say to you. And you really give me quite a pain in my side.”

“Oh, I am so sorry! I beg your pardon. I never could have thought that
I was doing that. Rest a little, and you will be better.”

The complaint would have been as a joke passed over, if it had come
from anybody else. But she knew that the Captain was not strong in his
lungs, or his heart, or anything; therefore she allowed him to sit
down, while she stood and gazed back through the Ashwood lane, fringed,
and arched, and dappled by the fluttering approach of spring.

“The beautiful gazing at the beautiful!” said Chapman, with his eyes so
fixed as to receive his view of the landscape (if at all) by deputy.
And truly his judgment was correct. For Alice, now in perfect health,
with all the grace of young vigour and the charm of natural quickness,
and a lovely face, and calm eyes beaming, not with the bright uncertain
blue (that flashing charm of poor Hilary), but the grand ash-coloured
grey--the tint that deepens with the depth of life, and holds more love
than any other--Alice, in a word, was something for a man to look at.
The greatest man that ever was born of a woman, and knew what women
are, as well as what a man is; the only one who ever combined the
knowledge of both sexes; the one true poet of all ages (compared with
whom all other poets are but shallow surfacers), Nature’s most loving
and best-loved child,--even he would have looked at Alice, with those
large sad loving eyes, and found her good to dwell upon.

The Captain (though he bore the name of a great and grossly-neglected
poet) had not in him so much as half a pennyweight of poetry. He looked
upon Alice as a handsome girl, of good birth and good abilities, who
might redeem him from his evil ways, and foster him, and make much of
him. He knew that she was far above him, “in mind, and views, and all
that sort of thing;” and he liked her all the more for that, because it
would save him trouble.

“Do let me say a few words to you,” he began, with his most seductive
and insinuating glance (for he really had fine eyes, as many weak and
wanton people have); “you are apt to be hard on me, Miss Lorraine,
while all the time my first desire is to please, and serve, and gratify
you.”

“You are very kind, I am sure, Captain Chapman. I don’t know what I
have done to deserve it.”

“Alas!” he answered with a sigh, which relieved him, because he was
much pinched in, as well as a good deal out of breath, for his stays
were tighter than the maiden’s. “Alas! Is it possible that you have not
seen the misery you have caused me?”

“Yes, I know that I have been very rude. I have walked too fast for
you. I beg your pardon, Captain Chapman. I will not do so any more.”

“I did not mean that; I assure you, I didn’t. I would climb the Andes
or the Himalayas, only to win one smile from you.”

“I fear that I should smile many times,” said Alice, now smiling,
wickedly; “if I could only have a telescope--still, I should be so
sorry for you. They are much worse than the Southdown hills.”

“There, you are laughing at me again! You are so clever, Miss Lorraine;
you give me no chance to say anything.”

“I am not clever; I am very stupid. And you always say more than I do.”

“Well, of course--of course I do; until you come to know me. After
that, I always listen; because the ladies have more to say. And they
say it so much better.”

“Is that so?” said Alice, thinking, while the Captain showed his waist,
as he arose and shook himself, “it may be so: he may be right; he seems
to have some very good ideas.” He saw that she thought more kindly
of him; and that his proper course with her was to play humility.
He had never known what pure love was; he had lessened his small
capacity for it, by his loose and wicked life; but in spite of all
that, for the first time Alice began to inspire him with it. This is
a grand revolution in the mind, or the heart, of a “man of pleasure;”
the result may save him even yet (if a purer nature master him) from
that deadliest foe, himself. And the best (or the worst of it) is,
that if a kind, and fresh, and warm, and lofty-minded girl believes
herself to have gained any power of doing good in the body of some low
reprobate, sweet interest, Christian hankerings, and the feminine love
of paradoxes, succeed the legitimate disgust. Alice, however, was not
of a weak, impulsive, and slavish nature. And she wholly disdained this
Stephen Chapman.

“Now, I hope that you will not hurry yourself,” she said to the pensive
captain; “the real hill begins as soon as we are round the corner. I
must walk fast, because my father will be looking out for me. Perhaps,
if you kindly are coming to our house, you would like to come more at
your leisure, sir.”

Stephen Chapman looked at her--not as he used to look, as if she were
only a pretty girl to him--but with some new feeling, quite as if he
were afraid to answer her. His dull, besotted, and dissolute manner of
regarding women lay for the moment under a shock; and he wondered what
he was about. And none of his stock speeches came to help him--or to
hurt him--until Alice was round the corner.

“Holloa, Chapman! what are you about? Why, you look like one of
Bottler’s pigs, when they run about with their throats cut! Where is my
niece? What have you been doing?” The Rector drew up his pony sharply;
and was ready to seize poor Stephen by the throat.

“You need not be in such a hurry, parson,” said Captain Chapman,
recovering himself. “Miss Lorraine is going up the hill a great deal
faster than I can go.”

“I know what a dissolute dog you are,” cried the Parson, smoking with
indignation at having spoiled his Sunday dinner, and made a scene, for
nothing. “You forced me to ride after you, sir. What do you mean by
this sort of thing?”

“Mr. Hales, I have no idea what you mean. You seem to be much excited.
Pray oblige me with the reason.”

“The reason, indeed! when I know what you are! Two nice good girls,
as ever lived, you have stolen out of my gallery, sir; and covered my
parish with shame, sir. And are you fit to come near my niece? I have
not told Sir Roland of it, only for your father’s sake; but now I will
tell him, and quiet as he is, how long do you suppose he will be in
kicking you down the Coombe, sir?”

“Come, now,” said Stephen, having long been proof against righteous
indignation; “you must be well aware, Rector, that the whole of that
ancient scandal was scattered to the winds, and I emerged quite
blameless.”

“Indeed, I know nothing of the sort. You did what money could
do--however, it is some time back; and perhaps I had better have let an
old story--Camerina--eh, what is it? On the other hand, if only----”

“Rector, you always mean aright, though you may be sometimes
ungenerous. In your magnificent sermon to-day what did you say? Why,
you said distinctly, in a voice that came all round the pillars--there
is mercy for him that repenteth.”

“To be sure I did, and I meant it too; but I meant mercy up above, not
in my own parish, Stephen. I can’t have any mercy in my own parish.”

“Let us say no more about it, sir; I am not a very young man now, and
my great desire is to settle down. I now have the honour of loving your
niece, as I never loved any one before. And I put it to you in a manly
way, and as one of my father’s most valued friends, whether you have
anything to say against it?”

“You mean to say that you really want to settle down with Alice! A girl
of half your age and ten times your power of life! Come, Stephen!”

“Well, sir, I know that I am not in as vigorous health as you are.
You will walk me down, no doubt, when we come to shoot together on my
father’s land; but still, all I want is a little repose, and country
life, and hunting; a little less of the clubs, and high play, and the
company of the P.R., who makes us pay so hard for his friendship. I
wish to leave all these bad things--once for all to shake them off--and
to get a good wife to keep me straight, until my dear father drops off
at last. And the moment I marry I shall start a new hunt, and cut out
poor Lord Unicorn, who does not know a foxhound from a beagle. This
country is most shamefully hunted now.”

“It is, my dear Stephen; it is, indeed. It puts me to the blush every
time I go out. Really there is good sense in what you say. There is
plenty of room for another pack; and I think I could give you some
sound advice.”

“I should act entirely, sir, by your opinion. Horses I understand
pretty well: but as to hounds, I should never pretend to hold a candle
to my Uncle Hales.”

“Ah, my dear boy, I could soon show you the proper way to go to work.
The stamp of dog we want is something of this kind----”

The Rector leaned over Maggie’s neck, and took the Captain by the
button-hole, and fondly inditing of so good a matter, he delivered
a discourse which was too learned and confidential to be reported
rashly. And Stephen hearkened so well and wisely, that Mr. Hales
formed a better opinion than he ever before had held of him, and began
to doubt whether it might not be a sensible plan in such times as
these, to close the ranks of the sober thinkers and knit together all
well-affected, stanch, and loyal interests, by an alliance between the
two chief houses of the neighbourhood--the one of long lineage, and the
other of broad lands; and this would be all the more needful now, if
Hilary was to make a mere love-match.

But in spite of all wisdom, Mr. Hales was full of strong warm feelings:
and loving his niece as he did, and despising in his true heart Stephen
Chapman, and having small faith in converted rakes, he resolved to be
neutral for the present; and so rode home to his dinner.



CHAPTER XLIII.

IN AMONG THE BIG-WIGS.


If any man has any people who ought to care about him, and is not sure
how far they exert their minds in his direction, to bring the matter
to the mark, let him keep deep silence when he is known to be in
danger. The test, as human nature goes, is perhaps a trifle hazardous,
at any rate when tried against that existence of the wiry order which
is called the masculine; but against the softer and better portion of
the human race--the kinder half--whose beauty is the absence of stern
reason, this bitter test (if strongly urged) is sure to fetch out
something; at least, of course, if no suspicion arises of a touchstone.
Wherefore now there were three persons, all of the better sex, in much
discomfort about Hilary.

Of these, the first was his excellent grandmother, Lady Valeria
Lorraine, whose mind (though fortified with Plowden, and even the
strong Fortescue) was much amiss about his being dead, and perhaps
“incremated,” leaving for evidence not even circumstantial ashes. Proof
of this, however invalid, would have caused her great distress--for
she really loved and was proud of the youth; but the absence of proof,
and the probability of its perpetual absence (for to prove a man dead
is to prove a negative, according to recent philosophers), as well as
the prospect of complications after the simplest solution, kept this
admirable lady’s ever active mind in more activity than was good for it.

The second of the three who fretted with anxiety and fear, was Hilary’s
young sister Alice. Proud as she was of birth, and position, and
spotless honour, and all good things, her brother’s life was more
precious to her than any of those worldly matters. She knew that he was
rash and headlong, too good-natured, and even childish when compared
with men of the world. But she loved him all the more for that; and
being herself of a stronger will, had grown (without any sense thereof)
into a needful championship and vigilance for his good repute. And
this, of course, endeared him more, and made her regard him as a
martyr, sinned against, but sinless.

But of all these three the third was the saddest, and most hard to deal
with. Faith in Providence supports the sister, or even the mother of a
man--whenever there is fair play for it--but it seems to have no _locus
standi_ in the heart of his sweetheart. That delicate young apparatus
(always moving up and down, and as variable as the dewpoint) is ever
ready to do its best, and tells itself so, and consoles itself, and
then from reason quoted wholesale, breaks into petty unassorted samples
of absurdity.

In this condition, without a dream of jealousy or disloyalty, Mabel
Lovejoy waited long, and wondered, hoped, despaired, and fretted; and
then worked hard, and hoped again. She had no one to trust her troubles
to, no cheerful and consoling voice to argue and grow angry with, and
prove against it how absurd it was to speak of comfort; and yet to be
imbibing comfort, even while resenting it. Her mother would not say a
word, although she often longed to speak, because she thought it wise
and kind to let the matter die away. While Hilary was present, or at
any rate in England, Mrs. Lovejoy had yielded to the romance of these
young doings; but now that he was far away, and likely in every weekly
journal to be returned as killed and buried, the Kentish dame, as a
sensible woman, preferred the charm of a bird in hand.

Of these there were at least half-a-dozen ensnared and ready to be
caged for life, if Mabel would only have them; and two of them could
not be persuaded that her nay meant anything; for one possessed the
mother’s yea, and the other that of the father.

The suitor favoured by Mrs. Lovejoy was a young physician at Maidstone,
Dr. Daniel Calvert, a man of good birth and connections, and having
prospects of good fortune. The Grower, on the other hand, had now
found out the very son-in-law he wanted--Elias Jenkins, a steady young
fellow, the son of a maltster at Sevenoaks, who had bought all the
barley of Old Applewood farm for forty years and upwards. Elias was
terribly smitten with Mabel, and suddenly found quite a vigorous joy
in the planting and pruning of fruit-trees, and rode over almost every
day, throughout both March and April, to take lessons, as he said, in
grafting and training pears, and planting cherries, and various other
branches of the gentle craft of gardening. Of course the Grower could
do no less than offer him dinner, at every visit, in spite of Mrs.
Lovejoy’s frowns; and Elias, with a smiling face and blushing cheeks,
would bring his chair as close as he could to Mabel’s, and do his best
in a hearty way to make himself agreeable. And in this he succeeded so
far, that his angel did not in the least dislike him; but to think of
him twice, after Hilary, was such an insult to all intelligence! The
maiden would have liked the maltster a great deal better than she did,
if only he would have dropped his practice of “popping the question”
before he left every Saturday afternoon. But he knew that Sunday is a
dangerous day; and as he could not well come grafting then, he thought
it safer to keep a place in her thoughts until the Monday.

“Try her again, lad,” the Grower used to say. “Odds, bobs, my boy,
don’t run away from her. Young gals must be watched for, and caught
on the hop. If they won’t say ‘yes’ before dinner, have at them again
in the afternoon, and get them into the meadows, and then go on again
after supper-time. Some take the courting kindest of a morning, and
some at meal-time, and some by the moonlight.”

“Well, sir, I have tried her in all sorts of ways, and she won’t say
‘yes’ to one of them. I begin to be tired of Saturdays now. I have a
great mind to try of a Friday.”

“Ay!” cried the Grower, looking at him, as the author of a great
discovery. “Sure enough now, try on Fridays--market-day, as I am a man!”

“Well now, to think of that!” said Elias; “what a fool I must have
been, to keep on so with Saturday! The mistress goes against me, I
know; and that always tells up with the maidens, but I must have
something settled, squire, before next malting season.”

“You shall, you shall indeed, my lad; you may take my word for it. That
only stands to reason. Shilly-shally is a game I hate; and no daughter
of mine shall play at it. But I blame you more than her, my boy. You
don’t know how to manage them. Take them by the horns. There is nothing
like taking them by the horns, you know.”

“Yes, to be sure; if one only knew the proper way to do it, sir. But
missie slips away so quick like; I never can get hold of her. And then
the mistress has that fellow Calvert over here, almost every Sunday.”

“Aha!” cried the Grower, with a knowing wink, “that is her little game,
is it now? That is why she has aches and pains, and such a very sad
want of tone, and failure of power in her leaders! Leave it to me,
lad--that you may--I’ll soon put a stop to that. A pill-grinder at
Applewood farm indeed! But I did not know you was jealous!”

“Jealous! No, no, sir; I scorn the action. But when there are two, you
know, why, it makes it not half so nice for one, you know.”

Squire Lovejoy, however, soon discovered that he had been a little too
confident in pledging himself to keep the maltster’s rival off the
premises. For Mrs. Lovejoy, being a very resolute woman in a little
way, at once began to ache all over, and so effectually to groan, that
instead of having the doctor once a-week, she was obliged to have
him at least three times. And it was not very long before the young
physician’s advice was sought for a still more interesting patient.

For the daughter and prime delight of the house, the bright
sweet-tempered Mabel, instead of freshening with the spring, and
budding with new roses, began to get pale, and thin, and listless, and
to want continually to go to church, and not to care about her dinner.
Her eagerness for divine service, however, could only be gratified on
Sundays: for the practice of reading the prayers to the pillars twelve
times a-week was not yet in vogue. The novelty, therefore, of Mabel’s
desire made the symptom all the more alarming; and her father perceived
that so strange a case called peremptorily for medical advice. But she,
for a long time, did nothing but quote against himself his own opinion
of the professors of the healing art; while she stoutly denied the
existence on her part of any kind of malady. And so, for a while, she
escaped the doctor.

Meanwhile she was fighting very bravely with deep anxiety and long
suspense. And the struggle was the more forlorn, and wearisome, and
low-hearted, because she must battle it out in silence, with none to
sympathize and (worse than that) with everybody condemning her mutely
for the conflict. Her father had a true and hearty liking for young
Lorraine, preferring him greatly--so far as mere feeling went--to the
maltster. But his views for his daughter were different, and he thought
it high time that her folly should pass. Her mother, on the other
hand, would have rejoiced to see her the wife of Hilary; but had long
made up her mind that he would never return alive from Spain, and that
Mabel might lose the best years of her life in waiting for a doomed
soldier. Gregory Lovejoy alone was likely to side with his sister, for
the sake of Lorraine, the friend whom he admired so much; and Gregory
had transmitted to her sweet little messages and loving words, till
the date of the capture of Badajos. But this one consoler and loyal
friend was far away from her all this time, having steadfastly eaten
his way to the Bar, and received his lofty vocation. Thereupon Lovejoy
paid five guineas for his wig, and a guinea for the box thereof, gave
a frugal but pleasant “call party,” and being no way ashamed of his
native county, or his father’s place therein, sturdily shouldered the
ungrateful duties of “junior,” on the home-circuit. Of course he did
not expect a brief, until his round was trodden well; but he never
failed to be in court; and his pleasant temper and obliging ways soon
began to win him friends. His mother was delighted with all this; but
the franklin grumbled heavily at the bags he had to fill with money, to
be scattered, as he verily believed, among the senior lawyers.

Now the summer assizes were held at Maidstone about the beginning of
July; and Gregory had sent word from London, by John Shorne, that he
must be there, and would spend one night at home, if his father would
send a horse for him, by the time when his duties were over. His duties
of the day consisted mainly in catering for the bar-mess, and attending
diligently thereto; and now he saw the wisdom of the rule which makes
a due course of feeding essential to the legal aspirant. A hundred
examinations would never have qualified him for the bar-mess: whereas
a long series of Temple dinners had taught him most thoroughly what to
avoid.

The Grower was filled with vast delight at the idea of marching into
court, and saying to all the best people of the town, “Pray allow me
to pass, sir. My son is here somewhere, I believe. A fresh-coloured
barrister, if you please, ma’am, with curly hair below his wig. Ah
yes, there he is! But his lordship is whispering to him, I see; I must
not interrupt them.” And therefore, although his time might be worth a
crown an hour, ere his son’s fetched a penny, he strove in vain against
the temptation to go over and look at Gregory. Before breakfast he
fidgeted over his fields and was up for being down upon every one--just
to let them know that this sort of talent is hereditary. His workmen
winked at one another and said (as soon as he was gone by) that he must
have got out the wrong side of the bed, or else the old lady had been
rating of him.

He (in the greatness of his thoughts) strode on, and from time to time
worked his lips and cast sharp glances at every gate-post, in the glow
of imaginary speech. He could not feel that his son on the whole was
a cleverer fellow than himself had been; and he played the traitor to
knife and spade by hankering after gown and wig. “If my father,” he
said, “had only given me the chance I am giving Gregory, what might I
be now? One of these same barons as terrify us with their javelins and
gallows, and sit down with white tippits on. Or if my manners wasn’t
good enough for that, who could ever keep me from standing up, and
defying all the villains for to put me down so long as I spoke justice?
And yet that might happen to be altogether wrong. I’m a great mind not
to go over at all. My father was an honest man before me.”

In this state of mind he sat down to breakfast, bright with reflections
of Gregory’s glory, yet dashed irregularly with doubts of the honesty
of its origin, till, in quite his old manner, he made up his mind to
keep his own council about the thing and ride over to the county town,
leaving Applewood none the wiser. For John Shorne had orders the night
before to keep his message quiet, which an old market-hand could be
trusted to do; and as for the ladies, the Grower was sure that they
knew much less and cared much less about the assizes than about the
washing-day. So he went to his stables about nine o’clock, with enough
of his Sunday raiment on to look well but awake no excitement, and
taking a good horse, he trotted away with no other token behind him
except that he might not be home at dinner-time, but might bring a
stranger to supper perhaps; and they ought to have something roasted.

“Pride,” as a general rule, of course, “goeth before a fall;” but the
father’s pride in the present instance was so kindly and simple, that
Nature waived her favourite law, and stopped fortune from upsetting
him. Although when he entered the court he did not find his son in
confidential chat with the Lord Chief Justice, nor even in grave
deliberation with a grand solicitor, but getting the worst of a
conflict with an exorbitant fishmonger; and though the townspeople
were not scared as much as they should have been by the wisdom of
Gregory’s collected front, neither did the latter look a quarter so
wise as his father; yet a turn of luck put all things right, and even
did substantial good. For the Grower at sight of his son was not to
be stopped by any doorkeeper, but pushed his way into the circle of
forensic dignity, and there saluted Gregory with a kiss on the band of
his horsehair, and patted him loudly on the back, and challenging with
a quick proud glance the opinions of the bar and bench, exclaimed in a
good round Kentish tone--

“Well done, my boy! Hurrah for Greg! Gentlemen all, I’ll be dashed if
my son doth not look about the wisest of all of ’ee.”

Loud titters ran the horsehair round, and more solid laughter stirred
the crowd, while the officers of the court cried “Hush!” and the Lord
Chief Justice and his learned brother looked at the audacious Grower;
while he, with one hand on each shoulder of his son, gazed around and
nodded graciously.

“Who is this person--this gentleman, I mean?” asked the Lord Chief
Justice, correcting himself through courtesy to young Lovejoy.

“My father, my lord,” answered Gregory like a man, though blushing like
his sister Mabel. “He has not seen me for a long time, my lord, and he
is pleased to see me in this position.”

“Ay, that I am, my lord,” said the Grower, making his bow with dignity.
“I could not abide it at first; but his mother--ah, what would she say
to see him now? Martin Lovejoy, my lord, of Old Applewood farm, very
much at your lordship’s service.”

The Judge was well pleased with this little scene, and kindly glanced
at Gregory, of whom he had heard as a diligent pupil from his intimate
friend Mr. Malahide; and being a man who missed no opportunity--as
his present position pretty clearly showed--he said to the gratified
franklin, “Mr. Lovejoy, I shall be glad to see you, if you can spare me
half an hour, after the court has risen.”

These few words procured two briefs for Gregory at the next assizes,
and thus set him forth on his legal course; though the Judge of course
wanted--as the bar knew well--rather to receive than to give advice.
For his lordship was building a mansion in Kent, and laying out large
fruit-gardens, which he meant to stock with best sorts in the autumn;
and it struck him that a professional grower, such as he knew Mr.
Lovejoy to be, would be far more likely to advise him well, than the
nurserymen, who commend most abundantly whatever they have in most
abundance.

When the Grower had laid down the law to the Judge upon the subject of
fruit-trees, and invited him to come and see them in bearing, as soon
as time allowed of it, he set off in high spirits with his son, who
had discharged his duties, but did not dine with his brethren of the
wig. To do the thing in proper style, a horse was hired for Gregory,
and they trotted gently, enjoying the evening, along the fairest road
in England. Mr. Lovejoy was not very quick of perception, and yet it
struck him once or twice that his son was not very gay, and did not
show much pleasure at coming home; and at last he asked him suddenly--

“What are you thinking of, Greg, my boy? All this learning is as lead
on the brain, as your poor grandfather used to say. A penny for your
thoughts, my Lord Chief Justice.”

“Well, father, I was not thinking of law-books, nor even of--well, I
was thinking of nothing, except poor little Mabel.”

“Ay, ay, John has told you, I suppose, how little she eats, and how
pale she gets. No wonder either, with all the young fellows plaguing
and pothering after her so. Between you and me, Master Gregory, I hope
to see her married by the malting-time. Now, mind, she will pay a deal
of heed to you now that you are a full-blown counsellor: young Jenkins
is the man, remember; no more about that young dashing Lorraine.”

“No, father, no more about him,” said Gregory, sadly and submissively.
“I wish I had never brought him here.”

“No harm, my son; no harm whatever. That little fancy must be quite
worn out. Elias is not over bright, as we know; but he is a steady and
worthy young fellow, and will make her a capital husband.”

“Well, that is the main point after all--a steadfast man who will
stick to her. But you must not hurry her, father, now. That would be
the very way to spoil it.”

“Hark to him, hark to him!” cried the Grower. “A counsellor with a
vengeance! The first thing he does is to counsel his father how to
manage his own household!”

Gregory did his best to smile; but the sunset in his eyes showed
something more like the sparkle of a tear; and then they rode on in
silence.



CHAPTER XLIV.

HOW TO TAKE BAD TIDINGS.


After sunset, Mabel Lovejoy went a little way up the lane leading
towards the Maidstone road, on the chance of meeting her father. The
glow of the west glanced back from the trees, and twinkled in the
hedge-rows, and clustered in the Traveller’s Joy, and here and there
lay calmly waning on patches of mould that suited it. Good birds
were looking for their usual roost, to hop in and out, and to talk
about it, and to flap their wings and tails, until they should get
sleepy. But the thrush, the latest songster now, since the riot of the
nightingale, was cleaning his beak for his evensong; and a cock-robin,
proud on the top of a pole, was clearing his throat, after feeding his
young--the third family of the season! The bats were waiting for better
light; but a great stag-beetle came out of the ivy, treading the air
perpendicularly, with heavy antlers balanced.

All these things fluttered in Mabel’s heart, and made her sad, yet
taught her not to dwell too much in sadness. Here were all things
large and good, and going on for a thousand ages, with very little
difference. When the cock-robin died, and the thrush was shot, there
would be quite enough to come after them. When the leaf that glanced
the sunset dropped, the bud for next year would be up in its place.
Even if the trees went down before the storms of winter, fine young
saplings grew between them, and would be glad of their light and air.
Therefore, Mabel, weary not the ever-changing world with woe.

She did not reason thus, nor even think at all about it. From time to
time she looked, and listened for her father’s galloway, and the heavy
content of the summer night shed gentle patience round her. As yet she
had no sense of wrong, no thought of love betrayed, nor even any dream
of fickleness. Hilary was still to her the hero of all chivalry, the
champion of the blameless shield, the Bayard of her life’s romance. But
now he lay wounded in a barbarous land, perhaps dead, with no lover to
bury him. The pointed leaves of an old oak rustled, a rabbit ran away
with his scut laid down, a weasel from under a root peered out, and the
delicate throat of the sensitive girl quivered with bad omens--for she
had not the courage of Alice Lorraine.

Through the slur of the night wind (such as it makes in July only),
and the random lifting of outer leaves--too thick to be dealt with
properly--and the quivering loops of dependent danglers--who really
hoped that they might sleep at last--and then the fall-away of all
things from their interruption to the sweetest of all sweet relapse,
and the deepest depth of quietude; Mabel heard, through all of these,
the lively sound of horses’ feet briskly ringing on a rise of ground.
For the moment some folly of fancy took her, so that she leaned against
a gate, and would have been glad to get over it. She knew how unfit she
was to meet him. At last he was coming, with her father, to her! She
had not a thing on fit to look at. And he must have seen such girls in
Spain! Oh, how cruel of him to come, and take her by surprise so! But
perhaps after all it was herself, and not her clothes, he would care
for. However, let him go on to the house--if she kept well into the
gate-post--and then she might slip in, and put on her dress--the buff
frock he admired so; and if it was much too large in the neck, he would
know for whose sake it became so.

“What! Mabel, Mab, all out here alone; and trying to hide from her own
brother!”

Gregory jumped from his horse, and caught her; and even in the waning
light was frightened as she looked at him. Then she fell on his neck,
and kissed and kissed him. Bitter as her disappointment was, it was
something to have so dear a brother; and she had not seen him for so
long, and he must have some news of Hilary. He felt her face, all wet
with tears, turned up to him over and over again, and he felt how she
trembled, and how slim she was, and he knew in a moment what it meant;
and in his steadfast heart arose something that must have been a deep
oath, but for much deeper sorrow. And then like a man he controlled it
all.

“I will walk with you, darling, and lead my horse; or, father, perhaps
you will take the bridle, and tell mother to be ready for us. Mab is so
glad to see me that she must not be hurried over it.”

“Bless my heart!” said the Grower; “what a heap of gossip you chits of
children always have. And nothing pleases you better than keeping your
valued parents in the dark.”

With this little grumble he rode on, leading Gregory’s horse, and
shouting back at the corner of the lane, “Now don’t be long with your
confab, children; I have scarcely had a bit to eat to-day, and I won’t
have my supper spoiled for you.”

Gregory thought it a very bad sign that Mabel sent no little joke after
her father, as she used to do. Then he threw his firm arm around her
waist, and led her homeward silently. But, even by his touch and step,
she knew that there was no good news for her.

“Oh, Gregory, what is it all about?” she cried, with one hand on
his shoulder, and soft eyes deeply imploring him. “You must have
some message for me at last. It is so long since I had any. He is
so kind, he would never leave me without any message all this time,
unless--unless----”

“He is wounded, you know; how can he write?” asked Gregory, with some
irony. “Until he was wounded, how many times did I bring you fifty
thousand kisses?”

“Oh, it is not that I was thinking of, though I am sure that was very
nice of him. Ah, you need not be laughing, Gregory dear, as if you
would not do the same to Phyllis. But do tell me what you have heard,
dear brother; I can put up with anything better than doubt.”

“Are you quite sure of that, darling Mab? Can you make up your mind for
some very bad news?”

“I have not been used to it, Gregory: I--I have always been so happy.
Is he dead? Only say that he is not dead?”

“No, he is not dead. Sit down a moment, under this old willow, while I
fetch some water for you.”

“I cannot sit down till I know the worst. If he is not dead, he is
dying of his wounds. Oh my darling Hilary!”

“He is not dying; he is much better, and will soon rejoin his regiment.”

“Then why did you frighten me so, for nothing? Oh how cruel it was of
you! I really thought I was going to faint--a thing I have never done
in my life. You bring me the best news in the world, and you spoil it
by your way of telling it.”

“Don’t be in such a hurry, darling. I wish that was all I have to tell
you. But you have plenty of pride now, haven’t you?”

“I--I don’t know at all, I am sure; but I suppose I am the same as
other girls.”

“If you thought that Lorraine was unworthy of you, you could make up
your mind to forget him, I hope.”

“I never could do such a thing, because I never dream it of Hilary. He
is my better in every way. From feeling myself unworthy of him, I might
perhaps try to do without him; but as to forgetting him--never!”

“Not even if he forgot you, Mabel?”

“He cannot do it,” she answered proudly. “He has promised never to
forget me. And no gentleman ever breaks a promise.”

“Then Hilary Lorraine is no gentleman. He has forgotten you; and is
deeply in love with a Spanish lady.”

Kind and good brother as he was, he had told his bad news too abruptly
in his indignation. Mabel looked up faintly at him; and was struck in
the heart so that she could not speak. But the first of the tide of a
sea of tears just moved beneath her eyelids.

“Now, come in to supper, that’s a dear,” whispered Gregory, frightened
by the silent springs of sorrow. “If you are not at the table, poor
darling, everything will be upside down, and everybody uncomfortable.”
He spoke like a fool, confounding coarsely her essence and her
instincts. And perhaps some little turn of contrast broke the seals
of anguish. She looked up, and she smiled, to show her proper sense
of duty; and then (without knowledge of what she did) she pressed her
right hand to her heart, and leaned on a rail, and fell forward into
a torrent of shameless weeping. She was as a little child once more,
whose soul is overwhelmed with woe. And all along the hollow hedges
went the voice of sobbing.

“Now, do shut up,” said Gregory, when he had borne it as long as a man
can bear. “What is the good of it? Mabel, now, I thought you had more
sense than this. After all, it may be false, you know.”

“It is not false; it is what I have felt. You would not have told me,
if it had been false. It has come from some dreadfully low mean person,
who spies him only too accurately.”

“Now, Mabel, you are quite out of yourself. You never did say nasty
things. There is nobody spying Lorraine at all. I should doubt if he
were worth it. Only it is well known in the regiment (and I had it on
the best authority) that he--that he----”

“That he does what? And is that all your authority! I am beginning to
laugh at the whole of it.”

“Then laugh, my dear Mabel. I wish that you would. It is the true way
of regarding such things.”

“I dare say it may be for you great men. And you think that poor women
can do the same; when indeed there is nothing to laugh at. I scarcely
think that you ought to suggest the idea of laughing, Gregory. The best
authority, you said. Is that a thing to laugh at?”

“Well, perhaps--perhaps it was not the best authority, after all. It
was only two officers of his regiment, who know my friend Capper, who
lives in chambers.”

“A gentleman living in chambers, indeed, to revile poor Hilary, who has
been through the wall! And two officers of his regiment! Greg, I did
think that you had a little more sense.”

“Well, it seems to me pretty good evidence, Mabel. Would you rather
have them of another regiment?”

“Certainly not. I am very glad that they were of poor Hilary’s
regiment; because that proves they were story-tellers. There is not an
officer in his own regiment that can help being jealous of him, after
the noble things he has done! How dull you must be, not to see it all!
I must come to the assizes, instead of you. Well, what a cry I have
had, for nothing!”

“Mabel, you are a noble girl. I am sure you deserve the noblest
sweetheart.”

“And I have got him,” said Mabel, smiling; “and I won’t let him go.
And I won’t believe a single word against him, until he tells me that
it is true himself. Do you think that he would not have written to me,
even with the stump of his left hand, and said, ‘Mabel, I am tired of
you; Mabel, I have seen prettier girls, and more of my own rank in
life; Mabel, you must try to forget me’? When he does that, I shall cry
in real earnest; and there will be no more Mabel.”

“Come in to supper, my pet,” said Gregory. And she came in to supper,
with her sweet eyes shining.



CHAPTER XLV.

INNOCENCE IN NO SENSE.


Near the head of a pass of the Sierra Morena, but out of the dusty
track of war, there stood a noble mansion, steadfast from and to
unknown ages. The Moorish origin, here and there, was boldly manifest
among Spanish, French, and Italian handiwork, both of repair and
enlargement. The building must have looked queer at times, with new
and incongruous elements; but the summer sun and the storms of winter
had enforced among them harmony. So that now this ancient castle of
the Counts of Zamora was a grand and stately pile in tone, as well as
height and amplitude.

The position also had been chosen well; for it stood near the line
of the watershed, commanding northward the beautiful valley of the
Guadiana, and southward the plains of the Guadalquivir; so that, as the
morning mists rolled off, the towers of Merida might be seen, and the
high ground above Badajos; while far on the opposite skyline flashed
the gilt crosses of Cordova; and sometimes, when the distance lifted, a
glimpse was afforded of the sunbeams quivering over Seville. And here,
towards the latter end of August, 1812, Hilary Lorraine was a guest,
and all his wishes law--save one.

The summer had been unusually hot, even for the south of Spain; and
a fifth part of the British army was said to be in hospital. This
may have been caused in some degree by their habits of drinking
and plundering; which even Lord Wellington declared himself unfit
to cope with. To every division of his army he appointed twenty
provost-marshals; whereas two hundred would not have been enough to
hang these heroes punctually. The patriotic Spaniards also could not
see why they should not have some comfort from their native land.
Therefore they overran it well, with bands of fine fellows of a warlike
cast, and having strong tendencies towards good things; and these
were of much use to the British, not only by stopping the Frenchmen’s
letters, but also by living at large and gratis, so that the British,
who sometimes paid, became white sheep by the side of them.

One of the fiercest of these Guerillas--or “Partidas,” as they called
themselves--was the notorious Mina; and for lieutenant he had a man of
lofty birth, and once good position, a certain Don Alcides d’Alcar, a
nephew of the Count of Zamora.

This man had run through every real of a large inheritance, and had
slain many gentlemen in private brawls; and his country was growing
too hot to hold him, when the French invasion came. The anarchy that
ensued was just the very thing to suit him; and he raised a small band
of uncertain young fellows, and took to wild life in the mountains.
At first they were content to rob weak foreigners without escort; but
thriving thus and growing stronger, very soon they enlarged their
views. And so they improved, from year to year, in every style of
plunder; and being authorized by the Juntas, and favoured by British
generals, did harm on a large scale to their country; and on a much
smaller scale, to the French.

Hilary had heard from Camilla much about Alcides d’Alcar; but Claudia
had never spoken of him--only blushing proudly when the patriot’s name
was mentioned. Camilla said that he was a man of extraordinary size
and valour; enough to frighten anybody, and much too large to please
her. And here she glanced at Hilary softly, and dropped her eyes, in a
way to show that he was of the proper size to please her--if he cared
to know it. He did not care a piastre to know it; but was eager about
Alcides. “Oh, then, you had better ask Claudia,” Camilla replied, with
a sisterly look of very subtle import; and Claudia, with her proud
walk, passed, and glanced at them both disdainfully.

Now the victory of Salamanca, and his sorry absence thence, and after
that the triumphant entry of the British into Madrid (although they
were soon turned out again), began to work in Hilary’s mind, and make
him eager to rejoin. Three weeks ago he had been reported almost fit
to do so, and had been ready to set forth; but Spanish ladies are full
of subtlety, and Camilla stopped him. A cock of two lustres had been
slain in some of the outer premises; and old Teresina stole down in
the night, and behold, in the morning, the patient’s wound had most
evidently burst forth again. Hilary was surprised, but could not doubt
the testimony of his eyes; neither could the licentiate of medicine now
attending him.

But now in the breath of the evening breeze, setting inland from the
Atlantic, Lorraine was roving for the last time in the grounds of
Monte Argento. At three in the morning he must set forth, with horses
provided by his host, on his journey to head-quarters. The Count was
known as a patriotic, wise, and wealthy noble, both of whose sons
were fighting bravely in the Spanish army; and through his influence
Lorraine had been left to hospitality instead of hospitals, which in
truth had long been overworked. But Major Clumps had returned to his
duty long ago, with a very sore heart, when he found from the Donna
Camilla that “she liked him very much indeed, but could never induce
herself to love him.” With the sharp eye of jealousy, that brave Major
spied in Hilary the cause of this, and could not be brought to set down
his name any more in his letters homeward; or at any rate, not for a
very long time.

Lorraine, in the calm of this summer evening, with the heat-clouds
moving eastward, and the ripple of refreshment softly wooing the
burdened air, came to a little bower, or rather a natural cove of
rock and leaf, wherein (as he knew) the two fair sisters loved to
watch the eventide weaving hill and glen with shadow, before the
rapid twilight waned. There was something here that often brought his
native Southdowns to his mind, though the foliage was so different.
Instead of the rich deep gloss of the beech, the silvery stir of the
aspen-tree, and the feathery droop of the graceful birch, here was the
round monotony of the olive and the lemon-tree, the sombre depth of
the ilex, and the rugged lines of the cork-tree, relieved, it is true,
just here and there by the symmetry of the silver fir, and the elegant
fan of the palm. But what struck Lorraine, and always irked him under
these southern trees and skies, was the way in which the foliage cut
its outline over sharply; there was none of that hovering softness, and
sweetly fluctuating margin, by which a tree inspires affection as well
as admiration.

Unluckily now Lorraine had neither affection nor admiration left for
the innocent beauty of nature’s works. His passion for Claudia was
become an overwhelming and noxious power--a power that crushed for
the time and scattered all his better elements. He had ceased to be
light-hearted, and to make the best of everything, to love the smiles
of children, and to catch a little joke and return it. He had even
ceased to talk to himself, as if his conscience had let him know that
he was not fit to be talked to. All the waking hours he passed, in the
absence of his charmer, were devoted to the study of Spanish; and he
began to despise his own English tongue. “There is no melody in it, no
rhythm, no grand sonorous majesty,” he used to complain; “it is like
its owners, harsh, uncouth, and countrified.” After this, what can any
one do but pity him for his state of mind?

Whether Claudia returned his passion--for such it was rather than true
affection--was still a very doubtful point, though the most important
in all the world. Generally she seemed to treat him with a pleased
contempt, as if he were a pleasant boy, though several years older than
herself. Her clear dark eyes were of such a depth that, though she was
by no means chary of their precious glances, he had never been able to
reach that inmost light which comes from the very heart. How different
from somebody’s--of whom he now thought less and less, and vainly
strove to think no more, because of the shame that pierced him! But if
this Spanish maiden really did not care about him, why did she try, as
she clearly did, to conquer and subdue him? Why did she shoot such
glances at him as Spanish eyes alone can shoot; why bend her graceful
neck so sweetly, slope her delicate head so gently, showing the ripe
firm curve of cheek, and with careless dancings let her raven hair fall
into his? Hilary could not imagine why; but poor Camilla knew too well.
If ever Camilla felt for a moment the desirability of any one, Claudia
(with her bolder manners, and more suddenly striking beauty, and less
dignified love of conquest) might be relied upon to rush in and attract
the whole attention.

Hilary found these lovely sisters in their little cove of rock, where
the hot wind seldom entered through the fringe of hanging frond. They
had a clever device of their own for welcoming the Atlantic breeze,
by means of a silken rope which lifted all the screen of fern, and
creeper, and of grey rock-ivy.

Now the screen was up, and the breeze flowed in, meeting a bright rill
bubbling out (whose fountain was in the living rock), and the clear
obscurity was lit with forms as bright as poetry. Camilla’s comely
head had been laid on the bosom of her sister, as if she had made some
soft appeal for mercy or indulgence there. And Claudia had been moved
a little, as the glistening of her eyelids showed, and a tender gleam
in her expression--the one and the only thing required to enrich her
brilliant beauty. And thus, without stopping to think, she came up to
Hilary, with a long kind glance, and gave a little sigh, worth more
than even that sweet glance to him.

“Alas! dear Captain,” she said in Spanish, which Hilary was quite pat
with now; “we have been lamenting your brief departure. How shall we
live when you are lost?”

“What cruelty of yourselves to think! The matter of your inquiry should
be the chance of my survival.”

“Well said!” she exclaimed. “You English are not so very stupid after
all. Why do you not clap your hands, Camilla?”

Camilla, being commanded thus, made a weak attempt with her little
palms; but her heart was down too low for any brisk concussion of flesh
or air.

“I believe, Master Captain,” said Claudia, throwing herself gracefully
on a white bull’s hide--shaped as a chair on the slopes of moss--“that
you are most happy to make your escape from this long and dull
imprisonment. Behold, how little we have done for you, after all the
brave things you have done for us!”

“Ah, no,” said Camilla, gazing sadly at the “captain,” who would not
gaze at her; “it is true that we have done but little. Yet, Senhor, we
meant our best.”

“Your kindness to me has been wonderful, magnificent,” answered Hilary.
“The days I have passed under your benevolence have been the happiest
of my life.”

Hereupon Camilla turned away, to hide her tenderness of tears. But
Claudia had no exhibition, except a little smile to hide.

“And will you come again?” she asked. “Will you ever think of us any
more, in the scenes of your grand combats, and the fierce delight of
glory?”

“Is it possible for me to forget”--began Hilary, in his noblest
Spanish--“your constant care of a poor stranger, your never-fatigued
attention to him, and thy--thy saving of his life? To thee I owe my
life, and will at any moment render it.”

This was a little too much for Camilla, who really had saved him; and
being too young to know how rarely the proper person gets the praise,
she gathered up her things to go.

“Darling Claudia,” she exclaimed, “I can do nothing at all without my
little silver spinetta. This steel thing is so rusty that it fills my
work with canker. You know the danger of rusty iron, Claudia; is it not
so?”

“She is cross,” said Claudia, as her sister with gentle dignity left
the cove. “What can have made her so cross to-day?”

“The saints are good to me,” Hilary answered, little suspecting the
truth of the case: “they grant me the chance of saying what I have long
desired to say to you.”

“To me, Senhor!” cried the maiden, displaying a tremulous glow in
her long black eyes, and managing to blush divinely, and then in the
frankness of her nature caring not to conceal a sigh. “It cannot be to
me, Senhor!”

“To you--to you, of all the worlds, of all the heavens, and all the
angels!” The fervent youth fell upon his knees before his lovely idol,
and seized the hand she began to press to her evidently bounding heart,
and drew her towards him, and thought for the moment that she was
glad to come to him. Then, in his rapture, he stroked aside her loose
and deliciously fragrant hair, and waited, with all his heart intent,
for the priceless glance--to tell him all. But, strongly moved as she
was, no doubt, by his impassioned words and touch, and the sympathy of
youthful love, she kept her oval eyelids down, as if she feared to let
him see the completion of his conquest. Then, as he fain would have
had her nearer, and folded in his eager arms, she gently withdrew, and
turned away; but allowed him to hear one little sob, and to see tears
irrepressible.

“You loveliest of all lovely beings,” began Lorraine, in very decent
Spanish, such as herself had taught him; “and at the same time, you
best and dearest----”

“Stop, Senhor,” she whispered, gazing sadly, and then playfully, at
this prize of her eyes and slave of her lips; “I must not allow you to
say so much. You will leave us to-morrow, and forget it all. What is
the use of this fugitive dream?”

Hereupon the young soldier went through the usual protestations of
truth, fidelity, devotion, and eternal memory; so thoroughly hurried
and carried away, that he used in another tongue the words poured forth
scarcely a year ago to a purer, truer, and nobler love.

“Alas!” the young Donna now mimicked, in voice and attitude, some
deserted one; “to how many beautiful English maidens have these very
noble words been used! You cavaliers are all alike. I will say no more
to you now, brave captain; the proof of truth is not in words, but in
true and devoted actions. You know our proverb--‘The cork is noisiest
when it leaves the bottle.’ If you would have me bear you in mind, you
must show that you remember me.”

“At the cost of my life, of my good repute, of all that I have in the
world, or shall have, of everything but my hope of you.”

“I shall remember these words, my captain; and perhaps I shall put them
to the test some day.” She gave him her soft and trembling hand, and
he pressed it to his lips, and sought to impress a still more loving
seal; but she said “Not yet, not yet, oh beloved one!” Or whether she
said “oh enamoured one!” he could not be quite certain. And before he
could do or say anything more, she had passed from his reach, and was
gliding swiftly under the leafy curtain of that ever-sacred bower. “She
is mine, she is mine!” cried young Lorraine, as he caught up the velvet
band of her hair, and covered it with kisses, and then bestowed the
same attentions on the white bull-skin, where her form had lain. “The
loveliest creature ever seen is mine! What can I have done to deserve
her?”

While he lay in the ecstasy of his triumph, the loveliest creature ever
seen stole swiftly up a rocky path, beset with myrtle and cornel-wood,
and canopied with climbers. After some intricate turns, and often
watching that no one followed her, she came to the door of a little
hut embosomed in towering chestnut-trees. The door was open, and a
man of great stature was lounging on a couch too short for his legs,
and smoking a cigar of proportions more judiciously adapted to his
own. Near one of his elbows stood a very heavy carbine, and a sword
three-quarters of a fathom long; and by his other hand lay a great
pitcher empty and rolled over.

As the young Donna’s footfall struck his ears, he leaped from his
couch, and cocked his gun; then, recognizing the sound, replaced it,
and stood indolently at his door.

“At last, you are come then!” he said, with an accent decidedly of the
northern provinces (not inborn, however, but caught from comrades); “I
thought that you meant to let me die of thirst. You forget that I have
lost the habit of this execrable heat.”

Claudia looked up at her cousin Don Alcides d’Alcar--or, as he loved to
be called, “the great Brigadier”--with a very different gaze from any
poor Hilary could win of her. To this man alone the entire treasures
of her heart were open; for him alone her glorious eyes no longer
sparkled, flashed, or played with insincere allurements; but beamed and
shone with depths of light, and profusion of profoundest love.

“Darling,” she said, as she stood on tiptoe, and sweetly pacified him;
“I have laboured in vain to come sooner to you. Your commands took a
long time to execute. You men can scarcely understand such things. And
that tiresome Camilla hung about me; I thought my occasion would never
arrive. But all has gone well: he is my slave for ever.”

“You did not allow him to embrace you, I trust?” Before he could finish
his scowl, she stopped his mouth, and reassured him.

“Is it to be imagined? A miserable shaveling Briton!” But, though she
looked so indignant, she knew how near she had been to that ignominy.

“You are as clever as you are lovely,” answered the Brigadier,
well pleased. “But I die of thirst, my beloved one. Fly swiftly to
Teresina’s store; for I dare not venture till the night has fallen.
Would that you could manage your father, as you wind those striplings
round your spindle!”

For the Count of Zamora had given orders that his precious nephew
should be shot, if ever found upon land of his. So Claudia took the
empty pitcher to fetch another half-skin of wine, as well as some
food, for the great Brigadier; and, having performed this duty, met
the infatuated Hilary, for the last time, at her father’s board. She
wished him good night, and good-bye, with a glance of deep meaning and
kind encouragement; while the fair Camilla bent over his hand, and then
departed to her chamber, with full eyes and an empty heart.



CHAPTER XLVI.

HARD RIDING AND HARD READING.


In those old times of heavy pounding, scanty food, and great hardihood,
when war was not accounted yet as one of the exact sciences, and
soldiers slept, in all sorts of weather, without so much as a blanket
round them, much less a snug tent overhead, the duties of the different
branches of the service were not quite so distinct as they are now.
Lieutenant Lorraine--for the ladies had given over-rapid promotion
when they called him their “brave captain”--had not rejoined his
regiment long before he obtained acknowledgment of his good and gallant
actions. Having proved that he could sit a horse, see distinctly at
long distance, and speak the Spanish language fairly--thanks to the two
young Donnas--and possessed some other accomplishments (which would now
be tested by paper work), he received an appointment upon the Staff,
not of the Light Division, but at Head-quarters, under the very keen
eyes of “the hero of a hundred fights.”

If the brief estimate of his compeers is of any importance to a man
of powerful genius--as no doubt it must be, by its effect on his
opportunities--then the Iron Duke, though crowned with good luck (as
everybody called each triumph of his skill and care), certainly seems
to have been unlucky as to the date of his birth and work. “Providence
in its infinite wisdom”--to use a phrase of the Wesleyans, who claim
the great general as of kin to their own courageous founder--produced
him at a time, no doubt, when he was uncommonly needful; but when (let
him push his fame as he would, by victory after victory) there always
was a more gigantic, because a more voracious, glory marching far in
front of him. Our great hero never had the chance of terrifying the
world by lopping it limb by limb and devouring it; and as noble glory
is the child of terror (begotten upon it by violence), the fame of
Wellington could never vie with Napoleon’s glory.

To him, however, this mattered little, except that it often impaired
his means of discharging his duty thoroughly. His present duty was to
clear the Peninsula of Frenchmen; and this he would perhaps have done
in a quarter of the time it cost, if his own country had only shown due
faith in his abilities. But the grandeur of his name grew slowly (as
the fame of Marcellus grew), like a tree in the hidden lapse of time;
and perhaps no other general ever won so many victories, before his
country began to dream that he could be victorious.

Now this great man was little, if at all, inferior to his mighty rival
in that prime necessity of a commander--insight into his material. He
made a point of learning exactly what each of his officers was fit
for; and he seldom failed, in all his warfare, to put the “right man
in the right place.” He saw at a glance that Lieutenant Lorraine was a
gallant and chivalrous young fellow, active and clever in his way, and
likely to be very useful on the Staff after a little training. And so
many young aids had fallen lately, or were upon the sick-list, that the
quartermaster-general was delighted with a recruit so quick and zealous
as Hilary soon proved himself. And after a few lessons in his duties,
he set him to work with might and main to improve his knowledge of
“colloquial French.”

With this Lorraine, having gift of tongues, began to grow duly
familiar; and the more so perhaps because his knowledge of “epistolary
English” afforded him very little pleasure just now. For all his good
principles and kind feelings must have felt rude shock and shame, when
he read three letters from England which reached him on the very same
day at Valladolid. The first was from his Uncle Struan; and after
making every allowance for the Rector’s want of exercise in the month
of August, Hilary (having perhaps a little too much exercise himself)
could not help feeling that the tone was scarcely so hearty as usual.
The letter was mainly as follows:--

                                     “West Lorraine, 20th August, 1812.

    “MY DEAR NEPHEW,

    “Your father and myself have not been favoured with any letters
    from you for a period of several months. It appears to me that
    this is neither dutiful nor affectionate; although we know that
    you have been wounded, which increased our anxiety. You may
    have been too bad to write, and I wish to make all allowance
    for you. But where there is a will there is a way. When I was
    at Oxford, few men perhaps in all the University felt more
    distaste than I did for original Latin composition. Yet every
    Saturday when we went to the hall to get our battelbills--there
    was my essay, neatly written, and of sound Latinity.”--“Come,
    come,” cried Lorraine; this is a little too cool, my dear
    uncle. How many times have I heard you boast what you used to
    pay your scout’s son per line!”

    “I cannot expect any young man, of course,” continued the
    worthy parson, “to make such efforts for conscience’ sake as
    in my young days were made cheerfully. But this indolence and
    dislike of the pen _furcâ expellendum est_--must be expelled
    with a knife and fork. Perhaps you will scarcely care to hear
    that your aunt and cousins are doing well. After your exploits
    your memory seems to have grown very short of poor folk in old
    England. Your birthday falling on a Sunday this year, I took
    occasion to allude in the course of my sermon to a mural crown,
    of which I remember to have heard at school. Nobody knew what I
    meant; but many were more affected than if they did. But, after
    all, it requires, to my mind, quite as much courage, and more
    skill, to take a dry wall properly, when nobody has been over
    it, than to scramble into Badajos. Alice will write to you by
    this post, and tell you all the gossip of the sad old house, if
    there is any. There seems to be nobody now with life enough to
    make much gossip. And all that we hear is about Captain Chapman
    (who means to have Alice), and about yourself.

    “About you it is said, though I cannot believe it, and must
    be ashamed of you when I do so, that you are making a fool of
    yourself with a Spanish lady of birth and position, but a rank,
    idolatrous, bigoted Papist! The Lorraines have been always
    sadly heterodox in religious matters, from age to age receiving
    every whim they came across of. They have taken to astrology,
    Mahomet, destiny, and the gods of Greece, and they never seem
    to know when to stop. The only true Church, the Church of
    England, never has any hold of them; and if you should marry a
    Papist, Hilary, it would be a judgment.

    “Your father, perhaps, would be very glad of any looseness of
    mind and sense, that might have the power to lead you astray
    from my ideas of honour. I have had a little explanation with
    him; in the course of which, as he used stronger language
    than I at all approve of, I ventured to remind him that
    from the very outset I had charged him with what I call this
    low intention, this design of working upon your fickle and
    capricious temper, to make you act dishonourably. Your poor
    father was much annoyed at this home-truth, and became so
    violent, and used such unbecoming language, that I thought it
    the most clerical course to leave him to reflect upon it. On
    the following Sunday I discoursed upon the third chapter of the
    Epistle of St. James; but there was only Alice in the Coombe
    pew. I saw, however, that she more than once turned away her
    face with shame, although I certainly did not discover any
    tears. It is to be hoped that she gave Sir Roland an accurate
    summary of my discourse; none of which (as I explained to your
    dear aunt after the service) was intended for my own domestic
    hearth. Since that time I have not had the pleasure of meeting
    Sir Roland Lorraine in private life.

    “And now a few words as to your own conduct. Your memory is
    now so bad that you may have forgotten what I did for you.
    At a time when my parish and family were in much need of my
    attention, and two large coveys of quite young birds were
    lying every night in the corner of the Hays, I left my home in
    extremely hot weather, simply to be of use to you. My services
    may have been trifling; but at that time you did not think so.
    It was not my place to interfere in a matter which was for your
    father’s decision. But I so far committed myself, that if you
    are fool enough and knave enough--for I never mince language,
    as your father does--to repudiate your engagement with a
    charming and sensible girl, for the sake of high-flying but
    low-minded Papists, much of the disgrace will fall on me.

    “And what are those Spanish families (descended perhaps from
    Don Quixote, or even Sancho Panza) to compare with Kentish
    landowners, who derive their title from the good old Danes?
    And what are their women when they get yellow--as they always
    do before twenty-five--compared with an Englishwoman, who
    generally looks her best at forty? And not only that (for after
    all, that is a secondary question, as a man grows wise), but is
    a southern foreigner likely to make an Englishman happy? Even
    if she becomes converted from her image-worship (about which
    they are very obstinate), can she keep his house for him? Can
    she manage an English servant? Can she order a dinner? does she
    even know when a bed is aired? can a gentleman dine and sleep
    at her house after a day’s hunting, without having rheumatism,
    gout, and a bilious attack in the morning? All this, you will
    think, can be managed by deputy; and in very large places it
    must be so. But I have been a guest in very large places--very
    much finer than Coombe Lorraine, however your father may have
    scoffed at me; and I can only say that I would rather be the
    guest of an English country-squire, or even a parson, with a
    clever and active wife at the head of his table, than of a
    duke with a grand French cook, and a duchess who never saw a
    dust-pan.

    “And if you should marry a Spaniard, where are you to get your
    grand establishment? Your father never saves a farthing, and
    you are even less likely to do so. And as for the lady, she
    of course will have nothing. ‘My blood is blue because I have
    no breeches,’ says one of their poets, feelingly; and that is
    the case with all of them. Whereas I have received a little
    hint, it does not matter how or where, that Mabel Lovejoy (who
    is much too good for any fickle jackanapes) is down for a
    nice round sum in the will of a bachelor banker at Tonbridge.
    Her father and mother do not know it, neither do any of her
    family; but I did not pass my very pleasant holiday in that
    town for nothing. Every one seemed to understand me, and I was
    thoroughly pleased with all of them.

    “But I shall not be pleased at all with you, and in good truth
    you never shall darken my door, if you yield yourself, bound
    hand and foot, to any of those Dulcineas, or rather Delilahs.
    I have known a good many Spaniards, when Nelson was obliged to
    take them prisoners; they are a dirty, lazy lot, unfit to ride
    anything but mules, and they poison the air with garlic.

    “Your aunt and cousins, who have read this letter, say that I
    have been too hard upon you. The more they argue the more I am
    convinced that I have been far too lenient. So that I will only
    add their loves, and remain, my dear nephew,

                       “Your affectionate uncle,

                                                     “STRUAN HALES.

    “P.S.--We expect a very grand shooting season. Last year,
    through the drought and heat, there was not a good turnip-field
    in the parish. Birds were very numerous, as they always are in
    hot seasons; but there was no getting near them. This season,
    the turnips are up to my knees. How I wish that you were here,
    instead of popping at the red legs! Through the great kindness
    of young Steenie Chapman I am to have free warren of all Sir
    Remnant’s vast estates! But I like the home-shooting best; and
    no doubt your father will come to a proper state of mind before
    the first. Do not take amiss, my dear boy, whatever I may have
    said for your good. _Scribe cito. Responde cras._

                          “Your loving uncle,

                                                            “S. H.”

All this long epistle was read by Hilary in the saddle; for he had two
horses allowed him now--whenever he could get them--and now he was
cantering with an order to an out-post of the advanced-guard, tracking
the rear of Clausel. They knew not yet what Clausel was,--one of the
few men who ever defied, and yet escaped from Wellington. The British
Staff was weak just now, though freshly recruited with Hilary; or
haply the Frenchman might not have succeeded in his brilliant movement.

“He must be terribly put out,” said young Lorraine, meaning neither
Clausel, nor Wellington, nor Napoleon even, but his Uncle Struan;
“there is not a word of any paragon dog, nor the horses he has bought
or chopped, nor even little Cecil. He must have had a great row with
my father, and he visits it on this generation. How can he have heard
of angelic Claudia, and then talk of garlic? My darling, I know what
you are, though heavy-seated Britons fail to soar to such perfection!
Now for Alice, I suppose. She will know how to behave, I should hope.
Why how she begins, as if I were her thirty-second cousin ten times
removed! And how precious short it is! But what a beautifully clear
firm hand!”

    “MY DEAR HILARY,

    “My father, not having any time to spare just now, and having
    received no letter from you which he might desire to answer,
    has asked me to say that we are quite well, and that we are
    very glad to hear that you seem to have greatly distinguished
    yourself. To hear this must always be, as you will feel, a
    pleasure and true pride to us. At the same time we have been
    very anxious, because you have been returned in the _Gazette_
    as heavily wounded. We hope, however, that it is not so, for we
    have been favoured with a very long letter from Major Clumps of
    your regiment to my grandmother’s dear friend, Lady de Lampnor,
    in which you were spoken of most highly; and since that he has
    not spoken of you, as he must have done, if you were wounded.
    Pray let us hear at once what the truth is. Uncle Struan was
    very rude to my father about you the other day, and used the
    most violent language, and preached such a sermon against
    himself on Sunday! But he has not been up to apologize yet; and
    I hear from dear Cecil that he means to tell you all about it.
    He is most thoroughly good, poor dear; but allowances must be
    made for him.

    “He will tell you, of course, all the gossip of the place;
    which is mainly, as usual, about himself. He seems to attach so
    much importance to what we consider trifles. And he does the
    most wonderful things sometimes.

    “He has taken a boy from the bottom of our hill--the boy that
    stole the donkey, and lived upon rags and bottles--and he has
    him at the Rectory, every day except Sunday, to clean knives
    and boots. The whole of the village is quite astonished; the
    boy used to run for his life at the sight of dear Uncle Struan,
    and we cannot help thinking that it is done just because we
    could never encourage the boy.

    “Papa thinks that you are very likely to require a little cash
    just now, for he knows that young officers are poorly paid,
    even when they can get their money, which is said to be scarce
    with your brave army now; therefore he has placed £100 to
    your credit with Messrs. Shotman, for which you can draw as
    required, and the money will be replaced at Christmas. And
    grandmamma begs me to add that she is so pleased with your
    success in the only profession fit for a gentleman, that she
    sends from her own purse twenty guineas, through the hands of
    Messrs. Shotman. And she trusts that you will now begin to
    cultivate frugality.

    “With these words I must now conclude, prolonging only to
    convey the kind love of us all, and best desires for your
    welfare, with which I now subscribe myself,

                      “Your affectionate sister,

                                                   “ALICE LORRAINE.

    “P.S.--Darling Brother,--The above has been chiefly from that
    grandmamma. I have leave to write to you now myself; and the
    rest of this piece of paper will hold not a hundredth part
    of what I want to say. I am most unhappy about dear papa,
    and about you, and Uncle Struan, and Captain Chapman, and
    everybody. Nothing goes well; and if you fight in Spain, we
    fight much worse in England. Father is always thinking, and
    dwelling upon his thoughts, in the library. He knows that he
    has been hard upon you; and the better you go on, the more he
    worries himself about it, because he is so thoroughly set upon
    being just to everyone. And even concerning a certain young
    lady--it is not as Uncle Struan fancies. You know how headlong
    he is, and he cannot at all understand our father. My father
    has a justice such as my uncle cannot dream of. But dear papa
    doubts your knowledge of your own mind, darling Hilary. What
    a low idea of Uncle Struan, that you were sent to Spain to
    be tempted! I did not like what happened to you in Kent last
    summer, any more than other people did. But I think that papa
    would despise you--and I am quite sure that I should--if you
    deceived anybody after leading them to trust you. But of course
    you could not do it, darling, any more than I could.

    “Now do write home a nice cheerful letter, with every word of
    all you do, and everything you can think of. Papa pretends
    to be very quiet--but I am sure that is always thinking of
    you; and he seems to grow so much older. I wish all his books
    were at Hanover! I would take him for a good ride every day.
    Good-bye, darling! If you make out this, you will deserve
    a crown of crosses. Uncle Struan thought that he was very
    learned; and he confounded the mural with the civic crown!
    Having earned the one, earn the other by saving us all, and
    your own

                                                          “LALLIE.”

Hilary read this letter twice; and then put it by, to be read again;
for some of it touched him sadly. Then he delivered the orders he
bore, and made a rough sketch of the valley, and returning by another
track, drew forth his third epistle. This he had feared to confront,
because his conscience went against him so; for he knew that the hand
was Gregory’s. However, it must be met sooner or later; it was no good
putting off the evil day; and so he read as follows:--

                                     “Mid. Temple, Aug. 22nd, 1812.

    “MY DEAR LORRAINE,

    “It is now many months since I heard from you, and knowing that
    you had been wounded, I have been very anxious about you, and
    wrote three several times to inquire, under date May 3rd, June
    7th, and July 2nd. Of course none of these may have come to
    hand, as they were addressed to your regiment, and I do not at
    all understand how you manage without having any post-town. But
    I have heard through my friend Capper, who knows two officers
    of your regiment, that you were expected to return to duty in
    July, since which I have vainly expected to hear from you by
    every arrival. No one, therefore, can charge me with haste or
    impatience in asking, at last, for some explanation of your
    conduct. And this I do with a heavy heart, in consequence of
    some reports which have reached me, from good authority.”

“Confound the fellow!” cried the conscious Hilary; “how he beats about
the bush! Will he never have it out and be done with it? What an
abominably legal and cold-blooded style! Ah, now for it!”

    “You must be aware that you have won the warmest regard, and
    indeed I must say the whole heart, of my sister Mabel. This
    was much against the wishes and intentions of her friends. She
    was not thrown in your way to catch the heir to a title, and
    a rich man’s son. We knew that there would be many obstacles,
    and we all desired to prevent it. Even I, though carried away
    by my great regard for you, never approved it. If you have a
    particle of your old candour left, you will confess that from
    first to last the engagement was of your own seeking. I knew,
    and my sister also knew, that your father could not be expected
    to like it, or allow it, for a very long time to come. But we
    also knew that he was a man of honour and integrity, and that
    if he broke it off, it would be done by fair means, and not by
    foul. Everything depended upon yourself. You were not a boy,
    but a man at least five years older than my sister; and you
    formed this attachment with your eyes open, and did your utmost
    to make it mutual.”

“To be sure I did,” exclaimed the young officer, giving a swish to his
innocent horse, because himself deserved it; “how could I help it?
She was such a dear! How I wish I had never seen Claudia! But really,
Gregory, come now, you are almost too hard upon me!”

    “And not only this,” continued that inexorable young barrister;
    “but lest there should be any doubt about your serious
    intentions, you induced, or at any rate you permitted, your
    uncle, the Rev. Struan Hales, to visit Mabel and encourage
    her, and assure her that all opposition would fail if she
    remained true and steadfast.

    “Mabel has remained true and steadfast, even to the extent of
    disbelieving that you can be otherwise. From day to day, and
    from week to week, she has been looking for a message from
    you, if it were only one kind word. She has felt your wound,
    I make bold to say, a great deal more than you have done. She
    has taken more pride than you can have taken, in what she calls
    your ‘glory.’ She watches every morning for the man who goes
    for the letters, and every evening she waits and listens for a
    step that never comes.

    “If she could only make up her mind that you had quite
    forgotten her, I hope that she would try to think that you were
    not worth grieving for. But the worst of it is that she cannot
    bring herself to think any ill of you. And until she has it
    under your own hand that you are cruel and false to her, she
    only smiles at and despises those who think it possible.

    “We must put a stop to this state of things. It is not fair
    that any girl should be kept in the dark and deluded so;
    least of all such a girl as Mabel, so gentle, and true, and
    tender-hearted. Therefore I must beg you at once to write to my
    sister or to me, and to state honestly your intentions. If your
    intention is to desert my sister, I ask you, as a last favour,
    to do it as rudely and roughly as possible, so that her pride
    may be aroused and help her to overget the blow. But if you can
    give any honourable explanation of your conduct, no one will be
    more delighted, and beg your pardon more heartily and humbly,
    than your former friend,

                                                 “GREGORY LOVEJOY.”



CHAPTER XLVII.

TRY TO THINK THE BEST OF ME.


Lorraine set spurs to his horse as soon as he got to the end of this
letter. It was high time for him to gallop away from the one idea,--the
bitter knowledge that out of this he could not come with the conscience
of a gentleman. He was right in fleeing from himself, as hard as
ever he could go; for no Lorraine had been known ever to behave so
shabbily. In the former days of rather low morality and high feudalism,
many Lorraines might have taken fancies to pretty girls, and jilted
them--but never as he had done; never approaching a pure maid as an
equal, and pledging honour to her, and then dishonourably deserting her.

“I am sure I know not what to do,” he cried, in a cold sweat, while
his nag was in a very hot one. “Heaven knows who my true love is. I am
almost sure that it must be Mabel; because when I think of her I get
hot; and when I think of Claudia, I get cold.”

There may have been some sense in this; at any rate it is a question
for a meteorologist. Though people who explain--as they always
manage to do--everything, might without difficulty declare that they
understood the whole of it. That a young man in magnetic attitude
towards two maidens widely distinct, one positive and one negative,
should hop up and down, like elder-pith, would of course be accounted
for by the “strange phenomena of electricity.” But little was known of
such things then; and every man had to confront his own acts, without
any fine phraseology. And Hilary’s acts had left him now in such a
position--or “fix” as it is forcibly termed nowadays--that even that
most inventive Arab, the Sheikh of the Subterfuges, could scarcely have
delivered him.

But, after all, the griefs of the body (where there is perpetual work)
knock at the door of the constitution louder than those of the mind
do. And not only Hilary now, but all the British army found it hard to
get anything to eat. As for money--there was none, or next to none,
among them; but this was a trifling matter to men who knew so well how
to help themselves. But shoes, and clothing, and meat for dinner, and
yellow soap for horny soles, and a dram of something strong at night
before lying down in the hole of their hips,--they felt the want of
these comforts now, after spending a fortnight in Madrid. And now they
were bound to march every day fifteen to twenty English miles, over
very hard ground, and in scorching weather, after an enemy offering
more than affording chance of fighting.

These things made every British bosom ready to explode with anger; and
the Staff was blamed, as usual, for negligence, ignorance, clumsiness,
inability, and all the rest of it. These reproaches entered deeply into
the bruised heart of Lorraine, and made him so zealous that his chief
very often laughed while praising him. And thus in the valley of the
Arlanzan, on the march towards Burgos, he became a gallant captain,
with the goodwill of all who knew him.

Lorraine was royally proud of this; for his nature was not
self-contained. He contemplated many letters beginning “Captain
Lorraine presents his compliments to so-and-so;” and he even thought at
one time of thus defying his Uncle Struan. However, a little reflection
showed him that the wisest plan was to let the Rector abide a while in
silence. It was out of all reason--though not, perhaps, entirely beyond
precedent--that he, the least injured of all the parties, should be the
loudest in complaint; and it would serve him right to learn, from the
hostile source of Coombe Lorraine, the withering fact that his recreant
nephew was now a British captain bold.

To Alice, therefore, the Captain wrote at the very first opportunity,
to set forth his promotion, and to thank his father and grandmother for
cash. But he made no allusion to home-affairs, except to wish everybody
well. This letter he despatched on the 17th of September; and then,
being thoroughly stiff and weary from a week spent in the saddle,
he shunned the camp-fires and the cooking, and slept in a tuffet of
plantain-grass, to the melody of the Arlanzan.

On the following day our army, being entirely robbed of fighting by a
dancing Frenchman (who kept snapping his fingers at Lord Wellington),
entered in no pleasant humour into a burning city. The sun was hot
enough in all conscience, roasting all wholesome Britons into a dirty
Moorish colour, without a poor halt and maimed soldier having to march
between burning houses. A house on fire is full of interest, and has
become proverbial now as an illustration of bright success. But the
metaphor--whether derived or not from military privileges--proceeds on
the supposition that the proper people have applied the torch. In the
present case this was otherwise. The Frenchmen had fired the houses,
and taken excellent care to rob them first.

Finding the heat of the town of Burgos almost past endurance, although
the fire had now been quenched, Hilary strolled forth towards sunset
for a little change of air. His duties, which had been so incessant,
were cut short for a day or two; but to move his legs, with no horse
between them, seemed at first unnatural. He passed through narrow
reeking streets, where filthy people sprawled about under overlapping
eaves and coignes, and then he came to the scorched rough land, and
looked back at the citadel. The garrison, now that the smoke was
clearing from the houses below the steep (which they had fired for
safety’s sake), might be seen in the western light, training their guns
upon the city, which swarmed with Spanish guerillas.

These sons of the soil were plundering with as good a grace as if
themselves had taken a hostile city; and in the enthusiasm of the
moment, or from force of habit perhaps, some of them gladly lent a hand
in robbing their own houses. But the British soldiers grounded arms,
and looked on very grimly; for they had not carried the town by storm,
and their sense of honesty prevailed. All this amused Lorraine, who
watched it through his field-glass, as he sat on a rocky mound outside
the city, resting himself, for his legs were stiff, and feeling quite
out of his element at being his own master. But presently he saw that
the French, who were very busy in the castle, were about to treat both
Spaniards and Britons to a warm salute of shells; and he rose at once
to give them warning, but found his legs too stiff for speed. So he
threw a half-dollar to a Portuguese soldier, who was sauntering on the
road below, and bade him run at his very best pace, and give notice of
their danger.

But before his messenger had passed the gate, Hilary saw a Spanish
chief, as in the distance he seemed to be, come swiftly out of a
side street, and by rapid signals recall and place quite out of the
line of fire all the plundering Spaniards. This man, as Hilary’s
spy-glass showed him, was of very great breadth and stature, and wore
a slouch-hat with a short black feather, a green leather jerkin, and
a broad white sash; his mighty legs were encased above mid-thigh in
boots of undressed hide; and he was armed with a long straight sword
and dagger. Having some experience of plunderers, Hilary was surprised
at the prompt obedience yielded to this guerilla chief, until he was
gratified by observing a sample of his discipline. For two of his men
demurring a little to the abandonment of their prey, he knocked them
down as scientifically as an English pugilist, handed their booty
to others, and had them dragged by the heels round the corner. Then
having his men all under cover, he stood in a calm and reflective
attitude, with an immense cigar in his mouth, to see a fine group of
thirsty Britons (who were drinking in the middle of the square), shot
or shelled as the case might be. And when Hilary’s messenger ran up in
breathless haste to give the alarm, and earn his half-dollar honestly,
what did that ruthless fellow do, but thrust forth a long leg, trip
him up, and hand him over with a grin to some brigands, who rifled his
pockets and stopped his mouth. Then came what Hilary had expected, a
roar, a plunge, a wreath of smoke, and nine or ten brave Englishmen lay
shattered round the fountain.

“That Spaniard is a very queer ally,” said Hilary, with a shudder.
“He knew what was coming, and he took good care that it should not be
prevented. Let me try to see his face, if my good glass will show it.
I call him a bandit, and nothing else. _Partidas_ indeed! I call them
cut-throats.”

At that very moment, the great guerilla turned round to indulge in a
hearty laugh, and having a panel of pitched wall behind him, presented
his face (like a portrait in an ebony frame) towards Hilary. The collar
of the jerkin was rolled back, and the great bull throat and neck left
bare, except where a short black beard stood forth, like a spur of jet
to the heavy jaws. The mouth was covered with a thick moustache; but
haughty nostrils and a Roman nose, as well as deep lines of face, and
fierce eyes hung with sullen eyebrows, made Hilary cry, “What an ugly
fellow!” as he turned his glass upon something else.

Yet this was a face such as many women dote upon and almost adore.
Power is the first thing they look for in the face of a man; or at
least it is the very first thing that strikes them. And “power” of
that sort is headstrong will, with no regard for others. From mental
power it so diverges that very few men have embodied both; as nature
has kindly provided, for the happiness of the rest of us. But Captain
Lorraine, while he watched that Spaniard, knew that he must be a man
of mark, though he little dreamed that his wild love Claudia utterly
scorned his own comely self in comparison with that “ugly fellow.”

But for the moment the sight of that brigand, and slaughter of good
English soldiers, set Hilary (who, with all his faults, was vigorously
patriotic) against the whole race of Spaniards, male or female, or
whatever they might be.

Moreover, his long absence now from Claudia, and her neglect to write
(as she had promised to do) to him, as well as an anecdote which he had
heard on good authority about her, had combined to weaken the spell of
her dazzling and impassioned beauty--a power which above all others,
must have its victim within reach. And even as regarded mere personal
charms, the more he had to deal with the Spanish race, the more he
acknowledged the truth of the words of his good Uncle Struan. Mabel, at
thirty, would be in full beauty; Claudia would be rapidly falling into
the sere and yellow leaf. The more he thought of the matter, the more
his heart glowed back towards the one who loved him, and cooled towards
the selfish foreigner.

While he was in this state of mind, a mounted orderly dashed up, and
placed a small parcel in his hand. “From home, sir,” he said, and
saluted, and dashed off. Hilary opened it, and found a most lovely
miniature of Mabel. There was the good, bright, clever face; the calm
clear forehead, and the rich brown eyes; the rosy lips ready for a
charming smile; the soft glossy hair, in natural curls to fit caressing
fingers. Above all there was, what there never could be in the face of
Claudia, the happy expression of loving-kindness, faith, and truth, and
constancy.

Who sent that portrait was for years unknown to any one but the sender.
It proved in the end to be Uncle Struan.

Hilary gazed at it most intently, and for some moments sadly. But the
more he gazed the better and brighter became his own expression. The
goodness of his true-love seemed to breathe from her face into his, and
fill him with a likeness to her, and chasten, enlarge, and ennoble him.

Hesitation was thenceforth banished; and being driven by nature,
as usual, rather with a spur than bridle, he made a strong dash at
a desperate fence which for months had been puzzling him. Horses
unluckily do not write, although they talk, and laugh, and think, and
tell with their eyes a great deal more than most of us who ride them.
Therefore this metaphor must be dropped, for Lorraine pulled out his
roll of paper, pen, and ink (which he was bound to carry), and put up
his knees, all stiff and creaking, and on that desk did what he ought
to have done at least three months ago. He wrote to his loving Mabel;
surely better late than never.

    “MY DARLING MABEL,

    “I know that I have not behaved to you kindly, or even as a
    gentleman. Although I was not allowed to write to you, I ought
    to have written to your brother Gregory long ago, and I am
    ashamed of myself. But I am much more ashamed of the reason,
    and I will make no sham excuses. It is difficult to say what I
    want to say; but my only amends is to tell the whole truth, and
    I hope that you will try to allow for me.

    “And the truth is this. I fell in love: not as I did with
    you, my darling, just because I loved you; but because--well,
    I cannot tell why, although I am trying for the very truth;
    I cannot tell why I did it. She saved my life, and nursed me
    long. She was not bad-looking; but young and brave.

    “I hope that it is all over now. I trust in the Lord that it
    is so. I see that these Spaniards are cruel people, and I work
    night and day to forget them all. When I get any sleep, it is
    you that come and look upon me beautifully; and when I kick up
    with those plaguesome insects, the face that I see is a Spanish
    one. This alone shows where my heart is fixed. But you have
    none of those things at Old Applewood.

    “And now I can say no more. I write in the midst of roaring
    cannon, and perhaps you will say, when you see my words, that I
    had better have died of my wounds, than live to disgrace, as I
    have done, your

                                                           “HILARY.

    “P.S.--Try to think the best of me, darling. If anybody needs
    it, I do. Gregory wrote me such a letter that I am afraid to
    send you any--anythings!”



CHAPTER XLVIII.

SOMETHING WORTH KISSING.


Pessimists who love to dwell on the darker side of human nature,
and find (or at any rate colour) that perpetually changing object
to the tone of their own dull thoughts, making our whole world no
better than the chameleon of themselves; who trace every act and word
and thought, either to very mean selfishness, or exceedingly grand
destiny--according to their own pet theory,--let those gloomy spirits
migrate in as cheerful a manner as they can manage to the back side
of the moon, the side that neither shines on earth, nor gathers any
earthshine. But even if they will not thus oblige inferior mortals, let
them not come near a scene where true love dwells, and simple faith,
and pleasant hours are spent in helping nature to be kind to us.

Where the rich recesses of the bosomed earth brim over with variety;
where every step of man discloses some new goodness over him; and
every hour of the day shows different veins of happiness; the light in
sloping glances looking richer as the sun goes down, and showing with a
deeper love its own good works and parentage; the children of the light
presenting all their varied joy to it; some revolving, many bending,
all with one accord inclining softly, sweetly, and thankfully,--can any
man, even of a churlish nature, wander about at a time like this, with
the power of the sunset over him, and walk down the alleys of trees,
and spend a leisure hour among them, without admitting into his heart a
calm unconscious kindliness?

If any man could be so ungrateful to the Giver of all good things,
he was not to be found in the land of Kent, but must be sought in
some northern county where they grow sour gooseberries. Master Martin
Lovejoy had, in the month of October, 1812, as fine a crop of pears as
ever made a fountain of a tree.

For the growers did not understand the pruning of trees as we do now.
They were a benighted lot altogether, proceeding only by rule of thumb
and the practice of their grandfathers, never lopping the roots of a
tree, nor summer pinching, nor wiring it, nor dislocating its joints;
and yet they grew as good fruit as we do! They had no right to do so;
but the thing is beyond denial. Therefore one might see a pear-tree
rising in its natural form, tall and straight and goodly, hanging
its taper branches like a chandelier with lustrous weight, tier upon
tier, the rich fruit glistening with the ruddy sun-streaks, or with
russet veinage mellowing. Hard thereby the Golden Noble, globular and
stainless, or the conical King Pippin, pencilled on its orange fulness
with a crimson glow, or the great bulk of Dutch Codlin, oblong, ribbed,
and over-bearing. Here was the place and time for a man to sit in the
midst of his garden, and feel that the year was not gone in vain, nor
his date of life lessened fruitlessly, and looking round with right
good will, thank the Lord, and remember his father.

In such goodly mood and tenor Master Martin Lovejoy sat, early of an
October afternoon, to smoke his pipe and enjoy himself. He had finished
his dinner--a plain but good one; his teeth were sound, and digestion
stanch; he paid his tithes and went to church; he had not an enemy in
the world, to the utmost of his knowledge; and his name was good for a
thousand pounds from Canterbury to Reigate. His wheat had been fine,
and his hops pretty good, his barley by no means below the mark, the
cherry and strawberry season fair, and his apples and pears as you
see them. Such a man would be guilty of a great mistake if he kept on
the tramp perpetually. Fortune encouraged him to sit down, and set an
arm-chair and a cushion for him, and mixed him a glass of Schiedam and
water, with a slice of lemon, and gave him a wife to ask how his feet
were, as well as a daughter to see to his slippers.

“Now you don’t get on at all,” he said, as he mixed Mrs Lovejoy the
least little drop, because of the wind going round to the north; “you
are so abstemious, my dear soul; by-and-by you will pay out for it.”

“I must be a disciplinarian, Martin,” Mrs. Lovejoy replied, with a sad
sweet smile. “How ever the ladies can manage to take beer, wine, gin,
bitters, and brandy, in the way they do, all of an afternoon, is beyond
my comprehension.”

“They get used to it,” answered the Grower, calmly; “and their
constitution requires it. At the same time I am not saying, mind you,
that some of them may not overdo it. Moderation is the golden rule; but
you carry it too far, my dear.”

“Better too little than too much,” said Mrs. Lovejoy sententiously.
“Whatever I take, I like just to know that there is something in it,
and no more. No, Martin, no--if you please, not more than the thickness
of my thumb-nail. Well, now for what we were talking about. We can
never go on like this, you know.”

“Wife, I will tell you what it is”--here Martin Lovejoy tried to look
both melancholy and stern, but failed; “we do not use our duties right;
we do not work up in the position to which it has pleased God to call
us. We don’t make our children see that they are--bless my heart, what
is the word?”

“‘Obligated’ is the word you mean. ‘Obligated’ they all of them are.”

“No, no; ‘bounden’ is the word I mean; ‘bounden’ says the Catechism.
They are bounden to obey, whether they like it or no, and that is the
word’s expression. Now is there one of them as does it?”

“I can’t say there is,” his wife replied, after thinking of all three
of them. “Martin, no; they do their best, but you can’t have them quite
tied hand and foot. And I doubt whether we should love them better, if
we had them always to order.”

“Likely not. I cannot tell. They have given me no chance of trying.
They do what seems best in their own eyes, and the fault of it lies
with you, mother.”

“Do they ever do anything wrong, Martin Lovejoy? Do they ever disgrace
you anywhere? Do they ever go about and borrow money, or trade on their
name, or anything? Surely you want to provoke me, Martin, when you
begin to revile my children.”

“Well,” said the Grower, blowing smoke, in the manner of a matrimonial
man, “let us go to something else. Here is this affair of Mabel’s now.
How do you mean to settle it?”

“I think you should rather tell me, Martin, how you mean to settle
it. She might have been settled long ago, in a good position and
comfortable, if my advice had been heeded. But you are the most
obstinate man in the world.”

“Well, well, my dear, I don’t think that you should be hard upon any
one in that respect. You have set your heart upon one thing, and I upon
another; and we have to deal with some one perhaps more obstinate than
both of us. She takes after her good mother there.”

“After her father, more likely, Martin. But she has given her promise,
and she will keep it, and the time is very nearly up, you know.”

“The battle of Trafalgar, yes. The 21st of October, seven years ago, as
I am a man! Lord bless me, it seems but yesterday! How all the country
up and wept, and how it sent our boy to sea! There never can be such a
thing again; and no one would look at a drumhead savoy!”

“Plague upon the market, Martin! I do believe you think much more
of your growings than your gainings. But she fixed the day herself,
because it was a battle; didn’t she?”

“Yes, wife, yes. But after all, I see not so much to come of it.
Supposing she gets no letter by to-morrow-night, what comes of it?”

“Why, a very great deal. You men never know. She puts all her foolish
ideas aside, and she does her best to be sensible.”

“By the spread of my measure, oh deary me! I thought she was bound to
much more than that. She gives up him, at any rate.”

“Yes, poor dear, she gives him up, and a precious cry she will make
of it. Why, Martin, when you and I were young we carried on so
differently.”

“What use to talk about that?” said the Grower: “they all must have
their romances now. Like tapping a cask of beer, it is. You must let
them spit out at the top a little.”

“All that, of course, needs no discussion. I do not remember that, in
our love-time, you expected to see me ‘spit out at the top!’ You grow
so coarse in your ideas, Martin; the more you go growing, the coarser
you get.”

“Now, is there nothing to be said but that? She gives him up, and she
tries to be sensible. The malting season is on, and how can Elias come
and do anything?”

“Martin, may I say one word? You keep so perpetually talking, that I
scarcely have a chance to breathe. We do not want that low Jenkins
here. How many quarters he soaks in a week is nothing, and cannot be
anything to me. A tanner is more to my taste a great deal, if one must
come down to the dressers. And there one might get some good ox-tails.
I believe that you want to sell your daughter to get your malt for
nothing.”

The Grower’s indignation at this despicable charge was such, that he
rolled in his chair, like a man in a boat, and spread his sturdy legs,
and said nothing, for fear of further mischief. Then he turned out his
elbows, in a manner of his own, and Mrs. Lovejoy saw that she had gone
too far.

“Well, well,” she resumed, “perhaps not quite that. Mr. Jenkins, no
doubt, is very well in his way: and he shall have fair play, so far as
I am concerned. But mind, Dr. Calvert must have the same; that was our
bargain, Martin. All the days of the week to be open to both, and no
difference in the dinner.”

“Very well, very well!” the franklin murmured, being still a little
wounded about the malt. “I am sure I put up with anything. Calvert
may have her, if he can cure her. I can’t bear to see the poor maid
so pining. It makes my heart ache many a time; but I have more faith
in barley-corn than jalap; though I don’t want neither of them for
nothing.”

“We shall see, my dear, how she will come round. The doctor prescribes
carriage exercise for her. Well, how is she to get it, except in his
carriage? And she cannot well have his carriage, I suppose, before she
marries him.”

“Carriage exercise? Riding on wheels, I suppose, is what they mean by
it. If riding on wheels will do her any good, she can have our yellow
gig five times a-week. And I want to go round the neighbourhood too.
There’s some little bits of money owing me. I’ll take her for a drive
to-morrow.”

“Your yellow gig! To call that a carriage! A rough sort of exercise, I
doubt. Why, it jerks up, like a Jack-in-a-box, at every stone you come
to. If that is your idea of a carriage, Martin, pray take us all out in
the dung-cart.”

“The old gig was good enough for my mother; and why should my daughter
be above it? They doctors and women are turning her head, worse than
poor young Lorraine did. Oh, if I had Elias to prune my trees--after
all I have taught him--and Lorraine to get up in the van again; I might
keep out of the bankrupt court after all; I do believe I might.” Here
the Grower fetched a long sigh through his pipe. He was going to be
bankrupt every season; but never achieved that glory.

“I’m tired of that,” Mrs. Lovejoy said. “You used to frighten me with
it at first, whenever there came any sort of weather--a storm, or a
frost, or too much sun, or too much rain, or too little of it; the Lord
knows that if you have had any fruit, you have got it out of Him by
grumbling. And now you are longing, in a heathenish manner, to marry
your daughter to two men at once! One for the night-work, and one for
the day. Now, will you, for once, speak your mind out truly.”

“Well, wife, there is no one that tries a man so badly as his own wife
does. I am pretty well known for speaking my mind too plainly, more
than too doubtfully. I can’t say the same to you, as I should have to
say to anybody else; because you are my wife, you see, and have a good
right to be down upon me. And so I am forced to get away from things
that ought to be argued. But about my daughter, I have a right to think
my own opinion; while I leave your own to you, as a father has a right
with a mother. And all I say is common-sense. Our Mabel belongs to a
time of life when the girls are always dreaming. And then you may say
what you like to them mainly; and it makes no difference. Now she looks
very pale, and she feels very queer, all through that young sort of
mischief. But let her get a letter from Master Hilary--and you would
see what would come over her.”

“I have got it! I have got it!” cried a young voice, as if in answer,
although too sudden of approach for that. “Father, here it is! Mother,
here it is! Long expected, come at last! There, what do you think of
that now?”

Her face was lit with a smile of delight, and her eyes with tears of
gladness, as she stood between her astonished parents, and waved in the
air an open letter, fluttering less (though a breeze was blowing) than
her true heart fluttered. Then she pressed the paper to her lips, and
kissed it, with a good smack every time; and then she laid it against
her bosom, and bowed to her father and mother, as much as to say--“You
may think what you like of me--I am not ashamed of it!”

The Grower pushed two grey curls aside, and looked up with a grand
amazement. Here was a girl, who at dinner-time even would scarcely say
more than “yes,” or “no;” who started when suddenly spoken to, and
was obliged to clear her mind to think; who smiled now and then, when
a smile was expected, and not because she had a smile,--in a word,
who had become a dull, careless, unnatural, cloudy, depressed, and
abominably inconsistent Mabel--a cause of anxiety to her father, and of
recklessness to herself--when lo, at a touch of the magic wand, here
she was, as brave as ever!

The father, and the mother also, knew the old expression settled on the
darling face again; the many family modes of thinking, and of looking,
and of loving, and of feeling out for love, which only a father and a
mother dearly know in a dear child’s face. And then they looked at one
another; and in spite of all small variance, the husband and the wife
were one in the matter of rejoicing.

It was not according to their schemes, and they both might still be
obstinate. But by a stroke their hearts were opened--wise or foolish,
right or wrong,--what they might say outside reason, they really could
not stop to think. They only saw that their sweet good child, for many
long months a stranger to them, was come home to their hearts again.
And they could have no clearer proof than this.

She took up her father’s pipe, and sniffed with a lofty contempt at the
sealing-wax (which was of the very lowest order), and then she snapped
it off and scraped him (with a tortoiseshell handled knife of her own)
a proper place to suck at. And while she was doing that, and most busy
with one of her fingers to make a draught, she turned to her mother
with her other side, as only a very quick girl could do, and tucked up
some hair (which was slipping from the string, with a palpable breach
of the unities) and gave her two tugs, in the very right place to make
her of the latest fashion; and then let her know, with lips alone, what
store she set on her opinion. And the whole of this business was done
in less time than two lovers would take for their kissing!

“You have beaten me, Popsy,” said Mrs. Lovejoy, fetching up an old name
of the days when she was nursing this one.

“Dash me!” cried the Grower; “you shall marry Old Harry, if you choose
to set your heart on him.”



CHAPTER XLIX.

A DANGEROUS COMMISSION.


Peradventure the eyes and the heart, as well as the boundless charity
of true love, were needed to descry what Mabel at a glance discovered,
the “grand nobility” of Hilary’s conduct, and the “pathetic beauty” of
his self-reproach. Perhaps at first sight the justice of the latter
would be a more apparent thing; but love (when it deserves the name) is
a generous as well as a jealous power; especially in the tender gush of
renewal and reunion. And Lorraine meant every word as he wrote it, and
indeed for a good while afterwards; so that heart took pen to heart,
which is sometimes better than the wings of speech. Giving comfort
thus, he also received the same from his own conscience and pure
resolutions; and he felt that his good angel was, for the present at
least, come back to him. How long she would stop was another question.

And he needed her now in matters even more stirring than the hottest
love-affairs. For though he had no chance of coming to the front in
any of the desperate assaults on the castle of Burgos, being far away
then with despatches, he was back with his chief when the retreat
began; a retreat which must have become a rout under any but the finest
management. For the British army was at its worst towards the month of
November, 1812. Partly from intercourse with _partidas_, partly perhaps
from the joys of Madrid, but mainly no doubt from want of cash, the
Britons were not as they had been. Even the officers dared to be most
thoroughly disobedient, and to follow the route which they thought
best, instead of that laid down for them. But Wellington put up with
insolent ignorance, as a weaker man could not have deigned to do: he
had to endure it from those above him; and he knew how to bear it with
all around him; and yet to be the master. His manifold dealings with
everybody and everything at this time (with nobody caring to understand
him, and his own people set against him; with the whole world making
little of him, because he hated flash-work; and perhaps his own mind
in some doubt of its powers, because they were not recognised)--these,
and the wearisome uphill struggle to be honest without any money, were
beginning to streak with grey the hair that had all the hard brain
under it.

Here again was a chance for Hilary; and without thinking, he worked it
well. In his quick, and perhaps too sudden, way of taking impression of
every one, he had stamped on his mind the abiding image of his great
commander. The General knew this (as all men feel the impression they
are making, as sharply almost as a butter-stamp), and of course he felt
goodwill towards the youth who so looked up to him. It was quite a new
thing for this great Captain, after all his years of conquest, to be
accounted of any value; because he was not a Frenchman.

Being, however, of rigid justice, although he was no Frenchman,
Lord Wellington did not lift Captain Lorraine over the heads of his
compeers. He only marked him (in his own clear and most tenacious mind)
as one who might be trusted for a dashing job, and deserved to have the
chance of it.

And so they went into winter quarters on the Douro and Aguada, after
a great deal of fighting, far in the rear of their storms and sieges
and their many victories; because the British Government paid whole
millions right and left to rogues, and left its own army to live
without money, and to be hanged if it stole an onion. And the only
satisfaction our men had--and even in that they were generous--was to
hear of the Frenchmen in Russia freezing, as fast as could well be
expected.

Now, while this return to the frontier, and ebb of success created
disgust in England and depression among our soldiers, they also bore
most disastrously on the fortunes of a certain gallant and very zealous
Staff officer. For they brought him again into those soft meshes,
whence he had wellnigh made good his escape without any serious damage;
but now there was no such deliverance for him. And this was a very hard
case, and he really did deserve some pity now; for he did not return
of his own accord, and fall at the feet of the charmer; but in the
strictest course of duty became an unwilling victim. And it happened
altogether in this wise.

In the month of May, 1813, when the British commander had all things
ready for that glorious campaign which drove the French over the
Pyrenees; and when the British army, freshened, strengthened, and
sternly redisciplined, was eager to bound forward--a sudden and sad
check arose. By no means, however, a new form of hindrance, but one
only too familiar at all times and in all countries--the sinews of
war were not forthcoming. The military chest was empty. The pay of
the British troops was far in arrear, and so was their bounty-money;
but that they were pretty well used to by this time, and grumble as
they might, they were ready to march. Not so, however, the Portuguese,
who were now an important element; and even the Spanish regulars in
Andalusia would do nothing, until they had handled dollars.

This need of money had been well foreseen by the ubiquitous mind of
Wellington; but what he had not allowed for, and what no one else
would have taken into thought, so soon after Nelson’s time, was the
sluggishness of the British navy. Whether it were the fault of our
Government, or of our Admiral on the station, certain it is that the
mouth of the Tagus (which was the mouth of the whole British army)
was stopped for days, and even weeks together, by a few American
privateers. And ships containing supplies for our army (whether of
food, or clothing, or the even more needful British gold), if they
escaped at all, could do it only by running for the dangerous bar of
the Douro, or for Cadiz.

In this state of matters, the “Generalissimo” sent for Captain Lorraine
one day, and despatched him on special duty.

“You know Count Zamora,” said Lord Wellington, in his clear voice of
precision; “and his castle in the Sierra Morena.”

Hilary bowed, without a word, knowing well what his Chief was pleased
with.

“You also know the country well, and the passes of the Morena. Colonel
Langham has orders to furnish you with the five best horses at hand,
and the two most trusty men he knows of. You will go direct to Count
Zamora’s house, and deliver to him this letter. He will tell you what
next to do. I believe that the ship containing the specie, which will
be under your charge, was unable to make either Lisbon or the port of
Cadiz, and ran through the Straits for Malaga. But the Count will know
better than I do. Remember that you are placed at his disposal, in
all except one point--and that is the money. He will provide you with
Spanish escort, and the Spaniards are liable for the money, through
Andalusia, and the mountains, until you cross the Zujar, where a
detachment from General Hill will meet you. They begged me not to send
British convoy (beyond what might be needful to authorize the delivery
to them), because their own troops are in occupation.

“Never mind that; be as wide awake as if every farthing was your own,
or rather was part of your honour. I seldom place so young a man in a
position of so much trust. But the case is peculiar; and I trust you.
There will be £100,000, in English gold, to take care of. The Spaniards
will furnish the transport, and Count Zamora will receive half of the
specie, on behalf of the Junta of Seville, for the pay of the Spanish
forces, and give you his receipt for it. The remainder you will place
under the care of General Hill’s detachment, and rejoin us as soon
as possible. I have no time more. Colonel Langham will give you your
passes, and smaller directions. But remember that you are in a place
of trust unusual for so young an officer. Good-bye, and keep a sharp
look-out.”

Lord Wellington gave his hand, with a bow of the fine old type, to
Hilary. And he from his proper salute recovered, and took it as one
gentleman takes the courtesy of another. But as he felt that firm,
and cool, and muscular hand for a moment, he knew that he was treated
with extraordinary confidence; and that his future as an officer, and
perhaps as a gentleman, hung on the manner in which he should acquit
himself of so rare a trust. In the courtyard he found Colonel Langham,
who gave him some written instructions, and his passes and credentials,
as well as a good deal of sound advice, which the General had no time
to give. And in another hour Hilary Lorraine was riding away in the
highest spirits, thinking of Mabel, and of all his luck; and little
dreaming that he was galloping into the ditch of his fortunes.

Behind him rode two well-tried troopers, as thoroughly trained to their
work as the best hereditary butler, gamekeeper or even pointer. There
could be found no steadier men in all the world of steadiness. One
was Sergeant-major Bones, and the other was Corporal Nickles. Each of
them led a spare horse by the soft brown twist of willow-bark, steeped
in tan and fish-oil, so as to make a horse think much of it. And thus
they rode through the brilliant night, upon a fine old Roman road, with
beautiful change, and lovely air, and nobody to challenge them. For the
French army lay to the east and north; the Portuguese were far in their
rear; and the Spanish forces away to the south, except a few guerillas,
who could take nothing by meddling with them. But the next day was hot,
and the road grew rough, and their horses fell weary; and, haste as
they might, they did not arrive at Monte Argento till after sunset of
the second day.

The Count of Zamora felt some affection, as well as much gratitude,
towards Lorraine, and showed it through the lofty courtesy with which
he received him. And Hilary, on his part, could not help admiring the
valour and patriotism, and almost poetic dignity, of this chieftain
of a time gone by. For being of a simple mind, and highly valuing
eloquence, the Count nearly always began with a flourish as to what
he might have done for the liberation of his country; if he had been
younger. Having exhausted this reflection, he was wont to proceed at
leisure to the military virtues of his sons. Then, if anybody showed
impatience, he always stopped with a lofty bow; otherwise, on he went,
and the further he went, the more he enjoyed himself. Hilary, a very
polite young man, and really a kind-hearted one, had grown into the
Count’s good graces--setting aside all gratitude--by truly believing
all his exploits, and those of his fathers and grandfathers, and best
of all those of his two sons,--and never so much as yawning.

“You are at my orders?” said the Count, with a dry smile on his fine
old face. “It is well, my son; it is glorious. Our great commander has
so commanded. My first order is that you come to the supper; and rest,
and wear slippers, for the three days to follow.”

“Shall I take those instructions in writing,” asked Hilary; “and under
the seal of the Junta?”

“The Junta is an old woman,” said his host; “she chatters, and she
scolds, and she locks up the money. But enter, my son, enter, I pray
you. You are at the very right moment arrived--as is your habit; or I
should not be here. We have a young boar of the first nobility; and
truffles are in him from the banks which you know. You shall carve
him for us; you are so strong, and you Englishmen so understand sharp
steel. My sons are still at the war; but my daughters--how will they be
pleased to see you!”

At the smell of the innocent young roaster--for such he was in
verity,--light curtains rose, and light figures entered; for all
Spanish ladies know well what is good. Camilla and Claudia greeted
Hilary, as if they had been with him all the morning; and turned their
whole minds to the table at once. And Hilary, thoroughly knowing their
manners, only said to himself, how well they looked!

In this he was right. The delicate grace and soft charm of Camilla set
off the more brilliant and defiant beauty of young Claudia. Neither
of them seemed to care in the least what anybody thought of her; or
whether any thought at all occurred to anybody, upon a subject so
indifferent, distant, and purely abstract. Captain Lorraine was no
more to them than a friar, or pilgrim, or hermit. They were very much
obliged to him for cutting up the pig; and they showed that they
thought it a good pig.

Now, as it happened, these were not the tactics fitted for the
moment. In an ordinary mood, Lorraine might have fallen to these fair
Parthians; but knowing what danger he was running into--without any
chance of avoiding it--he had made up his mind, all along the road, to
be severely critical. Mabel’s true affection (as shown by a letter in
answer to his) had moved him; she had not hinted at any rival, or lapse
of love on his part; but had told with all her dear warm heart the
pleasure, the pride, and the love she felt. Hilary had this letter in
his pocket; and it made him inclined to be critical.

Now it may, without any lese-majesty of the grand female race, be
asserted, that good, and kind, and beautiful, and purely superior as
they are, they are therewith so magnanimous to men, that they abstain,
for the most part, from exhibiting too much cruel perfection. No
specimen of them seems ever to occur that is entirely blameless, if
submitted to rigid criticism; which, of course, they would never submit
to. Therefore it was wrong of Hilary, and showed him in a despicable
light, that because the young ladies would not look at him much, he
looked at them with judicial eyes. And the result of his observation,
over the backbone of the pig, was this.

In “physique”--a word which ought to be worse than physic to an
Englishman--there was no fault of any sort to be found with either
of these young ladies. They were noble examples of the best Spanish
type, tall, and pure, yet rich of tint, with most bewitching eyes, and
classic flexure of luxuriant hair, grace in every turn and gesture, and
melody in every tone. Yet even in the most expressive glance, and most
enchanting smile, was there any of that simple goodness, loyalty, and
comfort, which were to be found in an equally lovely, but less superb
young woman?

Herewith the young Captain began to think of his Uncle Struan’s advice,
and even his sister’s words on the matter; which from so haughty a
girl--as he called her, although he knew that she was not that--had
caused him at first no small surprise, and at the same time produced
no small effect. And the end of it was that he gave a little squeeze
to Mabel’s portrait and loving letter; and said to himself that one
English girl was worth a dozen Spanish ones.

On the following day, the fair young Donnas changed their mode of
action. They vied with each other in attention to Hilary, led him
through the well-known places, chattered Spanish most musically, and
sang melting love-songs, lavished smiles and glances on him; and
nothing was too good for him. He was greatly delighted, of course, and
was bound in gratitude to flirt a little; but still, on the whole,
he behaved very well. For instance, he gave no invidious preference
to either of his lovely charmers; but paid as much heed to poor
Camilla (whose heart was bounding with love and happiness) as he did
to Claudia; who began to be in earnest now, that her sister might
not conquer him. This was a dangerous turn of events for Hilary; and
it was lucky for him that he was promptly called away. For his host
got despatches which compelled him to cut short hospitality; and
Captain Lorraine, with great relief, set forth the next morning for
Malaga. Sergeant Bones and Corporal Nickles had carried on handsomely
downstairs, and were most loth to come away; but duty is always the
guiding-star of the noble British Corporal. Nickles and Bones, at the
call of their country, cast off all domestic ties, and buckled up their
belly-bands. Merrily thus they all rode on, for their horses were fresh
and frolicsome, to the Spanish head-quarters near Cordova; and forward
thence to Malaga.



CHAPTER L.

STERLING AND STRIKING AFFECTION.


At this particular time there was nothing so thoroughly appreciated,
loved, admired, and begged, borrowed, or stolen in every corner of the
Continent, as the good old English guinea. His fine old face and his
jovial colour made him welcome everywhere; one look at him was enough
to show his purity, substance, and sterling virtue, and prove him sure
to outlast in the end the flashy and upstart “Napoleon.” Happily for
the world, that poor, weak-coloured, and adulterated coin now called
the “sovereign,” was not the representative of English worth at that
time; otherwise Europe might have been either France or Russia for a
century.

And though we are now in the mire so low--through time-servers,
hucksters, and demagogues--that the voice of England is become no more
than the squeak of a halfpenny shoeblack, we might be glad to think
of all our fathers did, at our expense, so grandly and heroically,
if nations (trampled on for years, and but for England swept away)
would only take it as not a mortal injury that through us they
live. At any rate, many noble Spaniards in and round about Malaga
condescended to come and see the unloading of the British corvette,
_Cleopatra-cum-Antonio_. She was the nimblest little craft (either
on or off a wind) of all ever captured from the French; and her name
had been reefed into _Clipater_ first, and then into _Clipper_, which
still holds way. And thus, in spite of all her money, she had run the
gauntlet of Americans and Frenchmen, and lay on her keel discharging.

Lorraine regarded this process with his usual keen interest.

The scene was so new, and the people so strange, and their views of the
world so original, that he could not have tried to step into anything
nobler and more refreshing. There was no such Babel of gesticulation
as in a French harbour must have been; but there was plenty of little
side-play, in and out among the natives, such as a visitor loves to
watch. And the dignity with which the Spaniards took the money into
their charge was truly gratifying to the British mind. “They might
have said ‘Thank you,’ at any rate,” thought Hilary, signing the bill
of delivery, under three or four Spanish signatures. But that was no
concern of his.

One hundred thousand British guineas, even when they are given away,
are not to be made light of. Their weight (without heeding the iron
chests wherein they were packed in Threadneedle Street) perhaps was
not very much under a ton; and with the chests must have been nearly
two tons. There were ten chests, thoroughly secured and sealed, each
containing ten thousand guineas, and weighing about 4 cwt. All these
were delivered by the English agent to the deputy of Count Zamora,
who was accompanied by two members of the Junta of Seville, and the
Alcaide of Cordova; and these great people, after no small parley, and
with the aid of Spanish officers, packed all the consignment into four
mule-carts, and sent them under strong escort to head-quarters near
Cordova. Here the Count met them, and gave a receipt to Hilary for the
Spanish subsidy, which very soon went the way of all money among the
Spanish soldiers. And the next day the five less lucky mules, who were
dragging the pay of the British army, went on with the five remaining
chests--three in one cart and two in the other--still under Spanish
escort, towards the slopes of the Sierra Morena.

Hilary, as usual, adapted himself to the tone and the humour around
him. The Spanish officers took to him kindly, and so did the soldiers,
and even the mules. He was in great spirits once more, and kindly and
cordially satisfied with himself. His conscience had pricked him for
many months concerning that affair with Claudia; but now it praised him
for behaving well, and returning to due allegiance. He still had some
little misgiving about his vows to the Spanish maiden; but really he
did not believe that she would desire to enforce them. He was almost
sure in his heart that the lovely young Donna did not care for him, but
had only been carried away for the moment, by her own warmth, and his
stupid fervour. Tush! he now found himself a little too wide awake,
and experienced in the ways of women, to be led astray by any of them.
Claudia was a most beautiful girl, most fascinating, and seductive; but
now, if he only kept out of her way, as he meant most religiously to
do----

“The brave and renowned young captain,” said the Count of Zamora,
riding up in the fork of the valley where the mountain-road divided,
and one branch led to his house, “will not, of course, disdain our
humble hospitality for the night?”

“I fear that it cannot be, dear Senhor,” answered Lorraine, with a lift
of his hat in the Spanish manner, which he had caught to perfection;
“my orders are to make all speed with the treasure, until I meet our
detachment.”

“We are responsible for the treasure,” the Count replied, with a smile
of good-humour, and the slightest touch of haughtiness, “until you have
crossed the river upon the other side of our mountains. Senhor, is not
that enough? We have travelled far, and the mules are weary. Even if
the young captain prefers to bivouac in the open air, it is a proverb
that the noble English think more of their beasts than of themselves.
And behold, even now the sun is low; and there are clouds impending!
The escort is under my orders as yet. If you refuse, I must exercise
the authority of the Junta.”

What could Hilary do but yield? He was ordered to be at the Count’s
disposal; and thus the Count disposed of him. Nevertheless he
stipulated that the convoy should pursue its course, as soon as the
moon had risen; for the night is better than the day for travelling, in
this prime of the southern year.

So the carts were brought into a walled quadrangle of the Monte
Argento; and heavy gates were barred upon them, while the mules came
out of harness, and stood happily round a heap of rye. The Spanish
officers, still in charge, were ready to be most convivial; and Hilary
fell into their mood, with native compliance well cultivated. In a
word, they all enjoyed themselves.

One alone, the star of all, the radiant, brilliant, lustrous one, the
admired of all admirers, that young Claudia, was sorrowful. Hilary, in
the gush of youthful spirits and promotion; in the glow of duty done
and lofty standard satisfied; through all the pride of money paid by
the nation he belonged to; and even the glory of saying good things
in a language slightly known to him;--Hilary caught from time to time
those grand reproachful eyes, and felt that they quite spoiled his
dinner. And he was not even to get off like this.

For when he was going in the calmest manner, to order forth his carts,
and march, with the full moon risen among the hills--the daintiest
little note ever seen came into his hand, as softly as if it were
dropped by a dove too young to coo. He knew that it came from a lady of
course; and in the romantic place and time, his quick heart beat more
quickly.

The writing was too fine for even his keen eyes by moonlight; but he
managed to get to a quiet lamp, and there he read as follows: “You have
forgotten your vows to me. I must have an explanation. There is no
chance of it in this house. My nurse has a daughter at the ‘bridge of
echoes.’ You know it, and you will have to cross it, within a league of
your journey. If I can escape, I shall be on that bridge in two hours’
time. You will wait for me there, if you are an English gentleman.”

This letter was unsigned, but of course it could only come from
Claudia. Of all those conceited young Spanish officers, who had been
contradicting Lorraine, and even daring to argue with him, was there
one who would not have given his right hand, his gilt spurs, or even
his beard, to receive such a letter and such an appointment from the
daughter of the Count of Zamora?

Hilary fancied, as he said farewell, in the cumbrous mass of shadows
and the foliage of the moonlight, that Donna Camilla (who came forth,
with a white mantilla fluttering) made signs, as if she longed, with
all her heart, to speak to him. But the Count stood by, and the guests
of the evening, and two or three mule-drivers cracking whips; and
Hilary’s horse turned on his tail, till the company kissed their hands
to him. And thus he began to descend through trees, and rocks, and
freaks of shadow-land, enjoying the freshness of summer night, and the
tranquil beauty of moonlit hills. Nickles and Bones, the two English
troopers, rode a little in advance of him, each of them leading a spare
horse, and keeping his eyes fixed stubbornly on the treasure-carts
still in the custody of the Spanish horsemen. For the Englishmen had
but little faith in the honesty of “them palavering Dons,” and regarded
it as an affront, and a folly, that the treasure should be in their
charge at all.

In this order they came to the river Zujar, quite a small stream here
at the foot of the mountains, and forming the boundary of the Count’s
estates. According to the compact with the Spaniards, and advices that
day received, the convoy was here to be met by a squadron of horse from
Hill’s division; who at once would assume the charge of it, and be
guided, as to their line of return, by Captain Lorraine’s suggestions.
At the ford, however, there was no sign of any British detachment, and
the trumpeters sounded a flourish in vain.

Hilary felt rather puzzled by this; but his own duty could not be in
doubt. He must on no account allow the treasure-carts to pass the
ford, and so quit Spanish custody, until placed distinctly under
British protection. And this he said clearly to the Spanish colonel,
who quite agreed with him on that point, and promised to halt until he
got word from Lorraine to move into the water. Then Bones and Nickles
were despatched to meet and hurry the expected squadron; for the
Spanish troopers were growing impatient, and their discipline was but
fortuitous.

Under these circumstances young Lorraine was sure that he might,
without any neglect, spare just a few minutes, to do his duty
elsewhere, as a gentleman. He felt that he might have appeared perhaps
to play fast and loose with Claudia, although in his heart he was
pretty certain that she was doing that same with him. And now he
intended to tell her the truth, and beg to be quit of a vow, whose
recall was more likely to gall than to grieve her.

The “bridge of echoes” was about a furlong above the ford, where the
convoy halted. It was an exceedingly ancient bridge, supposed to be
even of Gothic date, and patched with Moorish workmanship. It stood
like a pack-saddle over the torrent, which roared from the mountains
under it; and it must have been of importance once, as commanding
approach to the passes. For, besides two deep embrasures wherein
defenders might take shelter, it had (at the south or Morena end) a
heavy fortalice beetling over, with a dangerous portcullis. And the
whole of it now was in bad repair, so that every flood or tempest
worked it away, at the top or bottom; and capable as it was of light
carts or of heavy people, the officers were quite right in choosing to
send the treasure by the ford below.

Hilary proved that his sword was free to leap at a touch from its
scabbard, ere ever he set foot on that time-worn, shadowy, venerable,
and cut-throat bridge. The precaution perhaps was a wise one. But it
certainly did not at first sight exhibit any proof of true love’s
confidence in the maiden he was come to meet. It showed the difference
between a wise love and a wild one; and Hilary smiled as he asked
himself whether he need have touched his sword, in coming to meet
Mabel. Then, half ashamed of himself, for such very low mistrust of
Claudia, he boldly walked through the crumbling gateway, and up the
steep rise of the bridge.

On the peaked crown of the old arch he stood, and looked both up and
down the river. Towards the mountains there was nothing but loneliness
and rugged shadow; scarred with clefts of moonlight, and at further
distance fringed with mist. And down the water, and the quiet sloping
of the lowlands, everything was feeding on the comfort of the summer
night; the broad delicious calm of lying under nature’s womanhood;
when the rage of the masculine sun is gone, and fair hesitation comes
after it.

Hilary looked at all these things; but did not truly see them. He
took a general idea that the view was beautiful; and he might have
been glad, at another time, to stand and think about it. For the
present, however, his time was short, and he must make the most of it.
The British detachment might appear at the ford, at any moment; and
his duty would be to haste thither at once, and see to the transfer
of convoy. And to make sure of this, he had begged that the Spanish
trumpets might be sounded; while he kept his own horse waiting for him,
and grazing kindly where the grass was cold.

The shadow of the old keep, and the ivy-mantled buttress, fell along
the roadway of the bridge, and lay in scollops there. Beyond it, every
stone was clear (of facing or of parapet), and the age of each could be
guessed almost, and its story, and its character. Even a beetle, or an
earwig, must have had his doings traced, if an enemy were after him.
But under the eaves of the lamp of night, and within all the marge of
the glittering, there lay such darkness as never lies in the world,
where the noon is less brilliant. Hilary stood in the broad light
waiting; and out of the shadow came Claudia.

“I doubted whether you would even do me the honour to meet me here,”
she said; “oh, Hilary, how you are changed to me!”

“I have changed in no way, senhorita; except that I know when I am
loved.”

“And you do not know--then you do not know--it does not become me to
say it, perhaps. Your ways are so different from ours, that you would
despise me if I told it all. I will not weep. No, I will not weep.”

With violent self-control, she raised her magnificent eyes to prove her
words; but the effort was too much for her. The great tears came, and
glistened in the brilliance of the moonlight; but she would not show
them, only turned away; and wished that nobody in the world should know
the power of her emotions.

“Come, come!” said Hilary (for an Englishman always says “come, come,”
when he is taken aback), “you cannot mean half of this, of course.
Come, Claudia; what can have made you take such a turn? You never used
to do it!”

“Ah, I may have been fickle in the days gone by. But absence--absence
is the power that proves----”

“Hark! I hear a sound down the river! Horses’ feet, and wheels, and
clashing----”

“No; it is only the dashing of the water. I know it well. That is why
this bridge is called the ‘bridge of echoes.’ The water makes all sorts
of sounds. Look here; and I will show you.”

She took his hand, as she spoke, and led him away from the parapet
facing the ford to the one on the upper side of the bridge; when,
suddenly, such a faintness seized her, that she was obliged to cling to
him, as she hung over the low and crumbling wall. And how lovely she
looked in the moonlight, so pale, and pure, and perfect; and at the
same time so intensely feminine and helpless!

“Let me fall,” she murmured; “what does it matter, with no one in the
world to care for me? Hilary, let me fall, I implore you.”

“That would be nice gratitude to the one who nursed me, and saved my
life. Senhorita, sit down, I pray you. Allow me to hold you. You are in
great danger.”

“Oh no, oh no!” she answered faintly; as he was obliged to support her
exquisite, but alas! too sensitive figure. “Oh, I must not be embraced.
Oh, Hilary, how can you do such a thing to me?”

“How can I help such a thing, you mean? How beautiful you are, Claudia!”

“What is the use of it? Alas! what is the use of it, if I am? When the
only one in all the world----”

“Ah! There I heard that noise again. It is impossible that it can be
the water,--and I see horses, and the flash of arms.”

“Oh, do not leave me! I shall fall into the torrent. For the sake
of all the saints, stay one moment! How can I be found here? What
infamy!--at least, at least, swear one thing.”

“Anything--anything. But I must be gone. I may be ruined in a moment.”

“And so may I. In the name of the Saviour, swear not to tell that I met
you here. My father would kill me. You cannot even dream----”

“I swear that no power on earth shall make me say a word about you.”

“Oh, I faint, I faint! Lay me there in the shadow. No one will see me.
It is the last time. O how cruel, how cold, how false! how bitterly
cruel you are to me!”

“Is it true,” in a breath he whispered--for now he was in great stir,
and hurry, and heard the Spanish trumpets sound, as he carried her
towards the shadow of the keep, and there for an instant leaned over
her: “is it true that you love me, Claudia?”

“With my whole--oh, what do I say?” And as if she could not trust the
echoes, she glanced at the corner timidly; “oh, do not go, for one
moment, darling!--with every atom of my poor----”

“Heart,” she was going to say, no doubt, but was spared the trouble;
for down fell Hilary, stunned by a crashing blow from that dark corner;
and in a moment Alcides d’Alcar had him by the throat with gigantic
hands, and planted one great knee on his breast.

“Did I do it well?” asked Claudia, recovering bright activity, “Oh,
don’t let him see me. He never must know it.”

“Neither that nor anything else shall he know,” the brigand muttered,
with a furious grasp; until poor Hilary’s blue eyes started forth their
sockets. “You did it too well, my fair actress; so warmly, indeed, that
I am quite jealous. The bottom of the Zujar is his marriage-couch.”

“Loosen his throat, or I scream for his comrades. You promised me not
to hurt him. He shall not be hurt more than we can help; although he
has been so faithless to me.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed the great brigand; “there is no understanding the
delicate views of the females. But you shall be obeyed, beloved one. He
will come to himself in about ten minutes; these Englishmen have such a
thickness of head. Search him; be quick; let me have his despatch-book.
You know where your lovers keep their things.”

Senseless though Hilary lay, the fair maiden kept herself out of the
range of his eyes, as her nimble fingers probed him. In a moment she
drew from an inner breast-pocket his private despatch-book, and Mabel’s
letter, and portrait. Those last she stowed away for her own revenge,
after glancing with great contempt at them; but the book she spread
open to her lover.

“It is noble!” he cried, as the brilliant moonlight shone upon the
pages. “What could be more fortunate? Here are the blank forms with
the heading, and the flourish prepared for his signature. There is his
metal pencil. Now write as I tell you in Spanish, but with one or two
little barbarisms; such as you know him given to. ‘The detachment is
here. I am holding them back. They are not to cross the water. Send the
two carts through; but do not come yourselves. Good-night, and many
thanks to you. May we soon meet again. (Signed) Hilary Lorraine.’ You
know how very polite he is.”

“It is written, and in his own hand, most clearly. He has been my
pupil, and I have been his. Poor youth, I am very sorry for him. Now
let me go. Have I contented you?”

“I will tell you at the chapel to-morrow night. I shall have the
cleverest and most beautiful bride in all Iberia. How can I part with
you till then?”

“You will promise me not to hurt him,” she whispered through his
beard, as he clasped her warmly; while Hilary lay at their feet, still
senseless.

“By all the saints that ever were, or will be, multiplied into all the
angels! One kiss more, and then adieu, if it must be.”

The active young Claudia glided away; while the great brigand
proceeded, with his usual composure, to arrange things to his liking.
He lifted poor Hilary, as if he were a doll, and bound him completely
with broad leather straps, which he buckled to their very tightest;
and then he fixed over his mouth a scarf of the delicate wool of the
mountains; and then he laid him in the shade; for he really was a
most honourable man, when honour came into bearing. And though (as far
as his own feelings went) he would gladly have pitched this Captain
Lorraine into the rush of the Zujar, he had pledged his honour to
Claudia. Therefore he only gagged and bound him, and laid him out of
the moonlight; which, at the time of year, might have maddened him.
After this, Don Alcides d’Alcar struck flint upon punk, and lit a long
cigar.

The whole of that country is full of fleas. The natives may say what
they like; but they only damage their credit by denying it, or prove
to a charitable mind their own insensibility. The older the deposit or
the stratum is, the greater is the number of these active insects; and
this old bridge, whether Moorish, or Gothic, or even Roman (as some
contended), had an antiquarian stock of them.

Therefore poor Hilary, coming to himself--as he was bound to do
by-and-by--grew very uneasy, but obtained no relief through the natural
solace of scratching. He was strapped so tightly that he could only
roll; and if he should be induced to roll a little injudiciously
through a gap of the parapet he must go to the bottom of the lashing
water. Considering these things, he lay and listened; and though he
heard many things which he disliked (and which bore a ruinous meaning
to him for the rest of his young life, and all who loved him) he called
his high courage to his help; and being unable to talk to himself (from
the thickness of the wool between his teeth, which was a most dreadful
denial to him), he thought in his inner parts--“Now, if I die, there
will be no harm to say of me.” He laid this to his conscience, and in
contempt of all insects rolled off to sleep.

The uncontrollable outbreak of day, in the land where the sun is
paramount, came like a cataract over the mountains, and scattered all
darkness with leaps of light. The winding valley and the wooded slope,
the white track of water, and the sombre cliffs, all sprang out of
their vaporous mantle; and even the bridge of echoes looked a cheerful
place to lounge on.

“A bad job surely!” said Corporal Nickles, marching with his footsteps
counted, as if he were a pedometer. “Bones, us haven’t searched this
here ramshackle thing of a Spanish bridge. Wherever young Cap’en can
be, the Lord knows. At the bottom of the river, I dessay.”

“Better if he never was born,” replied Bones; “or leastwise now to be
a dead one. Fifty thousand guineas in a sweep! All cometh of trusting
them beggarly Dons. Corporal, what did I say to you?”

“Like a horacle, you had foreseen it, sergeant. But we’m all right,
howsomever it be. In our favour we has the hallerby.”

Hilary, waking, heard all this, and he managed to sputter so through
the wool, that the faithful non-commissioned officers ran to look for a
wild sheep coughing.

“Is it all gone?” he asked pretty calmly, when they had cut him free at
last, but he could not stand from stiffness. “Do you mean to say that
the whole is gone?”

“Captain,” said Bones, with a solemn salute, which Nickles repeated as
junior, “every guinea are gone, as clean as a whistle; and the Lord
knows where ’em be gone to.”

“Yes, your honour, every blessed guinea,” said Nickles, in
confirmation. “To my mind it goes against the will of the Lord to have
such a damned lot of money.”

“You are a philosopher,” answered Lorraine; “it is pleasing to find
such a view of the case. But as for me, I am a ruined man. No captain,
nor even ‘your honour,’ any more.”

“Your honour must keep your spirits up. It mayn’t be so bad as your
honour thinks,” they answered very kindly, well knowing that he was a
ruined man, but saluting him all the more for it.



CHAPTER LI.

EMPTY LOCKERS.


It may perhaps be said, without any painful exaggeration, that
throughout the whole course of this grand war, struggle of great
captains, and heroic business everywhere, few things made a deeper,
sadder, and more sinister impression than the sudden disappearance
of those fifty thousand guineas. On the other hand, it must not be
supposed that the disappearance of guineas was rare. Far otherwise--as
many people still alive can testify; and some of them perhaps with
gratitude for their reappearance in the right quarter. But these
particular fifty thousand were looked out for in so many places, and
had so long been the subject of hope, as a really solid instalment of
a shilling in the pound for heroes, that the most philosophical of
these latter were inclined to use a short, strong word, of distinctive
nationality.

Poor Hilary felt that for this bad verb his own name must be the
receptive case; and he vainly looked about for any remedy or rescue.
Stiff as he was in the limbs, by reason of the straps of Don Alcides,
and giddy of head from the staff of that most patriotic Spaniard, he
found it for some time a little hard to reflect as calmly as he should
have done. Indeed it was as much as he could do to mount his horse--who
(unlike his master) had stuck to his post very steadfastly--and with
sadness alike with soul and body to ride down to the fatal ford.
Sergeant-major Bones and Corporal Nickles also remounted and followed
the bewildered captain, keeping behind him at a proper distance for
quiet interchange of opinion.

“Corporal, now,” said the sergeant-major, sliding his voice from
behind one hand, “what may be your sentiments as consarns this very
pecooliar and most misfortunate haxident?”

“Sergeant, it would be misbehooving,” replied Nickles, who was a
west-country man, “as well as an onceremonious thing for me to spake
first in the matter. To you it belongeth, being the one as foretold it
like a book; likewise senior hofficer.”

“Corporal, you are a credit to the army. Your discretion, at your
age, is wonderful. There be so few young men as remember when a man
has spoken right. I am the last man in the world to desire to be
overpraised, or to take to myself any sense of it. And now I wants no
credit for it. To me it seems to come natteral to discern things in a
sort of way that I find in nobody else a’most.”

“You doos, you doos,” answered Corporal Nickles. “Many’s the time as
I’ve said to myself--‘Whur can I goo, to find sergeant-major, in this
here trick of the henemy?’ And now, sergeant, what do ’ee think of
this? No fear to tell truth in spaking ’long of me.”

“Corporal, I have been thinking strongly ever since us untied him. And
I have been brought up in the world so much, that I means to think
again of it.”

“Why, sergeant, you never means to say----”

“Nickles, I means just what I means. I may be right, and yet again I
may be altogether wrong; as is the way of every man. ‘Let me alone’ is
all I say. But if I was sure as you could hold your tongue, I might
have something to say to you. Not of any account, you know; but still,
something.”

“Now, sergeant, after all the thumps us has seen and been through
together, you never would behave onhandsome to me.”

“Corporal Nickles, if you put it upon that footing, I cannot deny you.
And mind you, now, my opinion is that this is a very queer case indeed.”

“Now, now, to think of that! Why, sergeant, you ought to be a general!”

“Nickles, no flattery; I am above it. Not but what I might have done so
well as other people, if the will of the Lord had been so. Consarning,
however, of this to-do, and a precious rumpus it will be, my opinion is
that we don’t know half.”

Speaking thus, the sergeant nodded to the corporal impressively, and
jerked his thumb towards the captain in front, and winked, and then
began again.

“You see, corporal, my place is to keep both eyes wide open. There was
a many things as struck me up at the old Don’s yonder. A carrying on
in corners, and a going to lamps to read things, and a winking out of
young ladies’ eyes, to my mind most unmilitary. But I might a’ thought
that was all young people, and a handsome young chap going on as they
will, only for what one of they dirty devils as drives them mules have
said to me.”

“No, now, sergeant; never, now!”

“As true as I sit this here hoss, when us come back with the sun
getting up, what did that pagan say to me? You seed him, corporal,
a-running up, and you might have saved me the trouble, only you was
nodding forward. ‘Senhor captain,’ he said to me, and the whites of his
eyes was full of truth, ‘the young cavalier has been too soft.’ That
was how I made out his country gibberish; the stuff they poor beggars
are born to.”

“It gooeth again the grain of my skin,” Corporal Nickles answered, “to
harken them fellows chattering. But sergeant, what did he say next?”

“Well, they may chatter, or hold their tongues, to them as cannot
understand them. Requireth a gift, which is a denial to most folk, to
understand them. And what he said, Corporal Nickles, was this--that he
was coming up the river, while the carts was waiting, and afore the
robbery, mind you; and he seed a young woman come on to the bridge--you
knows how they goes, corporal, when they expects you to look after
them.”

“Sergeant, I should think so.”

“Well, she come on the bridge for all the world like that. Us have seen
it fifty times. And she had a white handkercher on her head, or an
Ishmaelitish mantle; and she were looking out for some young chap. And
our young cap’en come after her. And who do you think she were? Why,
one of the daughters of the old Don up yonner!”

“Good heart alaive, now, Sergeant Bones, I can’t a’most belave it!”

“Nickles, I tell you what was told me--word for word; and I say no
more. But knowing what the ways of the women is, as us dragoons is so
forced to do, even after a marriage and family----”

“Ah, sergeant, sergeant! we tries in vain to keep inside the strick
line of dooty. I does whatever a man can do; and my father were a
butcher.”

“Corporal, it is one of the trials which the Lord has ordered. They do
look up at one so, and they puts the middle of their lips up, and then
with their bodies they turns away, as if there was nothing to look at.
But, Nickles, they gives you no sort of a chance to come to the bottom
of them. And this is what young cap’en will find out. The good females
always is found out at last; the same as my poor wife was. But here
us are. We have relaxed the bonds of discipline with conversation.
Corporal, eyes right, and wait orders!”

While these two trusty and veteran fellows had been discussing a
subject far too deep for a whole brigade of them, and still were full
of tender recollections (dashed with good escape), poor Hilary had
been vainly spurring, here and there, and all about, himself not come
to his clear mind yet, only hoping to know where the money was gone.
Hope, however, upon that point was disappointed, as usual. The track
of the heavy carts was clear in the gravel of the river, and up the
rocky bank, and on the old Roman road towards Merida. And then, at
the distance of about a furlong from the Zujar, the rut of the wooden
wheels turned sharply into an elbow of a mountain-road. Here, on the
hump of a difficult rise, were marks, as if many kicks, and pricks, and
even stabs, had been ministered to good mules labouring heavily. There
was blood on the road, and the blue shine of friction, where hard rock
encountered hard iron, and the scraping of holes in gravelly spots,
and the nicks of big stones laid behind wheels to ease the tugging,
and afford the short relief of panting. These traces were plain, and
becoming plainer as the road grew worse, for nearly a mile of the
mountain-side, and then the track turned suddenly into a thicket of
dark ilex, where, out of British sight and ken, the spoil had been
divided.

The treasure-carts had been upset, and two of the sturdy mules, at last
foundered with hard labour, lay in their blood, contented that their
work was over, and that man (a greater brute than themselves) had taken
all he wanted out of them. The rest had been driven or ridden on, being
useful for further torment. And here on the ground were five stout
coffers of good British iron; but, alas! the good British gold was
flown.

At this sight, Hilary stared a little; and the five chests in the
morning sun glanced back at him with such a ludicrously sad expression
of emptiness, that, in spite of all his trouble, the poor young captain
broke into a hearty laugh. Then his horse walked up, and sniffed at
them, being reminded, perhaps, of his manger; and Hilary, dismounting,
found a solitary guinea lying in the dust, the last of fifty thousand.
The trail of coarse esparto bags, into which the gold had been poured
from the coffers, for the sake of easier transport, was very distinct
in the parts untrampled by horses, mules, or brigands. But of all the
marks there was none more conspicuous than the impressions of some
man’s boots, larger and heavier than the rest, and appearing, over and
over again, here, there, and everywhere. For a few yards up the rugged
mountain, these and other footprints might be traced without much
trouble, till suddenly they dispersed, grew fainter, and then wholly
disappeared in trackless, hopeless, and (to a stranger) impenetrable
forest.

“Thou honest guinea that would not be stolen!” cried poor Lorraine,
as he returned and picked up the one remaining coin; “haply I shall
never own another honest guinea. Forty-nine thousand nine hundred and
ninety-nine prefer the ownership of rogues. Last of guineas, we will
not part till gold outlives humanity!”

“Now, sir, is there anything us can do?” cried Bones and Nickles, or
one of them. “We has followed all the way up this here long hill, for
want of better orders.”

“No, my good fellows, there is nothing to be done. We cannot fellow any
further. I must go with all speed to report myself. Follow me, if you
can keep up.”

The sergeant nodded to the corporal--for, loyal and steadfast as they
were, suspicion was at work with them; that ugly worm which, once set
going, wriggles into the stoutest heart. Surely it was a queer thing
of the captain not even to let them examine the spot; but order was
order, and without a word they followed the young officer back to the
high road, and then, for some hours in the heat of the day, on the way
towards Estremadura. At noontide they came to a bright, broad stream,
known to them as the Guadalmez, a confluent of the Guadiana; and here
they were challenged, to their great surprise, by a strong detachment
of British hussars.

“What is your duty here?” asked Lorraine, as his uniform and face were
acknowledged and saluted by sentries posted across the ford.

“To receive,” cried an officer, riding through the river (for all
of these people were wide awake), “Captain Lorraine and his Spanish
convoy.”

“I have no convoy,” said Hilary, dropping his voice into very sad
music. “All is lost. It is partly your fault. You were ordered to meet
me at the Zujar ford.”

“This is the Zujar ford,” the cavalry major answered, sternly; and
Hilary’s heart fell from its last hope of recovering anything.

“We have been here these three days waiting for you,” continued the
major, with vehemence; “we have lost all our chance of a glorious
brush; we sent you advice that we were waiting for you. And now you
appear without your convoy! Captain Lorraine, what does all this mean?”

“Major, my explanation is due at head-quarters, rather than to you.”

“And a deuced hard job you’ll have to give it, or my name’s not
M’Rustie,” the senior officer muttered, with more terseness and truth
than courtesy. “I’m blessed if I’d stand in your shoes before Old Beaky
for a trifle.”

Poor Hilary tried in vain to look as if he took it lightly. Even his
bright and buoyant nature could not lift head against the sea of
troubles all in front of him.

“I have done no harm,” he kept saying to himself, when, after the
few words that duty demanded, he urged his stout horse forward; and
the faithful sergeant and corporal, who had shunned all inquisitive
hussars, spurred vigorously after him, feeling themselves (as a Briton
loves to feel himself) pregnant with mighty evidence. “What harm have
I done?” asked Hilary. “I saw to everything; I worked hard. I never
quitted my post, except through duty towards a lady. Any gentleman
must have done what I did. To be an officer is an accident; to be a
gentleman is a necessity.”

“Have you felt altogether,” said conscience to him, “the necessity
of that necessity? Have you found it impossible to depart from a
gentleman’s first duty--good faith to those who trust in him? When you
found yourself bewitched with a foreign lady, did you even let your
first love know it? For months you have been playing fast and loose,
not caring what misery you caused. And now you are fast in the trap of
your looseness. Whatever happens serves you right.”

“Whatever happens serves me right!” cried Hilary Lorraine, aloud, as he
lifted his sword just a little way forth, for the last time to admire
it, and into the sheath dropped a quick, hot tear. “I have done my duty
as an officer badly; and as a gentleman far worse. But, Mabel, if you
could see me now, I think that you would forgive me.”

He felt his heart grow warm again with the thought of his own Mabel;
and in the courage of that thought, he stood before Lord Wellington.



CHAPTER LII.

BE NO MORE OFFICER OF MINE.


The hero of a hundred fights (otherwise called “Old Beaky”) had just
scraped through a choking trouble on the score of money with the
grasping Portuguese regency; and now, in the year 1813, he was busier
than even he had ever found himself before. He had to combine, in most
delicate manner, and with exquisite nicety of time, the movements of
columns whose number scarcely even to himself was clear; for the force
of rivers unusually strong, and the doubt of bridges successively
broken, and the hardship of the Tras os Montes, and the scattering of
soldiers, who for want of money had to “subsist themselves”--which
means to hunt far afield after cows, sheep, and hens--also the
shifty and unpronounced tactics of the enemy, and a great many other
disturbing elements, enough to make calculation sea-sick,--a senior
wrangler, or even Herr Steinitz (the Wellington of the chess-board),
each in his province, might go astray, and trust at last to luck itself
to cut the tangled knot for him.

It was a very grand movement, and triumphantly successful; opening up
as fine a march as can be found in history, sweeping onward in victory,
and closing with conquest of the Frenchmen in their own France, and
nothing left to stop the advance on Paris. “Was all this luck, or was
it skill?” the historian asks in wonder; and the answer, perhaps, may
be found in the proverb--“Luck has a mother’s love for skill.”

Be that as it may, it is quite certain that Hilary, though he had
shown no skill, had some little luck in the present case. For the
Commander-in-Chief was a great deal too busy, and had all his officers
too hard at work, to order, without fatal loss of time, a general
court-martial now. Moreover, he had his own reasons for keeping the
matter as quiet as possible, for at least another fortnight. Every
soldier by that time would be in march, and unable to turn his back on
Brown Bess: whereas now there were some who might lawfully cast away
the knapsack, if they knew that their bounty was again no better than
a cloudy hope. And, again, there were some ugly pot-hooks of English
questions to be dealt with.

All these things passed through the rapid mind of the General, as he
reined his horse, and listened calmly to poor Lorraine’s over-true
report. And then he fixed his keen grey eyes upon Hilary, and said
shortly--

“What were you doing upon that bridge?”

“That is a question,” replied Lorraine, while marvelling at his own
audacity, “which I am pledged by my honour, as a gentleman, not to
answer.”

“By your duty as an officer, in a place of special trust, you are bound
to answer it.”

“General, I cannot. My lord, as I rather must call you now, I wish I
could answer; but I cannot.”

“You have no suspicion who it was that stole the money, with so much
care?”

“I have a suspicion, but nothing more; and it makes me feel
treacherous, to suspect it.”

“Never mind that. We have rogues to deal with. What is your suspicion?”

“My lord, I am sorry to say that again I cannot, in honour, answer you.”

“Captain Lorraine, I have no time to spare.” Lord Wellington had been
more than once interrupted by despatches. “Once and for all, do you
mean to give any, or no explanation of your conduct, in losing £50,000?”

“General, all my life, and the honour of my family, depend upon what I
do now.”

“Then go and seek advice, Lorraine,” the General answered kindly, for
his heart was kind; and he had taken a liking for this young fellow,
and knew a little of his family.

“I have no one to go to for advice, my lord. What is your advice to
me?” With these words, Hilary looked so wretched and yet so proud from
his well-bred face, and beautifully-shaped blue eyes, that his General
stopped from his hurry to pity him. And then he looked gently at the
poor young fellow.

“This is the most irregular state of things I have ever had to deal
with. You have lost a month’s pay of our army, and enough to last them
half a year; and you seem to think that you have done great things,
and refuse all explanation. Is there any chance of recovering the
money?”

“There might be, my lord, if we were not likely to advance too rapidly.”

“There might be, if we threw away our campaign! You have two courses
before you; at least, if I choose to offer them. Will you take my
advice, if I offer the choice?”

“I am only too glad to have any choice; and anything chosen for me by
you.”

“Then this is just how you stand, Lorraine--if we allow the
alternative. You may demand a court-martial, or you may resign your
commission. On the other hand, as you know, a court-martial should at
once be held upon you. What answer are you prepared to make, when asked
why you left your convoy?”

“I should be more stubborn to them than even your lordship has let me
be to you.”

“Then, Captain Lorraine, resign your commission. With my approval it
can be done.”

“Resign my commission!” Lorraine exclaimed, reeling as if he had
received a shot, and catching at the mane of the General’s horse,
without knowing what he was doing. “Oh no, I never could do that.”

“Very well. I have given you my advice. You prefer your own decision;
and I have other things to attend to. Captain Money will receive your
sword. You are under arrest, till we can form a court.”

“My lord, it would break my father’s heart, if he were to hear of such
a thing. I suppose I had better resign my commission, if I may.”

“Put that in writing, and send it to me. I will forward it to the Horse
Guards with a memorandum from myself. I am sorry to lose you, Captain
Lorraine: you might have done well, if you had only proved as sensible
as you are active and gallant. But one word more--what made you stop
short at the ford of a little mountain-stream? I chose you as knowing
the country well. You must have known that the Zujar ford was twenty
miles further on your road.”

“I know all that country too well, my lord. We halted at the real Zujar
ford. General Hill’s detachment stopped at the ford of the Guadalmez.
That is wrongly called the Zujar there. The Zujar has taken a great
sweep to the east, and fallen into the Guadalmez and Guadalemar. Major
M’Rustie must have been misled; and no doubt it was done on purpose. I
have my information on the very best authority.”

“May I ask, upon what authority? Are you pledged in honour to conceal
even that?”

“No, I may tell that, I do believe,” said Hilary, after one moment’s
thought, and with his old bright simple smile. “I had it, my lord,
from the two young ladies--the daughters of the Count of Zamora.”

“Aha!” cried Lord Wellington (being almost as fond of young ladies as
they of him, and touched perhaps for a moment by the magic of a sweet
young smile,) “I begin to understand the bridge affair. But I fear
that young ladies can hardly be cited as authorities on geography.
Otherwise, we might make out a case against the Spanish authorities for
sending our escort to the wrong place. And the Spanish escort, as you
say, took the other for the proper place?”

“Certainly, my lord, they did. And so did the Count, and everybody. Is
there any hope now that I may be acquitted?”

At a moment’s notice from Hope that she would like to come back to her
lodgings, Hilary opened his eyes so wide, and his heart so wide, and
every other place that hope is generally partial to, that the great
commander (who trusted as little, as possible, of his work to hope)
could not help smiling a quick, dry smile. And he felt some pain, as,
word by word, he demolished hope in Hilary.

“The point of the thing is the money, Lorraine. And that we never could
recover from the Spaniards, even if it was lost through them; for the
very good reason that they have not got it. And even supposing the
mistake to be theirs, and our escort to have been sent astray; you were
a party to that mistake. And more than that; you were bound to see that
the treasure did not cross the river, until our men were there. Did you
do so?”

“Oh, if I only had done that, I should not be so miserable.”

“Exactly so. You neglected your duty. Take more care of your own money
than you have taken of the public cash, Lorraine. Do as I told you. And
now, good-bye.”

The General, who had long been chafing at so much discourse just now,
offered his hand to Lorraine, as one who was now a mere civilian.

“Is there no hope?” asked Hilary, dropping a tear into the mane of the
restive horse. “Can I never be restored, my lord?”

“Never! unless the money is made good, before we go into quarters
again. A heavy price for a captain’s commission!”

“If it is made good, my lord, will you restore me from this deep
disgrace?”

“The question will be for his Royal Highness. But I think that in such
an extraordinary case, you may rely--at any rate you may rely upon my
good word, Lorraine.”

“I thank you, my lord. The money shall be paid. Not for the sake of my
commission, but for the honour of our family.”



CHAPTER LIII.

FAREWELL, ALL YOU SPANISH LADIES.


The British army now set forth on its grand career of victory, with
an entirely new set of breeches. Interception of convoys, and other
adverse circumstances, had kept our heroes from having any money,
although they had new pockets. And the British Government, with keen
insight into nature, had insisted upon it, in the last contract, that
the pockets should be all four inches wide. With this the soldiers
were delighted--for all the very bravest men are boys--and they put
their knuckles into their pockets, and felt what a lot of money they
would hold. And though the money did not come, there was the delightful
readiness for it. It might come any day, for all they knew: and what
fools they must have looked, if their pockets would not hold it! In
short, these men laid on their legs, to march with empty pockets;
and march they did, as history shows, all the better for not having
sixpence.

Though Hilary was so heartily liked, both in his own regiment and
by the Staff, time (which had failed for his trial) also failed for
pity of the issue. The General had desired that as little as possible
should be said; and even if any one had wished to argue, the hurry
and bustle would have stopped his mouth. Lorraine’s old comrades were
far in advance; and the Staff, like a shuttle, was darting about;
and the hills and the valleys were clapping their hands to the happy
accompaniment of the drum.

Casting by every outward sign that he ever had been a soldier, Hilary
Lorraine set forth on his sad retreat from this fine advance; afoot,
and bearing on his shoulder a canvas bag on a truncheon of olive.
He would not accept any knapsack, pouch, or soldier’s usage of any
kind. He had lost all right to that, being now but a shattered young
gentleman on his way home.

However, in one way he showed good sense. By losing such a heap of the
public money, he had learned to look a little better after his own; so
he drew every farthing that he could get of his father’s cash and his
grandmother’s, but scorned to accept the arrears of his pay; because he
could not get them.

To a man of old, or of middle age, it has become (or it ought to
become), a matter of very small account that he has thrown away his
life. He has seen so many who have done the like (through indolence,
pride, bad temper, reserve, timidity, or fools’ confidence--into which
the most timid men generally rush), that he knows himself now to be a
fine example, instead of standing forth as a very unpleasant exception
to the rule. And now, if he takes it altogether, he finds many fellows
who have done much worse, and seem all the better for it. Has he missed
an appointment! They cut down the salary. Did he bang his back-door on
a rising man? Well, the man, since he rose, has forgotten his hosts.
Has he married a shrew? She looks after his kitchen. Remembering and
reflecting thus, almost any good man must refuse to be called, without
something to show for it, a bigger fool than his neighbours.

But a young man is not yet late enough to know what human life is. He
is sure that he sees by foresight all the things which, as they pass
us, leave so little time for insight; and of which the only true view
is calm and pleasant retrospect. And then, like some high-stepping colt
brought suddenly on his knees, to a sense of long-worn granite, he
flounders about in amazement, so, that if the fatal damage is not done
to him, he does it.

Lorraine was not one of those who cry, as the poets of all present
ages do--“Let the world stand still, until I get on.” Nevertheless, he
was greatly downcast to find his own little world so early brought to
a sudden stand-still. And it seems to be sadly true that the more of
versatile quickness a man has in him, the less there remains to expect
of him in the way of pith and substance. But Hilary now was in no
condition to go into any philosophies. He made up his mind to walk down
to the sea, and take ship at some good seaport; and having been pleased
at Malaga by the kind quiet ways of the people, and knowing the port to
be unobserved by French and American cruisers, he thought that he might
as well try his luck once more in that direction.

Swift of foot as he was, and lightsome when his heart was toward, he
did not get along very fast on his penitential journey. So that it
was the ninth day, or the tenth, from his being turned out of the
army, when he came once more to the “Bridge of Echoes,” henceforth
his “Bridge of Sighs” for ever. Here he stopped and ate his supper,
for his appetite was good again; and then he looked up and down the
Zujar, and said to himself what a fool he was. For lo! where Claudia
had clung to him trembling over a fearful abyss of torrent (as it
seemed by moonlight), there now was no more than nine inches of water
gliding along very pleasantly. These Spanish waters were out of his
knowledge, as much as the Spanish ladies were; but though the springs
might have been much higher a fortnight ago than they were now, Hilary
could not help thinking that Claudia, instead of fainting on the verge,
might have jumped over, at any moment, without spraining her very neat
ankles. And then he remembered that it was this same beautiful and
romantic girl who had proved to the satisfaction of the Spanish Colonel
that this was the only Zujar ford, for that river merged its name
where it joined the longer and larger Guadalmez. Upon this question
there long had arisen a hopeful dilemma in Hilary’s mind, which stated
itself in this form. If this were the true Zujar ford, then surely the
Spaniards, the natives of the country, were bound to apprise General
Hill thereof. If this were not the Zujar ford, then the Spaniards
were liable for the treasure beyond this place, and as far as the
true one. The latter was of course the stronger horn of the dilemma;
but unluckily there arose against it a mighty monster of fact, quite
strong enough to take even the Minotaur by the horns. Suppose the brave
Spaniards to owe the money, it was impossible to suppose that they
could pay it.

This reflection gave Hilary such a pain in his side that he straightway
dropped it. And beholding the vivid summer sky beginning to darken
into deeper blue, and the juts of the mountainous places preparing to
throw light and shadow length-wise, and the simmering of the sun-heat
sinking into white mists of the vales, he made up his mind to put best
foot foremost, and sleep at Monte Argento. For he felt quite sure of
the goodwill and sympathy of that pure hidalgo, the noble Count of
Zamora; and from the young Donnas he might learn something about his
misadventure. He could not bring himself to believe that Claudia had
been privy to the dastardly outrage upon himself. His nature was too
frank and open to foster such mean ideas. Young ladies were the best
and sweetest, the kindest and the largest-hearted, of created beings.
So they were, and so they are; but all rules have exceptions.

Hilary, as he walked up the hill (down which he had ridden so
gallantly, scarcely more than a fortnight since), was touched with
many thinkings. The fall of the sun (which falls and rises over us so
magnanimously) had that power upon his body which it has on all things.
The sun was going; he had done his work, and was tired of looking at
people: mount as you might, the sun was sinking, and disdained all
shadows and oblation of memorial.

Through the growth of darkness thus, and the urgency of froward trees
(that could not fold their arms and go to sleep without some rustling),
and all the many quiet sounds that nurse the repose of evening,
Lorraine came to the heavy gates that had once secured the money. The
porter knew him, and was glad to let in the young British officer,
whose dollars leaping right and left had made him many household
friends. But in the hall the old steward met him, and with many grave
inclinations of his head and body, mourned that he could not receive
the illustrious Senhor.

“There is in the castle no one now, but my noble mistress the Donna
Camilla. His Excellence the Count is away, far from home at the wars.”

“And the young Lady Claudia, where is she? I beg your pardon, steward,
if I ought not to ask the question.”

For the ancient steward had turned away at the sound of Donna Claudia’s
name; and pretending to be very deaf, began to trim a lamp or two.

“Will the Donna Camilla permit me to see her for one minute, or two
perhaps? Her father is from home; but you, Senhor steward, know what is
correct, and thus will act.”

Hilary had not been so frightened at his own temerity in the deadly
breach of Badajos, as now when he felt himself softly slipping a brace
of humble English guineas into this lofty Spaniard’s palm. The steward,
without knowing what he was about, except that he was trimming a very
stubborn lamp, felt with his thumb that there must be a brace, and with
contemptuous indignation let them slide into his pocket.

“Senhor, I will do only what is right. I am of fifty years almost in
this noble family. I am trusted, as I deserve. What I do is what the
Count himself would do. But a very sad thing has happened. We are
obliged now to be most careful. The Senhor knows what the ladies are?”

“Senhor steward, that is the very thing that I never do know. You know
them well. But alas! I do not.”

“Alas! I do,” said the steward, panting, and longing to pour forth
experience; but he saw some women peeping down stairs, and took the
upper hand of them. “Senhor, it is not worth the knowing. Our affairs
are loftier. Go back, all you women, and prepare for bed. Have you not
had your supper? Now, Senhor, in here for a minute, if you please;
patience passeth all things.”

But Hilary’s patience itself was passed, as he waited in this little
ante-room, ere the steward returned with the Donna Camilla, and, with a
low bow, showed her in, and posted himself in a corner. She was dressed
in pure white, which Hilary knew to be the mourning costume of the
family.

The hand which the young Andalusian lady offered was cold and
trembling, and her aspect and manner were timid and abashed.

“Begone!” she cried to the worthy steward, with a sudden indignation,
which perhaps relieved her. “What now shall I do?” said the steward to
himself, with one hand spread upon his silver beard; “is this one also
to run away?”

“Begone!” said Camilla to him once more, looking so grand that he could
only go; and then quietly bolting the old gentleman out. After which
she returned to Hilary.

“Senhor Captain, I am very sorry to offer you any scenes of force. You
have had too many from our family.”

“I do not understand you, Senhorita. From your family I have received
nothing but kindness, hospitality, and love.”

“Alas, Senhor! and heavy blows. Our proverb is, ‘Love leads to blows;’
and this was our return to you. But she is of our family no more.”

“I am at a loss. It is my stupidity. I do not know at all what is meant.

“In sincerity, the cavalier has no suspicion who smote down and robbed
him?”

“In sincerity, the cavalier knows not: although he would be very glad
to know.”

“Is it possible? Oh the dark treachery! It was my cousin who struck you
down; my sister who betrayed you.”

“Ah, well!” said Lorraine, in a moment, seeing how she trembled for his
words, and how terribly she felt the shame; “if it be so, I am still
in her debt. She saved my life once, and she spared it again. Now, as
you see, I am none the worse. The only loser is the British Government,
which can well afford to pay.”

“It is not so. The loss is ours, of honour, faith, and gratitude.”

“I pray you not to take it so. Everybody knows that the fault was mine.
And whatever has happened only served me right.”

“It served you right for trusting us! It is too true. It is a bitter
saying. My father mourns, and I mourn. She never more will be his
daughter, and never more my sister.”

“I pray you,” said Hilary, taking her hand, as she turned away to
control herself--“I pray you, Donna Camilla, to look at this little
matter sensibly. I now understand the whole of it. Your sister is of
very warm and strong patriotic sentiments. She felt that this money
would do more good, as the property of the _partidas_, than as the pay
of the British troops. And so she exerted herself to get it. All good
Spaniards would have thought the same.”

“She exerted herself to disgrace herself, and to disgrace her family.
The money is not among the _partidas_, but all in the bags of her
Cousin Alcides, whom she has married without dispensation, and with her
father’s sanction forged. Can you make the best of that, Senhor?”

Hilary certainly could not make anything very good out of this. And
cheerful though his nature was, and tolerably magnanimous, he could not
be expected to enjoy the treatment he had met with. To be knocked down
and robbed was bad enough; to be disgraced was a great deal worse; but
to be cut out by a rival, betrayed into his power, and made to pay for
his wedding with trust-money belonging to poor soldiers,--all this was
enough to embitter even the sweet and kind nature of young Lorraine.
Therefore his face was unlike itself, as he turned it away from the
young Spanish lady, being much taken up with his own troubles, and not
yet ready to make light of them.

“Will you not speak to me, Senhor? I am not in any way guilty of this.
I would have surrendered the whole of my life----”

“I pray you to pardon me,” Hilary answered. “I am not accustomed to
this sort of thing. Where are they now? Can I follow them?”

“Even a Spaniard could not find them. My brothers would not attempt
it. Alcides knows every in and out. He has hidden his prize in the
mountains of the north.”

“If that is so, I can only hasten to say farewell to the Spanish land.”

“To go away, and to never come back! Is it possible that you could do
that?”

“It may be a bitter thing; but I must try. I am now on my way to
Malaga. Being discharged from the British army, I have only to find my
own way home.”

“It cannot be; it never can be! Our officers lose a mule’s-load of
money, or spend it at cards; and we keep them still. Senhor Captain,
you must have made some mistake. They never could discharge you!”

“If there has been any mistake,” said Hilary, regaining his sweet
smile, with his sense of humour, “it is on their part, not on mine.
Discharged I am; and the British army, as well as the Spanish cause,
must do their best to get on without me.”

“Saints of heaven! And you will go, and never come back any more?”

“With the help of the saints, that is my hope. What other hope is left
to me?”

Camilla de Montalvan did not answer this question with her lips, but
more than answered it with her eyes. She fell back suddenly, as if with
terror, into a great blue velvet chair, and her black tresses lay on
her snowy arms, although her shapely neck reclined. Then with a gentle
sigh, as if recovering from a troubled dream, she raised her eyes to
Hilary’s, and let them dwell there long enough to make him wonder where
he was. And he saw that he had but to speak the word to become the
owner of grace and beauty, wealth, and rank in the Spanish army, and
(at least for a time) true love.

But, alas! a burned child dreads the fire. There still was a bump on
Lorraine’s head from the staff of Don Alcides; and Camilla’s eyes were
too like Claudia’s to be trusted all at once. Moreover, Hilary thought
of Mabel, of all her goodness, and proven trust; and Spanish ladies,
though they might be queens, had no temptation for him now. And perhaps
he thought--as quick men think of little things unpleasantly--“I do not
want a wife whose eyes will always be deeper than my own.” And so he
resolved to be off as soon as it could be done politely.

Camilla, having been disappointed more than once of love’s reply,
clearly saw what was going on, and called her pride to the rescue.
The cavalier should not say farewell to her; she would say it to the
cavalier. Also, she would let him know one thing.

“If you must leave us, Captain Lorraine, and return to your native
land, you will at least permit me to do what my father would have done
if he were at home--to send you with escort to Malaga. The roads are
dangerous. You must not go alone.”

“I thank you. I am scarcely worth robbing now. I can sing in the
presence of the bandit.”

“You will grant me this last favour, I am sure, if I tell you one
thing. It was not that wicked Claudia, who drew the iron from your
wound.”

“It was not the Donna Claudia! To whom then do I owe my life?”

“Can you not, by any means, endeavour to conjecture?”

“How glad I am?” he answered, as he kissed her cold and trembling
hand--“the lady to whom I owe my life is gentle, good, and truthful.”

“There is no debt of life, Senhor. But would it have grieved you,
now, if Claudia had done it? Then be assured she did not do it. Her
manner never was to do anything good to anyone. And yet--how wonderful
are things!--everybody loved her. It is no good to be good, I fear.
Pedro, you are at the door, then, are you? You have taken care to hear
everything. Go order a repast for the cavalier of the best we have,
and men and horses to conduct him to Malaga. Be quick, I say, and show
no hesitation.” At her urgent words the steward went, yet grumbling
and reluctant, and glancing over his shoulder all the way along the
passage. “How that old man amuses me!” she continued to the wondering
Hilary, who had never dreamed that she could speak sharply; “ever since
my sister’s disgrace, he thinks that his duty is to watch me! Ah! what
am I to be watched for?”

“Because,” said Hilary, “there is no Spaniard who would not long to
steal the beautiful young Donna.”

“No Spaniard shall ever do that. But haste; you are in such hurry for
the sunny land of Anglia.”

“I do not understand the Senhorita. Why should I hurry to my great
disgrace? I shall never hear the last of the money I have lost.”

“’Tis all money, money, money, in the noble England. But the friends of
the Captain need not mourn; for the money was not his, nor theirs.”

This grandly philosophical, and most truly Spanish, view of the
case destroyed poor Hilary’s last fond hope of any sense of a debt
of honour, on the part of the Montalvans. If the money lost had
been Hilary’s own, the Count of Zamora (all compact of chivalry and
rectitude) might have discovered that he was bound to redeem his
daughter’s robbery. But as it stood, there was no such chance. Private
honour is a mountain rill that does not always lead to any lake of
public honesty. All Spaniards would bow to the will of the Lord, that
British guineas should slip into Spanish hands so providentially.

“We do not take things just so,” said young Lorraine quite sadly. “I
must go home and restore the money. Donna Camilla, I must say farewell.”

“You will come again when you are restored? When you have proved that
you did not take the money for yourself, Senhor, you will remember your
Spanish friends?”

“I never shall forget my Spanish friends. To you I owe my life, and
hold it (as long as I hold it) at your command.”

“It is generously said, Senhor. Generosity always makes me weep. And
so, farewell.”



CHAPTER LIV.

GOING UP THE TREE.


In all the British army--then a walking wood of British oak, without a
yard of sapling--there was no bit of better stuff than the five feet
and a quarter (allowing for his good game leg) of Major, by this time
Colonel Clumps. This officer knew what he had to do, and he made a
point of doing it. Being short of imagination, he despised that foolish
gift, and marvelled over and over again at others for laughing so at
nothing. That whimsical tickling of the veins of thought, which some
people give so and some receive (with equal delight on either side),
humour, or wit, or whatever it is, to Colonel Clumps was a vicious
thing. Everything must be either true or false. If it were true, who
could laugh at the truth? If it were false, who should laugh at a
falsehood?

Many a good man has reasoned thus, reducing laughter under law, and
himself thenceforth abandoned by that lawless element. Colonel Clumps
had always taken solid views of everything, and the longer he lived in
the world the less he felt inclined to laugh at it. But, that laughter
might not be robbed of all its dues and royalties, just nature had
provided that, as the Colonel would not laugh at the world, the world
should laugh at the Colonel. He had been the subject of more bad jokes,
one-sided pleasantries, and heartless hoaxes, than any other man in
the army; with the usual result that now he scarcely ever believed the
truth, while he still retained, for the pleasure of his friends, a
tempting stock of his native confidence in error. So it came to pass
that when Colonel Clumps (after the battle of Vittoria, in which he had
shown conspicuous valour) was told of poor Hilary’s sad disgrace, he
was a great deal too clever and astute to believe a single word of it.

“It is ludicrous, perfectly ludicrous!” he said, that being the
strongest adjective he knew to express pure impossibility. “A gallant
young fellow to be cashiered without even a court-martial! How dare you
tell me such a thing, sir? I am not a man to be rough-ridden. Nobody
ever has imposed on me. And the boy is almost a sort of cousin of my
own. The first family in the kingdom, sir.”

The colonel flew into so great a rage, twisting his white hair, and
stamping his lame heel, that the officer who had brought the news,
being one of his own subalterns, wisely retired into doubts about it,
and hinted that nobody knew the reason, and therefore that it could not
be true.

“If I mention that absurd report about young Lorraine,” thought
Colonel Clumps, when writing to Lady de Lampnor, “I may do harm, and
I can do no good, but only get myself laughed at as the victim of a
stupid hoax. So I will say no more about him, except that I have not
seen him lately, being so far from head-quarters, and knowing how Old
Beaky is driving the staff about.” And before the brave Colonel found
opportunity of taking the pen in hand again, he was heavily wounded in
a skirmish with the French rear-guard, and ordered home, as hereafter
will appear.

It also happened that Mr. Capper’s friends, those two officers who had
earned so little of Mabel’s gratitude by news of Hilary, were harassed
and knocked about too much to find any time for writing letters. And
as the _Gazette_ in those days neglected the smaller concerns of the
army, and became so hurried by the march of events, and the rapid
sequence of battles, that the doings of junior officers slipped through
its fingers until long afterwards, the result was that neither Coombe
Lorraine nor Old Applewood farm received for months any news of the
young staff officer. Neither did he yet present himself at either of
those homesteads. For, as the ancient saying runs, misfortunes never
come alone. The ship in which Hilary sailed for England from the port
of Cadiz--for he found no transport at Malaga--_The Flower of Kent_, as
she was called, which appeared to him an excellent omen, was nipped in
the bud of her homeward voyage. She met with a nasty French privateer
to the southward of Cape Finisterre. In vain she crowded sail, and
tried every known resource of seamanship; the Frenchman had the heels
of her, and laid her on board at sundown. Lorraine, and two or three
old soldiers, battered and going to hospital, had no idea of striking,
except in the British way of doing it. But the master and mate knew
better, and stopped the hopeless conflict. So the Frenchman sacked
and scuttled the ship in the most scientific manner, and, wanting no
prisoners, landed the crew on a desolate strand of Gallicia, without
any money to save them.

This being their condition, it is the proper thing to leave them
so; for nothing is more unwise than to ask, or rather to “institute
inquiries,” as to the doings of people who are much too likely to
require a loan; therefore return we to the South Down hills.

The wet, ungenial, and stormy summer of 1813 was passing into a wetter,
more cheerless, and most tempestuous autumn. On the northern slopes of
the light-earthed hills the moss had come over the herbage, and the
sweet nibble of the sheep was souring. The huddled trees (which here
and there rise just to the level of the ridge, and then seem polled by
the sweep of the wind-rush), the bushes also, and the gorse itself,
stood, or rather stooped, beneath the burden of perpetual wet. The
leaves hung down in a heavy drizzle, unable to detach themselves from
the welting of the unripe stalks; the husk of the beech and the key
of the ash were shrivelled for want of kernels, and the clusters of
the hazel-nut had no sun-varnish on them. The weakness of the summer
sun (whether his face was spotted overmuch, or too immaculate), and
the humour of clouds, and the tenor of winds, and even the tendency
of the earth itself to devolve into eccentricity,--these and a
hundred other causes for the present state of the weather were found,
according to where they were looked for. On one point only there was no
contradiction,--things were not as they ought to be.

Even the Rector of West Lorraine, a man of most cheerful mind and not
to be put down by any one, laying to the will of the Lord his failures,
and to his own merits all good success,--even the Rev. Struan Hales
was scarcely a match for the weather. Sportsmen in those days did
not walk in sevenfold armour, for fear of a thorn, or a shower, or a
cow-dab; nor skulked they two or three hours in a rick, awaiting the
joy of one butchering minute. Fair play for man, and dog, and gun, and
fur and feather, was then the rule; and a day of sport meant a day of
work, and healthful change, and fine exercise. Therefore, Mr. Hales
went forth with his long and heavily-loaded gun, to comfort himself
and refresh his mind, whatever the weather might be about, upon six
days out of every seven. The hounds had not begun to meet; the rivers
were all in flood, of course; the air was so full of rheumatism that
no man could crook his arm to write a sermon, or work a concordance.
Two sick old women had taken a fancy for pheasant boiled with
artichoke;--willy-nilly, the parson found it a momentous duty now to
shoot.

And who went with him? There is no such thing as consistency of the
human mind; yet well as this glorious truth was known, and bemoaned
by every one for his neighbour’s sake--not they, not all the parish,
nor even we of the enlarged philosophy, could or can ever be brought
to believe our own eyes that it was Bonny! But, in spite of all
impossibility, it was; and the explanation requires relapse.

Is it within recollection that the Rector once shot a boy in a hedge?
The boy had clomb up into an ivied stump, for purposes of his own,
combining espial with criticism. All critics deserve to be shot, if
they dare to cross the grand aims of true enterprise. They pepper, and
are peppered; but they generally get the best of it. And so did this
boy that was shot in the hedge. Being of a crafty order, he dropped,
and howled and rolled so piteously, that poor Mr. Hales, although
he had fired at a distance of more than fourscore yards from the
latent vagabond, cast down his gun in the horror of having slain a
fellow-creature. But when he ran up, and turned him over to search for
the fatal injury, the boy so vigorously kicked and roared, that the
parson had great hopes of him. After some more rolling, a balance was
struck; the boy had some blue spots under his skin, and a broad gold
guinea to plaster them.

Now this boy was not our Bonny, nor fit in any way to compare with him.
But uncivilized minds are very jealous; and next to our Bonny, this boy
that was shot was the furthest from civilization of all the boys of
the neighbourhood. Therefore, of course, bitter jealousy raged betwixt
him and the real outsider. Now the boy that was shot got a new pair of
boots from the balance of his guinea, and a new pair of legs to his
nether garments, under his mother’s guidance. And to show what he was,
and remove all doubts of the genuine expenditure, his father and mother
combined and pricked him, with a pin in a stick, to the Sunday-school.
Here Madge Hales (the second and strongest daughter of the church) laid
hold of him, and converted him into right views of theology, hanging
upon sound pot-hooks.

But a far greater mind than Bill Harkles could own was watching this
noble experiment. Bonny had always hankered kindly after a knowledge
of “pictur-books.” The gifts of nature were hatching inside him, and
chipped at the shell of his chickenhood. He had thrashed Bill Harkles
in two fair fights, without any aid from his donkey, and he felt that
Bill’s mind had no right whatever to be brought up to look down on him.

This boy, therefore, being sneered at by erudite Bill Harkles, knew
that his fists would be no fair answer, and retired to his cave. Here
he looked over his many pickings, and proudly confessing inferior
learning, refreshed himself with superior wealth. And this meditation,
having sound foundation, satisfied him till the next market-day--the
market-day at Steyning. Bonny had not much business here, but he
always liked to look at things; and sometimes he got a good pannier of
victuals, and sometimes he got nothing. For the farmers of the better
sort put off their dinner till two o’clock, when the prime of the
market was over, and then sat down to boiled beef and carrots in the
yard of the White Horse Inn, and often did their best in that way.

Of this great “ordinary”--great at any rate as regards
consumption--Farmer Gates, the churchwarden, was by ancestral right
the chairman; but for several market-days the vice-presidency had been
vacant. A hot competition had raged, and all Steyning had thrilled with
high commotion about the succession to the knife and fork at the bottom
of the table; until it was announced amid general applause that Bottler
was elected. It was a proud day for this good pigman, and perhaps a
still prouder one for Bonny, when the new vice-president was inducted
into the Windsor chair at the foot of the long and ancient table; and
it marked the turning-point in the life of more than one then present.

The vice-president’s cart was in the shed close by, and on the front
lade sat Bonny, sniffing the beauty of the “silver-side,” and the
luscious suggestions of the marrow-bone. Polly longed fiercely to be
up there with him; but her mother’s stern sense of decorum forbade;
the pretty Miss Bottlers would be toasted after dinner,--and was one
to be spied in a pig-cart? No sooner was the cloth removed, than the
chairman proposed, in most feeling and eloquent language, the health of
his new colleague. And now it was Bottler’s reply which created a grand
revolution in Steyning. With graceful modesty he ascribed his present
proud position, the realization of his fondest hopes, neither to his
well-known integrity, industry, strict attention to business, nor even
the quality of his bacon. All these things, of course, contributed;
but “what was the grand element of his unparalleled success in life?”
A cry of “white stockings!” from the Bramber pig-sticker was sternly
suppressed, and the man kicked out. “The grand element of his success
in life was his classical education!”

Nobody knowing what was meant by this, thunders of applause ensued;
until it was whispered from cup to cup that Bottler, when he was six
years old, had been three months at the Grammar School. He might have
forgotten every word he had learned, but any one might see that it
was dung dug in. So a dozen of the farmers resolved at once to have
their children Latined; and Bonny in his inmost heart aspired to some
education. What was the first step to golden knowledge? He put this
question to himself obscurely, as he rode home on his faithful Jack,
with all the marrow-bones of the great feast rattling in a bag behind
him. From the case of Bill Harkles he reasoned soundly, that the first
thing to do was to go and get shot.

On the following day--the month being August, or something very near
it, in the year 1812 (a year behind the time we got on to)--Mr. Hales,
to keep his hand in, took his favourite flint-gun down, and patted
it, and reprimed it. He had finished his dinner, it had been a good
one; and his partner in life had been lamenting the terrible price of
butcher’s meat. She did not see how it could end in anything short
of a wicked rebellion, when the price of bread was put with it. And
the Rector had answered, with a wink to Cecil, “Order no meat for
to-morrow, my dear, nor even for the next day. We shall see what we
shall see.” With this power of promise, he got on his legs, and stopped
all who were fain to come after him. He knew every coney and coney’s
hole on the glebe, and on the clerk’s land; and they all would now be
out at grass, and must be treated gingerly. He was going to shoot for
the pot, as sportsmen generally did in those days.

With visions of milky onions, about to be poured on a broad and
well-boiled back, the Rector (after sneaking through a furzy gate)
peeped down a brown trench of the steep hill-side; here he spied
three little sandy juts of Recent excavation, and on each of them sat
a hunch-backed coney, proud of the labours of the day, and happily
curling his whiskers. The Rector, peering downward, saw the bulging
over their large black eyes, and the prick of their delicate ears,
and their gentle chewing of the grass-blade. There was no chance of a
running shot, for they would pop into earth in a moment; so he tried
to get two of them into a line, and then he pulled his trigger. The
nearest rabbit fell dead as a stone; but the Rector could scarcely
believe his eyes, when through the curls of the smoke he beheld,
instead of the other rabbit, a ragged boy rolling, and kicking, and
holloaing!

“Am I never to shoot without shooting a boy?” cried the parson, rushing
forward. “Another guinea! A likely thing! I vow I will only pay a
shilling this time. The sport would ruin a bishop!”

But Mr. Hales found to his great delight that the boy was not touched
by a shot, nor even made pretence to be so. He had craftily crept
through the bushes from below, and quietly lurked near the rabbit’s
hole, and after the shot, had darted forth, and thrown himself cleverly
on the wounded rabbit, who otherwise must have got away to die a
lingering death in his burrow. The quickness and skill of the boy,
and the luck of thus bagging both rabbits, so pleased the Rector that
he gave him sixpence, and bade him follow, to carry the game and to
see more sport. Bonny had a natural turn for sport, which never could
be beaten out of him, and to get it encouraged by the rector of the
parish was indeed a godsend. And in his excitement at every shot, he
poured forth his heart about rabbits, and hares, and wood-queests, and
partridges, and even pheasants.

“Why, you know more than I do!” said the Rector, kindly laying his hand
on the shoulder of the boy, after loading for his tenth successful
shot. “How ever have you picked up all these things? The very worst
poacher of the coming age; or else the best gamekeeper.”

“I looks about, or we does, me and Jack together,” answered Bonny, with
one of his broadest and most genuine grins; and the gleam of his teeth,
and the twinkle of his eyes, enforced the explanation.

“Come to my house in the morning, Bonny,” said the Rector. And that was
the making of him. For the boy that cleaned the knives and boots had
never conscientiously filled that sphere, though he was captain of the
Bible-class. And now he had taken the measles so long, that they had
put him to earth the celery. Here was an opening, and Bonny seized it;
and though he made very queer work at first, his native ability carried
him on, till he put a fine polish on everything. From eighteenpence a
week he rose to two and threepence, within nine months; and to this he
soon added the empty bottles, and a commission upon the grease-pot!

Even now, all has not been told; for by bringing the cook good news
of her sweetheart, and the parlourmaid dry sticks to light her fire,
and by showing a tender interest in the chilblains of even the
scullerymaid, he became such a favourite in the kitchen, that the
captain of the Bible-class defied him to a battle in the wash-house.
The battle was fought, and victory, though long doubtful, perched at
last upon the banner of brave Bonny; and with mutual esteem, and four
black eyes, the heroes parted.

After this all ran smooth. The Rector (who had enjoyed the conflict
from his study-window, without looking off, more than he could help,
from a sermon upon “Seek peace, and ensue it”), as soon as he had
satisfied himself which of the two boys hit the straighter, went to
an ancient wardrobe, and examined his bygone hunting clothes. Here he
found an old scarlet coat, made for him thirty years ago at Oxford, but
now a world too small; and he sighed that he had no son to inherit it.
Also a pair of old buckskin breeches, fitter for his arms than his legs
just now. The moths were in both; they were growing scurfy; sentiment
must give way to sense. So Bonny got coat and breeches; and the maids
with merry pinches, and screams of laughter, and consolatory kisses,
adapted them. He showed all his grandeur to his donkey Jack, and Jack
was in two minds about snapping at it.

This matter being cleared, and the time brought up, here we are at West
Lorraine in earnest, in the month of October, 1813; long after Hilary’s
shocking disgrace, but before any of his own people knew it.



CHAPTER LV.

THE WOEBURN.


“What a lazy loon that Steenie Chapman is!” said the Rector, for about
the twentieth time, one fine October morning. “He knows what dreadful
weather we get now, and yet he can’t be here by nine o’clock! Too bad,
I call it; too bad a great deal. Send away the teapot, Caroline.”

“But, my dear,” answered Mrs. Hales, who always made the best of every
one, “you forget how very bad the roads must be, after all the rain we
have had. And I am sure he will want a cup of tea after riding through
such flooded roads.”

“Tea, indeed!” the parson muttered, as he strode in and out of the
room, with his shot-belt dancing on his velveteen shooting-coat, and
snapped his powder-flask impatiently; “Steenie’s tea comes from the
case, not the caddy. And the first gleam of sunshine I’ve seen for a
week, after that heavy gale last night. It will rain before twelve
o’clock, for a guinea. Cecil, run and see if you can find that boy
Bonny. I shall start by myself, and send Bonny down the road with a
message for Captain Chapman.”

“The huntsman came out of the back-kitchen, Cecil, about two minutes
ago,” said Madge, who never missed a chance of a cut at Bonny, because
he had thrashed her pet Bible-scholar; “he was routing about, with his
red coat on, for scraps of yellow soap and candle-ends.”

“What a story!” cried Cecil, who was Bonny’s champion, being his
schoolmistress; “I wish your Dick was half as good a boy. He gets
honester every day almost. I’ll send him to you, papa, in two seconds.
I suppose you’ll speak to him at the side-door.”

At a nod from her father, away she ran, while Madge followed slowly to
help in the search; and finding that the boy had left the house, they
took different paths in the garden to seek him, or overtake him on his
homeward way. In a few moments Cecil, as she passed some laurels, held
up her hand to recall her sister, and crossed the grass towards her
very softly, with finger on lip and a mysterious look.

“Hush! and come here very quietly,” she whispered; “I’ll show you
something as good as a play.” Then the two girls peeped through the
laurel-bush, and watched with great interest what was going on.

In an alley of the kitchen-garden sat Bonny upon an old sea-kale pot,
clad in his red coat and white breeches, and deeply meditating. Before
him, upon an espalier tree, hung a tempting and beautiful apple, a
scarlet pearmain, with its sleek sides glistening in the slant of the
sunbeams.

“I’ll lay you a shilling he steals it,” Madge whispered into the ear
of her sister. “Done,” replied Cecil, with her hand before her mouth.
Meanwhile Bonny was giving them the benefit of his train of reasoning.
His mouth was wide open, and his eyes very bright, and his forehead a
field of perplexity.

“They’s all agrubbing in the house,” he reflected; “and they ain’t been
and offered me a bit to-day. There’s ever so many more on the tree; and
they locked up the scullery cupboard; and one on ’em called me a little
warmint; and they tuck the key out of the beertap.”

With all these wrongs upward, he stretched forth his hand, and pretty
Cecil trembled for her shilling, shillings being very scarce with her.
But the boy, without quite having touched the apple, drew back his
hand; and that withdrawal perhaps was the turning-point of his life.

“He gived me all this,” he said, looking at his sleeve; “and all on ’em
stitched it up for me; and they lets me go in and out without watching;
and twice I’se been out with him, shutting! I ’ont, I ’ont. And them
coorse red apples seldom be worth ating of.”

Sturdily he arose, and gave a kick at one of the posts of the
apple-tree, and set off for the gate as hard as he could go, while the
virtuous vein should be uppermost.

“What a darling of honour!” cried Cecil Hales, jumping after him. “A
Bayard, a Cato, an Aristides! He shall have his apple, and he shall
have sixpence; and unlimited faith for ever. Bonny! come back. Here’s
your apple for you, and sixpence; and what would you like to have best
in all the world now?”

“To go out shutting with the master, miss.”

“You shall do it; I will speak to papa myself. If you please, Miss
Madge, pay up your shilling. Now come back, Bonny; your master wants
you.”

“You are a little too late for your errand, I fear,” answered Margaret,
pulling her purse out; “while you were pursuing this boy, I heard the
sound of a grand arrival.”

“So much the better!” cried Cecil, who (like her mother) always made
the best of things. “Papa has been teasing his gun for an hour. Bonny,
run back, and keep old Shot quiet. He will break his chain, by the
noise he makes. You are as bad as he is; and you both shall go.”

The Rector--of all men the most hospitable, though himself so sober
in the morning--revived Captain Chapman, or at least refreshed him,
with brandy and bitters, after that long ride. And keenly heeding all
hindrance, in his own hurry to be starting, he thought it a very bad
sign for poor Alice, that Stephen received no comfort from one, nor
two, nor even three, large glasses.

At length they set forth, with a sickly sun shrinking back from the
promise of the morning, and a vaporous glisten in the white south-east,
looking as watery as the sea. “I told you so, Steenie,” said the
parson, who knew every sign of the weather among these hills; “we ought
to have started two hours sooner. If ever we had wet jackets in our
life, we shall have them to-day, bold captain.”

“It will bring in the snipes,” said the captain, bravely. “We are not
the sort of men, I take it, to heed a little sprinkle. Tom, have you
got my bladder-coat?”

“All right, your honour,” his keeper replied: and “See-ho!” cried
Bonny, while the dogs were ranging.

“Where, where, where?” asked the captain, dancing in a breathless
flurry round a tuft of heath. “I can’t see him; where is he, boy?”

“Poke her up, boy,” said the Rector; “surely you would not shoot the
poor thing on her form!”

“Let him sit till I see him,” cried the captain, cocking both his
barrels; “now I am ready. Where the devil is he?”

“She can’t run away,” answered Bonny, “because your honour’s heel be on
her whiskers. Ah, there her gooth! Quick, your honour!”

And go she did in spite of his honour, and both the loads he sent
after her; while the Rector laughed so at the captain’s plight, that
it was quite impossible for him to shoot. The keeper also put on an
experienced grin, while Bonny flung open all the cavern of his mouth.

“Run after him, boy! Look alive!” cried the captain. “I defy him to go
more than fifty yards. You must all have seen how I peppered him.”

“Ay, and salted her too, I believe,” said the parson: “look along the
barrel of my gun, and you will see the salt still on her tail, Steenie?”

As he pointed they all saw the gallant hare at a leisurely canter
crossing the valley, some quarter of a mile below them.

“What!” cried the Rector; “did you see that jump? What can there be to
jump over there?” For puss had made a long bound from bank to bank, at
a place where they could not see the bottom.

“Water, if ’e plaize, sir,” answered Bonny; “a girt strame of water
comed down that hollow, all of a sudden this mornint; and it hath been
growing stronger ever since.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Mr. Hales, dropping his gun. “What is the water
like, boy?”

“I never seed no water like it afore. As black as what I does your
boots with, sir; but as clear--you can see every stone in it.”

“Then the Lord have mercy on this poor parish; and especially to the
old house of Lorraine! For the Woeburn has broken out again.”

“Why, Rector, you seem in a very great fright,” said Captain Chapman,
recovering slowly from his sad discomfiture. “What is the matter about
this water? Some absurd old superstition--is not it?”

“Superstition or not,” Mr. Hales answered shortly, “I must leave you
to shoot by yourself, Captain Chapman. I could not fire another shot
to-day. It is more than three hundred and fifty years since this water
of death was seen. In my church you may read what happened then. And
not only that, but according to tradition its course runs directly
through our village, and even through my garden. My people know nothing
about it yet. It may burst upon them quite suddenly. There are many
obstructions, no doubt, in its course, and many hollow places to fill
up. But before many hours it will reach us. As a question of prudence,
I must hasten home. Shot, come to heel this moment!”

“You are right,” said the captain; “I shall do the same. Your
hospitable board will excuse me to-night. I would much rather not leap
the Woeburn in the dark.”

With the instinct of a man of the world, he perceived that the Rector,
under this depression, would prefer to have no guest. Moreover, the
clouds were gathering with dark menace over the hill-tops; and he was
not the man--if such man there be--to find pleasure in a wet day’s
shooting.

“No horse has ever yet crossed the Woeburn,” Mr. Hales replied, as they
all turned homeward across the shoulder of the hill; “at least, if the
legends about that are true. Though a hare may have leaped it to-day,
to-morrow no horse will either swim or leap it.”

“Bless my heart! does it rise like that? The sooner we get out of its
way the better. What a pest it will be to you, Rector! Why, you never
will be able to come to the meet, and our opening day is next Tuesday.”

“Steenie,” cried the Rector, imbibing hope, “it has not struck me in
that light before. But it scarcely could ever be the will of the Lord
to cut off a parson from his own pack!”

“Oh, don’t walk so fast!” shouted Captain Chapman; “one’s neck might
be broken down a hill like this. Tom, let me lean on your shoulder.
Boy, I’ll give you sixpence to carry my gun. Tom take the flints out,
that he mayn’t shoot me. Here, Uncle Struan, just sit down a minute; a
minute can’t make any difference, you know.”

“That is true,” said the Rector, who was also out of breath. “Bonny,
how far was the black water come? You seem to know all about it.”

“Plaize, sir, it seem to be coming down a hill; and the longer I
looked, the more water was a-coming.”

“You little nincompoop! had it passed your own door yet--your hole, or
your cave, or whatever you call it?”

“Plaize, sir, it worn’t a runnin’ towards I at all. It wor makin’ a
hole in the ground and kickin’ a splash up in a fuzzy corner.”

“My poor boy, its course is not far from your door; it may be in among
your goods, and have drowned your jackass and all, by this time.”

Like an arrow from a bow, away went Bonny down the headlong hill,
having cast down the captain’s gun, and pulled off his red coat to run
the faster. The three men left behind clapped their hands to their
sides and roared with laughter; at such a pace went the white buckskin
breeches, through bramble, gorse, heather, over rock, sod, and chalk.
“What a grand flying shot!” cried the keeper.

“Where the treasure is, there will the heart be,” said the Rector as
soon as he could speak. “I would give a month’s tithes for a good day’s
rout among that boy’s accumulations. He has got the most wonderful
things, they say; and he keeps them on shelves, like a temple of idols.
What will he do when he gets too big to go in at his own doorway? I am
feeding him up with a view to that; and so are my three daughters.”

“He must be a thorough young thief,” said the captain. “In any other
parish he would be in prison. I scarcely know which is the softer
‘beak’--as we are called--you, or Sir Roland.”

“Tom,” cried the Rector, “run on before us; you are young and active.
Inquire where old Nanny Stilgoe lives, at the head of the village, and
tell her that the flood is coming upon her; and help her to move her
things, poor old soul, if she will let you help her. Tell her I sent
you, and perhaps she will, although she is very hard to deal with. She
has long been foretelling this break of the bourne; but the prophets
are always the last to set their own affairs in order.”

The keeper touched his hat, and set off. He always attended to the
parson’s orders more than his own master’s. And Mr. Hales saw from the
captain’s face that he had ordered things too freely.

“Steenie, I beg your pardon,” he said; “I forgot for the moment that I
should have asked you before I despatched your man like that. But I did
it for your own good, because we need no longer hurry.”

“Rector, I am infinitely obleeged to you. To order those men is so
fatiguing. I always want some one to do it for me. And now we may go
down the hill, I suppose, without snapping all our knee-caps. To go up
a hill fast is a very bad thing; but to go down fast is a great deal
worse, because you think you can do it.”

“My dear fellow, you may take your time. I will not walk you off your
legs, as that wicked niece of mine did. How are you getting on there
now?”

“Well, that is a delicate question, Rector. You know what ladies
are, you know. But I do not see any reason to despair of calling you
‘uncle,’ in earnest.”

“Have you brought the old lady over to your side? You are sure to be
right when that is done.”

“She has been on my side all along, for the sake of the land. Ah, how
good it is!”

“And nobody else in the field, that we know of. Then Lallie can’t hold
out so very much longer. Lord bless me! do you see that black line
yonder?”

“To be sure! Why, it seems to be moving onward, like a great snake
crawling. And it has a white head. What a wonderful thing!”

“It is our first view of the Woeburn. Would to heaven that it were our
last one! The black is the water, and the white, I suppose, is the
chalky scum swept before it. It is following the old track, as lava
does. It will cross the Coombe road in about five minutes. If you want
to get home, you must be quick to horse. Never mind the rain: let us
run down the hill--or just stop one half-minute.”

They were sitting in the shelter of a chalky rock, with the sullen
storm rising from the south behind them, and the drops already
pattering. On the right hand and on the left, brown ridges, furzy
rises, and heathery scollops overhanging slidden rubble, and the
steep zigzags of the sheep, and the rounding away into nothing of
the hill-tops,--all of these were fading into the slaty blue of the
rain-cloud. Before them spread for leagues and leagues, clear and soft,
and smiling still, the autumnal beauty of the wealdland. Tufting
hamlets here and there, with darker foliage round them, elbows of some
distant lane unconsciously prominent, swathes of colour laid on broadly
where the crops were all alike; some bold tree of many ages standing on
its right to stand; and grey church-towers, far asunder, landmarks of a
longer view; in the fading distance many things we cannot yet make out;
but hope them to be good and beauteous, calm, and large with human life.

This noble view expanded always the great heart of the Rector; and he
never failed to point out clearly the boundary-line of his parish. He
could scarcely make up his mind to miss that opportunity, even now; and
was just beginning with a distant furze-rick, far to the westward under
Chancton Ring, when Chapman, having heard it at least seven times, cut
him short rather briskly.

“You are forgetting one thing, my dear sir. Your parish is being cut in
two, while you are dwelling on the boundaries.

“Steenie, you are right. I had no idea that you had so much sense,
my boy. You see how the ditches stand all full of water, so as to
confuse me. A guinea for the first at the rectory gate! You ought to be
handicapped. You call yourself twenty years younger, don’t you!”

“Here’s the guinea!” cried Chapman, as the parson set off; “two if you
like; only let me come down this confounded hill considerately.”

Mr. Hales found nothing yet amiss with his own premises; some people
had come to borrow shovels, and wheeling-planks, and such like; but the
garden looked so fair and dry, with its pleasant slope to the east,
that the master laughed at his own terrors; until he looked into the
covered well, the never-failing black-diamond water, down below the
tool-house. Here a great cone rose in the middle of the well, like a
plume of black ostrich; and the place was alive with hollow noises.

“Dig the celery!” cried the Rector. “Every man and boy, come here. I
won’t have my celery washed away, nor my drumhead savoys, nor my ragged
Jack. Girls, come out, every one of you. There is not a moment to
lose, I tell you. I never had finer stuff in all my life; and I won’t
have it washed away, I tell you. Here, you heavy-breeched Dick! what
the dickens are you gaping at? I shan’t get a thing done before dark,
at this rate. Out of my way, every one of you. If ye can’t stir you
stumps, I can.”

With less avail, like consternation seized every family in West
Lorraine. A river, of miraculous birth and power, was sweeping down
upon all of them. There would never be any dry land any more; all the
wise old women had said so. Everybody expected to see black water
bubbling up under his bed that night.

Meanwhile this beautiful and grand issue of the gathered hill-springs
moved on its way majestically, obeying the laws it was born of. The
gale of the previous night had unsealed the chamber of great waters,
forcing the needful air into the duct, and opening vaults that stored
the rainfall of a hundred hills and vales. Through such a “bower of
stalactite, such limpid realms and lakes enlock’d in caves,” Cyrene led
her weeping son--

    “Where all the rivers of the world he found,
    In separate channels gliding underground.”

And now, as this cold resistless flood calmly reclaimed its ancient
channel, swallowed up Nanny Stilgoe’s well, and cut off the Rector from
his own church; as if to encounter its legendary bane, a poor young
fellow, depressed, and shattered, feeble, and wan, and heavy-hearted,
was dragging his reluctant steps up the valley of the Adur. Left on
the naked rocks of Spain, conquered, plundered, and half-starved,
Hilary Lorraine had fallen, with the usual reaction of a sanguine
temperament, into low spirits and disordered health. So that when he
at last made his way to Corunna, and found no British agent there, nor
any one to draw supplies from, nothing but the pride of his family
kept him from writing to the Count of Zamora. Of writing to England
there was no chance. All communication ran through the channels of the
distant and victorious army. So that he thought himself very lucky (in
the present state of his health and fortunes), when the captain of
an oil-ship bound for London, having lost three hands on the outward
voyage, allowed him to work his passage. The fare of a landsman in
feeble health was worth perhaps more than his services; but the captain
was a kind-hearted man, and perceived (though he knew not who Hilary
was) that he had that very common thing in those days, a “gent under
a cloud” to deal with. And the gale, which had opened the Woeburn,
shortened Hilary’s track towards it, by forcing his ship to run for
refuge into Shoreham harbour.

“How shall I go home? What shall I say? Disgraced, degraded, and broken
down, a stain upon my name and race, I am not fit to enter our old
doors. What will my father say to me? And proud Alice--what will her
thoughts be?”

With steps growing slower at each weary drag, he crossed the bridge
of Bramber, and passed beneath the ivied towers of the rivals of his
ancestors, and then avoiding Steyning town, he turned up the valley of
West Lorraine. And the rain which had come on at middle-day, and soaked
his sailor’s slops long ago, now took him on the flank judiciously. And
his heart was so low, that he received it all without talking either to
himself or it.

“I will go to the rectory first,” he thought; “Uncle Struan is violent,
but he is warm. And though he has three children of his own, he loves
me much more than my father does.”

With this resolution, he turned on the right down a lane that came
out by the rectory. The lane broke out suddenly into black water; and
a tall robust man stood in the twilight, with a heavy spade over his
shoulder. And Hilary Lorraine went up to him.

“No, no, my man; not a penny to spare!” said the Rector in
anticipation; “we have a great deal too much to do with our own poor,
and with this new trouble especially. The times are hard--yes, they
always are; I never knew them otherwise. But an honest man always can
get good work. Or go and fight for your country, like a man. But we
can’t have any vagrants in my parish.”

“I have fought for my country like a man, Uncle Struan; and this is all
that has come of it.”

“Good God, Hilary!” cried the Rector; and for a long time he found
nothing better to say.

“Yes, Uncle Struan, don’t you understand? Every one must have his ups
and downs. I am having a long spell of downs just now.”

“My dear boy, my dear boy! Whatever have you done?”

“Do you mean to throw me over, Uncle Struan, as the rest of the world
has beautifully done! Everything seems to be upset. What is the meaning
of this broad, black stream?”

“Come into my study, and tell me all. I can let you in without sight of
your aunt. The shock would be too great for her.”

Hilary followed, without a word. Mr. Hales led him in at the window,
and warmed him, and covered him with his own dressing-gown, and watched
him slowly recovering.

“Never mind the tar on your hands; it is an honest smell,” he said; “my
poor boy, my poor boy, what you must have been through!”

“Whatever has happened to me,” answered Hilary, spreading his thin
hands to the fire, “has been all of my own doing, Uncle Struan.”

“You shall have a cordial, and you shall tell me all. There, I have
bolted the door. I am your parson as well as your uncle. All you say
will be sacred with me. And I am sure you have done no great harm after
all. We shall see what your dear aunt thinks of it.”

Then Hilary, sipping a little rum-and-water, wandered through his
story; not telling it brightly, as once he might have done, but hiding
nothing consciously.

“Do you mean to tell me there is nothing worse than that?” asked the
Rector, with a sigh of great relief.

“There is nothing worse, uncle. How could it be worse?”

“And they turned you out of the army for that! How thankful I am for
belonging to the Church! You are simply a martyred hero.”

“Yes, they turned me out of the army for that. How could they help it?”
Reasoning thus, he met his uncle’s look of pity, and it was too much
for him. He did what many a far greater man, and braver hero has done,
and will do, when the soul is moving. He burst into a hot flood of
tears.



CHAPTER LVI.

GOING DOWN THE HILL.


Sir Roland Lorraine was almost as free from superstition as need be. To
be wholly quit of that romantic element is a disadvantage still; and
excepts a neighbour even now from the general neighbourly sympathy.
Threescore years ago, of course, that prejudice was threefold.

The swing of British judgment mainly takes magnetic repulse from
whatever the French are rushing after. When they are Republican, all of
us rally for throne and Constitution. When they have a Parliament, we
want none. When they are pressed under empire, we are apt to be glad
that it serves them right. We know them to be brave and good, lovers of
honour, and sensitive; but we cannot get over the line between us and
them--and the rest of the world, perhaps.

Whatever might be said or reasoned, for or against the whole of
such things, Sir Roland had long made up his mind to be moderate
and neutral. He liked everybody to speak his best (according to
self-opinion), and he liked to keep out of the way of them all, and
relapse into the wiser ages. He claimed his own power to think for
himself, as well as the mere right of doing so. And therefore he long
had been “heterodox” to earnest, right-minded people.

Never the more, however, could he shake himself free from the inborn
might of hereditary impress. The traditions of his house and race had
still some power over him, a power increased by long seclusion, and the
love of hearth and home. Therefore, when Trotman was cut off, on his
way for his weekly paper, by a great black gliding flood, and aghast
ran up the Coombe to tell it--Sir Roland, while he smiled, felt strange
misgivings creeping coldly.

Alice, a sweet and noble maiden, on the tender verge of womanhood, came
to her father’s side, and led him back to his favourite book-room. She
saw that he was at the point of trembling; although he could still
command his nerves, unless he began to think of them. Dissembling her
sense of all this, she sat by the fire, and waited for him.

“My darling, we have had a very happy time,” he began at last to say to
her; “you and I, for many years, suiting one another.”

“To be sure we have, father. And I mean to go on suiting you, for many
more years yet.”

Her father saw by the firelight the sadness in her eyes; and he put
some gaiety into his own, or tried.

“Lallie, you have brighter things before you--a house of your own, and
society, and the grand world, and great shining.”

“Excellent things, no doubt, my father; but not to be compared with you
and home. Have I done anything to vex you that you talk like this to
me?”

“Let me see. Come here and show me. There are few things I enjoy so
much as being vexed by you.”

“There, papa, you are in a hurry to have your usual laugh at me. You
shall have no material now. ‘I knows what is right, and I means to do
it’--as the man said to me at the turnpike-gate, when he made me pay
twice over. Consider yourself, my darling father, saddled for all your
life with me.”

Sir Roland loved his daughter’s quick bright turns of love, and filial
passion when her heart was really moved. A thousand complex moods and
longings played around or pierced her then; yet all controlled, or
at least concealed, by an English lady’s quietude. Alice was so like
himself, that he always knew what she would think; and he tried his
best to follow the zigzag flash of feminine feeling.

“My dear child,” he said at last: “something has been too much for you.
Perhaps that foolish fellow’s story of this mysterious water. A gross
exaggeration, doubtless. The finny tribe fast sticking by the gills in
the nest of the wood-pigeon. Marry come up! Let us see these wonders.
The moon is at the full to-night; and I hear no rain on the windows
now. Go and fetch my crabstick, darling.”

“Oh, may I come with you, papa? Do say yes. I shall lie awake all
night, unless I go. The moon is sure to clear the storm off; and I will
wrap up so thoroughly.”

“But you cannot wrap up your feet, dear child; and the roads are
continually flooded now.”

“Not on the chalk, papa; never on the chalk, except in the very hollow
places. Besides, I will put on my new French clogs. They can’t be much
less than six inches thick. I shall stand among the deluge high enough
for the fish to build their nests on me.”

“Daughter of folly, and no child of mine, go and put your clogs on. We
will go out at the eastern door, to arouse no curiosity.”

As the master and his daughter passed beneath the astrologer’s tower,
and left the house by his private entrance, they could not help
thinking of the good old prince, and his kind anxiety about them. To
the best of their knowledge, the wise Agasicles had never heard of the
Woeburn; or perhaps his mind had been so much engrossed with the comet
that he took no heed of it. And even in his time, this strange river
was legendary as the Hydaspes.

After the heavy and tempestuous rain, the night was fair, as it
generally is, even in the worst of weather, when the full moon rises.
The long-chained hill, with its level outline stretching towards the
south of east, afforded play for the glancing light of a watery and
laborious moon. Long shadows, laid in dusky bars, or cast in heavy
masses where the hollow land prevailed for them, and misty columns
hovering and harbouring over tree-clumps, and gleams of quiet light
pursuing avenues of opening--all of these, at every step of deep
descent, appeared to flicker like a great flag waving.

“What a very lovely night! How beautifully the clouds lie!” cried
Alice, being apt to kindle rashly into poetry: “they softly put
themselves in rows, and then they float towards the moon, and catch the
silver of her smile--oh, why do they do that, papa?”

“Because the wind is west, my dear. Take care; you are on a great flint
I fear. You are always cutting your boots out.”

“No, papa, no. I have got you this time. That shows how much you attend
to me. I have got my great French clogs on.”

“Then how very unsafe to be looking at the moon! Lean on me steadily,
if you must do that. The hill is slippery with slime on the chalk. You
will skate away to the bottom, and leave me mourning.”

“Oh, how I should love to skate, if ladies ever could do such a thing!
I can slide very nicely, as you know, papa. Don’t you think, after all
this rain, we are sure to have a nice cold winter?”

“Who can tell, Lallie? I only hope not. You children, with your quick
circulation, active limbs, and vigorous lungs, are always longing for
frost and snow. But when they come, you get tired of them, within a
week at the utmost. But in your selfish spring of life you forget all
the miseries of the poor and old, or even young folk who are poor, and
the children starving everywhere. And the price of all food is now most
alarming.”

“I am sure I meant no harm,” said Alice; “one cannot always think of
everything. Papa, do you know that you have lately taken to be very
hard on me?”

“Well now, everybody says that of me,” Sir Roland answered
thoughtfully; “I scarcely dreamed that my fault was that. But out
of many mouths I am convicted. Struan Hales says it; and so does my
mother. Hilary seemed to imply it also, at the time when he last
was heard of. Mine own household, Trotman, Mrs. Pipkins, and that
charitable Mrs. Merryjack, have combined to take the same view of me.
There must be truth in it. I cannot make head against such a cloud of
witnesses. And now Alice joins them. What more do I want? I must revise
my opinion of myself, and confess that I am a hard-hearted man.”

This question Sir Roland debated with himself, in a manner which had
long been growing upon him, in the gathering love of solitude. Being
by nature a man with a most extraordinary love of justice, he found
it hard (as such rare men do) to be perfectly sure about anything. He
always desired to look at a subject from every imaginable outside view,
receding (like a lark in the clouds) from groundling consideration,
yet frankly open (like a woodcock roasting) to anything good put under
him. Nobody knew him; but he did his best when he thought of that
matter, to know himself.

Now, his daughter allowed him to follow out his meditation quietly; and
then she said as they went down the hill, warily heeding each other’s
steps--

“Papa, I beg you particularly to pay no attention whatever to your own
opinion, or any other opinion in the world, except perhaps, at least,
perhaps----”

“Perhaps that of Alice.”

“Quite so, papa. About my own affairs my opinion is of no value: but
about yours, and the family in general, it is really--something.”

“Wisest of our race, and bravest, you are rushing into the water,
darling--stop; you have forgotten what we came for. We came to see the
Woeburn, and here it is!”

“Is this it? And yesterday I walked across this very place! Oh, what a
strange black river!”

As Alice drew suddenly back and shuddered, Sir Roland Lorraine threw
his left arm round her, without a word, and looked at her. The light of
the full moon fell on her face, through a cleft of jagged margins, and
the shadow of a branch that had lost its leaves lay on her breast, and
darkened it.

“Why, Lallie, you seem to be quite frightened,” her father said, after
waiting long; “look up at me, and tell me, dear.”

“No, I am not at all frightened, papa, but perhaps I am a little out of
spirits.”

“Why?” asked Sir Roland; “you surely do not pay heed to old rhymes and
silly legends. I call this a fine and very lively water. I only wish it
were always here.”

“Oh, papa, don’t say that, I implore you. And I felt you shiver when
you saw it first. You know what it means for our family,--loss of
life once, loss of property twice, and the third time the loss of
honour,--and with that, of course, our extinction.”

“You little goose, none can lose their honour without dishonourable
acts. Come, Miss Cassandra; of the present Lorraines--a very narrow
residue--who is to be distinguished thus?”

“Father, you know so much more than I do; but I thought that many
people were disgraced, without having ever deserved it.”

“Disgraced, my darling; but not dishonoured. What could disgrace
ever be to us?--a thing that comes and goes according to the fickle
season--a result of the petty human weather, as this melancholy water
is of the larger influence.”

“Papa, then you own that it is melancholy. That was just what I wanted
you to do. You always take things so differently from everybody else,
that I began to think you would look upon this as a happy outburst of a
desirable watering-water.”

“Well done, Lallie! The command of language is an admirable gift. But
the want of it leads to still finer issues. This watering-water seems
inclined to go on for a long time watering.”

“Of course, it must go flowing, flowing, until its time is over.”

“Lallie, you have, among many other gifts, a decided turn for epigram.
You scarcely could have described more tersely the tendencies of water.
I firmly believe that this stream will go on flowing and flowing, until
it quite stops.”

“Papa, you are a great deal too bad. You must perceive that you are
so even by the moonlight. I say the most sensible things ever thought
of, and out of them you make nonsense. Now let me have my turn. So
please you, have you thought of bridges? How is our butcher to come, or
our miller, our letters, or even our worthy beggars? We are shut off
in front. Without building a boat can I ever hear even uncle Struan
preach? Hark! I hear something like him.”

“You frivolous Lallie! you are too bad. I cannot permit such views of
things.”

“Of course, papa, I never meant that. Only please to listen.”

The dark and deep stream, which now had grown to a width of some twelve
yards perhaps, was gliding swiftly, but without a murmur, towards the
broad and watery moon. On the right-hand side, steep scars of chalk,
shedding gleams of white rays, made the hollow places darker; while on
the other side, furzy tummocks, patches of briar, and tufted fallows
spread the many-pointed light among their shadows justly.

“Please to listen,” again said Alice, shrinking from her father, lest
she might be felt to tremble. “What a plaintive, thrilling sound! It
must be a good banshee, I am sure; a banshee that knows how good we
are, and protests against our extinction. There it is again--and there
seems to be another wail inside of it.”

“A Chinese puzzle of noises, Lallie, and none of them very musical.
Your ears are keener than mine, of course; but being extinct of
romance, I should say that I heard a donkey braying.”

“Papa, now! papa, if it comes to that--and I said it was like Uncle
Struan’s voice! But I beg his pardon, quite down on my knees, if you
think that it can be a donkey.”

“I am saved all the trouble of thinking about it. There he is, looking
hard at us!”

“Oh no, papa, he is not looking hard at us. He is looking most softly
and sadly. What a darling donkey! and his nose is like a snowdrop!”

Clearly in the moonlight shone, on the opposite bank of the Woeburn,
the nose of Jack the donkey. His wailings had been coming long, and
his supplications rising; he was cut off from his home, and fodder,
and wholly beloved Bonny. And the wail inside a wail--as Alice had
described it--was the sound of the poor boy’s woe, responsive to the
forlorn appeal of Jack. On the brink of the cruel dividing water they
must have been for a long time striding up and down, over against each
other, stretching fond noses vainly forward, and outvying one another
in the luxury of poetic woe.

“Don’t say a word, papa,” whispered Alice; “the boy cannot see us here
behind this bush, and we can see him beautifully in the moonlight. I
want to know what he will do, so much.”

“I don’t see what he can do except howl,” Sir Roland answered quietly:
“and certainly he seems to possess remarkable powers in that way.”

“Bo-hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo!” wept Bonny in confirmation of this opinion;
and “eke-haw, eke-haw,” from a nose of copious pathos, formed the
elegiac refrain. Then having exhausted the well of weeping, the boy
became fitter for reasoning. He wiped his eyes with his scarlet
sleeves, and stretched forth his arms reproachfully.

“Oh Jack, Jack, Jack, whatever have I done to you? all the crumb of
the loaf you had, and the half of the very last orchard I run, and the
prime of old Nanny’s short-horns, and if you wasn’t pleased, you might
a’ said so all the morning, Jack. There’s none in all the world as
knoweth what you and I be, but one another. And there is none as careth
for either on us, only you and me, Jack. Don’t ’ee, Jack, don’t ’ee go
and run away. If ’ee do, I’ll give the thieves all as we’ve collected,
and the rogues as calls us two waggabones.”

“My poor boy,” said Sir Roland Lorraine, suddenly parting the bush
between them, in fear of another sad boo-hoo--for Bonny had stirred his
own depths, so that he was quite ready to start again--“my poor boy,
you seem to be very unhappy about your donkey.”

Bonny made answer to never a word. This woe belonged only to Jack and
himself. They could never think of being meddled with.

“Bonny,” said Alice, in her soft sweet voice, and kindly touching him,
as he turned away, “do you wish to know how to recover your Jack? Would
you go a long way to get him back again?”

“To the outermost end of the world, Miss, if the whole of the way wor
fuzz-bush. Miles and miles us have gone a’ready.”

“You need not go quite to the end of the world. Instead of going up and
down these banks, keep steadily up the water. In about a mile you will
come to its head, if what I have heard of it is true; then keep well
above it, and round the hill, and you will meet the white-nosed donkey.”

“Hee-haw!” said Jack from the opposite bank, not without a whisk of
tail. Then the boy, without a word of thanks, by reason of incredulity,
whistled a quick reply, and set off to test this doubtful theory.

“Observe now the bliss of possessing a donkey,” Sir Roland began to
meditate; “I am not at all skilful in asses, whether golden, or
leaden, or wooden, or even as described by Ælian. But the contempt
to which they are born, proves to my mind that they do not deserve
it; or otherwise how would they get it? My sentence is clumsy. My
idea--if there be one--has not managed to express itself. I hear the
white-nosed donkey in the distance braying at me, with an overpowering
echo of contempt. I am unequal to this contest. Let me withdraw to my
book-room.”

“Indeed, papa, you will do nothing of the sort. You are always
withdrawing to your book-room; and even I must not come in; and what
good ever comes of it? You must, if you please, make up your mind to
meet things very differently. And only think how long it is since we
have heard of poor Hilary! There are troubles coming, overwhelming
troubles, on all with the name or love of Lorraine, as sure as I stand,
my dear father, before you.”

“Then I pray you to stand behind me, Alice. What an impulsive child it
is! And the moonlight, my darling, has had some effect, as it always
has, wonderfully on such girls. You have worked yourself up, Lallie; I
can see it. My pet, I must watch you carefully.

“What a mistake you make, papa! I never do anything of the sort. You
seem to regard me as anybody’s child, to be reasoned with, out of a
window. I may be supposed to say foolish things, and to imagine all
sorts of nonsense; and, of course, I cannot reason, because it is not
born with us. And then, when I try, I have no chance whatever; though
perfect justice is my aim; and--who comes lingering after me?”

“Your excellent father,” Sir Roland answered, kissing away his child’s
excitement. “Your loving father does all this, my pet, and brings you
quite home to stern reason. And now he will take you home to your home.
You have caught the sad spirit of the donkey, petling; you long to go
up and down this water, with some one to bewail you on the other side.”

“Yes, papa, so I do. You are so clever! But I think I should go down
and up, papa; if the quadruped you are thinking of went up and down.”

“Now Lallie!” he said; and he said no more. For he knew that she hinted
at Stephen Chapman, and wanted to fight her own battle against him,
now that she was in the humour. The father was ready to put off the
conflict--as all good fathers must be--and he led his dear child up the
hill, or let her lead him peacefully.



CHAPTER LVII.

THE PLEDGE OF A LIFE.


Three days of gloom and storm ensued upon the outbreak of the water;
while the old house at the head of the Coombe in happy ignorance
looked down upon its hereditary foe. But dark foreboding and fine
old stories agitated the loyal hearts of the domestics of the upper
conclave,--that ancient butler Onesimus Binns, Mrs. Pipkins, and Mrs.
Merryjack. With such uneasy feelings prevalent in the higher circle,
nothing short of terror, or even panic, could be expected among the
inferior dignitaries, now headed by John Trotman. This young man had
long shown himself so ambitious and aggressive, even “cockroaching” as
Mrs. Merryjack said, “on the most sacred rights of his betters,” that
the latter had really but one course left--to withdraw to their upper
room, and exclude “all as didn’t know how to behave theirselves.”

Of these unhappily there were too many; and they seemed to enjoy
themselves more freely after their degradation. For Trotman (though
rapid of temper, perhaps, and given to prompt movements of the foot)
was not at all bad (when allowed his own way), and never kicked anybody
who offered to be kicked. So with his dictatorship firmly established
in the lesser lower regions he became the most affable of mankind,
and read all the crimes of the county to the maids and drew forth
long sighs of delicious horror, that his own brave self might console
them. And now, when they heard of the sombre Woeburn, with its dismal
legend, enhanced by ghastly utterances of ancient Nanny Stilgoe, and
tidings brought through wailing winds of most appalling spectres, the
stoutest heart was agitated with mysterious terror. At the creak of a
door or the flit of a shadow, the rustle of a dry leaf, or the waving
of a window-blind, the hoot of an owl, or even the silent creep of
gloomy evening--“My goodness, Mary Ann, what was that?” Or, “Polly,
come closer, I hear something;” or, “Jane, do ’ee look behind the
plate-screen;” and then with one voice, “John, John, John, come down;
that’s a dear man, John!” Such was the state of the general nerve,
as proved by many a special appeal from kitchen, back-kitchen, and
scullery, pantry, terrible cellar, or lonesome wash-house; and the best
of everything was kept for John.

Even in the world of finer, feebler, and more foreign English; in
dining-room, drawing-room, parlour, and book-room, and my lady’s
chamber, a mild uneasiness prevailed, and a sense of evil auspices.
Lady Valeria, most of all, who carried conservatism into relapse, felt
that troublous days were coming, and almost longed to depart in peace;
or at any rate she said so. But with her keen mind, and legal insight,
she was bound to perceive that the authorized version of the other
world is democratic; as might be that of this world if Christianity
made Christians. Therefore her ladyship preferred to wait. Things might
get better; and they could scarcely get worse. She had a good deal to
see to and settle among things strictly visible, and she threatened
everybody with her decease; but did not prepare to make it.

Sir Roland Lorraine, on the other hand, paid little heed, of his own
accord, to superstitious vanities. He found a good many instances,
in classic, Persian, and Italian literature, of the outbreak of
underground waters; and there it was always a god who caused it--either
by chasing river-nymphs, or by showing the power of a horse’s heels,
or from benevolent motives, and a desire to water gardens. Therefore
Sir Roland gathered hope. He had not invested his mind as yet in
implicit faith in anything; but rather was inclined to be tolerant,
and tentative, and diffident of his own opinions. And these not being
particularly strong, self-assertive, or self-important, and not being
founded on any rock, but held on the briefest building-lease, their
owner, lease-holder, or tenant-at-will, was a very pleasant man to talk
with.

That means, of course, when he could be got to talk. And less and less
could he be got to talk, as the few people who had the key to his
liking dropped off; and no others came. Never, even in his brightest
days, had he been wont to sparkle, flash, or even glow, in converse. He
simply had a soft large way of listening, and a small dry knack of so
diverting serious thought, that genial minds went roving. But now his
own mind had grown more and more accustomed to go a-roving; and though,
having never paid any attention to questions of science, or even to
the weather (now gradually becoming one of them), he could not satisfy
himself about the menacing appearance; in a very few hours he buried
the portent in a still more portentous pile of books.

But Alice, though fond of reading and of meditating in her little way,
was too full of youth and of healthy life, to retire into the classic
ages of even our English language. Her delight was rather in the
writers of the day, so many of whom were making themselves the writers
of all future days--Coleridge, Wordsworth, Campbell, and above all
others, the “Wizard of the North,” whose lays of romance and legend
were a spur that raised the clear spirit of Alice.

On the third day from the Woeburn’s rise, she sat in her garden bower,
absorbed in her favourite “Lady of the Lake.” Her bower though damp and
mossy, and dishevelled by the storms of autumn, was still a pleasant
place to rest in, when the view was clear and bright. The fairest
view, however, now, and the most attractive study, were not of flower,
and tree, and landscape, but of face and figure--the face of Alice
Lorraine, so gentle, pure, and rapt with poetic thought; and the
perfect maiden form inspired by the roused nobility of the mind. The
hair, in lines of flowing softness fallen back, disclosed the clear
tranquillity of forehead, in contrast with the quick tremor of lip, and
the warmth that tinted, now and then, the delicate moulding of bright
young cheeks. And as the sweet face, more and more lit up with sequent
thought, and bowed with the flitting homage of a reader, genial tears
for dead and buried love, and grief, and gallantry arose, and glistened
in dark grey eyes, and hung like the gem that quivers in the lashes of
the sun-dew.

“Plaize, Miss Halice, my leddy desireth to see you, at wonst, if you
plaize, Miss.”

Thus spake the practical, and in appearance most unpoetical, Trotman,
glancing at Alice, and then at her book, with more curiosity than he
durst convey. “Please to say that I will be with her as soon as I can
finish some important work,” she answered, speedily quenching Trotman’s
hope of finding out what she was reading, so as to melt the housemaids
therewith at night. “Well, she always were a rum un,” he muttered in
his disappointment, as he returned to his own little room, which he
always called his “study;” “the captain will have to stand on his head
to please her, or I’m mistaken. Why, a body scarce dare look at her.
Sooner him than me, say I; although she is such a booty. But the old un
will give her her change I hope.”

Meanwhile the young lady (unloved of Trotman, because she held fast
by old Mr. Binns) put aside, with a sigh, both the poem and her own
poetic dreamings, and proved that her temper, however strong, was sweet
and large and well controlled, by bridling her now closed lips from
any peevish exclamation. She waited a little time, until the glow of
her cheeks abated, and the sparkle of her eyes was tranquil, and then
she put her pretty hat on (deep brown, trimmed with plumes of puce),
and thinking no more of herself than that, set forth to encounter her
grandmother.

By this time Alice Lorraine had grown, from a sensitive spirited girl,
into a sensitive spirited woman. The things which she used to think and
feel to be right, she was growing to know to be right; and the fleeting
of doubt from her face was beginning to form the soft expression.
That is to say--if it can be described, and happily it never can
be--goodwill, largeness of heart, rich mercy, sympathy and quick
tenderness combined with grace and refinement, towards the perfection
of womanly countenance.

So, whatever there was to be done, this Alice was always quite ready
to do it. She had not those outlets for her active moods which young
ladies have at the present day, who find or form an unknown quantity of
most pressing duties. “Oh no, I have no time to marry anybody,” they
exclaim in a breathless manner; “if I did, I must either neglect my
district, or my natural history.”

Poor Alice had neither district, duck-weed net, nor even microscope;
and what was even worse, she had no holy priest to guide her thoughts,
no texts to work in moss and sago, nor even any croquet. Whatever she
did, she had to do without any rush of the feminine mind into masculine
channels prepared for it; and even without any partnership of dear and
good companions. So that the fight before her was to be fought out by
herself alone.

This was the last quiet day of her life; the last day for thinking of
little things; the last day of properly feeding her pets, her poultry,
and tame hares, and pigeons, self-important robins (perched upon their
own impudence), and sweetly trustful turtle-doves, that have no dream
of evil. She fed them all; and if it were not her last day of feeding
them, it was the last time she could feed them happily, and without
envying their minds.

This was that important work, which she was bound to attend to,
before she could hurry to the side of her grandmother. That fine old
lady always made a point of sending for Alice, whenever she knew
her need--or rather, without knowing, needed the relief of a little
explosion. Her dignity strictly barred this outlet towards those
creatures of a lower creation, who had the bliss of serving her. To
all such people she was most forbearing, in a large and liberal style;
because it must be so impossible for them at all to understand her.
And, for this courteous manner, every woman in the place disliked her.
The men, however, having slower perceptions, thought that her ladyship
was quite right. They could make allowances for her--that they could;
and after all, if you come to think of it, the “femmel” race was most
aggravating. So they listened to what the women had to tell; and
without contradiction wisely let female opinion waste itself.

Lady Valeria Lorraine, though harassed and weakened by rheumatism and
pain of the nerves (which she sternly attributed to the will of God and
the weather), still sat as firmly erect as ever, and still exacted, by
a glance alone, all those little attentions which she looked so worthy
to receive. The further she became removed from the rising generation,
the greater was the height of contempt from which she deigned to look
down upon it. So that Alice used to say to her father sometimes, “I
wonder whether I have any right to exist. Grandmamma seems to think it
so impertinent of me.” “One thing is certain,” Sir Roland answered,
with a quiet smile at his favourite; “and that is, that you cannot
exist without impertinence, my dear.”

This fine old lady was dressed with her usual taste and elaboration;
no clumsy chits would she have to help her, during the three hours
occupied, by what she termed, most truly, her “devotions.” She wore a
maroon-coloured velvet gown of the softest and richest fabric, trimmed,
not too profusely, with exquisite point-lace; while her cap, of the
same lace, with dove-coloured ribbon, at the same time set off and
was surpassed by the beauty of her snow-white hair. Among many other
small crotchets, she held that brilliants did not suit a very old lady;
and she wore no jewels, except a hoop of magnificent pearls with a
turquoise setting, to preserve her ancient wedding-ring. And now, as
her grandchild entered quietly, she was a little displeased at delay,
and feigned to hear no entrance.

“Here I am, grandmamma, if you please,” said Alice, after three
most graceful curtseys, which she was always commanded to make, and
made with much private amusement; “will you please to look round,
grandmamma, and tell me what you want of me?”

“I could scarcely have dreamed,” answered Lady Valeria, slowly turning
towards her grandchild, and smiling with superior dignity, “that any
member of our family would use the very words of the clown in the ring.
But, perhaps, as I always try to think, you are more to be pitied than
condemned. Partly through your own fault, and partly through peculiar
circumstances, you have lost those advantages which a young lady of our
house is entitled to. You have never been at Court; you have seen no
society; you have never even been in London!”

“Alas! it is all too true, grandmamma. But how often have you told me
that I never must hope, in this degenerate age, to find any good model
to imitate! And you have always discouraged me, by presenting yourself
as the only one for me to follow.”

“You are quite right,” said the ancient lady, failing to observe the
turn of thought, as Alice was certain that she would do, else scarcely
would she have ventured it; “but you do not make the most of even that
advantage. You can read and write, perhaps better than you ought, or
better than used to be thought at all needful; but you cannot come into
a room, or make a tolerable curtsey; and you spend all your time with
dogs, and poets, and barrows of manure, and little birds!”

“Now really, madam, you are too hard upon me. I may have had a
barrow-load of poets; but more than a month ago, you gave orders that I
was not to have one bit more of manure.”

“Certainly I did, and high time it was. A young gentlewoman to dabble
in worms, and stable-stuff, and filthiness! However, I did not send for
you to speak about such little matters. What I have to say is for your
own good; and I will trouble you not to be playing with your hands, but
just listen to me.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Alice, gently; “I did not know I was moving
my hands. I will listen, without doing that any more.”

“Now, my dear child,” began Lady Valeria, being softened by the dutiful
manner and sweet submission of the girl: “whatever we do is for your
own good. You are not yet old enough to judge what things may profit,
and what may hurt you. Even I, who had been brought up in a wholly
superior manner, could not at your age have thought of anything. I was
ready to be led by wiser people; although I had seen a good deal of
the world. And you, who have seen nothing, must be only too glad to do
the same. You know quite well, what has long been settled, between your
dear father and myself, about what is to be done with you.”

“To be done with me!” exclaimed poor Alice, despite her resolve to hold
her tongue. “To be done with me! As if I were just a bundle of rags, to
be got rid of!”

“Prouder and handsomer girls than you,” answered Lady Valeria,
quietly--for she loved to provoke her grandchild, partly because it was
so hard to do--“have become bundles of rags, by indulging just such a
temper as yours is. You will now have the goodness to listen to me,
without any vulgar excitement. Your marriage with Captain Chapman has
for a very long time been agreed upon. It is high time now to appoint
the day. Sir Remnant Chapman has done me the honour of a visit upon
that subject. He is certainly a man of the true old kind; though his
birth is comparatively recent. I was pleased with him; and I have
pledged myself to the marriage, within three months from this day.”

“It cannot be! it shall not be! You may bury me, but not marry me. Who
gave you the right to sell me? And who made me to be sold? You selfish,
cold-hearted--no, I beg your pardon. I know not what I am saying.”

“You may well fall away, child, and cower like that; when you have
dared to use such dreadful words. No, you may come to yourself, as
you please. I am not going to give you any volatile salts, or ring,
and make a scene of it. That is just what you would like; and to be
petted afterwards. I hope you have not hurt yourself, so much as you
have hurt me perhaps, by your violent want of self-control. I am not
an old woman--as you were going to call me--but an elderly lady. And I
have lived indeed to be too old, when any one descended from me has so
little good blood in her as to call her grandmother an old woman!”

“I am very, very, sorry,” said Alice, with catches of breath, as she
spoke, and afraid to trust herself yet to rise from the chair, into
which she had fallen; “I used no such words, that I can remember. But
I spoke very rudely, I must confess. I scarcely know what I am to do,
when I hear such dreadful things; unless I bite my tongue off.”

“I quite agree with you. And I believe it is the very best thing all
young people can do. But I strive to make every allowance for you,
because you have been so very badly brought up. Now come to this
window, child, and look out. Tut, tut--tears, indeed! What are young
girls made of now? White sugar in a wet tea-cup. Now if the result of
your violence allows you to see anything at all, perhaps you will tell
me what that black line is, among the rough ground, at the bottom of
the hill. To me it is perfectly clear, although I am such a very old
woman.”

“Why, of course, it is the Woeburn, madam. It has been there for three
days.”

“You know what it means; and you calmly tell me that!”

“I know that it means harm, of course. But I really could not help its
coming. And it has not done any harm as yet.”

“No, Alice, it waits its due time, of course. Three months is its time,
I believe, for running, before it destroys the family. Your marriage
affords the only chance of retrieving the fortunes of this house, so
as to defy disasters. Three months, therefore, is the longest time to
which we can possibly defer it. How many times have we weakly allowed
you to slip out of any certain day. But now we have settled that you
must be Mrs. Chapman by the 15th of January at the latest.”

“Oh, grandmamma, to think that I ever should live to be called Mrs.
Chapman.”

“The name is a very good one, Alice, though it may not sound very
romantic. But poor Sir Remnant, I fear, is unlikely to last for a great
time longer. He seemed so bent, and his sight so bad, and requiring so
much refreshment! And then, of course, you would be Lady Chapman if you
care about such trifles.”

“It is a piteous prospect, madam. And I think Captain Chapman must
be older than his father. You know the old picture, ‘The Downhill of
Life;’ the excellent and affectionate couple, descending so nicely
hand-in-hand. Well, I should illustrate that at once. I should have to
lead my--no, I won’t call him husband--but my tottering partner down
the hill, whenever we came to see you and papa. Oh, that would be so
interesting!”

“You silly child, you might do much worse than that. Lady de Lampnor
has promised most kindly to see to your outfit in London. But I cannot
talk of that at present. There now you may go. I have told you all.”

“Thank you, grandmamma. But, if you please, I have not told you all,
nor half. It need not, however, take very long. It is just this. No
power on earth shall ever compel me to marry Stephen Chapman; unless,
indeed it were so to happen----”

“You disobedient and defiant creature--unless what should happen?”

“Unless the existence, and even the honour, of the Lorraines required
it. But of that I see no possibility at all. At present it seems to
be nothing more than a small and ignominious scheme. More and more
I despise and dislike that heroic officer. I will not be sacrificed
for nothing; and I have not the smallest intention of being the
purchase-money for old acres.”

“After that I shall leave you to your father,” answered Lady Valeria,
growing tired. “It may amuse you to talk so largely, and perhaps for
the moment relieves you. But your small self-will and your childish
fancies, cannot be always gratified. However, I will ask you one
thing. If the honour, and even the life of Lorraine can be shown to you
to require it, will you sacrifice your noble self?”

“I will,” answered Alice, with brave eyes flashing, and looking tall
and noble. “If the honour of the Lorraines depends upon me, I will give
myself and my life for it.”



CHAPTER LVIII.

A HERO’S RETURN.


Hilary was so weak and weary, and so seriously ill, when at last he
reached the rectory, that his uncle and aunt would not hear of his
coming downstairs for a couple of days at least. They saw that his best
chance of escaping some long and perhaps fatal malady was to be found
in rest and quietude, nursing, and kindly feeding. And the worst of it
was that, whatever they did, they could not bring him to feed a quarter
so kindly as he ought to do. The Rector said, “Confound the fellow!”
and Mrs. Hales shook her head, and cried “Poor dear!” as dish after
dish, and dainty little plate, came out of his room untasted.

And now, on the morning of that same day on which Alice thus had
pledged herself (being the third from her brother’s arrival, of which
she was wholly ignorant), the Rector of West Lorraine arose, and
girded himself, and ate his breakfast with no small excitement. He had
received a new clerical vestment of the loftiest symbolism, and he
hoped to exhibit it at the head of a very long procession.

“About poor Hilary? What am I to do?” asked Mrs. Hales, coming into the
lobby, to see her good husband array himself. “All sorts of things may
happen while you are away.”

“Now, Caroline, how can you ask such a question? Feed, feed, feed;
that’s the line of treatment. And above all things, lock up your
medicine-chest. He wants no squills, or scammony, or even your patent
electuary--of all things the most abominable; though I am most
ungrateful to call it so--for I owe to it half my burial-fees. He wants
no murderous doctor’s stuff: he wants a good breakfast--that’s what he
wants.”

“But, my dear, you forget,” answered good Mrs. Hales, who kept a small
wardrobe of bottles, and pills, gallipots, powders, and little square
scales; “you are quite overlooking the state of his tongue. He has not
eaten the size of my little finger. Why? Why, because of the fur on his
tongue!”

“Bless the boy’s tongue, and yours too!” cried the Rector. “I should
not care twopence about his tongue, if he only used his teeth
properly.”

“Ah, Struan, Struan! those who have never known what ache or pain
is, cannot hope to understand the system. I know exactly how to
treat him--a course of gentle drastics first, and then three days of
my electuary, and then cardamomum, exhibited with liquor potassy.
Doctoring has always been in my dear mother’s family; and when your
time comes to be ill and weak, how often you will thank Providence!”

“I thank the Lord for all things,” said the parson, who was often of a
religious turn: “but I must be brought very low indeed, ere I thank Him
for your electuary.”

“Put on your new hunting-coat, my dear. There it hangs, and I know that
you are dying to exhibit it. The vanity of men surpasses even the love
of women. There, there! You never will learn how to put a coat on. Just
come to the hall-chair, for me to pull it up. You are so unreasonably
tall, that you never can get your coat up at the neck. Now, will you
have it done, or will you go as you are, and look a regular figure in
the saddle? You call it a ‘bottle-green’! I call it a green, without
the bottle.”

“Caroline, sometimes you are most provoking. It is not your nature; but
you try to do it. The cloth is of quite an invisible green, as the man
in London told me--manufactured on purpose for ecclesiastics; though
hundreds of parsons, God knows, go after the hounds in the good old
scarlet. If you say any more, I will order a scarlet, and keep West
Grinstead in countenance. They always do it in the West of England. In
invisible green, I am a hypocrite.”

“Now, don’t excite yourself, Struan, or you won’t enjoy your opening
day at all. And I am sure that the green is as bright as can be; and
you look very well--very well indeed. Though I don’t quite see how you
can button it. Perhaps it is meant for a button-hook, or a leather
thong over your stomach, dear.”

“It is meant to fit me, Mrs. Hales; and it fits me to a nicety. It
could not fit better; and it will be too easy, when we have had a few
hard runs. Where are my daughters? They know a good fit; and they know
how to put a thing on my shoulders. Carry, Madge, and Cecil, come
to the rescue of your father. Your father is baited, worse than any
badger. Come all of you; don’t stop a minute, or get perverted by your
mother. Now, in simple truth, what do you say to this, my dears? Each
speak her own opinion.”

“It suits you most beautifully, papa.”

“Papa, I think that I never saw you look a quarter so well before.”

“My dear father, if there are any ladies, mamma will have reason to be
jealous. But I fear that I see the back-seam starting.”

“You clever little Cecil, I am afraid that it is. I feel a relief in
my--ahem!--I mean an uncomfortable looseness in the chest. I told the
fellow forty-eight inches at least. He has scamped the cloth, the
London rascal! However, we can spare it from round the waist, as soon
as our poor Cobble can see to it. But for to-day--ah yes, well thought
of! My darling, go and get some of your green purse-silk. You can
herring-bone it so as to last for the day at least. Your mother will
show you how to do it. Madge, tell Bonny to run and tell Robert not to
bring the mare yet for a quarter of an hour. Now, ladies, I am at your
mercy.”

“Now, papa dear,” asked Cecil, as she stitched away at the seam of her
father’s burly back; “if poor Cousin Hilary should get up and want to
go out, what are we to do?”

“How can you even put such a question? Even on our opening day, I would
not dream of leaving the house, if I thought that you could be so
stupid as to let that poor boy out. I would not have him seen in the
parish, and I would not have his own people see him, even for the brush
of the Fox-coombe fox, who is older than the hills, they say, and no
hound dare go near him. One of you must be always handy; and if he gets
restless, turn the key on him. Nothing can be simpler.”

With his bottle-green coat, now warranted to last (unless he
over-buttoned it), the Rector kissed his dear wife and daughters; and
then universal good wishes, applauses, and kissings of hand, set him
forth on his way, with a bright smile spread upon his healthy face.

“Now mind, we are left in charge,” said Madge. “You are his doctor, of
course, mamma; but we are to be his constables. I hope to goodness that
he will eat by-and-by. It makes me so miserable to see him. And the
trouble we have had to keep the servants from knowing who he is, mamma!”

“My dear, your father has ordered it so. For my part, I cannot see why
there should be so much mystery about it. But he always knows better
than we do, of course.”

“Surely, mamma,” suggested Cecil, “it would be a dreadful shock to
the family to receive poor Hilary in such a condition, just after
the appearance of that horrid water. They would put the two things
together, and believe it the beginning of great calamities.”

“Now, my dear child,” answered Mrs. Hales, who loved to speak a word in
season; “let not us, who are Christians, hearken to such superstitious
vanities. Trust in the Lord, and all will be well. He holdeth in the
hollow of his hands the earth and all that therein is; yea, and the
waters that be under the earth. Now run up, and see whether your poor
cousin has eaten that morsel of anchovy toast. And tell him that I am
going to prepare his draught; but he must not take the pills until
half-past eleven.”

“Oh, mamma dear, you’ll drive him out of the house. Poor fellow, how I
do pity him!”

Now Hilary certainly deserved this pity--not for his bodily ailments
only, and the cruel fate which had placed him at the mercy of the
medicine-chest, but more especially for the low and feverish condition
of his heart and mind. Brooding perpetually on his disgrace, and
attributing to himself more blame than his folly and failure demanded,
he lost the refreshment of dreamless sleep, which his jaded body called
out for. No rest could he find in the comforting words of his uncle and
aunt and cousins: he knew that they were meant for comfort, and such
knowledge vexes; or at least it irritates a man, until the broader time
of life, when things are taken as they are meant, and any good word is
welcome.

He was not, however, so very far gone as to swallow his dear aunt’s
boluses. He allowed his pillow to take his pills; and his good-natured
cousins let him swallow them, as much as a juggler swallows swords.
“I can’t take them while you are looking,” he said; “when you come in
again you will find them gone.”

Now one of the girls--it was never known which, because all three
denied it--stupidly let the sick cousin know that the master of the
house was absent. Hilary paid no special heed at the moment when
he heard it; but after a while he began to perceive (as behoved a
blockaded soldier) that here was his chance for a sally. And he told
them so, after his gravy-beef and a raw egg beaten up with sherry.

“How cunning you are now!” said Cecil, who liked and admired him
very deeply. “But you are not quite equal, Master Captain, to female
ingenuity. The Spanish ladies must have taught you that, if half that
I hear is true of them. Now you need not look so wretched, because I
know nothing about them. Only this I know, that out of this house you
are not allowed to go, without--oh, what do you call it?--a pass, or a
watchword, or a countersign, or something or other from papa himself.
So you may just as well lie down--or mamma will come up with a powder
for you.”

“The will of the Lord be done,” said Hilary; “but, Cecil, you are
getting very pretty, and you need not take away my breeches.”

“I am sorry to do it, Cousin Hilary; but I know quite well what I am
about. And none of your military ways of going on can mislead me as to
your character. You want to be off. We are quite aware of it. You can
scarcely put two feet to the ground.”

“Oh dear, how many ought I to be able to put?”

“You know best--at least four, I should hope. But you are not equal to
argument. And we are all particularly ordered to keep you from what is
too much for you. Now I shall take away these things--whatever they are
called, I have no idea; but I do what I am told to do. And after this
you will take that glass of red wine declared to be wonderful; and then
you will shut both your eyes, if you please, till my father comes home
from his hunting.”

The lively girl departed with a bow of light defiance, carrying away
her father’s small clothes (which had been left for Hilary), and
locking the door of his bedroom with a decisive turn of a heavy key.
“Mother, you may go to sleep,” she said, as she ran down into the
drawing-room: “I defy him to go, if he were Jack Sheppard: he has got
no breeches to go in.”

“Cecil, you are almost too clever! How your father will laugh, to be
sure!” And the excellent lady began her nap.

As the afternoon wore away, Hilary grew more and more impatient of
his long confinement. Not only that he pined for the open air--as, of
course, he must do, after living so long with the free sky for his
canopy--but also that he felt most miserable at being so near the old
house on the hill, yet doubtful of his reception there. More than once
he rang the bell; but the old nurse, who alone of the servants was
allowed to enter, would do no more than scold or coax him, and quietly
lock him in again. So at last he got out of bed, and feebly made his
way to the window, and thence beheld, betwixt him and the grassy mounds
of the churchyard, that swift black stream which had so surprised him
on the night of his arrival.

Since then he had been persuaded himself, or allowed others to persuade
him, that the water had been a vision only of his weak and exited
brain. But now he saw it clearly, calmly, and in a very few moments
knew what it was, and of what dark import.

“How can I have let them keep me here?” he exclaimed, with indignation.
“My father and sister must believe me dead, while I play at this
miserable hide-and-seek. Perhaps they will think that I had better have
been dead; but, at any rate, they shall know the truth.”

With these words he took up his sailor-clothes, which the clever Cecil
had overlooked, and which had been left in his room for fear of setting
the servants talking; and he dressed himself as well as he could, and
tried to look clean and tidy. But do what he might, he could only cut a
poor and sorry figure; and looking in the glass, he was frightened at
his wan and worn appearance. Then, knowing the habits of the house, and
wishing to avoid excitement, he waited until the two elder daughters
were gone down the village for their gossip, and Cecil was seeing the
potatoes dug, and Mrs. Hales sleeping over Fisher or Patrick, while the
cook was just putting the dinner down; and then, without trying the
door at all, he quietly descended from the window, with the help of a
stack-pipe and a spurry pear-tree.

So feeble was he now, that this slight exertion made him turn faint,
and sick, and giddy; and he was obliged to sit down and rest under a
shrub, into which he had staggered. But after a while, he found himself
getting a little better; and, pulling up one of the dahlia-stakes, to
help himself along with, he made his way to the gate; and there being
cut off from the proper road, followed the leave of the land and the
water, along the valley upward.

Alice Lorraine had permitted herself not quite to lose her temper,
but still to get a little worried by her grandmother’s exhortations.
Of all living beings, she felt herself to be one of the very most
reasonable; and whenever she began to doubt about it, she knew there
was something wrong with her. Her favourite cure for this state of mind
was a free and independent ride, over the hills and far away. She hated
to have a groom behind her, watching her, and perhaps criticising the
movements of her figure. But as it was scarcely the proper thing for
Miss Lorraine to be scouring the country, like a yeoman’s daughter, she
always had to start with a trusty groom; but she generally managed to
get rid of him.

And now, having vainly coaxed her father to come for a breezy canter,
Alice set forth about four o’clock, for an hour of rapid air to clear,
invigorate, and enliven her. Whatever she did, or failed of doing (when
her grandmother was too much for her), she always looked graceful,
and bright, and kind. But she never looked better than when she was
sitting, beautifully straight, on her favourite mare, skimming the
sward of the hills; or bowing her head in some tangled covert. This
day, she allowed the groom to chase her (like the black care that sits
behind) until she had taken free burst of the hills, and longed to see
things quietly. And then she sent him, in the kindest manner, to a very
old woman at Lower Chancton, to ask whether she had been frightened;
and, when he had turned the corner of a difficult plantation, Alice
took her course for that which she had made up her mind to do.

According to the ancient stories, no fair-blooded creatures (such as
man, or horse, cow, dog, or pigeon) would ever put lip to the accursed
stream; whereas all foul things, pole-cats, foxes, fitches, badgers,
ravens, and the like, were drawn by it, as by a loadstone, and made
a feasting-place of it. So Alice resolved that her darling “Elfrida
” should be compelled to pant with thirst, and then should have the
fairest offer of the water of the Woeburn. And of this intent she was
so full, that she paid no heed to the “dressing bell,” clanging over
the lonely hill, nor even to her pet mare’s sense of dinner; but took a
short cut of her own knowledge, down a lonely borstall, to the channel
of new waters.

The stream had risen greatly even since the day before yesterday, and
now in full volume swept on grandly towards the river Adur. Any one who
might chance to see it for the first time, and without any impression,
or even idea concerning it, could scarcely fail to observe how it
differed from ordinary waters. Not only through its pellucid blackness,
and the swaying of long grass under it (whose every stalk, and sheath,
and awn, and even empty glume, was clear, as they quivered, wavered,
severed, and spread, or sheafed themselves together again, and hustled
in their common immersion),--not only in this, and the absence of any
water-plants along its margin, was the stream peculiar, but also in
its force and flow. It did not lip, or lap, or ripple, or gurgle, or
wimple, or even murmur, as all well-meaning rivers do; but swept on in
one even sweep, with a face as smooth as the best plate-glass, and the
silent slide of nightfall.

Now the truth of the old saying was made evident to Alice, that one
can take a horse to water, but a score cannot make him drink, unless
he is so minded. Though it was not an easy thing to get Elfrida to the
water. She started away with flashing eyes, pricked ears, and snorting
nostrils; and nothing but perfect faith in Alice would have made her
even come anigh. But as for drinking, or even wetting her nose in that
black liquid--might the horse-fiend seize her, if she dreamed of doing
a thing so dark and unholy.

“You shall, you shall, you wicked little witch!” cried Alice, who
was often obstinate. “I mean to drink it; and we won’t have any
superstition.” She leaped off lightly, with her skirt tucked up, and
taking the mare by the cheek-piece of the bridle, drew her forward.
“Come along, come along! you shall drink! If you don’t, I’ll pour it up
your nostrils, Frida; somehow or other, you shall swallow it. You know
I won’t have any nonsense, don’t you?”

The beautiful filly, with great eyes partly defiant and partly
suppliant, drew back her straight nose, and blowing nostrils, and the
glistening curve of the foamy lip. Not even a hair of her muzzle should
touch the face of the accursed water.

“Very well, then, you shall have it thus,” cried Alice, with her curved
palm brimming with the unpopular liquid; when suddenly a shadow fell on
the shadowy brilliance before her--a shadow distinct from her own and
Elfrida’s, and cast further into the wavering.

“Who are you?” cried Alice, turning sharply round; “and what business
have you on my father’s land?” She was in the greatest fright at the
sudden appearance of a foreign sailor, and the place so lonely and
beyond all help; but without thinking twice, she put a brave face on
her terror.

“Who am I?” said Hilary, trying to get up a sprightly laugh. “Well, I
think you must have seen me once or twice in the course of your long
life, Miss Lorraine.”

“Oh, Hilary, Hilary, Hilary!”

She threw herself into his arms with a jump, relying upon his
accustomed strength, and without any thought of the difference. He
tottered backwards, and must have fallen, but for the trunk of a
pollard ash. And seeing how it was, she again cried out, “Oh, Hilary,
Hilary, Hilary!”

“That is my name,” he answered, after kissing her in a timid manner;
“but not my nature; at the present moment I am not so very hilarious.”

“Why, you are not fit to walk, or talk, or even to look like a hero.
You are the bravest fellow that ever was born. Oh, how proud we are
of you! My darling, what is the matter? Why, you look as if you did
not know me! Help, help, help! He is going to die. Oh, for God’s sake,
help!”

Poor Hilary, after looking wildly around, and trying in vain to command
his mouth, fell suddenly back, convulsed, distorted, writhing, foaming,
and wallowing in the depths of epilepsy. Sky, hill, and tree swung to
and fro, across his strained and starting eyes, and then whirled round
like a spinning-wheel, with radiating sparks and spots. Then all fell
into abyss of darkness, down a bottomless pit, into utter and awful
loss of everything.

The vigour of youth had fought against this robbery of humanity so
long and hard that Alice, the only spectator of the conflict, began to
recover from shriek and wailing at the time that her brother fell into
the black insensibility. The ground sloped so that if she had not been
there, the unfortunate youth must have rolled into the Woeburn, and so
ended. But being a prompt and active girl, she had saved him from this
at any rate. She had had the wit also to save his tongue, by slipping
a glove between his teeth; which scarcely a girl in a hundred, who
saw such a thing for the first time, would have done. And now, though
her face was bathed in tears, and her hands almost as tremulous as if
themselves convulsed, she filled her low-crowned riding-hat with water
from the river, and sprinkled his forehead gently, and released his
neck from cumbrance. And then she gazed into his thin pale features,
and listened for the beating of his heart.

This was so low that she could not hear or even feel it anywhere.
“Oh, how can I get him home?” she cried. “Oh, my only brother, my
only brother!” In fright and misery she leaped upon a crest of chalk,
to seek around for any one to help her; and suddenly she espied her
groom against the skyline, a long way off, galloping up the ridge from
Chancton. In hope that one of the many echoes of the cliffs might
aid her, she shrieked with all her power, and tore a white kerchief
from under her riding-habit, and put it on her whip and waved it. And
presently she had the joy of seeing the horse’s head turned towards
her. The rider had not caught her voice, but had descried some white
thing fluttering between him and the sombre stripe which he was
watching earnestly.

This groom was a strong and hearty man, and the father of seven
children. He made the best of the case, and ventured to comfort his
young mistress. And then he laid Hilary upon Elfrida, the docile and
soft-stepper; and making him fast with his own bridle, and other quick
contrivances, he tethered his own horse to a tree, and leading the
mare, set off, with Alice walking carefully and supporting the head of
her senseless brother. So came this hero, after all his exploits, back
to the home of his fathers.



CHAPTER LIX.

THE GRAVE OF THE ASTROLOGER.


“What can I do? Oh, how can I escape?” cried Alice to herself one
morning, towards the end of dreary November; “one month out of three
is gone already, and the chain of my misery tightens round me. No,
don’t come near me, any of you birds; you will have to do without me
soon; and you had better begin to practise. Ah me! you can make your
own nests, and choose your mates; how I envy you! Well, then, if you
must be fed, you must. Why should I be so selfish?” With tears in her
eyes, she went to her bower and got her little basket of moss, well
known to every cock-robin, and thrush, and blackbird, dwelling on the
premises. At the bottom were stored, in happy ignorance of the fate
before them, all the delicacies of the season--the food of woodland
song, the stimulants of aerial melody. Here were woodlice, beetles,
earwigs, caterpillars, slugs, and nymphs, well-girt brandlings, and
the offspring of the tightly-buckled wasp, together with the luscious
meal-worm, and the peculiarly delicious grub of the cockchafer--all as
fresh as a West-end salmon, and savouring sweetly of moss and milk--no
wonder the beaks of the birds began to water at the mere sight of that
basket.

“You have had enough now for to-day,” said Alice; “it is useless to put
all your heads on one side, and pretend that you are just beginning.
I know all your tricks quite well by this time. No, not even you, you
Methuselah of a Bob, can have any more--or at least, not much.”

For this robin (her old pet of all, and through whose powers of
interpretation the rest had become so intimate) made a point of
perching upon her collar, and nibbling at her ear, whenever he felt
himself neglected. “There is no friend like an old friend,” was his
motto; and his poll was grey, and his beak quite blunted with feeding a
score of families, and his large black eyes were fading. “Methuselah,
come and help yourself,” said Alice, relenting softly; “you will not
have the chance much longer.”

Now, as soon as the birds, with a chirp and a jerk, and one or two
furtive hops, had realised the stern fact that there was no more for
them, and then had made off to their divers business (but all with an
eye to come back again), Alice, with a smiling sigh--if there can be
such a mixture--left her pets, and set off alone to have a good walk,
and talk, and think. The birds, being guilty of “cupboard love,” were
content to remain in their trees and digest; and as many of them as
were in voice expressed their gratitude brilliantly. But out of the
cover they would not budge; they hated to be ruffled up under their
tails: and they knew what the wind on the Downs was.

“I shall march off straight for Chancton Ring,” said Alice Lorraine,
most resolutely. “How thankful I am, to be able to walk! and poor
Hilary--ah, how selfish of me to contrast my state with his!”

Briskly she mounted the crest of the coombe, and passed to the open
upland, the long chine of hill which trends to its highest prominence
at Chancton Ring--a land-mark for many a league around. Crossing
the trench of the Celtic camp--a very small obstruction now--which
loosely girds the ancient trees, Alice entered the vegetable throng of
weather-beaten and fantastic trunks. These are of no great size, and
shed no impress of hushed awe, as do the mossy ramparts and columnar
majesty of New Forest beech-trees. Yet, from their countless and
furious struggles with the winds in their might in the wild midnight,
and from their contempt of aid or pity in their loneliness, they
enforce the respect and the interest of any who sit beneath them.

At the foot of one of the largest trees, the perplexed and disconsolate
Alice rested on a lowly mound, which held (if faith was in tradition)
the bones of her native ancestor, the astrologer Agasicles. The
tree which overhung his grave, perhaps as a sapling had served to
rest (without obstructing) his telescope; and the boughs, whose
murmurings soothed his sleep, had been little twigs too limp for him
to hang his Samian cloak on. Now his descendant in the ninth or tenth
generation--whichever it was--had always been endowed with due (but
mainly rare) respect for those who must have gone before her. She could
not perceive that they must have been fools, because many things had
happened since they died; and she was not even aware that they must
have been rogues, to beget such a set of rogues.

Therefore she had veneration for the remains that lay beneath her
(mouldering in no ugly coffin, but in swaddling-clothes, committed
like an infant into the mother’s bosom), and the young woman dwelt,
as all mortals must, on death, when duly put to them. The everlasting
sorrow of the moving winds was in the trees; and the rustling of the
sad, sere leaf, and creaking of the lichened bough. And above their
little bustle, and small fuss about themselves, the large, sonorous
stir was heard of Weymouth pines and Scottish firs, swaying in the
distance slowly, like the murmur of the sea. Even the waving of yellow
grass-blades (where the trees allowed them), and the ruffling of tufted
briars, and of thorny thickets, shone and sounded melancholy, with a
farewell voice and gaze.

In the midst of all this autumn sound, Alice felt her spirits fall.
She knew that they were low before, and she was here to enlarge and
lift them, with the breadth of boundless prospect, and the height
of the breezy hill. But fog and cloud came down the weald, and grey
encroachment creeping, and on the hill-tops lay some heavy sense of
desolation. And Alice being at heart in union with the things around
her (although she tried to be so brave), began to be weighed down,
and lonesome, sad, and wondering, and afeared. From time to time she
glanced between the uncouth pillars of the trees, to try to be sure of
no man being in among them hiding. And every time when she saw no one,
she was so glad that she need not look again--and then she looked again.

“It is quite early,” she said to herself; “nothing--not even three
o’clock. I get into the stupidest, fearfullest ways, from such
continual nursing. How I wish poor Hilary was here! One hour of this
fine breeze and cheerful scene----My goodness, what was that!”

The cracking of a twig, without any sign of what had cracked it; the
rustle of trodden leaves; but no one, in and out the graves of leafage,
visible to trample them. And then the sound of something waving, and a
sharp snap as of metal, and a shout into the distant valley.

“It is the astrologer,” thought Alice. “Oh, why did I laugh at him? He
has felt me sitting on his dear old head. He is waving his cloak, and
snapping his casket. He has had me in view for his victim always, and
now he is shouting for me.”

In confirmation of this opinion, a tall grey form, with one arm thrown
up, and a long cloak hanging gracefully, came suddenly gliding between
the trees. The maiden, whose brain had been overwrought, tried to
spring up with her usual vigour; but her power failed her. She fell
back against the sepulchral trunk and did not faint, but seemed for the
moment very much disposed thereto.

When she was perfectly sure of herself, and rid of all presence of
spectres, she found a strong arm behind her head, and somebody leaning
over her. And she laid both hands before her face, without meaning any
rudeness; having never been used to be handled at all, except by her
brother or father.

“I beg your pardon most humbly, madam. But I was afraid of your
knocking yourself.”

“Sir, I thank you. I was very foolish. But now I am quite well again.”

“Will you take my hand to get up? I am sure, I was scared as much as
you were.”

“Now, if I could only believe that,” said Alice, “my self-respect would
soon return; for you do not seem likely to be frightened very easily.”

She was blushing already; and now her confusion deepened, with the
consciousness that the stranger might suppose her to be admiring his
manly figure; of which, of course, she had not been thinking, even for
one moment.

“I ought not to be so,” he answered, in the simplest manner possible;
“but I had a sunstroke in America, fifteen months ago or so; and since
that I have been good for nothing. May I tell you who I am?”

“Oh yes, I should like so much to know.” Alice was surprised at herself
as she spoke; but the stranger’s unusually simple yet most courteous
manner led her on.

“I am one Joyce Aylmer, not very well known; though at one time I hoped
to become so. A major in his Majesty’s service”--here he lifted his hat
and bowed--“but on the sick-list, ever since we fought the Americans at
Fort Detroit.”

“Oh, Major Aylmer, I have often heard of you, and how you fell into a
sad brain-fever, through saving the life of a poor little child. My
uncle, Mr. Hales, knows you, I believe, and has known your father for
many years.”

“That is so. And I am almost sure that I must be talking to Miss
Lorraine, the daughter of Sir Roland Lorraine, whom my father has often
wished to know.”

“Yes. And perhaps you know my brother, who has served in the Peninsula,
and is now lying very ill at home.”

“I am very sorry indeed to hear that of him. I know him of course, by
reputation, as the hero of Badajos; but I think I was ordered across
the Atlantic before he joined; or, at any rate, I never met him that I
know of--though I shall hope to do so soon. May I see you across this
lonely hill? Having frightened you so, I may claim the right to prevent
any others from doing it.”

Alice would have declined the escort of any other stranger; but she had
heard such noble stories of this Major Aylmer, and felt such pity for a
brave career baffled by its own bravery (which in some degree resembled
her poor brother’s fortunes), that she gave him one of her soft bright
smiles, such a smile as he never had received before. Therefore he set
down his broad sketch-book, and case of pencils, and went to the rim of
the Ring that looks towards the vale of Sussex; and there he shouted,
to countermand the groom who had been waiting for him at the farm-house
far below.

“I am ordered to ride about,” he said, as he returned to Alice, “and be
out of doors all day--a very pleasant medicine. And so, for something
to do, I have taken up my old trick of drawing; because I must not
follow hounds. I would not talk so about myself, except to show you how
it was that you did not hear me moving.”

“How soon it gets dark on the top of these hills!” cried Alice, most
unscientifically; “I always believe that they feel it sooner, because
they see the sun go down.”

“That seems to me to be a fine idea,” Joyce Aylmer answered faithfully.
And his mind was in a loose condition of reason all the way to Coombe
Lorraine.



CHAPTER LX.

COURTLY MANNERS.


Sir Remnant Chapman, in his dry old fashion, was a strongly-determined
man. He knew the bitter strait of Coombe Lorraine for ready money;
and from his father, Sir Barker Chapman (a notorious usurer), he had
inherited the gift of spinning a disc into a globe. But, like most of
the men who labour thus to turn their guineas, he could be very liberal
with them for the advancement of his family. And though the Chapmans
had gradually acquired such a length of rent-roll, their pedigree
was comparatively short among their Norman neighbours. Nothing would
cure that local defect more speedily and permanently than a wedlock
with Lorraine; and father and son were now eager tenfold, by reason
of Hilary’s illness. They had made up their minds that he must die
within a few months; and then Alice, of course, would be the heiress of
Coombe Lorraine. But the marriage must be accomplished first before the
mourning stopped it. Then Hilary would drop out of the way; and after
Sir Roland’s time was passed, and the properties had been united, there
ought not to be any very great trouble, with plenty of money to back
the claim, in awakening the dormant earldom of Lorraine, and enhancing
its glory with a Chapman.

To secure all this success at once, they set forth in their yellow
coach, one fine November morning. They knew that Sir Roland was
fretting and pining (although too proud to speak of it) at his son’s
disgrace, and the crippled and fettered fortunes of the family. Even
apart from poor Hilary’s illness, and perhaps fatal despondency, the
head of the house of Lorraine would have felt (with his ancient pride
and chivalry) that a stain must lie on his name until the money was
made good again. And now the last who could prolong male heritage
unbroken--of which the Lorraines were especially proud--was likely to
go to a world that does not heed direct succession--except from the
sinful Adam--for the want of £50,000.

Cut, and clipped, and cleft with fissures of adjacent owners, the
once broad lands of Lorraine were now reduced, for the good of the
neighbours. But even in those evil days, when long war had lowered
everything, the residue of the estates would have been for that sum
good security, being worth about twice the money. This, however, was
of no avail; because, by the deed of settlement (made in the time of
the late Sir Roger, under the Lady Valeria), nothing could be bound,
beyond life-interest, while Alice was living, and under age. This point
had been settled hopelessly, by reference to the highest and deepest
legal authority of the age, Sir Glanvil Malahide, K.C. Sir Glanvil
was not all the man to stultify his own doings. He had been instructed
to tie tight; and he was pleased to show now how tight he had tied,
after his own remonstrance. “I am of opinion,” wrote this great lawyer
(after drawing his pen through the endorsement of a fifty-guinea fee
on the case), “that under the indentures of Lease and Release, dated
Aug. 5th and 6th, 1799, the estates comprised therein are assured
to uses precluding any possibility of valid title being made, until
Alice Lorraine is of age, or deceased.” There was a good deal more, of
course; but that was the gist of the matter.

Having learned from the Rector how these things stood, the captain
devised a clever stroke, by which he could render the escape of Alice
almost an impossibility. For by this contrivance he could make Sir
Roland most desirous of the match, who up to the present, though
well aware of the many substantial advantages offered, had always
listened to his daughter’s pleading, and promised not to hurry her.
The captain’s plan was very simple, as all great ideas are; the honour
of the family was to be redeemed by the sacrifice of Alice. For, among
other points, it had been arranged upon the treaty of marriage, that
£50,000 should be settled on Alice, for her separate use, with the
usual powers of appointment.

Now the captain’s excellent idea was, that on his wedding-day, this
sum should be paid in hard cash to Sir Roland and Hilary, as trustees
for Alice; and they, by deed of even date, should charge that sum on
the Lorraine estate--“_valeat quantum_,” as the lawyers say; for they
could only bind their own interests. The solicitors would be directed
to waive the obvious objections, which might lead to mischief, or might
not, according to circumstances. Thus the flaw of title, which would be
fatal to any cold-blooded mortgage, might well be turned to good use,
when stopped by a snug little family arrangement.

Sir Remnant, with inherited instinct, saw the blot of this conception.
“It comes to this,” he said, as soon as ever he was told of it, “that
you get the Lorraine property saddled with a loss of £50,000, which has
gone to the scoundrelly Government! The Government rob us all they can.
In a sensible point of view, young Lorraine is the first sensible man
of his family. He has stolen £50,000, which the Government stole from
us tax-payers. As for paying it back again--an idiot might think of it!
It makes me kick; and that always hurts me.”

Nevertheless, he was brought round (when he had kicked his passion
out), as most of the obstinate old men are, to the plans and aims of
the younger ones. Steenie was a fool--they all were fools--there was
scarcely any sense left in anybody but himself, and the boy who stole
all that money, and was dying for fear of being prosecuted. Sir Remnant
could not bring himself to believe a word of the story, except as
himself had shaped it. Thus he worked himself up, with his want of
faith, to believe that poor Hilary had got the money buried somewhere
on the Downs, and would dig it up like a morel, as soon as the stir of
the moment was over. If so, there could be no loss after all; only it
would have been very much better to make no fuss about the money stolen.

Revolving these things in his mind, and regretting the good old times
when any one (if at all in a good position) might have stolen £50,000
without any trumpery scandal, this baronet of the fine old school
prepared to listen, in a quiet way, to any plans that would come home
again. And he thought that this plan of his son would do so, either in
money or in kind. Yet having formed some misty sketch of the character
of Sir Roland, each of these Chapmans wished the other to begin the
overture.

It would have been pleasant for anybody quite outside of danger, to
watch the great yellow coach of the captain labouring up the chalky
road, the best approach to Coombe Lorraine, now that the Steyning road
was stopped, for all who could not walk a tree, by the outburst of the
water. All the roads were drenched just now; and wet chalk is a most
slippery thing, especially when it has taken blue stripes from the
rubbing of soft iron, the “drag” of some heavy waggon sliding down the
steep with a clank and jerk. Sir Remnant had very little faith in his
son’s most expensive gift of driving; and he jerked out his bad head
at every corner in anxiety for his good body and soul. The wicked,
however, are protected always; and thus this venturesome baronet was
fetched out of his coach, with much applause, and a little touch of
gout about him, such as he would not stop to groan at.

Sir Roland Lorraine was not glad to see them, and did not feign to be
so. He wanted to be left alone just now, with such a number of things
to think of. He perceived that they were come to hurry him about a
thing he was not ripe with. Knowing his daughter’s steadfast nature,
and his mother’s stubborn stuff, in the calm of his heart he had
hoped good things. To balance one against the other in psychological
counterpoise--as all good English writers of the present day express
it--or, as our rude granddads said, “to let them fight it out between
them.”

“Over your books again, Lorraine? Well, well, I can understand all
that. I was pretty nigh taking to such things myself, after I put my
knee-cap out. Steenie is a wonderful scholar now. I believe a’ can
construe Homer!”

“That depends on the mood I am in,” said the captain, modestly;
“sometimes I can make out a very nice piece.”

“Well, that is more than any man can say in the county, that I know
of. Except, of course, one or two new parsons, and Sir Roland here,
and some ragamuffins that come about teaching their stuff in lodgings.
Lorraine now, after all, how are you? How do you get through these bad
times?”

Sir Roland Lorraine, for the third time now, shook hands with Sir
Remnant Chapman. Not from any outburst of hospitality on his part, but
because the other would have it so. A strong opinion had newly set
in, that all good Britons were bound to shake hands; that dirty and
cold-blooded Frenchmen bowed at a distance homicidally; and therefore
that wholesome Englishman must squeeze one another’s knuckles to the
utmost. And that idea is not yet extinct.

“And how is her ladyship?” asked Sir Remnant, striking his gold-headed
stick on the floor very firmly at the mere thought of her. “Do you
think she will see her most humble servant? Gadzooks, sir, she is of
the true old sort.”

“I was amused the last time you were here,” Sir Roland answered
smiling, “to find how thoroughly you and my mother seemed to understand
each other. I am sure that if she is well enough to see anybody, she
will see you. Meanwhile, will you take something?”

“Now that is not the way to put it. Of course I will take something. I
like to see the glasses all brought in, and then the cupboards opened
and then the young women all going about, with hot and cold water, and
sugar-tongs.”

“We will try to do those little things aright,” the host answered very
quietly, “by the time of your reappearance. Trotman is come to say that
my mother will do herself the honour of receiving you.”

“Steenie, you stop here,” shouted Sir Remnant, getting up briskly and
setting his eyebrows, eyes, and knees for business. “Steenie, you are a
boy yet, and Court ladies prefer the society of men. No, no; I can pick
up my cane myself. Just you sit down quietly, Steenie, and entertain
Sir Roland till I come back.”

Sir Remnant, though somewhat of a bear by nature, prided himself on
his courtly manners, when occasion called for them. “Gadzooks, sir,”
he used to say, “nurse my vittels, if I can’t make a leg with the very
best of them!” And he carried his stick in a manner to prove that he
must have kissed hands, or toes, or something.

Entering Lady Valeria’s drawing-room in his daintiest manner, the old
reprobate (as he called himself, sometimes with pride, and sometimes
with terror, according as his spirits were up or down) made a slow and
deep obeisance, then kissed the tips of his fingers, and waved them,
and, seeing a smile on the lady’s face, ventured to lay his poor hand
on his heart.

“Oh, Sir Remnant, you are too gallant!” said the lady, who in good
truth despised him, and hated him also as the owner of great broad
stripes of the land of Lorraine. “We never get such manners now; never
since the Court was broken up: and things that it would not become me
at all to hint at are encouraged.”

“You are right, my lady; you are right all over. Gadzooks--ahem, I beg
your ladyship’s pardon.”

“By no means, Sir Remnant. The gentlemen always, in the best society,
were allowed to say those little things. And I missed them sadly when I
came down here.”

“Madam, my admiration of you increases with every word you speak. From
what I hear of the mock-Court now (as you and I might call it), and
my son has been hand-in-glove for years with the P.R., indeed, the
whole number of their Royal Highnesses,--in short, I cannot tell your
ladyship--things are very bad, very bad indeed.” And Sir Remnant made a
grimace, as if his own whole life had been purity.

“I fear that is too true,” the lady answered, looking straight at him.
“We find things always growing worse, as we ourselves grow wiser.
But come now, and sit in this chair, and tell me, if you please, Sir
Remnant, how the poor things are getting on--your captain and my poor
grandchild.”

“Well, madam, I need not tell a lady of your high breeding and
experience; the maids of the present day are not at all the same thing
as they used to be. But, thank the Lord, they get on, on the whole as
well as can be expected. But Sir Roland will not help us; and the young
maid flies and flickers, and don’t seem to come to know her own mind.
You know, my lady, the Lord in heaven scarce knows what to make of
them. They will have this, and they won’t have that; and they hates to
look at anything but their swinging-glasses.”

“Oh, sir, you have not been at court for nothing. You have come to a
very sad view of the ladies. But they deserve a great deal more than
that. If you were to hear what even I, at this great distance, know of
them--but I will say no more; it is always best, and charitable, not to
speak of them. So let us go back, if you please, Sir Remnant; I have my
own ways of considering things. Indeed, I am obliged to have them, in a
manner now scarcely understood. But, I hear a noise--is it a mouse, or
a rat, do you think?”

It was neither mouse nor rat; as Lady Valeria knew quite well. It was
simply poor Sir Remnant tapping on the floor with his walking-stick;
which of course he had no right to do, while the lady was addressing
him.

“It sounds like a very little mouse,” he said; “or perhaps it was the
death-tick. It often comes in these old rooms, when any of the people
are going to die.”

The old gentleman had not been at Court for nothing (as the old lady
had told him); he knew how timid and superstitious were the brave women
of the fine old time.

“Now, sir, are you sure that you never made a tap?” asked Lady Valeria,
anxiously.

“Not a quarter of a tap, as I hope to be saved,” the old reprobate
answered, below his breath; “I pay no heed to nonsense; but a thing of
this sort must mean something.”

“There have been a great many signs of late,” said the old lady, after
listening with her keener ear brought round, and the misty lace of her
beautiful cap quivering like a spider’s web: “there seems to have been
a great many signs of bad things coming, in their proper time.”

“They will come before we are ready, madam; old Scratch waits for no
invitation. But they say that the death-tick runs before him, and keeps
time with his cloven heel.”

“Oh Lord, Sir Remnant, how dreadfully you talk! I beg you to spare
me; I have had no sleep since I was told of that horrible water, and
of my poor grandson. Poor Hilary! He has done great things, and spent
no money of his own; and indeed he had none of his own to spend; and
having denied himself so, is it right that he should be disgraced and
break his heart, because he could not help losing a little money, that
was not at all his own? And he had taken a town worth ten times as
much; now, truly speaking, is it fair of them?”

“Certainly not, madam; pox upon them! It is the scurviest thing ever
heard of.”

“And you must remember, sir, if you please, that from his childhood
upward, indeed ever since he could move on two legs, he always lost
every sixpence put by kind people into his pockets. I gave him a guinea
on his very fifth birthday; and in the afternoon what do you think
he showed me? A filthy old tobacco-pipe, and nothing else--no change
whatever. And his pride was more than he could set forth; though he
always was a chatterer. Now, if such a thing as that could only be
properly put at the Horse Guards, by some one of good position, surely,
Sir Remnant, they would make allowance; they would see that it was his
nature; at least they would have done so in my time.”

“Of course they would, of course, my lady. But things have been
growing, from year to year, to such a pitch of”--here Sir Remnant
took advantage of the lady’s courtly indulgence towards bad
language--“that--that--they seem to want almost--gadzooks, they want to
treat men almost all alike?”

“They never can do that, good sir. They never could be such fools as to
try it. And, bad as they may be, they must be aware that my grandson
has done no harm to them. Why, the money he lost was not theirs at
all; it was all for the pay of the common soldiers. It comes out of
everybody’s pocket, and it goes into nobody’s. And, to my mind, it
serves them all perfectly right. Who is that General--I forget his
name, an Irishman, if I remember aright--who is he, or of what family,
that he should put a Lorraine to look after dirty money? The heir of
all the Lorraines to be put to do a cashier’s business!”

“Heaven save me from such a proud woman as this!” thought poor Sir
Remnant Chapman; “if Alice is like her, the Lord have pity on our
unlucky Steenie! He won’t dare have his nip of brandy, even in a
corner!”

“And now, poor dear, he is very ill indeed,” continued the ancient
lady, recovering from the indignation which had even wrinkled her
firm and smooth forehead; “he has pledged his honour to make good the
money; and my son also thinks that the dignity of our family demands
it: though to me it seems quite a ridiculous thing; and you of course
will agree with me. And the doctors say that he has something on his
mind; and if he cannot be relieved of it, he must die, poor boy. And
then what becomes of the name of Lorraine that has been here for nearly
eight hundred years?”

“It becomes extinct, of course, my lady,” answered Sir Remnant, as
calmly as if the revolution of the earth need not be stopped; “but it
might be revived in the female line, by royal licence, hereafter.”

“That would be of very little use. Why, even your grandson might be a
Lorraine! Is that what you were thinking of?”

“No, no, no! Of course not, my lady. Nothing could be further from my
thoughts.” The old baronet vainly endeavoured, as he spoke, to meet the
suspicious gaze of the lady’s still penetrating and bright eyes.

“We are not so particular about the spindle,” she resumed with some
condescension; “but in the sword line we must be represented duly; and
we never could be supplanted by a Chapman.”

“Gadzooks, madam, are the Chapmans dirt? But in order to show how you
wrong us, my lady, I will tell you what I am come to propose.”

Herewith he looked very impressive, and leaned both hands on his stick,
as if inditing of an excellent matter. And thus he set forth his
scheme, which bore at first sight a fair and magnanimous face; as if
all that large sum of money were given, or without security trusted,
for no other purpose, except to save a life precious to both families.
The old lady listened with prudent reserve, yet an inward sense of
relief, and even a faint suspicious gratitude. She was too old now
to digest very freely any generous sentiment. Blessed are they who,
crossing the limit of human years, can carry with them faith in worn
humanity.



CHAPTER LXI.

A SAMPLE FROM KENT.


Of all trite proverbs, no truer there is in the affairs of men (perhaps
because in the kingdom of the clouds so untrue) than this venerable
saying--“It never rains, but what it pours.” The Chapmans had come,
with a storm of cash, to wash away Hilary’s obstructions; and now on
that very same day there appeared a smaller, but more kindly cloud, to
drop its little fatness.

Just when Sir Roland had managed to get rid (at the expense of
poor Alice perhaps) of that tedious half-born Stephen Chapman, the
indefatigable Trotman came, with his volatile particles uppermost. “If
you plaize, sir,” he said, “I can’t stop un at all. He saith as he will
see you.”

“Well, if he will, he must, of course. But who is this man of such
resolute mind?”

“If you plaize, sir, I never had seed un from Adam. And I showed un the
wrong way, to get a little time.”

“Then go now, and show him the right way, John. I am always ready to
see any one.”

Sir Roland knew well that this was not true. He had said it without
thinking; and, with his pure love of truth, he began to condemn himself
for saying it. He knew that he liked no strangers now, nor even any
ordinary friends; and he was always sorry to hear that any one made
demand to see him. Before he could repent of his repentance, the door
was opened, and in walked a man of moderate stature, sturdy frame,
and honest, ruddy, and determined face, well shaven betwixt grey
whiskers. Sir Roland had never been wont to take much heed of the human
countenance; therefore he was surprised to find himself rushing to a
rash conclusion--“an honest man, if ever there was one; also a very
kind one.”

The Grower came forward, without any sign of humility, awkwardness,
sense of difference, or that which is lowest of all--intense and
shallow self-assertion. He knew that he was not of Sir Roland’s rank;
and he had no idea of defying it: he was simply a man, come to speak
to a man, for the love of those dependent on him, in the largeness
of humanity. At the same time, he was a little afraid of going too
far with anything. He made a bow (by no means graceful, but of a tidy
English sort, when the back always wants to go back again), and then,
as true Englishmen generally do, he waited to be spoken to.

“I am very sorry,” Sir Roland said, “that you have had trouble in
finding me. We generally manage to get on well; but sometimes things go
crooked. Will you come and sit down here, and tell me why you came to
see me?”

Martin Lovejoy made another bow, of pattern less like a tenterhook. He
had come with a will to be roughly received; and lo, there was nothing
but smoothness. Full as he was of his errand, and the largest views of
everything, he had made up his mind to say something fierce; and here
was no opportunity. For he took it for granted, in his simple way, that
Sir Roland knew thoroughly well who he was.

“I am come to see you, Sir Roland Lorraine,” he began, with a slightly
quivering voice, after declining the offered chair; “not to press
myself upon you, but only for the sake of my daughter.”

“Indeed!” the other answered, beginning to suspect; “are you then the
father of that young lady----”

“I am the father of Mabel Lovejoy. And sorry I should be to be her
father, if--if--I mean, sir, if she was anybody else’s daughter. But
being as it is, she is my own dear child; and no man has a better one.
And if any one says that she threw herself at the feet of your son, for
the sake of his name, Sir Roland, that man is a liar.”

“My good sir, I know it. I never supposed that your daughter did
anything of the kind. I have heard that the fault was my son’s
altogether.”

“Then why have you never said a word to say so? Why did you leave
us like so many dogs, to come when you might whistle? Because we
are beneath you in the world, is your son to do a great wrong to my
daughter, while you sit up here on the top of your hill, as if you had
never heard of us? Is this all the honour that comes of high birth?
Then I thank the Almighty that we are not high born.”

The Grower struck his ash-stick with disdain upon the rich Turkey
carpet, and turned his broad back on Sir Roland Lorraine; not out of
rudeness (as the latter thought), but to hide the moisture that came
and spoiled the righteous sparkle of his eyes. The baronet perhaps
had never felt so small and self-condemned before. He had not been so
blind and narrow-minded, as to forget, through the past two years,
that every question has two sides. He had often felt that the Kentish
homestead had a grievance against the South Down castle; but with
his contemplative ease, and hatred of any disturbance, he had left
the case mainly to right itself; persuading himself at last that he
must have done all that could be expected, in making that promise to
Struan Hales. But now all the fallacy of such ideas was scattered by a
father’s honest wrath. And he was not a man who would argue down the
rights of another; when he saw them.

“You are right, Mr. Lovejoy,” he said at last; “I have not behaved at
all well to you. I will make no excuses, but tell you fairly that I am
sorry for my conduct now that you put it so plainly. And whatever I can
do shall be done, to make amends to your daughter.”

“Amends means money, from one rank to another. Would you dare to offer
me money, sir?”

“Certainly not; it is the very last thing I ever should dream of doing.
Not to mention the scarcity of cash just now. In such a case, money is
an insult.”

“I should think so--I should think so. What money would ever pay for
our Mabel? If you had only seen her once, you could never have been
angry with your son. Although I was; although I was--until I heard how
ill he is. But bless you, sir, they will do these things--and there is
no stopping them. It puts one into a passion with them until one begins
to remember. But now, sir, I have heard all sorts of things. Is it true
that Master Hilary lies very ill abed, for want of money?”

“You put it very shortly; but it comes to that. He has lost a large sum
of the public money, and we cannot very well replace it.”

“Then you should a’ come to me. I’ll cure all that trouble in a
jiffy,” said the Grower, tugging heavily at something well inside his
waistcoat. “There, that’s a very tidy lump of money; and no call to
be ashamed of it, in the way you high folk look at things--because us
never made it. Not a farden of it ever saw Covent Garden; all came
straight without any trade whatever! He can’t a’ lost all that, anyhow.”

Martin Lovejoy, with broad-tipped fingers, and nails not altogether
exempt from chewing, was working away, as he spoke, at a bag such as
wheat is sampled in, and tied with whipcord round the neck. Sir Roland
Lorraine, without saying a word, looked on, and smiled softly with
quiet surprise.

“No patience--I haven’t no patience with counting, since I broke my
finger, sir,--seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, no--well, it must be
right, and I’ve reckoned amiss; our Mab reckoned every penny--no longer
than yesterday morning--twenty thousand pounds it must be, according
to the ticket. There is one lot a-missing; oh, here it is, in among my
fingers, I do believe! What slippery rubbish this bank stuff is! Will
you please now to score them all up, Sir Roland?”

“Mr. Lovejoy, why should I do that? It cannot matter what the quantity
is. The meaning is what I am thinking of.”

“Well sir, and the meaning is just this. My daughter Mabel hath had a
fortune left her by her godfather, the famous banker Lightgold, over to
the town of Tonbridge. No doubt you have heard of him, Sir Roland, and
of his death six months agone. Well no, I forget; it is so far away. I
be so used to home, that I always speak as if I was at home. And they
made me trustee for her--that they did; showing confidence in my nature
almost, on the part of the laiyers, sir, do you think? At least I took
it in that way.”

“It was kind of you, so to take it. They have no confidence in
anybody’s nature, whenever they can help it.”

“So I have heard, sir. I have heard that same, and in my small way
proved it. But will you be pleased just to count the money?”

“I must be worse than the lawyers if I did. Your daughter Mabel must be
the best, and kindest-hearted, and most loving----”

“Of course, of course,” cried the Grower, as if that point wanted no
establishing; “but business is business, Sir Roland Lorraine. I am my
daughter’s trustee, do you see, and bound to be sure that her money
goes right. And it is a good bit of money, mind you; more than I could
earn in all my life.”

“Will you tell me exactly what she said? I should like to hear her very
words. I beg you to sit down. Are you afraid that I shall run off with
the trust-funds?”

“You are like your son. I’ll be dashed if you aren’t. Excuse me, Sir
Roland, for making so free--but that was just his way of turning
things; a sort of a something in a funny manner, that won the heart
of my poor maid. None of our people know how to do it; except of
course our Mabel. Mabel can do it, answer for answer, with any that
come provoking her. But she hathn’t shown the spirit for it, now ever
since--the Lord knows what was the name of the town Master Hilary took.
That signifies nothing, neither here nor there; only it showeth how
they do take on.”

“Yes, Mr. Lovejoy, I see all that. But what was it your good daughter
said?”

“She is always saying something, sir--something or other; except now
and then; when her mind perhaps is too much for it. But about this
money-bag she said--is that what you ask, Sir Roland? Well, sir, what
she said was this. They had told me a deal, you must understand, about
investing in good securities, meaning their own blessed pockets, no
doubt. But they found me too old a bird for that. ‘Down with the
money!’ says I, the same as John Shorne might in the market. They
wouldn’t; they wouldn’t. Not a bit of it, till I put another laiyer
at them--my own son, sir, if you please, a counsellor on our circuit;
and he brought them to book in no time, and he laid down the law to
me pretty strong about my being answerable. So as soon as I got it,
I said to her, ‘Mabel, how am I to lodge it for you, to fetch proper
interest, until you come of age?’ But the young silly burst out crying,
and she said--‘What good can it ever be to me? Take it all, father,
take every penny, and see if it will do any good to him.’ And no peace
could I have, till at last I set off. And there it is, Sir Roland. But
I am thinking that, the money in no way belonging to me, I am bound
to ask you to make a receipt, or give me your note of hand for it, or
something as you think proper, just to disappoint the laiyers.”

“You shall have my receipt,” said Sir Roland Lorraine, with his eyes
beginning to glisten. “Meanwhile place all the money in the bag, and
tie it up securely.”

The Grower fetched a quiet little sigh, and allowed the corners of
his mouth to drop, as he did what he was told to do. It had cost him
many a hard fight with Mabel, and many a sulky puff of pipe, to be
sent on such an errand. Money is money; and a man who makes it with so
much anxiety, chance of season, and cheating from the middlemen, as a
fruit-grower has to struggle through,--such a man wants to know the
reason why he should let it go all of a heap. However, Martin Lovejoy
was one of the “noblest works of God,” an honest man--though an honest
woman is even yet more noble, if value goes by rarity--and he knew that
the money was his daughter’s own, to do what she pleased with, in a
twelvemonth’s time, when she would be a spinster of majority.

“I have written my receipt,” said Sir Roland, breaking in on Master
Lovejoy’s sad retrospect at the bag of money. “Read it, and tell me if
I have been too cold.”

It is a thing quite unaccountable, haply (and yet there must be some
cause for it), that some men who allow no tone of voice, no pressure
of hand, to betray emotion, yet cannot take pen without doing it, and
letting the fount of heart break open from the sealed reserve of eye.
No other explanation can be offered for this note of hand from Sir
Roland Lorraine. The Grower put on his specs.; and then he took them
off, and wiped them; and then, as the shadow of the hill came over, he
found it hard to read anything. The truth was that he had read every
word, but had no idea of being overcome. And the note, so hard to read,
was as follows:--

    “MABEL,

    “I have done you much injustice. And I hope that I may live
    long enough to show what now I think of you. Your perfect faith
    and love are more than any one can have deserved of you, and
    least of all my son, who has fallen into all his sad distress
    by wandering away from you. Your money, of course, I cannot
    accept; but your goodwill I value more than I have power to
    tell you. If you would come and see Hilary, I think it would do
    him more good than a hundred doctors. Sometimes he seems pretty
    well; and again he is fit for little or nothing. I know that he
    longs to see you, Mabel; and having so wronged you, I ask you
    humbly to come and let us do you justice.

                                                 “ROLAND LORRAINE.”



CHAPTER LXII.

A FAMILY ARRANGEMENT.


It did not occur to Sir Roland Lorraine (as he shook Martin Lovejoy’s
hand, and showed him forth on his way to meet the Reigate coach at
Pyecombe) that Mabel’s rich legacy might be supposed to have changed
his own views concerning her. Whether her portion was to be twenty
thousand pounds or twenty pence, made very little difference to him;
but what made all the difference was the greatness of her faith and
love.

The Grower was a man who judged a man very much by eyesight. He had
found out so many rogues, by means of that “keen Kentish look,” for
which the Sidneys, and some other old families, were famous. And having
well applied this to Sir Roland, he had no longer any doubt of him.
And yet, with his shrewd common-sense, he was not sorry to button up
his coat with the money once more inside it, in the sample-bag, which
had sampled so much love, and trust, and loyalty. Money is not so
light to come by as great landlords might suppose; and for a girl to
be known to have it is the best of all strings to her bow. So Master
Lovejoy grasped his staff; and it would have been a hard job for even
the famous Black Robin, the highwayman of the time, to have wrested the
trust-fund from him.

Covering the ground at an active pace, and crossing the Woeburn by
a tree-bridge (rudely set up where the old one had been) he strode
through West Lorraine and Steyning, and over the hills to Pyecombe
corner, where he took the Reigate coach; and he slept that night at
Reigate.

Meanwhile the Chapmans gathered their forces for perfect conquest of
Alice. Father and son had quite agreed that the final stroke of victory
might best be made by occupying the commanding fortress Valeria. They
knew that this stronghold was only too ready, for the sake of the land
below it to surrender at discretion; and the guns thereof being turned
on the castle, the whole must lie at their mercy.

Yet there were two points which these besiegers had not the perception
to value duly and seize to their own advantage. One was the character
of Sir Roland; the other was the English courage and Norman spirit of
Alice. “It is all at our mercy now,” they thought; “we have only to
hammer away; and the hammer of gold is too heavy for anything.” They
did not put it so clearly as that--for people of that sort do not put
their views to themselves very clearly; still, if they had looked
inside their ideas, they would have found them so.

“Steenie, let me see him first,” said Sir Remnant, meeting his son, by
appointment, at the sun-dial in the eastern walk, which for half the
year possessed a sinecure office, and a easy berth even through the
other half. “Steenie, you will make a muddle; you have been at your
flask again.”

“Well, what can I do? That girl is enough to roll anybody over. I
wish I had never seen her--oh, I wish I had never seen her! She
dis-dis-dis----”

“Dislikes you, Steenie! She can never do that. Of all I have settled
with, none have said it. They are only too fond of you, Steenie; just
as they were of your father before you. And now you are straight, and
going on so well! After all you have done for the women, Steenie, no
girl can dislike you.”

“That is the very thing I try to think. And I know that it ought to be
so, if only from proper jealousy. But she never seems to care when I
talk of girls; and she looks at me so that I scarcely dare speak. And
it scarcely makes any difference at all what girls have been in love
with me!”

“Have you had the sense to tell her of any of the royal family?”

“Of course I did. I mentioned two or three, with good foundation. But
she never inquired who they were, and nothing seems to touch her. I
think I must give it up, after all. I never cared for any girl before.
And it does seem so hard, after more than a score of them, when one is
in downright earnest at last, not to be able to get a chance of the
only one I ever lov-lov-loved!”

“Steenie, you are a mere ass,” said Sir Remnant; “you always are, when
you get too much--which you ought to keep for dinner-time. I have
settled everything for you upstairs, so that it must come right, if
only you can hold your tongue and wait. I have them all under my thumb;
and nothing but your rotten fuss about the young maid can make us one
day later. Her time is fixed. And whether she dislikes----”

“Dis-dis-dis--what I meant to say was--despises.”

“Pish, and tush, fiddlemaree! A young girl to despise a man! I had
better marry her myself, I trow, if that is all you are fit for. Now
just go away; go down the hill; go and see old Hales; go anywhere for a
couple of hours, while I see Lorraine. Only first give me your honour
for this, that you will not touch one more drop of drink until you come
back for the dinner-time.”

“You are always talking at me about that now. And I have had almost
less than nothing. And even that drop I should not have had, if Alice
had not upset me so.”

“Well, you may have needed it. I will say no more. We will upset her
pretty well, by-and-by, the obstinate, haughty fagot! But, Steenie, you
will give me your honour--not another drop, except water. You always
keep your honour, Steenie.”

“Yes, sir, I do; and I will give it. But I must not go near either
Alice or Hales. She does so upset me that I must have a drop. And
I defy anybody to call upon Hales without having two or three good
glasses. Oh, I know what I’ll do; and I need not cross that infernal
black water to do it. I’ll call upon the boy at the bottom of the hill,
and play at pitch guineas with him. They say that he rolls every night
in money.”

“Then, Steenie, go and take a lesson from him. All you do with the
money is to roll it away--ducks and drakes, and dipping yourself. I
would not have stuck to this matter so much, except that I know it for
your last chance. Your last chance, Steenie, is to have a wife, with
sense and power to steer you. It is worth all the money we are going to
pay; even if it never come back again; which I will take deuced good
care it does. You know you are my son, my boy.”

“Well, I suppose I can’t be anybody’s else; you carried on very much as
I do.”

“And when my time is over, Steenie--if you haven’t drunk yourself to
death before me--you will say that you had a good kind father, who
would go to the devil to save you.”

“Really, sir, you were down upon me for having had a sentimental drop.
But, I think, I may return the compliment.”

“Go down the hill, Steenie--go down the hill. It seems to be all that
you are fit for. And do try to put your neckcloth tidy before you come
back to dinner.”

Sir Remnant Chapman returned to the house, with a heavy sigh from his
withered breast. He had not the goodness in him which is needed to
understand the value of a noble maiden, or even of any good girl, taken
as against man’s selfishness. But in his little way, he thought of the
bonds of matrimony as a check upon his son’s poor rambling life; and he
knew that a lady was wanted in his house; and his great ambition was
to see, at last, a legitimate grandson. “If he comes of the breed of
Lorraine,” he exclaimed, “I will settle £100,000, the very day he is
born, on him.”

With this in his head, he came back to try his measures with Sir
Roland. He knew that he must not work at all as he had done with Lady
Valeria; but put it all strictly as a matter of business, with no
obligation on either side; but as if there were “landed security” for
the purchase-money of Alice. And he managed all this so well, that Sir
Roland, proud and high-minded as he was, saw nothing improper in an
arrangement by which Alice would become an incumbent on the Lorraine
estates, for the purpose of vindicating the honour of Lorraine, and
saving, perhaps, the male heir thereof. Accordingly the matter was
referred to the lawyers; who put it in hand, with the understanding
that the trustees of the marriage-settlement, receiving an indemnity
from Sir Remnant, would waive all defects, and accept as good a
mortgage as could be made by deed of even date, to secure the £50,000.

Sir Roland had long been unwilling to give his favourite Alice to
such a man as Captain Chapman seemed to be. Although, through his own
retiring and rather unsociable habits, he was not aware of the loose
unprincipled doings of the fellow, he could not but perceive the want
of solid stuff about him, of any power for good, or even respectable
powers of evil. But he first tried to think, and then began to believe,
that his daughter would cure these defects, and take a new pride and
delight in doing so. He knew what a spirited girl she was; and he
thought it a likely thing enough, that she would do better with a
weak, fond husband, than with one of superior mind, who might fail to
be polite to her. And he could not help seeing that Steenie was now
entirely devoted to her. Perpetual snubbings or silent contempt made
little difference to Steenie. He knew that he must win in the end; and
then his turn might come perhaps; and in half an hour after his worst
set-down, he was up again, on the arm of Cognac.

Alice Lorraine, with that gift of waiting for destiny, which the best
women have, allowed the whole thing to go on, as if she perceived there
was no hope for it. She made no touching appeals to her father, nor
frantic prayers to her grandmother; she let the time slip on and on,
and the people said what they liked to her. She would give her life for
her brother’s life, and the honour of the family; but firmly was she
resolved never to be the wife of Stephen Chapman.

The more she saw of this man, the more deeply and utterly she despised
him. She could not explain to her father, or even herself, why she so
loathed him. She did not know that it was the native shrinking of the
good from evil, of the lofty from the low, the brave from the coward,
the clean from the unclean. All this she was too young to think of,
too maidenly to imagine. But she felt perhaps, an unformed thought, an
unpronounced suggestion, that death was a fitter husband for a pure
girl, than a rake-hell.

Meanwhile Hilary, upon whom she waited with unwearying love and
care, was beginning to rally from his sad disorder and threatening
decline. The doctors, who had shaken their heads about him, now
began to smile, and say that under skilful treatment, youth and good
constitution did wonders; that “really they had seldom met with clearer
premonitory indications of phthisis pulmonalis, complicated by cardiac
and hypochondriac atony, and aggravated by symptomatic congestion
of the cerebellum. But proper remedial agents had been instrumental
in counteracting all organic cachexy, and now all the principles of
sound hygiene imperatively demanded quietude.” In plain English, he
was better and must not be worried. Therefore he was not even told of
the arrangement about his sister. Alice used to come and sit by his
bed, or sofa, or easy-chair, as he grew a little stronger, and talk
light nonsense to him, as if her heart was above all cloud and care.
If he alluded to any trouble, she turned it at once to ridicule; and
when he spoke of his indistinct remembrance of the Woeburn, she made
him laugh till his heart grew fat, by her mimicry of Nanny Stilgoe,
whom she could do to the very life. “How gay you are, Lallie; I never
saw such a girl!” he exclaimed, with the gratitude which arises from
liberated levity. “You do her with the stick so well! Do her again
with the stick, dear Lallie.” His mind was a little childish now, from
long lassitude of indoor life, which is enough to weaken and depress
the finest mind that ever came from heaven, and hankers for sight of
its birth-place. In a word, Alice Lorraine was bestowing whatever of
mirth or fun she had left (in the face of the coming conflict), all
the liveliness of her life, and revolt of bright youth against misery,
to make her poor brother laugh a little and begin to look like himself
again.



CHAPTER LXIII.

BETTER THAN THE DOCTORS.


Hilary’s luck was beginning to turn. For in a few days he received a
grand addition to his comforts, and wholesome encouragement to get
well. For after the Grower’s return to his home, and recovery from
hard Sussex air (which upset him for two days and three nights, “from
the want of any fruitiness about it”), a solemn council was called
and held in the state apartment of Old Applewood farm. There were no
less than five personages present all ready to entertain and maintain
fundamentally opposite opinions Mr. Martin Lovejoy, M.G., Mrs. Martin
Lovejoy, Counsellor Gregory Lovejoy (brought down by special retainer),
Miss Phyllis Catherow, and Lieutenant Charles Lovejoy, R.N. Poor Mabel
was not allowed to be present, for fear she should cry and disturb
strong minds, and corrode all bright honour with mercy. The Grower
thought that Master John Shorne, as the London representative of the
house, was entitled to be admitted; but no one else saw it in that
light, and so the counsel of a Kentish crust was lost.

The question before the meeting was--Whether without lese-majesty of
the ancient Lovejoy family, and in consistence with maiden dignity, and
the laws of Covent Garden, Mabel Lovejoy might accept the invitation
of Coombe Lorraine. A great deal was said upon either side, but no one
convinced or converted, till the master said, ” You may all talk as you
like; but I will have my own way, mind.”

Mrs. Lovejoy and Gregory were against accepting anything: a letter
written on the spur of the moment was not the proper overture; neither
ought Mabel to go at last, because they might happen to want her. But
the father said, and the sailor also, and sweet Cousin Phyllis, that
if she was wanted she ought to go, dispensing with small formality;
especially if she should want to go.

She did want to go; and go she did, backed up by kind opinions; and her
father being busy with his pears and hops (which were poor and late
this wet season), the fine young sailor, now adrift on shore--while his
ship was refitting at Chatham--made sail, with his sister in convoy,
for the old roadstead of the South Downs. Gregory (who had refused to
go, for reasons best known to himself, but sensible and sound ones)
wishing them good luck, returned to his chambers in the Middle Temple.

Now there is no time to set forth how these two themselves set forth;
the sailor with all the high spirit of the sea, when it overruns the
land; the spinster inclined to be meditative, tranquil, and deep of eye
and heart; yet compelled to come out of herself and smile, and then let
herself come into her smile. It is a way all kind-hearted girls have,
when they know that they ought to be grave, and truly intend to be so,
yet cannot put a chain on the popgun pellets of young age, health, and
innocence.

Enough that they had arrived quite safely at the old house in the
Coombe, with the sailor of course in a flurry of ambition to navigate
his father’s horse whenever he looked between his ears. The inborn
resemblance between ships and horses has been perceived, and must have
been perceived, long before Homer, or even Job, began to consider the
subject; and it still holds good, and deserves to be treated by the
most eloquent man of the age, retiring into silence.

Mr. Hales had claimed the right of introducing his favourite Mabel to
his brother-in-law, Sir Roland. For amity now reigned again between
the Coombe and the Rectory; the little quarrel of the year before had
long since been adjusted, and the parson was as ready to contribute his
valuable opinion upon any subject, as he was when we began with him.
One might almost say even more so; for the longer a good man lives with
a wife and three daughters to receive the law from him, and a parish to
accept his divinity, the less hesitation he has in admitting the extent
of his own capacities. Nevertheless he took very good care to keep out
of Lady Valeria’s way.

“Bless my heart! you look better than ever,” said the Rector to
blushing Mabel, as her pretty figure descended into his strong arms, at
the great house door. “Give me a kiss. That’s a hearty lass. I shall
always insist upon it. What! Trembling lips! That will never do. A
little more Danish courage, if you please. You know I am the Danish
champion. And here is the Royal Dane of course; or a Dane in the Royal
Navy, which does quite as well, or better. Charlie, my boy, I want no
introduction. You are a fisherman--that is enough; or too much, if your
sister’s words are true. You can catch trout, when I can’t.”

“No, sir, never, I never should dare. But Mabel always makes me a
wonder.”

“Well, perhaps we shall try some day, the Church against the Navy; and
Mabel to bring us the luncheon. Well said, well said! I have made her
smile; and that is worth a deal of trying. She remembers the goose,
and the stuffing, and how she took in the clerk from Sussex. I don’t
believe she made a bit of it.”

“I did, I did! How can you say such things? I can make better stuffing
than that to-morrow. I was not at all at my best, then.”

“You are at your best now,” he replied, having purposely moved her
mettle: “come in with that colour and those sparkling eyes, and you
will conquer every one.”

“I want to conquer no one,” she answered, with female privilege of last
word; “I only came to see poor Hilary.”

The Rector, with the fine gallantry and deference of old-fashioned
days, led the beautiful and good girl, and presented her to Sir Roland.
She was anxious to put her hair a little back, before being looked at;
but the impetuous parson wisely would not let her trim herself. She
could not look better than she did; so coy, and soft, and bashful,
resolved to be by no means timid, but afraid that she could not
contrive to be brave.

Sir Roland Lorraine came forward gently, and took her hand, and kissed
her. He felt in his heart that he had been hard upon this very pretty
maiden, imputing petty ambition to her; which one glance of her true
dear eyes disproved to his mind for ever. She was come to see Hilary;
nothing more. Her whole heart was on Hilary. She had much admiration
of Sir Roland, as her clear eyes told him. But she had more than
admiration for some one on another floor.

“You want to go upstairs, my dear,” Sir Roland said, with the usual
bathos of all critical moments; “you would like to take off your
things, and so on, before you see poor Hilary.”

“Of course she must touch herself up,” cried the Rector; “what do you
know about young women? Roland, where is Mrs. Pipkins?”

“I told her to be not so very far off; but she is boiling down bullace
plums, or something, of the highest national importance. We could not
tell when this dear child would come, or we might have received her
better.”

“Oh, I am so glad! You cannot receive me, you could not receive me,
better. And now that you have called me your dear child, I shall always
love you. I did not think that you would do it. And I came for nothing
of the kind. I only came for Hilary.”

“Oh, we quite understand that we are nobodies,” answered Sir Roland,
smiling; “you shall go to him directly. But you must not be frightened
by his appearance. He has been a good deal knocked about, and fallen
into sad trouble; but we all hope that now he is getting better, and
the sight of you will be better than a hundred doctors to him. But you
must not stay very long, of course, and you must keep him very quiet.
But I need not tell you--I see that you have a natural gift of nursing.”

“All who have the gift of cookery have the gift of nursing,” exclaimed
Mr. Hales, “because ‘omne majus continet in se minus.’ Ah, Roland, you
think nothing of my learning. If only you knew how I am pervaded with
Latin, and with logic!”

These elderly gentlemen chattered thus because they were gentlemen.
They saw that poor Mabel longed to have their attention withdrawn from
her; and without showing what they saw, they nicely thus withdrew it.
Then Alice, having heard of Miss Lovejoy’s arrival, came down and was
good to her, and their hearts were speedily drawn together by their
common anxiety. Alice thought Mabel the prettiest girl she had ever
seen anywhere; and Mabel thought Alice the loveliest lady that could
exist out of a picture.

What passed between Mabel and Hilary may better be imagined duly, than
put into clumsy words.



CHAPTER LXIV.

IMPENDING DARKNESS.


The darkness of the hardest winter of the present century--so far as
three-fourths of its span enable us to estimate--was gathering over
the South Down hills, and all hills and valleys of England. There may
have been severer cold, by fits and starts, before and since; but the
special character of this winter was the consistent low temperature.
There may have been some fiercer winters, whose traditions still abide,
and terrify us beyond the range of test and fair thermometer. But
within the range of trusty records, there has been no frost to equal
that which began on Christmas-day, 1813.

Seven weeks it lasted, and then broke up, and then began again, and
lingered: so that in hilly parts the snow-drifts chilled not only the
lap of May but the rosy skirt of June. That winter was remarkable, not
only for perpetual frost, but for continual snowfall; so that no man
of the most legal mind could tell when he was trespassing. Hedges and
ditches were all alike, and hollow places made high; and hundreds of
men fell into drifts; and some few saved their lives by building frozen
snow to roof them, and cuddling their knees and chin together in a
pure white home, having heard the famous and true history of Elizabeth
Woodcook.

But now before this style of things set in, in bitter earnest, nobody
on the South Down hills could tell what to make of the weather. For
twenty years the shepherds had not seen things look so strange like.
There was no telling their marks, or places, or the manners of the
sheep. A sulky grey mist crawled along the ground even when the sky
was clear. In the morning, every blade and point, and every spike of
attraction, and serrated edge (without any intention of ever sawing
anything), and drooping sheath of something which had vainly tried to
ripen, and umbellate awning of the stalks that had discharged their
seed, were, one and all alike, incrusted with a little filmy down.
Sometimes it looked like the cotton-grass that grows in boggy places;
and sometimes like the “American blight,” so common now on apple-trees;
and sometimes more like gossamer, or the track of flying spiders. The
shepherds had never seen this before; neither had the sheep--those
woolly sages of the weather. The sheep turned up their soft black eyes
with wonder towards the heavens,--the heavens where every sheep may
hope to walk, in the form of a fleecy cloud, when men have had his legs
of mutton.

It is needless to say that this long warning (without which no great
frost arrives) was wholly neglected by every man. The sheep, the
cattle, and the pigs foresaw it, and the birds took wing to fly from
it; the fish of the rivers went into the mud, and the fish of the sea
to deep water. The slug, and the cockroach, the rat and the wholesome
toad, came home to their snuggeries; and every wire-worm and young grub
bored deeper down than he meant to do. Only the human race straggled
about, without any perception of anything.

In this condition of the gloomy air, and just when frost was hovering
in the grey clouds before striking, Alice Lorraine came into her
father’s book-room, on the Christmas-eve. There was no sign of any
merry Christmas in the shadowed house, nor any young delighted hands
to work at decoration. Mabel was gone, after a longer visit than had
ever been intended; and Alice (who had sojourned in London, under lofty
auspices) had not been long enough at home to be sure again that it
was her home. Upon her return she had enjoyed the escort of a mighty
warrior, no less a hero than Colonel Clumps, the nephew of her hostess.
The Colonel had been sadly hacked about, in a skirmish soon after
Vittoria, when pressing too hotly on the French rear-guard. He had lost
not only his right arm, but a portion of his one sound leg; and instead
of saying his prayers every morning, he sat for an hour on the edge of
his bed and devoted all his theological knowledge to the execration
of the clumsy bullet, which could not even select his weak point for
attack. This choler of his made much against the recovery of what was
left of him: and the doctors thought that country air might mitigate
his state of mind, and at the same time brace his body, which sadly
wanted bracing. Therefore it had been arranged that he should go for a
month to Coombe Lorraine, posting all the way, of course, and having
the fair Alice to wait on him--which is the usual meaning of escort.

At the date of this journey, the Colonel’s two daughters were still
away at a boarding-school; but they were to come and spend the
Christmas with his aunt in London, and then follow their father into
Sussex, and perhaps appear as bridesmaids. Meanwhile their father
was making himself a leading power at Coombe Lorraine. He naturally
entered into strict alliance with his aunt’s friend, Lady Valeria,
and sternly impressed upon everybody the necessity of the impending
marriage. “What earthly objection can there be?” he argued with Mrs.
Pipkins, now Alice’s only partisan, except old Mr. Binns, the butler;
“even if Captain Chapman is rather lazy, and a little too fond of
his wine-glass; both points are in her favour, ma’am. She will manage
him like a top, of course. And as for looking up to him, that’s all
nonsense. If she did, he would have to look down upon her; and that’s
what the women can’t bear, of course. How would you like it now, Mrs.
Pipkins? Tut, tut, tut, now don’t tell me! I am a little too old to be
taken in. I only wish that one of my good daughters had £50,000 thrown
at her, with £20,000 a-year to follow.”

“But perhaps, sir, your young ladies is not quite so particular, and
romantic like, as our poor dear Miss Alice.”

“I should hope not. I’d romantic them. Bread and water is the thing
for young hussies, who don’t know on which side their bread is
buttered. But I don’t believe a bit of it. It’s all sham and girlish
make-believe. In her heart she is as ready as he is.”

Almost everybody said the same thing; and all the credit the poor girl
got for her scorn of a golden niddering, was to be looked upon as a coy
piece of affectation and thanklessness. All this she was well aware
of. Evil opinion is a thing to which we are alive at once; though good
opinion is well content to impress itself on the coffin. Alice (who
otherwise rather liked his stolid and upright nature) thought that
Colonel Clumps had no business to form opinion upon her affairs; or at
any rate, none to express it. But the Colonel always did form opinions,
and felt himself bound to express them.

“I live in this house,” he said, when Alice hinted at some such
phantasy; “and the affairs of this house are my concern. If I am not
to think about the very things around me, I had better have been cut
in two, than made into three pieces.” He waved the stalk of his arm,
and stamped the stump of the foot of his better leg, with such a noise
and gaze of wrath, that the maiden felt he must be in the right. And
so perhaps he may have been. At any rate, he got his way as a veteran
colonel ought to do.

With everybody he had his way. Being unable to fight any more, he had
come to look so ferocious, and his battered and shattered body so
fiercely backed up the charge of his aspect, that none without vast
reserve of courage could help being scattered before him. Even Sir
Roland Lorraine (so calm, and of an infinitely higher mind), by reason
perhaps of that, gave way, and let the maimed veteran storm his home.
But Alice rebelled against all this.

“Now, father,” she said on that Christmas-eve, when the house was
chilled with the coming cold, and the unshedden snow hung over it,
and every sheep, and cow, and crow, and shivering bird, down to the
Jenny-wren, was hieing in search of shelter; “father, I have not many
words to say to you; but such as they are, may I say them?”

Sir Roland Lorraine, being struck by her quite unwonted voice and
manner, rose from his chair of meditation, left his thoughts about
things which can never be thought out by mankind, and came to meet what
a man should think of foremost--his child, his woman child.

“Lallie, my dear,” he said very gently, and kindly looking at her sad
wild eyes, whose difference from their natural softness touched him
with some terror--“Lallie, now what has made you look like this?”

“Papa, I did not mean to look at all out of my usual look. I beg your
pardon, if indeed I do. I know that all such things are very small in
your way of regarding things. But still, papa--but still, papa, you
might let me say something.”

“Have I ever refused you, Alice, the right to say almost everything?”

“No; that you have never done, of course. But what I want to say now
is something more than I generally want to say. Of course, it cannot
matter to you, papa; but to me it makes all the difference.”

“My dear, you are growing sarcastic. All that matters to you matters a
great deal more to me, of course. You know what you have always been to
me.”

“I do, papa. And that is why I find it so very hard to believe that you
can be now so hard with me. I do not see what I can have done to make
you so different to me. Girls like me are fond of saying very impudent
things sometimes; and they seem to be taken lightly. But they are not
forgiven as they are meant. Have I done anything at all to vex you in
that way, papa?”

“How can you be so foolish, Lallie? You talk as if I were a girl
myself. You never do a thing to vex me.”

“Then why do you do a thing to kill me? It must come to that; and
you know it must. I am not very good, nor in any way grand, and I
don’t want to say what might seem harsh. But, papa, I think I may say
this--you will never see me Stephen Chapman’s wife.”

“Well, Lallie, it is mainly your own doing. I did not wish to urge it,
until it seemed to become inevitable. You encouraged him so in the
summer, that we cannot now draw back honourably.”

“Father, I encouraged him?”

“Yes. Your grandmother tells me so. I was very busy at that time; and
you were away continually. And whenever I wanted you, I always heard
‘Miss Alice is with Captain Chapman.’”

“How utterly untrue! But, O papa now, you got jealous! Do say that you
got jealous; and then I will forgive you everything?”

“My dear, there is nothing to be jealous of. I thought that you were
taking nicely to the plan laid out for you.”

“The plan that will lay me out, papa. But will you tell me one thing?”

“Yes, my dear child, a hundred things; if you will only ask them
quietly.”

“I am not making any noise, papa; it is only that my collar touched my
throat. But what I want to know is this. If anything should happen to
me, as they say; if I should drop out of everybody’s way, could the
money be got that you are all so steadfastly set upon getting? Could
the honour of the family be set up, and poor Hilary get restored,
and well, and the Lorraines go on for ever? Why don’t you answer me,
papa? My question is a very simple one. What I have a right to ask is
this--am I, for some inscrutable reason (which I have had nothing to do
with), the stumbling-block--the fatal obstacle to the honour and the
life of the family?”

“Alice, I never knew you talk like this, and I never saw you look so.
Why, your cheeks are perfectly burning! Come here, and let me feel
them.”

“Thank you, papa; they will do very well. But will you just answer my
question? Am I the fatal--am I the deathblow to the honour and life of
our lineage?”

Sir Roland Lorraine was by no means pleased with this curt mode of
putting things. He greatly preferred, at his time of life, the rounding
off and softening of affairs that are too dramatic. He loved his
beautiful daughter more than anything else on the face of the earth;
he knew how noble her nature was, and he often thought that she took
a more lofty view of the world than human nature in the end would
justify. But still he must not give way to that.

“Alice,” he said, “I can scarcely see why you should so disturb
yourself. There are many things always to be thought of--more than one
has time for.”

“To be sure, papa; I know all that; and I hate to see you worried. But
I think that you might try to tell me whether I am right or not.”

“My darling, you are never wrong. Only things appear to you in a
stronger light than they do to me. Of course, because you are younger
and get into a hurry about many things that ought to be more dwelt
upon. It is true that your life is interposed, through the command of
your grandmother and the subtlety of the lawyers, between poor Hilary
and the money that might have been raised to save him.”

“That is true, papa; now, is it? I believe every word that you say; but
I never believe one word of my grandmother’s.”

“You shocking child! Yes, it is true enough. But, after all, it comes
to nothing. Of the law I know nothing, I am thankful to say; but from
Sir Glanvil Malahide I understand, through some questions which your
grandmother laid before him, that the money can only be got--either
through this family arrangement, or else by waiting till you, as a
spinster attain the age of twenty-one--which would be nearly two years
too late.”

“But, papa, if I were to die?”

“Lallie, why are you so vexatious? If you were to die, the whole of the
race might end--so far as I care.”

“My father, you say that, to make me love you more than I do already,
which is a hopeless attempt on your part. Now you need not think that I
am jealous. It is the last thing I could dream of. But ever since Mabel
Lovejoy appeared, I have not been what I used to be; either with you,
or with Hilary. In the case of poor Hilary, I must of course expect it,
and put up with it. But I cannot see, for a moment, why I ought to be
cut out with you, papa.”

“What foolish jealousy, Alice! Shall I tell you why I like and admire
Mabel so much? But as for comparing her with you----”

“But, papa, why do you like and admire her so deeply?”

“You jealous child, I did not say ‘deeply.’ But I like her, because she
is so gentle, so glad to do what she is told, so full of self-sacrifice
and self-devotion.”

“While I am harsh, and disobedient, self-seeking, and devoted to self.
No doubt she would marry according to order. Though I dreamed that I
heard of a certain maltster, who had the paternal sanction. ‘Veni,
vidi, vici,’ appears to be her motto. Even grandmamma is vanquished by
her, or by her legacy. She says that she curtseys much better than I
do. She is welcome to that distinction. I am not at all sure that the
prime end and object of woman’s life is to curtsey. But I see exactly
how I am placed. I will never trouble you any more, papa.”

With these words, Alice Lorraine arose, and kissed her father’s
forehead gently, and turned away, not to worry him with the long sigh
of expiring hope. She had still three weeks to make up her mind, or
rather to wait with her mind made up. And three weeks still is a long
spell of time for the young to anticipate misery.

“You are quite unlike yourself, my child,” Sir Roland said with perfect
truth; “you surprise me very much to-day. I am sure that you do not
mean a quarter of what you are saying.”

“You are right, papa. I do not mean even a tenth part of my
spitefulness. I will try to be more like Mabel Lovejoy, who really is
so good and nice. It is quite a mistake to suppose that I could ever be
jealous of her. She is a dear kind-hearted girl, and the very wife for
Hilary. But I think that she differs a little from me.”

“It is no matter of opinion, Alice. Mabel differs from you, as widely
as you differ from your Cousin Cecil. I begin to incline to an old
opinion (which I came across the other day), that much more variety is
to be found in the weaker than in the stronger sex. Regard it thus----”

“Excuse me, father. I have no courage for regarding anything. You can
look at things in fifty lights; and I in one shadow only. Good-bye,
darling. Perhaps I shall never speak to you again as I have to-night.
But I hope you will remember that I meant it for the best.”



CHAPTER LXV.

A FINE CHRISTMAS SERMON.


According to all the best accounts, that long and heavy frost began
with the clearing of the sky upon Christmas-day. At least it was so in
the south of England, though probably two or three days earlier in the
northern countries. A great frost always advances slowly, creeping from
higher latitudes. If the cold begins in London sooner than it does in
Edinburgh, it very seldom lasts out the week; and if it comes on with
a violent wind, its time is generally shorter. It does seem strange,
but it is quite true, that many people, even well-informed, attribute
to this severity of cold the destruction of the great French army
during its retreat from Moscow, and the ruin of Napoleon. They know
the date of the ghastly carnage of the Beresina and elsewhere, which
happened more than a year ere this; but they seem to forget that each
winter belongs to the opening, and not to the closing, year. Passing
all such matters, it is enough to say that Christmas-day 1813 was
unusually bright and pleasant. The lowering sky and chill grey mist of
the last three weeks at length had yielded to the gallant assault of
the bright-speared sun. That excellent knight was pricking merrily over
the range of the South Down hills; his path was strewn with sparkling
trinkets from the casket of the clouds; the brisk air moved before him,
and he was glad to see his way again. But behind him, and before him,
lay the ambush of the “snow-blink,” to catch him at night, when he
should go down, and to stop him of his view in the morning. However,
for the time, he looked very well; and as no one had seen him for ever
so long, every one took him at his own price.

Rector Struan Hales was famous for his sermon on Christmas-day. For
five-and-twenty years he had made it his grand sermon of the year. He
struck no strokes of enthusiasm--which nobody dreamed of doing then,
except the very low Dissenters--still he began with a strong idea
that he ought to preach above the average. And he never failed to do
so--partly through inspiration of other divines, but mainly by summing
up all the sins of his parish, and then forgiving them.

The parish listened with apathy to the wisdom and eloquence of great
men (who said what they had to say in English--a lost art for nearly
two centuries), and then the parish pricked up all its ears to hear of
its own doings. The Rector preached the first part of his sermon in a
sing-song manner, with a good see-saw. But when he came down to his
parish-bounds, and traced his own people’s trespasses, he changed his
voice altogether, so that the deafest old sinner could hear him. It
was the treat of all the year to know what the parson was down upon;
and, to be sure, who had done it. Then, being of a charitable kind,
and loving while he chastened, the Rector always let them go, with a
blessing which sounded as rich as a grace for everybody’s Christmas
dinner. Everybody went out of church, happy and contented. They had
enough to talk about for a week; and they all must have earned the
goodwill of the Lord by going to church on a week-day. But the Rector
always waited for his two church-wardens to come into the vestry, and
shake hands, and praise his sermon. And, not to be behindhand, Farmer
Gates and Mr. Bottler (now come from Steyning to West Lorraine, and
immediately appointed, in right of the number of pigs killed weekly,
junior churchwarden)--these two men of excellent presence, and of
accomplished manners, got in under the vestry arch, and congratulated
the Rector.

Alice Lorraine was not at church. Everybody had missed her in her usual
niche, between the two dark marble records of certain of her ancestors.
There she used to sit, and be set off by their fine antiquity; but she
did not go to church that day; for her mind was too full of disturbance.

West Lorraine Church had been honoured, that day, by the attendance
of several people entitled to as handsome monuments as could be found
inside it. For instance, there was Sir Remnant Chapman (for whom even
an epitaph must strain its elastic charity); Stephen, his son--who had
spent his harm, without having much to show for it; Colonel Clumps, who
would rise and fight, if the resurrection restored his legs; a squire
of high degree (a distant and vague cousin of the true Lorraines),
who wanted to know what was going on, having great hopes through the
Woeburn, but sworn to stick (whatever might happen) to his own surname,
which was “Bloggs;” and last, and best of all, Joyce Aylmer, Viscount
Aylmer’s only son, of a true old English family, but not a very wealthy
one.

“A merry Christmas to you all!” cried Mr. Hales, as they stood in the
porch. “A merry Christmas, gentlemen! But, my certy, we shall have a
queer one. How keen the air is getting!”

They all shook hands with the parson, and thanked him, after the good
old fashion, “for his learned and edifying discourse;” and they asked
what he meant about the weather; but he was too deep to tell them. Even
he had been wrong upon that matter, and had grown too wise to commit
himself. Then Cecil, who followed her father of course, made the proper
curtseys, as the men made bows to her; and Major Aylmer’s horse was
brought, and a carriage for the rest of them.

“Are you coming with us, Rector? We dine early,” said Sir Remnant, with
a hungry squeak. “You can’t have another service, can you? God knows,
you have done enough for one day.”

“Enough to satisfy you, at any rate,” the Rector answered, smiling:
“but I should have my house about my ears, if I dined outside of it on
a Christmas-day. Plain and wholesome and juicy fare, sir--none of your
foreign poisons. Well, good-bye, gentlemen; I shall hope to see all of
you again to-morrow, if the snow is not too deep.” The Rector knew that
a very little snow would be quite enough to stop them, on the morning
of the morrow--the Sunday.

“Snow, indeed! No sign of snow!” Sir Remnant answered sharply; he had
an inborn hate of snow, and he wanted to be at home on the Monday. “But
I say, Missie, remember one thing. Tuesday fortnight is the day. Have
all your fal-lals ready. Blushing bridesmaids--ah! fine creatures! I
shall claim a score of busses, mind. Don’t you wish it was your own
turn, eh?”

The old rogue, with a hearty smack, blew a kiss to Cecil Hales, who
blushed and shivered, and then tried to smile, for fear of losing her
locket; for it had been whispered that Sir Remnant Chapman had ordered
a ten-guinea locket in London for each of the six bridesmaids. So
checking the pert reply, which trembled on the tip of her tongue, she
made them a pretty curtsey, as they drove away.

“Now, did you observe, papa,” she asked, as she took her father’s arm,
bent fully to gossip with him up the street, “how terribly pale Major
Aylmer turned, when he heard about the bridesmaids? I thought he was
going to drop; as they say he used to do, when he first came home from
America. I am sure I was right, papa; I am sure I was, in what I told
you the other day.”

“Nonsense, fiddlesticks, romantic flummery! You girls are never content
without rivalry, jealousy, love and despair.”

“You may laugh as much as you like; but it makes no difference to me,
papa. I tell you that Major Aylmer has lost his heart to Alice, a great
deal worse than he lost his head in America.”

“Well, then, he must live with no head and no heart. He can’t have
Alice. He has got no money; even if it were possible to change the
bridegroom at the door of the church.”

“I will tell you what proves it beyond all dispute. You know how that
wretched little Captain Chapman looks up when he hates any one, and
thinks he has made a hit of it. There--like that; only I can’t do it,
until I get much uglier. He often does it to me you know. And then he
patted his wonderful waistcoat.”

“Now, Cecil, what spiteful things girls are! It is quite impossible
that he can hate you.”

“I am thankful to say that he does, papa; or perhaps you might have
sold me to him. If ever any girl was sold, Alice is both bought and
sold. And Sir Roland cannot love her as she used to think, or he
would have had nothing to do with it. It must be fearfully bitter for
her. And to marry a man who is tipsy every night and tremulous every
morning. Oh, papa, papa!”

“My dear you exaggerate horribly. You have always disliked poor
Steenie; perhaps that is why he looks up to you. We must hope for the
best; we must hope for the best. Why, bless my heart, if every man
was to have the whole of his doings raked up, I should never want the
marriage-register!”

“Oh, but papa, if we could only manage to change the man, you know!
The other is so different; so kind, and noble, and grand, and simple!
If any man in all the world is worthy to marry dear Alice, it is Major
Aylmer.”

“The man might be changed; but not the money,” said the Rector, rather
shortly; and his daughter knew from the tone of his voice that she must
quit the subject; the truth being (as she was well aware) that her
father was growing a little ashamed of his own share in the business.



CHAPTER LXVI.

COMING DOWN IN EARNEST.


Dark weather and dark fortune do not always come together. Indeed, the
spirit of the British race, and the cheer flowing from high spirit,
seem to be most forward in the worst conditions of the weather.
Something to battle with, something to talk about, something to make
the father more than usually welcome, and the hearth more bright and
warm to him, and something also which enlarges, by arousing charity,
and spreads a man’s interior comfort into general goodwill--bitter
weather, at the proper season, is not wholly bitterness.

But when half-a-dozen gentlemen, who care not a fig for one another,
hate books (as they hated their hornbooks), scorn all indoor pursuits
but gambling, gormandising, and drinking, and find little scope for
pursuing these--when a number of these are snowed up together, and
cannot see out of the windows--to express it daintily, there is likely
to be much malediction.

And this is exactly what fell upon them, for more than a week, at
Coombe Lorraine. They made a most excellent dinner on Christmas-day,
about three o’clock, as they all declared; and, in spite of the
shortness of the days, they saw their way till the wine came. They
were surprised at this, so far as any of them noticed anything; for,
of course, no glance of the setting sun came near the old house in the
winter. And they thought it a sign of fine hunting-weather, and so they
went on about it; whereas it was really one of the things scarcely ever
seen down here, but common in the arctic regions--the catch, and the
recast, and the dispersion of all vague light downward, by the dense
grey canopy of gathering snow-vapour.

The snow began about seven o’clock, when the influence of the sun was
lost; and for three days and three nights it snowed, without taking
or giving breathing-time. It came down without any wind, or unfair
attempt at drifting. The meaning of the sky was to snow and no more,
and let the wind wait his time afterwards. There was no such thing as
any spying between the flakes at any time. The flakes were not so very
large, but they came as close together as the sand pouring down in an
hour-glass. They never danced up and down, like gnats or motes, as
common snowflakes do, but one on the back of another fell, expecting
millions after them. And if any man looked up to see that gravelly
infinitude of pelting spots, which swarms all the air in a snowstorm,
he might just as well have shut both eyes, before it was done by
snowflakes.

All the visitors, except the Colonel, were to have left on Monday
morning, but only one of them durst attempt the trackless waste of
white between the South Down Coombe and their distant homes. For
although no drifting had begun as yet, some forty hours of heavy fall
had spread a blinding cover over road and ditch, and bog and bank,
and none might descry any sign-post, house, tree, or hill, or other
land-mark, at the distance of a hundred yards, through the snow, still
coming down as heavily as ever. Therefore everybody thought Major
Aylmer almost mad, when he ordered his horse for the long ride home in
the midst of such terrible weather.

“I don’t think I ought to let you go,” his host said, when the horse
came round, as white already as a counterpane. “Alice, where is your
persuasive voice? Surely you might beg Major Aylmer to see what another
day will bring.”

“Another day will only make it worse,” Joyce Aylmer replied, with a
glance at Alice, which she perfectly understood. “I might be snowed up
for a week, Sir Roland, with my father the whole time fidgeting. And
after all, what is this compared to the storms we had in America?”

“Oh, but you were much stronger then. You would not be here, were it
not so.”

“I scarcely know. I shall soon rejoin if I get on so famously as this.
But I am keeping you in the cold so long, and Miss Lorraine in a chilly
draught. Good-bye once more. Can I leave any message for you at the
Rectory?”

In another second the thick snow hid him and his floundering horse,
as they headed towards the borstall, for as yet there was only a
footbridge thrown over the course of the Woeburn, and horsemen or
carriages northward bound were obliged to go southward first, and then
turn to the right on the high land, and thus circumvent the stream;
even as Alice quickly thinking, had enabled poor Bonny to recover his
Jack.

Alice went back, with a sigh, to her own little room to sit and think
awhile. She knew that she had seen the last of a man whom she could
well have loved, and who loved her (as she knew somehow) much too well
already. Feeling that this could do no good, but only harm to both of
them, he had made up his mind to go, ere any mischief should arise
from it. He had no idea how vastly Alice scorned poor Steenie Chapman,
otherwise even his duty to his host might perhaps have failed him.
However, he had acted wisely, and she would think no more of him.

This resolution was hard to keep, when she heard a little later in the
day, that the Major had sent back his groom after making believe to
take him. The groom brought a message from his master, begging quarters
for a day or two, on the plea that his horse had broken down; but Alice
felt sure that he had been sent back, because Major Aylmer would not
expose him to the risk which he meant himself to face. For she knew it
to be more than twenty miles (having studied the map on the subject)
from Coombe Lorraine to Stoke-Aylmer. And ill in the teeth of a bitter
wind, now just beginning to crawl and wail, as only a snowy wind can do.

The rest of the gentlemen plagued the house. It was hard to say which
was the worst of them--Sir Remnant (who went to the lower regions to
make the acquaintance of the kitchen-maids), or Colonel Clumps (who sat
on a sideboard, and fought all his battles over again with a park of
profane artillery), or Squire Bloggs (who bit his nails, and heavily
demanded beer all day), or Steenie, who scorned beer altogether, and
being repulsed by Onesimus Binns, at last got into Trotman’s “study,”
and ordered some bottles up, and got on well. He sent for his groom,
and he sent for his horn (which he had not wind enough to blow), and
altogether he carried on so with a greasy pack of cards and a dozen
grimy tumblers, that while the women, being strictly sober, looked down
on his affability, the men said they had known much worse.

For a week Sir Roland Lorraine was compelled to endure this wearing
worry--tenfold wearisome as it was to a man of his peculiar nature. He
had always been shy of inviting guests; but when they were once inside
his door the hospitality of his race and position revived within him.
All in the house was at their service, including the master himself, so
far as old habits can be varied, but now he was almost like the whelk
that admits the little crab for company, and is no more the master of
his own door. No man in all England longed that the roads might look
like roads again more heartily and sadly than the hospitable Sir Roland.

With brooms of every sort and shape, and shovels, and even pickaxes,
all the neighbourhood turned out, as soon as ever a man could manage to
open his own cottage-door. For three days it had been no good to try to
do anything but look on; but the very first moment the sky left off,
everybody living under it began to recover courage. The boys came first
in a joyful manner, sinking over their brace-buttons in the shallow
places, and then the girls came, and were puzzled by the manner of
their dress, till they made up their minds to be boys for a time.

And after these came out their mother, for the sake of scolding them;
and then the father could do no less than stand on his threshold with
pipe in mouth, and look up wisely at the sky, and advise everybody to
wait a bit. And thus a great many people managed to get out of their
houses. And it was observed, not only then, but also for many years to
come, how great the mercy of the Lord was. Having seen fit to send such
a storm, he chose for it, not a Wednesday night, nor a Thursday night,
nor a Friday night, but a Saturday night, when He knew, in His wisdom,
that every man had got his wages, and had filled his bread-pan.

As for the roads, they were blocked entirely against both wheels
and horses, until a violent wind arose from the east, and winnowed
fiercely. Sweeping along all the bend of the hill, and swaying the
laden copses, it tore up the snow in squally spasms, and cast white
blindness everywhere. Three days the snow had defied the wind, and for
three days now the wind had its way. Vexed mortals could do nothing
more than shelter themselves in their impotence, and hope, as they
shivered and sniffed at their pots, that the Lord would repent of His
anger. It was already perceived, and where people could get together
they did not hide it, that Mr. Bottler must go up, and Farmer Gates
come down a peg. For, although the sheep were folded well, and mainly
fetched into the hollows, as soon as the drift began it was known that
the very precaution would murder them. For sheep have a foolish trick
of crowding into the lee of the fold, just where the drift must be the
deepest. But pigs are as clever as their mother, dirt--which always
gets over everything. So Farmer Gates lost three hundred sheep, while
Bottler did not lose a pig, but saved (and exalted the price of) his
bacon.

When the snow, on the wings of the wind, began to pierce the windows
of Coombe Lorraine (for in such case no putty will keep it out), and
every ancient timber creaked with cold disgust of shrinking, and
the “drawing” of all the fireplaces was more to the door than the
chimney, and the chimneys drew submissive moans to the howling of the
tempest, and chilly rustles and frosty taps sounded outside the walls
and in--from all these things the young lady of the house gained some
hope and comfort. Surely in such weather no one could ever think of a
wedding; nobody could come or go; it would take a week to dig out the
church, and another week to get to it. Blow, blow, thou east wind,
blow, and bury rather than marry us.

But the east wind (after three days of blowing, and mixing snow
of earth and sky) suddenly fell with a hollow sound, like the
“convolutions of a shell” into deep silence. Clear deep silence settled
on the storm of drifted billows. As the wind left them, so they
stopped, until the summer rose under them; for spring there was none
in that terrible year, and no breath of summer until it broke forth.
And now set in the long steadfast frost, which stopped the Thames and
Severn, the Trent and Tweed, and all the other rivers of Great Britain.
From the source to the mouth a man might cross them without feeling
water under him.

Alas for poor Alice! The roads of the weald (being mainly unhedged at
that time) were opened as if by “Sesame.” The hill-roads were choked
many fathoms deep wherever they lay in shelter; but the furious wind
had swept the flat roads clear, as with a besom.

Their brown track might be traced for miles, frozen as hard as an
oaken plank, except where a slight depression, or a sudden bend, or a
farmer’s wall, had kept the white wave from shoaling. So, as soon as
a passage had been dug through the borstall, and down the hill to the
westward, the Chapmans were free to come and go with their gaudy coach
as usual.

Alice took this turn of matters with all the calmness of despair. It
was nothing but a childish thing to long for a few days’ reprieve,
which could not help her much, and might destroy all the good of her
sacrifice. In one way or the other she must go; standing so terribly
across the welfare of all that was dear to her, and seeming (as she
told herself) to have no one now to whom she was dear. With no one to
advise or aid her, no one even to feel for her, she had to meet the
saddest doom that can befall proud woman--wedlock with an object.



CHAPTER LXVII.

THE LAST CHANCE LOST.


And now there was but one day left; Monday was come, and on the morrow,
Alice was to be Mrs. Stephen Chapman.

“You call yourself an unlucky fellow,” said Colonel Clumps to Hilary,
who was leaning back in his easy-chair; “but I call you the luckiest
dog in the world. What other man in the British army could have lost
fifty thousand guineas, escaped court-martial, and had a good furlough,
made it all snug with his sweetheart (after gallivanting to his heart’s
content), and then got the chance to get back again under Old Beaky,
and march into Paris? I tell you they will march into Paris, sir. What
is there to stop them?”

“But, Colonel, you forget that I can scarcely march across the room as
yet. And even if I could, there is much to be done before I get back
again. Our fellows may go into winter quarters, and then the General’s
promise drops; or even without that, he may fail with the Duke of York,
who loves him not.”

“Stuff and rubbish, my dear boy! You pay the money--that’s all you’ve
got to do. No fear of their refusing it. Of course it will all be kept
very quiet; and we shall find in the very next ‘Gazette’ some such
paragraph as this: ‘Captain Lorraine, of the Headquarter Staff, who has
long been absent on sick leave, is now on his way to rejoin, and will
resume his duties upon the Staff.’”

“Come now, Colonel, you are too bad,” cried Hilary, blushing with
pleasure, “they never could put me on the Staff again. It is impossible
that they could have the impudence.”

“Don’t tell me. Why, they had the impudence never to put me on it! They
have the impudence enough for anything. You set to and get strong, that
is all. Are you going to your sister’s wedding to-morrow?”

“I will tell you a secret. I mean to go, though I am under strict
orders not to go. What do I care for the weather? Tush, I have settled
it all very cleverly. You will see me there, when you least expect it.
Lallie has behaved very badly to me; so has everybody else about it. Am
I never to be told anything? She seems to be in a great hurry about it.
Desperately in love, no doubt, though from what I remember of Stephen
Chapman I am a little surprised at her taste--but of course----”

“Of course, of course, one must never say a word about young ladies’
fancies. There was a young lady in Spain--to be sure there are a great
many young ladies in Spain----”

The Colonel dropped the subject in the clumsiest manner possible. He
was under medical orders not to say a word that might stir up Hilary;
and yet from the time he came into the room he had done nothing else
but stir him up. Colonel Clumps was about the last man in the world
that ought to stump in at any sick man’s door. “Dash it, there I
am again!” he used to say, as he began to let out something, and
stopped short, and jammed his lips up, and set his wooden apparatus
down. Therefore he had not been allowed to pay many visits to Hilary,
otherwise the latter must soon have discovered the nature of the
arrangement pending to retrieve his fortunes. At present he thought
that the money was to be raised by a simple mortgage, of which he
vowed, in his sanguine manner, that he would soon relieve the estates,
by getting an appointment in India, as soon as he had captured Paris.
Mabel of course would go with him, and be a great lady, and make his
curries. He was never tired of this idea, and was talking of it to
Colonel Clumps, who had seen some Indian service, when a gentle knock
at the door was heard, and a soft voice said, “May I come in?” As Alice
entered, the battered warrior arose and made a most ingenious bow,
quite of his own invention. Necessity is the mother of that useful
being; and the Colonel having no leg to stand upon, and only one arm to
balance with, was in a position of extreme necessity. Of late he had
almost begun to repent of serving under Lady Valeria; the beauty and
calm resignation of Alice had made their way into his brave old heart;
and the more he saw of Captain Chapman, the more he looked down on that
feather-bed soldier.

“Good-bye, my lad. Keep your pecker up,” he said, beginning with
his thick bamboo to beat a retreat; for Hilary was not allowed two
visitors; “we’ll march into Paris yet, brave boys; with Colonel Clumps
at the head of the column. Don’t be misled by appearances, Alice;
the Colonel has good work in him yet. His sword is only gone to be
sharpened, ma’am; and then he’ll throw away this d----d bamboo.”

In his spirited flourish, the Colonel slipped, and not yet being master
of his wooden leg, and down he must have come, without the young lady’s
arm, as well as the aid of the slighted staff. Alice, in spite of all
her misery, could not help a little laugh, as the Colonel, recovering
his balance, strutted carefully down the passage.

“What a merry girl you are!” cried Hilary, who was a little vexed
at having his martial counsel routed. “You seem to me to be always
laughing when there is nothing to laugh at.”

“That shows a low sense of humour,” she answered, “or else an excess of
high spirits. Perhaps in my case, the two combine. But I am sorry if I
disturbed you.”

“I am not quite so easily disturbed. I am as well as I ever was. It is
enough to make one ill, to be coddled up in this kind of way.”

“My dear brother, you are to be released as soon as the weather
changes. At present nobody ventures out who is not going to be married.”

“Of that I can judge from the window, Lallie: and even from my
water-jugs. But how is your very grand wedding to be? I have seen a
score of men shovelling. You seem to be in such a hurry, dear.”

“Perhaps not. Let us talk of something else. Do you really think,
without any nonsense, that all your good repute and welfare depend on
the payment of the money which you lost?”

“How can you ask me such a stupid question? I never could lift up my
head again--but it is not myself, not at all myself--it is what will
be said of the family, Alice. And I do not see how the raising of the
money can interfere at all with you.”

“No, no, of course not,” she said, and then she turned away and looked
out of the window, reflecting that Hilary was right enough. Neither
loss nor gain of money could long interfere at all with her.

“Good-bye, darling,” she said at last, forgiving his sick
petulance, and putting back his curly hair, and kissing his white
forehead--“Good-bye, darling I must not stay; I always seem to excite
you so. You will not think me unkind, I am sure; but you may not see
me again for ever--oh, ever so long; I have so much to do before I am
ready for--my wedding.”

“Hilary allowed himself to be kissed with brotherly resignation; and
then he called merrily after her--“Now, Lallie, mind, you must look
your best. You are going to make a grand match, you know. Don’t be
astonished if you see me there. Why don’t you answer?”

She would not look round, because of the expression of her face,
which she could not conceal in a moment--“I am not at all sure,” said
the brother wisely, as the sister shut the door and fled, “that the
man who marries Alice won’t almost have caught a Tartar. She is very
sweet-tempered; but the good Lord knows that she is determined also.
Now Mabel is quite another sort of girl,” &c., &c.--reflections which he
may be left to reflect.

Alice Lorraine, having none to advise with, and being in her firm
heart set to do the right thing without flinching, through dark days
and through weary nights had been striving to make sure what was the
one right thing to do. It was plain that the honour of her race must
be saved at her expense. By reason of things she had no hand in, it
had come to pass that her poor self stood in everybody’s way. Her poor
self was full of life, and natural fun, and mind perhaps a little above
the average. No other self in the world could find it harder to go
out of the world; to be a self no more peradventure, but a wandering
something. To lose the sight, and touch, and feeling of the light, and
life, and love; not to have the influence even of the weather on them;
to lie in a hollow place, forgotten, cast aside, and dreaded; never
more to have, or wish for, power to say yes or no.

This was all that lay before her, if she acted truly. As to marrying a
man she scorned--she must scorn herself ere she thought of it. She knew
that she was nothing very great; and her little importance was much
pulled down by the want of any one to love her; but her purity was her
own inborn right; and nobody should sell or buy it.

“I will go to my father once more,” she thought; “he cannot refuse to
see me. I will not threaten. That would be low. But if he cares at all
to look, he will know from my face what I mean to do. He used, if I had
the smallest pain, he used to know it in a moment. But now he cares not
for a pain that seems to gnaw my life away. Perhaps it is my own fault.
Perhaps I have been too proud to put it so. I have put it defiantly,
and not begged. I will beg, I will beg; on my knees I will beg! I will
cry, as I never cried before, oh, father, father, father!”

Perhaps if she had won this chance, she might even yet have vanquished.
For her last reflection was true enough. She had been too defiant, and
positive in her strength of will towards her father. She had never
tried the power of tears and prayers, and a pet child’s eloquence.
And her father no doubt, had felt this change in her attitude towards
him, and had therefore believed more readily his mother’s repeated
assertions, that nothing stood in the way of a most desirable
arrangement, except the coyness of a spirited girl, whose fancy was not
taken.

But the luckless girl lost all the chances of a last appeal, through
a simple and rather prosaic affair. Her father was not to be found in
his book-room; and hurrying on in search of him, she heard the most
melancholy drone, almost worse than the sad east wind. Her prophetic
soul told her what it was, and that she had a right to be present.
So she knocked at the door of a stern, cold room, and being told to
enter, entered. There she saw seven people sitting, and looking very
miserable: for the bitter cold had not been routed by the new-made
fire. One was reading a tremendous document, five were pretending to
listen, and one was listening very keenly. The reader was a lawyer’s
clerk; three of the mock-listeners were his principal and the men of
the other side; the other two were Sir Roland Lorraine and Captain
Stephen Chapman. The real listener was Sir Remnant, who pricked up
his ears at every sentence. Upon the table lay another great deed,
or rather a double one, lease and release,--the mortgage of all the
Lorraine estates, invalid without her signature, which she was too
young to give.

Alice Lorraine knew what all this meant. It was the charter of her
slavery, or rather the warrant of her death. She bowed to them all,
and left the room; with “And the said, and the said--doth hereby, doth
hereby”--buzzing in her helpless brain.

Now followed a thing which for ever settled and sealed her
determination. Steenie, on the eve of his wedding-day, really felt that
he ought to do something towards conciliating his bride. He really
loved (so far as his nature was capable of honest love) this proud and
most lovable maiden, who was to belong to him to-morrow. And his father
had said to him, as they came over to go through the legal ceremony,
“Nurse my vittels, now, Steenie; for God’s sake, try to be a man a bit.
The mistake you make with the girl is the way you keep your distance
from her. Why, they draw up their figures, and screw up their mouths,
on purpose to make you run after them. I have seen such a lot of it.
And so have you. All girls are alike; as you ought to know now. Why
can’t you treat her properly?”

The unfortunate Steenie took his advice, and he took (which was worse)
a great draught of brandy. And so, when the lawyer’s drone had driven
him thoroughly out of his patience, at the sight of Alice he slipped
out and followed her down the passage.

She despised him too much to run away, as he had hoped that she would
do. She heard his weak step, and weaker breath, and stopped, and faced
him quietly.



CHAPTER LXVIII.

THE DEATH-BOURNE.


Standing in a dark grey corner of the old stone passage, below a faded
and exiled portrait of some ancestor of hers, Alice looked so calm
and noble, that Steenie (although he “had his grog on board,” with
his daily bill of lading) found it harder than he expected to follow
his father’s counsel. In twenty-four hours he would have this lovely
creature at his mercy; and then he would tame her, and make her love
him, and perhaps even try to keep to her. For he really did love this
poor girl, in a way that quite surprised him; and he could not help
thinking that if she knew it, by Jove she must be grateful!

“Alice, dear Alice, sweet Alice!” he said, as at every approach she
shrank further away; “lovely Alice, what have I done, that you will not
yield me one beautiful smile? You know how very well I have behaved. I
have not even pleaded for one kiss. And considering all that is between
us----”

“Considering the distance there is between us, you have shown your
judgment.”

“You do not understand me at all. What I meant was entirely different.
There should be no difference between us. Why should there be? Why
should there be? In a few hours more we shall both be alike; flesh of
one flesh, and bone of one bone. I am not quite sure that I have got it
right. But I am not far out at any rate.”

“Your diffidence is your one good point. You are very far out when you
overcome it. Have the kindness to keep at a proper distance and hear
what I have to say. I believe that you mean well, Stephen Chapman; so
far as you have any meaning left. I believe that you mean well by me;
and, in your weak manner, like me. But if you had gone all around the
world, you could not have found one to suit you less. I used to think
that I was humble; as of course I ought to be; but when I search into
myself, I find the proudest of the proud. Nothing but great misery
could have led me to this knowledge. I speak to you now for the last
time, Stephen; and I never meant to speak as I do. But I believe that,
in your little way, you like me; and I cannot bear to be thought too
hard.”

Here Alice could not check a sigh and a tear, at the thought of the
name she might leave behind.

“What shall I do? What can I do?” cried Stephen, not being such a very
hard fellow, any more than the rest of us; but feeling himself unworthy
even to touch her pocket-handkerchief.

“You have nothing to do, I should hope, indeed,” answered Alice,
recovering dignity; “I am very glad that, whatever happens, you may
blame other people. Please to remember that I said that. And good-bye,
Captain Chapman.”

“Good-bye, till dinner-time, my darling--well, then, good-bye, Miss
Lorraine.”

“At any rate I am glad,” she thought, as she hastened to her room,
“that, even to him, I have said my last, as kindly as I could manage
it.”

When she entered her room, it was three o’clock, and the day already
waning; though the snow from hill and valley, and the rime of quiet
frost, spread the flat pervading whiteness of the cold and hazy light.
Alice looked out, and thought a little; and the scene was by no means
cheering. The eastern side of the steep straight coombe (up which
clomb the main road to the house) lay thirty or forty feet deep in
snow, being filled by the drift that swept over its crest, for nearly
the breadth of the coombe itself. But under the western rampart still
a dark-brown path was open, where the wind, leaping over the eastern
scarp, had whirled the snow up the western. And here, through her own
pet garden, fell a direct path down to the Woeburn.

She had long been ready to believe that here her young and lively life
must end. Down this steep and narrow way she had gazed, or glanced,
or peeped (according to the measure of her courage), ever since the
Woeburn rose, and she was sure what it meant for her. Now looking at
it, with her mind made up, and her courage steadfast, she could not
help perceiving that she had a great deal to be thankful for. Her life
had been very bright and happy, and it had been long enough. She had
learned to love all pleasant creatures, and to make them love her. She
had found that nature has tenfold more of kindness than of cruelty; and
that of her kindness, all the best and dearest ends in death. Painless
death, the honest and peaceful end of earthly things; noble death, that
settles all things, scarcely leaving other life (its brief exception)
time to mourn.

All this lay clear and bright before her, now that the golden mist of
hope was scattered by stern certainty. Many times she had been confused
by weak desires to escape her duty, and foolish hankerings after things
that were but childish trifles. About her bridal dress, for instance,
she had been much inclined to think. Of course, she never meant to wear
it; still, she knew that the London people meant to charge to a long
extreme; and she thought that she ought to try it on once more, ere
ever it was rashly paid for. She truly cared no more than can be helped
by any woman, whether it set her off or not; but she knew that it must
be paid for, and she wanted to know if the Frenchwoman had caught any
idea of her figure.

To settle this question, she locked the door, and then very carefully
changed her dress. Being the tidiest of the tidy, and as neat as an
old maid in her habits, she left not a pin, nor a hair on the cloth,
nor even a brush set crooked. Then being in bridal perfection, and
as lovely a bride as was ever seen, without one atom of conceit, she
knew that she was purely beautiful. She stood before the glass, and
sadly gazed at all her beauty. There she saw the large sweet forehead
(calm and clear as ever), the deep desire of loving eyes for some one
to believe in, the bright lips even now relaxing into a sadly playful
smile, the oval symmetry of chastened face, in soft relief against
the complex curves and waves of rebellious hair. To any man who could
have her love, what a pet, what a treasure she might have been, what a
pearl beyond all price--or, as she simply said to herself, what a dear
good wife! It was worse than useless to think of that; but, being of
a practical turn of mind, she did not see why she should put on her
lovely white satin, and let no one see it.

Therefore, she rang for her maid, who stared, and cried, “Oh, laws,
Miss! what a booty you do look!” and then, of course, wanted to put
in a pin, and to trim a bow here, and to stroke a plait there; “It is
waste of time,” said Alice. Then she told her to send Mrs. Pipkins up;
and the good housekeeper came and kissed her beautiful pet, as she
always called her (maintaining the rights of the nursery days), and
then began some of the very poor jokes supposed to suit such occasions.

“Pippy,” said Alice, that the old endearment might cure the pain of the
sudden check, “you must not talk so; I cannot bear it. Now just tell
papa, not yet, but when dinner is going in, give him this message--say,
with my love, that I beg him to excuse me from coming in to dinner,
because I have other things to see to. And mind, Pippy, one thing: I
have many arrangements to make before I go away; and if my door should
be locked to-night, nobody is to disturb me. I can trust you to see to
that, I know. And now say ‘good-bye’ to me, Pippy dear; I may not see
you again, you know. Let me kiss you as I used to do when I was a dear
good little child, and used to coax for sugar-plums.”

As soon as her kind old friend was gone, Alice made fast her door
again, and took off her bridal dress, and put on a plain white frock
of small value; and then she knelt down at the side of her bed, and
said her usual evening prayers. Although she made no pretence to any
vehement power of piety, in the depth of heart and mind she nourished
love of God, and faith in Him. She believed that He gives us earthly
life, to be rendered innocently back to Him, not in cowardly escape
from trouble, but when honour and love demand it. In the ignorance
common to us all, she prayed.

Being now in a calmer state of mind, she took from her desk a tress of
long hair, the most valued of all her treasures. Her long-lost mother;
oh, if only she had a mother to advise her now! She kissed it, and laid
it in her breast, and then she glided forth to steal one last sad look
at Hilary. He lay with his back to her, fast asleep, and she kissed him
lightly, and ran away.

Then, when all the house was quiet, except for the sound of plates and
dishes (greasily going into deep baskets, one on the head of another),
Alice Lorraine, having gathered her long hair into a Laconian knot, put
her favourite garden hat on, and made the tie firm under her firm chin.
She looked round her favourite room once more, and nodded farewell to
everything, and went to seek death with a firmer step than a bride’s
towards a bridegroom.

Attired in pure white she walked through a scene of bridal beauty.
Every tree was overcast with crystal lace and jewellery; common briars
and ignominious weeds stood up like sceptres; weeping branches shone
like plumes of ostrich turned to diamond. And on the ground wave after
wave of snow-drift, like a stormy tide driven by tempestuous wind, and
bound in its cresting wrath by frost.

Although there was now no breath of wind, Alice knew from the
glittering whiteness that it must be very cold. She saw her pretty
bower like a pillow under bed-clothes; and on the clear brown walk she
scattered crumbs for the poor old robin as soon as he should get up in
the morning. And there she saw her favourite rose, a cluster-rose of
the softest blush, overcome with trouble now, and the hardness of the
freezing world. When the spring should come again, who would there be
to unroll its grubs, or watch for the invasion of green-fly?

At this thought, for fear of giving way, she gathered up her dress and
ran. She had no overwhelming sense of fate, necessity, or Até--the
powers that drove fair maids of Greece to offer themselves for others.
She simply desired to do her duty, to save the honour of her race, and
her pure self from defilement.

The Woeburn was running as well as ever, quite untouched by any frost,
and stretched at its length, like a great black leech who puts out its
head for suction. Gliding through great piles of snow, it looked sable
as Cocytus, with long curls of white vapour hovering, where the cold
air lay on it. The stars were beginning to sparkle now; and a young
moon, gazing over Chancton Ring, avouched the calm depth of heaven.

Then Alice came forward, commending her soul to God in good Christian
manner, and without a fear, or tear, or sigh, committed her body to the
Death-bourne.



CHAPTER LXIX.

BOTTLER BEATS THE ELEMENTS.


It seems to be almost a settled point in the affairs of everybody
(except, perhaps, Prince Bismarck) that nothing shall come to pass
exactly according to arrangement. The best and noblest of mankind
can do no more than plan discreetly, firmly act, and humbly wait the
pleasure of a just, beneficent, and all-seeing Power.

For instance, Mr. Bottler had designed for at least three weeks to slay
a large styful of fat pigs. But from day to day he had been forced to
defer the operation. The frost was so intense that this good Azrael
of the grunters had no faith in the efficacy of his ministrations.
Not indeed as regarded his power to dismiss them to a happier world.
In any kind of weather he could stick a pig; the knife they could not
very well decline, when skilfully suggested; but they might, and very
often did, break all the laws of hospitality, by sternly refusing to
accept his salt. And the object of a pig’s creation is triple--(setting
aside his head, and heels, and other small appurtenances)--fresh pork,
pickled pork, and bacon; and the greatest of these three is bacon.

Now what was West Lorraine to do, and even the town of Steyning?
Cart-loads of mutton came into the market, from the death in the snow
of so many sheep; which (as the general public reasoned) must have made
the meat beautifully white; and a great many labourers got a good feed,
who had almost forgotten the taste of meat; and it did them good, and
kept them warm. But the “best families” would not have this: they liked
their mutton to have “interviewed” the butcher, in a constitutional
manner; and not being sure how to prove this point, they would not look
at any mutton at all, till lamb came out of snow-drift. This being
so, what was now to be done? Many people said, “live on bread, and so
on, red herrings, and ship-chandler’s stores, and whatever else the
Lord may send.” Fifty good women came up through the snow to learn the
Rector’s opinion; and all he could say was, “Boil down your bones.”

This produced such a desperate run upon the bank of poor Bonny,
which really was a bank--of marrow bones, put by in the summer to
season--that Jack was at work almost all the day long, and got
thoroughly up to the tricks of the snow, and entirely learned how to
travel it. Bonny’s poor hands were so chapped by the cold, that he
slurred all the polish of the Rector’s boots; and Mr. Hales said that
he had better grease them; which cut the boy deeper than any chap.

Superior people, however, could not think of relying upon Bonny’s
bones; their money was ready, and they would pay for good meat what it
was worth--and no more. Now a thoroughly honest man grows uneasy at
the thought of getting more than he ought to get. It is pleasant to
cheat the public; but the pleasure soaks down through the conscience,
leaving tuberculous affection there, or bacteria; or at any rate some
microscopic affliction. Bottler felt all these visitations; and in
spite of all demand, he could not bring himself to do any more than
treble the price of pig-meat.

“It does weigh so light this weather! Only take it in your hand,”
he was bound to tell everybody, for their own sakes; “now you might
scarcely think it--but what with one thing and another, that pig
have cost me two and threepence a pound, and I sell him at one and
ninepence!”

“Oh, Mr. Bottler, what a shame of you!”

“True, as you stand there, my dear! You might not believe it, from any
one but me; till you marry, and go into business. Ah, and a very bad
business it is. Starvation to everybody, unless they was bred and born
to it; and even then only a crust of bread!” Mr. Churchwarden Bottler,
however, did not look at all as if he sustained existence on a crust
of bread. His stockings, whiter than the snow-drifts round him, showed
very substantial bulge of leg, and his blue baize apron did like duty
for that part of the human being which is so fatal to the race of pigs.
And the soft smile, without which he never spoke, arose and subsided in
no gaunt cheeks, and flickered in the channels of no paltry chin. In a
word, Mr. Bottler was quite fat enough to kill.

“Polly,” he said to his favourite child, as soon as he had finished
his Monday dinner; “you have been a good child through this very
bad weather; and dad means to give you a rare treat to-night. Not
consarning the easing of the pigs,” he continued, in answer to her
usual nod, and employing his regular euphemism;--“there will be a many
pigs to be eased, to satisfy the neighbourhood, and shut off the rogue
to Bramber. But you shall see, Polly; you shall see something as will
astonish you.”

Bottler put on his brown leathern apron, and gently performed his
spiriting.

And without any nonsense, Polly saw a lovely scene soon afterwards.
For her father had made up his mind to do a thing which would greatly
exalt his renown, and quench that little rogue at Bramber. In spite of
the weather he would kill pigs; and in spite of the weather, he would
pickle them. He had five nice porkers and four bacon pigs, as ready as
pigs can be for killing. They seemed to him daily to reproach him for
their unduly prolonged existence. They could not lay on any fat in this
weather, but relapsed for want of carving.

For Bottler in the morning had done this--which could not have
occurred to any but a very superior mind. In his new premises facing
the lane, a short way below Nanny Stilgoe’s cottage, he had a little
yard, well away from all thatch, and abutting on nothing but his
scalding-house. This yard was square, and enclosed by a wall of the
chalky flints, that break so black, and bind so well into mortar.

Of course the whole place was still snowed up; but Master Bottler
soon cured that. He went to the parish school, which was to have
opened after the Christmas holidays on this 10th of January; but the
schoolmaster vowed that, in such weather, he would warm no boy’s
educational part, unless the parish first warmed his own. And the
parish replied that he might do that for himself; not a knob of coal
should he have; it was quite beginning at the wrong end, to warm him
first. His answer was to bolt the school door, and sit down with a pipe
and a little kettle.

The circumspect churchwarden had anticipated this state of siege; for
he knew that every boy in the parish (who would have run like the devil
if the door was open), knowing the door to be bolted, would spend the
whole day in kicking at it. And here he found them, Bonny at the head,
as a boy of rising intellect, and Captain Dick of the Bible-corps,
and the boy who had been shot in the hedge, and many other less
distinguished boys, furiously raging together because robbed of their
right to a flogging.

“Come along, my lads,” said Bottler, knowing how to manage boys; “you
may kick all day, and wear out your shoes. I’ve got a job for fifty of
you, and a penny apiece for all as works well.”

Not to be too long, these boys all followed Churchwarden Bottler; and
he led them to his little yard, and there he fitted every one of them
up with something or other to work with. Some had brooms, and some had
shovels, some had spades, and some had mops, one or two worked with old
frying-pans, and Bonny had a worn-out warming-pan. All the boys who
had got into breeches were to have twopence apiece; and the rest, who
were still stitched up at the middle, might earn a penny a head if they
worked hard.

Not one of them shirked his work. They worked as boys alone ever do
work, throwing all their activity into it. And taking the big with the
little ones, it cost Mr. Bottler four shillings and fourpence to get
some hundred cubic yards of snow cleared out so thoroughly, that if
a boy wanted to pelt a boy, he must go outside for his snowball. Mr.
Bottler smiled calmly as he paid them; well he knew what an area of
hunger he was spreading for his good pork, by means of this army of
workboys. Then he showed the boys the pigs still living, and patted
their shoulders, and smacked his lips with a relish that found an echo
at more than forty hearths that evening. “Ah, won’t they come up rare?”
he said. “Ay and go down rarer still,” replied Bonny, already beginning
to stand in high esteem for jocosity, which he did his very best to
earn.

All boys other than Bonny departed with lips overflowing with love
of pork into little icicles. Then Mr. Bottler went to his cart-shed,
and came back with his largest tarpaulin. He spread and fixed this
in a clever manner over the middle of his little yard, leaving about
ten feet clear all round between the edge of it and the wall. This
being done, he invited Bonny to dinner, and enjoyed his converse, and
afterwards pledged himself to Polly, as heretofore recorded. Later
in the day many squeaks were heard; while Bonny worked hard at the
furze-rick.

All things are judged always by their results. Be it enough, then, to
chronicle these. West Lorraine, Wiston, and Steyning itself pronounced
with one voice on the following day that a thing had been done on the
bank of the Woeburn that verily vanquished the Woeburn itself. As
Hercules conquered the Acheloüs, and the great Pelides hacked up by
the roots both Simois and Scamander, so Bottler (a greater hero than
even Nestor himself could call to mind, to snub inferior pig-stickers),
Bottler aroused his valour, and scotched, and slew that Python--the
Woeburn.

It is not enough to speak of such doings in this casual sort of way.
Bottler’s deeds are now passing into the era of romance, which always
precedes the age of history. Out of romance they all emerge with a
tail of attestation; and if anybody lays hold of this, and clearly
sees what to do with it, his story becomes history, and himself a
great historian. But lo, here are the data for any historian of duly
combative enthusiasm, to work out what Bottler did.

He let Bonny work--as all heroes permit--a great deal harder than he
worked himself. He calmly looked on and smoked his pipe; and knowing
quite well how the pigs would act (according to bulk and constitution)
in the question of cooling down, he kept his father’s watch in hand,
and at proper periods eased them. Meanwhile Bonny laboured for his
life, and by the time all the pigs were ready for posthumous toilet,
their dressing-room was warm and waiting for them. A porker may come
home to his positive degree--pork--in less than no time. But the value
of his dedication of himself--in the manner of a young curate--to the
service of humanity, depends very much upon how he is treated.

The pork-trade at this time of writing is so active, that
everybody--however small his operations are--should strive to give it
a wholesome check rather than further impetus. And for that reason the
doings of Bottler--fully as they deserve description--shall not have a
bit of it.



CHAPTER LXX.

OH, HARO! HARO! HARO!


Again, another thing will show how heavily and wearily all people that
on earth do dwell plod and plead their little way, and are but where
they came from. Three young people, all well wrapped up, and ready to
face anything, set out from Old Applewood farm on the very day next
after Twelfth-day. They meant with one accord to be at Coombe Lorraine
by the Saturday night, all being summoned upon church-service. There
was not one of them that could be dispensed with--according to the last
advices--and they felt their extreme responsibility, when the Grower
locked them out of the great white gate.

“Now don’t make fools of yourselves,” he shouted; “you won’t be there
quite so soon as you think.” They laughed him to scorn; but even before
they got to Tonbridge a snowstorm came behind them, and quite smothered
all their shoulders up, and grizzled the roots of the whiskers of the
only one who had any. This was Counsellor Gregory, and the other two
laughed at him, and vowed that his wig must have slipped down there,
and then flicked him with pocket-handkerchiefs.

Counsellor Gregory took no heed. He was wonderfully staid and sapient
now; and the day when he had played at darts--if cross-examination
could have fetched it up--would have been to his expanded mind a
painful remembrance of All-fools’ day. He stuck to his circuit, and
cultivated the art of circuitous language. And being a sound and
diligent lawyer, of good face and temper, he was able already to pay a
clerk, who carried his bag and cleaned his boots.

But any client who had seen him now driving two spirited horses
actually in tandem process, and sitting as if he were on the King’s
Bench, would have met him at the gate with a “quo warranto,” if not a
“quousque tandem?” He was well aware of this; his conscience told him
that a firm of attorneys abode in the chief street of Tonbridge, and
in spite of the snow either partner or clerk would almost be sure to
be out at the door. He would not have been the Grower’s son if he had
tried to circumvent them; so he drove by their door, and the senior
partner took off his hat to Mabel, and said that Gregory was a most
rising young man.

Mabel sat in the middle, of course, with a brother on either side to
break the cold wind, and keep off the snow. She laughed at the weather
at first; but soon the weather had the laugh of her. According to their
own ideas, they were to put up for the night at the fine old inn at
Horsham, and make their way thence to Coombe Lorraine in time for
dinner on the Saturday. For Mabel of course was to be a bridesmaid,
the Rector’s three daughters, and the Colonel’s two, completing the
necessary six. But it soon became clear that the Grower knew more about
roads and weather than the counsellor and the sailor did. By the time
these eager travellers passed Penshurst and the home of the Sidneys,
the road was some eight or nine inches deep with soft new-fallen snow.
They had wisely set forth with a two-wheeled carriage, strong and not
easily knocked out of gear--no other, in fact, than the old yellow gig
disdained by Mrs. Lovejoy. For the look of it they cared not one jot;
anything was good enough for such weather; and a couple of handsome and
powerful horses would carry off a great deal worse than that; even if
they had thought of it. But they never gave one thought to the matter.
Except that the counsellor was a little tamed by “the law and its
ramifications,” they all took after their father about the _esse_ _v._
the _videri_. Nevertheless, they all got snowed up for the Friday night
at East Grinstead, instead of getting on to Horsham.

For the further they got away from home, the more they managed to lose
their way. The hedges and the ditches were all as one; the guide-posts
were buried long ago; instead of the proper finger and thumb, great
fists and bellies of drift, now and then, stuck out to stop the
traveller. “No thoroughfare here” in great letters of ivy--the ivy
that hangs in such deep relief, as if itself relieved by snow--and
“Trespassers beware” from an alder, perhaps overhanging a swamp, where,
if the snow-crust were once cut through a poor man could only toss up
his arms, and go down and be no more heard of.

And now that another heavy storm was at it (black behind them, and
white in front), the horses asked for nothing better than to be left to
find their way. They threw up their forelocks, and jerked their noses,
and rattled their rings, and expressed their ribs, and fingered away
at the snow with their feet; meaning that their own heads were the
best, if they could only have them. So the counsellor let them have
their heads, for the evening dusk was gathering; and the leader turned
round to the wheeler, and they had many words about it. And then they
struck off at a merry trot, having both been down that road before, and
supped well at the end of it. Foreseeing the like delight, with this
keen weather to enhance it, they put their feet out at a tidy stretch,
scuffling one another’s snowballs; and by the time of candle-lighting,
landed their three inferior bipeds at the “Green Man,” at East
Grinstead.

On the following day they were still worse off, for although it did not
snow again, they got into an unknown country without any landmarks;
and the cold growing more and more severe, they resolved to follow the
Brighton road, if ever they should find it. But the Brighton coaches
were taken off, and the road so entirely stopped, that they must have
crossed without perceiving it. And both the nags growing very tired,
and their own eyes dazed with so much white, they had made up their
minds to build themselves a snow-house like the Esquimaux, when the
sailor spied something in the distance, tall and white against the
setting sun, which proved to be Horsham spire. With difficulty they
reached the town by starlight, and all pretty well frost-bitten; and
there they were obliged to spend the Sunday, not only for their horses’
sakes, but equally for their own poor selves.

To finish a bitter and tedious journey, they started from Horsham
on the Monday morning, as soon as the frozen-out sun appeared; and
although the travelling was wonderfully bad, they fetched to West
Grinstead by twelve o’clock, and found good provender for man and
beast. After an hour’s halt, and a peck of beans to keep the cold out
of the horses’ stomachs, and a glass of cherry-brandy to do the like
for their own, and a visit to the blacksmith (to fetch up the cogs of
the shoes, and repair the springs), all set off again in the best of
spirits, and vowing never to be beaten. But, labour as they might, the
sun had set ere they got to Steyning; and under the slide of the hills,
of course, they found the drift grow deeper; so that by the time they
were come to the long loose street of West Lorraine, almost every soul
therein, having regard to the weather, was tucked up snugly under the
counterpane. With the weary leader stooping chin to knee to rub off
icicles, and the powerful wheeler tramping sedately with his withers
down and his crupper up, these three bold travellers, Gregory, Mabel,
and Charles Lovejoy, sitting abreast in the yellow gig, passed silently
through the deep silence of snow; and not even a boy beheld them, until
they came to a place where red light streamed from an opening upon
the lane, and cast on the snow the shadow of a tall man leaning on a
gate. Inside the gate was a square of bright embers, and a man in white
stockings uncommonly busy.

“Oh, Gregory, stop for a moment,” cried Mabel, “how warm it looks! Oh,
how I wish I was a pig!”

They drew up in the ruddy light, and turned their frosted faces, frozen
cloaks, and numbed hands towards it. And the leader turned round on his
traces, and cheered up his poor nose with gazing; for warmth, as well
as light, came forth in clouds upon the shivering air.

“What a wonderful man!” exclaimed Mabel again. “We have nobody like him
in all our parish. He looks very good-natured. Oh, do let us go in, and
warm ourselves.”

“And get our noses frozen off directly we come out. No, thank you,”
said Gregory, “we will drive on. Get up, Spangler, will you, then?”

He flipped the leader with his frozen lash, and the tall man leaning
upon the gate (as if he were short of employment) turned round and
looked at them, and bade the busy man a very good evening, and came out
into the snow, as if he were glad of any wheel track. At the turn of
the lane they lost sight of him, slowly as they ploughed their way, and
in another minute a very extraordinary thing befel them.

“Hark!” cried Mabel, as they came to a bank, where once the road might
have gone straight on, but now turned sharply to the right, being
broken by a broad black water. “I am quite sure I heard something.”

“The frost is singing in your ears,” said Charlie, “that is what it
always does at sea. Or a blessed cold owl is hooting. Greg, what do you
say?”

“I will offer my opinion,” replied the counsellor, “when I have
sufficient data.”

“And when you get your fee endorsed. There it is again! Now did you
hear it?”

She stood up between her two brothers, and stayed herself in the mighty
jerks of road, with a hand on the shoulder of each of them. They
listened, and doubted her keener ears, and gave her a pull to come back
again. “What a child it is!” said the counsellor; “she always loses her
wits when she gets within miles of that blessed Hilary.”

“Is that all you know about it--now, after all the mischief you have
made! You have done your worst to part us.”

Though still quite a junior counsel, Gregory had been long enough
called to the Bar to understand that women must not be cited to the bar
of reason. Their opinions deserve the most perfect respect, because
they are inspired; and no good woman ever changes them.

At any rate, Mabel was right this time. Before they could say a word,
or look round, they not only heard but saw a boy riding and raving
furiously, on the other side of the water. He was coming down the
course of the stream towards them as fast as his donkey could flounder,
and slide, and tear along over the snow-drifts. And at the top of his
voice he was shouting,--

“A swan, a swan, a girt white swan! The bootiful leddy have turned into
a girt swan! Oh, I never!”

“Are you mad, you young fool? Just get back from the water,” cried
Gregory Lovejoy, sternly; for as Bonny pulled up, the horses, weary as
they were, jumped round in affright, at Jack’s white nose and great
ears jerking in a shady place. “Get back from the water, or we shall
all be in it!” For the wheeler, having caught the leader’s scare, was
backing right into the Woeburn, and Mabel could not help a little
scream; till the sailor sprang cleverly over the wheel, and seized the
shaft-horse by the head.

“There she cometh! there she cometh!” shouted Bonny all the while; “oh,
whatever shall I do?”

“I see it! I see it!” cried Mabel, leaning over the rail of the gig,
and gazing up the dark stream steadfastly; “oh, what can it be? It is
all white. And hangs upon the water so. It must be some one floating
drowned!”

Charlie, the sailor, without a word, ran to a bulge of the bank, as he
saw the white thing coming nearer, looked at it for an instant with all
his eyes, then flung off his coat, and plunged into the water, as if
for a little pleasant swim. He had no idea of the power of the current;
but if he had known all about it, he would have gone head-foremost all
the same. For he saw in mid-channel the form of a woman, helpless,
senseless, at the mercy of the water; and that was quite enough for him.

From his childhood up he had been a swimmer, and was quite at his ease
in rough water; and therefore despised this sliding smoothness. But
before he had taken three strokes, he felt that he had mistaken his
enemy. Instead of swimming up the stream (which looked very easy to
do from the bank), he could not even hold his own with arms and legs
against it, but was quietly washed down by the force bearing into the
cups of his shoulders. But in spite of the volume of torrent, he felt
as comfortable as could be; for the water was by some twenty degrees
warmer than in the frosty air.

“Cut the traces,” he managed to shout, as his brother and sister hung
over the bank.

“What does he mean?” asked Gregory.

“Take my little knife,” said Mabel; “it cuts like a razor; but my hands
shake.”

“I see, I see,” nodded the counsellor; and he cut the long traces of
the leader, and knotted them together. Meanwhile Charlie let both
feet sink, and stood edgewise in the rapid current, treading water
quietly. Of course he was carried down stream as he did it; but slowly
(compared with a floating body). And he found that the movement was
much less rapid, at three or four feet from the surface. Before he had
time to think of this, or fairly fetch his balance, the white thing he
was waiting for came gliding in the blackness towards him. He flung
out his arms at once, and cast his feet back, and made towards it. In
the gliding hurry, and the flit of light, it passed him so far that
he said “Good-bye,” and then (perhaps from the attraction of bodies)
it seemed for a second to stop; and the hand he cast forth laid hold
of something. His own head went under water, and he swallowed a good
mouthful; but he stuck to what he had got hold of, as behoves an
Englishman. Then he heard great shouting upon dry land, and it made him
hold the tighter. “Bravo, my noble fellow!” He heard; he was getting a
little tired; but encouragement is everything. “Catch it! catch it! lay
hold! lay hold!” he heard in several voices, and he saw the splash of
the traces thrown, but had no chance to lay hold of them. The power of
the black stream swept him on, and he vainly strove for either bank;
unless he would let loose his grasp, and he would rather drown with it
than do that.

Now who saved him and his precious salvage? A poor, despised, and yet
clever boy, whose only name was Bonny. When Gregory Lovejoy had lashed
the Woeburn with his traces vainly, and Mabel had fixed her shawl to
the end of them, and the tall man who followed the gig had dropped into
the water quietly, and Bottler (disturbed by the shouting) had left his
pigs and shone conspicuous--not one of them could have done a bit of
good, if it had not been for Bonny. From no great valour on the part of
the boy; but from a quick-witted suggestion.

His suggestion had to cross the water, as many good suggestions have
to do; and but for Bottler’s knowledge of his voice, nobody would have
noticed it.

“Ye’ll nab ’em down to bridge,” he cried; “hurn down to bridge, and
ee’ll nab ’em. Tell ’un not to faight so.”

“Let your’sen go with the strame,” shouted Bottler to the gallant
Charlie; “no use faighting for the bank. There’s a tree as crosseth
down below; and us’ll pull’ee both out, when ’a gets there.”

Charlie had his head well up, and saw the wisdom of this counsel. He
knew by long battle that he could do nothing against the tenor of the
Woeburn, and the man who had leaped in to help him, brave and strong
as he was, could only follow as the water listed. The water went at
one set pace, and swimmers only floated. And now it was a breathless
race for the people on the dry land to gain the long tree that spanned
the Woeburn, ere its victims were carried under. And but for sailor
Lovejoy’s skill, and presence of mind, in seeking downward, and
paddling more than swimming, the swift stream would have been first at
the bridge; and then no other chance for them.

As it was, the runners were just in time, with scarcely a second to
spare for it. Three men knelt on the trunk of the tree, while Mabel
knelt in the snow, and prayed. The merciless stream was a fathom below
them; but they hung the staunch traces in two broad loops, made good
at each end in a fork of bough, and they showed him where they were by
flipping the surface of the water.

Clinging to his helpless burden still, and doing his best to support
it, the young sailor managed to grasp the leather; but his strength was
spent, and he could not rise, and all things swam around him; the snowy
banks, the eager faces, the white form he held, and the swift black
current--all like a vision swept through his brain, and might sweep
on for ever. His wits were gone, and he must have followed, and been
swept away to another world, if a powerful swimmer had not dashed up in
full command of all faculties. The tall man, whom nobody had heeded in
the rush and hurry, came down the black gorge with his head well up,
and the speed and strength of an osprey. He seized the broad traces
with such a grasp that the timber above them trembled, and he bore
himself up with his chest to the stream, and tearing off his neckcloth,
fastened first the drowned white figure, and then poor Charlie, to the
loop of the strap, and saw them drawn up together; then gathering all
his remaining powers, he struck for the bank, and gained it.

“Hurrah!” shouted Bottler! and every one present, Mabel included,
joined the shout.

“Be quick, be quick! It is no time for words,” cried the tall man,
shaking his dress on the snow; “let me have the lady; you bring the
fine fellow as quickly as possible to Bottler’s yard. Bottler, just
show us the shortest way.”

“To be sure, sir,” Mr. Bottler answered; “but, Major, you cannot carry
her, and the drops are freezing on you.”

“Do as I told you. Run in front of me; and just show the shortest road.”

“Dash my stockings!” cried Master Bottler; “they won’t be worth looking
at to-morrow. And all through the snow, I’ve kept un white. And I ain’t
got any more clean ones.”

However he took a short cut to his yard; while Aylmer, with the lady
in his arms, and her head hanging over his shoulder, followed so fast,
that the good pig-sticker could scarcely keep in front of him.

“Never mind me,” cried brave Charlie, reviving; “I am as right as ever.
Mabel, go on and help; though I fear it is too late to do any good.”

“Whoever it is, it is dead as a stone,” said the counsellor, wiping
the wet from his sleeves; “it fell away from me like an empty bag; you
might have spared your ducking, Charlie. But it must have been a lovely
young woman.”

“Dead or alive, I have done my duty. But don’t you know who it is? Oh,
Mabel!”

“How could I see her face?” said Mabel; “the men would not let me touch
her. And about here I know no one.”

“Yes, you do. You know Alice Lorraine. It is poor Sir Roland’s
daughter.”



CHAPTER LXXI.

AN ARGUMENT REFUTED.


While these things were going on down in the valley, a nice little
argument was raging in the dining-room of the old house on the hill. By
reason of the bitter weather, Mr. Binns and John Trotman had brought
in two large three-winged screens of ancient poikolo-Dædal canvas.
Upon them was depicted every bird that flies, and fish that swims, and
beast that walks on the face of the earth, besides many that never did
anything of the sort. And betwixt them and a roaring fire