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Title: Hide and Seek
Author: Collins, Wilkie
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hide and Seek" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



HIDE AND SEEK

By Wilkie Collins



TO

CHARLES DICKENS,

THIS STORY IS INSCRIBED,

AS A

TOKEN OF ADMIRATION AND AFFECTION,

BY HIS FRIEND,

THE AUTHOR.



PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION

This novel ranks the third, in order of succession, of the works of
fiction which I have produced. The history of its reception, on its
first appearance, is soon told.

Unfortunately for me, “Hide And Seek” was originally published in the
year eighteen hundred and fifty-four, at the outbreak of the Crimean
War. All England felt the absorbing interest of watching that serious
national event; and new books--some of them books of far higher
pretensions than mine--found the minds of readers in general
pre-occupied or indifferent. My own little venture in fiction
necessarily felt the adverse influence of the time. The demand among
the booksellers was just large enough to exhaust the first edition, and
there the sale of this novel, in its original form, terminated.

Since that period, the book has been, in the technical phrase, “out
of print.” Proposals have reached me, at various times, for its
republication; but I have resolutely abstained from availing myself of
them for two reasons.

In the first place, I was anxious to wait until “Hide And Seek” could
make its re-appearance on a footing of perfect equality with my other
works. In the second place, I was resolved to keep it back until it
might obtain the advantage of a careful revisal, guided by the light of
the author’s later experience. The period for the accomplishment of
both these objects has now presented itself. “Hide And Seek,” in this
edition, forms one among the uniform series of my novels, which has
begun with “Antonina,” “The Dead Secret,” and “The Woman In White;”
 and which will be continued with “Basil,” and “The Queen Of Hearts.”
 My project of revisal has, at the same time, been carefully and rigidly
executed. I have abridged, and in many cases omitted, several passages
in the first edition, which made larger demands upon the reader’s
patience than I should now think it desirable to venture on if I were
writing a new book; and I have, in one important respect, so altered the
termination of the story as to make it, I hope, more satisfactory and
more complete than it was in its original form.

With such advantages, therefore, as my diligent revision can give it,
“Hide And Seek” now appeals, after an interval of seven years, for
another hearing. I cannot think it becoming--especially in this age of
universal self-assertion--to state the grounds on which I believe my
book to be worthy of gaining more attention than it obtained, through
accidental circumstances, when it was first published. Neither can I
consent to shelter myself under the favorable opinions which many of my
brother writers--and notably, the great writer to whom “Hide And Seek”
 is dedicated--expressed of these pages when I originally wrote them. I
leave it to the reader to compare this novel--especially in reference
to the conception and delineation of character--with the two novels
(“Antonina” and “Basil”) which preceded it; and then to decide whether
my third attempt in fiction, with all its faults, was, or was not, an
advance in Art on my earlier efforts. This is all the favor I ask for a
work which I once wrote with anxious care--which I have since corrected
with no sparing hand--which I have now finally dismissed to take its
second journey through the world of letters as usefully and prosperously
as it can.

HARLEY STREET, LONDON, SEPTEMBER, 1861.



OPENING CHAPTER. A CHILD’S SUNDAY.

At a quarter to one o’clock, on a wet Sunday afternoon, in November
1837, Samuel Snoxell, page to Mr. Zachary Thorpe, of Baregrove Square,
London, left the area gate with three umbrellas under his arm, to meet
his master and mistress at the church door, on the conclusion of
morning service. Snoxell had been specially directed by the housemaid
to distribute his three umbrellas in the following manner: the new silk
umbrella was to be given to Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe; the old silk umbrella
was to be handed to Mr. Goodworth, Mrs. Thorpe’s father; and the heavy
gingham was to be kept by Snoxell himself, for the special protection
of “Master Zack,” aged six years, and the only child of Mr. Thorpe.
Furnished with these instructions, the page set forth on his way to the
church.

The morning had been fine for November; but before midday the clouds had
gathered, the rain had begun, and the inveterate fog of the season had
closed dingily over the wet streets, far and near. The garden in the
middle of Baregrove Square--with its close-cut turf, its vacant beds,
its bran-new rustic seats, its withered young trees that had not yet
grown as high as the railings around them--seemed to be absolutely
rotting away in yellow mist and softly-steady rain, and was deserted
even by the cats. All blinds were drawn down for the most part over all
windows; what light came from the sky came like light seen through
dusty glass; the grim brown hue of the brick houses looked more
dirtily mournful than ever; the smoke from the chimney-pots was lost
mysteriously in deepening superincumbent fog; the muddy gutters gurgled;
the heavy rain-drops dripped into empty areas audibly. No object great
or small, no out-of-door litter whatever appeared anywhere, to break
the dismal uniformity of line and substance in the perspective of
the square. No living being moved over the watery pavement, save the
solitary Snoxell. He plodded on into a Crescent, and still the awful
Sunday solitude spread grimly humid all around him. He next entered a
street with some closed shops in it; and here, at last, some
consoling signs of human life attracted his attention. He now saw the
crossing-sweeper of the district (off duty till church came out) smoking
a pipe under the covered way that led to a mews. He detected, through
half closed shutters, a chemist’s apprentice yawing over a large book.
He passed a navigator, an ostler, and two costermongers wandering
wearily backwards and forwards before a closed public-house door. He
heard the heavy _clop clop_ of thickly-booted feet advancing behind him,
and a stern voice growling, “Now then! be off with you, or you’ll get
locked up!”--and, looking round, saw an orange-girl, guilty of having
obstructed an empty pavement by sitting on the curb-stone, driven along
before a policeman, who was followed admiringly by a ragged boy gnawing
a piece of orange-peel. Having delayed a moment to watch this Sunday
procession of three with melancholy curiosity as it moved by him,
Snoxell was about to turn the corner of a street which led directly to
the church, when a shrill series of cries in a child’s voice struck on
his ear and stopped his progress immediately.

The page stood stock-still in astonishment for an instant--then pulled
the new silk umbrella from under his arm, and turned the corner in a
violent hurry. His suspicions had not deceived him. There was Mr. Thorpe
himself walking sternly homeward through the rain, before church was
over. He led by the hand “Master Zack,” who was trotting along under
protest, with his hat half off his head, hanging as far back from his
father’s side as he possibly could, and howling all the time at the
utmost pitch of a very powerful pair of lungs.

Mr. Thorpe stopped as he passed the page, and snatched the umbrella out
of Snoxell’s hand, with unaccustomed impetuity; said sharply, “Go to
your mistress, go on to the church;” and then resumed his road home,
dragging his son after him faster than ever.

“Snoxy! Snoxy!” screamed Master Zack, turning round towards the page, so
that he tripped himself up and fell against his father’s legs at every
third step; “I’ve been a naughty boy at church!”

“Ah! you look like it, you do,” muttered Snoxell to himself
sarcastically, as he went on. With that expression of opinion, the
page approached the church portico, and waited sulkily among his fellow
servants and their umbrellas for the congregation to come out.

When Mr. Goodworth and Mrs. Thorpe left the church, the old gentleman,
regardless of appearances, seized eagerly on the despised gingham
umbrella, because it was the largest he could get, and took his daughter
home under it in triumph. Mrs. Thorpe was very silent, and sighed
dolefully once or twice, when her father’s attention wandered from her
to the people passing along the street.

“You’re fretting about Zack,” said the old gentleman, looking round
suddenly at his daughter. “Never mind! leave it to me. I’ll undertake to
beg him off this time.”

“It’s very disheartening and shocking to find him behaving so,” said
Mrs. Thorpe, “after the careful way we’ve brought him up in, too!”

“Nonsense, my love! No, I don’t mean that--I beg your pardon. But who
can be surprised that a child of six years old should be tired of a
sermon forty minutes long by my watch? I was tired of it myself I know,
though I wasn’t candid enough to show it as the boy did. There! there!
we won’t begin to argue: I’ll beg Zack off this time, and we’ll say no
more about it.”

Mr. Goodworth’s announcement of his benevolent intentions towards Zack
seemed to have very little effect on Mrs. Thorpe; but she said nothing
on that subject or any other during the rest of the dreary walk home,
through rain, fog, and mud, to Baregrove Square.

Rooms have their mysterious peculiarities of physiognomy as well as men.
There are plenty of rooms, all of much the same size, all furnished
in much the same manner, which, nevertheless, differ completely
in expression (if such a term may be allowed) one from the other;
reflecting the various characters of their inhabitants by such fine
varieties of effect in the furniture-features generally common to all,
as are often, like the infinitesimal varieties of eyes, noses, and
mouths, too intricately minute to be traceable. Now, the parlor of Mr.
Thorpe’s house was neat, clean, comfortably and sensibly furnished.
It was of the average size. It had the usual side-board, dining-table,
looking-glass, scroll fender, marble chimney-piece with a clock on it,
carpet with a drugget over it, and wire window-blinds to keep people
from looking in, characteristic of all respectable London parlors of the
middle class. And yet it was an inveterately severe-looking room--a room
that seemed as if it had never been convivial, never uproarious,
never anything but sternly comfortable and serenely dull--a room which
appeared to be as unconscious of acts of mercy, and easy unreasoning
over-affectionate forgiveness to offenders of any kind--juvenile or
otherwise--as if it had been a cell in Newgate, or a private torturing
chamber in the Inquisition. Perhaps Mr. Goodworth felt thus affected
by the parlor (especially in November weather) as soon as he entered
it--for, although he had promised to beg Zack off, although Mr. Thorpe
was sitting alone by the table and accessible to petitions, with a book
in his hand, the old gentleman hesitated uneasily for a minute or two,
and suffered his daughter to speak first.

“Where is Zack?” asked Mrs. Thorpe, glancing quickly and nervously all
round her.

“He is locked up in my dressing-room,” answered her husband without
taking his eyes off the book.

“In your dressing-room!” echoed Mrs. Thorpe, looking as startled and
horrified as if she had received a blow instead of an answer; “in your
dressing-room! Good heavens, Zachary! how do you know the child hasn’t
got at your razors?”

“They are locked up,” rejoined Mr. Thorpe, with the mildest reproof in
his voice, and the mournfullest self-possession in his manner. “I took
care before I left the boy, that he should get at nothing which could do
him any injury. He is locked up, and will remain locked up, because”--

“I say, Thorpe! won’t you let him off this time?” interrupted Mr.
Goodworth, boldly plunging head foremost, with his petition for mercy,
into the conversation.

“If you had allowed me to proceed, sir,” said Mr. Thorpe, who always
called his father-in-law _Sir,_ “I should have simply remarked that,
after having enlarged to my son (in such terms, you will observe, as I
thought best fitted to his comprehension) on the disgrace to his parents
and himself of his behavior this morning, I set him as a task three
verses to learn out of the ‘Select Bible Texts for Children;’ choosing
the verses which seemed most likely, if I may trust my own judgment
on the point, to impress on him what his behavior ought to be for the
future in church. He flatly refused to learn what I told him. It was, of
course, quite impossible to allow my authority to be set at defiance by
my own child (whose disobedient disposition has always, God knows, been
a source of constant trouble and anxiety to me); so I locked him up, and
locked up he will remain until he has obeyed me. My dear,” (turning to
his wife and handing her a key), “I have no objection, if you wish, to
your going and trying what _you_ can do towards overcoming the obstinacy
of this unhappy child.”

Mrs. Thorpe took the key, and went up stairs immediately--went up to do
what all women have done, from the time of the first mother; to do
what Eve did when Cain was wayward in his infancy, and cried at her
breast--in short, went up to coax her child.

Mr. Thorpe, when his wife closed the door, carefully looked down
the open page on his knee for the place where he had left off--found
it--referred back a moment to the last lines of the preceding leaf--and
then went on with his book, not taking the smallest notice of Mr.
Goodworth.

“Thorpe!” cried the old gentleman, plunging head-foremost again, into
his son-in-law’s reading this time instead of his talk, “You may say
what you please; but your notion of bringing up Zack is a wrong one
altogether.”

With the calmest imaginable expression of face, Mr. Thorpe looked up
from his book; and, first carefully putting a paper-knife between the
leaves, placed it on the table. He then crossed one of his legs over the
other, rested an elbow on each arm of his chair, and clasped his
hands in front of him. On the wall opposite hung several
lithographed portraits of distinguished preachers, in and out of the
Establishment--mostly represented as very sturdily-constructed men with
bristly hair, fronting the spectator interrogatively and holding thick
books in their hands. Upon one of these portraits--the name of the
original of which was stated at the foot of the print to be the Reverend
Aaron Yollop--Mr. Thorpe now fixed his eyes, with a faint approach to
a smile on his face (he never was known to laugh), and with a look and
manner which said as plainly as if he had spoken it: “This old man is
about to say something improper or absurd to me; but he is my wife’s
father, it is my duty to bear with him, and therefore I am perfectly
resigned.”

“It’s no use looking in that way, Thorpe,” growled the old gentleman;
“I’m not to be put down by looks at my time of life. I may have my own
opinions I suppose, like other people; and I don’t see why I shouldn’t
express them, especially when they relate to my own daughter’s boy. It’s
very unreasonable of me, I dare say, but I think I ought to have a voice
now and then in Zack’s bringing up.”

Mr. Thorpe bowed respectfully--partly to Mr. Goodworth, partly to the
Reverend Aaron Yollop. “I shall always be happy, sir, to listen to any
expression of your opinion--”

“My opinion’s this,” burst out Mr. Goodworth. “You’ve no business to
take Zack to church at all, till he’s some years older than he is now.
I don’t deny that there may be a few children, here and there, at six
years old, who are so very patient, and so very--(what’s the word for
a child that knows a deal more than he has any business to know at his
age? Stop! I’ve got it!--_precocious_--that’s the word)--so very patient
and so very precocious that they will sit quiet in the same place for
two hours; making believe all the time that they understand every word
of the service, whether they really do or not. I don’t deny that there
may be such children, though I never met with them myself, and should
think them all impudent little hypocrites if I did! But Zack isn’t one
of that sort: Zack’s a genuine child (God bless him)! Zack--”

“Do I understand you, my dear sir,” interposed Mr. Thorpe, sorrowfully
sarcastic, “to be praising the conduct of my son in disturbing the
congregation, and obliging me to take him out of church?”

“Nothing of the sort,” retorted the old gentleman; “I’m not praising
Zack’s conduct, but I _am_ blaming yours. Here it is in plain
words:--_You_ keep on cramming church down his throat; and _he_ keeps on
puking at it as if it was physic, because he don’t know any better,
and can’t know any better at his age. Is that the way to make him take
kindly to religious teaching? I know as well as you do, that he roared
like a young Turk at the sermon. And pray what was the subject of the
sermon? Justification by Faith. Do you mean to tell me that he, or any
other child at his time of life, could understand anything of such a
subject as that; or get an atom of good out of it? You can’t--you know
you can’t! I say again, it’s no use taking him to church yet; and what’s
more, it’s worse than no use, for you only associate his first ideas
of religious instruction with everything in the way of restraint and
discipline and punishment that can be most irksome to him. There! that’s
my opinion, and I should like to hear what you’ve got to say against
it?”

“Latitudinarianism,” said Mr. Thorpe, looking and speaking straight at
the portrait of the Reverend Aaron Yollop.

“You can’t fob me off with long words, which I don’t understand, and
which I don’t believe you can find in Johnson’s Dictionary,” continued
Mr. Goodworth doggedly. “You would do much better to take my advice, and
let Zack go to church, for the present, at his mother’s knees. Let his
Morning Service be about ten minutes long; let your wife tell him, out
of the New Testament, about Our Savior’s goodness and gentleness to
little children; and then let her teach him, from the Sermon on the
Mount, to be loving and truthful and forbearing and forgiving, for Our
Savior’s sake. If such precepts as those are enforced--as they may be
in one way or another--by examples drawn from his own daily life; from
people around him; from what he meets with and notices and asks about,
out of doors and in--mark my words, he’ll take kindly to his religious
instruction. I’ve seen that in other children: I’ve seen it in my own
children, who were all brought up so. Of course, you don’t agree with
me! Of course you’ve got another objection all ready to bowl me down
with?”

“Rationalism,” said Mr. Thorpe, still looking steadily at the
lithographed portrait of the Reverend Aaron Yollop.

“Well, your objection’s a short one this time at any rate; and that’s a
blessing!” said the old gentleman rather irritably. “Rationalism--eh? I
understand that _ism,_ I rather suspect, better than the other. It
means in plain English, that you think I’m wrong in only wanting to give
religious instruction the same chance with Zack which you let all other
kinds of instruction have--the chance of becoming useful by being first
made attractive. You can’t get him to learn to read by telling him
that it will improve his mind--but you can by getting him to look at a
picture book. You can’t get him to drink senna and salts by reasoning
with him about its doing him good--but you can by promising him a lump
of sugar to take after it. You admit this sort of principle so far,
because you’re obliged; but the moment anybody wants (in a spirit of
perfect reverence and desire to do good) to extend it to higher things,
you purse up your lips, shake your head, and talk about Rationalism--as
if that was an answer! Well! well! it’s no use talking--go your own
way--I wash my hands of the business altogether. But now I _am_ at
it I’ll just say this one thing more before I’ve done:--your way of
punishing the boy for his behavior in church is, in my opinion, about as
bad and dangerous a one as could possibly be devised. Why not give him
a thrashing, if you _must_ punish the miserable little urchin for
what’s his misfortune as much as his fault? Why not stop his pudding, or
something of that sort? Here you are associating verses in the Bible, in
his mind, with the idea of punishment and being locked up in the cold!
You may make him get his text by heart, I dare say, by fairly tiring him
out; but I tell you what I’m afraid you’ll make him learn too, if you
don’t mind--you’ll make him learn to dislike the Bible as much as other
boys dislike the birch-rod!”

“Sir,” cried Mr. Thorpe, turning suddenly round, and severely
confronting Mr. Goodworth, “once for all, I must most respectfully
insist on being spared for the future any open profanities in
conversation, even from your lips. All my regard and affection for you,
as Mrs. Thorpe’s father, shall not prevent me from solemnly recording my
abhorrence of such awful infidelity as I believe to be involved in the
words you have just spoken! My religious convictions recoil--”

“Stop, sir!” said Mr. Goodworth, seriously and sternly.

Mr. Thorpe obeyed at once. The old gentleman’s manner was generally
much more remarkable for heartiness than for dignity; but it altered
completely while he now spoke. As he struck his hand on the table, and
rose from his chair, there was something in his look which it was not
wise to disregard.

“Mr. Thorpe,” he went on, more calmly, but very decidedly, “I refrain
from telling you what my opinion is of the ‘respect’ and ‘affection’
which have allowed _you_ to rebuke _me_ in such terms as you have
chosen. I merely desire to say that I shall never need a second reproof
of the same kind at your hands; for I shall never again speak to you
on the subject of my grandson’s education. If, in consideration of this
assurance, you will now permit me, in my turn--not to rebuke--but to
offer you one word of advice, I would recommend you not to be too ready
in future, lightly and cruelly to accuse a man of infidelity because
his religious opinions happen to differ on some subjects from yours. To
infer a serious motive for your opponent’s convictions, however wrong
you may think them, can do _you_ no harm: to infer a scoffing motive can
do _him_ no good. We will say nothing more about this, if you please.
Let us shake hands, and never again revive a subject about which we
disagree too widely ever to discuss it with advantage.”

At this moment the servant came in with lunch. Mr. Goodworth poured
himself out a glass of sherry, made a remark on the weather, and soon
resumed his cheerful, everyday manner. But he did not forget the pledge
that he had given to Mr. Thorpe. From that time forth, he never by word
or deed interfered again in his grandson’s education.

*****

While the theory of Mr. Thorpe’s system of juvenile instruction was
being discussed in the free air of the parlor, the practical working
of that theory, so far as regarded the case of Master Zack, was being
exemplified in anything but a satisfactory manner, in the prison-region
of the dressing-room.

While she ascended the first flight of stairs, Mrs. Thorpe’s ears
informed her that her son was firing off one uninterrupted volley of
kicks against the door of his place of confinement. As this was by no
means an unusual circumstance, whenever the boy happened to be locked up
for bad behavior, she felt distressed, but not at all surprised at what
she heard; and went into the drawing-room, on her way up stairs, to
deposit her Bible and Prayerbook (kept in a morocco case, with gold
clasps) on the little side-table, upon which they were always placed
during week-days. Possibly, she was so much agitated that her hand
trembled; possibly, she was in too great a hurry; possibly, the
household imp who rules the brittle destinies of domestic glass and
china, had marked her out as his destroying angel for that day; but
however it was, in placing the morocco case on the table, she knocked
down and broke an ornament standing near it--a little ivory model of a
church steeple in the florid style, enshrined in a glass case. Picking
up the fragments, and mourning over the catastrophe, occupied some
little time, more than she was aware of, before she at last left the
drawing-room, to proceed on her way to the upper regions.

As she laid her hand on the banisters, it struck her suddenly and
significantly, that the noises in the dressing-room above had entirely
ceased.

The instant she satisfied herself of this, her maternal imagination,
uninfluenced by what Mr. Thorpe had said below stairs, conjured up an
appalling vision of Zack before his father’s looking-glass, with his
chin well lathered, and a bare razor at his naked throat. The child
had indeed a singular aptitude for amusing himself with purely adult
occupations. Having once been incautiously taken into church by his
nurse, to see a female friend of hers married, Zack had, the very next
day, insisted on solemnizing the nuptial ceremony from recollection,
before a bride and bridegroom of his own age, selected from his
playfellows in the garden of the square. Another time, when the gardener
had incautiously left his lighted pipe on a bench while he went
to gather a flower for one of the local nursery-maids, whom he was
accustomed to favor horticulturally in this way, Zack contrived,
undetected, to take three greedy whiffs of pigtail in close succession;
was discovered reeling about the grass like a little drunkard; and had
to be smuggled home (deadly pale, and bathed in cold perspiration) to
recover, out of his mother’s sight, in the congenial gloom of the back
kitchen. Although the precise infantine achievements here cited were
unknown to Mrs. Thorpe, there were plenty more, like them, which she had
discovered; and the warning remembrance of which now hurried the poor
lady up the second flight of stairs in a state of breathless agitation
and alarm.

Zack, however, had not got at the razors; for they were all locked up,
as Mr. Thorpe had declared. But he had, nevertheless, discovered in
the dressing-room a means of perpetrating domestic mischief, which his
father had never thought of providing against. Finding that kicking,
screaming, stamping, sobbing, and knocking down chairs, were quite
powerless as methods of enforcing his liberation, he suddenly suspended
his proceedings; looked all round the room; observed the cock which
supplied his father’s bath with water; and instantly resolved to flood
the house. He had set the water going in the bath, had filled it to
the brim, and was anxiously waiting, perched up on a chair, to see it
overflow--when his mother unlocked the dressing-room door, and entered
the room.

“Oh, you naughty, wicked, shocking child!” cried Mrs. Thorpe, horrified
at what she beheld, but instantly stopping the threatened deluge from
motives of precaution connected with the drawing-room ceiling. “Oh,
Zack! Zack! what will you do next? What _would_ your papa say if he
heard of this? You wicked, wicked, wicked child, I’m ashamed to look at
you!”

And, in very truth, Zack offered at that moment a sufficiently
disheartening spectacle for a mother’s eyes to dwell on. There stood the
young imp, sturdy and upright in his chair, wriggling his shoulders in
and out of his frock, and holding his hands behind him in unconscious
imitation of the favorite action of Napoleon the Great. His light hair
was all rumpled down over his forehead; his lips were swelled; his nose
was red; and from his bright blue eyes Rebellion looked out frankly
mischievous, amid a surrounding halo of dirt and tears, rubbed circular
by his knuckles. After gazing on her son in mute despair for a minute
or so, Mrs. Thorpe took the only course that was immediately open to
her--or, in other words, took the child off the chair.

“Have you learnt your lesson, you wicked boy?” she asked.

“No, I havn’t,” answered Zack, resolutely.

“Then come to the table with me: your papa’s waiting to hear you. Come
here and learn your lesson directly,” said Mrs. Thorpe, leading the way
to the table.

“I won’t!” rejoined Zack, emphasizing the refusal by laying tight hold
of the wet sides of the bath with both hands.

It was lucky for this rebel of six years old that he addressed those
two words to his mother only. If his nurse had heard them, she would
instantly have employed that old-established resource in all educational
difficulties, familiarly known to persons of her condition under the
appellation of “a smack on the head;” if Mr. Thorpe had heard them, the
boy would have been sternly torn away, bound to the back of a chair, and
placed ignominiously with his chin against the table; if Mr. Goodworth
had heard them, the probability is that he would instantly have lost his
temper, and soused his grandson head over ears in the bath. Not one of
these ideas occurred to Mrs. Thorpe, who possessed no ideas. But she
had certain substitutes which were infinitely more useful in the present
emergency: she had instincts.

“Look up at me, Zack,” she said, returning to the bath, and sitting in
the chair by its side; “I want to say something to you.”

The boy obeyed directly. His mother opened her lips, stopped suddenly,
said a few words, stopped again, hesitated--and then ended her first
sentence of admonition in the most ridiculous manner, by snatching at
the nearest towel, and bearing Zack off to the wash-hand basin.

The plain fact was, that Mrs. Thorpe was secretly vain of her child. She
had long since, poor woman, forced down the strong strait-waistcoats of
prudery and restraint over every other moral weakness but this--of all
vanities the most beautiful; of all human failings surely the most
pure! Yes, she was proud of Zack! The dear, naughty, handsome,
church-disturbing, door-kicking, house-flooding Zack! If he had been
a plain-featured boy, she could have gone on more sternly with her
admonition: but to look coolly on his handsome face, made ugly by dirt,
tears, and rumpled hair; to speak to him in that state, while soap,
water, brush and towel, were all within reach, was more than the mother
(or the woman either, for that matter) had the self-denial to do! So,
before it had well begun, the maternal lecture ended impotently in the
wash-hand basin.

When the boy had been smartened and brushed up, Mrs. Thorpe took him on
her lap; and suppressing a strong desire to kiss him on both his round,
shining cheeks, said these words:--

“I want you to learn your lesson, because you will please _me_ by
obeying your papa. I have always been kind to _you,_--now I want you to
be kind to _me.”_

For the first time, Zack hung down his head, and seemed unprepared with
an answer. Mrs. Thorpe knew by experience what this symptom meant. “I
think you are beginning to be sorry for what you have done, and are
going to be a good boy,” she said. “If you are, I know you will give me
a kiss.” Zack hesitated again--then suddenly reached up, and gave his
mother a hearty and loud-sounding kiss on the tip of her chin. “And now
you will learn your lesson?” continued Mrs. Thorpe. “I have always tried
to make _you_ happy, and I am sure you are ready, by this time, to try
and make _me_ happy--are you not, Zack?”

“Yes, I am,” said Zack manfully. His mother took him at once to the
table, on which the “Select Bible Texts for Children” lay open, and
tried to lift him into a chair “No!” said the boy, resisting and shaking
his head resolutely; “I want to learn my lesson on your lap.”

Mrs. Thorpe humored him immediately. She was not a handsome, not even a
pretty woman; and the cold atmosphere of the dressing-room by no means
improved her personal appearance. But, notwithstanding this, she looked
absolutely attractive and interesting at the present moment, as she
sat with Zack in her arms, bending over him while he studied his three
verses in the “Bible Texts.” Women who have been ill-used by nature have
this great advantage over men in the same predicament--wherever there
is a child present, they have a means ready at hand, which they can all
employ alike, for hiding their personal deficiencies. Who ever saw an
awkward woman look awkward with a baby in her arms? Who ever saw an ugly
woman look ugly when she was kissing a child?

Zack, who was a remarkably quick boy when he chose to exert himself,
got his lesson by heart in so short a time that his mother insisted on
hearing him twice over, before she could satisfy herself that he was
really perfect enough to appear in his father’s presence. The second
trial decided her doubts, and she took him in triumph down stairs.

Mr. Thorpe was reading intently, Mr. Goodworth was thinking profoundly,
the rain was falling inveterately, the fog was thickening dirtily, and
the austerity of the severe-looking parlor was hardening apace into its
most adamantine Sunday grimness, as Zack was brought to say his lesson
at his father’s knees. He got through it perfectly again; but his
childish manner, during this third trial, altered from frankness to
distrustfulness; and he looked much oftener, while he said his task, at
Mr. Goodworth than at his father. When the texts had been repeated, Mr.
Thorpe just said to his wife, before resuming his book--“You may tell
the nurse, my dear, to get Zachary’s dinner ready for him--though he
doesn’t deserve it for behaving so badly about learning his lesson.”

“Please, grandpapa, may I look at the picture-book you brought for me
last night, after I was in bed?” said Zack, addressing Mr. Goodworth,
and evidently feeling that he was entitled to his reward now he had
suffered his punishment.

“Certainly not on a Sunday,” interposed Mr. Thorpe; “your grandpapa’s
book is not a book for Sundays.”

Mr. Goodworth started, and seemed about to speak; but recollecting what
he had said to Mr. Thorpe, contented himself with poking the fire. The
book in question was a certain romance, entitled “Jack and the Bean
Stalk,” adorned with illustrations in the freest style of water-color
art.

“If you want to look at picture-books, you know what books you may have
to-day; and your mamma will get them for you when she comes in again,”
 continued Mr. Thorpe.

The works now referred to were, an old copy of the “Pilgrim’s Progress”
 containing four small prints of the period of the last century; and a
“Life of Moses,” illustrated by severe German outlines in the manner of
the modern school. Zack knew well enough what books his father meant,
and exhibited his appreciation of them by again beginning to wriggle his
shoulders in and out of his frock. He had evidently had more than enough
already of the “Pilgrim’s Progress” and the “Life of Moses.”

Mr. Thorpe said nothing more, and returned to his reading. Mr. Goodworth
put his hands in his pockets, yawned disconsolately, and looked, with
a languidly satirical expression in his eyes, to see what his grandson
would do next. If the thought passing through the old gentleman’s mind
at that moment had been put into words, it would have been exactly
expressed in the following sentence:--“You miserable little boy! When I
was your age, how I should have kicked at all this!”

Zack was not long in finding a new resource. He spied Mr. Goodworth’s
cane standing in a corner; and, instantly getting astride of it,
prepared to amuse himself with a little imaginary horse-exercise up and
down the room. He had just started at a gentle canter, when his father
called out, “Zachary!” and brought the boy to a stand-still directly.

“Put back the stick where you took it from,” said Mr. Thorpe; “you
mustn’t do that on Sunday. If you want to move about, you can walk up
and down the room.”

Zack paused, debating for an instant whether he should disobey or burst
out crying.

“Put back the stick,” repeated Mr. Thorpe.

Zack remembered the dressing-room and the “Select Bible Texts for
Children,” and wisely obeyed. He was by this time completely crushed
down into as rigid a state of Sunday discipline as his father could
desire. After depositing the stick in the corner, he slowly walked up to
Mr. Goodworth, with a comical expression of amazement and disgust in his
chubby face, and meekly laid down his head on his grandfather’s knee.

“Never say die, Zack,” said the kind old gentleman, rising and taking
the boy in his arms. “While nurse is getting your dinner ready, let’s
look out of window, and see if it’s going to clear up.”

Mr. Thorpe raised his head disapprovingly from his book, but said
nothing this time.

“Ah, rain! rain! rain!” muttered Mr. Goodworth, staring desperately out
at the miserable prospect, while Zack amused himself by rubbing his nose
vacantly backwards and forwards against a pane of glass. “Rain!
rain! Nothing but rain and fog in November. Hold up, Zack! Ding-dong,
ding-dong; there go the bells for afternoon church! I wonder whether it
will be fine to-morrow? Think of the pudding, my boy!” whispered the old
gentleman with a benevolent remembrance of the consolation which that
thought had often afforded to him, when he was a child himself.

“Yes,” said Zack, acknowledging the pudding suggestion, but declining to
profit by it. “And, please, when I’ve had my dinner, will somebody put
me to bed?”

“Put you to bed!” exclaimed Mr. Goodworth. “Why, bless the boy! what’s
come to him now? He used always to be wanting to stop up.”

“I want to go to bed, and get to to-morrow, and have my picture-book,”
 was the weary and whimpering answer.

“I’ll be hanged, if I don’t want to go to bed too!” soliloquized the old
gentleman under his breath, “and get to to-morrow, and have my ‘Times’
at breakfast. I’m as bad as Zack, every bit!”

“Grandpapa,” continued the child, more wearily than before, “I want to
whisper something in your ear.”

Mr. Goodworth bent down a little. Zack looked round cunningly towards
his father--then putting his mouth close to his grandfather’s ear,
communicated the conclusion at which he had arrived, after the events of
the day, in these words--

_“I say, granpapa, I hate Sunday!”_



BOOK I. THE HIDING.



CHAPTER I. A NEW NEIGHBORHOOD, AND A STRANGE CHARACTER.

At the period when the episode just related occurred in the life of Mr.
Zachary Thorpe the younger--that is to say, in the year 1837--Baregrove
Square was the farthest square from the city, and the nearest to the
country, of any then existing in the north-western suburb of London.
But, by the time fourteen years more had elapsed--that is to say, in
the year 1851--Baregrove Square had lost its distinctive character
altogether; other squares had filched from it those last remnants of
healthy rustic flavor from which its good name had been derived; other
streets, crescents, rows, and villa-residences had forced themselves
pitilessly between the old suburb and the country, and had suspended
for ever the once neighborly relations between the pavement of Baregrove
Square and the pathways of the pleasant fields.

Alexander’s armies were great makers of conquests; and Napoleon’s armies
were great makers of conquests; but the modern Guerilla regiments of the
hod, the trowel, and the brick-kiln, are the greatest conquerors of all;
for they hold the longest the soil that they have once possessed. How
mighty the devastation which follows in the wake of these tremendous
aggressors, as they march through the kingdom of nature, triumphantly
bricklaying beauty wherever they go! What dismantled castle, with the
enemy’s flag flying over its crumbling walls, ever looked so utterly
forlorn as a poor field-fortress of nature, imprisoned on all sides by
the walled camp of the enemy, and degraded by a hostile banner of pole
and board, with the conqueror’s device inscribed on it--“THIS GROUND TO
BE LET ON BUILDING LEASES?” What is the historical spectacle of
Marius sitting among the ruins of Carthage, but a trumpery theatrical
set-scene, compared with the mournful modern sight of the last tree
left standing, on the last few feet of grass left growing, amid the
greenly-festering stucco of a finished Paradise Row, or the naked
scaffolding poles of a half-completed Prospect Place? Oh, gritty-natured
Guerilla regiments of the hod, the trowel, and the brick-kiln! the
town-pilgrim of nature, when he wanders out at fall of day into the
domains which you have spared for a little while, hears strange things
said of you in secret, as he duteously interprets the old, primeval
language of the leaves; as he listens to the death-doomed trees,
still whispering mournfully around him the last notes of their ancient
even-song!

But what avails the voice of lamentation? What new neighborhood
ever stopped on its way into the country, to hearken to the passive
remonstrance of the fields, or to bow to the indignation of outraged
admirers of the picturesque? Never was suburb more impervious to any
faint influences of this sort, than that especial suburb which grew
up between Baregrove Square and the country; removing a walk among
the hedge-rows a mile off from the resident families, with a ruthless
rapidity at which sufferers on all sides stared aghast. First stories
were built, and mortgaged by the enterprising proprietors to get
money enough to go on with the second; old speculators failed and were
succeeded by new; foundations sank from bad digging; walls were blown
down in high winds from hasty building; bricks were called for in such
quantities, and seized on in such haste, half-baked from the kilns,
that they set the carts on fire, and had to be cooled in pails of water
before they could be erected into walls--and still the new suburb defied
all accidents, and grew irrepressibly into a little town of houses,
ready to be let and lived in, from the one end to the other.

The new neighborhood offered house-accommodation--accepted at the higher
prices as yet only to a small extent--to three distinct subdivisions
of the great middle class of our British population. Rents and premises
were adapted, in a steeply descending scale, to the means of the middle
classes with large incomes, of the middle classes with moderate incomes,
and of the middle classes with small incomes. The abodes for the large
incomes were called “mansions,” and were fortified strongly against the
rest of the suburb by being all built in one wide row, shut in at either
end by ornamental gates, and called a “park.” The unspeakable desolation
of aspect common to the whole suburb, was in a high state of perfection
in this part of it. Irreverent street noises fainted dead away on
the threshold of the ornamental gates, at the sight of the hermit
lodge-keeper. The cry of the costermonger and the screech of the
vagabond London boy were banished out of hearing. Even the regular
tradesman’s time-honored business noises at customers’ doors, seemed as
if they ought to have been relinquished here. The frantic falsetto
of the milkman, the crash of the furious butcher’s cart over the
never-to-be pulverized stones of the new road through the “park,”
 always sounded profanely to the passing stranger, in the spick-and-span
stillness of this Paradise of the large incomes.

The hapless small incomes had the very worst end of the whole locality
entirely to themselves, and absorbed all the noises and nuisances, just
as the large incomes absorbed all the tranquillities and luxuries of
suburban existence. Here were the dreary limits at which architectural
invention stopped in despair. Each house in this poor man’s purgatory
was, indeed, and in awful literalness, a brick box with a slate top to
it. Every hole drilled in these boxes, whether door-hole or window-hole,
was always overflowing with children. They often mustered by forties
and fifties in one street, and were the great pervading feature of the
quarter. In the world of the large incomes, young life sprang up like
a garden fountain, artificially playing only at stated periods in the
sunshine. In the world of the small incomes, young life flowed out
turbulently into the street, like an exhaustless kennel-deluge, in all
weathers. Next to the children of the inhabitants, in visible numerical
importance, came the shirts and petticoats, and miscellaneous linen of
the inhabitants; fluttering out to dry publicly on certain days of the
week, and enlivening the treeless little gardens where they hung, with
lightsome avenues of pinafores, and solemn-spreading foliage of stout
Welsh flannel. Here that absorbing passion for oranges (especially
active when the fruit is half ripe, and the weather is bitter cold),
which distinguishes the city English girl of the lower orders,
flourished in its finest development; and here, also, the poisonous
fumes of the holyday shop-boy’s bad cigar told all resident nostrils
when it was Sunday, as plainly as the church bells could tell it to all
resident ears. The one permanent rarity in this neighborhood, on week
days, was to discover a male inhabitant in any part of it, between the
hours of nine in the morning and six in the evening; the one sorrowful
sight which never varied, was to see that every woman, even to the
youngest, looked more or less unhappy, often care-stricken, while youth
was still in the first bud; oftener child-stricken before maturity was
yet in the full bloom.

As for the great central portion of the suburb--or, in other words,
the locality of the moderate incomes--it reflected exactly the lives of
those who inhabited it, by presenting no distinctive character of its
own at all.

In one part, the better order of houses imitated as pompously as they
could, the architectural grandeur of the mansions owned by the large
incomes; in another, the worst order of houses respectably, but
narrowly, escaped a general resemblance to the brick boxes of the
small incomes. In some places, the “park” influences vindicated their
existence superbly in the persons of isolated ladies who, not having a
carriage to go out in for an airing, exhibited the next best thing, a
footman to walk behind them: and so got a pedestrian airing genteelly in
that way. In other places, the obtrusive spirit of the brick boxes
rode about, thinly disguised, in children’s carriages, drawn by
nursery-maids; or fluttered aloft, delicately discernible at angles
of view, in the shape of a lace pocket-handkerchief or a fine-worked
chemisette, drying modestly at home in retired corners of back gardens.
Generally, however, the hostile influences of the large incomes and the
small mingled together on the neutral ground of the moderate incomes;
turning it into the dullest, the dreariest, the most oppressively
conventional division of the whole suburb. It was just that sort of
place where the thoughtful man looking about him mournfully at the
locality, and physiologically observing the inhabitants, would be prone
to stop suddenly, and ask himself one plain, but terrible question: “Do
these people ever manage to get any real enjoyment out of their lives,
from one year’s end to another?”

To the looker-on at the system of life prevailing among the moderate
incomes in England, the sort of existence which that system embodies
seems in some aspects to be without a parallel in any other part of the
civilized world. Is it not obviously true that, while the upper
classes and the lower classes of English society have each their own
characteristic recreations for leisure hours, adapted equally to their
means and to their tastes, the middle classes, in general, have (to
expose the sad reality) nothing of the sort? To take an example from
those eating and drinking recreations which absorb so large a portion
of existence:--If the rich proprietors of the “mansions” in the “park”
 could give their grand dinners, and be as prodigal as they pleased with
their first-rate champagne, and their rare gastronomic delicacies;
the poor tenants of the brick boxes could just as easily enjoy their
tea-garden conversazione, and be just as happily and hospitably
prodigal, in turn, with their porter-pot, their teapot, their plate
of bread-and-butter, and their dish of shrimps. On either side, these
representatives of two pecuniary extremes in society, looked for what
recreations they wanted with their own eyes, pursued those recreations
within their own limits, and enjoyed themselves unreservedly in
consequence. Not so with the moderate incomes: they, in their social
moments, shrank absurdly far from the poor people’s porter and shrimps;
crawled contemptibly near to the rich people’s rare wines and luxurious
dishes; exposed their poverty in imitation by chemical champagne from
second-rate wine merchants, by flabby salads and fetid oyster-patties
from second-rate pastry-cooks; were, in no one of their festive
arrangements, true to their incomes, to their order, or to themselves;
and, in very truth, for all these reasons and many more, got no real
enjoyment out of their lives, from one year’s end to another.

On the outskirts of that part of the new suburb appropriated to these
unhappy middle classes with moderate incomes, there lived a gentleman
(by name Mr. Valentine Blyth) whose life offered as strong a practical
contradiction as it is possible to imagine to the lives of his
neighbors.

He was by profession an artist--an artist in spite of circumstances.
Neither his father, nor his mother, nor any relation of theirs, on
either side, had ever practiced the Art of Painting, or had ever derived
any special pleasure from the contemplation of pictures. They were all
respectable commercial people of the steady fund-holding old school,
who lived exclusively within their own circle; and had never so much as
spoken to a live artist or author in the whole course of their lives.
The City-world in which Valentine’s boyhood was passed, was as destitute
of art influences of any kind as if it had been situated on the coast
of Greenland; and yet, to the astonishment of everybody, he was always
drawing and painting, in his own rude way, at every leisure hour. His
father was, as might be expected, seriously disappointed and amazed at
the strange direction taken by the boy’s inclinations. No one (including
Valentine himself) could ever trace them back to any recognizable
source; but everyone could observe plainly enough that there was no hope
of successfully opposing them by fair means of any kind. Seeing this,
old Mr. Blyth, like a wise man, at last made a virtue of necessity; and,
giving way to his son, entered him, under strong commercial protest, as
a student in the Schools of the Royal Academy.

Here Valentine remained, working industriously, until his twenty-first
birthday. On that occasion, Mr. Blyth had a little serious talk with
him about his prospects in life. In the course of this conversation, the
young man was informed that a rich merchant-uncle was ready to take him
into partnership; and that his father was equally ready to start him
in business with his whole share, as one of three children, in the
comfortable inheritance acquired for the family by the well-known City
house of Blyth and Company. If Valentine consented to this arrangement,
his fortune was secured, and he might ride in his carriage before he was
thirty. If, on the other hand, he really chose to fling away a fortune,
he should not be pinched for means to carry on his studies as a painter.
The interest of his inheritance on his father’s death, should be paid
quarterly to him during his father’s lifetime: the annual independence
thus secured to the young artist, under any circumstances, being
calculated as amounting to a little over four hundred pounds a year.

Valentine was not deficient in gratitude. He took a day to consider
what he should do, though his mind was quite made up about his choice
beforehand; and then persisted in his first determination; throwing away
the present certainty of becoming a wealthy man, for the sake of the
future chance of turning out a great painter.

If he had really possessed genius, there would have been nothing very
remarkable in this part of his history, so far; but having nothing of
the kind, holding not the smallest spark of the great creative fire
in his whole mental composition, surely there was something very
discouraging to contemplate, in the spectacle of a man resolutely
determining, in spite of adverse home circumstances and strong home
temptation, to abandon all those paths in life, along which he might
have walked fairly abreast with his fellows, for the one path in which
he was predestinated by Nature to be always left behind by the way. Do
the announcing angels, whose mission it is to whisper of greatness
to great spirits, ever catch the infection of fallibility from their
intercourse with mortals? Do the voices which said truly to Shakespeare,
to Raphael, and to Mozart, in their youth-time,--You are chosen to
be gods in this world--ever speak wrongly to souls which they are
not ordained to approach? It may be so. There are men enough in all
countries whose lives would seem to prove it--whose deaths have not
contradicted it.

But even to victims such as these, there are pleasant resting-places on
the thorny way, and flashes of sunlight now and then, to make the
cloudy prospect beautiful, though only for a little while. It is not all
misfortune and disappointment to the man who is mentally unworthy of a
great intellectual vocation, so long as he is morally worthy of it; so
long as he can pursue it honestly, patiently, and affectionately, for
its own dear sake. Let him work, though ever so obscurely, in this
spirit towards his labor, and he shall find the labor itself its own
exceeding great reward. In that reward lives the divine consolation,
which, though Fame turn her back on him contemptuously, and Affluence
pass over unpitying to the other side of the way, shall still pour
oil upon all his wounds, and take him quietly and tenderly to the hard
journey’s end. To this one exhaustless solace, which the work, no matter
of what degree, can yield always to earnest workers, the man who has
succeeded, and the man who has failed, can turn alike, as to a common
mother--the one, for refuge from mean envy and slanderous hatred, from
all the sorest evils which even the thriving child of Fame is heir to;
the other, from neglect, from ridicule, from defeat, from all the petty
tyrannies which the pining bondman of Obscurity is fated to undergo.

Thus it was with Valentine. He had sacrificed a fortune to his Art;
and his Art--in the world’s eye at least--had given to him nothing
in return. Friends and relatives who had not scrupled, on being made
acquainted with his choice of a vocation, to call it in question,
and thereby to commit that worst and most universal of all human
impertinences, which consists of telling a man to his face, by the
plainest possible inference, that others are better able than he is
himself to judge what calling in life is fittest and worthiest for
him--friends and relatives who thus upbraided Valentine for his refusal
to accept the partnership in his uncle’s house, affected, on discovering
that he made no public progress whatever in Art, to believe that he was
simply an idle fellow, who knew that his father’s liberality placed him
beyond the necessity of working for his bread, and who had taken up the
pursuit of painting as a mere amateur amusement to occupy his leisure
hours. To a man who labored like poor Blyth, with the steadiest industry
and the highest aspirations, such whispered calumnies as these were of
all mortifications the most cruel, of all earthly insults the hardest to
bear.

Still he worked on patiently, never losing faith or hope, because
he never lost the love of his Art, or the enjoyment of pursuing it,
irrespective of results, however disheartening. Like most other men of
his slight intellectual caliber, the works he produced were various, if
nothing else. He tried the florid style, and the severe style; he was by
turns devotional, allegorical, historical, sentimental, humorous. At one
time, he abandoned figure-painting altogether, and took to landscape;
now producing conventional studies from Nature,--and now, again,
reveling in poetical compositions, which might have hung undetected in
many a collection as doubtful specimens of Berghem or Claude.

But whatever department of painting Valentine tried to excel in, the
same unhappy destiny seemed always in reserve for each completed effort.
For years and years his pictures pleaded hard for admission at the
Academy doors, and were invariably (and not unfairly, it must be
confessed) refused even the worst places on the walls of the Exhibition
rooms. Season after season he still bravely struggled on, never
depressed, never hopeless while he was before his easel, until at
last the day of reward--how long and painfully wrought for!--actually
arrived. A small picture of a very insignificant subject--being only a
kitchen “interior,” with a sleek cat on a dresser, stealing milk from
the tea-tray during the servant’s absence--was benevolently marked
“doubtful” by the Hanging Committee; was thereupon kept in reserve, in
case it might happen to fit any forgotten place near the floor--did fit
such a place--and was really hung up, as Mr. Blyth’s little unit of a
contribution to the one thousand and odd works exhibited to the public,
that year, by the Royal Academy.

But Valentine’s triumph did not end here. His picture of the treacherous
cat stealing the household milk--entitled, by way of appealing jocosely
to the strong Protestant interest, “The Jesuit in the Family,”--was
really sold to an Art-Union prize-holder for ten pounds. Once furnished
with a bank note won by his own brush, Valentine indulged in the most
extravagant anticipations of future celebrity and future wealth; and
proved, recklessly enough, that he believed as firmly as any other
visionary in the wildest dreams of his own imagination, by marrying, and
setting up an establishment, on the strength of the success which had
been achieved by “The Jesuit in the Family.”

He had been for some time past engaged to the lady who had now become
Mrs. Valentine Blyth. She was the youngest of eight sisters, who formed
part of the family of a poor engraver, and who, in the absence of any
mere money qualifications, were all rich alike in the ownership of most
magnificent Christian names. Mrs. Blyth was called Lavinia-Ada; and hers
was by far the humblest name to be found among the whole sisterhood.
Valentine’s relations all objected strongly to this match, not only
on account of the bride’s poverty, but for another and a very serious
reason, which events soon proved to be but too well founded.

Lavinia had suffered long and severely, as a child, from a bad spinal
malady. Constant attention, and such medical assistance as her father
could afford to employ, had, it was said, successfully combated the
disorder; and the girl grew up, prettier than any of her sisters, and
apparently almost as strong as the healthiest of them. Old Mr. Blyth,
however, on hearing that his son was now just as determined to become
a married man as he had formerly been to become a painter, thought it
advisable to make certain inquiries about the young lady’s constitution;
and addressed them, with characteristic caution, to the family doctor,
at a private interview.

The result of this conference was far from being satisfactory. The
doctor was suspiciously careful not to commit himself: he said that he
hoped the spine was no longer in danger of being affected; but that he
could not conscientiously express himself as feeling quite sure about
it. Having repeated these discouraging words to his son, old Mr. Blyth
delicately and considerately, but very plainly, asked Valentine whether,
after what he had heard, he still honestly thought that he would
be consulting his own happiness, or the lady’s happiness either, by
marrying her at all? or, at least, by marrying her at a time when the
doctor could not venture to say that the poor girl might not be even yet
in danger of becoming an invalid for life?

Valentine, as usual, persisted at first in looking exclusively at the
bright side of the question, and made light of the doctor’s authority
accordingly.

“Lavvie and I love each other dearly,” he said with a little trembling
in his voice, but with perfect firmness of manner. “I hope in God that
what you seem to fear will never happen; but even if it should, I shall
never repent having married her, for I know that I am just as ready to
be her nurse as to be her husband. I am willing to take her in sickness
and in health, as the Prayer-Book says. In my home she would have such
constant attention paid to her wants and comforts as she could not have
at her father’s, with his large family and his poverty, poor fellow! And
this is reason enough, I think, for my marrying her, even if the worst
should take place. But I always have hoped for the best, as you know,
father: and I mean to go on hoping for poor Lavvie, just the same as
ever!”

What could old Mr. Blyth, what could any man of heart and honor,
oppose to such an answer as this? Nothing. The marriage took place; and
Valentine’s father tried hard, and not altogether vainly, to feel as
sanguine about future results as Valentine himself.

For several months--how short the time seemed, when they looked back on
it in after-years!--the happiness of the painter and his wife more than
fulfilled the brightest hopes which they had formed as lovers. As for
the doctor’s cautious words, they were hardly remembered now; or, if
recalled, were recalled only to be laughed over. But the time of
bitter grief, which had been appointed, though they knew it not, came
inexorably, even while they were still lightly jesting at all medical
authority round the painter’s fireside. Lavinia caught a severe cold.
The cold turned to rheumatism, to fever, then to general debility, then
to nervous attacks--each one of these disorders, being really but so
many false appearances, under which the horrible spinal malady was
treacherously and slowly advancing in disguise.

When the first positive symptoms appeared, old Mr. Blyth acted with
all his accustomed generosity towards his son. “My purse is yours,
Valentine,” said he; “open it when you like; and let Lavinia, while
there is a chance for her, have the same advice and the same remedies as
if she was the greatest duchess in the land.” The old man’s affectionate
advice was affectionately followed. The most renowned doctors in England
prescribed for Lavinia; everything that science and incessant attention
could do, was done; but the terrible disease still baffled remedy after
remedy, advancing surely and irresistibly, until at last the doctors
themselves lost all hope. So far as human science could foretell events,
Mrs. Blyth, in the opinion of all her medical advisers, was doomed for
the rest of her life never to rise again from the bed on which she lay;
except, perhaps, to be sometimes moved to the sofa, or, in the event of
some favorable reaction, to be wheeled about occasionally in an invalid
chair.

What the shock of this intelligence was, both to husband and wife, no
one ever knew; they nobly kept it a secret even from each other. Mrs.
Blyth was the first to recover courage and calmness. She begged, as an
especial favor, that Valentine would seek consolation, where she knew he
must find it sooner or later, by going back to his studio, and resuming
his old familiar labors, which had been suspended from the time when her
illness had originally declared itself.

On the first day when, in obedience to her wishes, he sat before
his picture again--the half-finished picture from which he had been
separated for so many months--on that first day, when the friendly
occupation of his life seemed suddenly to have grown strange to him;
when his brush wandered idly among the colors, when his tears dropped
fast on the palette every time he looked down on it; when he tried
hard to work as usual, though only for half an hour, only on simple
background places in the composition; and still the brush made false
touches, and still the tints would not mingle as they should, and still
the same words, repeated over and over again, would burst from his lips:
“Oh, poor Lavvie! oh, poor, dear, dear Lavvie!”--even then, the spirit
of that beloved art, which he had always followed so humbly and so
faithfully, was true to its divine mission, and comforted and upheld him
at the last bitterest moment when he laid down his palette in despair.

While he was still hiding his face before the very picture which he and
his wife had once innocently and secretly glorified together, in those
happy days of its beginning that were never to come again, the sudden
thought of consolation shone out on his heart, and showed him how he
might adorn all his afterlife with the deathless beauty of a pure and
noble purpose. Thenceforth, his vague dreams of fame, and of rich men
wrangling with each other for the possession of his pictures, took
the second place in his mind; and, in their stead, sprang up the new
resolution that he would win independently, with his own brush, no
matter at what sacrifice of pride and ambition, the means of surrounding
his sick wife with all those luxuries and refinements which his own
little income did not enable him to obtain, and which he shrank with
instinctive delicacy from accepting as presents bestowed by his father’s
generosity. Here was the consoling purpose which robbed affliction of
half its bitterness already, and bound him and his art together by a
bond more sacred than any that had united them before. In the very hour
when this thought came to him, he rose without a pang to turn the great
historical composition, from which he had once hoped so much, with
its face to the wall, and set himself to finish an unpretending little
“Study” of a cottage courtyard, which he was certain of selling to a
picture-dealing friend. The first approach to happiness which he had
known for a long, long time past, was on the evening of that day, when
he went upstairs to sit with Lavinia; and, keeping secret his purpose
of the morning, made the sick woman smile in spite of her sufferings, by
asking her how she should like to have her room furnished, if she were
the lady of a great lord, instead of being only the wife of Valentine
Blyth.

Then came the happy day when the secret was revealed, and afterwards the
pleasant years when poor Mrs. Blyth’s most splendid visions of luxury
were all gradually realized through her husband’s exertions in his
profession. But for his wife’s influence, Valentine would have been in
danger of abandoning high Art and Classical Landscape altogether, for
cheap portrait-painting, cheap copying, and cheap studies of Still Life.
But Mrs. Blyth, bedridden as she was, contrived to preserve all her old
influence over the labors of the Studio, and would ask for nothing
new, and receive nothing new, in her room, except on condition that her
husband was to paint at least one picture of High Art every year, for
the sake (as she proudly said) of “asserting his intellect and his
reputation in the eyes of the public.” Accordingly, Mr. Blyth’s time
was pretty equally divided between the production of great unsaleable
“compositions,” which were always hung near the ceiling in the
Exhibition, and of small marketable commodities, which were as
invariably hung near the floor.

Valentine’s average earnings from his art, though humble enough in
amount, amply sufficed to fulfill the affectionate purpose for which,
to the last farthing, they were rigorously set aside. “Lavvie’s
Drawing-Room” (this was Mr. Blyth’s name for his wife’s bed-room) really
looked as bright and beautiful as any royal chamber in the universe. The
rarest flowers, the prettiest gardens under glass, bowls with gold and
silver fish in them, a small aviary of birds, an Aeolian harp to put on
the window-sill in summertime, some of Valentine’s best drawings from
the old masters, prettily-framed proof-impressions of engravings done
by Mrs. Blyth’s father, curtains and hangings of the tenderest color and
texture, inlaid tables, and delicately-carved book-cases, were among
the different objects of refinement and beauty which, in the course of
years, Mr. Blyth’s industry had enabled him to accumulate for his
wife’s pleasure. No one but himself ever knew what he had sacrificed in
laboring to gain these things. The heartless people whose portraits he
had painted, and whose impertinences he had patiently submitted to; the
mean bargainers who had treated him like a tradesman; the dastardly men
of business who had disgraced their order by taking advantage of his
simplicity--how hardly and cruelly such insect natures of this world had
often dealt with that noble heart! how despicably they had planted their
small gad-fly stings in the high soul which it was never permitted to
them to subdue!

No! not once to subdue, not once to tarnish! All petty humiliations were
forgotten in one look at “Lavvie’s Drawing-Room;” all stain of insolent
words vanished from Valentine’s memory in the atmosphere of the Studio.
Never was a more superficial judgment pronounced than when his friends
said that he had thrown away his whole life, because he had chosen a
vocation in which he could win no public success. The lad’s earliest
instincts had indeed led him truly, after all. The art to which he had
devoted himself was the only earthly pursuit that could harmonize as
perfectly with all the eccentricities as with all the graces of his
character, that could mingle happily with every joy, tenderly with every
grief; belonging to the quiet, simple, and innocent life, which,
employ him anyhow, it was in his original nature to lead. But for
this protecting art, under what prim disguises, amid what foggy social
climates of class conventionality, would the worlds clerical, legal,
mercantile, military, naval, or dandy, have extinguished this man, if
any one of them had caught him in its snares! Where would then have been
his frolicsome enthusiasm that nothing could dispirit; his inveterate
oddities of thought, speech, and action, which made all his friends
laugh at him and bless him in the same breath; his affections, so manly
in their firmness, so womanly in their tenderness, so childlike in their
frank, fearless confidence that dreaded neither ridicule on the one
side, nor deception on the other? Where, and how, would all these
characteristics have vanished, but for his art--but for the abiding
spirit, ever present to preserve their vital warmth against the outer
and earthly cold? The wisest of Valentine’s friends, who shook their
heads disparagingly whenever his name was mentioned, were at least wise
enough in _their_ generation never to ask themselves such embarrassing
questions as these.


Thus much for the history of the painter’s past life. We may now make
his acquaintance in the appropriate atmosphere of his own Studio.



CHAPTER II. MR. BLYTH IN HIS STUDIO.

It was wintry weather--not such a November winter’s day as some of us
may remember looking at fourteen years ago, in Baregrove Square, but a
brisk frosty morning in January. The country view visible from the back
windows of Mr. Blyth’s house, which stood on the extreme limit of the
new suburb, was thinly and brightly dressed out for the sun’s morning
levee, in its finest raiment of pure snow. The cold blue sky was
cloudless; every sound out of doors fell on the ear with a hearty and
jocund ring; all newly-lit fires burnt up brightly and willingly without
coaxing; and the robin-redbreasts hopped about expectantly on balconies
and windowsills, as if they only waited for an invitation to walk in
and warm themselves, along with their larger fellow creatures, round the
kindly hearth.

The Studio was a large and lofty room, lighted by a skylight, and
running along the side of the house throughout its whole depth. Its
walls were covered with plain brown paper, and its floor was only
carpeted in the middle. The most prominent pieces of furniture were two
large easels placed at either extremity of the room; each supporting a
picture of considerable size, covered over for the present with a
pair of sheets which looked woefully in want of washing. There was a
painting-stand with quantities of shallow little drawers, some too full
to open, others, again, too full to shut; there was a movable platform
to put sitters on, covered with red cloth much disguised in dust;
there was a small square table of new deal, and a large round table
of dilapidated rosewood, both laden with sketch-books, portfolios,
dog’s-eared sheets of drawing paper, tin pots, scattered brushes,
palette-knives, rags variously defiled by paint and oil, pencils,
chalks, port-crayons--the whole smelling powerfully at all points of
turpentine.

Finally, there were chairs in plenty, no one of which, however, at all
resembled the other. In one corner stood a moldy antique chair with a
high back, and a basin of dirty water on the seat. By the side of the
fireplace a cheap straw chair of the beehive pattern was tilted over
against a dining-room chair, with a horse-hair cushion. Before the
largest of the two pictures, and hard by a portable flight of steps,
stood a rickety office-stool. On the platform for sitters a modern easy
chair, with the cover in tatters, invited all models to picturesque
repose. Close to the rosewood table was placed a rocking-chair, and
between the legs of the deal table were huddled together a camp-stool
and a hassock. In short, every remarkable variety of the illustrious
family of Seats was represented in one corner or another of Mr. Blyth’s
painting-room.

All the surplus small articles which shelves, tables, and chairs were
unable to accommodate, reposed in comfortable confusion on the floor.
One half at least of a pack of cards seemed to be scattered about in
this way. A shirt-collar, three gloves, a boot, a shoe, and half a
slipper; a silk stocking, and a pair of worsted muffetees; three
old play-bills rolled into a ball; a pencil-case, a paper-knife, a
tooth-powder-box without a lid, and a superannuated black-beetle trap
turned bottom upwards, assisted in forming part of the heterogeneous
collection of rubbish strewed about the studio floor. And worse than
all--as tending to show that the painter absolutely enjoyed his own
disorderly habits--Mr. Blyth had jocosely desecrated his art, by making
it imitate litter where, in all conscience, there was real litter enough
already. Just in the way of anybody entering the room, he had painted,
on the bare floor, exact representations of a new quill pen and a very
expensive-looking sable brush, lying all ready to be trodden upon by
entering feet. Fresh visitors constantly attested the skillfulness of
these imitations by involuntarily stooping to pick up the illusive pen
and brush; Mr. Blyth always enjoying the discomfiture and astonishment
of every new victim, as thoroughly as if the practical joke had been a
perfectly new one on each successive occasion.

Such was the interior condition of the painting-room, after the owner
had inhabited it for a period of little more than two months!

The church-clock of the suburb has just struck ten, when quick, light
steps approach the studio door. A gentleman enters--trips gaily over the
imitative pen and brush--and, walking up to the fire, begins to warm his
back at it, looking about him rather absently, and whistling “Drops of
Brandy” in the minor key. This gentleman is Mr. Valentine Blyth.

He looks under forty, but is really a little over fifty. His face is
round and rosy, and not marked by a single wrinkle in any part of it.
He has large, sparkling black eyes; wears neither whiskers, beard, nor
mustache; keeps his thick curly black hair rather too closely cut; and
has a briskly-comical kindness of expression in his face, which it is
not easy to contemplate for the first time without smiling at him. He
is tall and stout, always wears very tight trousers, and generally keeps
his wristbands turned up over the cuffs of his coat. All his movements
are quick and fidgety. He appears to walk principally on his toes,
and seems always on the point of beginning to dance, or jump, or run
whenever he moves about, either in or out of doors. When he speaks he
has an odd habit of ducking his head suddenly, and looking at the person
whom he addresses over his shoulder. These, and other little personal
peculiarities of the same undignified nature, all contribute to make him
exactly that sort of person whom everybody shakes hands with, and nobody
bows to, on a first introduction. Men instinctively choose him to be the
recipient of a joke, girls to be the male confidant of all flirtations
which they like to talk about, children to be their petitioner for the
pardon of a fault, or the reward of a half-holiday. On the other hand,
he is decidedly unpopular among that large class of Englishmen, whose
only topics of conversation are public nuisances and political abuses;
for he resolutely looks at everything on the bright side, and has never
read a leading article or a parliamentary debate in his life. In brief,
men of business habits think him a fool, and intellectual women with
independent views cite him triumphantly as an excellent specimen of the
inferior male sex.

Still whistling, Mr. Blyth walks towards an earthen pipkin in one corner
of the studio, and takes from it a little china palette which he has
neglected to clean since he last used it. Looking round the room for
some waste paper, on which he can deposit the half-dried old paint that
has been scraped off with the palette knife, Mr. Blyth’s eyes happen
to light first on the deal table, and on four or five notes which lie
scattered over it.

These he thinks will suit his purpose as well as anything else, so he
takes up the notes, but before making use of them, reads their contents
over for the second time--partly by way of caution, partly though a
dawdling habit, which men of his absent disposition are always too ready
to contract. Three of these letters happen to be in the same scrambling,
blotted handwriting. They are none of them very long, and are the
production of a former acquaintance of the reader’s, who has somewhat
altered in height and personal appearance during the course of the last
fourteen years. Here is the first of the notes which Valentine is now
reading:--


“Dear Blyth,--My father says Theaters are the Devil’s Houses, and I
must be home by eleven o’clock. I’m sure I never did anything wrong at a
Theater, which I might not have done just the same anywhere else; unless
laughing over a good play is one of the _national sins_ he’s always
talking about. I can’t stand it much longer, even for my mother’s sake!
You are my only friend. I shall come and see you to-morrow, so mind and
be at home. How I wish I was an artist! Yours ever, Z. THORPE, JUN.”


Shaking his head and smiling at the same time, Mr. Blyth finishes this
letter--drops a perfect puddle of dirty paint and turpentine in the
middle, over the words “national sins,” throws the paper into the
fire--and goes on to note number two:


“Dear Blyth,--I couldn’t come yesterday, because of another quarrel at
home, and my mother crying about it, of course. My father smelt tobacco
smoke at morning prayers. It was my coat, which I forgot to air at the
fire the night before; and he found it out, and said he wouldn’t have
me smoke, because it led to dissipation--but I told him (which is true)
that lots of parsons smoked. I wish you visited at our house, and could
come and say a word on my side. Dear Blyth, I am perfectly wretched;
for I have had all my cigars taken from me; and I am, yours truly, Z.
THORPE, JUN.”


A third note is required before the palette can be scraped clean.
Mr. Blyth reads the contents rather gravely on this occasion; rapidly
plastering his last morsels of waste paint upon the paper as he goes on,
until at length it looks as if it had been well peppered with all the
colors of the rainbow.

Zack’s third letter of complaint certainly promised serious domestic
tribulation for the ruling power at Baregrove Square:--


“Dear Blyth,--I have given in--at least for the present. I told my
father about my wanting to be an artist, and about your saying that I
had a good notion of drawing, and an eye for a likeness; but I might
just as well have talked to one of your easels. He means to make a man
of business of me. And here I have been, for the last three weeks, at
a Tea Broker’s office in the city, in consequence. They all say it’s
a good opening for me, and talk about the respectability of commercial
pursuits. I don’t want to be respectable, and I hate commercial
pursuits. What is the good of forcing me into a merchant’s office, when
I can’t say my Multiplication table? Ask my mother about that: _she’ll_
tell you! Only fancy me going round tea warehouses in filthy Jewish
places like St. Mary-Axe, to take samples, with a blue bag to carry them
about in; and a dirty junior clerk, who cleans his pen in his hair, to
teach me how to fold up parcels! Isn’t it enough to make my blood boil
to think of it? I can’t go on, and I won’t go on in this way! Mind
you’re at home to-morrow; I’m coming to speak to you about how I’m to
begin learning to be an artist. The junior clerk is going to do all
my sampling work for me in the morning; and we are to meet in the
afternoon, after I have come away from you, at a chop-house; and then
go back to the office as if we had been together all day, just as usual.
Ever yours, Z. THORPE, JUN.--P. S. My mind’s made up: if the worst comes
to the worst, I shall leave home.”


“Oh, dear me! oh, dear! dear me!” says Valentine, mournfully rubbing his
palette clean with a bit of rag. “What will it all end in, I wonder. Old
Thorpe’s going just the way, with his obstinate severity, to drive Zack
to something desperate. Coming here to-morrow, he says?” continues Mr.
Blyth, approaching the smallest of the two pictures, placed on easels at
opposite extremities of the room. “Coming to-morrow! He never dates
his notes; but I suppose, as this one came last night, to-morrow means
to-day.”

Saying these words with eyes absently fixed on his picture, Valentine
withdraws the sheet stretched over the canvas, and discloses a Classical
Landscape of his own composition.

If Mr. Blyth had done nothing else in producing the picture which now
confronted him, he had at least achieved one great end of all Classic
Art, by reminding nobody of anything simple, familiar, or pleasing to
them in nature. In the foreground of his composition, were the three
lanky ruined columns, the dancing Bacchantes, the musing philosopher,
the mahogany-colored vegetation, and the bosky and branchless trees,
with which we have all been familiar, from our youth upwards, in
“classical compositions.” Down the middle of the scene ran that
wonderful river, which is always rippling with the same regular waves;
and always bearing onward the same capsizable galleys, with the same
vermilion and blue revelers striking lyres on the deck. On the bank
where there was most room for it, appeared our old, old friend, the
architectural City, which nobody could possibly live in; and which is
composed of nothing but temples, towers, monuments, flights of steps,
and bewildering rows of pillars. In the distance, our favorite blue
mountains were as blue and as peaky as ever, on Valentine’s canvas; and
our generally-approved pale yellow sun was still disfigured by the
same attack of aerial jaundice, from which he has suffered ever since
classical compositions first forbade him to take refuge from the sight
behind a friendly cloud.

After standing before his picture in affectionate contemplation of its
beauties for a minute or so, Valentine resumes the business of preparing
his palette.

As the bee comes and goes irregularly from flower to flower; as the
butterfly flutters in a zig-zag course from one sunny place on the
garden wall to another--or, as an old woman runs from wrong omnibus to
wrong omnibus, at the Elephant and Castle, before she can discover the
right one; as a countryman blunders up one street, and down another,
before he can find the way to his place of destination in London--so
does Mr. Blyth now come and go, flutter, run, and blunder in a mighty
hurry about his studio, in search of missing colors which ought to be in
his painting-box, but which are not to be found there. While he is still
hunting through the room, his legs come into collision with a large
drawing-board on which there is a blank sheet of paper stretched. This
board seems to remind Mr. Blyth of some duty connected with it. He
places it against two chairs, in a good light; then approaching a shelf
on which some plaster-casts are arranged, takes down from it a bust of
the Venus de Medici--which bust he next places on his old office
stool, opposite to the two chairs and the drawing-board. Just as these
preparations are completed, the door of the studio opens, and a very
important member of the painter’s household--who has not yet been
introduced to the reader, and who is in no way related either to
Valentine or his wife--enters the room.

This mysterious resident under Mr. Blyth’s roof is a Young Lady.

She is dressed in very pretty, simple, Quaker-like attire. Her gown is
of a light-gray color, covered by a neat little black apron in front,
and fastened round the throat over a frill collar. The sleeves of this
dress are worn tight to the arm, and are terminated at the wrists by
quaint-looking cuffs of antique lace, the only ornamental morsels of
costume which she has on. It is impossible to describe how deliciously
soft, bright, fresh, pure, and delicate, this young lady is, merely
as an object to look at, contrasted with the dingy disorder of the
studio-sphere through which she now moves. The keenest observers,
beholding her as she at present appears, would detect nothing in her
face or figure, her manner or her costume, in the slightest degree
suggestive of impenetrable mystery, or incurable misfortune. And yet,
she happens to be the only person in Mr. Blyth’s household at whom
prying glances are directed, whenever she walks out; whose very
existence is referred to by the painter’s neighbors with an invariable
accompaniment of shrugs, sighs, and lamenting looks; and whose “case” is
always compassionately designated as “a sad one,” whenever it is brought
forward, in the course of conversation, at dinner-tables and tea-tables
in the new suburb.

Socially, we may be all easily divided into two classes in this
world--at least in the civilized part of it. If we are not the people
whom others talk about, then we are sure to be the people who talk about
others. The young lady who had just entered Mr. Blyth’s painting-room,
belonged to the former order of human beings.

She seemed fated to be used as a constant subject of conversation by
her fellow-creatures. Even her face alone--simply as a face--could not
escape perpetual discussion; and that, too, among Valentine’s friends,
who all knew her well, and loved her dearly. It was the oddest thing in
the world, but no one of them could ever agree with another (except on
a certain point, to be presently mentioned) as to which of her personal
attractions ought to be first selected for approval, or quoted as
particularly asserting her claims to the admiration of all worshippers
of beauty.

To take three or four instances of this. There was Mr. Gimble, the civil
little picture-dealers and a very good friend in every way to Valentine:
there was Mr. Gimble, who declared that her principal charm was in her
complexion--her fair, clear, wonderful complexion--which he would defy
any artist alive to paint, let him try ever so hard, or be ever so great
a man. Then came the Dowager Countess of Brambledown, the frolicsome
old aristocrat, who was generally believed to be “a little cracked;”
 who haunted Mr. Blyth’s studio, after having once given him an order to
paint her rare China tea-service, and her favorite muff, in one
group; and who differed entirely from the little picture-dealer.
“Fiddle-de-dee!” cried her ladyship, scornfully, on hearing Mr. Gimble’s
opinion quoted one day. “The man may know something about pictures, but
he is an idiot about women. Her complexions indeed! I could make as
good a complexion for myself (we old women are painters too, in our
way, Blyth). Don’t tell me about her complexion--it’s her eyes! her
incomparable blue eyes, which would have driven the young men of _my_
time mad--mad, I give you my word of honor! Not a gentleman, sir, in my
youthful days--and they _were_ gentlemen then--but would have been too
happy to run away with her for her eyes alone; and what’s more, to have
shot any man who said as much as ‘Stop him!’ Complexion, indeed,
Mr. Gimble? I’ll complexion you, next time I find my way into your
picture-gallery! Take a pinch of snuff, Blyth; and never repeat nonsense
in my hearing again.”

There was Mr. Bullivant, the enthusiastic young sculptor, with the mangy
flow of flaxen hair, and the plump, waxy face, who wrote poetry, and
showed, by various sonnets, that he again differed completely about the
young lady from the Dowager Countess of Brambledown and Mr. Gimble. This
gentleman sang fluently, on paper--using, by the way, a professional
epithet--about her “chiselled mouth”,

     “Which breathed of rapture and the balmy South.”

He expatiated on

     “Her sweet lips smiling at her dimpled chin,
      Whose wealth of kisses gods might long to win--”

and much more to the same maudlin effect. In plain prose, the ardent
Bullivant was all for the lower part of the young lady’s face, and
actually worried her, and Mr. Blyth, and everybody in the house, until
he got leave to take a cast of it.

Lastly, there was Mrs. Blyth’s father; a meek old gentleman, with a
continual cold in the head; who lived on marvelously to the utmost verge
of human existence--as very poor men, with very large families, who
would be much better out of this world than in it, very often do.
There was this low-speaking, mildly-infirm, and perpetually-snuffling
engraver, who, on being asked to mention what he most admired in her,
answered that he thought it was her hair, “which was of such a nice
light brown color; or, perhaps, it might be the pleasant way in which
she carried her head, or, perhaps, her shoulders--or, perhaps, her head
_and_ shoulders, both together. Not that his opinion was good for much
in tasty matters of this kind, for which reason he begged to apologize
for expressing it at all.” In speaking thus of his opinion, the worthy
engraver surely depreciated himself most unjustly: for, if the father of
eight daughters cannot succeed in learning (philoprogenitively speaking)
to be a good judge of women, what man can?

However, there was one point on which Mr. Gimble, Lady Brambledown, Mr.
Bullivant, Mrs. Blyth’s father, and hosts of friends besides, were all
agreed, without one discordant exception.

They unanimously asserted that the young lady’s face was the nearest
living approach they had ever seen to that immortal “Madonna” face,
which has for ever associated the idea of beauty with the name of
RAPHAEL. The resemblance struck everybody alike, even those who were
but slightly conversant with pictures, the moment they saw her. Taken in
detail, her features might be easily found fault with. Her eyes might be
pronounced too large, her mouth too small, her nose not Grecian enough
for some people’s tastes. But the general effect of these features,
the shape of her head and face, and especially her habitual expression,
reminded all beholders at once, and irresistibly, of that image of
softness, purity, and feminine gentleness, which has been engraven on
all civilized memories by the “Madonnas” of Raphael.

It was in consequence of this extraordinary resemblance, that her own
English name of Mary had been, from the first, altered and Italianized
by Mr. and Mrs. Blyth, and by all intimate friends, into “Madonna.” One
or two extremely strict and extremely foolish people objected to any
such familiar application of this name, as being open, in certain
directions, to an imputation of irreverence. Mr. Blyth was not generally
very quick at an answer; but, on this occasion, he had three answers
ready before the objections were quite out of his friends’ mouths.

In the first place, he said that he and his friends used the name only
in an artist-sense, and only with reference to Raphael’s pictures.
In the next place, he produced an Italian dictionary, and showed that
“Madonna” had a second meaning in the language, signifying simply and
literally, “My lady.” And, in conclusion, he proved historically, that
“Madonna” had been used in the old times as a prefix to the names of
Italian women; quoting, for example, “Madonna Pia,” whom he happened to
remember just at that moment, from having once painted a picture from
one of the scenes of her terrible story. These statements silenced all
objections; and the young lady was accordingly much better known in the
painter’s house as “Madonna” than as “Mary.”

On now entering the studio, she walked up to Valentine, laid a hand
lightly on each of his shoulders, and so lifted herself to be kissed on
the forehead. Then she looked down on his palette, and observing
that some colors were still missing from it, began to search for them
directly in the painting-box. She found them in a moment, and appealed
to Mr. Blyth with an arch look of inquiry and triumph. He nodded,
smiled, and held out his palette for her to put the colors on it
herself. Having done this very neatly and delicately, she next looked
round the room, and at once observed the bust of Venus placed on the
office stool.

At the same time, Mr. Blyth, who saw the direction taken by her eyes,
handed to her a port-crayon with some black chalk, which he had been
carefully cutting to a point for the last minute or two. She took it
with a little mock curtsey, pouting her lip slightly, as if drawing
the Venus was work not much to her taste--smiled when she saw Valentine
shaking his head, and frowning comically at her--then went away at once
to the drawing-board, and sat down opposite Venus, in which position
she offered as decided a living contradiction as ever was seen to the
assertion of the classical idea of beauty, as expressed in the cast that
she was about to copy.

Mr. Blyth, on his side, set to work at last on the Landscape; painting
upon the dancing Bacchantes in the foreground of his picture, whose
scanty dresses stood sadly in need of a little brightening up. While
the painter and the young lady are thus industriously occupied with
the business of the studio, there is leisure to remark on one rather
perplexing characteristic of their intercourse, so far as it has yet
proceeded on this particular winter’s morning.

Ever since Madonna has been in the room, not one word has she spoken to
Valentine; and not one word has Valentine (who can talk glibly enough
to himself) spoken to her. He never said “Good morning,” when he kissed
her--or, “Thank you for finding my lost colors,”--or, “I have set the
Venus, my dear, for your drawing lesson to-day.” And she, woman as she
is, has actually not asked him a single question, since she entered the
studio! What can this absolute and remarkable silence mean between two
people who look as affectionately on each other as these two look, every
time their eyes meet!

Is this one of the Mysteries of the painter’s fireside?

Who is Madonna?

What is her real name besides Mary?

Is it Mary Blyth?

*****

Some years ago, an extraordinary adventure happened to Valentine in the
circus of an itinerant Equestrian Company. In that adventure, and in the
strange results attending it, the clue lies hidden, which leads to the
Mystery of the painter’s fireside, and reveals the story of this book.



CHAPTER III. MADONNA’S CHILDHOOD.

In the autumn of 1838, Mrs. Blyth’s malady had for some time past
assumed the permanent form from which it seldom afterwards varied. She
now suffered little actual pain, except when she quitted a recumbent
posture. But the general disorganization produced by almost exclusive
confinement to one position, had, even at this early period, begun
to work sad changes in her personal appearance. She suffered that
mortifying misfortune just as bravely and resignedly as she had suffered
the first great calamity of her incurable disorder. Valentine never
showed that he thought her altered; Valentine’s kindness was just as
affectionate and as constant as it had ever been in the happier days of
their marriage. So encouraged, Lavinia had the heart to bear all burdens
patiently; and could find sources of happiness for herself, where others
could discover nothing but causes for grief.

The room she inhabited was already, through Valentine’s self-denying
industry, better furnished than any other room in the house; but was far
from presenting the same appearance of luxury and completeness to which
it attained in the course of after-years.

The charming maple-wood and ivory bookcase, with the prettily-bound
volumes ranged in such bright regularity along its shelves, was there
certainly, as early as the autumn of 1838. It would not, however, at
that time have formed part of the furniture of Mrs. Blyth’s room, if
her husband had not provided himself with the means of paying for it,
by accepting a certain professional invitation to the country, which
he knew before, and would enable him to face the terrors of the
upholsterer’s bill.

The invitation in question had been sent to him by a clerical
friend, the Reverend Doctor Joyce, Rector of St. Judy’s, in the large
agricultural town of Rubbleford. Valentine had produced a water-color
drawing of one of the Doctor’s babies, when the family at the Rectory
were in London for a season, and this drawing had been shown to all the
neighbors by the worthy clergyman on his return. Now, although Mr. Blyth
was not over-successful in the adult department of portrait-art, he was
invariably victorious in the infant department. He painted all babies
on one ingenious plan; giving them the roundest eyes, the chubbiest
red cheeks, the most serenely good-humored smiles, and the neatest
and whitest caps ever seen on paper. If fathers and their male friends
rarely appreciated the fidelity of his likenesses, mothers and nurses
invariably made amends for their want of taste. It followed, therefore,
almost as a matter of course, that the local exhibition of the Doctor’s
drawing must bring offers of long-clothes-portrait employment to
Valentine. Three resident families decided immediately to have portraits
of their babies, if the painter would only travel to their houses to
take the likenesses. A bachelor sporting squire in the neighborhood also
volunteered a commission of another sort. This gentleman arrived (by
a logical process which it is hopeless to think of tracing) at the
conclusion, that a man who was great at babies, must necessarily be
marvelous at horses; and determined, in consequence, that Valentine
should paint his celebrated cover-hack. In writing to inform his friend
of these offers, Doctor Joyce added another professional order on his
own account, by way of appropriate conclusion to his letter. Here, then,
were five commissions, which would produce enough--cheaply as Valentine
worked--to pay, not only for the new bookcase, but for the books to put
in it when it came home.

Having left his wife in charge of two of her sisters, who were forbidden
to leave the house till his return, Mr. Blyth started for the rectory;
and once there, set to work on the babies with a zeal and good-humor
which straightway won the hearts of mothers and nurses, and made him a
great Rubbleford reputation in the course of a few days. Having done the
babies to admiration, he next undertook the bachelor squire’s hack. Here
he had some trouble. The sporting gentleman would look over him while he
painted; would bewilder him with the pedigree of the horse; would have
the animal done in the most unpicturesque view; and sternly forbade
all introduction of “tone,” “light and shade,” or purely artistic
embellishment of any kind, in any part of the canvas. In short, the
squire wanted a sign-board instead of a picture, and he at last got what
he wanted to his heart’s content.

One evening, while Valentine--still deeply immersed in the difficulties
of depicting the cover-hack--was returning to the Rectory, after a day’s
work at the Squire’s house, his attention was suddenly attracted in the
high street of Rubbleford, by a flaming placard pasted up on a dead wall
opposite the market-house.

He immediately joined the crowd of rustics congregated round the
many-colored and magnificent sheet of paper, and read at the top of
it, in huge blue letters:--“JUBBER’S CIRCUS. THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE
WORLD.” After this came some small print, which nobody lost any time
in noticing. But below the small print appeared a perfect galaxy of
fancifully shaped scarlet letters, which fascinated all eyes, and
informed the public that the equestrian company included “MISS FLORINDA
BEVERLEY, known,” (here the letters turned suddenly green) “wherever
the English language was known, as The Amazonian Empress of Equitation.”
 This announcement was followed by the names of inferior members of the
Company; by a program of the evening’s entertainments; by testimonials
extracted from the provincial press; by illustrations of gentlemen with
lusty calves and spangled drawers, and of ladies with smiling faces,
shameless petticoats, and pirouetting legs. These illustrations, and
the particulars which preceded them were carefully digested by all Mr.
Blyth’s neighbors; but Mr. Blyth himself passed them over unnoticed.
His eye had been caught by something at the bottom of the placard, which
instantly absorbed his whole attention.

In this place the red letters appeared again, and formed the following
words and marks of admiration:--

     THE MYSTERIOUS FOUNDLING!
     AGED TEN YEARS!!
     TOTALLY DEAF AND DUMB!!!

Underneath came an explanation of what the red letters referred to,
occupying no less than three paragraphs of stumpy small print, every
word of which Valentine eagerly devoured. This is what he read:--

“Mr. Jubber, as proprietor of the renowned Circus, has the honor of
informing the nobility, gentry, and public, that the above wonderful
Deaf and Dumb Female Child will appear between the first and second
parts of the evening’s performances. Mr. J. has taken the liberty
of entitling this Marvel of Nature, The Mysterious Foundling; no one
knowing who her father is, and her mother having died soon after her
birth, leaving her in charge of the Equestrian Company, who have been
fond parents and careful guardians to her ever since.

“She was originally celebrated in the annals of Jubber’s Circus, or
Eighth Wonder of the World, as The Hurricane Child of the Desert; having
appeared in that character, whirled aloft at the age of seven years in
the hand of Muley Ben Hassan, the renowned Scourer of Sahara, in his
daring act of Equitation, as exhibited to the terror of all England,
in Jubber’s Circus. At that time she had her hearing and speech quite
perfect. But Mr. J. deeply regrets to state that a terrific accident
happened to her soon afterwards. Through no fault on the part of
The Scourer (who, overcome by his feelings at the result of the
above-mentioned frightful accident, has gone back to his native wilds a
moody and broken-hearted man), she slipped from his hand while the three
horses bestrode by the fiery but humane Arab were going at a gallop, and
fell, shocking to relate, outside the Ring, on the boarded floor of the
Circus. She was supposed to be dead. Mr. Jubber instantly secured the
inestimable assistance of the Faculty, who found that she was still
alive, and set her arm, which had been broken. It was only afterwards
discovered that she had utterly lost her sense of hearing. To use the
emphatic language of the medical gentlemen (who all spoke with tears in
their eyes), she had been struck stone deaf by the shock. Under these
melancholy circumstances, it was found that the faculty of speech
soon failed her altogether; and she is now therefore Totally Deaf AND
Dumb--but Mr. J. rejoices to say, quite cheerful and in good health
notwithstanding.

“Mr. Jubber being himself the father of a family, ventures to think that
these little particulars may prove of some interest to an Intelligent,
a Sympathetic, and a Benevolent Public. He will simply allude, in
conclusion, to the performances of the Mysterious Foundling, as
exhibiting perfection hitherto unparalleled in the Art of Legerdemain,
with wonders of untraceable intricacy on the cards, originally the
result of abstruse calculations made by that renowned Algebraist,
Mohammed Engedi, extending over a period of ten years, dating from the
year 1215 of the Arab Chronology. More than this Mr. Jubber will not
venture to mention, for ‘Seeing is Believing,’ and the Mysterious
Foundling must be seen to be believed. For prices of admission consult
bottom of bill.”

Mr. Blyth read this grotesquely shocking narrative with sentiments which
were anything rather than complimentary to the taste, the delicacy, and
the humanity of the fluent Mr. Jubber. He consulted the bottom of the
bill, however, as requested; and ascertained what were the prices
of admission--then glanced at the top, and observed that the first
performance was fixed for that very evening--looked about him absently
for a minute or two--and resolved to be present at it.

Most assuredly, Valentine’s resolution did not proceed from that dastard
insensibility to all decent respect for human suffering which could
feast itself on the spectacle of calamity paraded for hire, in the
person of a deaf and dumb child of ten years old. His motives for going
to the circus were stained by no trace of such degradation as this. But
what were they then? That question he himself could not have answered:
it was a common predicament with him not to know his own motives,
generally from not inquiring into them. There are men who run
breathlessly--men who walk cautiously--and men who saunter easily
through the journey of life. Valentine belonged to the latter class;
and, like the rest of his order, often strayed down a new turning,
without being able to realize at the time what purpose it was which
first took him that way. Our destinies shape the future for us out
of strange materials: a traveling circus sufficed them, in the first
instance, to shape a new future for Mr. Blyth.

He first went on to the Rectory to tell them where he was going, and to
get a cup of tea, and then hurried off to the circus, in a field outside
the town.

The performance had begun some time when he got in. The Amazonian
Empress (known otherwise as Miss Florinda Beverley) was dancing
voluptuously on the back of a cantering piebald horse with a Roman nose.
Round and round careered the Empress, beating time on the saddle with
her imperial legs to the tune of “Let the Toast be Dear Woman,” played
with intense feeling by the band. Suddenly the melody changed to “See
the Conquering Hero Comes;” the piebald horse increased his speed; the
Empress raised a flag in one hand, and a javelin in the other, and began
slaying invisible enemies in the empty air, at full (circus) gallop. The
result on the audience was prodigious; Mr. Blyth alone sat unmoved. Miss
Florinda Beverley was not even a good model to draw legs from, in the
estimation of this anti-Amazonian painter!

When the Empress was succeeded by a Spanish Guerilla, who robbed,
murdered, danced, caroused, and made love on the back of a cream-colored
horse--and when the Guerilla was followed by a clown who performed
superhuman contortions, and made jokes by the yard, without the
slightest appearance of intellectual effort--still Mr. Blyth exhibited
no demonstration of astonishment or pleasure. It was only when a bell
rang between the first and second parts of the performance, and the band
struck up “Gentle Zitella,” that he showed any symptoms of animation.
Then he suddenly rose; and, moving down to a bench close against the
low partition which separated the ring from the audience, fixed his eyes
intently on a doorway opposite to him, overhung by a frowzy red curtain
with a tinsel border.

From this doorway there now appeared Mr. Jubber himself, clothed in
white trousers with a gold stripe, and a green jacket with military
epaulettes. He had big, bold eyes, a dyed mustache, great fat, flabby
cheeks, long hair parted in the middle, a turn-down collar with a
rose-colored handkerchief; and was, in every respect, the most atrocious
looking stage vagabond that ever painted a blackguard face. He led with
him, holding her hand, the little deaf and dumb girl, whose misfortune
he had advertised to the whole population of Rubbleford.

The face and manner of the child, as she walked into the center of the
circus, and made her innocent curtsey and kissed her hand, went to the
hearts of the whole audience in an instant. They greeted her with such
a burst of applause as might have frightened a grown actress. But not a
note from those cheering voices, not a breath of sound from those loudly
clapping hands could reach her; she could see that they were welcoming
her kindly, and that was all!

When the applause had subsided, Mr. Jubber asked for the loan of a
handkerchief from one of the ladies present, and ostentatiously bandaged
the child’s eyes. He then lifted her upon the broad low wall which
encircled the ring, and walked her round a little way (beginning from
the door through which he had entered), inviting the spectators to test
her total deafness by clapping their hands, shouting, or making any
loud noise they pleased close at her ear. “You might fire off a cannon,
ladies and gentlemen,” said Mr. Jubber, “and it wouldn’t make her start
till after she’d smelt the smoke!”

To the credit of the Rubbleford audience, the majority of them declined
making any practical experiments to test the poor child’s utter
deafness. The women set the example of forbearance, by entreating that
the handkerchief might be taken off so that they might see her pretty
eyes again. This was done at once, and she began to perform her
conjuring tricks with Mr. Jubber and one of the ring-keepers on either
side of her, officiating as assistants. These tricks, in themselves,
were of the simplest and commonest kind; and derived all their
attraction from the child’s innocently earnest manner of exhibiting
them, and from the novelty to the audience of communicating with her
only by writing on a slate. They never tired of scrawling questions, of
saying “poor little thing!” and of kissing her whenever they could get
the opportunity, while she slowly went round the circus. “Deaf and dumb!
ah, dear, dear, deaf and dumb!” was the general murmur of sympathy which
greeted her from each new group, as she advanced; Mr. Jubber invariably
adding with a smile: “And as you see, ladies and gentlemen, in excellent
health and spirits, notwithstanding: as hearty and happy, I pledge you
my sacred word of honor, as the very best of us!”

While she was thus delighting the spectators on one side of the circus,
how were the spectators on the other side, whose places she had not yet
reached, contriving to amuse themselves?

From the moment of the little girl’s first appearance, ample recreation
had been unconsciously provided for them by a tall, stout, and florid
stranger, who appeared suddenly to lose his senses the moment he set
eyes on the deaf and dumb child. This gentleman jumped up and sat down
again excitably a dozen times in a minute; constantly apologizing on
being called to order, and constantly repeating the offense the moment
afterwards. Mad and mysterious words, never heard before in Rubbleford,
poured from his lips. “Devotional beauty,” “Fra Angelico’s angels,”
 “Giotto and the cherubs,” “Enough to bring the divine Raphael down from
heaven to paint her.” Such were a few fragments of the mad gentleman’s
incoherent mutterings, as they reached his neighbors’ ears. The
amusement they yielded was soon wrought to its climax by a joke from an
attorney’s clerk, who suggested that this queer man, with the rosy face,
must certainly be the long-lost father of the “Mysterious Foundling!”
 Great gratification was consequently anticipated from what might
take place when the child arrived opposite the bench occupied by the
excitable stranger.

Slowly, slowly, the little light figure went round upon the broad
partition wall of the ring, until it came near, very near, to the place
where Valentine was sitting.

Ah, woeful sight! so lovely, yet so piteous to look on! Shall she never
hear kindly human voices, the song of birds, the pleasant murmur of
the trees again? Are all the sweet sounds that sing of happiness to
childhood, silent for ever to _her?_ From those fresh, rosy lips shall
no glad words pour forth, when she runs and plays in the sunshine? Shall
the clear, laughing tones be hushed always? the young, tender life be
for ever a speechless thing, shut up in dumbness from the free world of
voices? Oh! Angel of judgment! hast thou snatched her hearing and her
speech from this little child, to abandon her in helpless affliction to
such profanation as she now undergoes? Oh, Spirit of mercy! how long thy
white-winged feet have tarried on their way to this innocent sufferer,
to this lost lamb that cannot cry to the fold for help! Lead, ah, lead
her tenderly to such shelter as she has never yet found for herself!
Guide her, pure as she is now, from this tainted place to pleasant
pastures, where the sunshine of human kindness shall be clouded no more,
and Love and Pity shall temper every wind that blows over her with the
gentleness of perpetual spring!

Slowly, slowly, the light figure went round the great circle of gazers,
ministering obediently to their pleasure, waiting patiently till their
curiosity was satisfied. And now, her weary pilgrimage was well nigh
over for the night. She had arrived at the last group of spectators who
had yet to see what she looked like close, and what tricks she could
exhibit with her cards.

She stopped exactly opposite to Valentine; and when she looked up, she
looked on him alone.

Was there something in the eager sympathy of his eyes as they met hers,
which spoke to the little lonely heart in the sole language that could
ever reach it? Did the child, with the quick instinct of the deaf and
dumb, read his compassionate disposition, his pity and longing to help
her, in his expression at that moment? It might have been so. Her pretty
lips smiled on him as they had smiled on no one else that night; and
when she held out some cards to be chosen from, she left unnoticed
the eager hands extended on either side of her, and presented them to
Valentine only.

He saw the small fingers trembling as they held the cards; he saw the
delicate little shoulders and the poor frail neck and chest bedizened
with tawdry mock jewelry and spangles; he saw the innocent young face,
whose pure beauty no soil of stage paint could disfigure, with the smile
still on the parted lips, but with a patient forlornness in the sad
blue eyes, as if the seeing-sense that was left, mourned always for the
hearing and speaking senses that were gone--he marked all these things
in an instant, and felt that his heart was sinking as he looked. A
dimness stole over his sight; a suffocating sensation oppressed his
breathing; the lights in the circus danced and mingled together; he
bent down over the child’s hand, and took it in his own; twice kissed it
fervently; then, to the utter amazement of the laughing crowd about him,
rose up suddenly, and forced his way out as if he had been flying for
his life.

There was a momentary confusion among the audience. But Mr. Jubber was
too old an adept in stage-business of all kinds not to know how to stop
the growing tumult directly, and turn it into universal applause.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he cried, with a deep theatrical quiver in his
voice--“I implore you to be seated, and to excuse the conduct of the
party who has just absented himself. The talent of the Mysterious
Foundling has overcome people in that way in every town of England. Do I
err in believing that a Rubbleford audience can make kind allowances for
their weaker fellow-creatures? Thanks, a thousand thanks in the name of
this darling and talented child, for your cordial, your generous, your
affectionate, your inestimable reception of her exertions to-night!”
 With this peroration Mr. Jubber took his pupil out of the ring, amid the
most vehement cheering and waving of hats and handkerchiefs. He was
too much excited by his triumph to notice that the child, as she walked
after him, looked wistfully to the last in the direction by which
Valentine had gone out.

“The public like excitement,” soliloquized Mr. Jubber, as he disappeared
behind the red curtain. “I must have all this in the bills to-morrow.
It’s safe to draw at least thirty shillings extra into the house at
night.”

In the meantime, Valentine, after some blundering at wrong doors, at
last found his way out of the circus, and stood alone on the cool grass,
in the cloudless autumn moonlight. He struck his stick violently on the
ground, which at that moment represented to him the head of Mr. Jubber;
and was about to return straight to the rectory, when he heard a
breathless voice behind him, calling:--“Stop, sir! oh, do please stop
for one minute!”

He turned round. A buxom woman in a tawdry and tattered gown was running
towards him as fast as her natural impediments to quick progression
would permit.

“Please, sir,” she cried--“Please, sir, wasn’t you the gentleman that
was taken queer at seeing our little Foundling? I was peeping through
the red curtain, sir, just at the time.”

Instead of answering the question, Valentine instantly began to
rhapsodize about the child’s face.

“Oh, sir! if you know anything about her,” interposed the woman, “for
God’s sake don’t scruple to tell it to me! I’m only Mrs. Peckover,
sir, the wife of Jemmy Peckover, the clown, that you saw in the circus
to-night. But I took and nursed the little thing by her poor mother’s
own wish; and ever since that time--”

“My dear, good soul,” said Mr. Blyth, “I know nothing of the poor
little creature. I only wish from the bottom of my heart that I could do
something to help her and make her happy. If Lavvie and I had had such
an angel of a child as that,” continued Valentine, clasping his hands
together fervently, “deaf and dumb as she is, we should have thanked God
for her every day of our lives!”

Mrs. Peckover was apparently not much used to hear such sentiments as
these from strangers. She stared up at Mr. Blyth with two big tears
rolling over her plump cheeks.

“Mrs. Peckover! Hullo there, Peck! where are you?” roared a stern voice
from the stable department of the circus, just as the clown’s wife
seemed about to speak again.

Mrs. Peckover started, curtsied, and, without uttering another word,
went back even faster than she had come out. Valentine looked after her
intently, but made no attempt to follow: he was thinking too much of
the child to think of that. When he moved again, it was to return to the
rectory.

He penetrated at once into the library, where Doctor Joyce was spelling
over the “Rubbleford Mercury,” while Mrs. Joyce sat opposite to him,
knitting a fancy jacket for her youngest but one. He was hardly inside
the door before he began to expatiate in the wildest manner on the
subject of the beautiful deaf and dumb girl. If ever man was in love
with a child at first sight, he was that man. As an artist, as a
gentleman of refined tastes, and as the softest-hearted of male
human beings, in all three capacities, he was enslaved by that little
innocent, sad face. He made the Doctor’s head whirl again; he fairly
stopped Mrs. Joyce’s progress with the fancy jacket, as he sang the
child’s praises, and compared her face to every angel’s face that had
ever been painted, from the days of Giotto to the present time. At last,
when he had fairly exhausted his hearers and himself, he dashed abruptly
out of the room, to cool down his excitement by a moonlight walk in the
rectory garden.

“What a very odd man he is!” said Mrs. Joyce, taking up a dropped stitch
in the fancy jacket.

“Valentine, my love, is the best creature in the world,” rejoined the
doctor, folding up the Rubbleford Mercury, and directing it for the
post; “but, as I often used to tell his poor father (who never would
believe me), a little cracked. I’ve known him go on in this way about
children before--though I must own, not quite so wildly, perhaps, as he
talked just now.”

“Do you think he’ll do anything imprudent about the child? Poor thing!
I’m sure I pity her as heartily as anybody can.”

“I don’t presume to think,” answered the doctor, calmly pressing the
blotting-paper over the address he had just written. “Valentine is one
of those people who defy all conjecture. No one can say what he will do,
or what he won’t. A man who cannot resist an application for shelter and
supper from any stray cur who wags his tail at him in the street; a man
who blindly believes in the troubles of begging-letter impostors; a man
whom I myself caught, last time he was down here, playing at marbles
with three of my charity-boys in the street, and promising to treat them
to hardbake and gingerbeer afterwards, is--in short, is not a man whose
actions it is possible to speculate on.”

Here the door opened, and Mr. Blyth’s head was popped in, surmounted
by a ragged straw hat with a sky-blue ribbon round it. “Doctor,”
 said Valentine, “may I ask an excellent woman, with whom I have made
acquaintance, to bring the child here to-morrow morning for you and Mrs.
Joyce to see?”

“Certainly,” said the good-humored rector, laughing. “The child by all
means, and the excellent woman too.”

“Not if it’s Miss Florinda Beverley!” interposed Mrs. Joyce (who had
read the Circus placard). “Florinda, indeed! Jezebel would be a better
name for her!”

“My dear Madam, it isn’t Florinda,” cried Valentine, eagerly. “I quite
agree with you; her name ought to be Jezebel. And, what’s worse, her
legs are out of drawing.”

“Mr. Blyth!!!” exclaimed Mrs. Joyce, indignant at this professional
criticism on Jezebel’s legs.

“Why don’t you tell us at once who the excellent woman is?” cried the
doctor, secretly tickled by the allusion which had shocked his wife.

“Her name’s Peckover,” said Valentine; “she’s a respectable married
woman; she doesn’t ride in the circus at all; and she nursed the poor
child by her mother’s own wish.”

“We shall be delighted to see her to-morrow,” said the warm-hearted
rector--“or, no--stop! Not to-morrow; I shall be out. The day after.
Cake and cowslip wine for the deaf and dumb child at twelve o’clock--eh,
my dear?”

“That’s right! God bless you! you’re always kindness itself,” cried
Valentine; “I’ll find out Mrs. Peckover, and let her know. Not a wink
of sleep for me to-night--never mind!” Here Valentine suddenly shut the
door, then as suddenly opened it again, and added, “I mean to finish
that infernal horse-picture to-morrow, and go to the circus again in
the evening.” With these words he vanished; and they heard him soon
afterwards whistling his favorite “Drops of Brandy,” in the rectory
garden.

“Cracked! cracked!” cried the doctor. “Dear old Valentine!”

“I’m afraid his principles are very loose,” said Mrs. Joyce, whose
thoughts still ran on the unlucky professional allusion to Jezebel’s
legs.

The next morning, when Mr. Blyth presented himself at the stables, and
went on with the portrait of the cover-hack, the squire had no longer
the slightest reason to complain of the painter’s desire to combine
in his work picturesqueness of effect with accuracy of resemblance.
Valentine argued no longer about introducing “light and shade,” or
“keeping the background subdued in tone.” His thoughts were all with the
deaf and dumb child and Mrs. Peckover; and he smudged away recklessly,
just as he was told, without once uttering so much as a word of protest.
By the evening he had concluded his labor. The squire said it was one of
the best portraits of a horse that had ever been taken: to which piece
of criticism the writer of the present narrative is bound in common
candor to add, that it was also the very worst picture that Mr. Blyth
had ever painted.

On returning to Rubbleford, Valentine proceeded at once to the circus;
placing himself, as nearly as he could, in the same position which he
had occupied the night before.

The child was again applauded by the whole audience, and again went
through her performance intelligently and gracefully, until she
approached the place where Valentine was standing. She started as she
recognized his face, and made a step forward to get nearer to him; but
was stopped by Mr. Jubber, who saw that the people immediately in front
of her were holding out their hands to write on her slate, and have her
cards dealt round to them in their turn. The child’s attention appeared
to be distracted by seeing the stranger again who had kissed her hand so
fervently--she began to look confused--and ended by committing an open
and most palpable blunder in the very first trick that she performed.

The spectators good-naturedly laughed, and some of them wrote on her
slate, “Try again, little girl.” Mr. Jubber made an apology, saying that
the extreme enthusiasm of the reception accorded to his pupil had shaken
her nerves; and then signed to her, with a benevolent smile, but with
a very sinister expression in his eyes, to try another trick. She
succeeded in this; but still showed so much hesitation, that Mr. Jubber,
fearing another failure, took her away with him while there was a chance
of making a creditable exit.

As she was led across the ring, the child looked intently at Valentine.

There was terror in her eyes--terror palpable enough to be remarked
by some of the careless people near Mr. Blyth. “Poor little thing! she
seems frightened at the man in the fine green jacket,” said one. “And
not without cause, I dare say,” added another. “You don’t mean that
he could ever be brute enough to ill use a child like that?--it’s
impossible!” cried a third.

At this moment the clown entered the ring. The instant before he shouted
the well-known “Here we are!” Valentine thought he heard a strange cry
behind the red curtain. He was not certain about it, but the mere doubt
made his blood run chill. He listened for a minute anxiously. There was
no chance now, however, for testing the correctness of his suspicion.
The band had struck up a noisy jig tune, and the clown was capering and
tumbling wonderfully, amid roars of laughter.

“This may be my fault,” thought Valentine. _“This!_ What?” He was afraid
to pursue that inquiry. His ruddy face suddenly turned pale; and he left
the circus, determined to find out what was really going on behind the
red curtain.

He walked round the outside of the building, wasting some time before he
found a door to apply at for admission. At last he came to a sort of
a passage, with some tattered horse-cloths hanging over its outer
entrance.

“You can’t come in here,” said a shabby lad, suddenly appearing from the
inside in his shirt sleeves.

Mr. Blyth took out half-a-crown. “I want to see the deaf and dumb child
directly!”

“Oh, all right! go in,” muttered the lad, pocketing the money greedily.

Valentine hastily entered the passage. As soon as he was inside, a sound
reached his ears at which his heart sickened and turned faint. No words
can describe it in all the horror of its helplessness--it was the moan
of pain from a dumb human creature.

He thrust aside a curtain, and stood in a filthy place, partitioned off
from the stables on one side, and the circus on the other, with canvas
and old boards. There, on a wooden stool, sat the woman who had accosted
him the night before, crying, and soothing the child, who lay shuddering
on her bosom. The sobs of the clown’s wife mingled with the inarticulate
wailing, so low, yet so awful to hear; and both sounds were audible with
a fearful, unnatural distinctness, through the merry melody of the jig,
and the peals of hearty laughter from the audience in the circus.

“Oh, my God!” cried Valentine, horror-struck at what he heard, “stop
her! don’t let her moan in that way!”

The woman started from her seat, and put the child down, then recognized
Mr. Blyth and rushed up to him.

“Hush!” she whispered eagerly, “don’t call out like that! The villain,
the brutal, heartless villain is somewhere about the stables. If he
hears you, he’ll come in and beat her again.--Oh, hush! hush, for God’s
sake! It’s true he beat her--the cowardly, hellish brute!--only for
making that one little mistake with the cards. No! no! no! don’t speak
out so loud, or you’ll ruin us. How did you ever get in here?--Oh!
you must be quiet! There, sit down--Hark! I’m sure he’s coming! Oh! go
away--go away!”

She tried to pull Valentine out of the chair into which she had thrust
him but the instant before. He seized tight hold of her hand and refused
to move. If Mr. Jubber had come in at that moment, he would have been
thrashed within an inch of his life.

The child had ceased moaning when she saw Valentine. She anxiously
looked at him through her tears--then turned away quickly--took out her
little handkerchief--and began to dry her eyes.

“I can’t go yet--I’ll promise only to whisper--you must listen to me,”
 said Mr. Blyth, pale and panting for breath; “I mean to prevent this
from happening again--don’t speak!--I’ll take that injured, beautiful,
patient little angel away from this villainous place: I will, if I go
before a magistrate!”

The woman stopped him by pointing suddenly to the child.

She had put back the handkerchief, and was approaching him. She came
close and laid one hand on his knee, and timidly raised the other as
high as she could towards his neck. Standing so, she looked up quietly
into his face. The pretty lips tried hard to smile once more; but they
only trembled for an instant, and then closed again. The clear, soft
eyes, still dim with tears, sought his with an innocent gaze of inquiry
and wonder. At that moment, the expression of the sad and lovely little
face seemed to say--“You look as if you wanted to be kind to me; I wish
you could find out some way of telling me of it.”

Valentine’s heart told him what was the only way. He caught her up in
his arms, and half smothered her with kisses. The frail, childish hands
rose trembling, and clasped themselves gently round his neck; and
the fair head drooped lower and lower, wearily, until it lay on his
shoulder.

The clown’s wife turned away her face, desperately stifling with
both hands the sobs that were beginning to burst from her afresh. She
whispered, “Oh, go, sir,--pray go! Some of the riders will be in here
directly; you’ll get us into dreadful trouble!”

Valentine rose, still holding the child in his arms. “I’ll go if you
promise me--”

“I’ll promise you anything, sir!”

“You know the rectory! Doctor Joyce’s--the clergyman--my kind friend--”

“Yes, sir; I know it. Do please, for little Mary’s sake be quick as you
can!”

“Mary! Her name’s Mary!” Valentine drew back into a corner, and began
kissing the child again.

“You must be out of your senses to keep on in that way after what I’ve
told you!” cried the clown’s wife, wringing her hands in despair, and
trying to drag him out of the corner. “Jubber will be in here in another
minute. She’ll be beaten again, if you’re caught with her; oh Lord! oh
Lord! will nothing make you understand that?”

He understood it only too well, and put the child down instantly, his
face turning pale again; his agitation becoming so violent that he never
noticed the hand which she held out towards him, or the appealing look
that said so plainly and pathetically: “I want to bid you good-bye; but
I can’t say it as other children can.” He never observed this; for he
had taken Mrs. Peckover by the arm, and had drawn her away hurriedly
after him into the passage.

The child made no attempt to follow them: she turned aside, and, sitting
down in the darkest corner of the miserable place, rested her head
against the rough partition which was all that divided her from the
laughing audience. Her lips began to tremble again: she took out the
handkerchief once more, and hid her face in it.

“Now, recollect your promise,” whispered Valentine to the clown’s wife,
who was slowly pushing him out all the time he was speaking to her.
“You must bring little Mary to the Rectory to-morrow morning at twelve
o’clock exactly--you must! or I’ll come and fetch her myself--”

“I’ll bring her, sir, if you’ll only go now. I’ll bring her--I will, as
true as I stand here!”

“If you don’t!” cried Valentine, still distrustful, and trembling all
over with agitation--“If you don’t!”--He stopped; for he suddenly felt
the open air blowing on his face. The clown’s wife was gone, and nothing
remained for him to threaten, but the tattered horse-cloths that hung
over the empty doorway.



CHAPTER IV. MADONNA’S MOTHER.

It is a quarter to twelve by the hall clock at the Rectory, and one of
the finest autumn mornings of the whole season. Vance, Doctor Joyce’s
middle-aged man servant, or “Bishop” Vance, as the small wits of
Rubbleford call him, in allusion to his sleek and solemn appearance,
his respectable manner, his clerical cravat, and his speckless black
garments, is placing the cake and cowslip wine on the dining-table, with
as much formality and precision as if his master expected an archbishop
to lunch, instead of a clown’s wife and a little child of ten years old.
It is quite a sight to see Vance retiring and looking at the general
effect of each knife and fork as he lays it down; or solemnly strutting
about the room, with a spotless napkin waving gently in his hand; or
patronisingly confronting the pretty housemaid at the door, and taking
plates and dishes from her with the air of a kitchen Sultan who can
never afford to lose his dignity for a moment in the presence of the
female slaves.

The dining-room window opens into the Rectory garden. The morning
shadows cast by the noble old elm-trees that grow all round, are fading
from the bright lawn. The rich flower-beds gleam like beds of jewels in
the radiant sunshine. The rookery is almost deserted, a solitary sleepy
_caw_ being only heard now and then at long intervals. The singing
of birds, and the buzzing of busy insects sound faint, distant, and
musical. On a shady seat, among the trees, Mrs. Joyce is just visible,
working in the open air. One of her daughters sits reading on the turf
at her feet. The other is giving the younger children a ride by turns
on the back of a large Newfoundland dog, who walks along slowly with his
tongue hanging out, and his great bushy tail wagging gently. A prettier
scene of garden beauty and family repose could not be found in all
England, than the scene which the view through the Rectory window
now presents. The household tranquillity, however, is not entirely
uninterrupted. Across the picture, of which Vance and the luncheon-table
form the foreground, and the garden with Mrs. Joyce and the young ladies
the middle-distance and background, there flits from time to time
an unquiet figure. This personage is always greeted by Leo, the
Newfoundland dog, with an extra wag of the tail; and is apostrophized
laughingly by the young ladies, under the appellation of “funny Mr.
Blyth.”

Valentine has in truth let nobody have any rest, either in the house or
the garden, since the first thing in the morning. The rector having
some letters to write, has bolted himself into his study in despair, and
defies his excitable friend from that stronghold, until the arrival of
Mrs. Peckover with the deaf and dumb child has quieted the painter’s
fidgety impatience for the striking of twelve o’clock, and the presence
of the visitors from the circus. As for the miserable Vance, Mr. Blyth
has discomposed, worried, and put him out, till he looks suffocated
with suppressed indignation. Mr. Blyth has invaded his sanctuary to ask
whether the hall clock is right, and has caught him “cleaning himself”
 in his shirt sleeves. Mr. Blyth has broken one of his tumblers, and has
mutinously insisted on showing him how to draw the cork of the cowslip
wine bottle. Mr. Blyth has knocked down a fork and two spoons, just as
they were laid straight, by whisking past the table like a madman on his
way into the garden. Mr. Blyth has bumped up against the housemaid in
returning to the dining-room, and has apologized to Susan by a joke
which makes her giggle ecstatically in Vance’s own face. If this sort
of thing is to go on for a day or two longer, though he has been twenty
years at the Rectory, Vance will be goaded into giving the doctor
warning.

It is five minutes to twelve. Valentine has skipped into the garden for
the thirtieth time at least, to beg that Mrs. Joyce and the young ladies
will repair to the dining-room, and be ready to set Mrs. Peckover and
her little charge quite at their ease the moment they come in. Mrs.
Joyce consents to this proposal at last, and takes his offered arm;
touching it, however, very gingerly, and looking straight before her,
while he talks, with an air of matronly dignity and virtuous reserve.
She is still convinced that Mr. Blyth’s principles are extremely loose,
and treats him as she might have treated Don Juan himself under similar
circumstances.

They all go into the dining-room. Mrs. Joyce and her daughters take
their places, looking deliciously cool and neat in their bright morning
dresses. Leo drops down lazily on the rug inside the window, with a
thump of his great heavy body that makes the glasses ring. The doctor
comes in with his letters for the post, and apostrophizes Valentine with
a harmless clerical joke. Vance solemnly touches up the already perfect
arrangement of the luncheon table. The clock strikes twelve. A faint
meek ring is heard at the Rectory bell.

Vance struts slowly to the door, when--Heaven and earth! are no
conventions held sacred by these painters of pictures?--Mr. Blyth dashes
past him with a shout of “Here they are!” and flies into the hall to
answer the gate himself. Vance turns solemnly round towards his master,
trembling and purple in the face, with an appealing expression, which
says plainly enough:--“If _you_ mean to stand this sort of outrage, sir,
I beg most respectfully to inform you that _I_ don’t.” The rector bursts
out laughing; the young ladies follow his example; the Newfoundland dog
jumps up, and joins in with his mighty bark. Mrs. Joyce sits silent, and
looks at Vance, and sympathizes with him.

Mr. Blyth is soon heard again in the hall, talking at a prodigious rate,
without one audible word of answer proceeding from any other voice. The
door of the dining-room, which has swung to, is suddenly pushed open,
jostling the outraged Vance, who stands near it, into such a miserably
undignified position flat against the wall, that the young ladies begin
to titter behind their handkerchiefs as they look at him. Valentine
enters, leading in Mrs. Peckover and the deaf and dumb child, with such
an air of supreme happiness, that he looks absolutely handsome for the
moment. The rector, who is, in the best and noblest sense of the word, a
gentleman, receives Mrs. Peckover as politely and cordially as he would
have received the best lady in Rubbleford. Mrs. Joyce comes forward with
him, very kind too, but a little reserved in her manner, nevertheless;
being possibly apprehensive that any woman connected with the circus
must be tainted with some slight flavor of Miss Florinda Beverley. The
young ladies drop down into the most charming positions on either side
of the child, and fall straightway into fits of ecstasy over her
beauty. The dog walks up, and pokes his great honest muzzle among them
companionably. Vance stands rigid against the wall, and disapproves
strongly of the whole proceeding.

Poor Mrs. Peckover! She had never been in such a house as the Rectory,
she had never spoken to a doctor of divinity before in her life. She was
very hot and red and trembling, and made fearful mistakes in grammar,
and clung as shyly to Mr. Blyth as if she had been a little girl. The
rector soon contrived, however, to settle her comfortably in a seat by
the table. She curtseyed reverentially to Vance, as she passed by him;
doubtless under the impression that he was a second doctor of divinity,
even greater and more learned than the first. He stared in return
straight over her head, with small unwinking eyes, his cheeks turning
slowly from deep red to dense purple. Mrs. Peckover shuddered inwardly,
under the conviction that she had insulted a dignitary, who was hoisted
up on some clerical elevation, too tremendous to be curtseyed to by such
a social atom as a clown’s wife.

Mrs. Joyce had to call three times to her daughters before she could get
them to the luncheon-table. If she had possessed Valentine’s eye for the
picturesque and beautiful, she would certainly have been incapable of
disturbing the group which her third summons broke up.

In the center stood the deaf and dumb child, dressed in a white frock,
with a little silk mantilla over it, made from a cast-off garment
belonging to one of the ladies of the circus. She wore a plain straw
hat, ornamented with a morsel of narrow white ribbon, and tied under
the chin with the same material. Her clear, delicate complexion was
overspread by a slight rosy tinge--the tender coloring of nature,
instead of the coarsely-glaring rouge with which they disfigured her
when she appeared before the public. Her wondering blue eyes, that
looked so sad in the piercing gas-light, appeared to have lost that
sadness in the mellow atmosphere of the Rectory dining-room. The tender
and touching stillness which her affliction had cast over her face,
seemed a little at variance with its childish immaturity of feature and
roundness of form, but harmonized exquisitely with the quiet smile which
seemed habitual to her when she was happy--gratefully and unrestrainedly
happy, as she now felt among the new friends who were receiving her, not
like a stranger and an inferior, but like a younger sister who had been
long absent from them.

She stood near the window, the center figure of the group, offering a
little slate that hung by her side, with a pencil attached to it, to the
rector’s eldest daughter, who was sitting at her right hand on a stool.
The second of the young ladies knelt on the other side, with both her
arms round the dog’s neck; holding him back as he stood in front of the
child, so as to prevent him from licking her face, which he had made
several resolute attempts to do, from the moment when she first entered
the room. Both the Doctor’s daughters were healthy, rosy English
beauties in the first bloom of girlhood; and both were attired in
the simplest and prettiest muslin dresses, very delicate in color and
pattern. Pity and admiration, mixed with some little perplexity and
confusion, gave an unusual animation to their expressions; for they
could hardly accustom themselves as yet to the idea of the poor child’s
calamity. They talked to her eagerly, as if she could hear and answer
them--while she, on her part, stood looking alternately from one to the
other, watching their lips and eyes intently, and still holding out
the slate, with her innocent gesture of invitation and gentle look of
apology, for the eldest girl to write on. The varying expressions of the
three; the difference in their positions, the charming contrast between
their light, graceful figures and the bulky strength and grand solidity
of form in the noble Newfoundland dog who stood among them; the lustrous
background of lawn and flowers and trees, seen through the open window;
the sparkling purity of the sunshine which fell brightly over one
part of the group; the transparency of the warm shadows that lay so
caressingly, sometimes on a round smooth cheek, sometimes over ringlets
of glistening hair, sometimes on the crisp folds of a muslin dress--all
these accidental combinations of the moment, these natural and elegant
positions of nature’s setting, these accessories of light and shade and
background garden objects beautifully and tenderly filling up the scene,
presented together a picture which it was a luxury to be able to look
on, which it seemed little short of absolute profanation to disturb.

Mrs. Joyce, nevertheless, pitilessly disarranged it. In a moment the
living picture was destroyed; the young ladies were called to their
mother’s side; the child was placed between Valentine and Mrs. Peckover,
and the important business of luncheon began in earnest.

It was wonderful to hear how Mr. Blyth talked; how he alternately
glorified the clown’s wife for the punctual performance of her promise,
and appealed triumphantly to the rector to say, whether he had not
underrated rather than exaggerated little Mary’s beauty. It was also
wonderful to see Mrs. Peckover’s blank look of astonishment when she
found the rigid doctor of divinity, who would not so much as notice her
curtsey, suddenly relax into blandly supplying her with everything she
wanted to eat or drink. But a very much more remarkable study of human
nature than either of these, was afforded by the grimly patronizing and
profoundly puzzled aspect of Vance, as he waited, under protest, upon a
woman from a traveling circus. It is something to see the Pope serving
the Pilgrims their dinner, during the Holy Week at Rome. Even that
astounding sight, however, fades into nothing, as compared with the
sublimer spectacle of Mr. Vance waiting upon Mrs. Peckover.

The rector, who was a sharp observer in his own quiet, unobtrusive way,
was struck by two peculiarities in little Mary’s behavior during lunch.
In the first place, he remarked with some interest and astonishment,
that while the clown’s wife was, not unnaturally, very shy and
embarrassed in her present position, among strangers who were greatly
her social superiors, little Mary had maintained her self-possession,
and had unconsciously adapted herself to her new sphere from the moment
when she first entered the dining-room. In the second place, he observed
that she constantly nestled close to Valentine; looked at him oftener
than she looked at any one else; and seemed to be always trying,
sometimes not unsuccessfully, to guess what he was saying to others by
watching his expression, his manner, and the action of his lips. “That
child’s character is no common one,” thought Doctor Joyce; “she is older
at heart than she looks; and is almost as fond of Blyth already as he is
of her.”

When lunch was over, the eldest Miss Joyce whispered a petition in her
mother’s ear, “May Carry and I take the dear little girl out with us to
see our gardens, mamma?”

“Certainly, my love, if she likes to go. You had better ask her--Ah,
dear! dear! I forgot--I mean, write on her slate. It’s so hard to
remember she’s deaf and dumb, when one sees her sitting there looking
so pretty and happy. She seems to like the cake. Remind me, Emmy, to tie
some up for her in paper before she goes away.”

Miss Emily and Miss Caroline went round to the child directly, and
made signs for the slate. They alternately wrote on it with immense
enthusiasm, until they had filled one side; signing their initials in
the most business-like manner at the end of each line, thus:--

“Oh, do come and see my gardens. E. J.”--“We will gather you such a
nice nosegay. C. J.”--“I have got some lovely little guinea-pigs. B.
J.”--“And Mark, our gardener, has made me a summer-house, with such
funny chairs in it. C. J.”--“You shall have my parasol to keep the sun
off. B. J.”--“And we will send Leo into the water as often as you like
him to go. C. J.”--Thus they went on till they got to the bottom of the
slate.

The child, after nodding her head and smiling as she read each fresh
invitation, turned the slate over, and, with some little triumph at
showing that she could write too, began slowly to trace some large text
letters in extremely crooked lines. It took her a long time--especially
as Mr. Blyth was breathlessly looking over her shoulder all the
while--to get through these words: “Thank you for being so kind to me. I
will go with you anywhere you like.”

In a few minutes more the two young ladies and little Mary were walking
over the bright lawn, with Leo in close attendance, carrying a stick in
his mouth.

Valentine started up to follow them; then appeared suddenly to remember
something, and sat down again with a very anxious expression on his
face. He and Doctor Joyce looked at one another significantly. Before
breakfast, that morning, they had been closeted at a private interview.
Throughout the conversation which then took place, Mr. Blyth had been
unusually quiet, and very much in earnest. The doctor had begun by
being incredulous and sarcastic in a good-humored way; but had ended by
speaking seriously, and making a promise under certain conditions. The
time for the performance of that promise had now arrived.

“You needn’t wait, Vance,” said the rector. “Never mind about taking the
things away. I’ll ring when you’re wanted.”

Vance gloomily departed.

“Now the young people have left us, Mrs. Peckover,” said Doctor Joyce,
turning to the clown’s wife, “there is a good opportunity for my making
a proposition to you, on behalf of my old and dear friend here, Mr.
Blyth, who, as you must have noticed, feels great sympathy and fondness
for your little Mary. But, before I mention this proposal (which I am
sure you will receive in the best spirit, however it may surprise you),
I should wish--we should all wish, if you have no objection--to hear any
particulars you can give us on the subject of this poor child. Do you
feel any reluctance to tell us in confidence whatever you know about
her?”

“Oh dear no, sir!” exclaimed Mrs. Peckover, very much amazed. “I should
be ashamed of myself if I went making any objections to anything you
wanted to know about little Mary. But it’s strange to me to be in a
beautiful place like this, drinking wine with gentlefolks--and I’m
almost afraid--”

“Not afraid, I hope, that you can’t tell us what we are so anxious
to know, quite at your ease, and in your own way?” said the rector,
pleasantly. “Pray, Mrs. Peckover, believe I am sincere in saying that we
meet on equal terms here. I have heard from Mr. Blyth of your motherly
kindness to that poor helpless child; and I am indeed proud to take your
hand, and happy to see you here, as one who should always be an honored
guest in a clergyman’s house--the doer of a good and charitable deed. I
have always, I hope, valued the station to which it has pleased God
to call me, because it especially offers me the privilege of being the
friend of all my fellow-christians, whether richer or poorer, higher or
lower in worldly rank, than am myself.”

Mrs. Peckover’s eyes began to fill. She could have worshipped Doctor
Joyce at that moment.

“Mr. Blyth!” exclaimed Mrs. Joyce, sharply, before another word could be
spoken--“excuse me, Mr. Blyth; but really--”

Valentine was trying to pour out a glass of sherry for Mrs. Peckover.
His admiration of the doctor’s last speech, and his extreme anxiety to
reassure the clown’s wife, must have interfered with his precision of
eye and hand; for one-half of the wine, as he held the decanter, was
dropping into the glass, and the other half was dribbling into a
little river on the cloth. Mrs. Joyce thought of the walnut-wood table
underneath, and felt half distracted as she spoke. Mrs. Peckover,
delighted to be of some use, forgot her company manners in an instant,
pulled out her red cotton pocket-handkerchief and darted at the spilt
sherry. But the rector was even quicker with his napkin. Mrs. Peckover’s
cheeks turned the color of her handkerchief as she put it back in her
pocket, and sat down again.

“Much obliged--no harm done--much obliged, ma’am,” said Doctor Joyce.
“Now, Valentine, if you don’t leave off apologizing, and sit down
directly in that arm-chair against the wall, I shall take Mrs. Peckover
into my study, and hear everything she has to say, at a private
interview. There! we are all comfortable and composed again at last, and
ready to be told how little Mary and the good friend who has been like a
mother to her first met.”

Thus appealed to, Mrs. Peckover began her narrative; sometimes
addressing it to the Doctor, sometimes to Mrs. Joyce, and sometimes
to Valentine. From beginning to end, she was only interrupted at rare
intervals by a word of encouragement, or sympathy, or surprise, from her
audience. Even Mr. Blyth sat most uncharacteristically still and silent;
his expression alone showing the varying influences of the story on him,
from its strange commencement to its melancholy close.


“It’s better than ten years ago, sir,” began the clown’s wife, speaking
first to Doctor Joyce, “since my little Tommy was born; he being now,
if you please, at school and costing nothing, through a presentation, as
they call it I think, which was given us by a kind patron to my husband.
Some time after I had got well over my confinement, I was out one
afternoon taking a walk with baby and Jemmy; which last is my husband,
ma’am. We were at Bangbury, then, just putting up the circus: it was a
fine large neighborhood, and we hoped to do good business there. Jemmy
and me and the baby went out into the fields, and enjoyed ourselves very
much; it being such nice warm spring weather, though it was March at the
time. We came back to Bangbury by the road; and just as we got near the
town, we see a young woman sitting on the bank, and holding her baby in
her arms, just as I had got my baby in mine.

“‘How dreadful ill and weak she do look, don’t she?’ says Emmy. Before
I could say as much as ‘Yes,’ she stares up at us, and asks in a wild
voice, though it wasn’t very loud either, if we can tell her the way to
Bangbury workhouse. Having pretty sharp eyes of our own, we both of us
knew that a workhouse was no fit place for her. Her gown was very dusty,
and one of her boots was burst, and her hair was draggled all over her
face, and her eyes was sunk in her head, like; but we saw somehow that
she was a lady--or, if she wasn’t exactly a lady, that no workhouse was
proper for her, at any rate. I stooped down to speak to her; but her
baby was crying so dreadful she could hardly hear me. ‘Is the poor thing
ill?’ says I. ‘Starving,’ says she, in such a desperate, fierce way,
that it gave me a turn. ‘Is that your child?’ says I, a bit frightened
about how she’d answer me. ‘Yes,’ she says in quite a new voice, very
soft and sorrowful, and bending her face away from me over the child.
‘Then why don’t you suckle it?’ says I. She looks up at me, and then at
Jenny and shakes her head, and says nothing. I give my baby to Jemmy
to hold, and went and sat down by her. He walked away a little; and I
whispered to her again, ‘Why don’t you suckle it?’ and she whispered to
me, ‘My milk’s all dried up. I couldn’t wait to hear no more till I’d
got her baby at my own breast.

“That was the first time I suckled little Mary, ma’am. She wasn’t
a month old then, and oh, so weak and small! such a mite of a baby
compared to mine!

“You may be sure, sir, that I asked the young woman lots of questions,
while I was sitting side by side with her. She stared at me with a dazed
look in her face, seemingly quite stupefied by weariness or grief,
or both together. Sometimes she give me an answer and sometimes she
wouldn’t. She was very secret. She wouldn’t say where she come from, or
who her friends were, or what her name was. She said she should never
have name or home or friends again. I just quietly stole a look down at
her left hand, and saw that there was no wedding-ring on her finger, and
guessed what she meant. ‘Does the father know you are wandering about in
this way?’ says I. She flushes up directly; ‘No;’ says she, ‘he doesn’t
know where I am. He never had any love for me, and he has no pity for
me now. God’s curse on him wherever he goes!’--‘Oh, hush! hush!’ says
I, ‘don’t talk like that!’ ‘Why do you ask me questions?’ says she more
fiercely than ever. ‘What business have you to ask me questions that
make me mad?’ ‘I’ve only got one more to bother you with,’ says I, quite
cool; ‘and that is, haven’t you got any money at all with you?’ You see,
ma’am, now I’d got her child at my own bosom, I didn’t care for what she
said, or fear for what she might do to me. The poor mite of a baby was
sure to be a peacemaker between us, sooner or later.

“It turned out she’d got sixpence and a few half-pence--not a farthing
more, and too proud to ask help from any one of her friends. I
managed to worm out of her that she had run away from home before her
confinement, and had gone to some strange place to be confined, where
they’d ill-treated and robbed her. She hadn’t long got away from the
wretches who’d done it. By the time I’d found out all this, her baby
was quite quiet, and ready to go to sleep. I gave it her back. She said
nothing, but took and kissed my hand, her lips feeling like burning
coals on my flesh. ‘You’re kindly welcome,’ says I, a little flustered
at such a queer way of thanking me. ‘Just wait a bit while I speak to my
husband.’ Though she’d been and done wrong, I couldn’t for the life
of me help pitying her, for her fierce ways. She was so young, and so
forlorn and ill, and had such a beautiful face (little Mary’s is the
image of it, ‘specially about the eyes), and seemed so like a lady,
that it was almost a sin, as I thought, to send her to such a place as a
workhouse.

“Well: I went and told Jemmy all I had got out of her--my own baby
kicking and crowing in my arms again, as happy as a king, all the time I
was speaking. ‘It seems shocking,’ says I, ‘to let such as her go into a
workhouse. What had we better do?’--Says Jemmy, ‘Let’s take her with us
to the circus and ask Peggy Burke.’

“Peggy Burke, if you please, sir, was the finest rider that ever stepped
on a horse’s back. We’ve had nothing in our circus to come near her,
since she went to Astley’s. She was the wildest devil of an Irish
girl--oh! I humbly beg your pardon, sir, for saying such a word; but she
really _was_ so wild, I hope you’ll excuse it. She’d go through fire
and water, as they say, to serve people she liked; but as for them she
didn’t, she’d often use her riding-whip among ‘em as free as her tongue.
That cowardly brute Jubber would never have beaten my little Mary, if
Peggy had been with us still! He was so frightened of her that she could
twist him round her finger; and she did, for he dursn’t quarrel with the
best rider in England, and let other circuses get hold of her. Peggy was
a wonderful sharp girl besides, and was always fond of me, and took
my part; so when Jemmy said he thought it best to ask her what we had
better do, you may be sure that I thought it best too. We took the young
woman and the baby with us to the circus at once. She never asked any
questions; she didn’t seem to care where she went, or what she did; she
was dazed and desperate--a sight, Ma’am, to make your heart ache.

“They were just getting tea in the circus, which was nearly finished.
We mostly have tea and dinner there, sir; finding it come cheaper in the
end to mess together when we can. Peggy Burke, I remember, was walking
about on the grass outside, whistling (that was one of her queer ways)
‘The girl I left behind me.’ ‘Ah! Peck,’ says she, ‘what have you been
after now? Who’s the company lady ye’ve brought to tea with us?’ I told
her, sir, all I have told you; while Jemmy set the young woman down on
one of our trunks, and got her a cup of tea. ‘It seems dreadful,’ says
I when I’d done, ‘to send such as her to the workhouse, don’t it?’
‘Workhouse!’ says Peggy, firing up directly; ‘I only wish we could
catch the man who’s got her in that scrape, and put him in there on
water-gruel for the rest of his life. I’d give a shillin’ a wheal out of
my own pocket for the blessed privilege of scoring the thief’s face with
my whip, till his own mother wouldn’t know him!’ And then she went on,
sir, abusing all the men in her Irish way, which I can’t repeat. At last
she stops, and claps me on the back. ‘You’re a darlin’ old girl, Peck!’
says she, ‘and your friends are my friends. Stop where you are, and let
me speak a word to the young woman on the trunk.’

“After a little while she comes back, and says, ‘I’ve done it,
Peck! She’s mighty close, and as proud as Lucifer; but she’s only a
dressmaker, for all that.’ ‘A dressmaker!’ says I; ‘how did you find
out she was a dressmaker?’ ‘Why, I looked at her forefinger, in course,’
says Peggy, ‘and saw the pricks of the needle on it, and soon made her
talk a bit after that. She knows fancy-work and cuttin’ out--would ye
ever have thought it? And I’ll show her how to give the workhouse the
go-by to-morrow, if she only holds out, and keeps in her senses. Stop
where you are, Peck! I’m going to make Jubber put his dirty hand into
his pocket and pull out some money; and that’s a sight worth stoppin’ to
see any day in the week.’

“I waited as she told me; and she called for Jubber, just as if he’d
been her servant; and he come out of the circus. ‘I want ten shillings
advance of wages for that lady on the trunk,’ says Peggy. He laughed at
her. ‘Show your ugly teeth at me again,’ says she, ‘and I’ll box your
ears. I’ve my light hand for a horse’s mouth, and my heavy hand for
a man’s cheek; you ought to know that by this time! Pull out the ten
shillings.’ ‘What for?’ said he, frowning at her. ‘Just this,’ says she.
‘I mean to leave your circus, unless I get those six character dresses
you promised me; and the lady there can do them up beautiful. Pull
out the ten shillings! for I’ve made up my mind to appear before the
Bangbury public on Garryowen’s back, as six women at once.’

“What she meant by this, sir, was, that she was to have six different
dresses on, one over another; and was to go galloping round the ring on
Garryowen (which was a horse), beginning, I think it was, as Empress of
Roossia; and then throwing off the top dress without the horse stopping,
and showing next as some famous Frenchwoman, in the dress underneath;
and keeping on so with different nations, till she got down to the last
dress, which was to be Britannia and the Union-Jack. We’d got bits
of remnants, and old dresses and things to make and alter, but hadn’t
anybody clever enough at cutting out, and what they call ‘Costoom,’ to
do what Peggy wanted--Jubber being too stingy to pay the regular people
who understand such things. The young woman, knowing as she did about
fancy work, was just what was wanted, if she could only get well enough
to use her needle. ‘I’ll see she works the money out,’ says Peggy; ‘but
she’s dead beat to-night, and must have her rest and bit o’ supper,
before she begins to-morrow.’ Jubber wanted to give less than ten
shillings; but between threatening, and saying it should buy twenty
shillings’ worth of tailor’s work, she got the better of him. And he
gave the money, sulky enough.

“‘Now,’ says Peggy, ‘you take her away, and get her a lodging in the
place where you’re staying; and I’ll come tomorrow with some of the
things to make up.’ But, ah dear me! sir, she was never to work as much
as sixpence of that ten shillings out. She was took bad in the night,
and got so much worse in the morning that we had to send for the doctor.

“As soon as he’d seen her, he takes me into the passage, and says he to
me, ‘Do you know who her friends are?’ ‘No, sir,’ says I; ‘I can’t get
her to tell me. I only met her by accident yesterday.’ ‘Try and find
out again,’ says he; ‘for I’m afraid she won’t live over the night. I’ll
come back in the evening and see if there is any change.’

“Peggy and me went into her room together; but we couldn’t even get her
to speak to us for ever so long a time. All at once she cries out, ‘I
can’t see things as I ought. Where’s the woman who suckled my baby when
I was alone by the roadside?’ ‘Here,’ says I--‘here; I’ve got hold
of your hand. Do tell us where we can write to about you.’ ‘Will you
promise to take care of my baby, and not let it go into the workhouse?’
says she. ‘Yes, I promise,’ says I; ‘I do indeed promise with my whole
heart.’ ‘We’ll all take care of the baby,’ says Peggy; ‘only you try
and cheer up, and you’ll get well enough to see me on Garryowen’s back,
before we leave Bangbury--you will for certain, if you cheer up a bit.’
‘I give my baby,’ she says, clutching tight at my hand, ‘to the woman
who suckled it by the roadside; and I pray God to bless _her_ and
forgive _me,_ for Jesus Christ’s sake.’ After that, she lay quiet for
a minute or two. Then she says faintly, ‘Its name’s to be Mary. Put it
into bed to me again; I should like to touch its cheek, and feel how
soft and warm it is once more.’ And I took the baby out of its crib, and
lifted it, asleep as it was, into the bed by her side, and guided her
hand up to its cheek. I saw her lips move a little, and bent down over
her. ‘Give me one kiss,’ she whispered, ‘before I die.’ And I kissed
her, and tried to stop crying as I did it. Then I says to Peggy, ‘You
wait here while I run and fetch the doctor back; for I’m afraid she’s
going fast.’ He wasn’t at home when I got to his house. I did’n’t know
what to do next, when I see a gentleman in the street who looked like a
clergyman, and I asked him if he was one; and he said ‘Yes;’ and he
went back with me. I heard a low wailing and crying in the room, and
saw Peggy sitting on the bundle of dresses she’d brought in the morning,
rocking herself backwards and forwards as Irish people always do when
they’re crying. I went to the bed, and looked through the curtains. The
baby was still sleeping as pretty as ever, and its mother’s hand was
touching one of its arms. I was just going to speak to her again, when
the clergyman said ‘Hush,’ and took a bit of looking-glass that was set
up on the chimney-piece, and held it over her lips. She was gone. Her
poor white wasted hand lay dead on the living baby’s arm.

“I answered all the clergyman’s questions quite straightforward, telling
him everything I knew from beginning to end. When I’d done, Peggy starts
up from the bundle and says, ‘Mind, sir, whatever you do, the child’s
not to be took away from this person here, and sent to the workhouse.
The mother give it to her on that very bed, and I’m a witness of it.’
‘And I promised to be a mother to the baby, sir,’ says I. He turns round
to me, and praises me for what I done, and says nobody shall take it
away from me, unless them as can show their right comes forward to claim
it. ‘But now,’ says he, ‘we must think of other things. We must try
and find out something about this poor woman who has died in such a
melancholy way.’

“It was easier to say that than to do it. The poor thing had nothing
with her but a change of linen for herself and the child, and that
gave us no clue. Then we searched her pocket. There was a cambric
handkerchief in it, marked ‘M. G.;’ and some bits of rusks to sop for
the child; and the sixpence and halfpence which she had when I met her;
and beneath all, in a corner, as if it had been forgotten there, a small
hair bracelet. It was made of two kinds of hair--very little of one
kind, and a good deal of the other. And on the flat clasp of the
bracelet there was cut in tiny letters, _‘In memory of S. G.’_ I
remember all this, sir, for I’ve often and often looked at the bracelet
since that time.

“We found nothing more--no letters, or cards, or anything. The clergyman
said that the ‘M. G.’ on the handkerchief must be the initials of
her name; and the ‘S. G.’ on the bracelet must mean, he thought, some
relation whose hair she wore as a sort of keepsake. I remember Peggy and
me wondering which was S. G.’s hair; and who the other person might be,
whose hair was wove into the bracelet. But the clergyman he soon cut us
short by asking for pen, ink, and paper directly. ‘I’m going to write
out an advertisement,’ says he, ‘saying how you met with the young
woman, and what she was like, and how she was dressed.’ ‘Do you mean to
say anything about the baby, sir?’ says I. ‘Certainly,’ says he; ‘it’s
only right, if we get at her friends by advertising, to give them the
chance of doing something for the child. And if they live anywhere in
county, I believe we shall find them out; for the _Bangbury Chronicle,_
into which I mean to put the advertisement, goes everywhere in our part
of England.’

“So he sits down, and writes what he said he would, and takes it away to
be printed in the next day’s number of the newspaper. ‘If nothing
comes of this,’ says he, ‘I think I can manage about the burial with a
charitable society here. I’ll take care and inform you the moment the
advertisement’s answered.’ I hardly know how it was, sir; but I almost
hoped they wouldn’t answer it. Having suckled the baby myself, and
kissed its mother before she died, I couldn’t make up my mind to the
chance of its being took away from me just then. I ought to have thought
how poor we were, and how hard it would be for us to bring the child up.
But, somehow, I never did think of that--no more did Peggy--no more did
Jemmy; not even when we put the baby to bed that night along with our
own.

“Well, sir, sure enough, two days after the advertisement come out, it
was answered in the cruelest letter I ever set eyes on. The clergyman he
come to me with it. ‘It was left this evening,’ says he, ‘by a strange
messenger, who went away directly. I told my servant to follow him; but
it was too late--he was out of sight.’ The letter was very short, and
we thought it was in a woman’s handwriting--a feigned handwriting, the
clergyman said. There was no name signed, and no date at top or bottom.
Inside it there was a ten-pound bank-note; and the person as sent it
wrote that it was enclosed to bury the young woman decently. ‘She was
better dead than alive’--the letter went on--‘after having disgraced her
father and her relations. As for the child, it was the child of sin,
and had no claim on people who desired to preserve all that was left of
their good name, and to set a moral example to others. The parish must
support it if nobody else would. It would be useless to attempt to trace
them, or to advertise again. The baby’s father had disappeared, they
didn’t know where; and they could hold no communication now with such a
monster of wickedness, even if he was found. She was dead in her shame
and her sin; and her name should never be mentioned among them she
belonged to henceforth for ever.’

“This was what I remember in the letter, sir. A shocking and unchristian
letter I said; and the clergyman he said so too.

“She was buried in the poor corner of the churchyard. They marked out
the place, in case anybody should ever want to see it, by cutting the
two letters M. G., and the date of when she died, upon a board of wood
at the head of the grave. The clergyman then give me the hair bracelet
and the handkerchief, and said, ‘You keep these as careful as you keep
the child; for they may be of great importance one of these days. I
shall seal up the letter (which is addressed to me) and put it in
my strong box.’ He’d asked me, before this, if I’d thought of what a
responsibility it was for such as me to provide for the baby. And I
told him I’d promised, and would keep my promise, and trust to God’s
providence for the rest. The clergyman was a very kind gentleman, and
got up a subscription for the poor babe; and Peggy Burke, when she had
her benefit before the circus left Bangbury, give half of what she got
as her subscription. I never heard nothing about the child’s friends
from that time to this; and I know no more who its father is now than I
did then. And glad I am that he’s never come forward--though, perhaps,
I oughtn’t to say so. I keep the hair bracelet and the handkerchief as
careful as the clergyman told me, for the mother’s sake as well as the
child’s. I’ve known some sorrow with her since I took her as my own; but
I love her only the dearer for it, and still think the day a happy day
for both of us, when I first stopped and suckled her by the road-side.

“This is all I have to say, if you please, sir, about how I first met
with little Mary; and I wish I could have told it in a way that was more
fit for such as you to hear.”



CHAPTER V. MADONNA’S MISFORTUNE.

As the clown’s wife ended her narrative, but little was said in the way
of comment on it by those who had listened to her. They were too much
affected by what they had heard to speak, as yet, except briefly and
in low voices. Mrs. Joyce more than once raised her handkerchief to her
eyes. Her husband murmured some cordial words of sympathy and thanks--in
an unusually subdued manner, however. Valentine said nothing; but he
drew his chair close to Mrs. Peckover, and turning his face away as if
he did not wish it to be seen, took her hand in one of his and patted it
gently with the other. There was now perfect silence in the room for a
few minutes. Then they all looked out with one accord, and as it seemed
with one feeling, towards the garden.

In a shady place, just visible among the trees, the rector’s daughters,
and little Mary, and the great Newfoundland dog were all sitting
together on the grass. The two young ladies appeared to be fastening
a garland of flowers round the child’s neck, while she was playfully
offering a nosegay for Leo to smell at. The sight was homely and simple
enough; but it was full of the tenderest interest--after the narrative
which had just engaged them--to those who now witnessed it. They looked
out on the garden scene silently for some little time. Mrs. Joyce was
the first to speak again.

“Would it be asking too much of you, Mrs. Peckover,” said she, “to
inquire how the poor little thing really met with the accident that
caused her misfortune? I know there is an account of it in the bills of
the circus but--”

“It’s the most infamous thing I ever read!” interrupted Mr. Blyth
indignantly. “The man who wrote it ought to be put in the pillory.
I never remember wanting to throw a rotten egg at any of my
fellow-creatures before; but I feel certain that I should enjoy having a
shy at Mr. Jubber!”

“Gently, Valentine--gently,” interposed the rector. “I think, my love,”
 he continued, turning to Mrs. Joyce, “that it is hardly considerate to
Mrs. Peckover to expect her to comply with your request. She has already
sacrificed herself once to our curiosity; and, really, to ask her now
to recur a second time to recollections which I am sure must distress
her--”

“It’s worse than distressing, indeed, sir, even to think of that
dreadful accident,” said Mrs. Peckover, “and specially as I can’t help
taking some blame to myself for it. But if the lady wishes to know how
it happened, I’m sure I’m agreeable to tell her. People in our way of
life, ma’am--as I’ve often heard Peggy Burke say--are obliged to dry
the tear at their eyes long before it’s gone from their hearts. But pray
don’t think, sir, I mean that now about myself and in your company. If I
_do_ feel low at talking of little Mary’s misfortune, I can take a look
out into the garden there, and see how happy she is--and that’s safe to
set me right again.”

“I ought to tell you first, sir,” proceeded the clown’s wife, after
waiting thoughtfully for a moment or two before she spoke again, “that I
got on much better with little Mary than ever I thought I should for the
first six years of her life. She grew up so pretty that gentlefolks was
always noticing her, and asking about her; and nearly in every place the
circus went to they made her presents, which helped nicely in her keep
and clothing. And our own people, too, petted her and were fond of her.
All those six years we got on as pleasantly as could be. It was not till
she was near her seventh birthday that I was wicked and foolish enough
to consent to her being shown in the performances.

“I was sorely tried and tempted before I did consent. Jubber first
said he wanted her to perform with the riders; and I said ‘No’ at once,
though I was awful frightened of him in those days. But soon after,
Jemmy (who wasn’t the clown then that he is now, sir; there was others
to be got for his money, to do what he did at that time)--Jemmy comes to
me, saying he’s afraid he shall lose his place, if I don’t give in about
Mary. This staggered me a good deal; for I don’t know what we should
have done then, if my husband had lost his engagement. And, besides,
there was the poor dear child herself, who was mad to be carried up in
the air on horseback, always begging and praying to be made a little
rider of. And all the rest of ‘em in the circus worried and laughed
at me; and, in short, I give in at last against my conscience, but I
couldn’t help it.

“I made a bargain, though, that she should only be trusted to the
steadiest, soberest man, and the best rider of the whole lot. They
called him ‘Muley’ in the bills, and stained his face to make him look
like a Turk, or something of that sort; but his real name was Francis
Yapp, and a very good fatherly sort of man he was in his way, having
a family of his own to look after. He used to ride splendid, at full
straddle, with three horses under him--one foot, you know, sir, being on
the outer horse’s back, and one foot on the inner. Him and Jubber made
it out together that he was to act a wild man, flying for his life
across some desert, with his only child, and poor little Mary was to
be the child. They darkened her face to look like his; and put an
outlandish kind of white dress on her; and buckled a red belt round her
waist, with a sort of handle in it for Yapp to hold her by. After first
making believe in all sorts of ways, that him and the child was in
danger of being taken and shot, he had to make believe afterwards that
they had escaped; and to hold her up, in a sort of triumph, at the full
stretch of his arm--galloping round and round the ring all the while. He
was a tremendous strong man, and could do it as easy as I could hold up
a bit of that plum cake.

“Poor little love! she soon got over the first fright of the thing,
and had a sort of mad fondness for it that I never liked to see, for it
wasn’t natural to her. Yapp, he said, she’d got the heart of a lion, and
would grow up the finest woman-rider in the world. I was very unhappy
about it, and lived a miserable life, always fearing some accident. But
for some time nothing near an accident happened; and lots of money come
into the circus to see Yapp and little Mary--but that was Jubber’s luck
and not ours. One night--when she was a little better than seven year
old--

“Oh, ma’am, how I ever lived over that dreadful night I don’t know! I
was a sinful, miserable wretch not to have starved sooner than let the
child go into danger; but I was so sorely tempted and driven to it, God
knows!--No, sir! no, ma’am; and many thanks for your kindness, I’ll go
on now I’ve begun. Don’t mind me crying; I’ll manage to tell it somehow.
The strap--no, I mean the handle; the handle in the strap gave way
all of a sudden--just at the last too! just at the worst time, when he
couldn’t catch her--!

“Never--oh, never, never, to my dying day shall I forget the horrible
screech that went up from the whole audience; and the sight of the white
thing lying huddled dead-still on the boards! We hadn’t such a number in
as usual that night; and she fell on an empty place between the benches.
I got knocked down by the horses in running to her--I was clean out
of my senses, and didn’t know where I was going--Yapp had fallen among
them, and hurt himself badly, trying to catch her--they were running
wild in the ring--the horses was--frantic-like with the noise all round
them. I got up somehow, and a crowd of people jostled me, and I saw my
innocent darling carried among them. I felt hands on me, trying to pull
me back; but I broke away, and got into the waiting-room along with the
rest.

“There she was--my own, own little Mary, that I’d promised her poor
mother to take care of--there she was, lying all white and still on
an old box, with my cloak rolled up as a pillow for her. And people
crowding round her. And a doctor feeling her head all over. And Yapp
among them, held up by two men, with his face all over blood. I wasn’t
able to speak or move; I didn’t feel as if I was breathing even, till
the doctor stopped, and looked up; and then a great shudder went through
all of us together, as if we’d been one body, instead of twenty or more.

“‘It’s not killed her,’ says the doctor. ‘Her brain’s escaped injury.’

“I didn’t hear another word.

“I don’t know how long it was before I seemed to wake up like, with a
dreadful feeling of pain and tearing of everything inside me. I was
on the landlady’s bed, and Jemmy was standing over me with a bottle
of salts. ‘They’ve put her to bed,’ he says to me, ‘and the doctor’s
setting her arm.’ I didn’t recollect at first; but when I did, it was
almost as bad as seeing the dreadful accident all over again.

“It was some time before any of us found out what had really happened.
The breaking of her arm, the doctor said, had saved her head; which was
only cut and bruised a little, not half as bad as was feared. Day after
day, and night after night, I sat by her bedside, comforting her through
her fever, and the pain of the splints on her arm, and never once
suspecting--no more, I believe, than she did--the awful misfortune that
had really happened. She was always wonderful quiet and silent for
a child, poor lamb, in little illnesses that she’d had before; and
somehow, I didn’t wonder--at least, at first--why she never said a word,
and never answered me when I spoke to her.

“This went on, though, after she got better in her health; and a
strange look came over her eyes. They seemed to be always wondering and
frightened, in a confused way, about something or other. She took, too,
to rolling her head about restlessly from one side of the pillow to the
other; making a sort of muttering and humming now and then, but still
never seeming to notice or to care for anything I said to her. One day,
I was warming her a nice cup of beef-tea over the fire, when I heard,
quite sudden and quite plain, these words from where she lay on the bed,
‘Why are you always so quiet here? Why doesn’t somebody speak to me?’

“I knew there wasn’t another soul in the room but the poor child at that
time; and yet, the voice as spoke those words was no more like little
Mary’s voice, than my voice, sir, is like yours. It sounded, somehow,
hoarse and low, and deep and faint, all at the same time; the strangest,
shockingest voice to come from a child, who always used to speak so
clearly and prettily before, that ever I heard. If I was only cleverer
with my words, ma’am, and could tell you about it properly--but I
can’t. I only know it gave me such a turn to hear her, that I upset the
beef-tea, and ran back in a fright to the bed. ‘Why, Mary! Mary!’ says
I, quite loud, ‘are you so well already that you’re trying to imitate
Mr. Jubber’s gruff voice?’

“There was the same wondering look in her eyes--only wilder than I had
ever seen it yet--while I was speaking. When I’d done, she says in the
same strange way, ‘Speak out, mother; I can’t hear you when you whisper
like that.’ She was as long saying these words, and bungled over them as
much, as if she was only just learning to speak. I think I got the first
suspicion then, of what had really happened. ‘Mary!’ I bawled out as
loud as I could, ‘Mary! can’t you hear me?’ She shook her head, and
stared up at me with the frightened, bewildered look again: then seemed
to get pettish and impatient all of a sudden--the first time I ever saw
her so--and hid her face from me on the pillow.

“Just then the doctor come in. ‘Oh, sir!’ says I, whispering to
him--just as if I hadn’t found out a minute ago that she couldn’t hear
me at the top of my voice--‘I’m afraid there’s something gone wrong with
her hearing--.’ ‘Have you only just now suspected that?’ says he; ‘I’ve
been afraid of it for some days past, but I thought it best to say
nothing till I’d tried her; and she’s hardly well enough yet, poor
child, to be worried with experiments on her ears.’ ‘She’s much better,’
says I; ‘indeed, she’s much better to-day, sir! Oh, do try her now, for
it’s so dreadful to be in doubt a moment longer than we can help.’

“He went up to the bedside, and I followed him. She was lying with her
face hidden away from us on the pillow, just as it was when I left her.
The doctor says to me, ‘Don’t disturb her, don’t let her look round, so
that she can see us--I’m going to call to her.’ And he called ‘Mary’ out
loud, twice; and she never moved. The third time he tried her, it was
with such a shout at the top of his voice, that the landlady come up,
thinking something had happened. I was looking over his shoulder, and
saw that my dear child never started in the least. ‘Poor little thing,’
says the doctor, quite sorrowful, ‘this is worse than I expected.’ He
stooped down and touched her, as he said this; and she turned round
directly, and put out her hand to have her pulse felt as usual. I tried
to get out of her sight, for I was crying, and didn’t wish her to see
it; but she was too sharp for me. She looked hard in my face and the
landlady’s, then in the doctor’s, which was downcast enough; for he had
got very fond of her, just as everybody else did who saw much of little
Mary.

“‘What’s the matter?’ she says, in the same sort of strange unnatural
voice again. We tried to pacify her, but only made her worse. ‘Why do
you keep on whispering?’ she asks. ‘Why don’t you speak out loud, so
that I can--,’ and then she stopped, seemingly in a sort of helpless
fright and bewilderment. She tried to get up in bed, and her face turned
red all over. ‘Can she read writing?’ says the doctor. ‘Oh, yes, sir,
says I; ‘she can read and write beautiful for a child of her age; my
husband taught her.’ ‘Get me paper and pen and ink directly,’ says he
to the landlady; who went at once and got him what he wanted. ‘We must
quiet her at all hazards,’ says the doctor, ‘or she’ll excite herself
into another attack of fever. She feels what’s the matter with her, but
don’t understand it; and I’m going to tell her by means of this paper.
It’s a risk,’ he says, writing down on the paper in large letters, _You
Are Deaf;_ ‘but I must try all I can do for her ears immediately; and
this will prepare her,’ says he, going to the bed, and holding the paper
before her eyes.

“She shrank back on the pillow, as still as death, the instant she saw
it; but didn’t cry, and looked more puzzled and astonished, I should
say, than distressed. But she was breathing dreadful quick--I felt that,
as I stooped down and kissed her. ‘She’s too young,’ says the doctor,
‘to know what the extent of her calamity really is. You stop here and
keep her quiet till I come back, for I trust the case is not hopeless
yet.’ ‘But whatever has made her deaf, sir?’ says the landlady, opening
the door for him. ‘The shock of that fall in the circus,’ says he, going
out in a very great hurry. I thought I should never have held up my head
again, as I heard them words, looking at little Mary, with my arm round
her neck all the time.

“Well, sir, the doctor come back; and he syringed her ears first--and
that did no good. Then he tried blistering, and then he put on leeches;
and still it was no use. ‘I’m afraid it is a hopeless case,’ says he;
‘but there’s a doctor who’s had more practice than I’ve had with deaf
people, who comes from where he lives to our Dispensary once a week.
To-morrow’s his day, and I’ll bring him here with me.’

“And he did bring this gentleman, as he promised he would--an old
gentleman, with such a pleasant way of speaking that I understood
everything he said to me directly. ‘I’m afraid you must make up your
mind to the worst,’ says he. ‘I have been hearing about the poor child
from my friend who’s attended her; and I’m sorry to say I don’t think
there’s much hope.’ Then he goes to the bed and looks at her. ‘Ah,’ says
he, ‘there’s just the same expression in her face that I remember seeing
in a mason’s boy--a patient of mine--who fell off a ladder, and lost his
hearing altogether by the shock. You don’t hear what I’m saying, do you,
my dear?’ says he in a hearty cheerful way. ‘You don’t hear me saying
that you’re the prettiest little girl I ever saw in my life?’ She looked
up at him confused, and quite silent. He didn’t speak to her again, but
told me to turn her on the bed, so that he could get at one of her ears.

“He pulled out some instruments, while I did what he asked, and put them
into her ear, but so tenderly that he never hurt her. Then he looked in,
through a sort of queer spy-glass thing. Then he did it all over again
with the other ear; and then he laid down the instruments and pulled
out his watch. ‘Write on a piece of paper,’ says he to the other doctor:
_‘Do you know that the watch is ticking?’_ When this was done, he makes
signs to little Mary to open her mouth, and puts as much of his watch in
as would go between her teeth, while the other doctor holds up the paper
before her. When he took the watch out again, she shook her head, and
said ‘No,’ just in the same strange voice as ever. The old gentleman
didn’t speak a word as he put the watch back in his fob; but I saw by
his face that he thought it was all over with her hearing, after what
had just happened.

“‘Oh, try and do something for her, sir!’ says I. ‘Oh, for God’s sake,
don’t give her up, sir!’ ‘My good soul,’ says he, ‘you must set her an
example of cheerfulness, and keep up her spirits--that’s all that can be
done for her now.’ ‘Not _all,_ sir,’ says I, ‘surely not _all!’_ ‘Indeed
it is,’ says he; ‘her hearing is completely gone; the experiment with my
watch proves it. I had an exactly similar case with the mason’s boy,’
he says, turning to the other doctor. ‘The shock of that fall has,
I believe, paralyzed the auditory nerve in her, as it did in him.’ I
remember those words exactly, sir, though I didn’t quite understand them
at the time. But he explained himself to me very kindly; telling me over
again, in a plain way, what he’d just told the doctor. He reminded me,
too, that the remedies which had been already tried had been of no use;
and told me I might feel sure that any others would only end in the same
way, and put her to useless pain into the bargain. ‘I hope,’ says he,
‘the poor child is too young to suffer much mental misery under her
dreadful misfortune. Keep her amused, and keep her talking, if you
possibly can--though I doubt very much whether, in a little time, you
won’t fail completely in getting her to speak at all.’

“‘Don’t say that, sir,’ says I; ‘don’t say she’ll be dumb as well as
deaf; it’s enough to break one’s heart only to think of it.’ ‘But I
_must_ say so,’ says he; ‘for I’m afraid it’s the truth.’ And then
he asks me whether I hadn’t noticed already that she was unwilling to
speak; and that, when she did speak, her voice wasn’t the same voice it
used to be. I said ‘Yes,’ to that; and asked him whether the fall had
had anything to do with it. He said, taking me up very short, it had
everything to do with it, because the fall had made her, what they call,
stone deaf, which prevented her from hearing the sound of her own voice.
So it was changed, he told me, because she had no ear now to guide
herself by in speaking, and couldn’t know in the least whether the few
words she said were spoken soft or loud, or deep or clear. ‘So far as
the poor child herself is concerned,’ says he, ‘she might as well be
without a voice at all; for she has nothing but her memory left to tell
her that she has one.’

“I burst out a-crying as he said this; for somehow I’d never thought of
anything so dreadful before. ‘I’ve been a little too sudden in telling
you the worst, haven’t I?’ says the old gentleman kindly; ‘but you
must be taught how to make up your mind to meet the full extent of this
misfortune for the sake of the child, whose future comfort and happiness
depend greatly on you.’ And then he bid me keep up her reading and
writing, and force her to use her voice as much as I could, by every
means in my power. He told me I should find her grow more and more
unwilling to speak every day, just for the shocking reason that she
couldn’t hear a single word she said, or a single tone of her own voice.
He warned me that she was already losing the wish and the want to speak;
and that it would very soon be little short of absolute pain to her to
be made to say even a few words; but he begged and prayed me not to let
my good nature get the better of my prudence on that account, and not
to humor her, however I might feel tempted to do so--for if I did, she
would be dumb as well as deaf most certainly. He told me my own common
sense would show me the reason why; but I suppose I was too distressed
or too stupid to understand things as I ought. He had to explain it
to me in so many words, that if she wasn’t constantly exercised in
speaking, she would lose her power of speech altogether, for want of
practice--just the same as if she’d been born dumb. ‘So, once again,’
says he, ‘mind you make her use her voice. Don’t give her her dinner,
unless she asks for it. Treat her severely in that way, poor little
soul, because it’s for her own good.’

“It was all very well for _him_ to say that, but it was impossible
for _me_ to do it. The dear child, ma’am, seemed to get used to her
misfortune, except when we tried to make her speak. It was the saddest,
prettiest sight in the world to see how patiently and bravely she bore
with her hard lot from the first. As she grew better in her health, she
kept up her reading and writing quite cleverly with my husband and me;
and all her nice natural cheerful ways come back to her just the same
as ever. I’ve read or heard somewhere, sir, about God’s goodness in
tempering the wind to the shorn lamb. I don’t know who said that first;
but it might well have been spoken on account of my own darling little
Mary, in those days. Instead of us being the first to comfort her,
it was she that was first to comfort us. And so she’s gone on ever
since--bless her heart! Only treat her kindly, and, in spite of her
misfortune, she’s the merriest, happiest little thing--the easiest
pleased and amused, I do believe, that ever lived.

“If we were wrong in not forcing her to speak more than we did, I must
say this much for me and my husband, that we hadn’t the heart to make
her miserable and keep on tormenting her from morning to night, when
she was always happy and comfortable if we would only let her alone. We
tried our best for some time to do what the gentleman told us; but it’s
so hard--as you’ve found I dare say, ma’am--not to end by humoring them
you love! I never see the tear in her eye, except when we forced her to
speak to us; and then she always cried, and was fretful and out of sorts
for the whole day. It seemed such a dreadful difficulty and pain to her
to say only two or three words; and the shocking husky moaning voice
that sounded somehow as if it didn’t belong to her, never changed. My
husband first gave up worrying her to speak. He practiced her with her
book and writing, but let her have her own will in everything else; and
he teached her all sorts of tricks on the cards, for amusement, which
was a good way of keeping her going with her reading and her pen
pleasantly, by reason, of course, of him and her being obliged to put
down everything they had to say to each other on a little slate that we
bought for her after she got well.

“It was Mary’s own notion, if you please, ma’am, to have the slate
always hanging at her side. Poor dear! she thought it quite a splendid
ornament, and was as proud of it as could be. Jemmy, being neat-handed
at such things, did the frame over for her prettily with red morocco,
and got our propertyman to do it all round with a bright golden
border. And then we hung it at her side, with a nice little bit of silk
cord--just as you see it now.

“I held out in making her speak some time after my husband: but at last
I gave in too. I know it was wrong and selfish of me; but I got a fear
that she wouldn’t like me as well as she used to do, and would take
more kindly to Jemmy than to me, if I went on. Oh, how happy she was
the first day I wrote down on her slate that I wouldn’t worry her about
speaking any more! She jumped up on my knees--being always as nimble as
a squirrel--and kissed me over and over again with all her heart. For
the rest of the day she run about the room, and all over the house,
like a mad thing, and when Jemmy came home at night from performing, she
would get out of bed and romp with him, and ride pickaback on him, and
try and imitate the funny faces she’d seen him make in the ring. I do
believe, sir, that was the first regular happy night we had all had
together since the dreadful time when she met with her accident.

“Long after that, my conscience was uneasy though, at times, about
giving in as I had. At last I got a chance of speaking to another doctor
about little Mary; and he told me that if we had kept her up in her
speaking ever so severely, it would still have been a pain and a
difficulty to her to say her words, to her dying day. He said too, that
he felt sure--though he couldn’t explain it to me--that people afflicted
with such stone deafness as hers didn’t feel the loss of speech, because
they never had the want to use their speech; and that they took to
making signs, and writing, and such like, quite kindly as a sort of
second nature to them. This comforted me, and settled my mind a good
deal. I hope in God what the gentleman said was true; for if I was in
fault in letting her have her own way and be happy, it’s past mending
by this time. For more than two years, ma’am, I’ve never heard her say
a single word, no more than if she’d been born dumb, and it’s my belief
that all the doctors in the world couldn’t make her speak now.

“Perhaps, sir, you might wish to know how she first come to show her
tricks on the cards in the circus. There was no danger in her doing
that, I know--and yet I’d have given almost everything I have, not to
let her be shown about as she is. But I was threatened again, in the
vilest, wickedest way--I hardly know how to tell it, gentlemen, in the
presence of such as you--Jubber, you must know--”


Just as Mrs. Peckover, with very painful hesitation, pronounced the
last words, the hall clock of the Rectory struck two. She heard it, and
stopped instantly.

“Oh, if you please, sir, was that two o’clock?” she asked, starting up
with a look of alarm.

“Yes, Mrs. Peckover,” said the rector; “but really, after having been
indebted to you for so much that has deeply interested and affected us,
we can’t possibly think of letting you and little Mary leave the Rectory
yet.”

“Indeed we must, sir; and many thanks to you for wanting to keep us
longer,” said Mrs. Peckover. “What I was going to say isn’t much; it’s
quite as well you shouldn’t hear it--and indeed, indeed, ma’am, we must
go directly. I told this gentleman here, Mr. Blyth, when I come in, that
I’d stolen to you unawares, under pretense of taking little Mary out for
a walk. If we are not back to the two o’clock dinner in the circus,
it’s unknown what Jubber may not do. This gentleman will tell you how
infamously he treated the poor child last night--we must go, sir, for
her sake; or else--”

“Stop!” cried Valentine, all his suppressed excitability bursting bounds
in an instant, as he took Mrs. Peckover by the arm, and pressed her back
into her chair. “Stop!--hear me; I must speak, or I shall go out of my
senses! Don’t interrupt me, Mrs. Peckover; and don’t get up. All I want
to say is this: you must never take that little angel of a child near
Jubber again--no, never! By heavens! if I thought he was likely to touch
her any more, I should go mad, and murder him!--Let me alone, doctor! I
beg Mrs. Joyce’s pardon for behaving like this; I’ll never do it again.
Be quiet, all of you! I must take the child home with me--oh, Mrs.
Peckover, don’t, don’t say no! I’ll make her as happy as the day is
long. I’ve no child of my own: I’ll watch over her, and love her, and
teach her all my life. I’ve got a poor, suffering, bedridden wife at
home, who would think such a companion as little Mary the greatest
blessing God could send her. My own dear, patient Lavvie! Oh, doctor,
doctor! think how kind Lavvie would be to that afflicted little child;
and try if you can’t make Mrs. Peckover consent. I can’t speak any
more--I know I’m wrong to burst out in this way; and I beg all your
pardons for it, I do indeed! Speak to her, doctor--pray speak to her
directly, if you don’t want to make me miserable for the rest of my
life!”

With those words, Valentine darted precipitately into the garden, and
made straight for the spot where the little girls were still sitting
together in their shady resting-place among the trees.



CHAPTER VI. MADONNA GOES TO LONDON.

The clown’s wife had sat very pale and very quiet under the whole
overwhelming torrent of Mr. Blyth’s apostrophes, exclamations, and
entreaties. She seemed quite unable to speak, after he was fairly gone;
and only looked round in a bewildered manner at the rector, with fear as
well as amazement expressed vividly in her hearty, healthy face.

“Pray compose yourself, Mrs. Peckover,” said Doctor Joyce; “and kindly
give me your best attention to what I am about to say. Let me beg you,
in the first place, to excuse Mr. Blyth’s odd behavior, which I see has
startled and astonished you. But, however wildly he may talk, I assure
you he means honorably and truthfully in all that he says. You will
understand this better if you will let me temperately explain to you the
proposal, which he has just made so abruptly and confusedly in his own
words.”

“Proposal, sir!” exclaimed Mrs. Peckover faintly, looking more
frightened than ever--“Proposal! Oh, sir! you don’t mean to say that
you’re going to ask me to part from little Mary?”

“I will ask you to do nothing that your own good sense and kind heart
may not approve,” answered the rector. “In plain terms then, and not to
waste time by useless words of preface, my friend, Mr. Blyth, feels such
admiration for your little Mary, and such a desire to help her, as far
as may be, in her great misfortune, that he is willing and eager to make
her future prospects in life his own peculiar care, by adopting her as
his daughter. This offer, though coming, as I am aware, from a perfect
stranger, can hardly astonish you, I think, if you reflect on the
unusually strong claims which the child has to the compassion and
kindness of all her fellow-creatures. Other strangers, as you have told
us, have shown the deepest interest in her on many occasions. It is not
therefore at all wonderful that a gentleman, whose Christian integrity
of motive I have had opportunities of testing during a friendship of
nearly twenty years, should prove the sincerity of his sympathy for the
poor child, by such a proposal as I have now communicated to you.”

“Don’t ask me to say yes to it, sir!” pleaded Mrs. Peckover, with
tears in her eyes. “Don’t ask me to do that! Anything else to prove my
gratitude for your kindness to us; but how can I part from my own little
Mary? You can’t have the heart to ask it of me!”

“I have the heart, Mrs. Peckover, to feel deeply for your distress at
the idea of parting from the child; but, for her sake, I must again ask
you to control your feelings. And, more than that, I must appeal to you
by your love to her, to grant a fair hearing to the petition which I now
make on Mr. Blyth’s behalf.”

“I would, indeed, if I could, sir,--but it’s just because I love her so,
that I can’t! Besides, as you yourself said, he’s a perfect stranger.”

“I readily admit the force of that objection on your part, Mrs.
Peckover; but let me remind you, that I vouch for the uprightness of his
character, and his fitness to be trusted with the child, after twenty
years’ experience of him. You may answer to that, that I am a stranger,
too; and I can only ask you, in return, frankly to accept my character
and position as the best proofs I can offer you that I am not unworthy
of your confidence. If you placed little Mary for instruction (as you
well might) in an asylum for the deaf and dumb, you would be obliged to
put implicit trust in the authorities of that asylum, on much the same
grounds as those I now advance to justify you in putting trust in me.”

“Oh, sir! don’t think--pray don’t think I am unwilling to trust you--so
kind and good as you have been to us to-day--and a clergyman too--I
should be ashamed of myself, if I could doubt--”

“Let me tell you, plainly and candidly, what advantages to the child Mr.
Blyth’s proposal holds out. He has no family of his own, and his wife
is, as he has hinted to you, an invalid for life. If you could only see
the gentleness and sweet patience with which she bears her affliction,
you would acknowledge that little Mary could appeal for an affectionate
welcome to no kinder heart than Mrs. Blyth’s. I assure you most
seriously, that the only danger I fear for the child in my friend’s
house, is that she would be spoilt by excessive indulgence. Though by no
means a rich man, Mr. Blyth is in an independent position, and can offer
her all the comforts of life. In one word, the home to which he is ready
to take her, is a home of love and happiness and security, in the best
and purest meaning of those words.”

“Don’t say any more, sir! Don’t break my heart by making me part with
her!”

“You will live, Mrs. Peckover, to thank me for trying your fortitude as
I try it now. Hear me a little longer, while I tell you what terms Mr.
Blyth proposes. He is not only willing but anxious--if you give the
child into his charge--that you should have access to her whenever you
like. He will leave his address in London with you. He desires, from
motives alike honorable to you and to himself, to defray your traveling
expenses whenever you wish to see the child. He will always acknowledge
your prior right to her affection and her duty. He will offer her every
facility in his power for constantly corresponding with you; and if
the life she leads in his house be, even in the slightest respect,
distasteful to her, he pledges himself to give her up to you again--if
you and she desire it--at any sacrifice of his own wishes and his own
feelings. These are the terms he proposes, Mrs. Peckover, and I can most
solemnly assure you on my honor as a clergyman and a gentleman, that
he will hold sacred the strict performance of all and each of these
conditions, exactly as I have stated them.”

“I ought to let her go, sir--I know I ought to show how grateful I am
for Mr. Blyth’s generosity by letting her go--but how can I, after all
the long time she’s been like my own child to me? Oh, ma’am, say a word
for me!--I seem so selfish for not giving her up--say a word for me!”

“Will you let me say a word for little Mary, instead?” rejoined Mrs.
Joyce. “Will you let me remind you that Mr. Blyth’s proposal offers her
a secure protection against that inhuman wretch who has ill-used her
already, and who may often ill-use her again, in spite of everything you
can do to prevent him. Pray think of that, Mrs. Peckover--pray do!”

Poor Mrs. Peckover showed that she thought of it bitterly enough, by a
fresh burst of tears.

The rector poured out a glass of water, and gave it to her. “Do not
think us inconsiderate or unfeeling,” he said, “in pressing Mr. Blyth’s
offer on you so perseveringly. Only reflect on Mary’s position, if she
remains in the circus as she grows up! Would all your watchful kindness
be sufficient to shield her against dangers to which I hardly
dare allude?--against wickedness which would take advantage of her
defenselessness, her innocence, and even her misfortune? Consider all
that Mr. Blyth’s proposal promises for her future life; for the sacred
preservation of her purity of heart and mind. Look forward to the day
when little Mary will have gown up to be a young woman; and I will
answer, Mrs. Peckover, for your doing full justice to the importance of
my friend’s offer.”

“I know it’s all true, sir; I know I’m an ungrateful, selfish
wretch--but only give me a little time to think; a little time longer to
be with the poor darling that I love like my own child!”

Doctor Joyce was just drawing his chair closer to Mrs. Peckover before
he answered, when the door opened, and the respectable Vance softly
entered the room.

“What do you want here?” said the rector, a little irritably. “Didn’t I
tell you not to come in again till I rang for you?’

“I beg your pardon, sir,” answered Vance, casting rather a malicious
look at the clown’s wife as he closed the door behind him--“but there’s
a person waiting in the hall, who says he comes on important business,
and must see you directly.”

“Who is he? What’s his name?”

“He says his name is Jubber, if you please, sir.”

Mrs. Peckover started from her chair with a scream. “Don’t--pray, for
mercy’s sake, sir, don’t let him into the garden where Mary is!” she
gasped, clutching Doctor Joyce by the arm in the extremity of her
terror. “He’s found us out, and come here in one of his dreadful
passions! He cares for nothing and for nobody, sir: he’s bad enough
to ill-treat her even before you. What am I to do? Oh, good gracious
heavens! what am I to do?”

“Leave everything to me, and sit down again,” said the rector kindly.
Then, turning to Vance, he added:--“Show Mr. Jubber into the cloak-room,
and say I will be with him directly.”

“Now, Mrs. Peckover,” continued Doctor Joyce, in the most perfectly
composed manner, “before I see this man (whose business I can guess at)
I have three important questions to ask of you. In the first place,
were you not a witness, last night, of his cruel ill-usage of that poor
child? (Mr. Blyth told me of it.) The fellow actually beat her, did he
not?”

“Oh, indeed he did, sir!--beat her most cruelly with a cane.”

“And you saw it all yourself?”

“I did, sir. He’d have used her worse, if I hadn’t been by to prevent
him.”

“Very well. Now tell me if you or your husband have signed any
agreement--any papers, I mean, giving this man a right to claim the
child as one of his performers?”

_“Me_ sign an agreement, sir! I never did such a thing in all my life.
Jubber would think himself insulted, if you only talked of his signing
an agreement with such as me or Jemmy.”

“Better and better. Now, my third question refers to little Mary
herself. I will undertake to put it out of this blackguard’s power ever
to lay a finger on her again--but I can only do so on one condition,
which it rests entirely with you to grant.”

“I’ll do anything to save her, sir; I will indeed.”

“The condition is that you consent to Mr. Blyth’s proposal; for I can
only ensure the child’s safety on those terms.”

“Then, sir, I consent to it,” said Mrs. Peckover, speaking with a sudden
firmness of tone and manner which almost startled Mrs. Joyce, who stood
by listening anxiously. “I consent to it; for I should be the vilest
wretch in the world, if I could say ‘no’ at such a time as this. I will
trust my precious darling treasure to you, sir, and to Mr. Blyth; from
this moment. God bless _her,_ and comfort _me!_ for I want comfort badly
enough. Oh, Mary! Mary! my own little Mary! to think of you and me ever
being parted like this!” The poor woman turned towards the garden as she
pronounced those words; all her fortitude forsook her in an instant; and
she sank back in her chair, sobbing bitterly.

“Take her out into the shrubbery where the children are, as soon as she
recovers a little,” whispered the rector to his wife, as he opened the
dining-room door.

Though Mr. Jubber presented, to all appearance, the most scoundrelly
aspect that humanity can assume, when he was clothed in his evening
uniform, and illuminated by his own circus lamplight, he nevertheless
reached an infinitely loftier climax of blackguard perfection when he
was arrayed in his private costume, and was submitted to the tremendous
ordeal of pure daylight. The most monstrous ape that could be picked
from the cages of the Zoological Gardens would have gained by comparison
with him as he now appeared, standing in the Rectory cloak-room, with
his debauched bloodshot eyes staring grimly contemptuous all about him,
with his yellow flabby throat exposed by a turn-down collar and a light
blue neck-tie, with the rouge still smeared over his gross unhealthy
cheeks, with his mangy shirt-front bespattered with bad embroidery
and false jewelry that had not even the politic decency to keep itself
clean. He had his hat on, and was sulkily running his dirty fingers
through the greasy black ringlets that flowed over his coat-collar, when
Doctor Joyce entered the cloak-room.

“You wished to speak with me?” said the rector, not sitting down
himself, and not asking Mr. Jubber to sit down.

“Oh! you’re Doctor Joyce?” said the fellow, assuming his most insolent
familiarity of manner directly.

“That is my name,” said Dr. Joyce very quietly. “Will you have the
goodness to state your business with me immediately, and in the fewest
possible words?”

“Hullo! You take that tone with me, do you?” said Jubber, setting his
arms akimbo, and tapping his foot fiercely on the floor; “you’re trying
to come Tommy Grand over me already, are you? Very good! I’m the man
to give you change in your own coin--so here goes! What do you mean by
enticing away my Mysterious Foundling? What do you mean by this private
swindle of talent that belongs to my circus?”

“You had better proceed a little,” said the rector, more quietly than
before. “Thus far I understand nothing whatever, except that you wish to
behave offensively to me; which, in a person of your appearance, is, I
assure you, of not the slightest consequence. You had much better save
time by stating what you have to say in plain words.”

“You want plain words--eh?” cried Jubber, losing his temper. “Then, by
God, you shall have them, and plain enough!”

“Stop a minute,” said Doctor Joyce. “If you use oaths in my presence
again, I shall ring for my servant, and order him to show you out of the
house.”

“You will?”

“I will, most certainly.”

There was a moment’s pause, and the blackguard and the gentleman looked
one another straight in the face. It was the old, invariable struggle,
between the quiet firmness of good breeding, and the savage obstinacy
of bad; and it ended in the old, invariable way. The blackguard flinched
first.

“If your servant lays a finger on me, I’ll thrash him within an inch
of his life,” said Jubber, looking towards the door, and scowling as he
looked. “But that’s not the point, just now--the point is, that I charge
you with getting my deaf and dumb girl into your house, to perform
before you on the sly. If you’re too virtuous to come to my circus--and
better than you have been there--you ought to have paid the proper
price for a private performance. What do you mean by treating a public
servant, like me, with your infernal aristocratic looks, as if I was
dirt under your feet, after such shabby doings as you’ve been guilty
of--eh?”

“May I ask how you know that the child you refer to has been at my house
to-day?” asked Doctor Joyce, without taking the slightest notice of Mr.
Jubber’s indignation.

“One of my people saw that swindling hypocrite of a Peckover taking her
in, and told me of it when I missed them at dinner. There! that’s good
evidence, I rather think! Deny it if you can.”

“I have not the slightest intention of denying it. The child is now in
my house.”

“And has gone through all her performances, of course? Ah! shabby!
shabby! I should be ashamed of myself, if _I’d_ tried to do a man out of
his rights like that.”

“I am most unaffectedly rejoiced to hear that you are capable, under
any circumstances, of being ashamed of yourself at all,” rejoined the
rector. “The child, however, has gone through no performances here, not
having been sent for with any such purpose as you suppose. But, as you
said just now, that’s not the point. Pray, why did you speak of the
little girl, a moment ago, as _your_ child?”

“Because she’s one of my performers, of course. But, come! I’ve had
enough of this; I can’t stop talking here all day; I want the child--so
just deliver her up at once, will you?--and turn out Peck as soon as you
like after. I’ll cure them both of ever doing this sort of thing again!
I’ll make them stick tight to the circus for the future! I’ll show
them--”

“You would be employing your time much more usefully,” said Doctor
Joyce, “if you occupied it in altering the bills of your performance,
so as to inform the public that the deaf and dumb child will not appear
before them again.”

“Not appear again?--not appear to-night in my circus? Why, hang me! if
I don’t think you’re trying to be funny all of a sudden! Alter my
bills--eh? Not bad! Upon my soul, not at all bad for a parson! Give us
another joke, sir; I’m all attention.” And Mr. Jubber put his hand to
his ear, grinning in a perfect fury of sarcasm.

“I am quite in earnest,” said the rector. “A friend of mine has adopted
the child, and will take her home with him tomorrow morning. Mrs.
Peckover (the only person who has any right to exercise control over
her) has consented to this arrangement. If your business here was to
take the child back to your circus, it is right to inform you that
she will not leave my house till she goes to London to-morrow with my
friend.”

“And you think I’m the sort of man to stand this?--and give up the
child?--and alter the bills?--and lose money?--and be as mild as
mother’s milk all the time? Oh! yes, of course! I’m so devilish fond of
you and your friend! You’re such nice men, you can make me do anything!
Damn all this jabber and nonsense!” roared the ruffian, passing suddenly
from insolence to fury, and striking his fist on the table. “Give me the
child at once, do you hear? Give her up, I say. I won’t leave the house
till I’ve got her!”

Just as Mr. Jubber swore for the second time, Doctor Joyce rang the
bell. “I told you what I should do, if you used oaths in my presence
again,” said the rector.

“And _I_ told _you_ I’d kill the servant, if he laid a finger on me,”
 said Jubber, knocking his hat firmly on his head, and tucking up his
cuffs.

Vance appeared at the door, much less pompous than usual and displaying
an interesting paleness of complexion. Jubber spat into the palm of each
of his hands, and clenched his fists.

“Have you done dinner down stairs?” asked Doctor Joyce, reddening a
little, but still very quiet.

“Yes, sir,” answered Vance, in a remarkably conciliating voice.

“Tell James to go to the constable, and say I want him; and let the
gardener wait with you outside there in the hall.”

“Now,” said the rector, shutting the door again after issuing these
orders, and placing himself once more face to face with Mr. Jubber. “Now
I have a last word or two to say, which I recommend you to hear quietly.
In the first place, you have no right over the child whatever; for I
happen to know that you are without a signed agreement promising you her
services. (You had better hear me out for your own sake.) You have
no legal right, I say, to control the child in any manner. She is a
perfectly free agent, so far as you are concerned.--Yes! yes! you deny
it, of course! I have only to say that, if you attempt to back that
denial by still asserting your claim to her, and making a disturbance in
my house, as sure as you stand there, I’ll ruin you in Rubbleford and in
all the country round. (It’s no use laughing--I can do it!) You beat the
child in the vilest manner last night. I am a magistrate; and I have my
prosecutor and my witness of the assault ready whenever I choose to call
them. I can fine or imprison you, which I please. You know the public;
you know what they think of people who ill-use helpless children. If you
appeared in that character before me, the Rubbleford paper would report
it; and, so far as the interests of your circus are concerned, you would
be a ruined man in this part of the country--you would, you know it!
Now I will spare you this--not from any tenderness towards _you_--on
condition that you take yourself off quietly, and never let us hear from
you again. I strongly advise you to go at once; for if you wait till the
constable comes, I will not answer for it that my sense of duty may not
force me into giving you into custody.” With which words Doctor Joyce
threw open the door, and pointed to the hall.

Throughout the delivery of this speech, violent indignation,
ungovernable surprise, abject terror, and impotent rage ravaged by
turns the breast of Mr. Jubber. He stamped about the room, and uttered
fragments of oaths, but did not otherwise interrupt Dr. Joyce, while
that gentleman was speaking to him. When the rector had done, the
fellow had his insolent answer ready directly. To do him justice, he was
consistent, if he was nothing else--he was bully and blackguard to the
very last.

“Magistrate or parson,” he cried, snapping his fingers, “I don’t care a
damn for you in either capacity. You keep the child here at your peril!
I’ll go to the first lawyer in Rubbleford, and bring an action against
you. I’ll show you a little legal law! _You_ ruin me indeed! I can prove
that I only thrashed the little toad, the nasty deaf idiot, because she
deserved it. I’ll be even with you! I’ll have the child back wherever
you take her to. I’ll show you a little legal law! (Here he stepped
to the hall door.) I’ll be even with you, damme! I’ll charge you with
setting on your menial servants to assault me. (Here he looked fiercely
at the gardener, a freckled Scotch giant of six feet three, and
instantly descended five steps.) Lay a finger on me, if you dare! I’m
going straight from this house to the lawyer’s. I’m a free Englishman,
and I’ll have my rights and my legal law! I’ll bring my action! I’ll
ruin you! I’ll strip your gown off your back I’ll stop your mouth in
your own pulpit!” Here he strutted into the front garden; his words grew
indistinct, and his gross voice became gradually less and less audible.
The coachman at the outer gate saw the last of him, and reported that
he made his exit striking viciously at the flowers with his cane, and
swearing that he would ruin the rector with “legal law.”

After leaving certain directions with his servants, in the very
improbable event of Mr. Jubber’s return, Doctor Joyce repaired
immediately to his dining-room. No one was there, so he went on into the
garden.

Here he found the family and the visitors all assembled together; but
a great change had passed over the whole party during his absence. Mr.
Blyth, on being informed of the result of the rector’s conversation
with Mrs. Peckover, acted with his usual impetuosity and utter want of
discretion; writing down delightedly on little Mary’s slate, without the
slightest previous preparation or coaxing, that she was to go home with
him to-morrow, and be as happy as the day was long, all the rest of her
life. The result of this incautious method of proceeding was that the
child became excessively frightened, and ran away from everybody to take
refuge with Mrs. Peckover. She was still crying, and holding tight by
the good woman’s gown with both hands; and Valentine was still loudly
declaring to everybody that he loved her all the better for showing
such faithful affection to her earliest and best friend, when the rector
joined the party under the coolly-murmuring trees.

Doctor Joyce spoke but briefly of his interview with Mr. Jubber,
concealing much that had passed at it, and making very light of the
threats which the fellow had uttered on his departure. Mrs. Peckover,
whose self-possession seemed in imminent danger of being overthrown by
little Mary’s mute demonstrations of affection, listened anxiously to
every word the Doctor uttered; and, as soon as he had done, said that
she must go back to the circus directly, and tell her husband the truth
about all that had occurred, as a necessary set-off against the slanders
that were sure to be spoken against her by Mr. Jubber.

“Oh, never mind me, ma’am!” she said, in answer to the apprehensions
expressed by Mrs. Joyce about her reception when she got to the circus.
“The dear child’s safe; and that’s all I care about. I’m big enough and
strong enough to take my own part; and Jemmy, he’s always by to help
me when I can’t. May I come back, if you please, sir, this evening; and
say--and say?--”

She would have added, “and say good-bye;” but the thoughts which now
gathered round that one word, made it too hard to utter. She silently
curtseyed her thanks for the warm invitation that was given to her to
return; stooped down to the child; and, kissing her, wrote on the
slate, “I shall be back, dear, in the evening, at seven o’clock”--then
disengaged the little hands that still held fast by her gown, and
hurried from the garden, without once venturing to look behind her as
she crossed the sunny lawn.

Mrs. Joyce, and the young ladies, and the rector, all tried their best
to console little Mary; and all failed. She resolutely, though very
gently, resisted them; walking away into corners by herself, and looking
constantly at her slate, as if she could only find comfort in reading
the few words which Mrs. Peckover had written on it. At last, Mr. Blyth
took her up on his knee. She struggled to get away, for a moment--then
looked intently in his face; and, sighing very mournfully, laid her
head down on his shoulder. There was a world of promise for the future
success of Valentine’s affectionate project in that simple action, and
in the preference which it showed.

The day wore on quietly--evening came--seven o’clock struck--then
half-past--then eight--and Mrs. Peckover never appeared. Doctor Joyce
grew uneasy, and sent Vance to the circus to get some news of her.

It was again Mr. Blyth--and Mr. Blyth only--who succeeded in partially
quieting little Mary under the heavy disappointment of not seeing Mrs.
Peckover at the appointed time. The child had been restless at first,
and had wanted to go to the circus. Finding that they tenderly, but
firmly, detained her at the Rectory, she wept bitterly--wept so long,
that at last she fairly cried herself asleep in Valentine’s arms. He sat
anxiously supporting her with a patience that nothing could tire. The
sunset rays, which he had at first carefully kept from falling on her
face, vanished from the horizon; the quiet luster of twilight overspread
the sky--and still he refused to let her be taken from him; and said
he would sit as he was all through the night rather than let her be
disturbed.

Vance came back, and brought word that Mrs. Peckover would follow him
in half an hour. They had given her some work to do at the circus, which
she was obliged to finish before she could return to the Rectory.

Having delivered this message, Vance next produced a handbill, which he
said was being widely circulated all over Rubbleford; and which proved
to be the composition of Mr. Jubber himself. That ingenious ruffian,
having doubtless discovered that “legal law” was powerless to help him
to his revenge, and that it would be his wisest proceeding to keep clear
of Doctor Joyce in the rectory’s magisterial capacity, was now artfully
attempting to turn the loss of the child to his own profit, by dint of
prompt lying in his favorite large type, sprinkled with red letters.
He informed the public, through the medium of his hand-bills, that
the father of the Mysterious Foundling had been “most providentially”
 discovered, and that he (Mr. Jubber) had given the child up immediately,
without a thought of what he might personally suffer, in pocket as well
as in mind, by his generosity. After this, he appealed confidently
to the sympathy of people of every degree, and of “fond parents”
 especially, to compensate him by flocking in crowds to the circus;
adding, that if additional stimulus were wanting to urge the public into
“rallying round the Ring,” he was prepared to administer it forthwith,
in the shape of the smallest dwarf in the world, for whose services
he was then in treaty, and whose first appearance before a Rubbleford
audience would certainly take place in the course of a few days.

Such was Mr. Jubber’s ingenious contrivance for turning to good
pecuniary account the ignominious defeat which he had suffered at the
hands of Dr. Joyce.

After much patient reasoning and many earnest expostulations, Mrs. Joyce
at last succeeded in persuading Mr. Blyth that he might carry little
Mary upstairs to her bed, without any danger of awakening her.
The moonbeams were streaming through the windows over the broad,
old-fashioned landings of the rectory stair-case, and bathed the child’s
sleeping face in their lovely light, as Valentine carefully bore her in
his own arms to her bedroom. “Oh!” he whispered to himself as he paused
for an instant where the moon shone clearest on the landing; and looked
down on her--“Oh! if my poor Lavvie could only see little Mary now.”

They laid her, still asleep, on the bed, and covered her over lightly
with a shawl--then went down stairs again to wait for Mrs. Peckover.

The clown’s wife came in half an hour, as she had promised. They saw
sorrow and weariness in her face, as they looked at her. Besides a
bundle with the child’s few clothes in it, she brought the hair bracelet
and the pocket-handkerchief which had been found on little Mary’s
mother.

“Wherever the child goes,” she said, “these two things must go with
her.” She addressed Mr. Blyth as she spoke, and gave the hair bracelet
and the handkerchief into his own hands.

It seemed rather a relief than a disappointment to Mrs. Peckover to hear
that the child was asleep above stairs. All pain of parting would now be
spared, on one side at least. She went up to look at her on her bed, and
kissed her--but so lightly that little Mary’s sleep was undisturbed by
that farewell token of tenderness and love.

“Tell her to write to me, sir,” said poor Mrs. Peckover, holding
Valentine’s hand fast, and looking wistfully in his face through her
gathering tears. “I shall prize my first letter from her so much, if
it’s only a couple of lines. God bless you, sir; and good-bye. It ought
to be a comfort to me, and it is, to know that you will be kind to
her--I hope I shall get up to London some day, and see her myself. But
don’t forget the letter, sir: I shan’t fret so much after her when once
I’ve got that!”

She went away, sadly murmuring these last words many times over, while
Valentine was trying to cheer and reassure her, as they walked together
to the outer gate. Doctor Joyce accompanied them down the front-garden
path, and exacted from her a promise to return often to the Rectory,
while the circus was at Rubbleford; saying also that he and his family
desired her to look on them always as her fast and firm friends in any
emergency. Valentine entreated her, over and over again, to remember
the terms of their agreement, and to come and judge for herself of the
child’s happiness in her new home. She only answered “Don’t forget the
letter, sir!” And so they parted.


Early the next morning, Mr. Blyth and little Mary left the Rectory, and
started for London by the first coach.



CHAPTER VII. MADONNA IN HER NEW HOME.

The result of Mr. Blyth’s Adventure in the traveling Circus, and of the
events which followed it, was that little Mary at once became a member
of the painter’s family, and grew up happily, in her new home, into the
young lady who was called “Madonna” by Valentine, by his wife, and by
all intimate friends who were in the habit of frequenting the house.

Mr. Blyth’s first proceeding, after he had brought the little girl home
with him, was to take her to the most eminent aural surgeon of the
day. He did this, not in the hope of any curative result following the
medical examination, but as a first duty which he thought he owed to
her, now that she was under his sole charge. The surgeon was deeply
interested in the case; but, after giving it the most careful attention,
he declared that it was hopeless. Her sense of hearing, he said, was
entirely gone; but her faculty of speech, although it had been totally
disused (as Mrs. Peckover had stated) for more than two years past,
might, he thought, be imperfectly regained, at some future time, if a
tedious, painful, and uncertain process of education were resorted to,
under the direction of an experienced teacher of the deaf and dumb. The
child, however, had such a horror of this resource being tried, when
it was communicated to her, that Mr. Blyth instinctively followed Mrs.
Peckover’s example, and consulted the little creature’s feelings, by
allowing her in this particular--and indeed in most others--to remain
perfectly happy and contented in her own way.

The first influence which reconciled her almost immediately to her
new life, was the influence of Mrs. Blyth. The perfect gentleness and
patience with which the painter’s wife bore her incurable malady, seemed
to impress the child in a very remarkable manner from the first. The
sight of that frail, wasted life, which they told her, by writing, had
been shut up so long in the same room, and had been condemned to the
same weary inaction for so many years past, struck at once to Mary’s
heart and filled her with one of those new and mysterious sensations
which mark epochs in the growth of a child’s moral nature. Nor did these
first impressions ever alter. When years had passed away, and when Mary,
being “little” Mary no longer, possessed those marked characteristics of
feature and expression which gained for her the name of “Madonna,” she
still preserved all her child’s feeling for the painter’s wife. However
playful her manner might often be with Valentine, it invariably changed
when she was in Mrs. Blyth’s presence; always displaying, at such times,
the same anxious tenderness, the same artless admiration, and the
same watchful and loving sympathy. There was something secret and
superstitious in the girl’s fondness for Mrs. Blyth. She appeared
unwilling to let others know what this affection really was in all its
depth and fullness: it seemed to be intuitively preserved by her in the
most sacred privacy of her own heart, as if the feeling had been part of
her religion, or rather as if it had been a religion in itself.

Her love for her new mother, which testified itself thus strongly and
sincerely, was returned by that mother with equal fervor. From the day
when little Mary first appeared at her bedside, Mrs. Blyth felt, to use
her own expression, as if a new strength had been given her to enjoy her
new happiness. Brighter hopes, better health, calmer resignation,
and purer peace seemed to follow the child’s footsteps and be always
inherent in her very presence, as she moved to and fro in the sick room.
All the little difficulties of communicating with her and teaching her,
which her misfortune rendered inevitable, and which might sometime
have been felt as tedious by others, were so many distinct sources of
happiness, so many exquisite occupations of once-weary time to Mrs.
Blyth. All the friends of the family declared that the child had
succeeded where doctors, and medicines, and luxuries, and the sufferer’s
own courageous resignation had hitherto failed--for she had succeeded in
endowing Mrs. Blyth with a new life. And they were right. A fresh object
for the affections of the heart and the thoughts of the mind, is a fresh
life for every feeling and thinking human being, in sickness even as
well as in health.

In this sense, indeed, the child brought fresh life with her to all who
lived in her new home--to the servants, as well as to the master and
mistress. The cloud had rarely found its way into that happy dwelling
in former days: now the sunshine seemed fixed there for ever. No more
beautiful and touching proof of what the heroism of patient dispositions
and loving hearts can do towards guiding human existence, unconquered
and unsullied, through its hardest trials, could be found anywhere than
was presented by the aspect of the painter’s household. Here were two
chief members of one little family circle, afflicted by such incurable
bodily calamity as it falls to the lot of but few human beings to
suffer--yet here were no sighs, no tears, no vain repinings with each
new morning, no gloomy thoughts to set woe and terror watching by the
pillow at night. In this homely sphere, life, even in its frailest
aspects, was still greater than its greatest trials; strong to conquer
by virtue of its own innocence and purity, its simple unworldly
aspirations, its self-sacrificing devotion to the happiness and the
anxieties of others.

As the course of her education proceeded, many striking peculiarities
became developed in Madonna’s disposition, which seemed to be all more
or less produced by the necessary influence of her affliction on
the formation of her character. The social isolation to which that
affliction condemned her, the solitude of thought and feeling into which
it forced her, tended from an early period to make her mind remarkably
self-reliant, for so young a girl. Her first impression of strangers
seemed invariably to decide her opinion of them at once and for ever.
She liked or disliked people heartily; estimating them apparently
from considerations entirely irrespective of age, or sex, or personal
appearance. Sometimes, the very person who was thought certain to
attract her, proved to be absolutely repulsive to her--sometimes,
people, who, in Mr. Blyth’s opinion, were sure to be unwelcome visitors
to Madonna, turned out, incomprehensibly, to be people whom she took
a violent liking to directly. She always betrayed her pleasure
or uneasiness in the society of others with the most diverting
candor--showing the extremest anxiety to conciliate and attract those
whom she liked; running away and hiding herself like a child, from those
whom she disliked. There were some unhappy people, in this latter class,
whom no persuasion could ever induce her to see a second time.

She could never give any satisfactory account of how she proceeded in
forming her opinions of others. The only visible means of arriving at
them, which her deafness and dumbness permitted her to use, consisted
simply in examination of a stranger’s manner, expression, and play of
features at a first interview. This process, however, seemed always
amply sufficient for her; and in more than one instance events proved
that her judgment had not been misled by it. Her affliction had tended,
indeed, to sharpen her faculties of observation and her powers of
analysis to such a remarkable degree, that she often guessed the general
tenor of a conversation quite correctly, merely by watching the minute
varieties of expression and gesture in the persons speaking--fixing her
attention always with especial intentness on the changeful and rapid
motions of their lips.

Exiled alike from the worlds of sound and speech, the poor girl’s
enjoyment of all that she could still gain of happiness, by means of the
seeing sense that was left her, was hardly conceivable to her speaking
and hearing fellow-creatures. All beautiful sights, and particularly the
exquisite combinations that Nature presents, filled her with an artless
rapture, which it affected the most unimpressible people to witness.
Trees were beyond all other objects the greatest luxuries that her eyes
could enjoy. She would sit for hours, on fresh summer evenings, watching
the mere waving of the leaves; her face flushed, her whole nervous
organization trembling with the sensations of deep and perfect happiness
which that simple sight imparted to her. All the riches and honors which
this world can afford, would not have added to her existence a tithe of
that pleasure which Valentine easily conferred on her, by teaching
her to draw; he might almost be said to have given her a new sense in
exchange for the senses that she had lost. She used to dance about the
room with the reckless ecstasy of a child, in her ungovernable delight
at the prospect of a sketching expedition with Mr. Blyth in the
Hampstead fields.

At a very early date of her sojourn with Valentine, it was discovered
that her total deafness did not entirely exclude her from every effect
of sound. She was acutely sensitive to the influence of percussion--that
is to say (if so vague and contradictory an expression may be allowed),
she could, under certain conditions, _feel_ the sounds that she could
not hear. For example, if Mr. Blyth wished to bring her to his side when
they were together in the painting-room, and when she happened neither
to be looking at him nor to be within reach of a touch he used to rub
his foot, or the end of his mahl-stick gently against the floor. The
slight concussion so produced, reached her nerves instantly; provided
always that some part of her body touched the floor on which such
experiments were tried.

As a means of extending her facilities of social communication, she was
instructed in the deaf and dumb alphabet by Valentine’s direction; he
and his wife, of course, learning it also; and many of their intimate
friends, who were often in the house, following their example for
Madonna’s sake. Oddly enough, however, she frequently preferred to
express herself, or to be addressed by others, according to the clumsier
and slower system of signs and writing, to which she had been accustomed
from childhood. She carefully preserved her little slate, with its
ornamented frame, and kept it hanging at her side, just as she wore it
on the morning of her visit to the Rectory-house at Rubbleford.

In one exceptional case, and one only, did her misfortune appear to
have the power of affecting her tranquillity seriously. Whenever, by any
accident, she happened to be left in the dark, she was overcome by the
most violent terror. It was found, even when others were with her, that
she still lost her self-possession at such times. Her own explanation
of her feelings on these occasions, suggested the simplest of reasons to
account for this weakness in her character. “Remember,” she wrote on her
slate, when a new servant was curious to know why she always slept with
a light in her room--“Remember that I am deaf _and blind too_ in the
darkness. You, who can hear, have a sense to serve you instead of sight,
in the dark--your ears are of use to you then, as your eyes are in the
light. _I_ hear nothing, and see nothing--I lose all my senses together
in the dark.”

It was only by rare accidents, which there was no providing against,
that she was ever terrified in this way, after her peculiarity had first
disclosed itself. In small things as well as in great, Valentine
never forgot that her happiness was his own especial care. He was more
nervously watchful over her than anyone else in the house--for she cost
him those secret anxieties which make the objects of our love doubly
precious to us. In all the years that she had lived under his roof,
he had never conquered his morbid dread that Madonna might be one day
traced and discovered by her father, or by relatives, who might have
a legal claim to her. Under this apprehension he had written to Doctor
Joyce and Mrs. Peckover a day or two after the child’s first entry under
his roof, pledging both the persons whom he addressed to the strictest
secrecy in all that related to Madonna and to the circumstances which
had made her his adopted child. As for the hair bracelet, if his
conscience had allowed him, he would have destroyed it immediately; but
feeling that this would be an inexcusable breach of trust, he was fain
to be content with locking it up, as well as the pocket-handkerchief,
in an old bureau in his painting-room, the key of which he always kept
attached to his own watch chain.

Not one of his London friends ever knew how he first met with Madonna.
He boldly baffled all forms of inquiry by requesting that they would
consider her history before she came into his house as a perfect blank,
and by simply presenting her to them as his adopted child. This method
of silencing troublesome curiosity succeeded certainly to admiration;
but at the expense of Mr. Blyth’s own moral character. Persons who knew
little or nothing of his real disposition and his early life, all shook
their heads, and laughed in secret; asserting that the mystery was plain
enough to the most ordinary capacity, and that the young lady could be
nothing more nor less than a natural child of his own.

Mrs. Blyth was far more indignant at this report than her husband, when
in due time it reached the painter’s house. Valentine rather approved of
the scandal than not, because it was likely to lead inquisitive people
in the wrong direction. He might have been now perfectly easy about the
preservation of his secret, but for the distrust which still clung to
him, in spite of himself, on the subject of Mrs. Peckover’s discretion.
He never wearied of warning that excellent woman to be careful in
keeping the important secret, every time she came to London to see
Madonna. Whether she only paid them a visit for the day, and then went
away again; or whether she spent her Christmas with them,
Valentine’s greeting always ended nervously with the same distrustful
question:--“Excuse me for asking, Mrs. Peckover, but are you quite sure
you have kept what you know about little Mary and her mother, and dates
and places and all that, properly hidden from prying people, since you
were here last?” At which point Mrs. Peckover generally answered by
repeating, always with the same sarcastic emphasis:--“Properly hidden,
did you say, sir? Of course I keep what I know properly hidden, for of
course I can hold my tongue. In my time, sir, it used always to take two
parties to play at a game of Hide and Seek. Who in the world is seeking
after little Mary, I should like to know?”

Perhaps Mrs. Peckover’s view of the case was the right one; or, perhaps,
the extraordinary discretion observed by the persons who were in the
secret of Madonna’s history, prevented any disclosure of the girl’s
origin from reaching her father or friends--presuming them to be still
alive and anxiously looking for her. But, at any rate, this much at
least is certain:--Nobody appeared to assert a claim to Valentine’s
adopted child, from the time when he took her home with him as his
daughter, to the time when the reader first made his acquaintance, many
pages back, in the congenial sphere of his own painting-room.*

     * See note at the end of the book.



CHAPTER VIII. MENTOR AND TELEMACHUS.

It is now some time since we left Mr. Blyth and Madonna in the studio.
The first was engaged, it may be remembered, in the process of brushing
up Bacchanalian Nymphs in the foreground of a Classical landscape. The
second was modestly occupied in making a copy of the head of the Venus
de’ Medici.

The clock strikes one--and a furious ring is heard at the house-bell.

“There he is!” cries Mr. Blyth to himself. “There’s Zack! I know his
ring among a thousand; it’s worse even than the postman’s; it’s like an
alarm of fire!”

Here Valentine drums gently with his mahl-stick on the floor. Madonna
looks towards him directly; he waves his hand round and round rapidly
above his head. This is the sign which means “Zack.” The girl smiles
brightly, and blushes as she sees it. Zack is apparently one of her
special favorites.

While the young gentleman is being admitted at the garden gate, there is
a leisure moment to explain how he became acquainted with Mr. Blyth.

Valentine’s father, and Mrs. Thorpe’s father (the identical Mr.
Goodworth who figures at the beginning of this narrative as one of
the actors in the Sunday Drama at Baregrove Square), had been intimate
associates of the drowsy-story-telling and copious-port-drinking
old school. The friendly intercourse between these gentlemen spread,
naturally enough, to the sons and daughters who formed their respective
families. From the time of Mr. Thorpe’s marriage to Miss Goodworth,
however, the connection between the junior Goodworths and Blyths began
to grow less intimate--so far, at least, as the new bride and Valentine
were concerned. The rigid modern Puritan of Baregrove Square, and the
eccentric votary of the Fine Arts, mutually disapproved of each
other from the very first. Visits of ceremony were exchanged at long
intervals; but even these were discontinued on Madonna’s arrival under
Valentine’s roof: Mr. Thorpe being one of the first of the charitable
friends of the family who suspected her to be the painter’s natural
child. An almost complete separation accordingly ensued for some years,
until Zack grew up to boy’s estate, and was taken to see Valentine,
one day in holiday time, by his grandfather. He and the painter became
friends directly. Mr. Blyth liked boys, and boys of all degrees
liked him. From this time, Zack frequented Valentine’s house at every
opportunity, and never neglected his artist-friend in after years. At
the date of this story, one of the many points in his son’s conduct of
which Mr. Thorpe disapproved on the highest moral grounds, was the firm
determination the lad showed to keep up his intimacy with Mr. Blyth.

We may now get back to the ring at the bell.

Zack’s approach to the painting-room was heralded by a scuffling of
feet, a loud noise of talking, and a great deal of suspicious giggling
on the part of the housemaid, who had let him in. Suddenly these sounds
ceased--the door was dashed open--and Mr. Thorpe, junior, burst into the
room.

“Dear old Blyth! how are you?” cried Zack. “Have you had any leap-frog
since I was here last? Jump up, and let’s celebrate my return to the
painting-room with a bit of manly exercise in our old way. Come on! I’ll
give the first back. No shirking! Put down your palette; and one, two,
three--and over!”

Pronouncing these words, Zack ran to the end of the room opposite to
Valentine; and signalized his entry into the studio by the extraordinary
process of giving its owner, what is termed in the technical language of
leap-frog, “a capital back.”

Mr. Blyth put down his palette, brushes, and mahl-stick--tucked up his
cuffs and smiled--took a little trial skip into the air--and, running
down the room with the slightly tremulous step of a gentleman of fifty,
cleared Zack in gallant style; fell over on the other side, all in a
lump on his hands and feet; gave the return “back” conscientiously, at
the other end of the studio; and was leapt over in an instant, with a
shout of triumph, by Zack. The athletic ceremonies thus concluded, the
two stood up together and shook hands heartily.

“Too stiff, Blyth--too stiff and shaky by half,” said young Thorpe. “I
haven’t kept you up enough in your gymnastics lately. We must have some
more leap-frog in the garden; and I’ll bring my boxing gloves next time,
and open your chest by teaching you to fight. Splendid exercise, and so
good for your sluggish old liver.”

Delivering this opinion, Zack ran off to Madonna, who had been keeping
the Venus de’ Medici from being shaken down, while she looked on at the
leap-frog. “How is the dearest, prettiest, gentlest love in the world?”
 cried Zack, taking her hand, and kissing it with boisterous fondness.
“Ah! she lets other old friends kiss her cheek, and only lets me kiss
her hand!--I say, Blyth, what a little witch she is--I’ll lay you two to
one she’s guessed what I’ve just been saying to her.”

A bright flush overspread the girl’s face while Zack addressed her. Her
tender blue eyes looked up at him, shyly conscious of the pleasure that
their expression was betraying; and the neat folds of her pretty grey
dress, which had lain so still over her bosom when she was drawing,
began to rise and fall gently now, when Zack was holding her hand. If
young Thorpe had not been the most thoughtless of human beings--as much
a boy still, in many respects, as when he was locked up in his father’s
dressing-room for bad behavior at church--he might have guessed long ago
why he was the only one of Madonna’s old friends whom she did not permit
to kiss her on the cheek!

But Zack neither guessed, nor thought of guessing, anything of this
sort. His flighty thoughts flew off in a moment from the young lady
to his cigar-case; and he walked away to the hearth-rug, twisting up a
piece of waste paper into a lighter as he went.

When Madonna returned to her drawing, her eyes wandered timidly once or
twice to the place where Zack was standing, when she thought he was
not looking at her; and, assuredly, so far as personal appearance was
concerned, young Thorpe was handsome enough to tempt any woman into
glancing at him with approving eyes. He was over six feet in height;
and, though then little more than nineteen years old, was well developed
in proportion to his stature. His boxing, rowing, and other athletic
exercises had done wonders towards bringing his naturally vigorous,
upright frame to the perfection of healthy muscular condition. Tall and
strong as he was, there was nothing stiff or ungainly in his movements,
He trod easily and lightly, with a certain youthful suppleness and hardy
grace in all his actions, which set off his fine bodily formation to the
best advantage. He had keen, quick, mischievous grey eyes--a thoroughly
English red and white complexion--admirably bright and regular
teeth--and curly light brown hair, with a very peculiar golden tinge
in it, which was only visible when his head was placed in a particular
light. In short, Zack was a manly, handsome fellow, a thorough Saxon,
every inch of him; and (physically speaking at least) a credit to the
parents and the country that had given him birth.

“I say, Blyth, do you and Madonna mind smoke?” asked Zack, lighting his
cigar before there was time to answer him.

“No--no,” said Valentine. “But, Zack, you wrote me word that your father
had taken all your cigars away from you--”

“So he has, and all my pocket-money too. But I’ve taken to helping
myself, and I’ve got some splendid cigars. Try one, Blyth,” said the
young gentleman, luxuriously puffing out a stream of smoke through each
nostril.

“Taken to helping yourself!” exclaimed Mr. Blyth. “What do you mean?”

“Oh!” said Zack, “don’t be afraid. It’s not thieving--it’s only barter.
Look here, my dear fellow, this is how it is. A friend of mine, a junior
clerk in our office, has three dozen cigars, and I have two staring
flannel shirts, which are only fit for a snob to wear. The junior clerk
gives me the three dozen cigars, and I give the junior clerk the two
staring flannel shirts. That’s barter, and barter’s commerce, old boy!
it’s all my father’s fault; he will make a tradesman of me. Dutiful
behavior, isn’t it, to be doing a bit of commerce already on my own
account?”

“I’ll tell you what, Zack,” said Mr. Blyth, “I don’t like the way you’re
going on in at all. Your last letter made me very uneasy, I can promise
you.”

“You can’t be half as uneasy as I am,” rejoined Zack. “I’m jolly enough
here, to be sure, because I can’t help it somehow; but at home I’m the
most miserable devil on the face of the earth. My father baulks me in
everything, and makes me turn hypocrite, and take him in, in all sorts
of ways--which I hate myself for doing; and yet can’t help doing,
because he forces me to it. Why does he want to make me live in the same
slow way that he does himself? There’s some difference in our ages, I
rather think! Why does he bully me about being always home by eleven
o’clock? Why does he force me into a tea-merchant’s office, when I want
to be an artist, like you? I’m a perfect slave to commerce already.
What do you think? I’m supposed to be sampling in the city at this very
moment. The junior clerk’s doing the work for me; and he’s to have
one of my dress-waistcoats to compensate him for the trouble. First
my shirts; then my waistcoat; then my--confound it, sir, I shall be
stripped to the skin, if this sort of thing goes on much longer!”

“Gently, Zack, gently. What would your father say if he heard you?”

“Oh, yes! it’s all very well, you old humbug, to shake your head at me;
but you wouldn’t like being forced into an infernal tea-shop, and having
all your pocket-money stopped, if it was your case. I won’t stand it--I
have the patience of Job--but I won’t stand it! My mind’s made up:
I want to be an artist, and I _will_ be an artist. Don’t lecture,
Blyth--it’s no use; but just tell me how I’m to begin learning to draw.”

Here Zack cunningly touched Valentine on his weak point. Art was his
grand topic; and to ask his advice on that subject was to administer the
sweetest flattery to his professional pride. He wheeled his chair round
directly, so as to face young Thorpe. “If you’re really set on being an
artist,” he began enthusiastically, “I rather fancy, Master Zack, I’m
the man to help you. First of all, you must purify your taste by copying
the glorious works of Greek sculpture--in short, you must form yourself
on the Antique. Look there!--just what Madonna’s doing now; _she’s_
forming herself on the Antique.”

Zack went immediately to look at Madonna’s drawing, the outline of
which was now finished. “Beautiful! Splendid! Ah! confound it! yes! the
glorious Greeks, and so forth, just as you say, Blyth. A most wonderful
drawing! the finest thing of the kind I ever saw in my life!” Here
he transferred his superlatives to his fingers, communicating them to
Madonna through the medium of the deaf and dumb alphabet, which he had
superficially mastered with extraordinary rapidity under Mr. and Mrs.
Blyth’s tuition. Whatever Zack’s friends did Zack always admired with
the wildest enthusiasm, and without an instant’s previous consideration.
Any knowledge of what he praised, or why he praised it, was a slight
superfluity of which he never felt the want. If Madonna had been a great
astronomer, and had shown him pages of mathematical calculations, he
would have overwhelmed her with eulogies just as glibly as--by means of
the finger alphabet--he was overwhelming her now.

But Valentine’s pupil was used to be criticized as well as praised; and
her head was in no danger of being turned by Zack’s admiration of her
drawing. Looking up at him with a sly expression of incredulity, she
signed these words in reply:--“I am afraid it ought to be a much better
drawing than it is. Do you really like it?” Zack rejoined impetuously
by a fresh torrent of superlatives. She watched his face, for a moment,
rather anxiously and inquiringly, then bent down quickly over her
drawing. He walked back to Valentine. Her eyes followed him--then
returned once more to the paper before her. The color began to rise
again in her cheek; a thoughtful expression stole calmly over her clear,
happy eyes; she played nervously with the port-crayon that held her
black and white chalk; looked attentively at the drawing; and, smiling
very prettily at some fancy of her own, proceeded assiduously with her
employment, altering and amending, as she went on, with more than usual
industry and care.

What was Madonna thinking of? If she had been willing, and able, to
utter her thoughts, she might have expressed them thus: “I wonder
whether he likes my drawing? Shall I try hard if I can’t make it better
worth pleasing him? I will! it shall be the best thing I have ever done.
And then, when it is nicely finished, I will take it secretly to Mrs.
Blyth to give from me, as my present to Zack.”

“Look there,” said Valentine, turning from his picture towards Madonna,
“look, my boy, how carefully that dear good girl there is working from
the Antique! Only copy her example, and you may be able to draw from the
life in less than a year’s time.”

“You don’t say so? I should like to sit down and begin at once. But,
look here, Blyth, when you say ‘draw from the life,’ there can’t be the
smallest doubt, of course, about what you mean--but, at the same
time, if you would only be a little less professional in your way of
expressing yourself--”

“Good heavens, Zack, in what barbarous ignorance of art your parents
must have brought you up! ‘Drawing from the life,’ means drawing the
living human figure from the living human being which sits at a shilling
an hour, and calls itself a model.”

“Ah, to be sure! Some of these very models whose names are chalked
up here over your fireplace?--Delightful! Glorious! Drawing from the
life--just the very thing I long for most. Hullo!” exclaimed Zack,
reading the memoranda, which it was Mr. Blyth’s habit to scrawl, as they
occurred to him, on the wall over the chimney-piece--“Hullo! here’s a
woman-model; ‘Amelia Bibby’--Blyth! let me dash at once into drawing
from the life, and let me begin with Amelia Bibby.”

“Nothing of the sort, Master Zack,” said Valentine. “You may end with
Amelia Bibby, when you are fit to study at the Royal Academy. She’s a
capital model, and so is her sister, Sophia. The worst of it is, they
quarreled mortally a little while ago; and now, if an artist has Sophia,
Amelia won’t come to him. And Sophia of course returns the compliment,
and won’t sit to Amelia’s friends. It’s awkward for people who used to
employ them both, as I did.”

“What did they quarrel about?” inquired Zack.

“About a tea-pot,” answered Mr. Blyth. “You see, they are daughters
of one of the late king’s footmen, and are desperately proud of their
aristocratic origin. They used to live together as happy as birds,
without a hard word ever being spoken between them, till, one day, they
happened to break their tea-pot, which of course set them talking about
getting a new one. Sophia said it ought to be earthenware, like the
last; Amelia contradicted her, and said it ought to be metal. Sophia
said all the aristocracy used earthenware; Amelia said all the
aristocracy used metal. Sophia said she was oldest, and knew best;
Amelia said she was youngest, and knew better. Sophia said Amelia was an
impudent jackanapes; Amelia said Sophia was a plebeian wretch. From that
moment, they parted. Sophia sits in her own lodging, and drinks tea out
of earthenware; Amelia sits in _her_ own lodging, and drinks tea out of
metal. They swear never to make it up, and abuse each other furiously
to everybody who will listen to them. Very shocking, and very curious at
the same time--isn’t it, Zack?”

“Oh, capital! A perfect picture of human nature to us men of the world,”
 exclaimed the young gentleman, smoking with the air of a profound
philosopher. “But tell me, Blyth, which is the prettiest, Amelia or
Sophia? Metal or Earthenware? My mind’s made up, beforehand, to study
from the best-looking of the two, if you have no objection.”

“I have the strongest possible objection, Zack, to talking nonsense
where a serious question is concerned. Are you, or are you not, in
earnest in your dislike of commerce and your resolution to be an
artist?”

“I mean to be a painter, or I mean to leave home,” answered Zack,
resolutely. “If you don’t help me, I’ll be off as sure as fate! I have
half a mind to cut the office from this moment. Lend me a shilling,
Blyth; and I’ll toss up for it. Heads--liberty and the fine arts!
Tails--the tea-merchant!”

“If you don’t go back to the City to-day,” said Valentine, “and stick to
your engagements, I wash my hands of you--but if you wait patiently, and
promise to show all the attention you can to your father’s wishes, I’ll
teach you myself to draw from the Antique. If somebody can be found who
has influence enough with your father to get him to enter you at the
Royal Academy, you must be prepared beforehand with a drawing that’s fit
to show. Now, if you promise to be a good boy, you shall come here, and
learn the A B C of Art, every evening if you like. We’ll have a regular
little academy,” continued Valentine, putting down his palette and
brushes, and rubbing his hands in high glee; “and if it isn’t too much
for Lavvie, the evening studies shall take place in her room; and she
shall draw, poor dear soul, as well as the rest of us. There’s an idea
for you, Zack! Mr. Blyth’s Drawing Academy, open every evening--with
light refreshment for industrious students. What do you say to it?”

“Say? by George, sir, I’ll come every night, and get through acres of
chalk and miles of drawing paper!” cried Zack, catching all Valentine’s
enthusiasm on the instant. “Let’s go up stairs and tell Mrs. Blyth about
it directly.”

“Stop a minute, Zack,” interposed Mr. Blyth. “What time ought you to be
back in the City? it’s close on two o’clock now.”

“Oh! three o’clock will do. I’ve got lots of time, yet--I can walk it in
half-an-hour.”

“You have got about ten minutes more to stay,” said Valentine in his
firmest manner. “Occupy them if you like, in going up stairs to Mrs.
Blyth, and take Madonna with you. I’ll follow as soon as I’ve put away
my brushes.”

Saying those words, Mr. Blyth walked to the place where Madonna was
still at work. She was so deeply engaged over her drawing that she had
never once looked up from it, for the last quarter-of-an-hour, or more;
and when Valentine patted her shoulder approvingly, and made her a sign
to leave off, she answered by a gesture of entreaty, which eloquently
enough implored him to let her proceed a little longer with her
employment. She had never at other times claimed an indulgence of this
kind, when she was drawing from the Antique--but then, she had never, at
other times, been occupied in making a copy which was secretly intended
as a present for Zack.

Valentine, however, easily induced her to relinquish her port-crayon. He
laid his hand on his heart, which was the sign that had been adopted to
indicate Mrs. Blyth. Madonna started up, and put her drawing materials
aside immediately.

Zack, having thrown away the end of his cigar, gallantly advanced and
offered her his arm. As she approached, rather shyly, to take it, he
also laid his hand on his heart, and pointed up stairs. The gesture
was quite enough for her. She understood at once that they were going
together to see Mrs. Blyth.

“Whether Zack really turns out a painter or not,” said Valentine to
himself, as the door closed on the two young people, “I believe I have
hit on the best plan that ever was devised for keeping him steady. As
long as he comes to me regularly, he can’t break out at night, and get
into mischief. Upon my word, the more I think of that notion of mine
the better I like it. I shouldn’t at all wonder if my evening Academy
doesn’t end in working the reformation of Zack!”


When Mr. Blyth pronounced those last words, if he could only have
looked a little way into the future--if he could only have suspected how
strangely the home-interests dearest to his heart were connected with
his success in working the reformation of Zack--the smile which was now
on his face would have left it in a moment; and, for the first time
in his life, he would have sat before one of his own pictures in the
character of an unhappy man.



CHAPTER IX. THE TRIBULATIONS OF ZACK.

A week elapsed before Mrs. Blyth’s wavering health permitted her husband
to open the sittings of his evening drawing-academy in the invalid room.

During every day of that week, the chances of taming down Zack into
a reformed character grew steadily more and more hopeless. The lad’s
home-position, at this period, claims a moment’s serious attention.
Zack’s resistance to his father’s infatuated severity was now shortly to
end in results of the last importance to himself, to his family, and to
his friends.


A specimen has already been presented of Mr. Thorpe’s method of
religiously educating his son, at six years old, by making him attend a
church service of two hours in length; as, also, of the manner in
which he sought to drill the child into premature discipline by dint of
Sabbath restrictions and Select Bible Texts. When that child grew to a
boy, and when the boy developed to a young man, Mr. Thorpe’s educational
system still resolutely persisted in being what it had always been
from the first. His idea of Religion defined it to be a system of
prohibitions; and, by a natural consequence, his idea of Education
defined _that_ to be a system of prohibitions also.

His method of bringing up his son once settled, no earthly consideration
could move him from it an inch, one way or the other. He had two
favorite phrases to answer every form of objection, every variety of
reasoning, every citation of examples. No matter with what arguments
the surviving members of Mrs. Thorpe’s family from time to time assailed
him, the same two replies were invariably shot back at them in turn from
the parental quiver. Mr. Thorpe calmly--always calmly--said, first, that
he “would never compound with vice” (which was what nobody asked him
to do), and, secondly, that he would, in no instance, great or small,
“consent to act from a principle of expediency:” this last assertion, in
the case of Zack, being about equivalent to saying that if he set out
to walk due north, and met a lively young bull galloping with his head
down, due south, he would not consent to save his own bones, or yield
the animal space enough to run on, by stepping aside a single inch in a
lateral direction, east or west.

“My son requires the most unremitting parental discipline and control,”
 Mr. Thorpe remarked, in explanation of his motives for forcing Zack to
adopt a commercial career. “When he is not under my own eye at home, he
must be under the eyes of devout friends, in whom I can place unlimited
confidence. One of these devout friends is ready to receive him into
his counting-house; to keep him industriously occupied from nine in
the morning till six in the evening; to surround him with estimable
examples; and, in short, to share with me the solemn responsibility of
managing his moral and religious training. Persons who ask me to allow
motives of this awfully important nature to be modified in the
smallest degree by any considerations connected with the lad’s natural
disposition (which has been a source of grief to me from his childhood)
with his bodily gifts of the flesh (which have hitherto only served to
keep him from the cultivation of the gifts of the spirit); or with his
own desires (which I know by bitter experience to be all of the world,
worldly);--persons, I say, who ask me to do any of these things, ask me
also to act from a godless principle of expediency, and to violate moral
rectitude by impiously compounding with vice.”

Acting on such principles of parental discipline as these, Mr. Thorpe
conscientiously believed that he had done his duty, when he had at last
forced his son into the merchant’s office. He had, in truth, perpetrated
one of the most serious mistakes which it is possible for a wrong-headed
father to commit. For once, Zack had not exaggerated in saying that his
aversion to employment in a counting-house amounted to absolute horror.
His physical peculiarities, and the habits which they had entailed on
him from boyhood, made life in the open air, and the constant use of his
hardy thews and sinews a constitutional necessity. He felt--and there
was no self-delusion in the feeling--that he should mope and pine, like
a wild animal in a cage, under confinement in an office, only varied
from morning to evening by commercial walking expeditions of a miserable
mile or two in close and crowded streets. These forebodings--to say
nothing of his natural yearning towards adventure, change of scene, and
exhilarating bodily exertion--would have been sufficient of themselves
to have decided him to leave his home, and battle his way through the
world (he cared not where or how, so long as he battled it freely), but
for one consideration. Reckless as he was, that consideration stayed his
feet on the brink of a sacred threshold which he dared not pass, perhaps
to leave it behind him for ever--the threshold of his mother’s door.

Strangely as it expressed itself, and irregularly as it influenced
his conduct, Zack’s love for his mother was yet, in its own nature, a
beautiful and admirable element in his character; full of promise for
the future, if his father had been able to discover it, and had been
wise enough to be guided by the discovery. As to outward expression, the
lad’s fondness for Mrs. Thorpe was a wild, boisterous, inconsiderate,
unsentimental fondness, noisily in harmony with his thoughtless,
rattle-pated disposition. It swayed him by fits and starts; influencing
him nobly to patience and forbearance at one time; abandoning him, to
all appearance, at another. But it was genuine, ineradicable fondness,
nevertheless--however often heedlessness and temptation might overpower
the still small voice in which its impulses spoke to his conscience, and
pleaded with his heart.

Among other unlucky results of Mr. Thorpe’s conscientious imprisonment
of his son in a merchant’s office, was the vast increase which Zack’s
commercial penance produced in his natural appetite for the amusements
and dissipations of the town. After nine hours of the most ungrateful
daily labor that could well have been inflicted on him, the sight
of play-bills and other wayside advertisements of places of public
recreation appealed to him on his way home, with irresistible
fascination.

Mr. Thorpe drew the line of demarcation between permissible and
forbidden evening amusements at the lecture-rooms of the Royal and
Polytechnic Institutions, and the oratorio performances in Exeter Hall.
All gates opening on the outer side of the boundary thus laid down, were
gates of Vice--gates that no son of his should ever be allowed to pass.
The domestic laws which obliged Zack to be home every night at eleven
o’clock, and forbade the possession of a door-key, were directed
especially to the purpose of closing up against him the forbidden
entrances to theaters and public gardens--places of resort which Mr.
Thorpe characterized, in a strain of devout allegory, as “Labyrinths of
National Infamy.” It was perfectly useless to suggest to the father (as
some of Zack’s maternal relatives did suggest to him), that the son
was originally descended from Eve, and was consequently possessed of
an hereditary tendency to pluck at forbidden fruit; and that his
disposition and age made it next to a certainty, that if he were
restrained from enjoying openly the amusements most attractive to him,
he would probably end in enjoying them by stealth. Mr. Thorpe met
all arguments of this kind by registering his usual protest against
“compounding with vice;” and then drew the reins of discipline tighter
than ever, by way of warning off all intrusive hands from attempting to
relax them for the future.

Before long, the evil results predicted by the opponents of the father’s
plan for preventing the son from indulging in public amusements,
actually occurred. At first, Zack gratified his taste for the drama, by
going to the theater whenever he felt inclined; leaving the performances
early enough to get home by eleven o’clock, and candidly acknowledging
how he had occupied the evening, when the question was asked at
breakfast the next morning. This frankness of confession was always
rewarded by rebukes, threats, and reiterated prohibitions, administered
by Mr. Thorpe with a crushing assumption of superiority to every
mitigating argument, entreaty, or excuse that his son could urge, which
often irritated Zack into answering defiantly, and recklessly repeating
his offense. Finding that all menaces and reproofs only ended in making
the lad ill-tempered and insubordinate for days together, Mr. Thorpe so
far distrusted his own powers of correction as to call in the aid of his
prime clerical adviser, the Reverend Aaron Yollop; under whose ministry
he sat, and whose portrait, in lithograph, hung in the best light on the
dining-room wall at Baregrove Square.

Mr. Yollop’s interference was at least weighty enough to produce a
positive and immediate result: it drove Zack to the very last limits of
human endurance. The reverend gentleman’s imperturbable self possession
defied the young rebel’s utmost powers of irritating reply, no matter
how vigorously he might exert them. Once vested with the paternal
commission to rebuke, prohibit, and lecture, as the spiritual pastor and
master of Mr. Thorpe’s disobedient son, Mr. Yollop flourished in his new
vocation in exact proportion to the resistance offered to the exercise
of his authority. He derived a grim encouragement from the wildest
explosions of Zack’s fury at being interfered with by a man who had
no claim of relationship over him, and who gloried, professionally, in
experimenting on him, as a finely-complicated case of spiritual disease.
Thrice did Mr. Yollop, in his capacity of a moral surgeon, operate on
his patient, and triumph in the responsive yells which his curative
exertions elicited. At the fourth visit of attendance, however, every
angry symptom suddenly and marvelously disappeared before the first
significant flourish of the clerical knife. Mr. Yollop had triumphed
where Mr. Thorpe had failed! The case which had defied lay treatment had
yielded to the parsonic process of cure; and Zack, the rebellious, was
tamed at last into spending his evenings in decorous dullness at home!

It never occurred to Mr. Yollop to doubt, or to Mr. Thorpe to ascertain,
whether the young gentleman really went to bed, after he had retired
obediently, at the proper hour, to his sleeping room. They saw him come
home from business sullenly docile and speechlessly subdued, take his
dinner and his book in the evening, and go up stairs quietly, after the
house door had been bolted for the night. They saw him thus acknowledge,
by every outward proof, that he was crushed into thorough submission;
and the sight satisfied them to their heart’s content. No men are so
short-sighted as persecuting men. Both Mr. Thorpe and his coadjutor were
persecutors on principle, wherever they encountered opposition; and both
were consequently incapable of looking beyond immediate results. The sad
truth was, however, that they had done something more than discipline
the lad. They had fairly worried his native virtues of frankness and
fair-dealing out of his heart; they had beaten him back, inch by inch,
into the miry refuge of sheer duplicity. Zack was deceiving them both.

Eleven o’clock was the family hour for going to bed at Baregrove Square.
Zack’s first proceeding on entering his room was to open his window
softly, put on an old traveling cap, and light a cigar. It was December
weather at that time; but his hardy constitution rendered him as
impervious to cold as a young Polar bear. Having smoked quietly for
half an hour, he listened at his door till the silence in Mr. Thorpe’s
dressing-room below assured him that his father was safe in bed, and
invited him to descend on tiptoe--with his boots under his arm--into
the hall. Here he placed his candle, with a box of matches by it, on a
chair, and proceeded to open the house door with the noiseless dexterity
of a practiced burglar--being always careful to facilitate the safe
performance of this dangerous operation by keeping lock, bolt, and
hinges well oiled. Having secured the key, blown out the candle, and
noiselessly closed the door behind him, he left the house, and started
for the Haymarket, Covent Garden, or the Strand, a little before
midnight--or, in other words, set forth on a nocturnal tour of
amusement, just at the time when the doors of respectable places of
public recreation (which his father prevented him from attending) were
all closed, and the doors of disreputable places all thrown open.

One precaution, and one only, did Zack observe while enjoying the
dangerous diversions into which paternal prohibitions, assisted by
filial perversity, now thrust him headlong, He took care to keep sober
enough to be sure of getting home before the servants had risen, and
to be certain of preserving his steadiness of hand and stealthiness of
foot, while bolting the door and stealing up stairs for an hour or two
of bed. Knowledge of his own perilous weakness of brain, as a drinker,
rendered him thus uncharacteristically temperate and self-restrained,
so far as indulgence in strong liquor was concerned. His first glass of
grog comforted him; his second agreeably excited him; his third (as
he knew by former experience) reached his weak point on a sudden, and
robbed him treacherously of his sobriety.

Three or four times a week, for nearly a month, had he now enjoyed his
unhallowed nocturnal rambles with perfect impunity--keeping them secret
even from his friend Mr. Blyth, whose toleration, expansive as it was,
he well knew would not extend to viewing leniently such offenses as
haunting night-houses at two in the morning, while his father believed
him to be safe in bed. But one mitigating circumstance can be urged in
connection with the course of misconduct which he was now habitually
following. He had still grace enough left to feel ashamed of his own
successful duplicity, when he was in his mother’s presence.

But circumstances unhappily kept him too much apart from Mrs. Thorpe,
and so prevented the natural growth of a good feeling, which flourished
only under her influence: and which, had it been suffered to arrive at
maturity, might have led to his reform. All day he was at the office,
and his irksome life there only inclined him to look forward with
malicious triumph to the secret frolic of the night. Then, in the
evening, Mr. Thorpe often thought it advisable to harangue him
seriously, by way of not letting the reformed rake relapse for want of
a little encouraging admonition of the moral sort. Nor was Mr. Yollop at
all behindhand in taking similar precautions to secure the new convert
permanently, after having once caught him. Every word these two
gentlemen spoke only served to harden the lad afresh, and to deaden the
reproving and reclaiming influence of his mother’s affectionate looks
and confiding words. “I should get nothing by it, even if I _could_ turn
over a new leaf;” thought Zack, shrewdly and angrily, when his father
or his father’s friend favored him with a little improving advice: “Here
they are, worrying away again already at their pattern good boy, to make
him a better.”

Such was the point at which the Tribulations of Zack had arrived, at the
period when Mr. Valentine Blyth resolved to set up a domestic Drawing
Academy in his wife’s room; with the double purpose of amusing his
family circle in the evening, and reforming his wild young friend by
teaching him to draw from the “glorious Antique.”



CHAPTER X. MR. BLYTH’S DRAWING ACADEMY.

When the week of delay had elapsed, and when Mrs. Blyth felt strong
enough to receive company in her room, Valentine sent the promised
invitation to Zack which summoned him to his first drawing-lesson.

The locality in which the family drawing academy was to be held deserves
a word of preliminary notice. It formed the narrow world which bounded,
by day and night alike, the existence of the painter’s wife.

By throwing down a partition-wall, Mrs. Blyth’s room had been so
enlarged, as to extend along the whole breadth of one side of the house,
measuring from the front to the back garden windows. Considerable as the
space was which had been thus obtained, every part of it from floor to
ceiling was occupied by objects of beauty proper to the sphere in which
they were placed: some, solid and serviceable, where usefulness
was demanded; others light and elegant, where ornament alone was
necessary--and all won gloriously by Valentine’s brush; by the long,
loving, unselfish industry of many years. Mrs. Blyth’s bed, like
everything else that she used in her room, was so arranged as to offer
her the most perfect comfort and luxury attainable in her suffering
condition. The framework was broad enough to include within its
dimensions a couch for day and a bed for night. Her reading easel and
work-table could be moved within reach, in whatever position she lay.
Immediately above her hung an extraordinary complication of loose cords,
which ran through ornamental pulleys of the quaintest kind, fixed at
different places in the ceiling, and communicating with the bell, the
door, and a pane of glass in the window which opened easily on hinges.
These were Valentine’s own contrivances to enable his wife to summon
attendance, admit visitors, and regulate the temperature of her room at
will, by merely pulling at any one of the loops hanging within reach
of her hand, and neatly labeled with ivory tablets, inscribed “Bell,”
 “Door,” “Window.” The cords comprising this rigging for invalid use were
at least five times more numerous than was necessary for the purpose
they were designed to serve; but Mrs. Blyth would never allow them to be
simplified by dexterous hands. Clumsy as their arrangement might appear
to others, in her eyes it was without a fault: every useless cord was
sacred from the reforming knife, for Valentine’s sake.

Imprisoned to one room, as she had now been for years, she had not lost
her natural womanly interest in the little occupations and events of
household life. From the studio to the kitchen, she managed every day,
through channels of communication invented by herself, to find out the
latest domestic news; to be present in spirit at least if not in body,
at family consultations which could not take place in her room; to know
exactly how her husband was getting on downstairs with his pictures;
to rectify in time any omission of which Mr. Blyth or Madonna might
be guilty in making the dinner arrangements, or in sending orders to
tradespeople; to keep the servants attentive to their work, and to
indulge or control them, as the occasion might require. Neither by look
nor manner did she betray any of the sullen listlessness or fretful
impatience sometimes attendant on long, incurable illness. Her voice,
low as its tones were, was always cheerful, and varied musically and
pleasantly with her varying thoughts. On her days of weakness, when she
suffered much under her malady, she was accustomed to be quite still
and quiet, and to keep her room darkened--these being the only signs by
which any increase in her disorder could be detected by those about
her. She never complained when the bad symptoms came on; and never
voluntarily admitted, even on being questioned, that the spine was more
painful to her than usual.

She was dressed very prettily for the opening night of the Drawing
Academy, wearing a delicate lace cap, and a new silk gown of Valentine’s
choosing, made full enough to hide the emaciation of her figure. Her
husband’s love, faithful through all affliction and change to the
girlish image of its first worship, still affectionately exacted from
her as much attention to the graces and luxuries of dress as she might
have bestowed on them of her own accord, in the best and gayest days
of youth and health. She had never looked happier and better in any
new gown than in that, which Mr. Blyth had insisted on giving her, to
commemorate the establishment of the domestic drawing school in her own
room.

Seven o’clock had been fixed as the hour at which the business of
the academy was to begin. Always punctual, wherever his professional
engagements were concerned, Valentine put the finishing touch to his
preparations as the clock struck; and perching himself gaily on a corner
of Mrs. Blyth’s couch, surveyed his drawing-boards, his lamps, and the
plaster cast set up for his pupils to draw from, with bland artistic
triumph.

“Now, Lavvie,” he said, “before Zack comes and confuses me, I’ll just
check off all the drawing things one after another, to make sure that
nothing’s left down stairs in the studio, which ought to be up here.”

As her husband said these words, Mrs. Blyth touched Madonna gently
on the shoulder. For some little time the girl had been sitting
thoughtfully, with her head bent down, her cheek resting on her hand,
and a bright smile just parting her lips very prettily. The affliction
which separated her from the worlds of hearing and speech--which set her
apart among her fellow-creatures, a solitary living being in a sphere of
death-silence that others might approach, but might never enter--gave
a touching significance to the deep, meditative stillness that often
passed over her suddenly, even in the society of her adopted parents,
and of friends who were all talking around her. Sometimes, the thoughts
by which she was thus absorbed--thoughts only indicated to others by
the shadow of their mysterious presence, moving in the expression that
passed over her face--held her long under their influence: sometimes,
they seemed to die away in her mind almost as suddenly as they had
arisen to life in it. It was one of Valentine’s many eccentric fancies
that she was not meditating only, at such times as these, but that, deaf
and dumb as she was with the creatures of this world, she could talk
with the angels, and could hear what the heavenly voices said to her in
return.

The moment she was touched on the shoulder, she looked up, and nestled
close to her adopted mother; who, passing one arm round her neck,
explained to her, by means of the manual signs of the deaf and dumb
alphabet, what Valentine was saying at that moment.

Nothing was more characteristic of Mrs. Blyth’s warm sympathies and
affectionate consideration for Madonna than this little action. The
kindest people rarely think it necessary, however well practiced in
communicating by the fingers with the deaf, to keep them informed of any
ordinary conversation which may be proceeding in their presence. Wise
disquisitions, witty sayings, curious stories, are conveyed to their
minds by sympathizing friends and relatives, as a matter of course; but
the little chatty nothings of everyday talk, which most pleasantly and
constantly employ our speaking and address our hearing faculties,
are thought too slight and fugitive in their nature to be worthy of
transmission by interpreting fingers or pens, and are consequently
seldom or never communicated to the deaf. No deprivation attending their
affliction is more severely felt by them than the special deprivation
which thus ensues; and which exiles their sympathies, in a great
measure, from all share in the familiar social interests of life around
them.

Mrs. Blyth’s kind heart, quick intelligence, and devoted affection for
her adopted child, had long since impressed it on her, as the first
of duties and pleasures, to prevent Madonna from feeling the excluding
influences of her calamity, while in the society of others, by keeping
her well informed of every one of the many conversations, whether
jesting or earnest, that were held in her presence, in the invalid-room.
For years and years past, Mrs. Blyth’s nimble fingers had been
accustomed to interpret all that was said by her bedside before the deaf
and dumb girl, as they were interpreting for her now.

“Just stop me, Lavvie, if I miss anything out, in making sure that I’ve
got all that’s wanted for everybody’s drawing lesson,” said Valentine,
preparing to reckon up the list of his materials correctly, by placing
his right forefinger on his left thumb. “First, there’s the statue that
all my students are to draw from--the Dying Gladiator. Secondly,
the drawing-boards and paper. Thirdly, the black and white chalk.
Fourthly,--where are the port-crayons to hold the chalk? Down in the
painting-room, of course. No! no! don’t trouble Madonna to fetch them.
Tell her to poke the fire instead: I’ll be back directly.” And Mr. Blyth
skipped out of the room as nimbly as if he had been fifteen instead of
fifty.

No sooner was Valentine’s back turned than Mrs. Blyth’s hand was passed
under the pretty swan’s-down coverlet that lay over her couch, as if in
search of something hidden beneath it. In a moment the hand reappeared,
holding a chalk drawing very neatly framed. It was Madonna’s copy from
the head of the Venus de’ Medici--the same copy which Zack had honored
with his most superlative exaggeration of praise, at his last visit
to the studio. She had not since forgotten, or altered her purpose of
making him a present of the drawing which he had admired so much. It
had been finished with the utmost care and completeness which she could
bestow upon it; had been put into a very pretty frame which she had paid
for out of her own little savings of pocket-money; and was now hidden
under Mrs. Blyth’s coverlet, to be drawn forth as a grand surprise for
Zack, and for Valentine too, on that very evening.

After looking once or twice backwards and forwards between the copyist
and the copy, her pale kind face beaming with the quiet merriment that
overspread it, Mrs. Blyth laid down the drawing, and began talking with
her fingers to Madonna.

“So you will not even let me tell Valentine who this is a present for?”
 were the first words which she signed.

The girl was sitting with her back half turned on the drawing; glancing
at it quickly from time to time with a strange shyness and indecision,
as if the work of her own hands had undergone some transformation which
made her doubt whether she was any longer privileged to look at it.
She shook her head in reply to the question just put to her, then moved
round suddenly on her chair; her fingers playing nervously with the
fringes of the coverlet at her side.

“We all like Zack,” proceeded Mrs. Blyth, enjoying the amusement which
her womanly instincts extracted from Madonna’s confusion; “but you
must like him very much, love, to take more pains with this particular
drawing than with any drawing you ever did before.”

This time Madonna neither looked up nor moved an inch in her chair, her
fingers working more and more nervously amid the fringe; her treacherous
cheeks, neck, and bosom answered for her.

Mrs. Blyth touched her shoulder gaily, and, after placing the drawing
again under the coverlet, made her look up, while signing these words;

“I shall give the drawing to Zack very soon after he comes in. It is
sure to make him happy for the rest of the evening, and fonder of you
than ever.”

Madonna’s eyes followed Mrs. Blyth’s fingers eagerly to the last
letter they formed; then rose softly to her face with the same wistful
questioning look which they had assumed before Valentine, years and
years ago, when he first interfered to protect her in the traveling
circus. There was such an irresistible tenderness in the faint smile
that wavered about her lips; such a sadness of innocent beauty in
her face, now growing a shade paler than it was wont to be, that Mrs.
Blyth’s expression became serious the instant their eyes met. She drew
the girl forward and kissed her. The kiss was returned many times, with
a passionate warmth and eagerness remarkably at variance with the usual
gentleness of all Madonna’s actions. What had changed her thus? Before
it was possible to inquire or to think, she had broken away from the
kind arms that were round her, and was kneeling with her face hidden in
the pillows that lay over the head of the couch.

“I must quiet her directly. I ought to make her feel that this is
wrong,” said Mrs. Blyth to herself; looking startled and grieved as
she withdrew her hand wet with tears, after trying vainly to raise
the girl’s face from the pillows. “She has been thinking too much
lately--too much about that drawing; too much, I am afraid, about Zack.”

Just at that moment Mr. Blyth opened the door. Feeling the slight shock,
as he let it bang to after entering, Madonna instantly started up and
ran to the fireplace. Valentine did not notice her when he came in.

He bustled about the neighborhood of the Dying Gladiator, talking
incessantly, arranging his port-crayons by the drawing-boards, and
trimming the lamps that lit the model. Mrs. Blyth cast many an anxious
look towards the fireplace. After the lapse of a few minutes Madonna
turned round and came back to the couch. The traces of tears had almost
entirely disappeared from her face. She made a little appealing gesture
that asked Mrs. Blyth to be silent about what had happened while they
were alone; kissed, as a sign that she wished to be forgiven, the
hand that was held out to her; and then sat down quietly again in her
accustomed place.

At the same moment a voice was heard talking and laughing boisterously
in the hall. Then followed a long whispering, succeeded by a burst of
giggling from the housemaid, who presently ascended to Mrs. Blyth’s room
alone, and entered--after an explosion of suppressed laughter behind the
door--holding out at arm’s length a pair of boxing-gloves.

“If you please, sir,” said the girl, addressing Valentine, and tittering
hysterically at every third word, “Master Zack’s down stairs on the
landing, and he says you’re to be so kind as put on these things (he’s
putting another pair on hisself) and give him the pleasure of your
company for a few minutes in the painting-room.”

“Come on, Blyth,” cried the voice from the stairs. “I told you I should
bring the gloves, and make a fighting man of you, last time I was here,
you know. Come on! I only want to open your chest by knocking you about
a little in the painting-room before we begin to draw.”

The servant still held the gloves away from her at the full stretch
of her arm, as if she feared they were yet alive with the pugilistic
energies that had been imparted to them by their last wearer. Mrs. Blyth
burst out laughing, Valentine followed her example. The housemaid began
to look bewildered, and begged to know if her master would be so kind as
to take “the things” away from her.

“Did you say, come up stairs?” continued the voice outside. “All right;
I have no objection, if Mrs. Blyth hasn’t.” Here Zack came in with his
boxing-gloves fitted on. “How are you, Blyth? These are the pills for
that sluggish old liver of yours that you’re always complaining of. Put
‘em on. Stand with your left leg forward--keep your right leg easily
bent--and fix your eye on me!”

“Hold your tongue!” cried Mr. Blyth, at last recovering breath enough to
assert his dignity as master of the new drawing-school. “Take off those
things directly! What do you mean, sir, by coming into my academy, which
is devoted to the peaceful arts, in the attitude of a prize-fighter?”

“Don’t lose your temper, my dear fellow,” rejoined Zack; “you will never
learn to use your fists prettily if you do. Here, Patty, the boxing
lesson’s put off till to-morrow. Take the gloves up-stairs into your
master’s dressing-room, and put them in the drawer where his clean
shirts are, because they must be kept nice and dry. Shake hands, Mrs.
Blyth: it does one good to see you laugh like that, you look so much the
better for it. And how is Madonna? I’m afraid she’s been sitting before
the fire, and trying to spoil her pretty complexion. Why, what’s the
matter with her? Poor little darling, her hands are quite cold!”

“Come to your lesson, sir, directly,” said Valentine, assuming his most
despotic voice, and leading the disorderly student by the collar to his
appointed place.

“Hullo!” cried Zack, looking at the Dying Gladiator. “The gentleman in
plaster’s making a face--I’m afraid he isn’t quite well. I say, Blyth,
is that the statue of an ancient Greek patient, suffering under the
prescription of an ancient Greek physician?”

_“Will_ you hold your tongue and take up your drawing-board?” cried Mr.
Blyth. “You young barbarian, you deserve to be expelled my academy for
talking in that way of the Dying Gladiator. Now then; where’s Madonna?
No! stop where you are, Zack. I’ll show her her place, and give her the
drawing-board. Wait a minute, Lavvie! Let me prop you up comfortably
with the pillows before you begin. There! I never saw a more beautiful
effect of light and shade, my dear, than there is on your view of the
model. Has everybody got a port-crayon and two bits of chalk? Yes,
everybody has. Order! order! order!” shouted Valentine, suddenly
forgetting his assumed dignity in the exultation of the moment. “Mr.
Blyth’s drawing academy for the promotion of family Art is now open, and
ready for general inspection. Hooray!”

“Hooray!” echoed Zack, “hooray for family Art! I say, Blyth, which chalk
do I begin with--the white or the black? The black--eh? Do I start with
the what’s his name’s wry face? and if so, where am I to begin? With his
eyes, or his nose, or his mouth, or the top of his head, or the bottom
of his chin--or what?”

“First sketch in the general form with a light and flowing stroke,
and without attention to details,” said Mr. Blyth, illustrating these
directions by waving his hand gracefully about his own person. “Then
measure with the eye, assisted occasionally by the port-crayon, the
proportion of the parts. Then put dots on the paper; a dot where his
head comes; another dot where his elbows and knees come, and so forth.
Then strike it all in boldly--it’s impossible to give you better advice
than that--strike it in, Zack; strike it in boldly!”

“Here goes at his head and shoulders to begin with,” said Zack, taking
one comprehensive and confident look at the Dying Gladiator, and drawing
a huge half circle, with a preliminary flourish of his hand on the
paper. “Oh, confound it, I’ve broken the chalk!”

“Of course you have,” retorted Valentine. “Take another bit; the Academy
grants supplementary chalk to ignorant students, who dig their lines
on the paper, instead of drawing them. Now, break off a bit of that
bread-crumb, and rub out what you have done. ‘Buy a penny loaf, and rub
it all out,’ as Mr. Fuseli once said to me in the Schools of the
Royal Academy, when I showed him my first drawing, and was excessively
conceited about it.”

“I remember,” said Mrs. Blyth, “when my father was working at his great
engraving, from Mr. Scumble’s picture of the ‘Fair Gleaner Surprised,’
that he used often to say how much harder his art was than drawing,
because you couldn’t rub out a false line on copper, like you could on
paper. We all thought he never would get that print done, he used to
groan over it so in the front drawing-room, where he was then at work.
And the publishers paid him infamously, all in bills, which he had to
get discounted; and the people who gave him the money cheated him. My
mother said it served him right for being always so imprudent; which I
thought very hard on him, and I took his part--so harassed too as he was
by the tradespeople at that time.”

“I can feel for him, my love,” said Valentine, pointing a piece of chalk
for Zack. “The tradespeople have harassed _me_--not because I could not
pay them certainly, but because I could not add up their bills. Never
owe any man enough, Zack, to give him the chance of punishing you for
being in his debt, with a sum to do in simple addition. At the time when
I had bills (go on with your drawing; you can listen, and draw too), I
used, of course, to think it necessary to check the tradespeople, and
see that their Total was right. You will hardly believe me, but I don’t
remember ever making the sum what the shop made it, on more than about
three occasions. And, what was worse, if I tried a second time, I could
not even get it to agree with what I had made it myself the first time.
Thank Heaven, I’ve no difficulties of that sort to grapple with now!
Everything’s paid for the moment it comes in. If the butcher hands a leg
of mutton to the cook over the airey railings, the cook hands him back
six and nine--or whatever it is--and takes his bill and receipt. I eat
my dinners now, with the blessed conviction that they won’t all disagree
with me in an arithmetical point of view at the end of the year. What
are you stopping and scratching your head for in that way?”

“It’s no use,” replied Zack; “I’ve tried it a dozen times, and I find I
can’t draw a Gladiator’s nose.”

“Can’t!” cried Mr. Blyth, “what do you mean by applying the word ‘can’t’
to any process of art in _my_ presence? There, that’s the line of the
Gladiator’s nose. Go over it yourself with this fresh piece of chalk.
No; wait a minute. Come here first, and see how Madonna is striking in
the figure; the front view of it, remember, which is the most difficult.
She hasn’t worked as fast as usual, though. Do you find your view of
the model a little too much for you, my love?” continued Valentine,
transferring the last words to his fingers, to communicate them to
Madonna.

She shook her head in answer. It was not the difficulty of drawing from
the cast before her, but the difficulty of drawing at all, which was
retarding her progress. Her thoughts would wander to the copy of the
Venus de Medici that was hidden under Mrs. Blyth’s coverlid; would
vibrate between trembling eagerness to see it presented without longer
delay, and groundless apprehension that Zack might, after all, not
remember it, or not care to have it when it was given to him. And as her
thoughts wandered, so her eyes followed them. Now she stole an anxious,
inquiring look at Mrs. Blyth, to see if her hand was straying towards
the hidden drawing. Now she glanced shyly at Zack--only by moments at
a time, and only when he was hardest at work with his port-crayon--to
assure herself that he was always in the same good humor, and likely
to receive her little present kindly, and with some appearance of
being pleased to see what pains she had taken with it. In this way her
attention wandered incessantly from her employment; and thus it was
that she made so much less progress than usual, and caused Mr. Blyth to
suspect that the task he had set her was almost beyond her abilities.

“Splendid beginning, isn’t it?” said Zack, looking over her drawing.
“I defy the whole Royal Academy to equal it,” continued the young
gentleman, scrawling this uncompromising expression of opinion on the
blank space at the bottom of Madonna’s drawing, and signing his name
with a magnificent flourish at the end.

His arm touched her shoulder while he wrote. She colored a little, and
glanced at him, playfully affecting to look very proud of his sentence
of approval--then hurriedly resumed her drawing as their eyes met. He
was sent back to his place by Valentine before he could write anything
more. She took some of the bread-crumb near her to rub out what he had
written--hesitated as her hand approached the lines--colored more deeply
than before, and went on with her drawing, leaving the letters beneath
it to remain just as young Thorpe had traced them.

“I shall never be able to draw as well as she does,” said Zack, looking
at the little he had done with a groan of despair. “The fact is, I don’t
think drawing’s my forte. It’s color, depend upon it. Only wait till I
come to that; and see how I’ll lay on the paint! Didn’t you find drawing
infernally difficult, Blyth, when you first began?”

“I find it difficult still, Master Zack,” replied Mr. Blyth. “Art
wouldn’t be the glorious thing it is, if it wasn’t all difficulty from
beginning to end; if it didn’t force out all the fine points in a man’s
character as soon as he takes to it. Just eight o’clock,” continued
Valentine, looking at his watch. “Put down your drawing-boards for the
present. I pronounce the sitting of this Academy to be suspended till
after tea.”

“Valentine, dear,” said Mrs. Blyth, smiling mysteriously, as she slipped
her hand under the coverlid of the couch, “I can’t get Madonna to look
at me, and I want her here. Will you oblige me by bringing her to my
bedside?”

“Certainly, my love,” returned Mr. Blyth, obeying the request. “You have
a double claim on my services to-night, for you have shown yourself the
most promising of my pupils. Come here, Zack, and see what Mrs. Blyth
has done. The best drawing of the evening--just what I thought it would
be--the best drawing of the evening!”

Zack, who had been yawning disconsolately over his own copy, with his
fists stuck into his cheeks, and his elbows on his knees, bustled up to
the couch directly. As he approached, Madonna tried to get back to her
former position at the fireplace, but was prevented by Mrs. Blyth, who
kept tight hold of her hand. Just then, Zack fixed his eyes on her and
increased her confusion.

“She looks prettier than ever to-night, don’t she, Mrs. Blyth?” he said,
sitting down and yawning again. “I always like her best when her eyes
brighten up and look twenty different ways in a minute, just as they’re
doing now. She may not be so like Raphael’s pictures at such times, I
dare say (here he yawned once more); but for my part--What’s she wanting
to get away for? And what are you laughing about, Mrs. Blyth? I say,
Valentine, there’s some joke going on here between the ladies!”

“Do you remember this, Zack?” asked Mrs. Blyth, tightening her hold of
Madonna with one hand, and producing the framed drawing of the Venus de’
Medici with the other.

“Madonna’s copy from my bust of the Venus!” cried Valentine, interposing
with his usual readiness, and skipping forward with his accustomed
alacrity.

“Madonna’s copy from Blyth’s bust of the Venus,” echoed Zack, coolly;
his slippery memory not having preserved the slightest recollection of
the drawing at first sight of it.

“Dear me! how nicely it’s framed, and how beautifully she has finished
it!” pursued Valentine, gently patting Madonna’s shoulder, in token of
his high approval and admiration.

“Very nicely framed, and beautifully finished, as you say, Blyth,”
 glibly repeated Zack, rising from his chair, and looking rather
perplexed, as he noticed the expression with which Mrs. Blyth was
regarding him.

“But who got it framed?” asked Valentine. “She would never have any of
her drawings framed before. I don’t understand what it all means.”

“No more do I,” said Zack, dropping back into his chair in lazy
astonishment. “Is it some riddle, Mrs. Blyth? Something about why is
Madonna like the Venus de’ Medici, eh? If it is, I object to the riddle,
because she’s a deal prettier than any plaster face that ever was made.
Your face beats Venus’s hollow,” continued Zack, communicating this
bluntly sincere compliment to Madonna by the signs of the deaf and dumb
alphabet.

She smiled as she watched the motion of his fingers--perhaps at his
mistakes, for he made two in expressing one short sentence of five
words--perhaps at the compliment, homely as it was.

“Oh, you men, how dreadfully stupid you are sometimes!” exclaimed Mrs.
Blyth. “Why, Valentine, dear, it’s the easiest thing in the world to
guess what she has had the drawing framed for. To make it a present to
somebody, of course! And who does she mean to give it to?”

“Ah! who indeed?” interrupted Zack, sliding down cozily in his chair,
resting his head on the back rail, and spreading his legs out before him
at full stretch.

“I have a great mind to throw the drawing at your head, instead of
giving it to you!” cried Mrs. Blyth, losing all patience.

“You don’t mean to say the drawing’s a present to _me!”_ exclaimed Zack,
starting from his chair with one prodigious jump of astonishment.

“You deserve to have your ears well boxed for not having guessed that it
was long ago!” retorted Mrs. Blyth. “Have you forgotten how you praised
that very drawing, when you saw it begun in the studio? Didn’t you tell
Madonna--”

“Oh! the dear, good, generous, jolly little soul!” cried Zack, snatching
up the drawing from the couch, as the truth burst upon him at last in a
flash of conviction. “Tell her on _your_ fingers, Mrs. Blyth, how proud
I am of my present. I can’t do it with mine, because I can’t let go of
the drawing. Here, look here!--make her look here, and see how I like
it!” And Zack hugged the copy of the Venus de’ Medici to his waistcoat,
by way of showing how highly he prized it.

At this outburst of sentimental pantomime, Madonna raised her head and
glanced at young Thorpe. Her face, downcast, anxious, and averted
even from Mrs. Blyth’s eyes during the last few minutes (as if she had
guessed every word that could pain her, out of all that had been said in
her presence), now brightened again with pleasure as she looked up--with
innocent, childish pleasure, that affected no reserve, dreaded no
misconstruction, foreboded no disappointment. Her eyes, turning quickly
from Zack, and appealing gaily to Valentine, beamed with triumph when he
pointed to the drawing, and smilingly raised his hands in astonishment,
as a sign that he had been pleasantly surprised by the presentation of
her drawing to his new pupil. Mrs. Blyth felt the hand which she still
held in hers, and which had hitherto trembled a little from time to
time, grow steady and warm in her grasp, and dropped it. There was no
fear that Madonna would now leave the side of the couch and steal away
by herself to the fireplace.

“Go on, Mrs. Blyth--you never make mistakes in talking on your fingers,
and I always do--go on, please, and tell her how much I thank her,”
 continued Zack, holding out the drawing at arm’s length, and looking at
it with his head on one side, by way of imitating Valentine’s manner
of studying his own pictures. “Tell her I’ll take such care of it as I
never took of anything before in my life. Tell her I’ll hang it up in my
bed-room, where I can see it every morning as soon as I wake. Have you
told her that?--or shall I write it on her slate? Hullo! here comes the
tea. And, by heavens, a whole bagful of muffins! What!!! the kitchen
fire’s too black to toast them. _I’ll_ undertake the whole lot in the
drawing academy. Here, Patty, give us the toasting-fork: I’m going to
begin. I never saw such a splendid fire for toasting muffins before in
my life! Rum-dum-diddy-iddy-dum-dee, dum-diddy-iddy-dum!” And Zack fell
on his knees at the fireplace, humming “Rule Britannia,” and toasting
his first muffin in triumph; utterly forgetting that he had left
Madonna’s drawing lying neglected, with its face downwards, on the end
of Mrs. Blyth’s couch.

Valentine, who in the innocence of his heart suspected nothing, burst
out laughing at this new specimen of Zack’s inveterate flightiness.
His kind instincts, however, guided his hand at the same moment to the
drawing. He took it up carefully, and placed it on a low bookcase at
the opposite side of the room. If any increase had been possible in his
wife’s affection for him, she would have loved him better than ever at
the moment when he performed that one little action.

As her husband removed the drawing, Mrs. Blyth looked at Madonna. The
poor girl stood shrinking close to the couch, with her hands clasped
tightly together in front of her, and with no trace of their natural
lovely color left on her cheeks. Her eyes followed Valentine listlessly
to the bookcase, then turned towards Zack, not reproachfully nor
angrily--not even tearfully--but again with that same look of patient
sadness, of gentle resignation to sorrow, which used to mark their
expression so tenderly in the days of her bondage among the mountebanks
of the traveling circus. So she stood, looking towards the fireplace and
the figure kneeling at it, bearing her new disappointment just as she
had borne many a former mortification that had tried her sorely while
she was yet a little child. How carefully she had labored at that
neglected drawing in the secrecy of her own room! How happy she had been
in anticipating the moment when it would be given to young Thorpe;
in imagining what he would say on receiving it, and how he would
communicate his thanks to her; in wondering what he would do with it
when he got it: where he would hang it, and whether he would often look
at his present after he had got used to seeing it on the wall! Thoughts
such as these had made the moment of presenting that drawing the moment
of a great event in her life--and there it was now, placed on one side
by other hands than the hands into which it had been given; laid down
carelessly at the mere entrance of a servant with a tea-tray; neglected
for the childish pleasure of kneeling on the hearth-rug, and toasting a
muffin at a clear coal-fire!

Mrs. Blyth’s generous, impulsive nature, and sensitively tempered
affection for her adopted child, impelled her to take instant and not
very merciful notice of Zack’s unpardonable thoughtlessness. Her face
flushed, her dark eyes sparkled, as he turned quickly on her couch
towards the fire-place. But, before she could utter a word, Madonna’s
hand was on her lips, and Madonna’s eyes were fixed with a terrified,
imploring expression on her face. The next instant, the girl’s trembling
fingers rapidly signed these words:

“Pray--pray don’t say anything! I would not have you speak to him just
now for the world!”

Mrs. Blyth hesitated, and looked towards her husband; but he was away at
the other end of the room, amusing himself professionally by casting
the drapery of the window-curtains hither and thither into all sorts of
picturesque folds. She looked next at Zack. Just at that moment he
was turning his muffin and singing louder than ever. The temptation
to startle him out of his provoking gaiety by a good sharp reproof
was almost too strong to be resisted; but Mrs. Blyth forced herself
to resist it, nevertheless, for Madonna’s sake. She did not, however,
communicate with the girl, either by signs or writing, until she had
settled herself again in her former position; then her fingers expressed
these sentences of reply:

“If you promise not to let his thoughtlessness distress you, my love, I
promise not to speak to him about it. Do you agree to that bargain? If
you do, give me a kiss.”

Madonna only paused to repress a sigh that was just stealing from her,
before she gave the required pledge. Her cheeks did not recover their
color, nor her lips the smile that had been playing on them earlier in
the evening; but she arranged Mrs. Blyth’s pillow even more carefully
than usual, before she left the couch, and went away to perform as
neatly and prettily as ever, her own little household duty of making the
tea.

Zack, entirely unconscious of having given pain to one lady and cause of
anger to another, had got on to his second muffin, and had changed his
accompanying song from “Rule Britannia” to the “Lass o’ Gowrie,” when
the hollow, ringing sound of rapidly-running wheels penetrated into the
room from the frosty road outside; advancing nearer and nearer, and then
suddenly ceasing opposite Mr. Blyth’s own door.

“Dear me!--surely that’s at our gate,” exclaimed Valentine; “who can
be coming to see us so late, on such a cold night as this? And in a
carriage, too!”

“It’s a cab, by the rattling of the wheels, and it brings us the ‘Lass
o’ Gowrie,’” sang Zack, combining the original text of his song, and the
suggestion of a possible visitor, in his concluding words.

“Do leave off singing nonsense out of tune, and let us listen when the
door opens,” said Mrs. Blyth, glad to seize the slightest opportunity of
administering the smallest reproof to Zack.

“Suppose it should be Mr. Gimble, come to deal at last for that picture
of mine that he has talked of buying so long,” exclaimed Valentine.

“Suppose it should be my father!” cried Zack, suddenly turning round on
his knees with a very blank face. “Or that infernal old Yollop, with his
gooseberry eyes and his hands full of tracts. They’re both of them quite
equal to coming after me and spoiling my pleasure here, just as they
spoil it everywhere else.”

“Hush!” said Mrs. Blyth. “The visitor has come in, whoever it is. It
can’t be Mr. Gimble, Valentine; he always runs up two stairs at a time.”

“And this is one of the heavy-weights. Not an ounce less than sixteen
stone, I should say, by the step,” remarked Zack, letting his muffin
burn while he listened.

“It can’t be that tiresome old Lady Brambledown come to worry you again
about altering her picture,” said Mrs. Blyth.

“Stop! surely it isn’t--” began Valentine. But before he could say
another word, the door opened; and, to the utter amazement of everybody
but the poor girl whose ear no voice could reach, the servant announced:

“MRS. PECKOVER.”



CHAPTER XI. THE BREWING OF THE STORM.

Time had lavishly added to Mrs. Peckover’s size, but had generously
taken little or nothing from her in exchange. Her hair had certainly
turned grey since the period when Valentine first met her at the circus;
but the good-humored face beneath was just as hearty to look at now, as
ever it had been in former days. Her cheeks had ruddily expanded;
her chin had passed from the double to the triple stage of jovial
development--any faint traces of a waist which she might formerly have
possessed were utterly obliterated--but it was pleasantly evident, to
judge only from the manner of her bustling entry into Mrs. Blyth’s room,
that her active disposition had lost nothing of its early energy, and
could still gaily defy all corporeal obstructions to the very last.

Nodding and smiling at Mr. and Mrs. Blyth, and Zack, till her vast
country bonnet trembled aguishly on her head, the good woman advanced,
shaking every moveable object in the room, straight to the tea-table,
and enfolded Madonna in her capacious arms. The girl’s light figure
seemed to disappear in a smothering circumambient mass of bonnet ribbons
and unintelligible drapery, as Mrs. Peckover saluted her with a rattling
fire of kisses, the report of which was audible above the voluble
talking of Mr. Blyth and the boisterous laughter of Zack.

“I’ll tell you all about how I came here directly, sir; only I couldn’t
help saying how-d’ye-do in the old way to little Mary to begin with,”
 said Mrs. Peckover apologetically. It had been found impossible to
prevail on her to change the familiar name of “little Mary,” which she
had pronounced so often and so fondly in past years, for the name which
had superseded it in Valentine’s house. The truth was, that this worthy
creature knew nothing whatever about Raphael; and, considering “Madonna”
 to be an outlandish foreign word intimately connected with Guy Fawkes
and the Gunpowder Plot, firmly believed that no respectable Englishwoman
ought to compromise her character by attempting to pronounce it.

“I’ll tell you, sir--I’ll tell you directly why I’ve come to London,”
 repeated Mrs. Peckover, backing majestically from the tea-table, and
rolling round easily on her own axis in the direction of the couch, to
ask for the fullest particulars of the state of Mrs. Blyth’s health.

“Much better, my good friend--much better,” was the cheerful answer;
“but do tell us (we are so glad to see you!) how you came to surprise us
all in this way?”

“Well, ma’am,” began Mrs. Peckover, “it’s almost as great a surprise to
me to be in London, as it is--Be quiet, young Good-for-Nothing; I won’t
even shake hands with you if you don’t behave yourself!” These last
words she addressed to Zack, whose favorite joke it had always been,
from the day of their first acquaintance at Valentine’s house, to
pretend to be violently in love with her. He was now standing with his
arms wide open, the toasting-fork in one hand and the muffin he had
burnt in the other, trying to look languishing, and entreating Mrs.
Peckover to give him a kiss.

“When you know how to toast a muffin properly, p’raps I may give you
one,” said she, chuckling as triumphantly over her own small retort as
if she had been a professed wit. “Do, Mr. Blyth, sir, please to keep him
quiet, or I shan’t be able to get on with a single word of what I’ve got
to say. Well, you see, ma’am, Doctor Joyce--”

“How is he?” interrupted Valentine, handing Mrs. Peckover a cup of tea.

“He’s the best gentleman in the world, sir, but he will have his glass
of port after dinner; and the end of it is, he’s laid up again with the
gout.”

“And Mrs. Joyce?”

“Laid up too, sir--it’s a dreadful sick house at the Rectory--laid up
with the inferlenzer.”

“Have any of the children caught the influenza too?” asked Mrs. Blyth.
“I hope not.”

“No, ma’am, they’re all nicely, except the youngest; and it’s on account
of her--don’t you remember her, sir, growing so fast, when you was last
at the Rectory?--that I’m up in London.

“Is the child ill?” asked Valentine anxiously. “She’s such a picturesque
little creature, Lavvie! I long to paint her.”

“I’m afraid, sir, she’s not fit to be put into a picter now,” said Mrs.
Peckover. “Mrs. Joyce is in sad trouble about her, because of one of her
shoulders which has growed out somehow. The doctor at Rubbleford don’t
doubt but what it may be got right again; but he said she ought to be
shown to some great London doctor as soon as possible. So, neither her
papa nor her mamma being able to take her up to her aunt’s house, they
trusted her to me. As you know, sir, ever since Doctor Joyce got my
husband that situation at Rubbleford, I’ve been about the Rectory,
helping with the children and the housekeeping, and all that:--and Miss
Lucy being used to me, we come along together in the railroad quite
pleasant and comfortable. I was glad enough, you may be sure, of the
chance of getting here, after not having seen little Mary for so long.
So I just left Miss Lucy at her aunt’s, where they were very kind,
and wanted me to stop all night. But I told them that, thanks to your
goodness, I always had a bed here when I was in London; and I took the
cab on, after seeing the little girl safe and comfortable up-stairs.
That’s the whole story of how I come to surprise you in this way,
ma’am,--and now I’ll finish my tea.”

Having got to the bottom of her cup, and to the end of a muffin
amorously presented to her by the incorrigible Zack, Mrs. Peckover had
leisure to turn again to Madonna; who, having relieved her of her bonnet
and shawl, was now sitting close at her side.

“I didn’t think she was looking quite so well as usual, when I first
come in,” said Mrs. Peckover, patting the girl’s cheek with her chubby
fingers; “but she seems to have brightened up again now.” (This was
true: the sad stillness had left Madonna’s face, at sight of the friend
and mother of her early days.) “Perhaps she’s been sticking a little too
close to her drawing lately--”

“By the bye, talking of drawings, what’s become of my drawing?” cried
Zack, suddenly recalled for the first time to the remembrance of
Madonna’s gift.

“Dear me!” pursued Mrs. Peckover, looking towards the three
drawing-boards, which had been placed together round the pedestal of
the cast; “are all those little Mary’s doings? She’s cleverer at it, I
suppose, by this time, than ever. Ah, Lord! what an old woman I feel,
when I think of the many years ago--”

“Come and look at what she has done to-night,” interrupted Valentine,
taking Mrs. Peckover by the arm, and pressing it very significantly as
he glanced at the part of the table where young Thorpe was sitting.

“My drawing--where’s my drawing?” repeated Zack. “Who put it away when
tea came in? Oh, there it is, all safe on the book case.”

“I congratulate you, sir, on having succeeded at last in remembering
that there is such a thing in the world as Madonna’s present,” said Mrs.
Blyth sarcastically.

Zack looked up bewildered from his tea, and asked directly what those
words meant.

“Oh, never mind,” said Mrs. Blyth in the same tone, “they’re not worth
explaining. Did you ever hear of a young gentleman who thought more of
a plate of muffins than of a lady’s gift? I dare say not! I never did.
It’s too ridiculously improbable to be true, isn’t it? There! don’t
speak to me; I’ve got a book here that I want to finish. No, it’s no
use; I shan’t say another word.”

“What have I done that’s wrong?” asked Zack, looking piteously perplexed
as he began to suspect that he had committed some unpardonable mistake
earlier in the evening. “I know I burnt a muffin; but what has that got
to do with Madonna’s present to me?” (Mrs. Blyth shook her head; and,
opening her book, became quite absorbed over it in a moment.) “Didn’t I
thank her properly for it? I’m sure I meant to.” (Here he stopped; but
Mrs. Blyth took no notice of him.) “I suppose I’ve got myself into some
scrape? Make as much fun as you like about it; but tell me what it is.
You won’t? Then I’ll find out all about it from Madonna. She knows, of
course; and she’ll tell me. Look here, Mrs. Blyth; I’m not going to get
up till she’s told me everything.” And Zack, with a comic gesture of
entreaty, dropped on his knees by Madonna’s chair; preventing her from
leaving it, which she tried to do, by taking immediate possession of the
slate that hung at her side.

While young Thorpe was scribbling questions, protestations, and
extravagances of every kind, in rapid succession, on the slate; and
while Madonna, her face half smiling, half tearful, as she felt that he
was looking up at it--was reading what he wrote, trying hard, at first,
not to believe in him too easily when he scribbled an explanation,
and not to look down on him too leniently when he followed it up by an
entreaty; and ending at last, in defiance of Mrs. Blyth’s private signs
to the contrary, in forgiving his carelessness, and letting him take her
hand again as usual, in token that she was sincere,--while this little
scene of the home drama was proceeding at one end of the room, a scene
of another kind--a dialogue in mysterious whispers--was in full progress
between Mr. Blyth and his visitor from the country, at the other.

Time had in no respect lessened Valentine’s morbid anxiety about the
strict concealment of every circumstance attending Mrs. Peckover’s first
connection with Madonna, and Madonna’s mother. The years that had now
passed and left him in undisputed possession of his adopted child, had
not diminished that excess of caution in keeping secret all the little
that was known of her early history, which had even impelled him to
pledge Doctor and Mrs. Joyce never to mention in public any particulars
of the narrative related at the Rectory. Still, he had not got over his
first dread that she might one day be traced, claimed, and taken away
from him, if that narrative, meagre as it was, should ever be trusted
to other ears than those which had originally listened to it. Still,
he kept the hair bracelet and the handkerchief that had belonged to her
mother carefully locked up out of sight in his bureau; and still, he
doubted Mrs. Peckover’s discretion in the government of her tongue,
as he had doubted it in the bygone days when the little girl was first
established in his own home.

After making a pretense of showing her the drawings begun that evening,
Mr. Blyth artfully contrived to lead Mrs. Peckover past them into a
recess at the extreme end of the room.

“Well,” he said, speaking in an unnecessarily soft whisper, considering
the distance which now separated him from Zack. “Well, I suppose you’re
quite sure of not having let out anything by chance, since I last saw
you, about how you first met with our darling girl? or about her poor
mother? or--?”

“What, you’re at it again, sir,” interrupted Mrs. Peckover loftily, but
dropping her voice in imitation of Mr. Blyth,--“a clever man, too, like
you! Dear, dear me! how often must I keep on telling you that I’m old
enough to be able to hold my tongue? How much longer are you going to
worrit yourself about hiding what nobody’s seeking after?”

“I’m afraid I shall always worry myself about it,” replied Valentine
seriously. “Whenever I see you, my good friend, I fancy I hear all that
melancholy story over again about our darling child, and that poor lost
forsaken mother of hers, whose name even we don’t know. I feel,
too, when you come and see us, almost more than at other times, how
inexpressibly precious the daughter whom you have given to us is to
Lavvie and me; and I think with more dread than I well know how to
describe, of the horrible chance, if anything was incautiously said, and
carried from mouth to mouth--about where you met with her mother, for
instance, or what time of the year it was, and so forth--that it might
lead, nobody knows how, to some claim being laid to her, by somebody who
might be able to prove the right to make it.”

“Lord, sir! after all these years, what earthly need have you to be
anxious about such things as that?”

“I’m never anxious long, Mrs. Peckover. My good spirits always get the
better of every anxiety, great and small. But while I don’t know that
relations of hers--perhaps her vile father himself--may not be still
alive, and seeking for her--”

“Bless your heart, Mr. Blyth, none of her relations are alive; or if
they are, none of them care about her, poor lamb; I’ll answer for it.”

“I hope in God you are right,” said Valentine, earnestly. “But let us
think no more about it now,” he added, resuming his usual manner. “I
have asked my regular question, that I can’t help asking whenever I see
you; and you have forgiven me, as usual, for putting it; and now I am
quite satisfied. Take my arm, Mrs. Peckover: I mean to give the students
of my new drawing academy a holiday for the rest of the night, in honor
of your arrival. What do you say to devoting the evening in the old way
to a game at cards?”

“Just what I was thinking I should like myself as long as it’s
only sixpence a game, sir,” said Mrs. Peckover gaily. “I say, young
gentleman,” she continued, addressing Zack after Mr. Blyth had left her
to look for the cards, “what nonsense are you writing on our darling’s
slate that puts her all in a flutter, and makes her blush up to the
eyes, when she’s only looking at her poor old Peck? Bless her heart!
she’s just as easily amused now as when she was a child. Give us another
kiss, my own little love. You understand what I mean, don’t you, though
you can’t hear me? Ah, dear, dear! when she stands and looks at me with
her eyes like that, she’s the living image of--”

“Cribbage,” cried Mr. Blyth, knocking a triangular board for three
players on the table, and regarding Mrs. Peckover with the most
reproachful expression that his features could assume.

She felt that the look had been deserved, and approached the card-table
rather confusedly, without uttering another word. But for Valentine’s
second interruption she would have declared, before young Thorpe, that
“little Mary” was the living image of her mother.

“Madonna’s going to play, as usual. Will you make the third, Lavvie?”
 inquired Valentine, shuffling the cards. “It’s no use asking Zack; he
can’t even count yet.”

“No, thank you, dear. I shall have quite enough to do in going on with
my book, and trying to keep master Mad-Cap in order while you play,”
 replied Mrs. Blyth.

The game began. It was a regular custom, whenever Mrs. Peckover came
to Mr. Blyth’s house, that cribbage should be played, and that Madonna
should take a share in it. This was done, on her part, principally in
affectionate remembrance of the old times when she lived under the care
of the clown’s wife, and when she had learnt cribbage from Mr. Peckover
to amuse her, while the frightful accident which had befallen her in
the circus was still a recent event. It was characteristic of the
happy peculiarity of her disposition that the days of suffering and
affliction, and the after-period of hard tasks in public, with
which cards were connected in her case, never seemed to recur to her
remembrance painfully when she saw them in later life. The pleasanter
associations which belonged to them, and which reminded her of homely
kindness that had soothed her in pain, and self-denying affection that
had consoled her in sorrow, were the associations instinctively dwelt on
by her heart to the exclusion of all others.

To Mrs. Blyth’s great astonishment, Zack, for full ten minutes, required
no keeping in order whatever while the rest were playing at cards. It
was the most marvelous of human phenomena, but there he certainly was,
standing quietly by the fireplace with the drawing in his hand, actually
thinking! Mrs. Blyth’s amazement at this unexampled change in his manner
so completely overcame her, that she fairly laid down her book to look
at him. He noticed the action, and approached the couch directly.

“That’s right,” he said; “don’t read any more. I want to have a serious
consultation with you.”

First a visit from Mrs. Peckover, then a serious consultation with Zack.
This is a night of wonders!--thought Mrs. Blyth.

“I’ve made it all right with Madonna,” Zack continued. “She don’t think
a bit the worse of me because I went on like a fool about the muffins at
tea-time. But that’s not what I want to talk about now: it’s a sort of
secret. In the first place--”

“Do you usually mention your secrets in a voice that everybody can
hear?” asked Mrs. Blyth, laughing.

“Oh, never mind about that,” he replied, not lowering his tone in the
least; “it’s only a secret from Madonna, and we can talk before _her,_
poor little soul, just as if she wasn’t in the room. Now this is the
thing: she’s made me a present, and I think I ought to show my gratitude
by making her another in return.” (He resumed his ordinary manner as he
warmed with the subject, and began to walk up and down the room in his
usual flighty way.) “Well, I have been thinking what the present ought
to be--something pretty, of course. I can’t do her a drawing worth a
farthing; and even if I could--”

“Suppose you come here and sit down, Zack,” interposed Mrs. Blyth.
“While you are wandering backwards and forwards in that way before the
card-table, you take Madonna’s attention off the game.”

No doubt he did. How could she see him walking about close by her, and
carrying her drawing with him wherever he went--as if he prized it too
much to be willing to put it down--without feeling gratified in more
than one of the innocent little vanities of her sex, without looking
after him much too often to be properly alive to the interests of her
game?

Zack took Mrs. Blyth’s advice, and sat down by her, with his back
towards the cribbage players.

“Well, the question is, What present am I to give her?” he went on.
“I’ve been twisting and turning it over in my mind, and the long and the
short of it is--”

(“Fifteen two, fifteen four, and a pair’s six,” said Valentine,
reckoning up the tricks he had in his hand at that moment.)

“Did you ever notice that she has a particularly pretty hand and arm?”
 proceeded Zack, somewhat evasively. “I’m rather a judge of these things
myself; and of all the other girls I ever saw--”

“Never mind about other girls,” said Mrs. Blyth. “Tell me what you mean
to give Madonna.”

(“Two for his heels,” cried Mrs. Peckover, turning up a knave with great
glee.)

“I mean to give her a Bracelet,” said Zack.

Valentine looked up quickly from the card table.

(“Play, please sir,” said Mrs. Peckover; “little Mary’s waiting for
you.”)

“Well, Zack,” rejoined Mrs. Blyth, “your idea of returning a present
only errs on the side of generosity. I should recommend something less
costly. Don’t you know that it’s one of Madonna’s oddities not to care
about jewelry? She might have bought herself a bracelet long ago, out of
her own savings, if trinkets had been things to tempt her.”

“Wait a bit, Mrs. Blyth,” said Zack, “you haven’t heard the best of my
notion yet: all the pith and marrow of it has got to come. The bracelet
I mean to give her is one that she will prize to the day of her death,
or she’s not the affectionate, warm-hearted girl I take her for. What do
you think of a bracelet that reminds her of you and Valentine, and jolly
old Peck there--and a little of me, too, which I hope won’t make her
think the worse of it. I’ve got a design against all your heads,” he
continued, imitating the cutting action of a pair of scissors with two
of his fingers, and raising his voice in high triumph. “It’s a splendid
idea: I mean to give Madonna a Hair Bracelet!”

Mrs. Peckover and Mr. Blyth started back in their chairs, and stared at
each other as amazedly as if Zack’s last words had sprung from a charged
battery, and had struck them both at the same moment with a smart
electrical shock.

“Of all the things in the world, how came he ever to think of giving her
that!” ejaculated Mrs. Peckover under her breath; her memory reverting,
while she spoke, to the mournful day when strangers had searched the
body of Madonna’s mother, and had found the Hair Bracelet hidden away in
a corner of the dead woman’s pocket.

“Hush! let’s go on with the game,” said Valentine. He, too, was thinking
of the Hair Bracelet--thinking of it as it now lay locked up in his
bureau down stairs, remembering how he would fain have destroyed it
years ago, but that his conscience and sense of honor forbade him;
pondering on the fatal discoveries to which, by bare possibility, it
might yet lead, if ever it should fall into strangers’ hands.

“A Hair Bracelet,” continued Zack, quite unconscious of the effect he
was producing on two of the card-players behind him; “and _such_ hair,
too, as I mean it to be made of!--Why, Madonna will think it more
precious than all the diamonds in the world. I defy anybody to have hit
on a better idea of the sort of present she’s sure to like; it’s elegant
and appropriate, and all that sort of thing--isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes! very nice and pretty indeed,” replied Mrs. Blyth, rather
absently and confusedly. She knew as much of Madonna’s history as her
husband did; and was wondering what he would think of the present which
young Thorpe proposed giving to their adopted child.

“The thing I want most to know,” said Zack, “is what you think would be
the best pattern for the bracelet. There will be two kinds of hair in
it, which can be made into any shape, of course--your hair and Mrs.
Peckover’s.”

(“Not a morsel of my hair shall go towards the bracelet!” muttered
Mrs. Peckover, who was listening to what was said, while she went on
playing.)

“The difficult hair to bring in, will be mine and Valentine’s,” pursued
Zack. “Mine’s long enough, to be sure; I ought to have got it cut a
month ago; but it’s so stiff and curly; and Blyth keeps his cropped so
short--I don’t see what they can do with it (do you?), unless they make
rings, or stars, or knobs, or something stumpy, in the way of a cross
pattern of it.”

“The people at the shop will know best,” said Mrs. Blyth, resolving to
proceed cautiously.

“One thing I’m determined on, though, beforehand,” cried Zack,--“the
clasp. The clasp shall be a serpent, with turquoise eyes, and a
carbuncle tail; and all our initials scored up somehow on his scales.
Won’t that be splendid? I should like to surprise Madonna with it this
very evening.”

(“You shall never give it to her, if _I_ can help it,” grumbled Mrs.
Peckover, still soliloquizing under her breath. “If anything in this
world can bring her ill-luck, it will be a Hair Bracelet!”)

These last words were spoken with perfect seriousness; for they were the
result of the strongest superstitious conviction.

From the time when the Hair Bracelet was found on Madonna’s mother, Mrs.
Peckover had persuaded herself--not unnaturally, in the absence of any
information to the contrary--that it had been in some way connected with
the ruin and shame which had driven its unhappy possessor forth as an
outcast, to die amongst strangers. To believe, in consequence, that a
Hair Bracelet had brought “ill-luck” to the mother, and to derive from
that belief the conviction that a Hair Bracelet would therefore also
bring “ill-luck” to the child, was a perfectly direct and inevitable
deductive process to Mrs. Peckover’s superstitious mind. The motives
which had formerly influenced her to forbid her “little Mary” ever to
begin anything important on a Friday, or ever to imperil her prosperity
by walking under a ladder, were precisely the motives by which she
was now actuated in determining to prevent the presentation of young
Thorpe’s ill-omened gift.

Although Valentine had only caught a word here and there, to guide him
to the subject of Mrs. Peckover’s mutterings to herself while the
game was going on, he guessed easily enough the general tenor of her
thoughts, and suspected that she would, ere long, begin to talk louder
than was at all desirable, if Zack proceeded much further with his
present topic of conversation. Accordingly, he took advantage of a pause
in the game, and of a relapse into another restless fit of walking about
the room on young Thorpe’s part, to approach his wife’s couch, as if he
wanted to find something lying near it, and to whisper to her, “Stop
his talking any more about that present to Madonna; I’ll tell you why
another time.”

Mrs. Blyth very readily and easily complied with this injunction, by
telling Zack (with perfect truth) that she had been already a little too
much excited by the events of the evening; and that she must put off all
further listening or talking, on her part, till the next night, when she
promised to advise him about the bracelet to the best of her power.

He was, however, still too full of his subject to relinquish it easily
under no stronger influence than the influence of a polite hint. Having
lost one listener in Mrs. Blyth, he boldly tried the experiment of
inviting two others to replace her, by addressing himself to the players
at the card-table.

“I dare say you have heard what I have been talking about to Mrs.
Blyth?” he began.

“Lord, Master Zack!” said Mrs. Peckover, “do you think we haven’t had
something else to do here, besides listening to you? There, now, don’t
talk to us, please, till we are done, or you’ll throw us out altogether.
Don’t, sir, on any account, because we are playing for money--sixpence a
game.”

Repelled on both sides, Zack was obliged to give way. He walked off
to try and amuse himself at the book-case. Mrs. Peckover, with a very
triumphant air, nodded and winked several times at Valentine across the
table; desiring, by these signs, to show him that she could not only
be silent herself when the conversation was in danger of approaching a
forbidden subject, but could make other people hold their tongues too.

The room was now perfectly quiet, and the game at cribbage proceeded
smoothly enough, but not so pleasantly as usual on other occasions.
Valentine did not regain his customary good spirits; and Mrs. Peckover
relapsed into whispering discontentedly to herself--now and then looking
towards the bookcase, where young Thorpe was sitting sleepily, with
a volume of engravings on his knee. It was, more or less, a relief to
everybody when the supper-tray came up, and the cards were put away for
the night.

Zack, becoming quite lively again at the prospect of a little eating and
drinking, tried to return to the dangerous subject of the Hair Bracelet;
addressing himself, on this occasion, directly to Valentine. He was
interrupted, however, before he had spoken three words. Mr. Blyth
suddenly remembered that he had an important communication of his own to
make to young Thorpe.

“Excuse me, Zack,” he said, “I have some news to tell you, which Mrs.
Peckover’s arrival drove out of my head; and which I must mention at
once, while I have the opportunity. Both my pictures are done--what
do you think of that?--done, and in their frames. I settled the titles
yesterday. The classical landscape is to be called ‘The Golden Age,’
which is a pretty poetical sort of name; and the figure-subject is to
be ‘Columbus in Sight of the New World;’ which is, I think, simple,
affecting, and grand. Wait a minute! the best of it has yet to come. I
am going to exhibit both the pictures in the studio to my friends, and
my friends’ friends, as early as Saturday next.”

“You don’t mean it!” exclaimed Zack. “Why, it’s only January now; and
you always used to have your private view of your own pictures, in
April, just before they were sent into the Academy Exhibition.”

“Quite right,” interposed Valentine, “but I am going to make a change
this year. The fact is, I have got a job to do in the provinces, which
will prevent me from having my picture-show at the usual time. So I
mean to have it now. The cards of invitation are coming home from the
printer’s tomorrow morning. I shall reserve a packet, of course, for you
and your friends, when we see you to-morrow night.”

Just as Mr. Blyth spoke those words, the clock on the mantel-piece
struck the half hour after ten. Having his own private reasons for
continuing to preserve the appearance of perfect obedience to his
father’s domestic regulations, Zack rose at once to say good night, in
order to insure being home before the house-door was bolted at eleven
o’clock. This time he did not forget Madonna’s drawing; but, on
the contrary, showed such unusual carefulness in tying his
pocket-handkerchief over the frame to preserve it from injury as he
carried it through the streets, that she could not help--in the fearless
innocence of her heart--unreservedly betraying to him, both by look and
manner, how warmly she appreciated his anxiety for the safe preservation
of her gift. Never had the bright, kind young face been lovelier in its
artless happiness than it appeared at the moment when she was shaking
hands with Zack.

Just as Valentine was about to follow his guest out of the room, Mrs.
Blyth called him back, reminding him that he had a cold, and begging him
not to expose himself to the wintry night air by going down to the door.

“But the servants must be going to bed by this time; and somebody ought
to fasten the bolts,” remonstrated Mr. Blyth.

“I’ll go, sir,” said Mrs. Peckover, rising with extraordinary alacrity.
“I’ll see Master Zack out, and do up the door. Bless your heart! it’s no
trouble to me. I’m always moving about at home from morning to night, to
prevent myself getting fatter. Don’t say no, Mr. Blyth, unless you are
afraid of trusting an old gossip like me alone with your visitors.”

The last words were intended as a sarcasm, and were whispered
into Valentine’s ear. He understood the allusion to their private
conversation together easily enough; and felt that unless he let her
have her own way without further contest, he must risk offending an old
friend by implying a mistrust of her, which would be simply ridiculous,
under the circumstances in which they were placed. So, when his wife
nodded to him to take advantage of the offer just made, he accepted it
forthwith.

“Now, I’ll stop his giving Mary a Hair Bracelet!” thought Mrs. Peckover,
as she bustled out after young Thorpe, and closed the room door behind
her.

“Wait a bit, young gentleman,” she said, arresting his further progress
on the first landing. “Just leave off talking a minute, and let me
speak. I’ve got something to say to you. Do you really mean to give Mary
that Hair Bracelet?”

“Oho! then you did hear something at the card-table about it, after
all?” said Zack. “Mean? Of course I mean--”

“And you want to put some of my hair in it?”

“To be sure I do! Madonna wouldn’t like it without.”

“Then you had better make up your mind at once to give her some other
present; for not one morsel of my hair shall you have. There now! what
do you think of that?”

“I don’t believe it, my old darling.”

“It’s true enough, I can tell you. Not a hair of my head shall you
have.”

“Why not?”

“Never mind why. I’ve got my own reasons.”

“Very well: if you come to that, I’ve got my reasons for giving the
bracelet; and I mean to give it. If you won’t let any of your hair be
plaited up along with the rest, it’s Madonna you will disappoint--not
me.”

Mrs. Peckover saw that she must change her tactics, or be defeated.

“Don’t you be so dreadful obstinate, Master Zack, and I’ll tell you the
reason,” she said in an altered tone, leading the way lower down into
the passage. “I don’t want you to give her a Hair Bracelet, because I
believe it will bring ill-luck to her--there!”

Zack burst out laughing. “Do you call that a reason? Who ever heard of a
Hair Bracelet being an unlucky gift?”

At this moment, the door of Mrs. Blyth’s room opened.

“Anything wrong with the lock?” asked Valentine from above. He was
rather surprised at the time that elapsed without his hearing the
house-door shut.

“All quite right, sir,” said Mrs. Peckover; adding in a whisper to
Zack:--“Hush! don’t say a word!”

“Don’t let him keep you in the cold with his nonsense,” said Valentine.

“My nonsense!--” began Zack, indignantly.

“He’s going, sir,” interrupted Mrs. Peckover. “I shall be upstairs in a
moment.”

“Come in, dear, pray! You’re letting all the cold air into the room,”
 exclaimed the voice of Mrs. Blyth.

The door of the room closed again.

“What _are_ you driving at?” asked Zack, in extreme bewilderment.

“I only want you to give her some other present,” said Mrs. Peckover, in
her most persuasive tones. “You may think it all a whim of mine, if you
like--I dare say I’m an old fool; but I don’t want you to give her a
Hair Bracelet.”

“A whim of yours!!!” repeated Zack, with a look which made Mrs.
Peckover’s cheeks redden with rising indignation. “What! a woman at
your time of life subject to whims! My darling Peckover, it won’t do! My
mind’s made up to give her the Hair Bracelet. Nothing in the world can
stop me--except, of course, Madonna’s having a Hair Bracelet already,
which I know she hasn’t.”

“Oh! you know that, do you, you mischievous Imp? Then, for once in a
way, you just know wrong!” exclaimed Mrs. Peckover, losing her temper
altogether.

“You don’t mean to say so? How very remarkable, to think of her having
a Hair Bracelet already, and of my not knowing it!--Mrs. Peckover,”
 continued Zack, mimicking the tone and manner of his old clerical
enemy, the Reverend Aaron Yollop, “what I am now about to say grieves me
deeply; but I have a solemn duty to discharge, and in the conscientious
performance of that duty, I now unhesitatingly express my conviction
that the remark you have just made is--a flam.”

“It isn’t--Monkey!” returned Mrs. Peckover, her anger fairly boiling
over, as she nodded her head vehemently in Zack’s face.

Just then, Valentine’s step became audible in the room above; first
moving towards the door, then suddenly retreating from it, as if he had
been called back.

“I hav’n’t let out what I oughtn’t, have I?” thought Mrs. Peckover;
calming down directly, when she heard the movement upstairs.

“Oh, you stick to it, do you?” continued Zack. “It’s rather odd,
old lady, that Mrs. Blyth should have said nothing about this
newly-discovered Hair Bracelet of yours while I was talking to her.
But she doesn’t know, of course: and Valentine doesn’t know either, I
suppose? By Jove! he’s not gone to bed yet: I’ll run back, and ask him
if Madonna really _has_ got a Hair Bracelet!”

“For God’s sake don’t!--don’t say a word about it, or you’ll get me into
dreadful trouble!” exclaimed Mrs. Peckover, turning pale as she thought
of possible consequences, and catching young Thorpe by the arm when he
tried to pass her in the passage.

The step up stairs crossed the room again.

“Well, upon my life,” cried Zack, “of all the extraordinary old women

“Hush! he’s going to open the door this time; he is indeed!”

“Never mind if he does; I won’t say anything,” whispered young Thorpe,
his natural good nature prompting him to relieve Mrs. Peckover’s
distress, the moment he became convinced that it was genuine.

“That’s a good chap! that’s a dear good chap!” exclaimed Mrs. Peckover,
squeezing Zack’s hand in a fervor of unbounded gratitude.

The door of Mrs. Blyth’s room opened for the second time.

“He’s gone, sir; he’s gone at last!” cried Mrs. Peckover, shutting the
house door on the parting guest with inhospitable rapidity, and locking
it with elaborate care and extraordinary noise.

“I must manage to make it all safe with Master Zack tomorrow night;
though I don’t believe I have said a single word I oughtn’t to say,”
 thought she, slowly ascending the stairs. “But Mr. Blyth makes such
fusses, and works himself into such fidgets about the poor thing being
traced and taken away from him (which is all stuff and nonsense), that
he would go half distracted if he knew what I said just now to Master
Zack. Not that it’s so much what I said to _him,_ as what he made out
somehow and said to _me._ But they’re so sharp, these young London
chaps--they are so awful sharp!”

Here she stopped on the landing to recover her breath; then whispered to
herself, as she went on and approached Mr. Blyth’s door:

“But one thing I’m determined on; little Mary shan’t have that Hair
Bracelet!”

               * * * * *

Even as Mrs. Peckover walked thinking all the way up-stairs, so did Zack
walk wondering all the way home.

What the deuce could these extraordinary remonstrances about his present
to Madonna possibly mean? Was it not at least clear from Mrs. Peckover’s
terror when he talked of asking Blyth whether Madonna really had a Hair
Bracelet, that she had told the truth after all? And was it not even
plainer still that she had let out a secret in telling that truth, which
Blyth must have ordered her to keep? Why keep it? Was this mysterious
Hair Bracelet mixed up somehow with the grand secret about Madonna’s
past history, which Valentine had always kept from him and from
everybody? Very likely it was--but why cudgel his brains about what
didn’t concern him? Was it not--considering the fact, previously
forgotten, that he had but fifteen shillings and threepence of
disposable money in the world--rather lucky than otherwise that Mrs.
Peckover had taken it into her head to stop him from buying what he
hadn’t the means of paying for? What other present could he buy for
Madonna that was pretty, and cheap enough to suit the present state
of his pocket? Would she like a thimble? or an almanack? or a pair of
cuffs? or a pot of bear’s grease?

Here Zack suddenly paused in his mental interrogatories; for he had
arrived within sight of his home in Baregrove Square.

A change passed over his handsome face: he frowned, and his color
deepened as he looked up at the light in his father’s window.

“I’ll slip out again to-night, and see life,” he muttered doggedly
to himself, approaching the door. “The more I’m bullied at home, the
oftener I’ll go out on the sly.”

This rebellious speech was occasioned by the recollection of a domestic
scene, which had contributed, early that evening, to swell the list of
the Tribulations of Zack. Mr. Thorpe had moral objections to Mr. Blyth’s
profession, and moral doubts on the subject of Mr. Blyth himself--these
last being strengthened by that gentleman’s own refusal to explain
away the mystery which enveloped the birth and parentage of his adopted
child. As a necessary consequence, Mr. Thorpe considered the painter
to be no fit companion for a devout young man; and expressed, severely
enough, his unmeasured surprise at finding that his son had accepted an
invitation from a person of doubtful character. Zack’s rejoinder to
his father’s reproof was decisive, if it was nothing else. He denied
everything alleged or suggested against his friend’s reputation--lost
his temper on being sharply rebuked for the “indecent vehemence” of
his language--and left the paternal tea-table in defiance, to go and
cultivate the Fine Arts in the doubtful company of Mr. Valentine Blyth.

“Just in time, sir,” said the page, grinning at his young master as he
opened the door. “It’s on the stroke of eleven.”

Zack muttered something savage in reply, which it is not perhaps
advisable to report. The servant secured the lock and bolts, while he
put his hat on the hall table, and lit his bedroom candle.

              * * * * *

Rather more than an hour after this time--or, in other words, a little
past midnight--the door opened again softly, and Zack appeared on the
step, equipped for his nocturnal expedition.

He hesitated, as he put the key into the lock from outside, before he
closed the door behind him. He had never done this on former occasions;
he could not tell why he did it now. We are mysteries even to ourselves;
and there are times when the Voices of the future that are in us, yet
not ours, speak, and make the earthly part of us conscious of their
presence. Oftenest our mortal sense feels that they are breaking their
dread silence at those supreme moments of existence, when on the choice
between two apparently trifling alternatives hangs suspended the whole
future of a life. And thus it was now with the young man who stood on
the threshold of his home, doubtful whether he should pursue or abandon
the purpose which was then uppermost in his mind. On his choice between
the two alternatives of going on, or going back--which the closing of a
door would decide--depended the future of his life, and of other lives
that were mingled with it.

He waited a minute undecided, for the warning Voices within him were
stronger than his own will: he waited, looking up thoughtfully at the
starry loveliness of the winter’s night--then closed the door behind him
as softly as usual--hesitated again at the last step that led on to the
pavement--and then fairly set forth from home, walking at a rapid pace
through the streets.

He was not in his usual good spirits. He felt no inclination to sing
as was his wont, while passing through the fresh, frosty air: and he
wondered why it was so.

The Voices were still speaking faintly and more faintly within him.
But we must die before we can become immortal as they are; and their
language to us in this life is often as an unknown tongue.



BOOK II. THE SEEKING.



CHAPTER I. THE MAN WITH THE BLACK SKULL-CAP.

The Roman poet who, writing of vice, ascribed its influence entirely to
the allurement of the fair disguises that it wore, and asserted that
it only needed to be seen with the mask off to excite the hatred of all
mankind, uttered a very plausible moral sentiment, which wants nothing
to recommend it to the admiration of posterity but a seasoning of
practical truth. Even in the most luxurious days of old Rome, it may
safely be questioned whether vice could ever afford to disguise itself
to win recruits, except from the wealthier classes of the population.
But in these modern times it may be decidedly asserted as a fact, that
vice, in accomplishing the vast majority of its seductions, uses no
disguise at all; appears impudently in its naked deformity; and, instead
of horrifying all beholders, in accordance with the prediction of
the classical satirist, absolutely attracts a much more numerous
congregation of worshippers than has ever yet been brought together
by the divinest beauties that virtue can display for the allurement of
mankind.

That famous place of public amusement known, a few years since, to the
late-roaming youth of London by the name of the Snuggery, affords, among
hosts of other instances which might be cited, a notable example to
refute the assertion of the ancient poet. The place was principally
devoted to the exhibition of musical talent, and opened at a period
of the night when the performances at the theaters were over. The
orchestral arrangements were comprised in one bad piano, to which were
occasionally added, by way of increasing the attractions, performances
on the banjo and guitar. All the singers were called “ladies and
gentlemen;” and the one long room in which the performances took place
was simply furnished with a double row of benches, bearing troughs at
their backs for the reception of glasses of liquor.

Innocence itself must have seen at a glance that the Snuggery was an
utterly vicious place. Vice never so much as thought of wearing any
disguise here. No glimmer of wit played over the foul substance of the
songs that were sung, and hid it in dazzle from too close observation.
No relic of youth and freshness, no artfully-assumed innocence and
vivacity, concealed the squalid deterioration of the worn-out human
counterfeits which stood up to sing, and were coarsely painted and
padded to look like fine women. Their fellow performers among the men
were such sodden-faced blackguards as no shop-boy who applauded them at
night would dare to walk out with in the morning. The place itself
had as little of the allurement of elegance and beauty about it as the
people. Here was no bright gilding on the ceiling--no charm of ornament,
no comfort of construction even, in the furniture. Here were no
viciously-attractive pictures on the walls--no enervating sweet odors
in the atmosphere--no contrivances of ventilation to cleanse away the
stench of bad tobacco-smoke and brandy-flavored human breath with
which the room reeked all night long. Here, in short, was vice wholly
undisguised; recklessly showing itself to every eye, without the varnish
of beauty, without the tinsel of wit, without even so much as the
flavor of cleanliness to recommend it. Were all beholders instinctively
overcome by horror at the sight? Far from it. The Snuggery was crammed
to its last benches every night; and the proprietor filled his pockets
from the purses of applauding audiences. For, let classical moralists
say what they may, vice gathers followers as easily, in modern times,
with the mask off, as ever it gathered them in ancient times with the
mask on.


It was two o’clock in the morning; and the entertainments in the
Snuggery were fast rising to the climax of joviality. A favorite comic
song had just been sung by a bloated old man with a bald head and a
hairy chin. There was a brief lull of repose, before the amusements
resumed their noisy progress. Orders for drink were flying abroad in
all directions. Friends were talking at the tops of their voices, and
strangers were staring at each other--except at the lower end of
the room, where the whole attention of the company was concentrated
strangely upon one man.

The person who thus attracted to himself the wandering curiosity of
all his neighbors had come in late, had taken the first vacant place he
could find near the door, and had sat there listening and looking about
him very quietly. He drank and smoked like the rest of the company; but
never applauded, never laughed, never exhibited the slightest symptom
of astonishment, or pleasure, or impatience, or disgust--though it
was evident, from his manner of entering and giving his orders to the
waiters, that he visited the Snuggery that night for the first time.

He was not in mourning, for there was no band round his hat; but he was
dressed nevertheless in a black frock-coat, waistcoat, and trousers, and
wore black kid gloves. He seemed to be very little at his ease in
this costume, moving his limbs, whenever he changed his position, as
cautiously and constrainedly as if he had been clothed in gossamer
instead of stout black broadcloth, shining with its first new gloss on
it. His face was tanned to a perfectly Moorish brown, was scarred in
two places by the marks of old wounds, and was overgrown by coarse,
iron-grey whiskers, which met under his chin. His eyes were light, and
rather large, and seemed to be always quietly but vigilantly on the
watch. Indeed the whole expression of his face, coarse and heavy as it
was in form, was remarkable for its acuteness, for its cool, collected
penetration, for its habitually observant, passively-watchful look. Any
one guessing at his calling from his manner and appearance would have
set him down immediately as the captain of a merchantman, and would have
been willing to lay any wager that he had been several times round the
world.

But it was not his face, or his dress, or his manner, that drew on him
the attention of all his neighbors; it was his head. Under his hat,
(which was bran new, like everything else he wore), there appeared,
fitting tight round his temples and behind his ears, a black velvet
skull-cap. Not a vestige of hair peeped from under it. All round his
head, as far as could be seen beneath his hat, which he wore far back
over his coat collar, there was nothing but bare flesh, encircled by a
rim of black velvet.

From a great proposal for reform, to a small eccentricity in costume,
the English are the most intolerant people in the world, in their
reception of anything which presents itself to them under the form of a
perfect novelty. Let any man display a new project before the Parliament
of England, or a new pair of light-green trousers before the inhabitants
of London, let the project proclaim itself as useful to all listening
ears, and the trousers eloquently assert themselves as beautiful to all
beholding eyes, the nation will shrink suspiciously, nevertheless, both
from the one and the other; will order the first to “lie on the table,”
 and will hoot, laugh, and stare at the second; will, in short, resent
either novelty as an unwarrantable intrusion, for no other discernible
reason than that people in general are not used to it.

Quietly as the strange man in black had taken his seat in the Snuggery,
he and his skull-cap attracted general attention; and our national
weakness displayed itself immediately.

Nobody paused to reflect that he probably wore his black velvet
head-dress from necessity; nobody gave him credit for having objections
to a wig, which might be perfectly sensible and well founded; and
nobody, even in this free country, was liberal enough to consider that
he had really as much right to put on a skull-cap under his hat if
he chose, as any other man present had to put on a shirt under his
waistcoat. The audience saw nothing but the novelty in the way of a
head-dress which the stranger wore, and they resented it unanimously,
because it was a novelty. First, they expressed this resentment by
staring indignantly at him, then by laughing at him, then by making
sarcastic remarks on him. He bore their ridicule with the most perfect
and provoking coolness. He did not expostulate, or retort, or look
angry, or grow red in the face, or fidget in his seat, or get up to go
away. He just sat smoking and drinking as quietly as ever, not taking
the slightest notice of any of the dozens of people who were all taking
notice of him.

His unassailable composure only served to encourage his neighbors
to take further liberties with him. One rickety little man, with a
spirituous nose and watery eyes, urged on by some women near him,
advanced to the stranger’s bench, and, expressing his admiration of a
skull-cap as a becoming ornamental addition to a hat, announced, with a
bow of mock politeness, his anxiety to feel the quality of the velvet.
He stretched out his hand as he spoke, not a word of warning or
expostulation being uttered by the victim of the intended insult; but
the moment his fingers touched the skull-cap, the strange man, still
without speaking, without even removing his cigar from his mouth, very
deliberately threw all that remained of the glass of hot brandy and
water before him in the rickety gentleman’s face.

With a scream of pain as the hot liquor flew into his eyes, the
miserable little man struck out helplessly with both his fists, and fell
down between the benches. A friend who was with him, advanced to avenge
his injuries, and was thrown sprawling on the floor. Yells of “Turn him
out!” and “Police!” followed; people at the other end of the room jumped
up excitably on their seats; the women screamed, the men shouted and
swore, glasses were broken, sticks were waved, benches were cracked,
and, in one instant, the stranger was assailed by every one of his
neighbors who could get near him, on pretense of turning him out.

Just as it seemed a matter of certainty that he must yield to numbers,
in spite of his gallant resistance, and be hurled out of the door down
the flight of stairs that led to it, a tall young gentleman, with a
quantity of light curly hair on his hatless head, leapt up on one of the
benches at the opposite side of the gangway running down the middle of
the room, and apostrophized the company around him with vehement fistic
gesticulation. Alas for the tranquillity of parents with pleasure-loving
sons!--alas for Mr. Valentine Blyth’s idea of teaching his pupil to be
steady, by teaching him to draw!--this furious young gentleman was no
other than Mr. Zachary Thorpe, Junior, of Baregrove Square.

“Damn you all, you cowardly counter-jumping scoundrels!” roared Zack,
his eyes aflame with valor, generosity, and gin-and-water. “What do you
mean by setting on one man in that way? Hit out, sir--hit out right and
left! I saw you insulted; and I’m coming to help you!”

With these words Zack tucked up his cuffs, and jumped into the crowd
about him. His height, strength, and science as a boxer carried him
triumphantly to the opposite bench. Two or three blows on the ribs, and
one on the nose which drew blood plentifully, only served to stimulate
his ardor and increase the pugilistic ferocity of his expression. In
a minute he was by the side of the man with the skull-cap; and the two
were fighting back to back, amid roars of applause from the audience at
the upper end of the room, who were only spectators of the disturbance.

In the meantime the police had been summoned. But the waiters
down-stairs, in their anxiety to see a struggle between two men on one
side, and somewhere about two dozen on the other, had neglected to close
the street door. The consequence was, that all the cabmen on the stand
outside, and all the vagabond night-idlers in the vagabond neighborhood
of the Snuggery, poured into the narrow passage, and got up an impromptu
riot of their own with the waiters, who tried, too late, to turn them
out. Just as the police were forcing their way through the throng below,
Zack and the stranger had fought their way out of the throng above, and
had got clear of the room.

On the right of the landing, as they approached it, was a door, through
which the man with the skull-cap now darted, dragging Zack after him.
His temper was just as cool, his quick eye just as vigilant as ever.
The key of the door was inside. He locked it, amid a roar of applauding
laughter from the people on the staircase, mixed with cries of “Police!”
 and “Stop ‘em in the Court!” from the waiters. The two then descended
a steep flight of stairs at headlong speed, and found themselves in a
kitchen, confronting an astonished man cook and two female servants.
Zack knocked the man down before he could use the rolling-pin which he
had snatched up on their appearance; while the stranger coolly took a
hat that stood on the dresser, and jammed it tight with one smack of his
large hand on young Thorpe’s bare head. The next moment they were out
in a court into which the kitchen opened, and were running at the top of
their speed.

The police, on their side, lost no time; but they had to get out of the
crowd in the passage and go round the front of the house, before they
could arrive at the turning which led into the court from the street.
This gave the fugitives a start; and the neighborhood of alleys, lanes,
and by-streets in which their flight immediately involved them, was the
neighborhood of all others to favor their escape. While the springing of
rattles and the cries of “Stop thief!” were rending the frosty night air
in one direction, Zack and the stranger were walking away quietly, arm
in arm, in the other.

The man with the skull-cap had taken the lead hitherto, and he took it
still; though, from the manner in which he stared about him at corners
of streets, and involved himself and his companion every now and then in
blind alleys, it was clear enough that he was quite unfamiliar with
the part of the town through which they were now walking. Zack, having
treated himself that night to his fatal third glass of grog, and having
finished half of it before the fight began, was by this time in no
condition to care about following any particular path in the great
labyrinth of London. He walked on, talking thickly and incessantly to
the stranger, who never once answered him. It was of no use to applaud
his bravery; to criticize his style of fighting, which was anything but
scientific; to express astonishment at his skill in knocking his hat on
again, all through the struggle, every time it was knocked off; and to
declare admiration of his quickness in taking the cook’s hat to cover
his companion’s bare head, which might have exposed him to suspicion and
capture as he passed through the streets. It was of no use to speak on
these subjects, or on any others. The imperturbable hero who had not
uttered a word all through the fight, was as imperturbable as ever, and
would not utter a word after it.

They strayed at last into Fleet Street, and walked to the foot of
Ludgate Hill. Here the stranger stopped--glanced towards the open space
on the right, where the river ran--gave a rough gasp of relief and
satisfaction--and made directly for Blackfriars bridge. He led Zack,
who was still thick in his utterance, and unsteady on his legs, to the
parapet wall; let go of his arm there, and looking steadily in his face
by the light of the gas-lamp, addressed him, for the first time, in a
remarkably grave, deliberate voice, and in these words:

“Now, then, young ‘un, suppose you pull a breath, and wipe that bloody
nose of yours.”

Zack, instead of resenting this unceremonious manner of speaking to
him--which he might have done, had he been sober--burst into a frantic
fit of laughter. The remarkable gravity and composure of the stranger’s
tone and manner, contrasted with the oddity of the proposition by which
he opened the conversation, would have been irresistibly ludicrous even
to a man whose faculties were not in an intoxicated condition.

While Zack was laughing till the tears rolled down his cheeks, his odd
companion was leaning over the parapet of the bridge, and pulling
off his black kid gloves, which had suffered considerably during the
progress of the fight. Having rolled them up into a ball, he jerked them
contemptuously into the river.

“There goes the first pair of gloves as ever I had on, and the last as
ever I mean to wear,” he said, spreading out his brawny hands to the
sharp night breeze.

Young Thorpe heaved a few last expiring gasps of laughter; then became
quiet and serious from sheer exhaustion.

“Go it again,” said the man of the skull-cap, staring at him as gravely
as ever, “I like to hear you.”

“I can’t go it again,” answered Zack faintly; “I’m out of breath. I say,
old boy, you’re quite a character! Who are you?”

“I ain’t nobody in particular; and I don’t know as I’ve got a single
friend to care about who I am, in all England,” replied the other. “Give
us your hand, young ‘un! In the foreign parts where I come from, when
one man stands by another, as you’ve stood by me to-night, them two are
brothers together afterwards. You needn’t be a brother to me, if you
don’t like. I mean to be a brother to you, whether you like it or not.
My name’s Mat. What’s your’s?”

“Zack,” returned young Thorpe, clapping his new acquaintance on the back
with brotherly familiarity already. “You’re a glorious fellow; and I
like your way of talking. Where do you come from, Mat? And what do you
wear that queer cap under your hat for?”

“I come from America last,” replied Mat, as grave and deliberate as
ever. “And I wear this cap because I haven’t got no scalp on my head.”

“What do you mean?” cried Zack, startled into temporary sobriety, and
taking his hand off his new friend’s shoulder as quickly as if he had
put it on red-hot iron.

“I always mean what I say,” continued Mat; “I’ve got that much good
about me, if I haven’t got no more. Me and my scalp parted company years
ago. I’m here, on a bridge in London, talking to a young chap of the
name of Zack. My scalp’s on the top of a high pole in some Indian
village, anywhere you like about the Amazon country. If there’s any
puffs of wind going there, like there is here, it’s rattling just now,
like a bit of dry parchment; and all my hair’s a flip-flapping about
like a horse’s tail, when the flies is in season. I don’t know nothing
more about my scalp or my hair than that. If you don’t believe me, just
lay hold of my hat, and I’ll show you--”

“No, thank you!” exclaimed Zack, recoiling from the offered hat.
“I don’t want to see it. But how the deuce do you manage without a
scalp?--I never heard of such a thing before in my life--how is it
you’re not dead? eh?”

“It takes a deal more to kill a tough man than you London chaps think,”
 said Mat. “I was found before my head got cool, and plastered over with
leaves and ointment. They’d left a bit of scalp at the back, being in
rather too great a hurry to do their work as handily as usual; and a new
skin growed over, after a little--a babyish sort of skin, that wasn’t
half thick enough, and wouldn’t bear no new crop of hair. So I had to
eke out and keep my head comfortable with an old yellow handkercher;
which I always wore till I got to San Francisco, on my way back here.
I met with a priest at San Francisco, who told me that I should look a
little less like a savage, if I wore a skull-cap like his, instead of a
handkercher, when I got back into what he called the civilized world. So
I took his advice, and bought this cap. I suppose it looks better than
my old yellow handkercher; but it ain’t half as comfortable.”

“But how did you lose your scalp?” asked Zack--“tell us all about it.
Upon my life, you’re the most interesting fellow I ever met with! And,
I say, let’s walk about, while we talk. I feel steadier on my legs now;
and it’s so infernally cold standing here.”

“Which way can we soonest get out of this muck of houses and streets?”
 asked Mat, surveying the London view around him with an expression of
grim disgust. “There ain’t no room, even on this bridge, for the wind
to blow fairly over a man. I’d just as soon be smothered up in a bed, as
smothered up in smoke and stink here.”

“What a delightful fellow you are! so entirely out of the common way!
Steady, my dear friend. The grog’s not quite out of my head yet; and
I find I’ve got the hiccups. Here’s my way home, and your way into the
fresh air, if you really want it. Come along; and tell me how you lost
your scalp.”

“There ain’t nothing particular to tell. What’s your name again?”

“Zack.”

“Well, Zack, I was out on the tramp, dodging about after any game that
turned up, on the banks of the Amazon--”

“Amazon? what’s that? a woman? or a place?”

“Did you ever hear of South America?”

“I can’t positively swear to it; but, to the best of my belief, I think
I have.”

“Well; the Amazon’s a longish bit of a river in those parts. I was out,
as I told you, on the tramp.”

“So I should think! you look like the sort of man who has tramped
everywhere, and done everything.”

“You’re about right there, for a wonder! I’ve druv cattle in Mexico;
I’ve been out with a gang that went to find an overland road to the
North Pole; I’ve worked through a season or two in catching wild horses
on the Pampas; and another season or two in digging gold in California.
I went away from England, a tidy lad aboard ship; and here I am back
again now, an old vagabond as hasn’t a friend to own him. If you want
to know exactly who I am, and what I’ve been up to all my life, that’s
about as much as I can tell you.”

“You don’t say so! Wait a minute, though; there’s one thing--you’re not
troubled with the hiccups, are you, after eating supper? (I’ve been a
martyr to hiccups ever since I was a child.) But, I say, there’s one
thing you haven’t told me yet; you haven’t told me what your other name
is besides Mat. Mine’s Thorpe.”

“I haven’t heard the sound of the other name you’re asking after for a
matter of better than twenty year: and I don’t care if I never hear it
again.” His voice sank huskily, and he turned his head a little away
from Zack, as he said those words. “They nicknamed me ‘Marksman,’ when I
used to go out with the exploring gangs, because I was the best shot of
all of them. You call me Marksman, too, if you don’t like Mat. Mister
Mathew Marksman, if you please: everybody seems to be a ‘Mister’ here.
You’re one, of course. I don’t mean to call you ‘Mister’ for all that. I
shall stick to Zack; it’s short, and there’s no bother about it.”

“All right, old fellow! and I’ll stick to Mat, which is shorter still by
a whole letter. But, I say, you haven’t told the story yet about how you
lost your scalp.”

“There’s no story in it, Do you know what it is to have a man dodging
after you through these odds and ends of streets here? I dare say you
do. Well, I had three skulking thieves of Indians dodging after me, over
better than four hundred miles of lonesome country, where I might have
bawled for help for a whole week on end, and never made anybody hear
me. They wanted my scalp, and they wanted my rifle, and they got both at
last, at the end of their man-hunt, because I couldn’t get any sleep.”

“Not get any sleep. Why not?”

“Because they was three, and I was only one, to be sure! One of them
kep’ watch while the other two slept. I hadn’t nobody to keep watch for
me; and my life depended on my eyes being open night and day. I took a
dog’s snooze once, and was woke out of it by an arrow in my face. I
kep’ on a long time after that, before I give out; but at last I got
the horrors, and thought the prairie was all a-fire, and run from it.
I don’t know how long I run on in that mad state; I only know that the
horrors turned out to be the saving of my life. I missed my own trail,
and struck into another, which was a trail of friendly Indians--people
I’d traded with, you know. And I came up with ‘em somehow, near enough
for the stragglers of their hunting party to hear me skreek when my
scalp was took. Now you know as much about it as I do; I can’t tell you
no more, except that I woke up like, in an Indian wigwam, with a crop of
cool leaves on my head, instead of a crop of hair.”

“A crop of leaves! What a jolly old Jack-in-the-Green you must have
looked like! Which of those scars on your face is the arrow-wound, eh?
Oh, that’s it--is it? I say, old boy, you’ve got a black eye! Did any of
those fellows in the Snuggery hit hard enough to hurt you?”

“Hurt me? Chaps like them _hurt Me!!”_ Tickled by the extravagance of
the idea which Zack’s question suggested to him, Mat shook his sturdy
shoulders, and indulged himself in a gruff chuckle, which seemed to
claim some sort of barbarous relationship with a laugh.

“Ah! of course they haven’t hurt you;--I didn’t think they had,” said
Zack, whose pugilistic sympathies were deeply touched by the contempt
with which his new friend treated the bumps and bruises received in
the fight. “Go on, Mat, I like adventures of your sort. What did you do
after your head healed up?”

“Well, I got tired of dodging about the Amazon, and went south, and
learnt to throw a lasso, and took a turn at the wild horses. Galloping
did my head good.”

“It’s just what would do my head good too. Yours is the sort of life,
Mat, for me! How did you first come to lead it? Did you run away from
home?”

“No. I served aboard ship, where I was put out, being too idle a
vagabond to be kep’ at home. I always wanted to run wild somewheres for
a change; but I didn’t really go to do it, till I picked up a letter
which was waiting for me in port, at the Brazils. There was news in that
letter which sickened me of going home again; so I deserted, and went
off on the tramp. And I’ve been mostly on the tramp ever since, till I
got here last Sunday.”

“What! have you only been in England since Sunday?”

“That’s all. I made a good time of it in California, where I’ve been
last, digging gold. My mate, as was with me, got a talking about the old
country, and wrought on me so that I went back with him to see it again.
So, instead of gambling away all my money over there” (Mat carelessly
jerked his hand in a westerly direction), “I’ve come to spend it over
here; and I’m going down into the country to-morrow, to see if anybody
lives to own me at the old place.”

“And suppose nobody does? What then?”

“Then I shall go back again. After twenty years among the savages, or
little better, I’m not fit for the sort of thing as goes on among
you here. I can’t sleep in a bed; I can’t stop in a room; I can’t be
comfortable in decent clothes; I can’t stray into a singing-shop, as
I did to-night, without a dust being kicked up all round me, because I
haven’t got a proper head of hair like everybody else. I can’t shake
up along with the rest of you, nohow; I’m used to hard lines and a
wild country; and I shall go back and die over there among the lonesome
places where there’s plenty of room for me.” And again Mat jerked his
hand carelessly in the direction of the American continent.

“Oh, don’t talk about going back!” cried Zack; “you’re sure to find
somebody left at home--don’t you think so yourself, old fellow?”

Mat made no answer. He suddenly slackened; then, as suddenly, increased
his pace; dragging young Thorpe with him at a headlong rate.

“You’re sure to find somebody,” continued Zack, in his offhand, familiar
way. “I don’t know--gently! we’re not walking for a wager--I don’t know
whether you’re married or not?” (Mat still made no answer, and walked
faster than ever.) “But if you havn’t got wife or child, every fellow’s
got a father and mother, you know; and most fellows have got brothers or
sisters--”

“Good night,” said Mat, stopping short, and abruptly holding out his
hand.

“Why! what’s the matter now?” asked Zack, in astonishment. “What do you
want to part company for already? We are not near the end of the streets
yet. Have I said anything that’s offended you?”

“No, you havn’t. You can come and talk to me if you like, the day after
to-morrow. I shall be back then, whatever happens. I said I’d be like
a brother to you; and that means, in my lingo, doing anything you ask.
Come and smoke a pipe along with me, as soon as I’m back again. Do you
know Kirk Street? It’s nigh on the Market. Do you know a ‘bacco shop in
Kirk Street? It’s got a green door, and Fourteen written on it in yaller
paint. When I _am_ shut up in a room of my own, which isn’t often, I’m
shut up there. I can’t give you the key of the house, because I want it
myself.”

“Kirk Street? That’s my way. Why can’t we go on together? What do you
want to say good-night here for?”

“Because I want to be left by myself. It’s not your fault; but you’ve
set me thinking of something that don’t make me easy in my mind. I’ve
led a lonesome life of it, young ‘un; straying away months and months
out in the wilderness, without a human being to speak to, I dare say
that wasn’t a right sort of life for a man to take up with; but I _did_
take up with it; and I can’t get over liking it sometimes still. When
I’m not easy in my mind, I want to be left lonesome as I used to be. I
want it now. Good night.”

Before Zack could enter his new friend’s address in his pocket-book, Mat
had crossed the road, and had disappeared in the dark distance dotted
with gaslights. In another moment, the last thump of his steady footstep
died away on the pavement, in the morning stillness of the street.

“That’s rather an odd fellow”--thought Zack as he pursued his own
road--“and we have got acquainted with each other in rather an odd way.
I shall certainly go and see him though, on Thursday; something may come
of it, one of these days.”

Zack was a careless guesser; but, in this case, he guessed right.
Something _did_ come of it.



CHAPTER II. THE PRODIGAL’S RETURN.

When Zack reached Baregrove Square, it was four in the morning. The
neighboring church clock struck the hour as he approached his own door.

Immediately after parting with Mat, malicious Fate so ordained it
that he passed one of those late--or, to speak more correctly,
early--public-houses, which are open to customers during the “small
hours” of the morning. He was parched with thirst; and the hiccuping
fit which had seized him in the company of his new friend had not yet
subsided. “Suppose I try what a drop of brandy will do for me,” thought
Zack, stopping at the fatal entrance of the public-house.

He went in easily enough--but he came out with no little difficulty.
However, he had achieved his purpose of curing the hiccups. The remedy
employed acted, to be sure, on his legs as well as his stomach--but that
was a trifling physiological eccentricity quite unworthy of notice.

He was far too exclusively occupied in chuckling over the remembrance of
the agreeably riotous train of circumstances which had brought his
new acquaintance and himself together, to take any notice of his own
personal condition, or to observe that his course over the pavement was
of a somewhat sinuous nature, as he walked home. It was only when he
pulled the door-key out of his pocket, and tried to put it into the
keyhole, that his attention was fairly directed to himself; and then
he discovered that his hands were helpless, and that he was also by no
means rigidly steady on his legs.

There are some men whose minds get drunk, and some men whose bodies get
drunk, under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Zack belonged to the
second class. He was perfectly capable of understanding what was said to
him, and of knowing what he said himself, long after his utterance
had grown thick, and his gait had become uncertain. He was now quite
conscious that his visit to the public-house had by no means tended to
sober him; and quite awake to the importance of noiselessly stealing up
to bed--but he was, at the same time, totally unable to put the key into
the door at the first attempt, or to look comfortably for the key-hole,
without previously leaning against the area railings at his side.

“Steady,” muttered Zack, “I’m done for if I make any noise.” Here he
felt for the keyhole, and guided the key elaborately, with his left
hand, into its proper place. He next opened the door, so quietly that
he was astonished at himself--entered the passage with marvelous
stealthiness--then closed the door again, and cried “Hush!” when he
found that he had let the lock go a little too noisily.

He listened before he attempted to light his candle. The air of the
house felt strangely close and hot, after the air out of doors. The dark
stillness above and around him was instinct with an awful and virtuous
repose; and was deepened ominously by the solemn _tick-tick_ of the
kitchen clock--never audible from the passage in the day time: terribly
and incomprehensibly distinct at this moment.

“I won’t bolt the door,” he whispered to himself, “till I have struck
a--” Here the unreliability of brandy as a curative agent in cases
of fermentation in the stomach, was palpably demonstrated by a sudden
return of the hiccuping fit. “Hush!” cried Zack for the second time;
terrified at the violence and suddenness of the relapse, and clapping
his hand to his mouth when it was too late.

After groping, on his knees, with extraordinary perseverance all round
the rim of his bed-room candlestick, which stood on one of the hall
chairs, he succeeded--not in finding the box of matches--but in knocking
it off the chair, and sending it rolling over the stone floor, until it
was stopped by the opposite wall. With some difficulty he captured it,
and struck a light. Never, in all Zack’s experience, had any former
matches caught flame with such a shrill report, as was produced from
the one disastrous match which he happened to select to light his candle
with.

The next thing to be done was to bolt the door. He succeeded very well
with the bolt at the top, but failed signally with the bolt at the
bottom, which appeared particularly difficult to deal with that night.
It first of all creaked fiercely on being moved--then stuck spitefully
just at the entrance of the staple--then slipped all of a sudden, under
moderate pressure, and ran like lightning into its appointed place,
with a bang of malicious triumph. “If that doesn’t bring my father
down”--thought Zack, listening with all his ears, and stifling the
hiccups with all his might--“he’s a harder sleeper than I take him for.”

But no door opened, no voice called, no sound of any kind broke the
mysterious stillness of the bedroom regions. Zack sat down on
the stairs, and took his boots off, got up again with some little
difficulty, listened, took his candlestick, listened once more,
whispered to himself, “Now for it!” and began the perilous ascent to his
own room.

He held tight by the banisters, only falling against them, and making
them crack from top to bottom once, before he reached the drawing-room
landing. He ascended the second flight of stairs without casualties of
any kind, until he got to the top step, close by his father’s bed-room
door. Here, by a dire fatality, the stifled hiccups burst beyond all
control; and distinctly asserted themselves by one convulsive yelp,
which betrayed Zack into a start of horror. The start shook his
candlestick: the extinguisher, which lay loose in it, dropped out,
hopped playfully down the stone stairs, and rolled over the landing with
a loud and lively ring--a devilish and brazen flourish of exultation in
honor of its own activity.

“Oh Lord!” faintly ejaculated Zack, as he heard somebody’s voice
speaking, and somebody’s body moving, in the bed-room; and remembered
that he had to mount another flight of stairs--wooden stairs this
time--before he got to his own quarters on the garret-floor.

He went up, however, directly, with the recklessness of despair; every
separate stair creaking and cracking under him, as if a young elephant
had been retiring to bed instead of a young man. He blew out his light,
tore off his clothes, and, slipping between the sheets, began to breathe
elaborately, as if he was fast asleep--in the desperate hope of being
still able to deceive his father, if Mr. Thorpe came up stairs to look
after him.

No sooner had he assumed a recumbent position than a lusty and ceaseless
singing began in his ears, which bewildered and half deafened him. His
bed, the room, the house, the whole world tore round and round, and
heaved up and down frantically with him. He ceased to be a human being:
he became a giddy atom, spinning drunkenly in illimitable space. He
started up in bed, and was recalled to a sense of his humanity by a cold
perspiration and a deathly qualm. Hiccups burst from him no longer;
but they were succeeded by another and a louder series of sound--sounds
familiar to everybody who has ever been at sea--sounds nautically and
lamentably associated with white basins, whirling waves, and misery of
mortal stomachs wailing in emetic despair.

In the momentary pauses between the rapidly successive attacks of the
malady which now overwhelmed him, and which he attributed in after-life
entirely to the dyspeptic influences of toasted cheese, Zack was faintly
conscious of the sound of slippered feet ascending the stairs. His back
was to the door. He had no strength to move, no courage to look
round, no voice to raise in supplication. He knew that his door was
opened--that a light came into the room--that a voice cried “Degraded
beast!”--that the door was suddenly shut again with a bang--and that he
was left once more in total darkness. He did not care for the light,
or the voice, or the banging of the door: he did not think of them
afterwards; he did not mourn over the past, or speculate on the future.
He just sank back on his pillow with a gasp, drew the clothes over him
with a groan, and fell asleep, blissfully reckless of the retribution
that was to come with the coming daylight.

When he woke, late the next morning, conscious of nothing, at first,
except that it was thawing fast out of doors, and that he had a violent
headache, but gradually recalled to a remembrance of the memorable
fight in the Snuggery by a sense of soreness in his ribs, and a growing
conviction that his nose had become too large for his face, Zack’s
memory began, correctly though confusedly, to retrace the circumstances
attending his return home, and his disastrous journey up stairs to bed.
With these recollections were mingled others of the light which had
penetrated into his room, after his own candle was out; of the voice
which had denounced him as a “Degraded beast;” and of the banging of the
door which had followed. There could be no doubt that it was his father
who had entered the room and apostrophized him in the briefly emphatic
terms which he was now calling to mind. Never had Mr. Thorpe, on any
former occasion, been known to call names, or bang doors. It was quite
clear that he had discovered everything, and was exasperated with his
son as he had never been exasperated with any other human being before
in his life.

Just as Zack arrived at this conclusion, he heard the rustling of his
mother’s dress on the stairs, and Mrs. Thorpe, with her handkerchief
to her eyes, presented herself woefully at his bedside. Profoundly and
penitently wretched, he tried to gain his mother’s forgiveness before he
encountered his father’s wrath. To do him justice, he was so thoroughly
ashamed to meet her eye, that he turned his face to the wall, and in
that position appealed to his mother’s compassion in the most moving
terms, and with the most vehement protestations which he had ever
addressed to her.

The only effect he produced on Mrs. Thorpe was to make her walk up and
down the room in violent agitation, sobbing bitterly. Now and then a few
words burst lamentably and incoherently from her lips. They were just
articulate enough for him to gather from them that his father had
discovered everything, had suffered in consequence from an attack of
palpitation of the heart, and had felt himself, on rising that morning,
so unequal, both in mind and body, to deal unaided with the enormity of
his son’s offense, that he had just gone out to request the co-operation
of the Reverend Aaron Yollop. On discovering this, Zack’s penitence
changed instantly into a curious mixture of indignation and alarm. He
turned round quickly towards his mother. But, before he could open his
lips, she informed him, speaking with an unexampled severity of tone,
that he was on no account to think of going to the office as usual, but
was to wait at home until his father’s return--and then hurried from the
room. The fact was, that Mrs. Thorpe distrusted her own inflexibility,
if she stayed too long in the presence of her penitent son; but Zack
could not, unhappily, know this. He could only see that she left him
abruptly, after delivering an ominous message; and could only place the
gloomiest interpretation on her conduct.

“When mother turns against me, I’ve lost my last chance.” He stopped
before he ended the sentence, and sat up in bed, deliberating with
himself for a minute or two. “I could make up my mind to bear anything
from my father, because he has a right to be angry with me, after what
I’ve done. But if I stand old Yollop again, I’ll be--” Here, whatever
Zack said was smothered in the sound of a blow, expressive of fury and
despair, which he administered to the mattress on which he was sitting.
Having relieved himself thus, he jumped out of bed, pronouncing at last
in real earnest those few words of fatal slang which had often burst
from his lips in other days as an empty threat:--

“It’s all over with me; I must bolt from home.”

He refreshed both mind and body by a good wash; but still his resolution
did not falter. He hurried on his clothes, looked out of window,
listened at his door; and all this time his purpose never changed.
Remembering but too well the persecution he had already suffered at the
hands of Mr. Yollop, the conviction that it would now be repeated with
fourfold severity was enough of itself to keep him firm to his desperate
intention. When he had done dressing, his thoughts were suddenly
recalled by the sight of his pocket-book to his companion of the past
night. As he reflected on the appointment for Thursday morning, his eyes
brightened, and he said to himself aloud, while he turned resolutely to
the door, “That queer fellow talked of going back to America. If I can’t
do anything else, I’ll go back with him!”

Just as his hand was on the lock, he was startled by a knock at the
door. He opened it, and found the housemaid on the landing with a letter
for him. Returning to the window, he hastily undid the envelope. Several
gaily-printed invitation cards with gilt edges dropped out. There was
a letter among them, which proved to be in Mr. Blyth’s handwriting, and
ran thus:--

                 “Wednesday.

“MY DEAR ZACK--The enclosed are the tickets for my picture show, which I
told you about yesterday evening. I send them now, instead of waiting to
give them to you to-night, at Lavvie’s suggestion. She thinks only
three days’ notice, from now to Saturday, rather short, and considers
it advisable to save even a few hours, so as to enable you to give your
friends the most time possible to make their arrangements for coming
to my studio. Post all the invitation tickets, therefore, that you send
about among your connection, at once, as I am posting mine; and you will
save a day by that means, which is a good deal. Patty is obliged to pass
your house this morning on an errand, so I send my letter by her. How
conveniently things sometimes turn out, don’t they?

“Introduce anybody you like; but I should prefer _intellectual_ people;
my figure-subject of ‘Columbus in sight of the New World’ being treated
mystically, and, therefore, adapted to tax the popular mind to the
utmost. Please warn your friends beforehand that it is a work of high
art, and that nobody can hope to understand it in a hurry.

                            “Affectionately yours,

                            “V. BLYTH.”


The perusal of this letter reminded Zack of certain recent aspirations
in the direction of the fine arts, which had escaped his slippery memory
altogether, while he was thinking of his future prospects. “I’ll stick
to my first idea,” he thought, “and be an artist, if Blyth will let me,
after what’s happened. If he won’t, I’ve got Mat to fall back upon; and
I’ll run as wild in America as ever he did.”

Reflecting thus, Zack descended cautiously to the back parlor, which
was called a “library.” The open door showed him that no one was in the
room. He went in, and in great haste scrawled the following answer to
Mr. Blyth’s letter:--


“MY DEAR BLYTH--Thank you for the tickets. I have got into a dreadful
scrape, having been found out coming home tipsy at four in the morning,
which I did by stealing the family door-key. My prospects after this are
so extremely unpleasant that I am going to make a bolt of it. I write
these lines in a tearing hurry, for fear my father should come home
before I have done--he having gone to Yollop’s to set the parson at me
again worse than ever.

“I can’t come to you to-night, because your house would be the first
place they would send to after me. But I mean to be an artist, if you
won’t desert me. Don’t, my dear fellow! I know I’m a scamp; but I’ll try
and be a reformed character, if you will only stick by me. When you take
your walk tomorrow, I shall be at the turnpike in the Laburnum Road,
waiting for you, at three o’clock. If you won’t come there, or won’t
speak to me when you do come, I shall leave England and take to
something desperate.

“I have got a new friend--the best and most interesting fellow in the
world. He has been half his life in the wilds of America; so, if you
don’t give me the go-by, I shall bring him to see your picture of
Columbus.

“I feel so miserable, and have got such a headache, that I can’t write
any more. Ever yours,

                            “Z. THORPE, JUN.”


After directing this letter, and placing it in his pocket to be put
into the post by his own hand, Zack looked towards the door and
hesitated--advanced a step or two to go out--and ended by returning
to the writing-table, and taking a fresh sheet of paper out of the
portfolio before him.

“I can’t leave the old lady (though she won’t forgive me) without
writing a line to keep up her spirits and say goodbye,” he thought, as
he dipped the pen in the ink, and began in his usual dashing, scrawling
way. But he could not get beyond “My dear Mother.” The writing of those
three words seemed to have suddenly paralyzed him. The strong hand that
had struck out so sturdily all through the fight, trembled now at
merely touching a sheet of paper. Still, he tried desperately to write
something, even if it were only the one word, “Goodbye.”--tried till the
tears came into his eyes, and made all further effort hopeless.

He crumpled up the paper and rose hastily, brushing away the tears with
his hand, and feeling a strange dread and distrust of himself as he did
so. It was rarely, very rarely, that his eyes were moistened as they
were moistened now. Few human beings have lived to be twenty years of
age without shedding more tears than had ever been shed by Zack.

“I can’t write to her while I’m at home, and I know she’s in the next
room to me. I will send her a letter when I’m out of the house, saying
it’s only for a little time, and that I’m coming back when the angry
part of this infernal business is all blown over.” Such was his
resolution, as he tore up the crumpled paper, and went out quickly into
the passage.

He took his hat from the table. _His_ hat? No: he remembered that it
was the hat which had been taken from the man at the tavern. At the most
momentous instant of his life--when his heart was bowing down before the
thought of his mother--when he was leaving home in secret, perhaps for
ever--the current of his thoughts could be incomprehensibly altered in
its course by the influence of such a trifle as this!

It was thus with him; it is thus with all of us. Our faculties are never
more completely at the mercy of the smallest interests of our being,
than when they appear to be most fully absorbed by the mightiest. And
it is well for us that there exists this seeming imperfection in our
nature. The first cure of many a grief, after the hour of parting, or in
the house of death, has begun, insensibly to ourselves, with the first
moment when we were betrayed into thinking of so little a thing even as
a daily meal.

The rain which had accompanied the thaw was falling faster and faster;
inside the house was dead silence, and outside it damp desolation, as
Zack opened the street door, and, without hesitating a moment, dashed
out desperately through mud and wet, to cast himself loose on the
thronged world of London as a fugitive from his own home.

He paused before he took the turning out of the square; the
recollections of weeks, months, years past, all whirling through his
memory in a few moments of time. He paused, looking through the damp,
foggy atmosphere at the door which he had just left--never, it might be,
to approach it again; then moved away, buttoned his coat over his chest
with trembling, impatient fingers, and saying to himself, “I’ve done it,
and nothing can undo it now,” turned his back resolutely on Baregrove
Square.



CHAPTER III. THE SEARCH BEGUN.

The street which Mat had chosen for his place of residence in London,
was situated in a densely populous, and by no means respectable
neighborhood. In Kirk Street the men of the fustian-jacket and seal-skin
cap clustered tumultuous round the lintels of the gin-shop doors. Here
ballad-bellowing, and organ grinding, and voices of costermongers,
singing of poor men’s luxuries, never ceased all through the hum of
day, and penetrated far into the frowzy repose of latest night. Here, on
Saturday evenings especially, the butcher smacked with appreciating
hand the fat carcasses that hung around him; and flourishing his steel,
roared aloud to every woman who passed the shop door with a basket, to
come in and buy--buy--buy! Here, with foul frequency, the language of
the natives was interspersed with such words as reporters indicate in
the newspapers by an expressive black line; and on this “beat,” more
than on most others, the night police were chosen from men of mighty
strength to protect the sober part of the street community, and of
notable cunning to persuade the drunken part to retire harmlessly
brawling into the seclusion of their own homes.

Such was the place in which Mat had set up his residence, after twenty
years of wandering amid the wilds of the great American Continent.

Never was tenant of any order or degree known to make such conditions
with a landlord as were made by this eccentric stranger. Every household
convenience with which the people at the lodgings could offer to
accommodate him, Mat considered to be a domestic nuisance which it was
particularly desirable to get rid of. He stipulated that nobody should
be allowed to clean his room but himself; that the servant-of-all-work
should never attempt to make his bed, or offer to put sheets on it, or
venture to cook him a morsel of dinner when he stopped at home; and
that he should be free to stay away unexpectedly for days and nights
together, if he chose, without either landlord or landlady presuming to
be anxious or to make inquiries about him, as long as they had his rent
in their pockets. This rent he willingly covenanted to pay beforehand,
week by week, as long as his stay lasted; and he was also ready to fee
the servant occasionally, provided she would engage solemnly “not to
upset his temper by doing anything for him.”

The proprietor of the house (and tobacco-shop) was at first extremely
inclined to be distrustful; but as he was likewise extremely familiar
with poverty, he was not proof against the auriferous halo which the
production of a handful of bright sovereigns shed gloriously over the
oddities of the new lodger. The bargain was struck; and Mat went away
directly to fetch his personal baggage.

After an absence of some little time, he returned with a large corn-sack
on his back, and a long rifle in his hand. This was his luggage.

First putting the rifle on his bed, in the back room, he cleared away
all the little second-hand furniture with which the front room was
decorated; packing the three rickety chairs together in one corner, and
turning up the cracked round table in another. Then, untying a piece of
cord which secured the mouth of the corn-sack, he emptied it over his
shoulder into the middle of the room--just (as the landlady afterwards
said) as if it was coals coming in instead of luggage. Among the things
which fell out on the floor in a heap, were--some bearskins and a
splendid buffalo-hide, neatly packed; a pipe, two red flannel shirts, a
tobacco-pouch, and an Indian blanket; a leather bag, a gunpowder flask,
two squares of yellow soap, a bullet mold, and a nightcap; a tomahawk, a
paper of nails, a scrubbing-brush, a hammer, and an old gridiron. Having
emptied the sack, Mat took up the buffalo hide, and spread it out on
his bed, with a very expressive sneer at the patchwork counterpane and
meager curtains. He next threw down the bear skins, with the empty sack
under them, in an unoccupied corner; propped up the leather bag between
two angles of the wall; took his pipe from the floor; left everything
else lying in the middle of the room; and, sitting down on the bearskins
with his back against the bag, told the astonished landlord that he was
quite settled and comfortable, and would thank him to go down stairs,
and send up a pound of the strongest tobacco he had in the shop.

Mat’s subsequent proceedings during the rest of the day--especially such
as were connected with his method of laying in a stock of provisions,
and cooking his own dinner--exhibited the same extraordinary disregard
of all civilized precedent which had marked his first entry into the
lodgings. After he had dined, he took a nap on his bear skins; woke up
grumbling at the close air and the confined room; smoked a long series
of pipes, looking out of window all the time with quietly observant,
constantly attentive eyes; and, finally, rising to the climax of all
his previous oddities, came down when the tobacco shop was being shut up
after the closing of the neighboring theater, and coolly asked which was
his nearest way into the country, as he wanted to clear his head, and
stretch his legs, by making a walking night of it in the fresh air.

He began the next morning by cleaning both his rooms thoroughly with his
own hands; and seemed to enjoy the occupation mightily in his own grim,
grave way. His dining, napping, smoking, and observant study of the
street view from his window, followed as on the previous day. But at
night, instead of setting forth into the country as before, he wandered
into the streets; and, in the course of his walk, happened to pass the
door of the Snuggery. What happened to him there is already known; but
what became of him afterwards remains to be seen.

On leaving Zack, he walked straight on; not slackening his pace, not
noticing whither he went, not turning to go back till daybreak. It
was past nine o’clock before he presented himself at the tobacco-shop,
bringing in with him a goodly share of mud and wet from the thawing
ground and rainy sky outside. His long walk did not seem to have
relieved the uneasiness of mind which had induced him to separate
so suddenly from Zack. He talked almost perpetually to himself in a
muttering, incoherent way; his heavy brow was contracted, and the scars
of the old wounds on his face looked angry and red. The first thing
he did was to make some inquiries of his landlord relating to railway
traveling, and to the part of London in which a certain terminus that
he had been told of was situated. Finding it not easy to make him
understand any directions connected with this latter point, the
shopkeeper suggested sending for a cab to take him to the railway. He
briefly assented to that arrangement; occupying the time before the
vehicle arrived, in walking sullenly backwards and forwards over the
pavement in front of the shop door.

When the cab came to take him up, he insisted, with characteristic
regardlessness of appearances, on riding upon the roof, because he could
get more air to blow over him, and more space for stretching his legs
in, there than inside. Arriving in this irregular and vagabond fashion
at the terminus, he took his ticket for DIBBLEDEAN, a quiet little
market town in one of the midland counties.

When he was set down at the station, he looked about him rather
perplexedly at first; but soon appeared to recognize a road, visible
at some little distance, which led to the town; and towards which he
immediately directed his steps, scorning all offers of accommodation
from the local omnibus.

It did not happen to be market day; and the thaw looked even more dreary
at Dibbledean than it looked in London. Down the whole perspective of
the High Street there appeared only three human figures--a woman in
pattens; a child under a large umbrella; and a man with a hamper on his
back, walking towards the yard of the principal inn.

Mat had slackened his pace more and more as he approached the
town, until he slackened it altogether at last, by coming to a dead
stand-still under the walls of the old church, which stood at one
extremity of the High Street, in what seemed to be the suburban district
of Dibbledean. He waited for some time, looking over the low parapet
wall which divided the churchyard from the road--then slowly
approached a gate leading to a path among the grave-stones--stopped at
it--apparently changed his purpose--and, turning off abruptly, walked up
the High Street.

He did not pause again till he arrived opposite a long, low, gabled
house, evidently one of the oldest buildings in the place, though
brightly painted and whitewashed, to look as new and unpicturesque as
possible. The basement story was divided into two shops; which, however,
proclaimed themselves as belonging now, and having belonged also in
former days, to one and the same family. Over the larger of the two was
painted in letters of goodly size:--

_Bradford and Son (late Joshua Grice), Linendrapers, Hosiers, &c., &c._

The board on which these words were traced was continued over the
smaller shop, where it was additionally superscribed thus:--

_Mrs. Bradford (late Joanna Grice), Milliner and Dressmaker._

Regardless of rain, and droppings from eaves that trickled heavily down
his hat and coat, Mat stood motionless, reading and re-reading these
inscriptions from the opposite side of the way. Though the whole man,
from top to toe, was the very impersonation of firmness, he nevertheless
hesitated most unnaturally now. At one moment he seemed to be on the
point of entering the shop before him--at another, he turned half round
towards the churchyard which he had left behind him. At last he decided
to go back to the churchyard, and retraced his steps accordingly.

He entered quickly by the gate at which he had delayed before; and
pursued the path among the graves a little way. Then striking off over
the grass, after a moment’s consideration and looking about him, he
wound his course hither and thither among the turf mounds, and stopped
suddenly at a plain flat tombstone, raised horizontally above the
earth by a foot or so of brickwork. Bending down over it, he read the
characters engraven on the slab.

There were four inscriptions, all of the simplest and shortest kind,
comprising nothing but a record of the names, ages, and birth and death
dates of the dead who lay beneath. The first two inscriptions notified
the deaths of children:--“Joshua Grice, son of Joshua and Susan Grice,
of this parish, aged four years;” and “Susan Grice, daughter of the
above, aged thirteen years.” The next death recorded was the mother’s:
and the last was the father’s, at the age of sixty-two. Below this
followed a quotation from the New Testament:--_Come unto me all ye that
are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest._ It was on these
lines, and on the record above them of the death of Joshua Grice the
elder, that the eyes of the lonely reader rested longest; his lips
murmuring several times, as he looked down on the letters:--“He lived to
be an old man--he lived to be an old man after all!”

There was sufficient vacant space left towards the bottom of the
tombstone for two or three more inscriptions; and it appeared as if Mat
expected to have seen more. He looked intently at the vacant space, and
measured it roughly with his fingers, comparing it with the space above,
which was occupied by letters. “Not there, at any rate!” he said to
himself, as he left the churchyard, and walked back to the town.

This time he entered the double shop--the hosiery division of
it--without hesitation. No one was there, but the young man who served
behind the counter. And right glad the young man looked, having been
long left without a soul to speak to on that rainy morning, to see some
one--even a stranger with an amazing skull-cap under his hat--enter the
shop at last.

What could he serve the gentleman with? The gentleman had not come to
buy. He only desired to know whether Joanna Grice, who used to keep the
dressmaker’s shop, was still living?

Still living, certainly! the young man replied, with brisk civility.
Miss Grice, whose brother once had the business now carried on by
Bradford and Son, still resided in the town; and was a very curious old
person, who never went out, and let nobody inside her doors. Most of
her old friends were dead; and those who were still alive she had broken
with. She was full of fierce, wild ways; was suspected of being crazy;
and was execrated by the boys of Dibbledean as an “old tiger-cat.” In
all probability, her intellects were a little shaken, years ago, by a
dreadful scandal in the family, which quite crushed them down, being
very respectable, religious people--

At this point the young man was interrupted, in a very uncivil manner,
by the stranger, who desired to hear nothing about the scandal, but who
had another question to ask. This question seemed rather a difficult one
to put; for he began it two or three times, in two or three different
forms of words, and failed to get on with it. At last, he ended by
asking, generally, whether any other members of old Mr. Grice’s family
were still alive.

For a moment or so the shopman was stupid and puzzled, and asked what
other members the gentleman meant. Old Mrs. Grice had died some time
ago; and there had been two children who died young, and whose names
were in the churchyard. “Did the gentleman mean the second daughter, who
lived and grew up beautiful, and was, as the story went, the cause of
all the scandal? If so, the young person ran away, and died miserably
somehow--nobody knew how; and was supposed to have been buried like a
pauper somewhere--nobody knew where, unless it was Miss Grice--”

The young man stopped and looked perplexed. A sudden change had passed
over the strange gentleman’s face. His swarthy cheeks had turned to a
cold clay color, through which his two scars seemed to burn fiercer than
ever, like streaks of fire. His heavy hand and arm trembled a little
as he leaned against the counter. Was he going to be taken ill? No: he
walked at once from the counter to the door--turned round there, and
asked where Joanna Grice lived. The young man answered, the second
turning to the right, down a street, which ended in a lane of cottages.
Miss Grice’s was the last cottage on the left hand; but he could assure
the gentleman that it would be quite useless to go there, for she let
nobody in. The gentleman thanked him, and went, nevertheless.

“I didn’t think it would have took me so,” Mat said, walking quickly up
the street; “and it wouldn’t if I’d heard it anywhere else. But I’m
not the man I was, now I’m in the old place again. Over twenty year of
hardening, don’t seem to have hardened me yet!”

He followed the directions given him, correctly enough, arrived at the
last cottage on his left hand, and tried the garden gate. It was locked;
and there was no bell to ring. But the paling was low, and Mat was not
scrupulous. He got over it, and advanced to the cottage door. It opened,
like other doors in the country, merely by turning the handle of the
lock. He went in without any hesitation, and entered the first room
into which the passage led him. It was a small parlor; and, at the back
window, which looked out on a garden, sat Joanna Grice, a thin, dwarfish
old woman, poring over a big book which looked like a Bible. She started
from her chair, as she heard the sound of footsteps, and tottered up
fiercely, with wild wandering grey eyes and horny threatening hands,
to meet the intruder. He let her come close to him; then mentioned a
name--pronouncing it twice, very distinctly.

She paused instantly, livid pale, with gaping lips, and arms hanging
rigid at her side; as if that name, or the voice in which it had been
uttered, had frozen up in a moment all the little life left in her.
Then she moved back slowly, groping with her hands like one in the
dark--back, till she touched the wall of the room Against this she
leaned, trembling violently; not speaking a word; her wild eyes staring
panic-stricken on the man who was confronting her.

He sat down unbidden, and asked if she did not remember him. No answer
was given; no movement made that might serve instead of an answer. He
asked again; a little impatiently this time. She nodded her head and
stared at him--still speechless, still trembling.

He told her what he had heard at the shop; and using the shopman’s
phrases, asked whether it was true that the daughter of old Mr. Grice,
who was the cause of all the scandal in the family, had died long since,
away from her home, and in a miserable way?

There was something in his look, as he spoke, which seemed to oblige her
to answer against her will. She said Yes; and trembled more violently
than ever.

He clasped his hands together; his head drooped a little; dark shadows
seemed to move over his bent face; and the scars of the old wounds
deepened to a livid violet hue.

His silence and hesitation seemed to inspire Joanna Grice with sudden
confidence and courage. She moved a little away from the wall, and a
gleam of triumph lightened over her face, as she reiterated her last
answer of her own accord. “Yes! the wretch who ruined the good name
of the family _was_ dead--dead, and buried far off, in some grave by
herself--not there, in the churchyard with her father and mother--no,
thank God, not there!”

He looked up at her instantly, when she said those words, There was
some warning influence in his eye, as it rested on her, which sent her
cowering back again to her former place against the wall. Mentioning
the name for the first time, he asked sternly where Mary was buried. The
reply--doled out doggedly and slowly, forced from her word by word--was,
that Mary was buried among strangers, as she deserved to be--at a place
called Bangbury--far away in the next county, where she died, and where
money was sent to bury her.

His manner became less roughly imperative; his eyes softened; his voice
saddened in tone, when he spoke again. And yet, the next question that
he put to Joanna Grice seemed to pierce her to the quick, to try her
to the heart, as no questioning had tried her before. The muscles were
writhing on her haggard face, her breath burst from her in quick, fierce
pantings, as he asked plainly, whether it was only suspicion, or really
the truth, that Mary was with child when she left her home?

No answer was given to him. He repeated the question, and insisted on
having one. Was it suspicion, or truth? The reply hissed out at him in
one whispered word--Truth.

Was the child born alive?

The answer came again in the same harsh whisper--Yes: born alive.

What became of it?

She never saw it--never asked about it--never knew. While she replied
thus, her whispering accents changed, and rose sullenly to hoarse,
distinct tones. But it was not till the questioner spoke to her once
more that the smothered fury flashed out into flaming rage. Then,
even as he raised his head and opened his lips, she staggered, with
outstretched arms, up to the table at which she had been reading when he
came in; and struck her bony hands on the open Bible; and swore by the
Word of Truth in that Book, that she would answer him no more.

He rose calmly; and with something of contempt in his look, approached
the table and spoke. But his voice was drowned by hers, bursting from
her in screams of fury. No! no! no! Not a word more! How dare he come
there, with his shameless face and his threatening eyes, and make her
speak of what should never have passed her lips again--never till she
went up to render her account at the Judgment Seat! Relations! let him
not speak to her of relations. The only kindred she ever cared to own,
lay heart-broken under the great stone in the churchyard. Relations! if
they all came to life again this very minute, what could she have to do
with them, whose only relation was Death? Yes; Death, that was father,
mother, brother, sister to her now! Death, that was waiting to take her
in God’s good time. What! would he stay on in spite of her? stay after
she had sworn not to answer him another word?

Yes; he was resolved to stay--and resolved to know more. Had Mary left
nothing behind her, on the day when she fled from her home?

Some suddenly-conceived resolution seemed to calm the first fury of
Joanna Grice’s passion, while he said those words. She stretched out her
hand quickly, and griped him by the arm, and looked up in his face with
a wicked exultation in her wild eyes.

He was bent on knowing what that ruined wretch left behind her? Well! he
should see for himself!

Between the leaves of Joanna Grice’s Bible there was a key, which seemed
to be used as a marker. She took it out, and led the way, with toilsome
step, and hands outstretched for support to the wall on one side and the
banisters on the other, up the one flight of stairs which communicated
with the bed-room story of the cottage.

He followed close behind her: and was standing by her side, when she
opened a door, and pointed into a room, telling him to take what he
found there, and then go--she cared not whither, so long as he went from
her.

She descended the stairs again, as he entered the room. There was a
close, faint, airless smell in it. Cobwebs, pendulous and brown with
dirt, hung from the ceiling. The grimy window-panes saddened all the
light that poured through them faintly. He looked round him, and saw no
furniture anywhere; no sign that the room had ever been lived in, ever
entered even, for years and years past. He looked again, more carefully:
and detected, in one dim corner, something covered with dust and dirt,
which looked like a small box.

He pulled it out towards the window. Dust flew from it in clouds.
Loathsome, crawling creatures crept from under it and from off it. He
stirred it with his foot still nearer to the faint light, and saw that
it was a common deal-box, corded. He looked closer, and through cobwebs,
and dead insects, and foul stains of all kinds, spelt out a name that
was painted on it: MARY GRICE.

At the sight of that name, and of the pollution which covered it, he
paused, silent and thoughtful; and, at the same moment, heard the parlor
door below, locked. He stooped hastily, took up the box by the cord
round it, and left the room. His hand touched a substance, as he grasped
the cord, which did not feel like wood. Examining the box by the clearer
light falling on the landing from a window in the roof, he discovered a
letter nailed to the cover. There was something written on it; but the
paper was dusty, the ink was faded by time, and the characters were hard
to decipher. By dint of perseverance, however, he made out from them
this inscription: “Justification of my conduct towards my niece: to be
read after my death. Joanna Grice.”

As he passed the parlor door, he heard her voice, reading. He stopped
and listened. The words that reached his ears seemed familiar to them;
and yet he knew not, at first, what book they came from. He listened a
little longer; his recollections of his boyhood and of home helped him;
and he knew that the book from which Joanna Grice was reading aloud to
herself was the Bible.

His face darkened, and he went out quickly into the garden; but stopped
before he reached the paling, and, turning back to the front window of
the parlor, looked in. He saw her sitting with her back to him, with
elbows on the table, and hands working feverishly in her tangled grey
hair. Her voice was still audible; but the words it pronounced could no
longer be distinguished. He waited at the window for a few moments; then
left it suddenly, saying to himself: “I wonder the book don’t strike her
dead!” Those were his only words of farewell. With that thought in his
heart, he turned his back on the cottage, and on Joanna Grice.

He went on through the rain, taking the box with him, and looking about
for some sheltered place in which he could open it. After walking nearly
a mile, he saw an old cattle-shed, a little way off the road--a rotten,
deserted place; but it afforded some little shelter, even yet: so he
entered it.

There was one dry corner left; dry enough, at least, to suit
his purpose. In that he knelt down, and cut the cord round the
box--hesitated before he opened it--and began by tearing away the letter
outside, from the nail that fastened it to the cover.

It was a long letter, written in a close, crabbed hand. He ran his eye
over it impatiently, till his attention was accidentally caught and
arrested by two or three lines, more clearly penned than the rest, near
the middle of a page. For many years he had been unused to reading any
written characters; but he spelt out resolutely the words in the few
lines which first struck his eye, and found that they ran thus:--


“I have now only to add, before proceeding to the miserable confession
of our family dishonor, that I never afterwards saw, and only once heard
of, the man who tempted my niece to commit the deadly sin, which was her
ruin in this world, and will be her ruin in the next.”


Beyond those words, he made no effort to read further. Thrusting the
letter hastily into his pocket, he turned once more to the box.

It was sealed up with strips of tape, but not locked. He forced the lid
open, and saw inside a few simple articles of woman’s wearing apparel;
a little work-box; a lace collar, with the needle and thread still
sticking in it; several letters, here tied up in a packet, there
scattered carelessly; a gaily-bound album; a quantity of dried ferns and
flower leaves that had apparently fallen from between the pages: a
piece of canvas with a slipper-pattern worked on it; and a black dress
waistcoat with some unfinished embroidery on the collar. It was plain to
him, at a first glance, that these things had been thrown into the box
anyhow, and had been left just as they were thrown. For a moment or
two, he kept his eyes fixed on the sad significance of the confusion
displayed before him; then turned away his head, whispering to himself,
mournfully and many times, that name of “Mary,” which he had already
pronounced while in the presence of Joanna Grice. After a little, he
mechanically picked out the letters that lay scattered about the
box; mechanically eyed the broken seals and the addresses on each;
mechanically put them back again unopened, until he came to one which
felt as if it had something inside it. This circumstance stimulated
him into unfolding the enclosure, and examining what the letter might
contain.

Nothing but a piece of paper neatly folded. He undid the folds, and
found part of a lock of hair inside, which he wrapped up again the
moment he saw it, as if anxious to conceal it from view as soon as
possible. The letter he examined more deliberately. It was in a woman’s
handwriting; was directed to “Miss Mary Grice, Dibbledean:” and was only
dated “Bond Street, London. Wednesday.” The post-mark, however, showed
that it had been written many years ago. It was not very long; so he set
himself to the task of making it all out from beginning to end.

This was what he read:--


“MY DEAREST MARY,

“I have just sent you your pretty hair bracelet by the coach, nicely
sealed and packed up by the jeweler. I have directed it to you by your
own name, as I direct this, remembering what you told me about your
father making it a point of honor never to open your letters and
parcels; and forbidding that ugly aunt Joanna of yours, ever to do so
either. I hope you will receive this and the little packet about the
same time.

“I will answer for your thinking the pattern of your bracelet much
improved since the new hair has been worked in with the old. How slyly
you will run away to your own room, and _blush unseen,_ like the flower
in the poem, when you look at it! You may be rather surprised, perhaps,
to see some little gold fastenings introduced as additions; but this,
the jeweler told me, was a matter of necessity. Your poor dear sister’s
hair being the only material of the bracelet, when you sent it up to
me to be altered, was very different from the hair of that faultless
true-love of yours which you also sent to be worked in with it. It was,
in fact, hardly half long enough to plait up properly with poor Susan’s,
from end to end; so the jeweler had to join it with little gold clasps,
as you will see. It is very prettily run in along with the old hair
though. No country jeweler could have done it half as nicely, so you did
well to send it to London after all. I consider myself rather a judge
of these things; and I say positively that it is now the prettiest hair
bracelet I ever saw.

“Do you see him as often as ever? He ought to be true and faithful to
you, when you show how dearly you love him, by mixing his hair with poor
Susan’s, whom you were always so fondly attached to. I say he _ought;_
but _you_ are sure to say he will--and I am quite ready, love, to
believe that you are the wiser of the two.

“I would write more, but have no time. It is just the regular London
season now, and we are worked out of our lives. I envy you dressmakers
in the country; and almost wish I was back again at Dibbledean, to be
tyrannized over from morning to night by Miss Joanna. I know she is your
aunt, my dear; but I can’t help saying that I hate her very name!

                            “Ever your affectionate friend,

                            “JANE HOLDSWORTH.

“P. S.--The jeweler sent back the hair he did not want; and I, as in
duty bound, return it enclosed to you, its lawful owner.”


Those scars on Mat’s face, which indicated the stir of strong feelings
within him more palpably than either his expression or his manner,
began to burn redly again while he spelt his way through this letter. He
crumpled it up hastily round the enclosure, instead of folding it as it
had been folded before; and was about to cast it back sharply into the
box, when the sight of the wearing apparel and half-finished work
lying inside seemed to stay his hand, and teach it on a sudden to move
tenderly. He smoothed out the paper with care, and placed it very gently
among the rest of the letters--then looked at the box thoughtfully for
a moment or two; took from his pocket the letter that he had first
examined, and dropped it in among the others--then suddenly and sharply
closed the lid of the box again.

“I can’t touch any more of her things,” he said to himself; “I can’t so
much as look at ‘em, somehow, without its making me--” he stopped to tie
up the box; straining at the cords, as if the mere physical exertion
of pulling hard at something were a relief to him at that moment. “I’ll
open it again and look it over in a day or two, when I’m away from the
old place here,” he resumed, jerking sharply at the last knot--“when I’m
away from the old place, and have got to be my own man again.”

He left the shed; regained the road; and stopped, looking up and down,
and all round him, indecisively. Where should he go next? To the grave,
where he had been told that Mary lay buried? No: not until he had first
read all the letters and carefully examined all the objects in the box.
Back to London, and to his promised meeting next morning with Zack? Yes:
nothing better was left to be done--back to London.


Before nightfall he was journeying again to the great city, and to his
meeting with Zack; journeying (though he little thought it) to the place
where the clue lay hid--the clue to the Mystery of Mary Grice.



CHAPTER IV. FATE WORKS, WITH ZACK FOR AN INSTRUMENT.

A quarter of an hour’s rapid walking from his father’s door, took Zack
well out of the neighborhood of Baregrove Square, and launched him in
vagabond independence loose on the world. He had a silk handkerchief and
sevenpence halfpenny in his pockets--his available assets consisted of
a handsome gold watch and chain--his only article of baggage was a
blackthorn stick--and his anchor of hope was the Pawnbroker.

His first action, now that he had become his own master, was to go
direct to the nearest stationer’s shop that he could find, and there to
write the penitent letter to his mother over which his heart had
failed him in the library at Baregrove Square. It was about as awkward,
scrambling, and incoherent an epistolary production as ever was
composed. But Zack felt easier when he had completed it--easier still
when he had actually dropped it into the post-office along with his
other letter to Mr. Valentine Blyth.

The next duty that claimed him was the first great duty of civilized
humanity--the filling of an empty purse. Most young gentlemen in his
station of life would have found the process of pawning a watch in the
streets of London, and in broad daylight, rather an embarrassing one.
But Zack was born impervious to a sense of respectability. He marched
into the first pawnbroker’s he came to with as solemn an air of
business, and marched out again with as serene an expression of
satisfaction, as if he had just been drawing a handsome salary, or just
been delivering a heavy deposit into the hands of his banker.

Once provided with pecuniary resources, Zack felt himself at liberty
to indulge forthwith in a holiday of his own granting. He opened the
festival by a good long ride in a cab, with a bottle of pale ale and a
packet of cigars inside, to keep the miserable state of the weather
from affecting his spirits. He closed the festival with a visit to the
theater, a supper in mixed company, total self-oblivion, a bed at a
tavern, and a blinding headache the next morning. Thus much, in brief,
for the narrative of his holiday. The proceedings, on his part, which
followed that festival, claim attention next; and are of sufficient
importance, in the results to which they led, to be mentioned in detail.


The new morning was the beginning of an important day in Zack’s life.
Much depended on the interviews he was about to seek with his new
friend, Mat, in Kirk Street, and with Mr. Blyth, at the turnpike in the
Laburnum Road. As he paid his bill at the tavern, his conscience was not
altogether easy, when he recalled a certain passage in his letter to
his mother, which had assured her that he was on the high road to
reformation already. “I’ll make a clean breast of it to Blyth, and do
exactly what he tells me, when I meet him at the turnpike.” Fortifying
himself with this good resolution, Zack arrived at Kirk Street, and
knocked at the private door of the tobacconist’s shop.

Mat, having seen him from the window, called to him to come up, as
soon as the door was opened. The moment they shook hands, young Thorpe
noticed that his new friend looked altered. His face seemed to have
grown downcast and weary--heavy and vacant, since they had last met.

“What’s happened to you?” asked Zack. “You have been somewhere in the
country, haven’t you? What news do you bring back, my dear fellow? Good,
I hope?”

“Bad as can be,” returned Mat, gruffly. “Don’t you say another word to
me about it. If you do, we part company again. Talk of something else.
Anything you like; and the sooner the better.”

Forbidden to discourse any more concerning his friend’s affairs, Zack
veered about directly, and began to discourse concerning his own.
Candor was one of his few virtues: and he now confided to Mat the entire
history of his tribulations, without a single reserved point at any part
of the narrative, from beginning to end.

Without putting a question, or giving an answer, without displaying
the smallest astonishment or the slightest sympathy, Mat stood gravely
listening until Zack had quite done. He then went to the corner of the
room where the round table was; pulled the upturned lid back upon the
pedestal; drew from the breast pocket of his coat a roll of beaver-skin;
slowly undid it; displayed upon the table a goodly collection of bank
notes; and pointing to them, said to young Thorpe,--“Take what you
want.”

It was not easy to surprise Zack; but this proceeding so completely
astonished him, that he stared at the bank notes in speechless
amazement. Mat took his pipe from a nail in the wall, filled the bowl
with tobacco, and pointing with the stem towards the table, gruffly
repeated,--“Take what you want.”

This time, Zack found words in which to express himself, and used them
pretty freely to praise his new friend’s unexampled generosity, and to
decline taking a single farthing. Mat deliberately lit his pipe, in the
first place, and then bluntly answered in these terms:--

“Take my advice, young ‘un, and keep all that talking for somebody else:
it’s gibberish to _me._ Don’t bother; and help yourself to what you
want. Money’s what you want--though you won’t own it. That’s money. When
it’s gone, I can go back to California and get more. While it lasts,
make it spin. What is there to stare at? I told you I’d be brothers with
you, because of what you done for me the other night. Well: I’m being
brothers with you now. Get your watch out of pawn, and shake a loose leg
at the world. _Will_ you take what you want? And when you have, just tie
up the rest, and chuck ‘em over here.” With those words the man of
the black skull-cap sat down on his bearskins, and sulkily surrounded
himself with clouds of tobacco smoke.

Finding it impossible to make Mat understand those delicacies and
refinements of civilized life which induce one gentleman (always
excepting a clergyman at Easter time) to decline accepting money from
another gentleman as a gift--perceiving that he was resolved to receive
all remonstrances as so many declarations of personal enmity and
distrust--and well knowing, moreover, that a little money to go on
with would be really a very acceptable accommodation under existing
circumstances, Zack consented to take two ten-pound notes as a loan. At
this reservation Mat chuckled contemptuously; but young Thorpe
enforced it, by tearing a leaf out of his pocket-book, and writing an
acknowledgment for the sum he had borrowed. Mat roughly and resolutely
refused to receive the document; but Zack tied it up along with the
bank-notes, and threw the beaver-skin roll back to its owner, as
requested.

“Do you want a bed to sleep in?” asked Mat next. “Say yes or no at once!
I won’t have no more gibberish. I’m not a gentleman, and I can’t shake
up along with them as are. It’s no use trying it on with me, young ‘un.
I’m not much better than a cross between a savage and a Christian. I’m
a battered, lonesome, scalped old vagabond--that’s what I am! But I’m
brothers with you for all that. What’s mine is yours; and if you tell me
it isn’t again, me and you are likely to quarrel. Do you want a bed to
sleep in? Yes? or No?”

Yes; Zack certainly wanted a bed; but--

“There’s one for you,” remarked Mat, pointing through the folding-doors
into the back room. _“I_ don’t want it. I haven’t slep’ in a bed these
twenty years and more, and I can’t do it now. I take dog’s snoozes in
this corner; and I shall take more dog’s snoozes out of doors in the
day-time, when the sun begins to shine. I haven’t been used to much
sleep, and I don’t want much. Go in and try if the bed’s long enough for
you.”

Zack tried to expostulate again, but Mat interrupted him more gruffly
than ever.

“I suppose you don’t care to sleep next door to such as me,” he said.
“You wouldn’t turn your back on a bit of my blanket, though, if we were
out in the lonesome places together. Never mind! You won’t cotton to me
all at once, I dare say. I cotton to _you_ in spite of that. Damn the
bed! Take or leave it, which you like.”

Zack the reckless, who was always ready at five minutes’ notice to
make friends with any living being under the canopy of heaven--Zack
the gregarious, who in his days of roaming the country, before he was
fettered to an office stool, had “cottoned” to every species of rustic
vagabond, from a traveling tinker to a resident poacher--at once
declared that he would sleep in the offered bed that very night, by way
of showing himself worthy of his host’s assistance and regard, if worthy
of nothing else. Greatly relieved by this plain declaration, Mat crossed
his legs luxuriously on the floor, shook his great shoulders with a
heartier chuckle than usual, and made his young friend free of the
premises in these hospitable words:--

“There! now the bother’s over at last, I suppose,” cried Mat. “Pull in
the buffalo hide, and bring your legs to an anchor anywhere you like.
I’m smoking. Suppose you smoke too.--Hoi! Bring up a clean pipe,” cried
this rough diamond, in conclusion, turning up a loose corner of the
carpet, and roaring through a crack in the floor into the shop below.

The pipe was brought. Zack sat down on the buffalo hide, and began to
ask his queer friend about the life he had been leading in the wilds of
North and South America. From short replies at first, Mat was gradually
beguiled into really relating some of his adventures. Wild,
barbarous fragments of narrative they were; mingling together in one
darkly-fantastic record, fierce triumphs and deadly dangers; miseries
of cold, and hunger, and thirst; glories of hunters’ feasts in mighty
forests; gold-findings among desolate rocks; gallopings for life from
the flames of the blazing prairie; combats with wild beasts and with
men wilder still; weeks of awful solitude in primeval wastes; days and
nights of perilous orgies among drunken savages; visions of meteors in
heaven, of hurricanes on earth, and of icebergs blinding bright, when
the sunshine was beautiful over the Polar seas.

Young Thorpe listened in a fever of excitement. Here was the desperate,
dangerous, roving life of which he had dreamed! He longed already to
engage in it: he could have listened to descriptions of it all day long.
But Mat was the last man in the world to err, at any time, on the side
of diffuseness in relating the results of his own experience. And he now
provokingly stopped, on a sudden, in the middle of an adventure among
the wild horses on the Pampas; declaring that he was tired of feeling
his own tongue wag, and had got so sick of talking of himself, that he
was determined not to open his mouth again--except to put a rump-steak
and a pipe in it--for the rest of the day.

Finding it impossible to make him alter this resolution, Zack thought of
his engagement with Mr. Blyth, and asked what time it was. Mat, having
no watch, conveyed this inquiry into the shop by the same process of
roaring through the crack in the ceiling which he had already employed
to produce a clean pipe. The answer showed Zack that he had barely time
enough left to be punctual to his appointment in the Laburnum Road.

“I must be off to my friend at the turnpike,” he said, rising and
putting on his hat; “but I shall be back again in an hour or two. I say,
have you thought seriously yet about going back to America?” His eyes
sparkled eagerly as he put this question.

“There ain’t no need to think about it,” answered Mat. “I mean to go
back; but I haven’t settled what day yet. I’ve got something to do
first.” His face darkened, and he glanced aside at the box which he
had brought from Dibbledean, and which was now covered with one of his
bearskins. “Never mind what it is; I’ve got it to do, and that’s enough.
Don’t you go asking again whether I’ve brought news from the country,
or whether I haven’t. Don’t you ever do that, and we shall sail along
together easy enough. I like you, Zack, when you don’t bother me. If you
want to go, what are you stopping for? Why don’t you clear out at once?”

Young Thorpe departed, laughing. It was a fine clear day, and the bright
sky showed signs of a return of the frost. He was in high spirits as he
walked along, thinking of Mat’s wild adventures. What was the happiest
painter’s life, after all, compared to such a life as he had just heard
described? Zack was hardly in the Laburnum Road before he began to doubt
whether he had really made up his mind to be guided entirely by Mr.
Blyth’s advice, and to devote all his energies for the future to the
cultivation of the fine arts.

Near the turnpike stood a tall gentleman, making a sketch in a note-book
of some felled timber lying by the road side. This could be no other
than Valentine--and Valentine it really was.

Mr. Blyth looked unusually serious, as he shook hands with young Thorpe.
“Don’t begin to justify yourself, Zack,” he said; “I’m not going to
blame you now. Let’s walk on a little. I have some news to tell you from
Baregrove Square.”

It appeared from the narrative on which Valentine now entered, that,
immediately on the receipt of Zack’s letter, he had called on Mr.
Thorpe, with the kindly purpose of endeavoring to make peace between
father and son. His mission had entirely failed. Mr. Thorpe had grown
more and more irritable as the interview proceeded; and had accused
his visitor of unwarrantable interference, when Valentine suggested the
propriety of holding out some prospect of forgiveness to the runaway
son.

This outbreak Mr. Blyth had abstained from noticing, out of
consideration for the agitated state of the speaker’s feelings. But
when the Reverend Mr. Yollop (who had been talking with Mrs. Thorpe
up stairs) came into the room soon afterwards, and joined in the
conversation, words had been spoken which had obliged Valentine to leave
the house. The reiteration of some arguments on the side of mercy which
he had already advanced, had caused Mr. Yollop to hint, with extreme
politeness and humility, that Mr. Blyth’s profession was not of a nature
to render him capable of estimating properly the nature and consequences
of moral guilt; while Mr. Thorpe had referred almost openly to the
scandalous reports which had been spread abroad in certain quarters,
years ago, on the subject of Madonna’s parentage. These insinuations
had roused Valentine instantly. He had denounced them as false in the
strongest terms he could employ; and had left the house, resolved never
to hold any communication again either with Mr. Yollop or Mr. Thorpe.

About an hour after his return home, a letter marked “Private” had
been brought to him from Mrs. Thorpe. The writer referred, with many
expressions of sorrow, to what had occurred at the interview of the
morning; and earnestly begged Mr. Blyth to take into consideration the
state of Mr. Thorpe’s health, which was such, that the family doctor
(who had just called) had absolutely forbidden him to excite himself in
the smallest degree by receiving any visitors, or by taking any active
steps towards the recovery of his absent son. If these rules were not
strictly complied with for many days to come, the doctor declared
that the attack of palpitation of the heart, from which Mr. Thorpe had
suffered on the night of Zack’s return, might occur again, and might
be strengthened into a confirmed malady. As it was, if proper care was
taken, nothing of an alarming nature need be apprehended.

Having referred to her husband in these terms, Mrs. Thorpe next reverted
to herself. She mentioned the receipt of a letter from Zack; but said it
had done little towards calming her anxiety and alarm. Feeling certain
that Mr. Blyth would be the first friend her son would go to, she now
begged him to use his influence to keep Zack from abandoning himself to
any desperate courses, or from leaving the country, which she greatly
feared he might be tempted to do. She asked this of Mr. Blyth as a favor
to herself, and hinted that if he would only enable her, by granting it,
to tell her husband, without entering into details, that their son was
under safe guidance for the present, half the anxiety from which she
was now suffering would be alleviated. Here the letter ended abruptly; a
request for a speedy answer being added in the postscript.

“Now, Zack,” said Valentine, after he had related the result of his
visit to Baregrove Square, and had faithfully reported the contents
of Mrs. Thorpe’s letter, “I shall only add that whatever has happened
between your father and me, makes no difference in the respect I have
always felt for your mother, and in my earnest desire to do her every
service in my power. I tell you fairly--as between friends--that I think
you have been very much to blame; but I have sufficient confidence and
faith in you, to leave everything to be decided by your own sense of
honor, and by the affection which I am sure you feel for your mother.”

This appeal, and the narrative which had preceded it, had their due
effect on Zack. His ardor for a wandering life of excitement and peril,
began to cool in the quiet temperature of the good influences that
were now at work within him. “It shan’t be my fault, Blyth, if I don’t
deserve your good opinion,” he said warmly. “I know I’ve behaved badly;
and I know, too, that I have had some severe provocations. Only tell me
what you advise, and I’ll do it--I will, upon my honor, for my mother’s
sake.”

“That’s right! that’s talking like a man!” cried Valentine, clapping him
on the shoulder. “In the first place, it would be no use your going back
home at once--even if you were willing, which I am afraid you are not.
In your father’s present state your return to Baregrove Square would do
_him_ a great deal of harm, and do _you_ no good. Employed, however,
you must be somehow while you’re away from home; and what you’re fit
for--unless it’s Art--I’m sure I don’t know. You have been talking a
great deal about wanting to be a painter; and now is the time to test
your resolution. If I get you an order to draw in the British Museum,
to fill up your mornings; and if I enter you at some private Academy,
to fill up your evenings (mine at home is not half strict enough for
you)--will you stick to it?”

“With all my heart,” replied Zack, resolutely dismissing his dreams
of life in the wilds to the limbo of oblivion. “I ask nothing better,
Blyth, than to stick to you and your plan for the future.”

“Bravo!” cried Valentine, in his old gay, hearty manner. “The heaviest
load of anxiety that has been on my shoulders for some time past is off
now. I will write and comfort your mother this very afternoon--”

“Give her my love,” interposed Zack. --“Giving her your love; in the
belief, of course, that you are going to prove yourself worthy to send
such a message,” continued Mr. Blyth. “Let us turn, and walk back at
once. The sooner I write, the easier and happier I shall be. By the
bye, there’s another important question starts up now, which your
mother seems to have forgotten in the hurry and agitation of writing her
letter. What are you going to do about money matters? Have you thought
about a place to live in for the present? Can I help you in any way?”

These questions admitted of but one candid form of answer, which
the natural frankness of Zack’s character led him to adopt without
hesitation. He immediately related the whole history of his first
meeting with Mat, (formally describing him, on this occasion, as Mr.
Mathew Marksman), and of the visit to Kirk Street which had followed it
that very morning.

Though in no way remarkable for excess of caution, or for the possession
of any extraordinary fund of worldly wisdom, Mr. Blyth frowned and shook
his head suspiciously, while he listened to the curious narrative now
addressed to him. As soon as it was concluded, he expressed the most
decided disapprobation of the careless readiness with which Zack had
allowed a perfect stranger to become intimate with him--reminding him
that he had met his new acquaintance (of whom, by his own confession,
he knew next to nothing) in a very disreputable place--and concluded by
earnestly recommending him to break off all connection with so dangerous
an associate, at the earliest possible opportunity.

Zack, on his side, was not slow in mustering arguments to defend his
conduct. He declared that Mr. Marksman had gone into the Snuggery
innocently, and had been grossly insulted before he became the
originator of the riot there. As to his family affairs and his real
name, he might have good and proper reasons for concealing them; which
was the more probable, as his account of himself in other respects was
straightforward and unreserved enough. He might be a little eccentric,
and might have led an adventurous life; but it was surely not fair to
condemn him, on that account only, as a bad character. In conclusion,
Zack cited the loan he had received, as a proof that the stranger could
not be a swindler, at any rate; and referred to the evident familiarity
with localities and customs in California, which he had shown in
conversation that afternoon, as affording satisfactory proof in support
of his own statement that he had gained his money by gold-digging.

Mr. Blyth, however, still held firmly to his original opinion; and,
first offering to advance the money from his own purse, suggested that
young Thorpe should relieve himself of the obligation which he had
imprudently contracted, by paying back what he had borrowed, that very
afternoon.

“Get out of his debt,” said Valentine, earnestly--“Get out of his debt,
at any rate.”

“You don’t know him as well as I do,” replied Zack. “He wouldn’t think
twice about knocking me down, if I showed I distrusted him in that
way--and let me tell you, Blyth, he’s one of the few men alive who could
really do it.”

“This is no laughing matter, Zack,” said Valentine, shaking his head
doubtfully.

“I never was more serious in my life,” rejoined Zack. “I won’t say I
should be afraid, but I will say I should be ashamed to pay him his
money back on the day when I borrowed it. Why, he even refused to accept
my written acknowledgment of the loan! I only succeeded in forcing it on
him unawares, by slipping it in among his banknotes; and, if he finds
it there, I’ll lay you any wager you like, he tears it up, or throws it
into the fire.”

Mr. Blyth began to look a little puzzled. The stranger’s behavior about
the money was rather staggering, to say the least of it.

“Let me bring him to your picture-show,” pursued Zack. “Judge of him
yourself, before you condemn him. Surely I can’t say fairer than that?
May I bring him to see the pictures? Or will you come back at once with
me to Kirk Street, where he lives?”

“I must write to your mother, before I do any thing else; and I have
work in hand besides for to-day and tomorrow,” said Valentine. “All
things considered, you had better bring your friend as you proposed just
now. But remember the distinction I always make between my public studio
and my private house. I consider the glorious mission of Art to apply to
everybody; so I am proud to open my painting room to any honest man who
wants to look at my pictures. But the freedom of my other rooms is only
for my own friends. I can’t have strangers brought up stairs: remember
that.”

“Of course! I shouldn’t think of it, my dear fellow. Only you look at
old Rough and Tough, and hear him talk; and I’ll answer for the rest.”

“Ah, Zack! Zack! I wish you were not so dreadfully careless about whom
you get acquainted with. I have often warned you that you will bring
yourself or your friends into trouble some day, when you least expect
it. Where are you going now?”

“Back to Kirk Street. This is my nearest way; and I promised Mat--”

“Remember what you promised _me,_ and what I am going to promise your
mother--”

“I’ll remember everything, Blyth. Good bye and thank you. Only wait till
we meet on Saturday, and you see my new friend; and you will find it all
right.”

“I hope I shan’t find it all wrong,” said Mr. Blyth, forebodingly, as he
followed the road to his own house.



CHAPTER V. FATE WORKS, WITH MR. BLYTH FOR AN INSTRUMENT.

The great day of the year in Valentine’s house was always the day on
which his pictures for the Royal Academy Exhibition were shown in their
completed state to friends and admiring spectators, congregated in his
own painting room. His visitor represented almost every variety of rank
in the social scale; and grew numerous in proportion as they descended
from the higher to the lower degrees. Thus, the aristocracy of race
was usually impersonated, in his studio, by his one noble patron, the
Dowager Countess of Brambledown; the aristocracy of art by two or three
Royal Academicians; and the aristocracy of money by eight or ten highly
respectable families, who came quite as much to look at the Dowager
Countess as to look at the pictures. With these last, the select portion
of the company might be said to terminate; and, after them, flowed in
promiscuously the obscure majority of the visitors--a heterogeneous
congregation of worshippers at the shrine of art, who were some of them
of small importance, some of doubtful importance, some of no importance
at all; and who included within their numbers, not only a sprinkling of
Mr. Blyth’s old-established tradesmen, but also his gardener, his wife’s
old nurse, the brother of his housemaid, and the father of his cook.
Some of his respectable friends deplored, on principle, the “leveling
tendencies” which induced him thus to admit a mixture of all classes
into his painting-room, on the days when he exhibited his pictures.
But Valentine was warmly encouraged in taking this course by no less a
person than Lady Brambledown herself, whose perverse pleasure it was to
exhibit herself to society as an uncompromising Radical, a reviler of
the Peerage, a teller of scandalous Royal anecdotes, and a worshipper of
the memory of Oliver Cromwell.

On the eventful Saturday which was to display his works to an applauding
public of private friends, Mr. Blyth’s studio, thanks to Madonna’s
industry and attention, looked really in perfect order--as neat and
clean as a room could be. A semicircle of all the available chairs in
the house--drawing-room and bed-room chairs intermingled--ranged itself
symmetrically in front of the pictures. That imaginative classical
landscape, “The Golden Age,” reposed grandly on its own easel; while
“Columbus in Sight of the New World”--the largest canvas Mr. Blyth had
ever worked on, encased in the most gorgeous frame he had ever ordered
for one of his own pictures--was hung on the wall at an easy distance
from the ground, having proved too bulky to be safely accommodated by
any easel in Valentine’s possession.

Except Mr. Blyth’s bureau, all the ordinary furniture and general litter
of the room had been cleared out of it, or hidden away behind convenient
draperies in corners. Backwards and forwards over the open space thus
obtained, Mr. Blyth walked expectant, with the elastic skip peculiar
to him; looking ecstatically at his pictures, as he passed and repassed
them--now singing, now whistling; sometimes referring mysteriously to a
small manuscript which he carried in his hand, jauntily tied round
with blue ribbon; sometimes following the lines of the composition in
“Columbus,” by flourishing his right hand before it in the air, with
dreamy artistic grace;--always, turn where he would, instinct from
top to toe with an excitable activity which defied the very idea of
rest--and always hospitably ready to rush to the door and receive the
first enthusiastic visitor with open arms, at a moment’s notice.

Above stairs, in the invalid room, the scene was of a different
kind. Here also the arrival of the expected visitors was an event of
importance; but it was awaited in perfect tranquillity and silence. Mrs.
Blyth lay in her usual position on the couch-side of the bed, turning
over a small portfolio of engravings; and Madonna stood at the front
window, where she could command a full view of the garden gate, and of
the approach from it to the house. This was always her place on the days
when the pictures were shown; for, while occupying this position, she
was able, by signs, to indicate the arrival of the different guests to
her adopted mother, who lay too far from the window to see them. On
all other days of the year, it was Mrs. Blyth who devoted herself
to Madonna’s service, by interpreting for her advantage the pleasant
conversations that she could not hear. On this day, it was Madonna
who devoted herself to Mrs. Blyth’s service, by identifying for her
amusement the visitors whose approach up the garden walk she could not
safely leave her bed to see.

No privilege that the girl enjoyed under Valentine’s roof was more
valued by her than this; for by the exercise of it, she was enabled to
make some slight return in kind for the affectionate attention of
which she was the constant object. Mrs. Blyth always encouraged her to
indicate who the different guests were, as they followed each other,
by signs of her own choosing,--these signs being almost invariably
suggested by some characteristic peculiarity of the person represented,
which her quick observation had detected at a first interview, and which
she copied with the quaintest exactness of imitation. The correctness
with which her memory preserved these signs, and retained, after long
intervals, the recollection of the persons to whom they alluded, was
very extraordinary. The name of any mere acquaintance, who came
seldom to the house, she constantly forgot, having only perhaps had
it interpreted to her once or twice, and not hearing it as others did,
whenever it accidentally occurred in conversation. But if the sign by
which she herself had once designated that acquaintance--no matter how
long ago--happened to be repeated by those about her, it was then
always found that the forgotten person was recalled to her recollection
immediately.

From eleven till three had been notified in the invitation cards as the
time during which the pictures would be on view. It was now long past
ten. Madonna still stood patiently by the window, going on with a new
purse which she was knitting for Valentine; and looking out attentively
now and then towards the road. Mrs. Blyth, humming a tune to herself,
slowly turned over the engravings in her portfolio, and became so
thoroughly absorbed in looking at them, that she forgot altogether how
time was passing, and was quite astonished to hear Madonna suddenly clap
her hands at the window, as a signal that the first punctual visitor had
passed the garden-gate.

Mrs. Blyth raised her eyes from the prints directly, and smiled as she
saw the girl puckering up her fresh, rosy face into a childish imitation
of old age, bending her light figure gravely in a succession of formal
bows, and kissing her hand several times with extreme suavity and
deliberation. These signs were meant to indicate Mrs. Blyth’s father,
the poor engraver, whose old-fashioned habit it was to pay homage to
all his friends among the ladies, by saluting them from afar off with
tremulous bows and gallant kissings of the hand.

“Ah!” thought Mrs. Blyth, nodding, to show that she understood the
signs--“Ah! there’s father. I felt sure he would be the first; and
I know exactly what he will do when he gets in. He will admire the
pictures more than anybody, and have a better opinion to give of
them than anybody else has; but before he can mention a word of it to
Valentine, there will be dozens of people in the painting-room, and then
he will get taken suddenly nervous, and come up here to me.”

While Mrs. Blyth was thinking about her father, Madonna signalized the
advent of two more visitors. First, she raised her hand sharply, and
began pulling at an imaginary whisker on her own smooth cheek--then
stood bolt upright, and folded her arms majestically over her bosom.
Mrs. Blyth immediately recognized the originals of these two pantomime
portrait-sketches. The one represented Mr. Hemlock, the small critic of
a small newspaper, who was principally remarkable for never letting
his whiskers alone for five minutes together. The other portrayed Mr.
Bullivant, the aspiring fair-haired sculptor, who wrote poetry, and
studied dignity in his attitudes so unremittingly, that he could not
even stop to look in at a shop-window, without standing before it as if
he was his own statue.

In a minute or two more, Mrs. Blyth heard a prodigious grating of
wheels, and trampling of horses, and banging of carriage-steps violently
let down. Madonna immediately took a seat on the nearest chair, rolled
the skirt of her dress up into her lap, tucked both her hands inside it,
then drew one out, and imitated the action of snuff-taking--looking up
merrily at Mrs. Blyth, as much as to say, “You can’t mistake that, I
think?”--Impossible! old Lady Brambledown, with her muff and snuff-box,
to the very life.

Close on the Dowager Countess followed a visitor of low degree.
Madonna--looking as if she was a little afraid of the boldness of
her own imitation--began chewing an imaginary quid of tobacco; then
pretended to pull it suddenly out of his month, and throw it away behind
her. It was all over in a moment; but it represented to perfection
Mangles, the gardener; who, though an inveterate chewer of tobacco,
always threw away his quid whenever he confronted his betters, as a duty
that he owed to his own respectability.

Another carriage. Madonna put on a suppositions pair of spectacles,
pretended to pull them off, rub them bright, and put them on again;
then, retiring a little from the window, spread out her dress into the
widest dimensions that it could be made to assume. The new arrivals thus
portrayed, were the doctor, whose spectacles were never clean enough
to please him; and the doctor’s wife, an emaciated fine lady, who
deceitfully suggested the presence of vanished charms, by wearing a
balloon under her gown--which benevolent rumor pronounced to be only a
crinoline petticoat.

Here there was a brief pause in the procession of visitors. Mrs. Blyth
beckoned to Madonna, and began talking on her fingers.

“No signs of Zack yet--are there, love?”

The girl looked anxiously towards the window, and shook her head.

“If he ventures up here, when he does come, we must not be so kind to
him as usual. He has been behaving very badly, and we must see if we
can’t make him ashamed of himself.”

Madonna’s color rose directly. She looked amazed, sorry, perplexed, and
incredulous by turns. Zack behaving badly?--she would never believe it!

“I mean to make him ashamed of himself, if he ventures near me!” pursued
Mrs. Blyth.

“And I shall try if I can’t console him afterwards,” thought Madonna,
turning away her head for fear her face should betray her.

Another ring at the bell! “There he is, perhaps,” continued Mrs. Blyth,
nodding in the direction of the window, as she signed those words.

Madonna ran to look: then turned round, and with a comic air of
disappointment, hooked her thumbs in the arm-holes of an imaginary
waistcoat. Only Mr. Gimble, the picture-dealer, who always criticized
works of art with his hands in that position.

Just then, a soft knock sounded at Mrs. Blyth’s door; and her father
entered, sniffing with a certain perpetual cold of his which nothing
could cure--bowing, kissing his hand, and frightened up-stairs by the
company, just as his daughter had predicted.

“Oh, Lavvie! the Dowager Countess is downstairs, and her ladyship likes
the pictures,” exclaimed the old man, snuffling and smiling infirmly in
a flutter of nervous glee.

“Come and sit down by me, father, and see Madonna doing the visitors.
It’s funnier than any play that ever was acted.”

“And her ladyship likes the pictures,” repeated the engraver, his poor
old watery eyes sparkling with pleasure as he told his little morsel of
good news over again, and sat down by the bedside of his favorite child.

The rings at the bell began to multiply at compound interest. Madonna
was hardly still at the window for a moment, so many were the visitors
whose approach up the garden walk it was now necessary for her to
signalize. Down-stairs, all the vacant seats left in the painting room
were filling rapidly; and the ranks of standers in the back places were
getting two-deep already.


There was Lady Brambledown (whose calls at the studio always lasted the
whole morning), sitting in the center, or place of honor, taking snuff
fiercely, talking liberal sentiments in a cracked voice, and apparently
feeling extreme pleasure in making the respectable middle classes stare
at her in reverent amazement. Also, two Royal Academicians--a
saturnine Academician, swaddled in a voluminous cloak; and a benevolent
Academician, with a slovenly umbrella, and a perpetual smile. Also, the
doctor and his wife, who admired the massive frame of “Columbus,” but
said not a word about the picture itself. Also, Mr. Bullivant, the
sculptor, and Mr. Hemlock, the journalist, exchanging solemnly that
critical small talk, in which such words as “sensuous,” “aesthetic,”
 “objective,” and “subjective,” occupy prominent places, and out of which
no man ever has succeeded, or ever will succeed, in extricating an
idea. Also, Mr. Gimble, fluently laudatory, with the whole alphabet of
Art-Jargon at his fingers’ ends, and without the slightest comprehension
of the subject to embarrass him in his flow of language. Also, certain
respectable families who tried vainly to understand the pictures,
opposed by other respectable families who never tried at all, but
confined themselves exclusively to the Dowager Countess. Also, the
obscure general visitors, who more than made up in enthusiasm what
they wanted in distinction. And, finally, the absolute democracy, or
downright low-life party among the spectators--represented for the
time being by Mr. Blyth’s gardener, and Mr. Blyth’s cook’s father--who,
standing together modestly outside the door, agreed, in awe-struck
whispers, that the “Golden Age” was a Tasty Thing, and “Columbus in
sight of the New World,” a Beautiful Piece.

All Valentine’s restlessness before the Visitors arrived was as
nothing compared with his rapturous activity, now that they were fairly
assembled. Not once had he stood still, or ceased talking since the
first spectator entered the room. And not once, probably, would he have
permitted either his legs or his tongue to take the slightest repose
until the last guest had departed from the Studio, but for Lady
Brambledown, who accidentally hit on the only available means of fixing
his attention to one thing, and keeping him comparatively quiet in one
place.

“I say, Blyth,” cried her ladyship (she never prefixed the word “Mister”
 to the names of any of her male friends)--“I say, Blyth, I can’t for the
life of me understand your picture of Columbus. You talked some time ago
about explaining it in detail. When are you going to begin?”

“Directly, my dear madam, directly: I was only waiting till the room got
well filled,” answered Valentine, taking up the long wand which he used
to steady his hand while he was painting, and producing the manuscript
tied round with blue ribbon. “The fact is--I don’t know whether you mind
it?--I have just thrown together a few thoughts on art, as a sort of
introduction to--to Columbus, in short. They are written down on this
paper--the thoughts are. Would anybody be kind enough to read them,
while I point out what they mean on the picture? I only ask, because it
seems egotistical to be reading my opinions about my own works.--_Will_
anybody be kind enough?” repeated Mr. Blyth, walking all along the
semicircle of chairs, and politely offering his manuscript to anybody
who would take it.

Not a hand was held out. Bashfulness is frequently infectious; and it
proved to be so on this particular occasion.

“Nonsense, Blyth!” exclaimed Lady Brambledown. “Read it yourself.
Egotistical? Stuff! Everybody’s egotistical. I hate modest men; they’re
all rascals. Read it and assert your own importance. You have a better
right to do so than most of your neighbors, for you belong to the
aristocracy of talent--the only aristocracy, in my opinion, that is
worth a straw.” Here her ladyship took a pinch of snuff, and looked at
the middle-class families, as much as to say:--“There! what do you think
of that from a Member of your darling Peerage?”

Thus encouraged, Valentine took his station (wand in hand) beneath
“Columbus,” and unrolled the manuscript.

“What a very peculiar man Mr. Blyth is!” whispered one of the lady
visitors to an acquaintance behind her.

“And what a very unusual mixture of people he seems to have asked!”
 rejoined the other, looking towards the doorway, where the democracy
loomed diffident in Sunday clothes.

“The pictures which I have the honor to exhibit,” began Valentine from
the manuscript, “have been painted on a principle--”

“I beg your pardon, Blyth,” interrupted Lady Brambledown, whose sharp
ears had caught the remark made on Valentine and his “mixture of
people,” and whose liberal principles were thereby instantly stimulated
into publicly asserting themselves. “I beg your pardon; but where’s my
old ally, the gardener, who was here last time?--Out at the door is
he? What does he mean by not coming in? Here, gardener! come behind my
chair.”

The gardener approached, internally writhing under the honor of public
notice, and covered with confusion in consequence of the noise his boots
made on the floor.

“How do you do? and how are your family? What did you stop out at the
door for? You’re one of Mr. Blyth’s guests, and have as much right
inside as any of the rest of us. Stand there, and listen, and look about
you, and inform your mind. This is an age of progress, gardener; your
class is coming uppermost, and time it did too. Go on, Blyth.” And again
the Dowager Countess took a pinch of snuff, looking contemptuously at
the lady who had spoken of the “mixture of people.”

“I take the liberty,” continued Valentine, resuming the manuscript, “of
dividing all art into two great classes, the landscape subjects, and
the figure subjects; and I venture to describe these classes, in their
highest development, under the respective titles of Art Pastoral and
Art Mystic. The ‘Golden Age’ is an attempt to exemplify Art Pastoral.
‘Columbus in Sight of the New World’ is an effort to express myself
in Art Mystic. In ‘The Golden Age’ “--(everybody looked at Columbus
immediately)--“In the ‘Golden Age,’” continued Mr. Blyth, waving
his wand persuasively towards the right picture, “you have, in the
foreground-bushes, the middle-distance trees, the horizon mountains, and
the superincumbent sky, what I would fain hope is a tolerably faithful
transcript of mere nature. But in the group of buildings to the right”
 (here the wand touched the architectural city, with its acres of
steps and forests of pillars), “in the dancing nymphs, and the musing
philosopher” (Mr. Blyth rapped the philosopher familiarly on the head
with the padded end of his wand), “you have the Ideal--the elevating
poetical view of ordinary objects, like cities, happy female peasants,
and thoughtful spectators. Thus nature is exalted; and thus Art
Pastoral--no!--thus Art Pastoral exalts--no! I beg your pardon--thus Art
Pastoral and Nature exalt each other, and--I beg your pardon again!--in
short, exalt each other--”

Here Valentine broke down at the end of a paragraph; and the gardener
made an abortive effort to get back to the doorway.

“Capital, Blyth!” cried Lady Brambledown. “Liberal, comprehensive,
progressive, profound. Gardener, don’t fidget!”

“The true philosophy of art--the true philosophy of art, my lady,” added
Mr. Gimble, the picture-dealer.

“Crude?” said Mr. Hemlock, the critic, appealing confidentially to Mr.
Bullivant, the sculptor.

“What?” inquired that gentleman.

“Blyth’s principles of criticism,” answered Mr. Hemlock.

“Oh, yes! extremely so,” said Mr. Bullivant.


“Having glanced at Art Pastoral, as attempted in the ‘Golden Age,’”
 pursued Valentine, turning over a leaf, “I will now, with your
permission, proceed to Art Mystic and ‘Columbus.’ Art Mystic, I would
briefly endeavor to define, as aiming at the illustration of fact on
the highest imaginative principles. It takes a scene, for instance, from
history, and represents that scene as exactly and naturally as possible.
And here the ordinary thinker might be apt to say, Art Mystic has done
enough.” (“So it has,” muttered Mr. Hemlock.) “On the contrary, Art
Mystic has only begun. Besides the representation of the scene itself,
the spirit of the age”--(“Ah! quite right,” said Lady Brambledown; “yes,
yes, the spirit of the age.”)--“the spirit of the age which produced
that scene, must also be indicated, mystically, by the introduction of
those angelic or infernal winged forms--those cherubs and airy
female geniuses--those demons and dragons of darkness--which so
many illustrious painters have long since taught us to recognize as
impersonating to the eye the good and evil influences, Virtue and
Vice, Glory and Shame, Success and Failure, Past and Future, Heaven
and Earth--all on the same canvas.” Here Mr. Blyth stopped again:
this passage had cost him some trouble, and he was proud of having got
smoothly to the end of it.

“Glorious!” cried enthusiastic Mr. Gimble.

“Turgid,” muttered critical Mr. Hemlock.

“Very,” assented compliant Mr. Bullivant.

“Go on--get to the picture--don’t stop so often,” said Lady Brambledown.
“Bless my soul, how the man does fidget!” This was not directed at
Valentine (who, however, richly deserved it), but at the unhappy
gardener, who had made a second attempt to escape to the sheltering
obscurity of the doorway, and had been betrayed by his boots.


“To exemplify what has just been remarked, by the picture at my side,”
 proceeded Mr. Blyth. “The moment sought to be represented is sunrise
on the 12th of October, 1492, when the great Columbus first saw land
clearly at the end of his voyage. Observe, now, in the upper portions
of the composition, how the spirit of the age is mystically developed
before the spectator. Of the two winged female figures hovering in the
morning clouds, immediately over Columbus and his ship, the first is the
Spirit of Discovery, holding the orb of the world in her left hand, and
pointing with a laurel crown (typical of Columbus’s fame) towards the
newly-discovered Continent. The other figure symbolizes the Spirit of
Royal Patronage, impersonated by Queen Isabella, Columbus’s warm
friend and patron, who offered her jewels to pay his expenses, and
who, throughout his perilous voyage, was with him in spirit, as here
represented. The tawny figure with feathered head, floating hair,
and wildly-extended pinions, soaring upward from the western horizon,
represents the Genius of America advancing to meet her great discoverer;
while the shadowy countenances, looming dimly through the morning mist
behind her, are portrait-types of Washington and Franklin, who would
never have flourished in America, if that continent had not been
discovered, and who are here, therefore, associated prophetically with
the first voyagers from the Old World to the New.”

Pausing once more, Mr. Blyth used his explanatory wand freely on the
Spirit of Discovery, the Spirit of Royal Patronage, and the Genius
of America--not forgetting an indicative knock a-piece for the embryo
physiognomies of Washington and Franklin. Everybody’s eyes followed the
progress of the wand vacantly; but nobody spoke, except Mr. Hemlock,
who frowned and whispered--“Bosh!” to Mr. Bullivant; who smiled, and
whispered--“Quite so,” to Mr. Hemlock.

“Let me now ask your attention,” resumed Valentine, “to the same mystic
style of treatment, as carried from the sky into the sea. Writhing
defeated behind Columbus’s ship, in the depths of the transparent
Atlantic, you have shadowy types of the difficulties and enemies that
the dauntless navigator had to contend with. Crushed headlong into the
waters, sinks first the Spirit of Superstition, delineated by monastic
robes--the council of monks having set itself against Columbus from the
very first. Behind the Spirit of Superstition, and impersonated by
a fillet of purple grapes around her head, descends the Genius
of Portugal--the Portuguese having repulsed Columbus, and having
treacherously sent out frigates to stop his discovery, by taking him
prisoner. The scaly forms entwined around these two, represent Envy,
Hatred, Malice, Ignorance, and Crime generally; and thus the mystic
element is, so to speak, led through the sea out of the picture.”

(Another pause. Nobody said a word, but everybody was relieved by the
final departure of the mystic element.)

“All that now remains to be noticed,” continued Mr. Blyth, “is the
central portion of the composition, which is occupied by Columbus and
his ships, and which represents the scene as it may actually be
supposed to have occurred. Here we get to Reality, and to that sort of
correctly-imitative art which is simple enough to explain itself. As
a proof of this, let me point attention to the rig of the ships, the
actions of the sailors, and, more than all, to Columbus himself. Weeks
of the most laborious consultation of authorities of which the artist
is capable, have been expended over the impersonation of that
one figure,--expended, I would say, in obtaining that faithful
representation of individual character, which it is my earnest desire to
combine with the higher or mystic element. One instance of this fidelity
to Nature I may perhaps be permitted to point out in the person of
Columbus, in conclusion. Pray observe him, standing rapturously on the
high stern of his vessel--and oblige me, at the same time, by minutely
inspecting his outstretched arms. First, however, let me remind you
that this great man went to sea at the age of fourteen, and cast himself
freely into all the hardships of nautical life; next, let me beg you
to enter into my train of thought, and consider these hardships as
naturally comprising, among other things, industrious haulings at ropes
and manful tuggings at long oars; and, finally, let me now direct your
attention to the manner in which the muscular system of the famous
navigator is developed about the arms in anatomical harmony with this
idea. Follow the wand closely, and observe, bursting, as it were,
through his sleeves, the characteristic vigor of Columbus’s _Biceps
Flexor Cubiti_--”

“Mercy on us! what’s that?” cried Lady Brambledown. “Anything improper?”

“The _Biceps Flexor Cubiti,_ your ladyship,” began the Doctor, delighted
to pour professional information into the mind of a Dowager Countess,
“may be literally interpreted as the Two-Headed Bender of the Elbow, and
is a muscle situated on, what we term, the Os--”

“Follow the wand, my dear madam, pray follow the wand! This is the
_Biceps,”_ interrupted Valentine, tapping till the canvas quivered again
on the upper part of Columbus’s arms, which obtruded their muscular
condition through a pair of tight-fitting chamoy leather sleeves. “The
_Biceps,_ Lady Brambledown, is a tremendously strong muscle--”

“Which arises in the human body, your Ladyship,” interposed the Doctor,
“by two heads--”

“Which is used,” continued Valentine, cutting him short--“I beg your
pardon, Doctor, but this is important--which is used--”

“I beg yours,” rejoined the Doctor, testily. “The origin of the muscle,
or place where it arises, is the first thing to be described. The use
comes afterwards. It is an axiom of anatomical science--”

“But, my dear sir!” cried Valentine--

“No,” said the Doctor, peremptorily, “you must really excuse me. This is
a professional point. If I allow erroneous explanations of the muscular
system to pass unchecked in my presence--”

“I don’t want to make any!” cried Mr. Blyth, gesticulating violently in
the direction of Columbus. “I only want to--”

“To describe the use of a muscle before you describe the place of its
origin in the human body,” persisted the Doctor. “No, my dear sir! I
can’t sanction it. No, indeed! I really _can_ NOT sanction it!”

“Will you let me say two words?” asked Valentine.

“Two hundred thousand, my good sir, on any other subject,” assented the
Doctor, with a sarcastic smile; “but on _this_ subject--”

“On art?” shouted Mr. Blyth, with a tap on Columbus, which struck a
sound from the canvas like a thump on a muffled drum. “On art, Doctor? I
only want to say that, as Columbus’s early life must have exercised him
considerably in hauling ropes and pulling oars, I have shown the large
development of his _Biceps_ muscle (which is principally used in those
actions) through his sleeves, as a good characteristic point to insist
on in his physical formation.--That’s all! As to the origin--”

“The origin of the _Biceps Flexor Cubiti,_ your Ladyship,” resumed the
pertinacious Doctor; “is by two heads. The first begins, if I may so
express myself, _tendinous,_ from the glenoid cavity of the scapula--”

“That man is a pedantic jackass,” whispered Mr. Hemlock to his friend.

“And yet he hasn’t a bad head for a bust!” rejoined Mr. Bullivant.

“Pray, Mr. Blyth,” pleaded the polite and ever-admiring Mr.
Gimble--“pray let me beg you, in the name of the company to proceed with
your most interesting and suggestive explanations and views on art!”

“Indeed, Mr. Gimble,” said Valentine, a little crest-fallen under the
anatomical castigation inflicted on him by the Doctor, “I am very much
delighted and gratified by your approval; but I have nothing more to
read. I thought that point about Columbus a good point to leave off
with, and considered that I might safely allow the rest of the picture
to explain itself to the intelligent spectator.”

Hearing this, some of the spectators, evidently distrusting their own
intelligence, rose to take leave--new visitors making their appearance,
however, to fill the vacant chairs and receive Mr. Blyth’s hearty
welcome. Meanwhile, through all the bustle of departing and arriving
friends, and through all the fast-strengthening hum of general talk,
the voice of the unyielding doctor still murmured solemnly of “capsular
ligaments,” “adjacent tendons,” and “corracoid processes” to Lady
Brambledown, who listened to him with satirical curiosity, as a species
of polite medical buffoon whom it rather amused her to become acquainted
with.

Among the next applicants for admission at the painting-room door were
two whom Valentine had expected to see at a much earlier period of the
day--Mr. Matthew Marksman and Zack.

“How late you are!” he said, as he shook hands with young Thorpe.

“I wish I could have come earlier, my dear fellow,” answered Zack,
rather importantly; “but I had some business to do” (he had been
recovering his watch from the pawnbroker); “and my friend here had some
business to do also” (Mr. Marksman had been toasting red herrings for an
early dinner); “and so somehow we couldn’t get here before. Mat, let me
introduce you. This is my old friend, Mr. Blyth, whom I told you of.”

Valentine had barely time to take the hand of the new guest before his
attention was claimed by fresh visitors. Young Thorpe did the honors of
the painting-room in the artist’s absence. “Lots of people, as I told
you. My friend’s a great genius,” whispered Zack, wondering, as he
spoke, whether the scene of civilized life now displayed before Mr.
Marksman would at all tend to upset his barbarian self-possession.

No: not in the least. There stood Mat, just as grave, cool, and quietly
observant of things about him as ever. Neither the pictures, nor
the company, nor the staring of many eyes that wondered at his black
skull-cap and scarred swarthy face, were capable of disturbing the
Olympian serenity of this Jupiter of the back-woods.

“There!” cried Zack, pointing triumphantly across the room to
“Columbus.” “Cudgel your brains, old boy, and guess what that is a
picture of, without coming to me to help you.”

Mat attentively surveyed the figure of Columbus, the rig of his ship,
and the wings of the typical female spirits, hovering overhead in
the morning clouds--thought a little--then gravely and deliberately
answered:--

“Peter Wilkins taking a voyage along with his flying wives.”

Zack pulled out his handkerchief, and stifled his laughter as well as he
could, out of consideration for Mat, who, however, took not the smallest
notice of him, but added, still staring intently at the picture.

“Peter Wilkins was the only book I had, when I was a lad aboard ship.
I used to read it over and over again, at odds and ends of spare time,
till I pretty nigh got it by heart. That was many a year ago; and a good
lot of what I knowed then I don’t know now. But, mind ye, it’s my belief
that Peter Wilkins was something of a sailor.”

“Well?” whispered Zack, humoring him, “suppose he was, what of that?”

“Do you think a man as was anything of a sailor would ever be fool
enough to put to sea in such a craft as that?” asked Mr. Marksman,
pointing scornfully to Columbus’s ship.

“Hush! old Rough and Tough: the picture hasn’t anything to do with Peter
Wilkins,” said Zack. “Keep quiet, and wait here a minute for me. There
are some friends of mine at the other end of the room that I must go and
speak to. And, I say, if Blyth comes up to you and asks you about the
picture, say it’s Columbus, and remarkably like him.”

Left by himself, Mat looked about for better standing-room than he then
happened to occupy; and seeing a vacant space left between the door-post
and Mr. Blyth’s bureau, retreated to it. Putting his hands in his
pockets, he leaned comfortably against the wall, and began to examine
the room and everything in it at his leisure. It was not long, however,
before he was disturbed. One of his neighbors, seeing that his back was
against a large paper sketch nailed on the wall behind him, told him
bluntly that he was doing mischief there, and made him change his
position. He moved accordingly to the door-post; but even here he was
not left in repose. A fresh relay of visitors arrived, and obliged him
to make way for them to pass into the room--which he did by politely
rolling himself round the door-post into the passage.

As he disappeared in this way, Mr. Blyth bustled up to the place
where Mat had been standing, and received his guests there, with great
cordiality, but also with some appearance of flurry and perplexity of
mind. The fact was, that Lady Brambledown had just remembered that she
had not examined Valentine’s works yet, through one of those artistic
tubes which effectively concentrate the rays of light on a picture, when
applied to the eye. Knowing, by former experience, that the studio
was furnished with one of these little instruments, her ladyship now
intimated her ardent desire to use it instantly on “Columbus.” Valentine
promised to get it, with his usual ready politeness; but he had not the
slightest idea where it actually was, for all that. Among the litter
of small things that had been cleared out of the way, when the
painting-room was put in order, there were several which he vaguely
remembered having huddled together for safety in the bottom of his
bureau. The tube might possibly have been among them; so in this place
he determined to look for it--being quite ignorant, if the search turned
out unsuccessful, where he ought to look next.

After begging the new visitors to walk in, he opened the bureau, which
was large and old-fashioned, with a little bright key hanging by a chain
that he unhooked from his watch-guard; and began searching inside amid
infinite confusion--all his attention concentrated in the effort to
discover the lost tube. It was not to be found in the bottom of the
bureau. He next looked, after a little preliminary hesitation, into
a long narrow drawer opening beneath some pigeon-hole recesses at the
back.

The tube was not there, either; and he shut the drawer to again,
carefully and gently--for inside it was the Hair Bracelet that had
belonged to Madonna’s mother, lying on the white handkerchief, which
had also been taken from the dead woman’s pocket. Just as he closed
the drawer, he heard footsteps at his right hand, and turned in that
direction rather suspiciously--locking down the lid of the bureau as he
looked round. It was only the civil Mr. Gimble, wanting to know what
Mr. Blyth was searching for, and whether he could help him. Valentine
mentioned the loss of the tube; and Mr. Gimble immediately volunteered
to make one of pasteboard. “Ten thousand thanks,” said Mr. Blyth,
hooking the key to his watch-guard again, as he returned to Lady
Brambledown with his friend. “Ten thousand thanks; but the worst of it
is, I don’t know where to find the pasteboard.”

If, instead of turning to the right hand to speak to Mr. Gimble,
Valentine had turned to the left, he would have seen that, just as he
opened the bureau and began to search in it, Mr. Marksman finding the
way into the painting-room clear once more, had rolled himself quietly
round the door-post again; and had then, just as quietly, bent forward a
little, so as to look sideways into the bureau with those observant eyes
of his which nothing could escape, and which had been trained by his
old Indian experience to be always unscrupulously at work, watching
something. Little did Mr. Blyth think, as he walked away, talking with
Mr. Gimble, and carefully hooking his key on to its swivel again, that
Zack’s strange friend had seen as much of the inside of the bureau as he
had seen of it himself.

“He shut up his big box uncommon sharp, when that smilin’ little chap
come near him,” thought Mat. “And yet there didn’t seem nothing in it
that strangers mightn’t see. There wasn’t no money there--at least none
that _I_ set eyes on. Well! it’s not my business. Let’s have another
look at the picter.”

In the affairs of art, as in other matters, important discoveries are
sometimes made, and great events occasionally accomplished, by very
ignoble agencies. Mat’s deplorable ignorance of Painting in general,
and grossly illiterate misunderstanding of the subject represented by
Columbus in particular, seemed to mark him out as the last man in the
world who could possibly be associated with Art Mystic in the character
of guardian genius. Yet such was the proud position which he was
now selected by Fate to occupy. In plain words, Mr. Blyth’s greatest
historical work had been for some little time in imminent danger
of destruction by falling; and Mat’s “look at the picter,” was the
all-important look which enabled him to be the first person in the room
who perceived that it was in peril.

The eye with which Mr. Marksman now regarded the picture was certainly
the eye of a barbarian; but the eye with which he afterwards examined
the supports by which it was suspended, was the eye of a sailor, and of
a good practical carpenter to boot. He saw directly, that one of the two
iron clamps to which the frame-lines of “Columbus” were attached, had
been carelessly driven into a part of the wall that was not strong
enough to hold it against the downward stress of the heavy frame. Little
warning driblets of loosened plaster had been trickling down rapidly
behind the canvas; but nobody heard them fall in the general buzz of
talking; and nobody noticed the thin, fine crack above the iron clamp,
which was now lengthening stealthily minute by minute.

“Just let me by, will you?” said Mat quietly to some of his neighbors.
“I want to stop those flying women and the man in the crank ship from
coming down by the long run.”

Dozens of alarmed ladies and gentlemen started up from their chairs.
Mat pushed through them unceremoniously; and was indebted to his want of
politeness for being in time to save the picture. With a grating crack,
and an accompanying descent of a perfect slab of plaster, the loose
clamp came clean out of the wall, just as Mat seized the unsupported end
and side of the frame in his sturdy hands, and so prevented the picture
from taking the fatal swing downwards, which would have infallibly
torn it from the remaining fastening, and precipitated it on the chairs
beneath.

A prodigious confusion and clamoring of tongues ensued; Mr. Blyth being
louder, wilder, and more utterly useless in the present emergency than
any of his neighbors. Mat, cool as ever, kept his hold of the picture;
and, taking no notice of the confused advice and cumbersome help offered
to him, called to Zack to fetch a ladder, or, failing that, to “get a
hoist” on some chairs, and cut the rope from the clamp that remained
firm. Wooden steps, as young Thorpe knew, were usually kept in the
painting-room. Where had they been removed to now? Mr. Blyth’s memory
was lost altogether in his excitement. Zack made a speculative dash
at the flowing draperies which concealed the lumber in one corner, and
dragged out the steps in triumph.

“All right; take your time, young ‘un: there’s a knife in my left-hand
breeches’ pocket,” said Mat. “Now then, cut away at that bit of
rope’s-end, and hold on tight at top, while I lower away at bottom.
Steady! Take it easy, and--there you are!” With which words, the
guardian genius left Art-Mystic resting safely on the floor, and began
to shake his coattails free of the plaster that had dropped on them.

“My dear sir! you have saved the finest picture I ever painted,” cried
Valentine, warmly seizing him by both hands. “I can’t find words to
express my gratitude and admiration--”

“Don’t worry yourself about that,” answered Mat; “I don’t suppose I
should understand you if you _could_ find ‘em. If you want the picter
put up again, I’ll do it. And if you want the carpenter’s muddle head
punched, who put it up before, I shouldn’t much mind doing that either,”
 added Mat, looking at the hole from which the clamp had been torn with
an expression of the profoundest workmanlike disgust.

A new commotion in the room--near the door this time--prevented Mr.
Blyth from giving an immediate answer to the two friendly propositions
just submitted to him.

At the first alarm of danger, all the ladies--headed by the Dowager
Countess, in whom the instinct of self-preservation was largely
developed--had got as far away as they could from the falling picture,
before they ventured to look round at the process by which it was at
last safely landed on the floor. Just as this had been accomplished,
Lady Brambledown--who stood nearest to the doorway--caught sight of
Madonna in the passage that led to it. Mrs. Blyth had heard the noise
and confusion downstairs, and finding that her bell was not answered
by the servants, and that it was next to impossible to overcome her
father’s nervous horror of confronting the company alone, had sent
Madonna down-stairs with him, to assist in finding out what had happened
in the studio.

While descending the stairs with her companion, the girl had anticipated
that they might easily discover whether anything was amiss, without
going further than the passage, by merely peeping through the studio
door. But all chance of escaping the ordeal of the painting-room was
lost the moment Lady Brambledown set eyes on her. The Dowager Countess
was one of Madonna’s warmest admirers; and now expressed that admiration
by pouncing on her with immense affection and enthusiasm from the
painting-room door-way. Other people, to whom the deaf and dumb girl
was a much more interesting sight than “Columbus,” or the “Golden Age,”
 crowded round her; all trying together, with great amiability and small
intelligence, to explain what had happened by signs which no human being
could possibly understand. Fortunately for Madonna, Zack (who ever since
he had cut the picture down had been assailed by an incessant fire
of questions about his strange friend, from dozens of inquisitive
gentlemen) happened to look towards her, over the ladies’ heads, and
came directly to explain the danger from which “Columbus” had escaped.
She tried hard to get away, and bear the intelligence to Mrs. Blyth;
but Lady Brambledown, feeling amiably unwilling to resign her too soon,
pitched on the poor engraver standing tremulous in the passage, as being
quite clever enough to carry a message up-stairs, and sent him off to
take the latest news from the studio to his daughter immediately.

Thus it was that when Mr. Blyth left Zack’s friend to see what was going
on near the door, he found Madonna in the painting-room, surrounded
by sympathizing and admiring ladies. The first words of explanation by
which Lady Brambledown answered his mute look of inquiry, reminded him
of the anxiety and alarm that his wife must have suffered; and he ran
up-stairs directly, promising to be back again in a minute or two.

Mat carelessly followed Valentine to the group at the
doorway--carelessly looked over some ladies’ bonnets--and saw Madonna,
offering her slate to the Dowager Countess at that moment.

The sweet feminine gentleness and youthful softness of the girl’s face,
looked inexpressibly lovely, as she now stood shy and confused under the
eager eyes that were all gazing on her. Her dress, too, had never more
powerfully aided the natural attractions of her face and figure by its
own loveable charms of simplicity and modesty, than now, when the plain
grey merino gown, and neat little black silk apron which she always
wore, were contrasted with the fashionable frippery of fine colors
shining all around her. Was the rough Mr. Marksman himself lured at
first sight into acknowledging her influence? If he was, his face and
manner showed it very strangely.

Almost at the instant when his eyes fell on her, that clay-cold change
which had altered the color of his swarthy cheeks in the hosier’s shop
at Dibbledean, passed over them again. The first amazed look that he
cast on her, slowly darkened, while his eyes rested on her face, into
a fixed, heavy, vacant stare of superstitious awe. He never moved,
he hardly seemed to breathe, until the head of a person before him
accidentally intercepted his view. Then he stepped back a few paces;
looked about him bewildered, as if he had forgotten where he was;
and turned quickly towards the door, as if resolved to leave the room
immediately.

But there was some inexplicable influence at work in his heart that drew
him back, in spite of his own will. He retraced his steps to the group
round Madonna--looked at her once more--and, from that moment, never
lost sight of her till she went up stairs again. Whichever way her
face turned, he followed the direction, outside the circle, so as to
be always in front of it. When Valentine re-appeared in the studio, and
Madonna besought him by a look, to set her free from general admiration,
and send her back to Mrs. Blyth, Mat was watching her over the painter’s
shoulder. And when young Thorpe, who had devoted himself to helping her
in communicating with the visitors, nodded to her as she left the room,
his friend from the backwoods was close behind him.



CHAPTER VI. THE FINDING OF THE CLUE.

Mr. Blyth’s visitors, now that their common center of attraction had
disappeared, either dispersed again in the painting-room, or approached
the door to take their departure. Zack, turning round sharply after
Madonna had left the studio, encountered his queer companion, who had
not stirred an inch while other people were all moving about him.

“In the name of wonder, what has come to you now? Are you ill? Have
you hurt yourself with that picture?” asked Zack, startled by the
incomprehensible change which he beheld in his friend’s face and manner.

“Come out,” said Mat. Young Thorpe looked at him in amazement; even the
sound of his voice had altered!

“What’s wrong?” asked Zack. No answer. They went quickly along the
passage and down to the garden gate, in silence. As soon as they had got
into one of the lonely bye-roads of the new suburb, Mat stopped short;
and, turning full on his companion, said: “Who is she?” The sudden
eagerness with which he spoke, so strangely at variance with his usual
deliberation of tone and manner, made those three common words almost
startling to hear.

_“She?_ Who do you mean?” inquired young Thorpe.

“I mean that young woman they were all staring at.”

For a moment, Zack contemplated the anxiety visible in his friend’s
face, with an expression of blank astonishment; then burst into one of
his loudest, heartiest, and longest fits of laughter. “Oh, by Jove, I
wouldn’t have missed this for fifty pounds. Here’s old Rough and Tough
smitten with the tender passion, like all the rest of us! Blush, you
brazen old beggar, blush! You’ve fallen in love with Madonna at first
sight!”

“Damn your laughing! Tell me who she is.”

“Tell you who she is? That’s exactly what I can’t do.”

“Why not? What do you mean? Does she belong to painter-man?”

“Oh, fie, Mat! You mustn’t talk of a young lady _belonging_ to anybody,
as if she was a piece of furniture, or money in the Three per Cents,
or something of that sort. Confound it man, don’t shake me in that way!
You’ll pull my arm off. Let me have my laugh, and I’ll tell you every
thing.”

“Tell it then; and be quick about it.”

“Well, first of all, she is not Blyth’s daughter--though some
scandal-mongering people have said she is--”

“Nor yet his wife?”

“Nor yet his wife. What a question! He adopted her, as they call it,
years ago, when she was a child. But who she is, or where he picked
her up, or what is her name, Blyth never _has_ told anybody, and never
_will._ She’s the dearest, kindest, prettiest little soul that ever
lived; and that’s all I know about her. It’s a short story, old boy; but
surprisingly romantic--isn’t it?”

Mat did not immediately answer. He paid the most breathless attention
to the few words of information which Zack had given him--repeated them
over again to himself--reflected for a moment--then said--

“Why won’t the painter-man tell any body who she is?”

“How should I know? It’s a whim of his. And, I’ll tell you what, here’s
a piece of serious advice for you:--If you want to go there again, and
make her acquaintance, don’t you ask Blyth who she is, or let him fancy
you want to know. He’s touchy on that point--I can’t say why; but he is.
Every man has a raw place about him somewhere: that’s Blyth’s raw place,
and if you hit him on it, you won’t get inside of his house again in a
hurry, I can tell you.”

Still, Mat’s attention fastened greedily on every word--still, his eyes
fixed eagerly on his informant’s face--still, he repeated to himself
what Zack was telling him.

“By the bye, I suppose you saw the poor dear little soul is deaf
and dumb,” young Thorpe continued. “She’s been so from a child. Some
accident; a fall, I believe. But it don’t affect her spirits a bit.
She’s as happy as the day is long--that’s one comfort.”

“Deaf and dumb! So like her, it was a’most as awful as seeing the dead
come to life again. She had Mary’s turn with her head; Mary’s--poor
creature! poor creature!” He whispered those words to himself, under his
breath, his face turned aside, his eyes wandering over the ground at his
feet, with a faint, troubled, vacantly anxious expression.

“Come! come! don’t be getting into the dolefuls already,” cried Zack,
administering an exhilarating thump on the back to his friend. “Cheer
up! We’re all in love with her; you’re rowing in the same boat with
Bullivant, and Gimble, and me, and lots more; and you’ll get used to
it in time, like the rest of us. I’ll act the generous rival with you,
brother Mat! You shall have all the benefit of my advice gratis; and
shall lay siege to our little beauty in regular form. I don’t think your
own experience among the wild Indians will help you much, over here. How
do you mean to make love to her? Did you ever make love to a Squaw?”

“She isn’t his wife; and she isn’t his daughter; he won’t say where he
picked her up, or who she is.” Repeating these words to himself in a
quick, quiet whisper, Mat did not appear to be listening to a single
word that young Thorpe said. His mind was running now on one of the
answers that he had wrested from Joanna Grice, at Dibbledean--the answer
which had informed him that Mary’s child had been born alive!

“Wake up, Mat! You shall have your fair chance with the lady, along
with the rest of us; and I’ll undertake to qualify you on the spot for
civilized courtship,” continued Zack, pitilessly carrying on his
joke. “In the first place, always remember that you mustn’t go beyond
admiration at a respectful distance, to begin with. At the second
interview, you may make amorous faces at close quarters--what you call
looking unutterable things, you know. At the third, you may get bold,
and try her with a little present. Lots of people have done that, before
you. Gimble tried it, and Bullivant wanted to; but Blyth wouldn’t let
him; and I mean to give her--oh, by the bye, I have another important
caution for you.” Here he indulged himself in a fresh burst of laughter,
excited by the remembrance of his interview with Mrs. Peckover, in Mr.
Blyth’s hall. “Remember that the whole round of presents is open for you
to choose from, except one; and that one is a Hair Bracelet.”

Zack’s laughter came to an abrupt termination. Mat had raised his head
suddenly, and was now staring him full in the face again, with a bright,
searching look--an expression in which suspicious amazement and doubting
curiosity were very strangely mingled together.

“You’re not angry with me for cracking a few respectable old jokes?”
 said Zack. “Have I said anything?--Stop! yes, I have, though I didn’t
mean it. You looked up at me in that savage manner, when I warned you
not to give her a Hair Bracelet. Surely you don’t think me brute
enough to make fun of your not having any hair on your own head to give
anybody? Surely you have a better opinion of me than that? I give you
my word of honor, I never thought of you, or your head, or that infernal
scalping business, when I said what I did. It was true--it happened to
_me.”_

“How did it happen?” said. Mat, with eager, angry curiosity.

“Only in this way. I wanted to give her a Hair Bracelet myself--my hair
and Blyth’s, and so on. And an addle-headed old woman who seems to know
Madonna (that’s a name we give her) as well as Blyth himself, and keeps
what she knows just as close, got me into a corner, and talked nonsense
about the whole thing, as old women will.”

“What did she say?” asked Mat, more eager, more angry, and more curious
than ever.

“She talked nonsense, I tell you. She said a Hair Bracelet would be
unlucky to Madonna; and then told me Madonna had one already; and then
wouldn’t let me ask Blyth whether it was true, because I should get her
into dreadful trouble if I said anything to him about it; besides a good
deal more which you wouldn’t care to be bothered with. But I have told
you enough--haven’t I?--to show I was not thinking of you, when I said
that just now by way of a joke. Come, shake hands, old fellow. You’re
not offended with me, now I have explained everything?”

Mat gave his hand, but he put it out like a man groping in the dark. His
mind was full of that memorable letter about a Hair Bracelet, which he
had found in the box given to him by Joanna Grice.

“A Hair Bracelet?” he said, vacantly.

“Don’t be sulky!” cried Zack, clapping him on the shoulder.

“A Hair Bracelet is unlucky to the young woman--and she’s got one
already” (he was weighing attentively the lightest word that Zack had
spoken to him). “What’s it like?” he asked aloud, turning suddenly to
young Thorpe.

“What’s what like?”

“A Hair Bracelet.”

“Still harping on that, after all my explanations! Like? Why it’s hair
plaited up, and made to fasten round the wrist, with gold at each end to
clasp it by. What are you stopping for again? I’ll tell you what, Mat, I
can make every allowance for a man in your love-struck situation; but
if I didn’t know how you had been spending the morning, I should say you
were drunk.”

They had been walking along quickly, while Mat asked what a Hair
Bracelet was like. But no sooner had Zack told him than he came to a
dead pause--started and changed color--opened his lips to speak--then
checked himself, and remained silent. The information which he had just
received had recalled to him a certain object that he had seen in the
drawer of Mr. Blyth’s bureau; and the resemblance between the two had
at once flashed upon him. The importance which this discovery assumed
in his eyes, in connection with what he had already heard, may be easily
estimated, when it is remembered that his barbarian life had kept him
totally ignorant that a Hair Bracelet is in England one of the commonest
ornaments of woman’s wear.

“Are we going to stop here all day?” asked Zack. “If you’re turning from
sulky to sentimental again, I shall go back to Blyth’s, and pave the
way for you with Madonna, old boy!” He turned gaily in the direction of
Valentine’s house, as he said those words.

Mat did not offer to detain him; did not say a word at parting. He
passed his hand wearily over his eyes as Zack left him. “I’m sober,”
 he said vacantly to himself; “I’m not dreaming; I’m not light-headed,
though I feel a’most like it. I saw that young woman as plain as I
see them houses in front of me now; and by God, if she had been Mary’s
ghost, she couldn’t have been more like her!”

He stopped. His hand fell to his side; then fastened mechanically on
the railings of a house near him. His rough, misshapen fingers trembled
round the iron. Recollections that had slumbered for years and years
past, were awakening again awfully to life within him. Through the
obscurity and oblivion of long absence, through the changeless darkness
of the tomb, there was shining out now, vivid and solemn on his memory,
the image--as she had been in her youth-time--of the dead woman whose
name was “Mary.” And it was only the sight of that young girl, of that
poor, shy, gentle, deaf and dumb creature, that had wrought the miracle!

He tried to shake himself clear of the influences which were now at work
on him. He moved forward a step or two, and looked up. Zack?--where was
Zack?

Away, at the other end of the solitary suburban street, just visible
sauntering along and swinging his stick in his hand.

Without knowing why he did so, Mat turned instantly and walked after
him, calling to him to come back. The third summons reached him: he
stopped, hesitated, made comic gesticulations with his stick in the
air--then began to retrace his steps.

The effort of walking and calling after him, had turned Mat’s thoughts
in another direction. They now occupied themselves again with the hints
that Zack had dropped of some incomprehensible connection between a
Hair Bracelet, and the young girl who was called by the strange name
of “Madonna.” With the remembrance of this, there came back also the
recollection of the letter about a bracelet, and its enclosure of hair,
which he had examined in the lonely cattle-shed at Dibbledean, and which
still lay in the little box bearing on it the name of “Mary Grice.”

“Well!” cried Zack, speaking as he came on. “Well, Cupid! what do you
want with me now?”

Mat did not immediately answer. His thoughts were still traveling back
cautiously over the ground which they had already explored. Once more,
he was pondering on that little circle of plaited hair, having gold at
each end, and looking just big enough to go round a woman’s wrist, which
he had seen in the drawer of Mr. Blyth’s bureau. And once again, the
identity between this object and the ornament which young Thorpe had
described as being the thing called a Hair Bracelet, began surely and
more surely to establish itself in his mind.

“Now then, don’t keep me waiting,” continued Zack, laughing again as
he came nearer; “clap your hand on your heart, and give me your tender
message for the future Mrs. Marksman.”

It was on the tip of Mat’s tongue to emulate the communicativeness
of young Thorpe, and to speak unreservedly of what he had seen in the
drawer of the bureau--but he suddenly restrained the words just as they
were dropping from his lips. At the same moment his eyes began to lose
their vacant perturbed look, and to brighten again with something of
craft and cunning, added to their customary watchful expression.

“What’s the young woman’s real name?” he asked carelessly, just as Zack
was beginning to banter him for the third time.

“Is that all you called me back for? Her real name’s Mary.”

Mat had made his inquiry with the air of a man whose thoughts were far
away from his words, and who only spoke because he felt obliged to say
something. Zack’s reply to his question startled him into instant and
anxious attention.

“Mary!” he repeated in a tone of surprise. “What else, besides Mary?”

“How should I know? Didn’t I try and beat it into your muddled old head,
half-an-hour ago, that Blyth won’t tell his friends anything about her?”
 There was another pause. The secrecy in which Mr. Blyth chose to conceal
Madonna’s history, and the sequestered place in the innermost drawer
of his bureau where he kept the Hair Bracelet, began vaguely to connect
themselves together in Mat’s mind. A curious smile hovered about his
lips, and the cunning look brightened in his eyes. “The Painter-Man
won’t tell anything about her, won’t he? Perhaps that thing in his
drawer will.” He muttered the words to himself, putting his hands in his
pockets, and mechanically kicking away a stone which happened to lie at
his feet on the pavement.

“What are you grumbling about now?” asked Zack. “Do you think I’m going
to stop here all day for the pleasure of hearing you talk to yourself?”
 As he spoke, he vivaciously rapped his friend on the shoulder with his
stick. “Trust me to pave the way for you with Madonna!” he called out
mischievously, as he turned back in the direction of Mr. Blyth’s house.

“Trust _me_ to have another look at your friend’s Hair Bracelet,” said
Mat quietly to himself. “I’ll handle it this time, before I’m many days
older.”

He nodded over his shoulder at Zack, and walked away quickly in the
direction of Kirk Street.



CHAPTER VII. THE BOX OF LETTERS.

The first thing Mat did when he got to his lodgings, was to fill and
light his pipe. He then sat down on his bear-skins, and dragged the box
close to him which he had brought from Dibbledean.

Although the machinery of Mat’s mind was constructed of very clumsy and
barbaric materials; although book-learning had never oiled it, and wise
men’s talk had never quickened it; nevertheless, it always contrived to
work on--much as it was working now--until it reached, sooner or later,
a practical result. Solitude and Peril are stern schoolmasters, but they
do their duty for good or evil, thoroughly with some men; and they
had done it thoroughly, amid the rocks and wildernesses of the great
American continent, with Mat.

Many a pipe did he empty and fill again, many a dark change passed over
his heavy features, as he now pondered long and laboriously over every
word of the dialogue that had just been held between himself and Zack.
But not so much as five minutes out of all the time he thus consumed,
was, in any true sense of the word, time wasted. He had sat down to his
first pipe, resolved that, if any human means could compass it, he would
find out how the young girl whom he had seen in Mr. Blyth’s studio, had
first come there, and who she really was. When he rose up at last, and
put the pipe away to cool, he had thought the matter fairly out from
beginning to end, had arrived at his conclusions, and had definitely
settled his future plans.

Reflection had strengthened him in the resolution to follow his first
impulse when he parted from Zack in the street, and begin the attempt to
penetrate the suspicious secret that hid from him and from every one the
origin of Valentine’s adopted child, by getting possession of the Hair
Bracelet which he had seen laid away in the inner drawer of the bureau.
As for any assignable reason for justifying him in associating this Hair
Bracelet with Madonna, he found it, to his own satisfaction, in young
Thorpe’s account of the strange words spoken by Mrs. Peckover in Mr.
Blyth’s hall--the suspicions resulting from these hints being also
immensely strengthened, by his recollections of the letter signed “Jane
Holdsworth,” and containing an enclosure of hair, which he had examined
in the cattle-shed at Dibbledean.

According to that letter, a Hair Bracelet (easily recognizable if
still in existence, by comparing it with the hair enclosed in Jane
Holdsworth’s note) had once been the property of Mary Grice. According
to what Zack had said, there was apparently some incomprehensible
confusion and mystery in connection with a Hair Bracelet and the young
woman whose extraordinary likeness to what Mary Grice had been in her
girlhood, had first suggested to him the purpose he was now pursuing.
Lastly, according to what he himself now knew, there was actually a
hair Bracelet lying in the innermost drawer of Mr. Blyth’s bureau--this
latter fragment of evidence assuming in his mind, as has been already
remarked, an undue significance in relation to the fragments preceding
it, from his not knowing that hair bracelets are found in most houses
where there are women in a position to wear any jewelry ornament at all.

Vague as they might be, these coincidences were sufficient to startle
him at first--then to fill him with an eager, devouring curiosity--and
then to suggest to him the uncertain and desperate course which he was
now firmly resolved to follow. How he was to gain possession of the
Hair Bracelet without Mr. Blyth’s knowledge, and without exciting the
slightest suspicion in the painter’s family, he had not yet determined.
But he was resolved to have it, he was perfectly unscrupulous as to
means, and he felt certain beforehand of attaining his object. Whither,
or to what excesses, that object might lead him, he never stopped and
never cared to consider. The awful face of the dead woman (now fixed
for ever in his memory by the living copy of it that his own eyes had
beheld) seemed to be driving him on swiftly into unknown darkness, to
bring him out into unexpected light at the end. The influence which
was thus sternly at work in him was not to be questioned--it was to be
obeyed.

His resolution in reference to the Hair Bracelet was not more firmly
settled than his resolution to keep his real sensations on seeing
Madonna, and the purpose which had grown out of them, a profound secret
from young Thorpe, who was too warmly Mr. Blyth’s friend to be trusted.
Every word that Zack had let slip, had been of vital importance,
hitherto; every word that might yet escape him, might be of the most
precious use for future guidance. “If it’s his fun and fancy,” mused
Mat, “to go on thinking I’m sweet on the girl, let him think it. The
more he thinks, the more he’ll talk. All I’ve got to do is to _hold in;_
and then he’s sure to _let out.”_

While schooling himself thus as to his future conduct towards Zack, he
did not forget another person who was less close at hand certainly, but
who might also be turned to good account. Before he fairly decided on
his plan of action, he debated with himself the propriety of returning
to Dibbledean, and forcing from the old woman, Joanna Grice, more
information than she had been willing to give him at their first
interview. But, on reflection, he considered that it was better to leave
this as a resource to be tried, in case of the failure of his first
experiment with the Hair Bracelet. One look at that--one close
comparison of the hair it was made of, with the surplus hair which had
not been used by the jeweler, in Mary Grice’s bracelet, and which had
been returned to her in her friend’s letter--was all he wanted in
the first place; for this would be enough to clear up every present
uncertainty and suspicion connected with the ornament in the drawer of
Mr. Blyth’s bureau.


These were mainly the resolutions to which his long meditation had now
crookedly and clumsily conducted him. His next immediate business was to
examine those letters in the box, which he had hitherto not opened; and
also to possess himself of the enclosure of hair, in the letter to “Mary
Grice,” that he might have it always about him ready for any emergency.

Before he opened the box, however, he took a quick, impatient turn or
two up and down his miserable little room. Not once, since he had set
forth to return to his own country, and to the civilization from which,
for more than twenty years, he had been an outcast, had he felt (to use
his favorite expression) that he was “his own man again,” until now.
A thrill of the old, breathless, fierce suspense of his days of deadly
peril ran through him, as he thought on the forbidden secret into which
he was about to pry, and for the discovery of which he was ready to dare
any hazard and use any means. “It goes through and through me, a’most
like dodging for life again among the bloody Indians,” muttered Mat to
himself, as he trod restlessly to and fro in his cage of a room, rubbing
all the while at the scars on his face, as his way was when any new
excitement got the better of him.

At the very moment when this thought was rising ominously in his mind,
Valentine was expounding anew the whole scope and object of “Columbus”
 to a fresh circle of admiring spectators--while his wife was
interpreting to Madonna above stairs Zack’s wildest jokes about his
friend’s love-stricken condition; and all three were laughing gaily at a
caricature, which he was maliciously drawing for them, of “poor old Mat”
 in the character of a scalped Cupid. Even the little minor globe of each
man’s social sphere has its antipodes-points; and when it is all bright
sunshine in one part of the miniature world, it is all pitch darkness,
at the very same moment, in another.

Mat’s face had grown suddenly swarthier than ever, while he walked
across his room, and said those words to himself which have just been
recorded. It altered again, though, in a minute or two, and turned once
more to the cold clay-color which had overspread it in the hosier’s shop
at Dibbledean, as he returned to his bear-skins and opened the box that
had belonged to “Mary Grice.”

He took out first the letter with the enclosure of hair, and placed it
carefully in the breast pocket of his coat. He next searched a moment or
two for the letter superscribed and signed by Joanna Grice; and, having
found it, placed it on one side of him, on the floor. After this he
paused a moment, looking into the box with a curious, scowling sadness
on his face; while his hand vacantly stirred hither and thither the
different objects that lay about among the papers--the gaily-bound
album, the lace-collar, the dried flower-leaves, and the other little
womanly possessions which had once belonged to Mary Grice.

Then he began to collect together all the letters in the box. Having
got them into his hands--some tied up in a packet, some loose--he spread
them out before him on his lap, first drawing up an end of one of the
bear-skins over his legs for them to lie on conveniently. He began by
examining the addresses. They were all directed to “Mary Grice,” in
the same clear, careful, sharply-shaped handwriting. Though they were
letters in form, they proved to be only notes in substance, when he
opened them: the writing, in some, not extending to more than four or
five lines. At least fifteen or twenty were expressed, with unimportant
variations, in this form:


“MY DEAREST MARY--Pray try all you can to meet me to-morrow evening at
the usual place. I have been waiting and longing for you in vain to-day.
Only think of _me,_ love, as I am now, and always, thinking of _you;_
and I know you will come. Ever and only yours,

                            “A. C.”


All these notes were signed in the same way, merely with initial
letters. They contained nothing in the shape of a date, except the day
of the week on which they had been written; and they had evidently
been delivered by some private means, for there did not appear to be a
post-mark on any of them. One after another Mat opened and glanced at
them--then tossed them aside into a heap. He pursued this employment
quietly and methodically; but as he went on with it, a strange look
flashed into his eyes from time to time, giving to them a certain
sinister brightness which altered very remarkably the whole natural
expression of his face.

Other letters, somewhat longer than the note already quoted, fared no
better at his hands. Dry leaves dropped out of some, as he threw them
aside; and little water-color drawings of rare flowers fluttered out
of others. Hard botanical names which he could not spell through, and
descriptions of plants which he could not understand, occurred here and
there in postscripts and detached passages of the longer letters. But
still, whether long or short, they bore no signature but the initials
“A. C.;” still the dates afforded no information of the year, month, or
place in which they had been written; and still Mat quietly and quickly
tossed them aside one after the other, without so much as a word or a
sigh escaping him, but with that sinister brightness flashing into his
eyes from time to time. Out of the whole number of the letters, there
were only two that he read more than once through, and then pondered
over anxiously, before he threw them from him like the rest.

The first of the two was expressed thus:--


“I shall bring the dried ferns and the passion flower for your album
with me this evening. You cannot imagine, dearest, how happy and how
vain I feel at having made you as enthusiastic a botanist as I am
myself. Since you have taken an interest in my favorite pursuit, it has
been more exquisitely delightful to me than any words can express. I
believe that I never really knew how to touch tender leaves tenderly
until now, when I gather them with the knowledge that they are all to be
shown to _you,_ and all to be placed in your dear hand.

“Do you know, my own love, I thought I detected an alteration in you
yesterday evening? I never saw you so serious. And then your attention
often wandered; and, besides, you looked at me once or twice quite
strangely, Mary.--I mean strangely, because your color seemed to be
coming and going constantly without any imaginable reason. I really
fancied, as I walked home--and I fancy still--that you had something to
say, and were afraid to say it. Surely, love, you can have no secrets
from me!--But we shall meet to-night, and then you will tell me
everything (will you not?) without reserve. Farewell, dearest, till
seven o’clock.”


Mat slowly read the second paragraph of this letter twice over,
abstractedly twisting about his great bristly whiskers between his
finger and thumb. There was evidently something in the few lines
which he was thus poring over, that half saddened, half perplexed him.
Whatever the difficulty was, he gave it up, and went on doggedly to the
next letter, which was an exception to the rest of the collection, for
it had a postmark on it. He had failed to notice this, on looking at the
outside; but he detected directly on glancing at the inside that it was
dated differently from those which had gone before it. Under the day of
the week was written the word “London”--noting which, he began to read
the letter with some appearance of anxiety. It ran thus:


“I write, my dearest love, in the greatest possible agitation and
despair. All the hopes I felt, and expressed to you, that any absence
would not last more than a few days, and that I should not be obliged
to journey farther from Dibbledean than London, have been entirely
frustrated. I am absolutely compelled to go to Germany, and may be away
as long as three or four months. You see, I tell you the worst at once,
Mary, because I know your courage and high spirit, and feel sure that
you will bear up bravely against this unforeseen parting, for both our
sakes. How glad I am that I gave you my hair for your Bracelet, when I
did; and that I got yours in return! It will be such a consolation to
both of us to have our keepsakes to look at now.

“If it only rested with _me_ to go or not, no earthly consideration
should induce me to take this journey. But the rights and interests of
others are concerned in my setting forth; and I must, therefore, depart
at the expense of my own wishes, and my own happiness. I go this very
day, and can only steal a few minutes to write to you. My pen hurries
over the paper without stopping an instant--I am so agitated that I
hardly know what I am saying to you.

“If anything, dearest Mary, could add to my sense of the misfortune of
being obliged to leave you, it would be the apprehension which I now
feel, that I may have ignorantly offended you, or that something has
happened which you don’t like to tell me. Ever since I noticed, ten days
ago, that little alteration in your manner, I have been afraid you had
something on your mind that you were unwilling to confide to me. The
very last time we saw each other I thought you had been crying; and I
am sure you looked away uneasily, whenever our eyes met. What is it? Do
relieve my anxiety by telling me what it is in your first letter! The
moment I get to the other side of the Channel, I will send you word,
where to direct to. I will write constantly--mind you write constantly
too. Love me, and remember me always, till I return, never, I hope, to
leave you again.--A. C.”


Over this letter, Mat meditated long before he quietly cast it away
among the rest. When he had at last thrown it from him there remained
only three more to examine. They proved to be notes of no consequence,
and had been evidently written at an earlier period than the letters he
had just read. After hastily looking them over, he searched carefully
all through the box, but no papers, of any sort remained in it. That
hurried letter, with its abrupt announcement of the writer’s departure
from England, was the latest in date--the last of the series!

After he had made this discovery, he sat for a little while vacantly
gazing out of the window. His sense of the useless result to which the
search he had been prosecuting had led him, thus far, seemed to have
robbed him of half his energy already. He looked once or twice at the
letter superscribed by Joanna Grice, mechanically reading along the line
on the cover:--“Justification of my conduct towards my niece,”--but not
attempting to examine what was written inside. It was only after a long
interval of hesitation and delay that he at last roused himself. “I must
sweep these things out of the way, and read all what I’ve got to read
before Zack comes in,” he said to himself, gathering up the letters
heaped at his feet, and thrusting them all back again together, with an
oath, into the box.

He listened carefully once or twice after he had shut down the lid,
and while he was tying the cords over it, to ascertain whether his wild
young friend was opening the street door yet, or not. How short a time
he had passed in Zack’s company, yet how thoroughly well he knew him,
not as to his failings only, but as to his merits besides! How wisely
he foreboded that his boisterous fellow-lodger would infallibly turn
against him as an enemy, and expose him without an instant’s hesitation,
if young Thorpe got any hint of his first experimental scheme for
discovering poor Mr. Blyth’s anxiously-treasured secret by underhand and
treacherous means! Mat’s cunning had proved an invaluable resource to
him on many a critical occasion already; but he had never been more
admirably served by it than now, when it taught him to be cautious of
betraying himself to Zack.

For the present there seemed to be no danger of interruption. He corded
up the box at his leisure, concealed it in its accustomed place, took
his brandy-bottle from the cupboard, opened Joanna Grice’s letter--and
still there was no sound of any one entering, in the passage downstairs.
Before he began to read, he drank some of the spirit from the neck of
the bottle. Was there some inexplicable dread stealing over him at the
mere prospect of examining the contents of this one solitary letter?

It seemed as if there was. His finger trembled so, when he tried to
guide himself by it along each successive line of the cramped writing
which he was now attempting to decipher, that he had to take a second
dram to steady it. And when he at length fairly began the letter, he
did not pursue his occupation either as quietly or as quickly as he had
followed it before. Sometimes he read a line or two aloud, sometimes he
overlooked several sentences, and went on to another part of the long
narrative--now growling out angry comments on what he was reading;
and now dashing down the paper impatiently on his knees, with
fierce outbursts of oaths, which he had picked up in the terrible
swearing-school of the Californian gold mines.

He began, however, with perfect regularity at the proper part of the
letter; sitting as near to the window as he could, and slanting the
closely written page before him, so as to give himself the full benefit
of all the afternoon light which still flowed into the room.



CHAPTER VIII. JOANNA GRICE’S NARRATIVE.

“I intend this letter to be read after my death, and I purpose calling
it plainly a Justification of my conduct towards my Niece. Not because
I think my conduct wants any excuse--but because others, ignorant of
my true motives, may think that my actions want justifying, and may
wickedly condemn me unless I make some such statement in my own
defense as the present. There may still be living one member of my late
brother’s family, whose voice would, I feel sure, be raised against me
for what I have done. The relation to whom I refer has been--”


(Here Mat, who had read carefully thus far, grew impatient, and growling
out some angry words, guided himself hastily down the letter with his
finger till he arrived at the second paragraph.)


“--It was in the April month of 1827 that the villain who was the ruin
of my niece, and the dishonor of the once respectable family to which
she belonged, first came to Dibbledean. He took the little four room
cottage called Jay’s Cottage, which was then to be let furnished, and
which stands out of the town about a quarter of a mile down Church-lane.
He called himself Mr. Carr, and the few letters that came to him were
directed to ‘Arthur Carr, Esq.’

“He was quite a young man,--I should say not more than four or five and
twenty--very quiet mannered and delicate--or rather effeminate looking,
as I thought--for he wore his hair quite long over his shoulders, in the
foreign way, and had a clear, soft complexion, almost like a woman’s.
Though he appeared to be a gentleman, he always kept out of the way of
making acquaintances among the respectable families about Dibbledean. He
had no friends of his own to come and see him that I heard of, except
an old gentleman who might have been his father, and who came once or
twice. His own account of himself was, that he came to Jay’s Cottage for
quiet, and retirement, and study; but he was very reserved, and would
let nobody make up to him until the miserable day when he and my brother
Joshua, and then my niece Mary, all got acquainted together.

“Before I go on to anything else, I must say first, that Mr. Carr was
what they call a botanist. Whenever it was fine, he was always out of
doors, gathering bits of leaves, which it seems he carried home in a
tin case, and dried, and kept by him. He hired a gardener for the bit
of ground round about Jay’s Cottage; and the man told me once, that his
master knew more about flowers and how to grow them than anybody he ever
met with. Mr. Carr used to make little pictures, too, of flowers and
leaves set together in patterns. These things were thought very odd
amusements for a young man to take up with; but he was as fond of them
as others of his age might be hunting or shooting. He brought down many
books with him, and read a great deal; but from all that I heard, he
spent more time over his flowers and his botany than anything else.

“We had, at that time, the two best shops in Dibbledean. Joshua sold
hosiery, and I carried on a good dress-making and general millinery
business. Both our shops were under the same roof, with a partition wall
between. One day Mr. Carr came in Joshua’s shop, and wanted something
which my brother had not got as ready to hand as the common things that
the townspeople generally bought. Joshua begged him to sit down for a
few minutes; but Mr. Carr (the parlor door at the bottom of the shop
being left open) happened to look into the garden, which he could see
very well through the window, and said that he would like to wait there,
and look at the flowers. Joshua was only too glad to have his garden
taken such notice of, by a gentleman who was a botanist; so he showed
his customer in there, and then went up into the warehouse to look for
what was wanted.

“My niece, Mary, worked in my part of the house, along with the other
young women. The room they used to be in looked into the garden; and
from the window my niece must have seen Mr. Carr, and must have slipped
down stairs (I not being in the way just then) to peep at the strange
gentleman--or, more likely, to make believe she was accidentally walking
in the garden, and so get noticed by him. All I know is, that when I
came up into the workroom and found she was not there, and looked out of
the window, I saw her, and Joshua, and Mr. Carr all standing together
on the grass plot, the strange gentleman talking to her quite intimate,
with a flower in his hand.

“I called out to her to come back to her work directly. She looked up at
me, smiling in her bold impudent way, and said:--‘Father has told me I
may stop and learn what this gentleman is so kind as to teach me about
my geraniums.’ After that, I could say nothing more before the stranger:
and when he was gone, and she came back triumphing, and laughing, and
singing about the room, more like a mad play-actress than a decent young
woman, I kept quiet and bore with her provocation. But I went down to my
brother Joshua the same day, and talked to him seriously, and warned him
that she ought to be kept stricter, and never let to have her own way,
and offered to keep a strict hand over her myself, if he would only
support me properly. But he put me off with careless, jesting words,
which he learned to repent of bitterly afterwards.

“Joshua was as pious and respectable a man as ever lived: but it was
his misfortune to be too easy-tempered, and too proud of his daughter.
Having lost his wife, and his eldest boy and girl, he seemed so fond of
Mary, that he could deny her nothing. There was, to be sure, another one
left of his family of children, who--”


(Here, again, Mat lost patience. He had been muttering to himself
angrily for the last minute or two, while he read--and now once more he
passed over several lines of the letter, and went on at once to a new
paragraph.)


“I have said she was vain of her good looks, and bold, and flighty; and
I must now add, that she was also hasty and passionate, and reckless.
But she had wheedling ways with her, which nobody was sharp enough to
see through but me. When I made complaints against her to her father,
and proved that I was right in making them, she always managed to get
him to forgive her. She behaved, from the outset, (though I stood in the
place of a mother to her,) as perversely towards me as usual, in respect
to Mr. Carr. It had flattered her pride to be noticed and bowed to just
as if she was a born lady, by a gentleman, and a customer at the shop.
And the very same evening, at tea time, she undid before my face the
whole effect of the good advice I had been giving her father. What with
jumping on his knee, kissing him, tying and untying his cravat, sticking
flowers in his button-hole, and going on altogether more like a child
than a grown-up young woman, she wheedled him into promising that he
would take her next Sunday to see Mr. Carr’s garden; for it seems the
gentleman had invited them to look at his flowers. I had tried my best,
when I heard it, to persuade my brother not to accept the invitation and
let her scrape acquaintance with a stranger under her father’s own nose;
but all that I could say was useless now. She had got the better of me,
and when I put in my word, she had her bold laugh and her light answer
ready to insult me with directly. Her father said he wondered I was not
amused at her high spirits. I shook my head, but said nothing in return.
Poor man! he lived to see where her ‘high spirits’ led her to.

“On the Sunday, after church, they went to Mr. Carr’s. Though my advice
was set at defiance in this way, I determined to persevere in keeping a
stricter watch over my niece than ever. I felt that the maintaining the
credit and reputation of the family rested with me, and I determined
that I would try my best to uphold our good name. It is some little
comfort to me, after all that has happened, to remember that I did my
utmost to carry out this resolution. The blame of our dishonor lies not
at my door. I disliked and distrusted Mr. Carr from the very first; and
I tried hard to make others as suspicious of him as I was. But all
I could say, and all I could do, availed nothing against the wicked
cunning of my niece. Watch and restrain her as I might, she was sure--”


(Once more Mat broke off abruptly in the middle of a sentence. This
time, however, it was to strike a light. The brief day of winter was
fast fading out--the coming darkness was deepening over the pages of
Joanna Grice’s narrative. When he had lit his candle, and had sat down
to read again, he lost his place, and, not having patience to look for
it carefully, went on at once with the first lines that happened to
strike his eye.)


“Things were now come, then, to this pass, that I felt certain she was
in the habit of meeting him in secret; and yet I could not prove it to
my brother’s satisfaction. I had no help that I could call in to assist
me against the diabolical cunning that was used to deceive me. To set
other people to watch them, when I could not, would only have been
spreading through Dibbledean the very scandal that I was most anxious to
avoid. As for Joshua, his infatuation made him deaf to all that I could
urge. He would see nothing suspicious in the fondness Mary had suddenly
taken for Botany, and drawing flowers. He let Mr. Carr lend her
paintings to copy from, just as if they had known each other all their
lives. Next to his blind trust in his daughter, because he was so fond
of her, was his blind trust in this stranger, because the gentleman’s
manners were so quiet and kind, and because he sent us presents of
expensive flowers to plant in our garden. He would not authorize me to
open Mary’s letters, or to forbid her ever to walk out alone; and he
even told me once that I did not know how to make proper allowances for
young people.

“Allowances! I knew my niece better, and my duty as one of an honest
family better, than to make allowances for such conduct as hers. I kept
the tightest hand over her that I could. I advised her, argued with her,
ordered her, portioned out her time for her, watched her, warned her,
told her in the plainest terms, that she should not deceive me--she or
her gentleman! I was honest and open, and said I disapproved so strongly
of the terms she kept up with Mr. Carr, that if ever it lay in my power
to cut short their acquaintance together, I would most assuredly do it.
I even told her plainly that if she once got into mischief, it would
then be too late to reclaim her; and she answered in her reckless,
sluttish way, that if she ever did get into mischief it would be nothing
but my aggravation that would drive her to it; and that she believed
her father’s kindness would never find it too late to reclaim her again.
This is only one specimen of the usual insolence and wickedness of all
her replies to me.”


(As he finished this paragraph, Mat dashed the letter down angrily on
his knee, and cursed the writer of it with some of those gold-digger’s
imprecations which it had been his misfortune to hear but too often in
the past days of his Californian wanderings. It was evidently only by
placing considerable constraint upon himself, that he now refrained from
crumpling up the letter and throwing it from him in disgust. However, he
spread it out flat before him once more--looked first at one paragraph,
then at another, but did not read them; hesitated--and then irritably
turned over the leaf of paper before him, and began at a new page.)


“When I told Joshua generally what I had observed, and particularly what
I myself had seen and heard on the evening in question, he seemed
at last a little staggered, and sent for my niece, to insist on an
explanation. On his repeating to her what I had mentioned to him, she
flung her arms round his neck, looked first at me and then at him, burst
out sobbing and crying, and so got from bad to worse, till she had a
sort of fit. I was not at all sure that this might not be one of her
tricks; but it frightened her father so that he forgot himself, and
threw all the blame on me, and said my prudery and conspiring had
tormented and frightened the poor girl out of her wits. After being
insulted in this way, of course the only thing I could do was to leave
the room, and let her have it all her own way with him.

“It was now the autumn, the middle of September; and I was at my wit’s
end to know what I ought to think and do next--when Mr. Carr left
Dibbledean. He had been away once or twice before, in the summer, but
only for a day or two at a time. On this occasion, my niece received
a letter from him. He had never written to her when he was away in the
summer; so I thought this looked like a longer absence than usual, and
I determined to take advantage of it to try if I could not break off
the intimacy between them, in case it went the length of any more
letter-writing.

“I most solemnly declare, and could affirm on oath if necessary, that in
spite of all I had seen and all I suspected for these many months, I
had not the most distant idea of the wickedness that had really been
committed. I thank God I was not well enough versed in the ways of sin
to be as sharp in coming to the right conclusion as other women might
have been in my situation. I only believed that the course she was
taking might be fatal to her at some future day; and, acting on that
belief, I thought myself justified in using any means in my power to
stop her in time. I therefore resolved with myself that if Mr. Carr
wrote again, she should get none of his letters; and I knew her
passionate and proud disposition well enough to know that if she could
once be brought to think herself neglected by him, she would break off
all intercourse with him, if ever he came back, immediately.

“I thought myself perfectly justified, standing towards her as I did
in the place of a mother, and having only her good at heart, in taking
these measures. On that head my conscience is still quite easy. I
cannot mention what the plan was that I now adopted, without seriously
compromising a living person. All I can say is, that every letter
from Mr. Carr to our house, passed into my hands only, and was by me
committed to the flames unread. These letters were at first all for my
niece; but towards the end of the year two came, at different intervals,
directed to my brother. I distrusted the cunning of the writer and the
weakness of Joshua; and I put both those letters into the fire, unread
like the rest. After that, no more came; and Mr. Carr never returned to
Jay’s Cottage. In reference to this part of my narrative, therefore, I
have only now to add, before proceeding to the miserable confession of
our family dishonor, that I never afterwards saw, and only once heard of
the man who tempted my niece to commit the deadly sin which was her ruin
in this world, and will be her ruin in the next.

“I must return first, however, to what happened from my burning of the
letters. When my niece found that week after week passed, and she never
heard from Mr. Carr, she fretted about it much more than I had fancied
she would. And Joshua unthinkingly made her worse by wondering, in her
presence, at the long absence of the gentleman of Jay’s Cottage. My
brother was a man who could not abide his habits being broken in on. He
had been in the habit of going on certain evenings to Mr. Carr’s (and,
I grieve to say, often taking his daughter with him) to fetch the London
paper, to take back drawings of flowers, and to let my niece bring
away new ones to copy. And now, he fidgeted, and was restless, and
discontented (as much as so easy-tempered a man could be) at not
taking his usual walks to Jay’s Cottage. This, as I have said, made his
daughter worse. She fretted and fretted, and cried in secret, as I could
tell by her eyes, till she grew to be quite altered. Now and then, the
angry fit that I had expected to see, came upon her; but it always
went away again in a manner not at all natural to one of her passionate
disposition. All this time, she led me as miserable a life as she could;
provoking and thwarting and insulting me at every opportunity. I believe
she suspected me, in the matter of the letters. But I had taken my
measures so as to make discovery impossible; and I determined to wait,
and be patient and persevering, and get the better of her and her wicked
fancy for Mr. Carr, just as I had made up my mind to do.

“At last, as the winter drew on, she altered so much, and got such a
strange look in her face, which never seemed to leave it, that Joshua
became alarmed, and said he must send for the doctor. She seemed to
be frightened out of her wits at the mere thought of it; and declared,
quite passionately, all of a sudden, that she had no want of a doctor,
and would see none and answer the questions of none--no! not even if her
father himself insisted on it.

“This astonished me as well as Joshua; and when he asked me privately
what I thought was the matter with her, I was obliged of course to tell
him the truth, and say I believed that she was almost out of her mind
with love for Mr. Carr. For the first time in his life, my brother
flew into a violent rage with me. I suspect he was furious with his own
conscience for reminding him, as it must have done then, how foolishly
overindulgent he had been towards her, and how carelessly he had allowed
her as well as himself, to get acquainted with a person out of her
own station, whom it was not proper for either of them to know. I said
nothing of this to him at the time: he was not fit to listen to it--and
still less fit, even had I been willing to confide it to him, to hear
what the plan was which I had adopted for working her cure.

“As the weeks went on, and she still fretted in secret, and still looked
unlike herself, I began to doubt whether this very plan, from which I
had hoped so much, would after all succeed. I was sorely distressed in
my mind, at times, as to what I ought to do next; and began indeed to
feel the difficulty getting too much for me, just when it was drawing on
fast to its shocking and shameful end. We were then close upon Christmas
time. Joshua had got his shop-bills well forward for sending out, and
was gone to London on business, as was customary with him at this
season of the year. I expected him back, as usual, a day or two before
Christmas Day.

“For a little while past, I had noticed some change in my niece. Ever
since my brother had talked about sending for the doctor, she had
altered a little, in the way of going on more regularly with her work,
and pretending (though she made but a bad pretense of it) that there
was nothing ailed her; her object being, of course, to make her father
easier about her in his mind. The change, however, to which I now refer,
was of another sort, and only affected her manner towards me, and her
manner of dressing herself. When we were alone together, now, I found
her conduct quite altered. She spoke soft to me, and looked humble, and
did what work I set her without idleness or murmuring; and once, even
made as if she wanted to kiss me. But I was on my guard--suspecting
that she wanted to entrap me, with her wheedling ways, into letting
out something about Mr. Carr’s having written, and my having burned
his letters. It was at this time also, and a little before it, that I
noticed the alteration in her dress. She fell into wearing her things in
a slovenly way, and sitting at home in her shawl, on account of feeling
cold, she said, when I reprimanded her for such untidyness.

“I don’t know how long things might have lasted like this, or what the
end might have been, if events had gone on in their own way. But
the dreadful truth made itself known at last suddenly, by a sort of
accident. She had a quarrel with one of the other young women in the
dressmaking-room, named Ellen Gough, about a certain disreputable
friend of hers, one Jane Holdsworth, whom I had once employed, and had
dismissed for impertinence and slatternly conduct. Ellen Gough having,
it seems, been provoked past all bearing by something my niece said
to her, came away to me in a passion, and in so many words told me the
awful truth, that my brother’s only daughter had disgraced herself and
her family for ever. The horror and misery of that moment is present to
me now, at this distance of time. The shock I then received struck me
down at once; I never have recovered from it, and I never shall.

“In the first distraction of the moment, I must have done or said
something down stairs, where I was, which must have warned the wretch in
the room above that I had discovered her infamy. I remember going to her
bed-chamber, and finding the door locked, and hearing her refuse to open
it. After that, I must have fainted, for I found myself, I did not know
how, in the work-room, and Ellen Gough giving me a bottle to smell to.
With her help, I got into my own room; and there I fainted away dead
again.

“When I came to, I went once more to my niece’s bed-chamber. The door
was now open; and there was a bit of paper on the looking-glass directed
to my brother Joshua. She was gone from the honest house that her sin
had defiled--gone from it for ever. She had written only a few scrawled
wild lines to her father, but in them there was full acknowledgment of
her crime and a confession that it was the villain Carr who had caused
her to commit it. She said she was gone to take her shame from our
doors. She entreated that no attempt might be made to trace her, for she
would die rather than return to disgrace her family, and her father
in his old age. After this came some lines, which seemed to have been
added, on second thoughts, to what went before. I do not remember the
exact words; but the sense referred, shamelessly enough as I thought,
to the child that was afterwards born, and to her resolution, if it came
into the world alive, to suffer all things for its sake.

“It was at first some relief to know that she was gone. The dreadful
exposure and degradation that threatened us, seemed to be delayed at
least by her absence. On questioning Ellen Gough, I found that the other
two young women who worked under me, and who were most providentially
absent on a Christmas visit to their friends, were not acquainted with
my niece’s infamous secret. Ellen had accidentally discovered it; and
she had, therefore, been obliged to confess to Ellen, and put trust in
her. Everybody else in the house had been as successfully deceived as I
had been myself. When I heard this, I began to have some hope that our
family disgrace might remain unknown in the town.

“I wrote to my brother, not telling him what had happened, but only
begging him to come back instantly. It was the bitterest part of all
the bitter misery I then suffered, to think of what I had now to tell
Joshua, and of what dreadful extremities his daughter’s ruin might drive
him to. I strove hard to prepare myself for the time of coming trial;
but what really took place was worse than my worst forebodings.

“When my brother heard the shocking news I had to tell, and saw the
scrawled paper she had left for him, he spoke and acted as if he was
out of his mind. It was only charitable, only fair to his previous
character, to believe, as I then believed, that distress had actually
driven him, for the time, out of his senses. He declared that he would
go away instantly and search for her, and set others seeking for her
too. He said, he even swore, that he would bring her back home the
moment he found her; that he would succor her in her misery, and accept
her penitence, and shelter her under his roof the same as ever, without
so much as giving a thought to the scandal and disgrace that her
infamous situation would inflict on her family. He even wrested
Scripture from its true meaning to support him in what he said, and in
what he was determined to do. And, worst of all, the moment he heard
how it was that I had discovered his daughter’s crime, he insisted that
Ellen Gough should be turned out of the house: he declared, in such
awful language as I had never believed it possible he could utter,
that she should not sleep under his roof that night. It was hopeless
to attempt to appease him. He put her out at the door with his own hand
that very day. She was an excellent and a regular workwoman, but sullen
and revengeful when her temper was once roused. By the next morning our
disgrace was known all over Dibbledean.

“There was only one more degradation now to be dreaded; and that it
sickened me to think of. I knew Joshua well enough to know that if he
found the lost wretch he was going in search of, he would absolutely
and certainly bring her home again. I had been born in our house at
Dibbledean; my mother before me had been born there; our family had
lived in the old place, honestly and reputably, without so much as
a breath of ill report ever breathing over them, for generations and
generations back. When I thought of this, and then thought of the
bare possibility that an abandoned woman might soon be admitted, and a
bastard child born, in the house where so many of my relations had lived
virtuously and died righteously, I resolved that the day when _she_ set
her foot on our threshold, should be the day when _I_ left my home and
my birth place for ever.

“While I was in this mind, Joshua came to me--as determined in his way
as I secretly was in mine--to ask if I had any suspicions about what
direction she had taken. All the first inquiries after her that he had
made in Dibbledean, had, it seems, given him no information whatever. I
said I had no positive knowledge (which was strictly true), but told him
I suspected she was gone to London. He asked why? I answered, because I
believed she was gone to look after Mr. Carr; and said that I remembered
his letter to her (the first and only one she received) had a London
post-mark upon it. We could not find this letter at the time: the
hiding-place she had for it, and for all the others she left behind her,
was not discovered till years after, when the house was repaired for the
people who bought our business. Joshua, however, having nothing better
to guide himself by, and being resolved to begin seeking her at once,
said my suspicion was a likely one; and went away to London by that
night’s coach, to see what he could do, and to get advice from his
lawyers about how to trace her.

“This, which I have been just relating, is the only part of my conduct,
in the time of our calamity, which I now think of with an uneasy
conscience. When I told Joshua I suspected she was gone to London I was
not telling him the truth. I knew nothing certainly about where she was
gone; but I did assuredly suspect that she had turned her steps exactly
in the contrary direction to London--that is to say, far out Bangbury
way. She had been constantly asking all sorts of questions of Ellen
Gough, who told me of it, about roads, and towns, and people in that
distant part of the country: and this was my only reason for thinking
she had taken herself away in that direction. Though it was but a matter
of bare suspicion at the best, still I deceived my brother as to my real
opinion when he asked it of me: and this was a sin which I now humbly
and truly repent of. But the thought of helping him, by so little
even as a likely guess, to bring our infamy home to our own doors, by
actually bringing his degraded daughter back with him into my presence,
in the face of the whole town--this thought, I say, was too much for me.
I believed that the day when she crossed our threshold again would be
the day of my death, as well as the day of my farewell to home; and
under that conviction I concealed from Joshua what my real opinion was.

“I deserved to suffer for this; and I did suffer for it.

“Two or three days after the lonely Christmas Day that I passed in utter
solitude at our house in Dibbledean, I received a letter from Joshua’s
lawyer in London, telling me to come up and see my brother immediately,
for he was taken dangerously ill. In the course of his inquiries (which
he would pursue himself, although the lawyers, who knew better what
ought to be done, were doing their utmost to help him), he had been
misled by some false information, and had been robbed and ill-used in
some place near the river, and then turned out at night in a storm of
snow and sleet. It is useless now to write about what I suffered from
this fresh blow, or to speak of the awful time I passed by his bed-side
in London. Let it be enough to say, that he escaped out of the very jaws
of death; and that it was the end of February before he was well enough
to be taken home to Dibbledean.

“He soon got better in his own air--better as to his body, but his mind
was in a sad way. Every morning he used to ask if any news of Mary had
come? and when he heard there was none, he used to sigh, and then hardly
say another word, or so much as hold up his head, for the rest of the
day. At one time, he showed a little anxiety now and then about a letter
reaching its destination, and being duly received; peevishly refusing
to mention to me even so much as the address on it. But I guessed who
it had been sent to easily enough, when his lawyers told me that he had
written it in London, and had mentioned to them that it was going to
some place beyond the seas. He soon seemed to forget this though, and
to forget everything, except his regular question about Mary, which he
sometimes repeated in his dazed condition, even after I had broken it to
him that she was dead.

“The news of her death came in the March month of the new year, 1828.

“All inquiries in London had failed up to that time in discovering
the remotest trace of her. In Dibbledean we knew she could not be; and
elsewhere Joshua was now in no state to search for her himself; or to
have any clear notions of instructing others in what direction to make
inquiries for him. But in this month of March, I saw in the Bangbury
paper (which circulates in our county besides its own) an advertisement
calling on the friends of a young woman who had just died and left
behind her an infant, to come forward and identify the body, and take
some steps in respect to the child. The description was very full and
particular, and did not admit of a doubt, to any one that knew her
as well as I did, that the young woman referred to was my guilty and
miserable niece. My brother was in no condition to be spoken to in this
difficulty; so I determined to act for myself. I sent by a person
I could depend upon, money enough to bury her decently in Bangbury
churchyard, putting no name or date to my letter. There was no law to
oblige me to do more, and more I was determined not to do. As to the
child, that was the offspring of her sin; it was the infamous father’s
business to support and own it, and not mine.

“When people in the town, who knew of our calamity, and had seen the
advertisement, talked to me of it, I admitted nothing, and denied
nothing--I simply refused to speak with them on the subject of what had
happened in our family.

“Having endeavored to provide in this way for the protection of my
brother and myself against the meddling and impertinence of idle people,
I believed that I had now suffered the last of the many bitter trials
which had assailed me as the consequences of my niece’s guilt: I was
mistaken: the cup of my affliction was not yet full. One day, hardly a
fortnight after I had sent the burial money anonymously to Bangbury, our
servant came to me and said there was a stranger at the door who wished
to see my brother, and was so bent on it that he would take no denial.
I went down, and found waiting on the door-steps a very
respectable-looking, middle-aged man, whom I had certainly never set
eyes on before in my life.

“I told him that I was Joshua’s sister, and that I managed my brother’s
affairs for him in the present state of his health. The stranger only
answered, that he was very anxious to see Joshua himself. I did
not choose to expose the helpless condition into which my brother’s
intellects had fallen, to a person of whom I knew nothing; so I merely
said, the interview he wanted was out of the question, but that if he
had any business with Mr. Grice, he might, for the reasons I had already
given, mention it to me. He hesitated, and smiled, and said he was very
much obliged to me; and then, making as if he was going to step in,
added that I should probably be able to appreciate the friendly nature
of the business on which he came, when he informed me that he was
confidentially employed by Mr. Arthur Carr.

“The instant he spoke it, I felt the name go to my heart like a
knife--then my indignation got the better of me. I told him to tell Mr.
Carr that the miserable creature whom his villainy had destroyed, had
fled away from her home, had died away from her home, and was buried
away from her home; and, with that, I shut the door in his face.
My agitation, and a sort of terror that I could not account for, so
overpowered me that I was obliged to lean against the wall of the
passage, and was unable, for some minutes, to stir a step towards going
up stairs. As soon as I got a little better, and began to think about
what had taken place, a doubt came across me as to whether I might not
have acted wrong. I remembered that Joshua’s lawyers in London had made
it a great point that this Mr. Carr should be traced; and, though, since
then, our situation had been altered by my niece’s death, still I felt
uncertain and uneasy--I could hardly tell why--at what I had done. It
was as if I had taken some responsibility on myself which ought not
to have been mine. In short, I ran back to the door and opened it, and
looked up and down the street. It was too late: the strange man was out
of sight, and I never set eyes on him again.

“This was in March, 1828, the same month in which the advertisement
appeared. I am particular in repeating the date because it marks the
time of the last information I have to give, in connection with the
disgraceful circumstances which I have here forced myself to relate. Of
the child mentioned in the advertisement, I never heard anything, from
that time to this. I do not even know when it was born. I only know
that its guilty mother left her home in the December of 1827. Whether it
lived after the date of the advertisement, or whether it died, I never
discovered, and never wished to discover. I have kept myself retired
since the days of my humiliation, hiding my sorrow in my own heart, and
neither asking questions nor answering them.”


At this place Mat once more suspended the perusal of the letter. He had
now read on for an unusually long time with unflagging attention, and
with the same stern sadness always in his face, except when the name
of Arthur Carr occurred in the course of the narrative. Almost on every
occasion, when the finger by which he guided himself along the close
lines of the letter, came to those words, it trembled a little, and the
dangerous look grew ever brighter and brighter in his eyes. It was in
them now, as he dropped the letter on his knee, and, turning round, took
from the wall behind him, against which it leaned, a certain leather
bag, already alluded to, as part of the personal property that he
brought with him on installing himself in Kirk Street. He opened it,
took out a feather fan, and an Indian tobacco-pouch of scarlet cloth;
and then began to search in the bottom of the bag, from which, at
length, he drew forth a letter. It was torn in several places, the ink
of the writing in it was faded, and the paper was disfigured by stains
of grease, tobacco, and dirt generally. The direction was in such a
condition, that the word “Brazils,” at the end, was alone legible.
Inside, it was not in a much better state. The date at the top, however,
still remained tolerably easy to distinguish: it was “December 20th,
1827.”

Mat looked first at this, and then at the paragraph he had just been
reading, in Joanna Grice’s narrative. After that, he began to count on
his fingers, clumsily enough--beginning with the year 1828 as Number
One, and ending with the current year, 1851, as Number Twenty-three.
“Twenty-three,” he repeated aloud to himself, “twenty-three years: I
shall remember that.”

He looked down a little vacantly, the next moment, at the old torn
letter again. Some of the lines, here and there, had escaped stains and
dirt sufficiently to be still easily legible; and it was over these that
his eyes now wandered. The first words that caught his attention ran
thus:--“I am now, therefore, in this bitter affliction, more than ever
desirous that all past differences between us should be forgotten,
and”--here the beginning of another line was hidden by a stain, beyond
which, on the cleaner part of the letter, the writing proceeded:--“In
this spirit, then, I counsel you, if you can get continued employment
anywhere abroad, to accept it, instead of coming back”--(a rent in the
paper made the next words too fragmentary to be easily legible). * * *
“any good news be sure of hearing from me again. In the mean time, I say
it once more, keep away, if you can. Your presence could do no good; and
it is better for you, at your age, to be spared the sight of such sorrow
as that we are now suffering.” (After this, dirt and the fading of
the ink made several sentences near the end of the page almost totally
illegible--the last three or four lines at the bottom of the letter
alone remaining clear enough to be read with any ease.) * * * “the poor,
lost, unhappy creature! But I shall find her, I know I shall find her;
and then, let Joanna say or do what she may, I will forgive my own Mary,
for I know she will deserve her pardon. As for _him,_ I feel confident
that he may be traced yet; and that I can shame him into making the
atonement of marrying her. If he should refuse, then the black-hearted
villain shall--”

At this point, Mat abruptly stopped in his reading; and, hastily folding
up the letter, put it back in the bag again, along the feather fan and
the Indian pouch. “I can’t go on that part of the story now, but the
time _may_ come--” He pursued the thought which thus expressed itself
in him no further, but sat still for a few minutes, with his head on
his hand and his heavy eyebrows contracted by an angry frown, staring
sullenly at the flame of the candle. Joanna Grice’s letter still
remained to be finished. He took it up, and looked back to the paragraph
that he had last read.

“As for the child mentioned in the advertisement”--those were the words
to which he was now referring. _“The child?”_--There was no mention of
its sex. “I should like to know if it was a boy or a girl,” thought Mat.

Though he was now close to the end of the letter, he roused himself
with difficulty to attend to the last few sentences which remained to be
read. They began thus:--

“Before I say anything in conclusion, of the sale of our business, of
my brother’s death, and of the life which I have been leading since that
time, I should wish to refer, once for all, and very briefly, to the
few things which my niece left behind her, when she abandoned her home.
Circumstances may, one day, render this necessary. I desire then to
state, that everything belonging to her is preserved in one of her boxes
(now in my possession), just as she left it. When the letters signed
‘A. C.’ were discovered, as I have mentioned, on the occasion of repairs
being made in the house, I threw them into the box with my own hand.
They will all be found, more or less, to prove the justice of
those first suspicions of mine, which my late brother so unhappily
disregarded. In reference to money or valuables, I have only to mention
that my niece took all her savings with her in her flight. I knew in
what box she kept them, and I saw that box open and empty on her
table, when I first discovered that she was gone. As for the only three
articles of jewelry that she had, her brooch I myself saw her give to
Ellen Gough--her earrings she always wore--and I can only presume (never
having found it anywhere) that she took with her, in her flight, her
Hair Bracelet.”


“There it is again!” cried Mat, dropping the letter in astonishment, the
instant those two significant words, “Hair Bracelet,” caught his eye.

He had hardly uttered the exclamation, before he heard the door of the
house flung open, then shut to again with a bang. Zack had just let
himself in with his latch-key.

“I’m glad he’s come,” muttered Mat, snatching up the letter from the
floor, and crumpling it into his pocket. “There’s another thing or two
I want to find out, before I go any further--and Zack’s the lad to help
me.”



CHAPTER IX. MORE DISCOVERIES.

When Zack entered the room, and saw his strange friend, with legs
crossed and hands in pockets, sitting gravely in the usual corner,
on the floor, between a brandy-bottle on one side, and a guttering,
unsnuffed candle on the other, he roared with laughter, and stamped
about in his usual boisterous way, till the flimsy little house seemed
to be trembling under him to its very foundations. Mat bore all this
noise and ridicule, and all the jesting that followed it about the
futility of drowning his passion for Madonna in the brandy-bottle, with
the most unruffled and exemplary patience. The self-control which he
thus exhibited did not pass without its reward. Zack got tired of making
jokes which were received with the serenest inattention; and, passing at
once from the fanciful to the practical, astonished his fellow-lodger,
by suddenly communicating a very unexpected and very important piece of
news.

“By-the-bye, Mat,” he said, “we must sweep the place up, and look as
respectable as we can, before to-morrow night. My friend Blyth is coming
to spend a quiet evening with us. I stayed behind till all the visitors
had gone, on purpose to ask him.”

“Do you mean he’s coming to have a drop of grog and smoke a pipe along
with us two?” asked Mat rather amazedly.

“I mean he’s coming here, certainly; but as for grog and pipes, he never
touches either. He’s the best and dearest fellow in the world; but I’m
ashamed to say he’s spooney enough to like lemonade and tea. Smoking
would make him sick directly; and, as for grog, I don’t believe a drop
ever passes his lips from one year’s end to another. A weak head--a
wretchedly weak head for drinking,” concluded Zack, tapping his forehead
with an air of bland Bacchanalian superiority.

Mat seemed to have fallen into one of his thoughtful fits again. He made
no answer, but holding the brandy-bottle standing by his side, up before
the candle, looked in to see how much liquor was left in it.

“Don’t begin to bother your head about the brandy: you needn’t get any
more of it for Blyth,” continued Zack, noticing his friend’s action.
“I say, do you know that the best thing you ever did in your life was
saving Valentine’s picture in that way? You have regularly won his heart
by it. He was suspicious of my making friends with you before; but now
he doesn’t seem to think there’s a word in the English language that’s
good enough for you. He said he should be only too glad to thank you
again, when I asked him to come and judge of what you were really like
in your own lodging. Tell him some of those splendid stories of yours.
I’ve been terrifying him already with one or two of them at secondhand.
Oh Lord! how hospitably we’ll treat him--won’t we? You shall make his
hair stand on end, Mat; and I’ll drown him in his favorite tea.”

“What does he do with them picters of his?” asked Mat. “Sell ‘em?”

“Of course!” answered the other, confidently; “and gets enormous sums
of money for them.” Whenever Zack found an opportunity of magnifying
a friend’s importance, he always rose grandly superior to mere
matter-of-fact restraints, and seized the golden moment without an
instant of hesitation or a syllable of compromise.

“Get lots of money, does he?” proceeded Mat. “And keeps on hoarding of
it up, I daresay, like all the rest of you over here?”

_“He_ hoard money!” retorted Zack, “You never made a worse guess in your
life. I don’t believe he ever hoarded six-pence since he was a baby. If
Mrs. Blyth didn’t look after him, I don’t suppose there would be five
pounds in the house from one year’s end to another.”

There was a moment’s silence. (It wasn’t because he had money in it,
then, thought Mat, that he shut down the lid of that big chest of his so
sharp. I wonder whether--)

“He’s the most generous fellow in the world,” continued Zack, lighting a
cigar; “and the best pay: ask any of his tradespeople.”

This remark suspended the conjecture that was just forming in Mat’s
mind. He gave up pursuing it quite readily, and went on at once with
his questions to Zack. Some part of the additional information that he
desired to obtain from young Thorpe, he had got already. He knew now,
that when Mr. Blyth, on the day of the picture-show, shut down the
bureau so sharply on Mr. Gimble’s approaching him, it was not, at any
rate, because there was money in it.

“Is he going to bring anybody else in here along with him, to-morrow
night?” asked Mat.

“Anybody else? Who should he bring? Why, you old barbarian, you don’t
expect him to bring Madonna into our jolly bachelor den to preside over
the grog and pipes--do you?”

“How old is the young woman?” inquired Mat, contemplatively snuffing the
candle with his fingers, as he put the question.

“Still harping on my daughter!” shouted Zack, with a burst of laughter.
“She’s older than she looks, I can tell you that. You wouldn’t guess
her at more than eighteen or nineteen. But the fact is, she’s actually
twenty-three;--steady there! you’ll be through the window if you don’t
sit quieter in your queer corner than that.”

(Twenty-three! The very number he had stopped at, when he reckoned off
the difference on his fingers between 1828 and 1851, just before young
Thorpe came in.)

“I suppose the next cool thing you will say, is that she’s too old for
you,” Zack went on; “or, perhaps, you may prefer asking another question
or two first. I’ll tell you what, old Rough and Tough, the inquisitive
part of your character is beginning to be--”

“Bother all this talking!” interrupted Mat, jumping up suddenly as he
spoke, and taking a greasy pack of cards from the chimney-piece. “I
don’t ask no questions, and don’t want no answers. Let’s have a drop of
grog and a turn-to at Beggar-my-Neighbor. Sixpence a time. Come on!”

They sat down at once to their cards and their brandy-and-water; playing
uninterruptedly for an hour or more. Zack won; and--being additionally
enlivened by the inspiring influences of grog--rose to a higher and
higher pitch of exhilaration with every additional sixpence which his
good luck extracted from his adversary’s pocket. His gaiety seemed at
last to communicate itself even to the imperturbable Mat, who in an
interval of shuffling the cards, was heard to deliver himself suddenly
of one of those gruff chuckles, which have been already described as the
nearest approach he was capable of making towards a civilized laugh.

He was so seldom in the habit of exhibiting any outward symptoms of
hilarity, that Zack, who was dealing for the new game, stopped in
astonishment, and inquired with great curiosity what it was his friend
was “grunting about.” At first, Mat declined altogether to say;--then,
on being pressed, admitted that his mind was just then running on the
“old woman” Zack had spoken of; as having “suddenly fallen foul of
him in Mr. Blyth’s house, because he wanted to give the young woman a
present:” which circumstance, Mat added, “so tickled his fancy, that he
would have paid a crown piece out of his pocket only to have seen and
heard the whole squabble all through from beginning to end.”

Zack, whose fancy was now exactly in the right condition to be “tickled”
 by anything that “tickled” his friend, seized in high glee the humorous
side of the topic suggested to him; and immediately began describing
poor Mrs. Peckover’s personal peculiarities in a strain of the most
ridiculous exaggeration. Mat listened, as he went on, with such admiring
attention, and seemed to be so astonishingly amused by everything he
said, that, in the excitement of success, he ran into the next room,
snatched the two pillows off the bed, fastened one in front and
the other behind him, tied the patchwork counterpane over all for a
petticoat, and waddled back into his friend’s presence, in the character
of fat Mrs. Peckover, as she appeared on the memorable evening when she
stopped him mysteriously in the passage of Mr. Blyth’s house.

Zack was really a good mimic; and he now hit off all the peculiarities
of Mrs. Peckover’s voice, manner, and gait to the life--Mat chuckling
all the while, rolling his huge head from side to side, and striking his
heavy fist applaudingly on the table. Encouraged by the extraordinary
effect his performances produced, Zack went through the whole of
his scene with Mrs. Peckover in the passage, from beginning to end;
following that excellent woman through all the various mazes of
“rhodomontade” in which she then bewildered herself, and imitating her
terror when he threatened to run upstairs and ask Mr. Blyth if Madonna
really had a hair bracelet, with such amazing accuracy and humor, as
made Mat declare that what he had just beheld for nothing, would cure
him of ever paying money again to see any regular play-acting as long as
he lived.

By the time young Thorpe had reached the climax of his improvised
dramatic entertainment, he had so thoroughly exhausted himself that he
was glad to throw aside the pillows and the counterpane, and perfectly
ready to spend the rest of the evening quietly over the newspaper. His
friend did not interrupt him by a word, except at the moment when he sat
down; and then Mat said, simply and carelessly enough, that he
thought he should detect the original Mrs. Peckover directly by Zack’s
imitation, if ever he met with her in the streets. To which Young Thorpe
merely replied that he was not very likely to do anything of the sort;
because Mrs. Peckover lived at Rubbleford, where her husband had some
situation, and where she herself kept a little dairy and muffin shop.
“She don’t come to town above once a-year,” concluded Zack as he lit a
cigar; “and then the old beauty stops in-doors all the time at Blyth’s!”

Mat listened to this answer attentively, but offered no further remark.
He went into the back room, where the water was, and busied himself in
washing up all the spare crockery of the bachelor household in honor of
Mr. Blyth’s expected visit.

In process of time, Zack--on whom literature of any kind, high or low,
always acted more or less as a narcotic--grew drowsy over his newspaper,
let his grog get cold, dropped his cigar out of his mouth, and fell fast
asleep in his chair. When he woke up, shivering, his watch had stopped,
the candle was burning down in the socket, the fire was out, and his
fellow-lodger was not to be seen either in the front or the back room.
Young Thorpe knew his friend’s strange fancy for “going out over night
(as Mat phrased it) to catch the morning the first thing in the fields”
 too well to be at all astonished at now finding himself alone. He moved
away sleepily to bed, yawning out these words to himself:--“I shall see
the old boy back again as usual to-morrow morning as soon as I wake.”

When the morning came, this anticipation proved to be fallacious. The
first objects that greeted Zack’s eyes when he lazily awoke about eleven
o’clock, were an arm and a letter, introduced cautiously through his
partially opened bedroom door. Though by no means contemptible in regard
to muscular development, this was not the hairy and herculean arm
of Mat. It was only the arm of the servant of all work, who held the
barbarian lodger in such salutary awe that she had never been known to
venture her whole body into the forbidden region of his apartments since
he had first inhabited them. Zack jumped out of bed and took the letter.
It proved to be from Valentine, and summoned him to repair immediately
to the painter’s house to see Mrs. Thorpe, who earnestly desired to
speak with him. His color changed as he read the few lines Mr. Blyth had
written, and thought of the prospect of meeting his mother face to
face for the first time since he had left his home. He hurried on his
clothes, however, without a moment’s delay, and went out directly--now
walking at the top of his speed, now running, in his anxiety not to
appear dilatory or careless in paying obedience to the summons that had
just reached him.

On arriving at the painter’s house, he was shown into one of the parlors
on the ground floor; and there sat Mrs. Thorpe, with Mr. Blyth to keep
her company. The meeting between mother and son was characteristic on
both sides. Without giving Valentine time enough to get from his chair
to the door--without waiting an instant to ascertain what sentiments
towards him were expressed in Mrs. Thorpe’s face--without paying the
smallest attention to the damage he did to her cap and bonnet--Zack
saluted his mother with the old shower of hearty kisses and the old
boisterously affectionate hug of his nursery and schoolboy days. And
she, poor woman, on her side, feebly faltered over her first words of
reproof--then lost her voice altogether, pressed into his hand a little
paper packet of money that she had brought for him, and wept on his
breast without speaking another word. Thus it had been with them long
ago, when she was yet a young woman and he but a boy--thus, even as it
was now in the latter and the sadder time!

Mrs. Thorpe was long in regaining the self-possession which she had lost
on seeing her son for the first time since his flight from home. Zack
expressed his contrition over and over again, and many times reiterated
his promise to follow the plan Mr. Blyth had proposed to him when they
met at the turnpike, before his mother became calm enough to speak three
words together without bursting into tears. When she at last recovered
herself sufficiently to be able to address him with some composure, she
did not speak, as he had expected, of his past delinquencies or of his
future prospects, but of the lodging which he then inhabited, and of
the stranger whom he had suffered to become his friend. Although Mat’s
gallant rescue of “Columbus” had warmly predisposed Valentine in
his favor, the painter was too conscientious to soften facts on that
account, when he told Zack’s mother where her son was now living, and
what sort of companion he had chosen to lodge with. Mrs. Thorpe was
timid, and distrustful as all timid people are; and she now entreated
him with nervous eagerness to begin his promised reform by leaving Kirk
Street, and at once dropping his dangerous intimacy with the vagabond
stranger who lived there.

Zack defended his friend to his mother, exactly as he had already
defended him to Valentine--but without shaking her opinion, until he
bethought himself of promising that in this matter, as in all others,
he would be finally guided by the opinion of Mr. Blyth. The assurance
so given, accompanied as it was by the announcement that Valentine was
about to form his own judgment of Mr. Marksman by visiting the house in
Kirk Street that very night, seemed to quiet and satisfy Mrs. Thorpe.
Her last hopes for her son’s future, now that she was forced to admit
the sad necessity of conniving at his continued absence from home,
rested one and all on Mr. Blyth alone.

This first difficulty smoothed over, Zack asked with no little
apprehension and anxiety, whether his father’s anger showed any symptoms
of subsiding as yet. The question was an unfortunate one. Mrs. Thorpe’s
eyes began to fill with tears again, the moment she heard it. The news
she had now to tell her son, in answering his inquiries, was of a very
melancholy and a very hopeless kind.

The attack of palpitations in the heart which had seized Mr. Thorpe on
the day of his son’s flight from Baregrove Square, had been immediately
and successfully relieved by the medical remedies employed; but it had
been followed, within the last day or two, by a terrible depression of
spirits, under which the patient seemed to have given way entirely, and
for which the doctor was unable to suggest any speedy process of cure.
Few in number at all times, Mr. Thorpe’s words had now become fewer than
ever. His usual energy appeared to be gone altogether. He still went
through all the daily business of the religious Societies to which he
belonged, in direct opposition to the doctor’s advice; but he performed
his duties mechanically, and without any apparent interest in the
persons or events with which he was brought in contact. He had only
referred to his son once in the last two days; and then it was not to
talk of reclaiming him, not to ask where he had gone, but only to desire
briefly and despairingly that his name might not be mentioned again.

So far as Zack’s interests or apprehensions were now concerned, there
was, consequently no fear of any new collision occurring between
his father and himself. When Mrs. Thorpe had told her husband (after
receiving Valentine’s answer to her letter) that their runaway son was
“in safe hands,” Mr. Thorpe never asked, as she had feared he would,
“What hands?” And again, when she hinted that it might be perhaps
advisable to assist the lad to some small extent, as long as he kept
in the right way, and suffered himself to be guided by the “safe hands”
 already mentioned, still Mr. Thorpe made no objections and no inquiries,
but bowed his head, and told her to do as she pleased: at the same time
whispering a few words to himself; which were not uttered loud enough
for her to hear. She could only, therefore, repeat the sad truth that,
since his energies had given way, all his former plans and all his
customary opinions, in reference to his son, seemed to have undergone
some disastrous and sudden alteration. It was only in consequence of
this alteration, which appeared to render him as unfit to direct her
how to act as to act himself; that she had ventured to undertake the
responsibility of arranging the present interview with Zack, and
of bringing him the small pecuniary assistance which Mr. Blyth had
considered to be necessary in the present melancholy emergency.

The enumeration of all these particulars--interrupted, as it
constantly was, by unavailing lamentations on one side and by useless
self-reproaches on the other--occupied much more time than either mother
or son had imagined. It was not till the clock in Mr. Blyth’s hall
struck, that Mrs. Thorpe discovered how much longer her absence from
home had lasted than she had intended it should on leaving Baregrove
Square. She rose directly, in great trepidation--took a hurried leave
of Valentine, who was loitering about his front garden--sent the kindest
messages she could think of to the ladies above stairs--and departed at
once for home. Zack escorted her to the entrance of the square; and,
on taking leave, showed the sincerity of his contrition in a very
unexpected and desperate manner, by actually offering to return home
then and there with his mother, if she wished it! Mrs. Thorpe’s heart
yearned to take him at his word, but she remembered the doctor’s orders
and the critical condition of her husband’s health; and forced herself
to confess to Zack that the favorable time for his return had not yet
arrived. After this--with mutual promises to communicate again soon
through Valentine--they parted very sadly, just at the entrance of
Baregrove Square: Mrs. Thorpe hurrying nervously to her own door, Zack
returning gloomily to Mr. Blyth’s house.


Meanwhile, how had Mat been occupying himself, since he had left his
young friend alone in the lodging in Kirk Street?

He had really gone out, as Zack had supposed, for one of those long
night-walks of his, which usually took him well into the country before
the first grey of daylight had spread far over the sky. On ordinary
occasions, he only indulged in these oddly-timed pedestrian excursions
because the restless habits engendered by his vagabond life, made him
incapable of conforming to civilized hours by spending the earliest part
of the morning, like other people, inactively in bed. On this particular
occasion, however, he had gone out with something like a special
purpose; for he had left Kirk Street, not so much for the sake of taking
a walk, as for the sake of thinking clearly and at his ease. Mat’s
brain was never so fertile in expedients as when he was moving his limbs
freely in the open air.

Hardly a chance word had dropped from Zack that night which had not
either confirmed him in his resolution to possess himself of Valentine’s
Hair Bracelet, or helped to suggest to him the manner in which his
determination to obtain it might be carried out. The first great
necessity imposed on him by his present design, was to devise the means
of secretly opening the painter’s bureau; the second was to hit on
some safe method--should no chance opportunity occur--of approaching it
unobserved. Mat had remarked that Mr. Blyth wore the key of the bureau
attached to his watch chain; and Mat had just heard from young Thorpe
that Mr. Blyth was about to pay them a visit in Kirk Street. On the
evening of that visit, therefore, the first of the two objects--the
discovery of a means of secretly opening the bureau--might, in some way,
be attained. How?

This was the problem which Mat set off to solve to his own perfect
satisfaction, in the silence and loneliness of a long night’s walk.

In what precise number of preliminary mental entanglements he involved
himself; before arriving at the desired solution, it would not be very
easy to say. As usual, his thoughts wandered every now and then from
his subject in the most irregular manner; actually straying away, on one
occasion as far as the New World itself; and unintelligibly occupying
themselves with stories he had heard, and conversations he had held
in various portions of that widely-extended sphere, with vagabond
chance-comrades from all parts of civilized Europe. How his mind
ever got back from these past times and foreign places to present
difficulties and future considerations connected with the guest who was
expected in Kirk Street, Mat himself would have been puzzled to tell.
But it did eventually get back, nevertheless; and, what was still more
to the purpose, it definitely and thoroughly worked out the intricate
problem that had been set it to solve.

Not a whispered word of the plan he had now hit on dropped from Mat’s
lips, as, turning it this way and that in his thoughts, he walked
briskly back to town in the first fresh tranquillity of the winter
morning. Discreet as he was, however, either some slight practical hints
of his present project must have oozed out through his actions when he
got back to London; or his notion of the sort of hospitable preparation
which ought to be made for the reception of Mr. Blyth, was more
barbarously and extravagantly eccentric than all the rest of his notions
put together.

Instead of going home at once, when he arrived at Kirk Street, he
stopped at certain shops in the neighborhood to make some purchases
which evidently had reference to the guest of the evening; for the first
things he bought were two or three lemons and a pound of loaf sugar.
So far his proceedings were no doubt intelligible enough; but they
gradually became more and more incomprehensible when he began to walk up
and down two or three streets, looking about him attentively, stopping
at every locksmith’s and ironmonger’s shop that he passed, waiting to
observe all the people who might happen to be inside them, and then
deliberately walking on again. In this way he approached, in course of
time, a very filthy little row of houses, with some very ill-looking
male and female inhabitants visible in detached positions, staring out
of windows or lingering about public-house doors.

Occupying the lower story of one of these houses was a small grimy shop,
which, judging by the visible stock-in-trade, dealt on a much larger
scale in iron and steel ware that was old and rusty, than in iron and
steel ware that was new and bright. Before the counter no customer
appeared; behind it there stood alone a squalid, bushy browed,
hump-backed man, as dirty as the dirtiest bit of iron about him, sorting
old nails. Mat, who had unintelligibly passed the doors of respectable
ironmongers, now, as unintelligibly, entered this doubtful and dirty
shop; and addressed himself to the unattractive stranger behind the
counter. The conference in which the two immediately engaged was
conducted in low tones, and evidently ended to the satisfaction of
both; for the squalid shopman began to whistle a tune as he resumed his
sorting of the nails, and Mat muttered to himself; “That’s all right,”
 as he came out on the pavement again.

His next proceeding--always supposing that it had reference to the
reception of Mr. Blyth--was still more mysterious. He went into one
of those grocer’s shops which are dignified by the title of “Italian
Warehouses,” and bought a small lump of the very best refined wax! After
making this extraordinary purchase, which he put into the pocket of his
trousers, he next entered the public-house opposite his lodgings;
and, in defiance of what Zack had told him about Valentine’s temperate
habits, bought and brought away with him, not only a fresh bottle of
Brandy, but a bottle of old Jamaica Rum besides.

Young Thorpe had not returned from Mr. Blyth’s when Mat entered the
lodgings with these purchases. He put the bottles, the sugar, and
the lemons in the cupboard--cast a satisfied look at the three clean
tumblers and spoons already standing on the shelf--relaxed so far from
his usual composure of aspect as to smile--lit the fire, and
heaped plenty of coal on, to keep it alight--then sat down on his
bearskins--wriggled himself comfortably into the corner, and threw his
handkerchief over his face; chuckling gruffly for the first time since
the past night, as he put his hand in his pockets, and so accidentally
touched the lump of wax that lay in one of them.

“Now I’m all ready for the Painter-Man,” growled Mat behind the
handkerchief, as he quietly settled himself to go to sleep.



CHAPTER X. THE SQUAW’S MIXTURE.

Like the vast majority of those persons who are favored by Nature with,
what is commonly termed, “a high flow of animal spirits,” Zack was
liable, at certain times and seasons, to fall from the heights of
exhilaration to the depths of despair, without stopping for a moment,
by the way, at any intermediate stages of moderate cheerfulness, pensive
depression, or tearful gloom. After he had parted from his mother,
he presented himself again at Mr. Blyth’s house, in such a prostrate
condition of mind, and talked of his delinquencies and their effect on
his father’s spirits, with such vehement bitterness of self-reproach,
as quite amazed Valentine, and even alarmed him a little on the lad’s
account. The good-natured painter was no friend to contrite desperation
of any kind, and no believer in repentance, which could not look
hopefully forward to the future, as well as sorrowfully back at
the past. So he laid down his brush, just as he was about to begin
varnishing the “Golden Age;” and set himself to console Zack, by
reminding him of all the credit and honor he might yet win, if he was
regular in attending to his new studies--if he never flinched from work
at the British Museum, and the private Drawing School to which he was
immediately to be introduced--and if he ended as he well might end, in
excusing to his father his determination to be an artist, by showing
Mr. Thorpe a prize medal, won by the industry of his son’s hand in the
Schools of the Royal Academy.

A necessary characteristic of people whose spirits are always running
into extremes, is that they are generally able to pass from one change
of mood to another with unusual facility. By the time Zack had exhausted
Mr. Blyth’s copious stores of consolation, had partaken of an excellent
and plentiful hot lunch, and had passed an hour up stairs with the
ladies, he predicted his own reformation just as confidently as he had
predicted his own ruin about two hours before; and went away to Kirk
Street, to see that his friend Mat was at home to receive Valentine that
evening, stepping along as nimbly and swinging his stick as cheerfully,
as if he had already vindicated himself to his father by winning every
prize medal that the Royal Academy could bestow.

Seven o’clock had been fixed as the hour at which Mr. Blyth was to
present himself at the lodgings in Kirk Street. He arrived punctual to
the appointed time, dressed jauntily for the occasion in a short blue
frock coat, famous among all his acquaintances for its smartness of cut
and its fabulous old age. From what Zack had told him of Mat’s lighter
peculiarities of character, he anticipated a somewhat uncivilized
reception from the elder of his two hosts; and when he got to Kirk
Street, he certainly found that his expectations were, upon the whole,
handsomely realized.

On mounting the dark and narrow wooden staircase of the tobacconist’s
shop, his nose was greeted by a composite smell of fried liver and
bacon, brandy and water, and cigar smoke, pouring hospitably down to
meet him through the crevices of the drawing-room door. When he got into
the room, the first object that struck his eyes at one end of it, was
Zack, with his hat on, vigorously engaged in freshening up the dusty
carpet with a damp mop; and Mat, at the other, presiding over the
frying-pan, with his coat off, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his
shoulders, a glass of steaming hot grog on the chimney-piece above him,
and a long pewter toasting-fork in his hand.

“Here’s the honored guest of the evening arrived before I’ve swabbed
down the decks,” cried Zack, jogging his friend in the ribs with the
long handle of the mop.

“How are you, to-night?” said Mat, with familiar ease, not moving from
the frying-pan, but getting his right hand free to offer to Mr. Blyth
by taking the pewter toasting-fork between his teeth. “Sit down anywhere
you like; and just holler through the crack in the floor, under
the bearskins there, if you want anything out of the Bocker-shop,
below.”--(“He means Tobacco when he says Bocker,” interposed Zack,
parenthetically.) “Can you set your teeth in a baked tater or two?”
 continued Mat, tapping a small Dutch oven before the fire with his
toasting-fork. “We’ve got you a lot of fizzin’ hot liver and bacon to
ease down the taters with what you call a relish. Nice and streaky,
ain’t it?” Here the host of the evening stuck his fork into a slice
of bacon, and politely passed it over his shoulder for Mr. Blyth to
inspect, as he stood bewildered in the middle of the room.

“Oh, delicious, delicious!” cried Valentine, smelling as daintily at the
outstretched bacon as if it had been a nosegay. “Really, my dear sir--.”
 He said no more; for at that moment he tripped himself up upon one of
some ten or a dozen bottle-corks which lay about on the carpet where
he was standing. There is very little doubt, if Zack had not been by
to catch him, that Mr. Blyth would just then have concluded his polite
remarks on the bacon by measuring his full length on the floor.

“Why don’t you put him into a chair?” growled Mat, looking round
reproachfully from the frying-pan, as Valentine recovered his erect
position again with young Thorpe’s assistance.

“I was just going to swab up that part of the carpet when you came in,”
 said Zack, apologetically, as he led Mr. Blyth to a chair.

“Oh don’t mention it,” answered Valentine, laughing. “It was all my
awkwardness.”

He stopped abruptly again. Zack had placed him with his back to the
fire, against a table covered with a large and dirty cloth which flowed
to the floor, and under which, while he was speaking, he had been gently
endeavoring to insinuate his legs. Amazement bereft him of the power of
speech when, on succeeding in this effort, he found that his feet came
in contact with a perfect hillock of empty bottles, oyster-shells, and
broken crockery, heaped under the table. “Good gracious me! I hope I’m
doing no mischief!” exclaimed Valentine, as a miniature avalanche of
oyster-shells clattered down on his intruding foot, and a plump bottle
with a broken neck rolled lazily out from under the table-cloth, and
courted observation on the open floor.

“Kick about, dear old fellow, kick about as much as you please,” cried
Zack, seating himself opposite Mr. Blyth, and bringing down a second
avalanche of oyster-shells to encourage him. “The fact is, we are rather
put to it for space here, so we keep the cloth always laid for dinner,
and make a temporary lumber-room of the place under the table. Rather
a new idea that, I think--not tidy perhaps, but original and ingenious,
which is much better.”

“Amazingly ingenious!” said Valentine, who was now beginning to be
amused as well as surprised by his reception in Kirk Street. “Rather
untidy, perhaps, as you say, Zack; but new, and not disagreeable I
suppose when you’re used to it. What I like about all this,” continued
Mr. Blyth, rubbing his hands cheerfully, and kicking into view another
empty bottle, as he settled himself in his chair--“What I like about
this is, that it’s so thoroughly without ceremony. Do you know I
really feel at home already, though I never was here before in my
life?--Curious, Zack, isn’t it?”

“Look out for the taters!” roared Mat suddenly from the fireplace.
Valentine started, first at the unexpected shout just behind him, next
at the sight of a big truculently-knobbed potato which came flying over
his head, and was dexterously caught, and instantly deposited on the
dirty table-cloth by Zack. “Two, three, four, five, six,” continued
Mat, keeping the frying-pan going with one hand, and tossing the baked
potatoes with the other over Mr. Blyth’s head, in quick succession
for young Thorpe to catch. “What do you think of our way of dishing up
potatoes in Kirk Street?” asked Zack in great triumph. “It’s a little
sudden when you’re not used to it,” stammered Valentine, ducking his
head as each edible missile flew over him--“but it’s free and easy--it’s
delightfully free and easy.” “Ready there with your plates. The liver’s
a coming,” cried Mat in a voice of martial command, suddenly showing his
great red-hot perspiring face at the table, as he wheeled round from the
fire, with the hissing frying-pan in one hand and the long toasting-fork
in the other. “My dear sir, I’m shocked to see you taking all this
trouble,” exclaimed Mr. Blyth; “do pray let me help you!” “No, I’m
damned if I do,” returned Mat with the most polite suavity and the most
perfect good humor. “Let him have all the trouble, Blyth,” said Zack;
“let him help you, and don’t pity him. He’ll make up for his hard work,
I can tell you, when he sets in seriously to his liver and bacon. Watch
him when he begins--he bolts his dinner like the lion in the Zoological
Gardens.”

Mat appeared to receive this speech of Zack’s as a well-merited
compliment, for he chuckled at young Thorpe and winked grimly at
Valentine, as he sat down bare-armed to his own mess of liver and bacon.
It was certainly a rare and even a startling sight to see this singular
man eat. Lump by lump, without one intervening morsel of bread, he
tossed the meat into his mouth rather than put it there--turned it
apparently once round between his teeth--and then voraciously and
instantly swallowed it whole. By the time a quarter of Mr. Blyth’s
plateful of liver and bacon, and half of Zack’s had disappeared, Mat had
finished his frugal meal; had wiped his mouth on the back of his hand,
and the back of his hand on the leg of his trousers; had mixed two
glasses of strong hot rum-and-water for himself and Zack; and had set
to work on the composition of a third tumbler, into which sugar, brandy,
lemon-juice, rum, and hot water all seemed to drop together in such
incessant and confusing little driblets, that it was impossible to tell
which ingredient was uppermost in the whole mixture. When the tumbler
was full, he set it down on the table, with an indicative bang, close to
Valentine’s plate.

“Just try a toothful of that to begin with,” said Mat. “If you like it,
say Yes; if you don’t, say No; and I’ll make it better next time.”

“You are very kind, very kind indeed,” answered Mr. Blyth, eyeing the
tumbler by his side with some little confusion and hesitation; “but
really, though I should be shocked to appear ungrateful, I’m afraid I
must own--Zack, you ought to have told your friend--”

“So I did,” said Zack, sipping his rum-and-water with infinite relish.

“The fact is, my dear sir,” continued Valentine, “I have the most
wretched head in the world for strong liquor of any kind--”

“Don’t call it strong liquor,” interposed Mat, emphatically tapping the
rim of his guest’s tumbler with his fore-finger.

“Perhaps,” pursued Mr. Blyth, with a polite smile, “I ought to have said
grog.”

“Don’t call it grog,” retorted Mat, with two disputatious taps on the
rim of the glass.

“Dear me!” asked Valentine, amazedly, “what is it then?”

“It’s Squaw’s Mixture,” answered Mat, with three distinct taps of
asseveration.

Mr. Blyth and Zack laughed, under the impression that their queer
companion was joking with them. Mat looked steadily and sternly from one
to the other; then repeated with the gruffest gravity--“I tell you, it’s
Squaw’s Mixture.”

“What a very curious name! how is it made?” asked Valentine.

“Enough Brandy to spile the Water. Enough Rum to spile the Brandy and
Water. Enough Lemon to spile the Rum _and_ Brandy _and_ Water. Enough
Sugar to spile everything. That’s ‘Squaw’s Mixture,’” replied Mat with
perfect calmness and deliberation.

Zack began to laugh uproariously. Mat became more inflexibly grave than
ever. Mr. Blyth felt that he was growing interested on the subject of
the Squaw’s Mixture. He stirred it diffidently with his spoon, and asked
with great curiosity how his host first learnt to make it.

“When I was out, over there, in the Nor’-West,” began Mat, nodding
towards the particular point of the compass that he mentioned.

“When he says Nor’-West, and wags his addled old head like that at the
chimney-pots over the way, he means North America,” Zack explained.

“When I was out Nor’-West,” repeated Mat, heedless of the interruption,
“working along with the exploring gang, our stock of liquor fell short,
and we had to make the best of it in the cold with a spirt of spirits
and a pinch of sugar, drowned in more hot water than had ever got down
the throat of e’er a man of the lot of us before. We christened the
brew ‘Squaw’s Mixture,’ because it was such weak stuff that even a woman
couldn’t have got drunk on it if she tried. Squaw means woman in those
parts, you know; and Mixture means--what you’ve got afore you now. I
knowed you couldn’t stand regular grog, and that’s why I cooked it up
for you. Don’t keep on stirring of it with a spoon like that, or you’ll
stir it away altogether. Try it.”

“Let _me_ try it--let’s see how weak it is,” cried Zack, reaching over
to Valentine.

“Don’t you go a-shoving of your oar into another man’s rollocks,”
 said Mat, dexterously knocking Zack’s spoon out of his hand just as it
touched Mr. Blyth’s tumbler. “You stick to _your_ grog; I’ll stick to
_my_ grog; and _he’ll_ stick to Squaw’s Mixture.” With those words,
Mat leant his bare elbows on the table, and watched Valentine’s first
experimental sip with great curiosity.

The result was not successful. When Mr. Blyth put down the tumbler, all
the watery part of the Squaw’s Mixture seemed to have got up into his
eyes, and all the spirituous part to have stopped short at his lungs. He
shook his head, coughed, and faintly exclaimed--“Too strong.”

“Too hot you mean?” said Mat.

“No, indeed,” pleaded poor Mr. Blyth, “I really meant too strong.”

“Try again,” suggested Zack, who was far advanced towards the bottom of
his own tumbler already. “Try again. Your liquor all went the wrong way
last time.”

“More sugar,” said Mat, neatly tossing two lumps into the glass from
where he sat. “More lemon (squeezing one or two drops of juice, and
three or four pips, into the mixture). More water (pouring in about a
tea-spoonful, with a clumsy flourish of the kettle). Try again.”

“Thank you, thank you a thousand times. Really, do you know, it tastes
much nicer now,” said Mr. Blyth, beginning cautiously with a spoonful of
the squaw’s mixture at a time.

Mat’s spirits seemed to rise immensely at this announcement. He lit
his pipe, and took up his glass of grog; nodded to Valentine and young
Thorpe, just as he had nodded to the northwest point of the compass a
minute or two before; muttered gruffly, “Here’s all our good healths;”
 and finished half his liquor at a draught.

“All our good healths!” repeated Mr. Blyth, gallantly attacking the
squaw’s mixture this time without any intermediate assistance from the
spoon.

“All our good healths!” chimed in Zack, draining his glass to the
bottom. “Really, Mat, it’s quite bewildering to see how your dormant
social qualities are waking up, now you’re plunged into the vortex of
society. What do you say to giving a ball here next? You’re just the
man to get on with the ladies, if you could only be prevailed on to wear
your coat, and give up airing your tawny old arms in public.”

“Don’t, my dear sir! I particularly beg you won’t,” cried Valentine, as
Mat, apparently awakened to a sense of polite propriety by Zack’s last
hint, began to unroll one of his tightly-tucked-up shirt-sleeves. “Pray
consult your own comfort, and keep your sleeves as they were--pray do!
As an artist, I have been admiring your arms from the professional point
of view ever since we first sat down to table. I never remember, in all
my long experience of the living model, having met with such a splendid
muscular development as yours.”

Saying those words, Mr. Blyth waved his hand several times before his
host’s arms, regarding them with his eyes partially closed, and his
head very much on one side, just as he was accustomed to look at
his pictures. Mat stared, smoked vehemently, folded the objects of
Valentine’s admiration over his breast, and, modestly scratching his
elbows, looked at young Thorpe with an expression of utter bewilderment.
“Yes! decidedly the most magnificent muscular development I ever
remember studying,” reiterated Mr. Blyth, drumming with his fingers on
the table, and concentrating the whole of his critical acumen in one eye
by totally closing the other.

“Hang it, Blyth!” remonstrated Zack, “don’t keep on looking at his arms
as if they were a couple of bits of prize beef! You may talk about
his muscular development as much as you please, but you can’t have the
smallest notion of what it’s really equal to till you try it. I say, old
Rough-and-Tough! jump up, and show him how strong you are. Just lift him
on your toe, like you did me. (Here Zack pulled Mat unceremoniously out
of his chair.) Come along, Blyth! Get opposite to him--give him hold
of your hand--stand on the toe part of his right foot--don’t wriggle
about--stiffen your hand and aim, and--there!--what do you say to
his muscular development now?” concluded Zack, with an air of supreme
triumph, as Mat slowly lifted from the ground the foot on which Mr.
Blyth was standing, and, steadying himself on his left leg, raised the
astonished painter with his right nearly two feet high in the air.

Any spectator observing the performance of this feat of strength, and
looking only at Mat, might well have thought it impossible that any
human being could present a more comical aspect than he now exhibited,
with his black skull-cap pushed a little on one side, and showing an
inch or so of his bald head, with his grimly-grinning face empurpled by
the violent physical exertion of the moment, and with his thick heavy
figure ridiculously perched on one leg. Mr. Blyth, however, was beyond
all comparison the more laughable object of the two, as he soared
nervously into the air on Mat’s foot, tottering infirmly in the strong
grasp that supported him, till he seemed to be trembling all over, from
the tips of his crisp black hair to the flying tails of his frock-coat.
As for the expression of his round rosy face, with the bright eyes
fixed in a startled stare, and the plump cheeks crumpled up by an uneasy
smile, it was so exquisitely absurd, as young Thorpe saw it over his
fellow-lodger’s black skull-cap, that he roared again with laughter.
“Oh! look up at him!” cried Zack, falling back in his chair. “Look at
his face, for heaven’s sake, before you put him down!”

But Mat was not to be moved by this appeal. All the attention his eyes
could spare during those few moments, was devoted, not to Mr. Blyth’s
face but to Mr. Blyth’s watch-chain. There hung the bright little key
of the painter’s bureau, dangling jauntily to and fro over his
waistcoat-pocket. As the right foot of the Sampson of Kirk Street
hoisted him up slowly, the key swung temptingly backwards and forwards
between them. “Come take me! come take me!” it seemed to say, as Mat’s
eyes fixed greedily on it every time it dangled towards him.

“Wonderful! wonderful!” cried Mr. Blyth, looking excessively relieved
when he found himself safely set down on the floor again.

“That’s nothing to some of the things he can do,” said Zack. “Look
here! Put yourself stomach downwards on the carpet; and if you think
the waistband of your trousers will stand it, he’ll take you up in his
teeth.”

“Thank you, Zack, I’m perfectly satisfied without risking the waistband
of my trousers,” rejoined Valentine, returning in a great hurry to the
table.

“The grog’s getting cold,” grumbled Mat. “Do you find it slip down
easy now?” he continued, handing the squaw’s mixture in the friendliest
manner to Mr. Blyth.

“Astonishingly easy!” answered Valentine, drinking this time almost with
the boldness of Zack himself. “Now it’s cooler, one tastes the sugar.
Whenever I’ve tried to drink regular grog, I have never been able to get
people to give it me sweet enough. The delicious part of this is that
there’s plenty of sugar in it. And, besides, it has the merit (which
real grog has not) of being harmless. It tastes strong to me, to be
sure; but then I’m not used to spirits. After what you say, however, of
course it must be harmless--perfectly harmless, I have no doubt.” Here
he sipped again, pretty freely this time, by way of convincing himself
of the innocent weakness of the squaw’s mixture.

While Mr. Blyth had been speaking, Mat’s hands had been gradually
stealing down deeper and deeper into the pockets of his trousers, until
his finger and thumb, and a certain plastic substance hidden away in the
left-hand pocket came gently into contact, just as Valentine left off
speaking. “Let’s have another toast,” cried Mat, quite briskly, the
instant the last word was out of his guest’s mouth. “Come on, one of
you and give us another toast,” he reiterated, with a roar of barbarous
joviality, taking up his glass in his right hand, and keeping his left
still in his pocket.

“Give you another toast, you noisy old savage!” repeated Zack, “I’ll
give you _five,_ all at once! Mr. Blyth, Mrs. Blyth, Madonna, Columbus,
and The Golden Age--three excellent people and two glorious pictures;
let’s lump them all together, in a friendly way, and drink long life
and success to them in beakers of fragrant grog!” shouted the young
gentleman, making perilously rapid progress through his second glass, as
he spoke.

“Do you know, I’m afraid I must change to some other place, if you have
no objection,” said Mr. Blyth, after he had duly honored the composite
toast just proposed. “The fire here, behind me, is getting rather too
hot.”

“Change along with me,” said Mat. “I don’t mind heat, nor cold neither,
for the matter of that.”

Valentine accepted this offer with great gratitude. “By-the-bye, Zack,”
 he said, placing himself comfortably in his host’s chair, between the
table and the wall--“I was going to ask a favor of our excellent friend
here, when you suggested that wonderful and matchless trial of strength
which we have just had. You have been of such inestimable assistance to
me already, my dear sir,” he continued, turning towards Mat, with all
his natural cordiality of disposition now fully developed, under the
fostering influence of the Squaw’s Mixture. “You have laid me under such
an inexpressible obligation in saving my picture from destruction--”

“I wish you could make up your mind to say what you want in plain
words,” interrupted Mat. “I’m one of your rough-handed, thick-headed
sort, _I_ am. I’m not gentleman enough to understand parlarver. It don’t
do me no good: it only worrits me into a perspiration.” And Mat, shaking
down his shirt-sleeve, drew it several times across his forehead, as a
proof of the truth of his last assertion.

“Quite right! quite right!” cried Mr. Blyth, patting him on the shoulder
in the most friendly manner imaginable. “In plain words, then, when I
mentioned, just now, how much I admired your arms in an artistic point
of view, I was only paving the way for asking you to let me make a
drawing of them, in black and white, for a large picture that I mean
to paint later in the year. My classical figure composition, you know,
Zack--you have seen the sketch--Hercules bringing to Eurystheus the
Erymanthian boar--a glorious subject; and our friend’s arms, and,
indeed, his chest, too, if he would kindly consent to sit for it, would
make the very studies I most want for Hercules.”

“What on earth _is_ he driving at?” asked Mat, addressing himself to
young Thorpe, after staring at Valentine for a moment or two in a state
of speechless amazement.

“He wants to draw your arms--of course you will be only too happy to let
him--you can’t understand anything about it now--but you will when
you begin to sit--pass the cigars--thank Blyth for meaning to make a
Hercules of you-and tell him you’ll come to the painting-room whenever
he likes,” answered Zack, joining his sentences together in his most
offhand manner, all in a breath.

“What painting-room? Where is it?” asked Mat, still in a densely
stupefied condition.

“My painting-room,” replied Valentine. “Where you saw the pictures, and
saved Columbus, yesterday.”

Mat considered for a moment--then suddenly brightened up, and began
to look quite intelligent again. “I’ll come,” he said, “as soon as you
like--the sooner the better,” clapping his fist emphatically on the
table, and drinking to Valentine with his heartiest nod.

“That’s a worthy, good-natured fellow!” cried Mr. Blyth, drinking to Mat
in return, with grateful enthusiasm. “The sooner the better, as you say.
Come to-morrow evening.”

“All right. To-morrow evening,” assented Mat. His left hand, as he
spoke, began to work stealthily round and round in his pocket, molding
into all sorts of strange shapes, that plastic substance, which had lain
hidden there ever since his shopping expedition in the morning.

“I should have asked you to come in the day-time,” continued Valentine;
“but, as you know, Zack, I have the Golden Age to varnish, and one or
two little things to alter in the lower part of Columbus; and then, by
the latter end of the week, I must leave home to do those portraits in
the country which I told you of, and which are wanted before I thought
they would be. You will come with our friend, of course, Zack? I dare
say I shall have the order for you to study at the British Museum, by
to-morrow. As for the Private Drawing Academy--”

“No offense; but I can’t stand seeing you stirring up them grounds in
the bottom of your glass any longer,” Mat broke in here; taking away Mr.
Blyth’s tumbler as he spoke, throwing the sediment of sugar, the lemon
pips, and the little liquor left to cover them, into the grate behind;
and then, hospitably devoting himself to the concoction of a second
supply of that palatable and innocuous beverage, the Squaw’s Mixture.

“Half a glass,” cried Mr. Blyth. “Weak--remember my wretched head for
drinking, and pray make it weak.”

As he spoke, the clock of the neighboring parish church struck.

“Only nine,” exclaimed Zack, referring ostentatiously to the watch which
he had taken out of pawn the day before. “Pass the rum, Mat, as soon as
you’ve done with it--put the kettle on to boil--and now, my lads, we’ll
begin spending the evening in earnest!”

              * * * * * *

If any fourth gentleman had been present to assist in “spending the
evening,” as Zack chose to phrase it, at the small social _soiree_ in
Kirk Street; and if that gentleman had deserted the festive board as the
clock struck nine--had walked about the streets to enjoy himself in
the fresh air--and had then, as the clock struck ten, returned to the
society of his convivial companions, he would most assuredly have been
taken by surprise, on beholding the singular change which the lapse of
one hour had been sufficient to produce in the manners and conversation
of Mr. Valentine Blyth.

It might have been that the worthy and simple-hearted gentleman had
been unduly stimulated by the reek of hot grog, which in harmonious
association with a heavy mist of tobacco smoke, now filled the room;
or it might have been that the second brew of the Squaw’s Mixture
had exceeded half a glassful in quantity, had not been diluted to
the requisite weakness, and had consequently got into his head; but,
whatever the exciting cause might be, the alteration that had taken
place since nine o’clock, in his voice, looks, and manners, was
remarkable enough to be of the nature of a moral phenomenon. He now
talked incessantly about nothing but the fine arts; he differed with
both his companions, and loftily insisted on his own superior sagacity,
whenever either of them ventured to speak a word; he was by turns as
noisy as Zack, and as gruff as Mat; his hair was crumpled down over his
forehead, his eyes were dimmed, his shirt collar was turned rakishly
over his cravat: in short, he was not the genuine Valentine Blyth at
all,--he was only a tipsy counterfeit of him.

As for young Thorpe, any slight steadiness of brain which he might
naturally possess, he had long since parted with, as a matter of course,
for the rest of the evening. Mat alone remained unchanged. There he sat,
reckless of the blazing fire behind him, still with that left hand of
his dropping stealthily every now and then into his pocket; smoking,
drinking, and staring at his two companions, just as gruffly
self-possessed as ever.

“There’s ten,” muttered Mat, as the clock struck. “I said we should be
getting jolly by ten. So we are.”

Zack nodded his head solemnly, and stared hard at one of the empty
bottles on the floor, which had rolled out from the temporary store-room
under the table.

“Hold your tongues, both of you!” cried Mr. Blyth. “I insist on clearing
up that disputed point about whether artists are not just as hardy and
strong as other men. I’m an artist myself, and I say they are. I’ll
agree with you in everything else; for you’re the two best fellows in
the world; but if you say a word against artists, I’m your enemy for
life. You may talk to me, by the hour together about admirals, generals,
and prime ministers--I mention the glorious names of Michael Angelo and
Raphael; and down goes your argument directly. When Michael Angelo’s
nose was broken do you think he minded it? Look in his Life, and see
if he did--that’s all! Ha! ha! My painting-room is forty feet long
(now this is an important proof). While I was painting Columbus and
the Golden Age, one was at one end--north; and the other at the
other--south. Very good. I walked backwards and forwards between those
two pictures incessantly; and never sat down all day long. This is a
fact--and the proof is, that I worked on both of them at once. A
touch on Columbus--a walk into the middle of the room to look at the
effect--turn round--walk up to The Golden Age opposite--a touch on The
Golden Age--another walk into the middle of the room to look at the
effect-another turn round--and back again to Columbus. Fifteen
miles a-day of in-door exercise, according to the calculation of a
mathematical friend of mine; and _not_ including the number of times I
had to go up and down my portable wooden steps to get at the top parts
of Columbus. Isn’t a man hardy and strong who can stand that? Ha! ha!
Just feel my legs, Zack. Are they hard and muscular, or are they not?”

Here Mr. Blyth, rapping young Thorpe smartly on the head with his spoon,
tried to skip out of his chair as nimbly as usual; but only succeeded
in floundering awkwardly into an upright position, after he had knocked
down his plate with all the greasy remains of the liver and bacon on
it. Zack roused himself from muddled meditation with a start; and, under
pretense of obeying his friend’s injunction, pinched Valentine’s leg
with such vigorous malice, that the painter fairly screamed again under
the infliction. All this time Mat sat immovably serene in his place next
to the fire. He just kicked Mr. Blyth’s broken plate, with the scraps of
liver and bacon, and the knife and fork that had fallen with them, into
the temporary storeroom under the table--and then pushed towards him
another glass of the squaw’s mixture, quietly concocted while he had
been talking.

The effect on Valentine of this hospitable action proved to be
singularly soothing and beneficial. He had been getting gradually more
and more disputatious for the last ten minutes; but the moment the
steaming glass touched his hand, it seemed to change his mood with the
most magical celerity. As he looked down at it, and felt the fragrant
rum steaming softy into his nostrils, his face expanded, and while his
left hand unsteadily conveyed the tumbler to his lips, his right reached
across the table and fraternally extended itself to Mat. “My dear
friend,” said Mr. Blyth affectionately, “how kind you are! Pray how do
you make the Squaw’s mixture?”

“I say, Mat, leave off smoking, and tell us something,” interposed Zack.
“Bowl away at once with one of your tremendous stories, or Blyth will
be bragging again about his rickety old legs. Talk, man! Tell us your
famous story of how you lost your scalp.”

Mat laid down his pipe, and for a moment looked very attentively at
Mr. Blyth--then, with the most uncharacteristic readiness and docility,
began his story at once, without requiring another word of persuasion.
In general, the very reverse of tedious when he related any experiences
of his own, he seemed, on this occasion, perversely bent on letting his
narrative ooze out to the most interminable length. Instead of adhering
to the abridged account of his terrible adventure, which he had given
Zack when they first talked together on Blackfriars Bridge, he now dwelt
drowsily on the minutest particulars of the murderous chase that had so
nearly cost him his life, enumerating them one after the other in the
same heavy droning voice which never changed its tone in the slightest
degree as he went on. After about ten minutes’ endurance of the
narrative-infliction which he had himself provoked, young Thorpe was
just beginning to feel a sensation of utter oblivion stealing over
him, when a sound of lusty snoring close at his back startled him into
instant wakefulness. He looked round. There was Mr. Blyth placidly and
profoundly asleep, with his mouth wide open and his head resting against
the wall.

“Stop!” whispered Mat, as Zack seized on a half-squeezed lemon and took
aim at Valentine’s mouth. “Don’t wake him yet. What do you say to some
oysters?”

“Give us a dish, and I’ll show you,” returned young Thorpe. “Sally’s in
bed by this time--I’ll fetch the oysters myself from over the way. But,
I say, I must have a friendly shot with something or other, at dear old
Blyth’s gaping mouth.”

“Try him with an oyster, when you come back,” said Mat, producing from
the cupboard behind him a large yellow pie-dish. “Go on! I’ll see you
down stairs, and leave the candle on the landing, and the door on the
jar, so as you can get in quietly. Steady, young ‘un! and mind the dish
when you cross the road.” With these words Mat dismissed Zack from the
street-door to the oyster shop; and then returned immediately to his
guest upstairs.

Valentine was still fast asleep and snoring vehemently. Mat’s hand
descended again into his pocket, reappearing, however, quickly enough
on this occasion, with the piece of wax which he had purchased that
morning. Steadying his arms coolly on the table, he detached the little
chain which held the key of Mr. Blyth’s bureau, from the watchguard to
which it was fastened, took off on his wax a perfect impression of
the whole key from the pipe to the handle, attached it again to the
sleeper’s watchguard, pared away the rough ends of the piece of wax
till it fitted into an old tin tobacco-box which he took from the
chimney-piece, pocketed this box, and then quietly resumed his original
place at the table.

“Now,” said Mat, looking at the unconscious Mr. Blyth, after he had lit
his pipe again; “Now, Painter-Man! wake up as soon as you like.”

It was not long before Zack returned. A violent bang of the street-door
announced his entry into the passage--a confused clattering and
stumbling marked his progress up stairs--a shrill crash, a heavy thump,
and a shout of laughter indicated his arrival on the landing. Mat ran
out directly, and found him prostrate on the floor, with the yellow
pie-dish in halves at the bottom of the stairs, and dozens of
oyster.-shells scattered about him in every direction.

“Hurt?” inquired Mat, pulling him up by the collar, and dragging him
into the room.

“Not a bit of it,” answered Zack. “I’ve woke Blyth, though (worse luck!)
and spoilt our shot with the oyster, havn’t I? Oh, Lord! how he stares!”

Valentine certainly did stare. He was standing up, leaning against the
wall, and looking about him in a woefully dazed condition. Either his
nap, or the alarming manner in which he had been awakened from it, had
produced a decided change for the worst in him. As he slowly recovered
what little sense he had left to make use of, all his talkativeness and
cordiality seemed to desert him. He shook his head mournfully; refused
to eat or drink anything; declared with sullen solemnity, that his
digestion was “a perfect wreck in consequence of his keeping drunken
society;” and insisted on going home directly, in spite of everything
that Zack could say to him. The landlord, who had been brought from his
shop below by the noise, and who thought it very desirable to take the
first opportunity that offered of breaking up the party before any more
grog was consumed, officiously ran down stairs, and called a cab--the
result of this maneuver proving in the sequel to be what the tobacconist
desired. The moment the sound of wheels was heard at the door, Mr.
Blyth clamored peremptorily for his hat and coat; and, after some
little demur, was at last helped into the cab in the most friendly and
attentive manner by Mat himself.

“Just see the lights out upstairs, and the young ‘un in bed, will ye?”
 said Mat to his landlord, as they stood together on the door-step. “I’m
going to blow some of the smoke out of me by taking a turn in the fresh
air.”

He walked away briskly, as he said the last words; but when he got to
the end of the street, instead of proceeding northwards towards
the country, and the cool night-breeze that was blowing from it, he
perversely turned southwards towards the filthiest little lanes and
courts in the whole neighborhood.

Stepping along at a rapid pace, he directed his course towards that
particular row of small and vile houses which he had already visited
early in the day; and stopped, as before, at the second-hand iron
shop. It was shut up for the night; but a dim light, as of one farthing
candle, glimmered through the circular holes in the tops of the
shutters; and when Mat knocked at the door with his knuckles; it was
opened immediately by the same hump-backed shopman with whom he had
conferred in the morning.

“Got it?” asked the hunch-back in a cracked querulous voice the moment
the door was ajar.

“All right,” answered Mat in his gruffest bass tones, handing to the
little man the tin tobacco-box.

“We said to-morrow evening, didn’t we?” continued the squalid shopman.

“Not later than six,” added Mat.

“Not later than six,” repeated the other, shutting the door softly as
his customer walked away--northward this time--to seek the fresh air in
good earnest.



CHAPTER XI. THE GARDEN DOOR.

“Hit or miss, I’ll chance it to-night” Those words were the first that
issued from Mat’s lips on the morning after Mr. Blyth’s visit, as he
stood alone amid the festive relics of the past evening, in the front
room at Kirk Street. “To-night,” he repeated to himself, as he pulled
off his coat and prepared to make his toilette for the day in a pail of
cold water, with the assistance of a short bar of wholesome yellow soap.

Though it was still early, his mind had been employed for some hours
past in considering how the second and only difficulty, which now stood
between him and the possession of the Hair Bracelet, might best be
overcome. Having already procured the first requisite for executing his
design, how was he next to profit by what he had gained? Knowing that
the false key would be placed in his hands that evening, how was he to
open Mr. Blyth’s bureau without risking discovery by the owner, or by
some other person in the house?

To this important question he had as yet found no better answer than was
involved in the words he had just whispered to himself, while preparing
for his morning ablutions. As for any definite plan, by which to guide
himself; he was desperately resigned to trust for the discovery of it to
the first lucky chance which might be brought about by the events of the
day. “I should like though to have one good look by daylight round that
place they call the Painting Room,” thought Mat, plunging his face into
two handsful of hissing soap-suds.

He was still vigorously engaged over the pail of cold water, when a loud
yawn, which died away gradually into a dreary howl, sounded from the
next room, and announced that Zack was awake. In another minute the
young gentleman appeared gloomily, in his night gown, at the folding
doors by which the two rooms communicated. His eyes looked red-rimmed
and blinking, his cheeks mottled and sodden, his hair tangled and dirty.
He had one hand to his forehead, and groaning with the corners of his
mouth lamentably drawn down, exhibited a shocking and salutary picture
of the consequences of excessive conviviality.

“Oh Lord, Mat!” he moaned, “my head’s coming in two.”

“Souse it in a pail of cold water, and walk off what you can’t get rid
of; after that, along with me,” suggested his friend.

Zack wisely took this advice. As they left Kirk Street for their
walk, Mat managed that they should shape their course so as to pass
Valentine’s house on their way to the fields. As he had anticipated,
young Thorpe proposed to call in for a minute, to see how Mr. Blyth was
after the festivities of the past night, and to ascertain if he still
remained in the same mind about making the drawing of Mat’s arms that
evening.

“I suspect you didn’t brew the Squaw’s Mixture half as weak as you told
us you did,” said Zack slily, when they rang at the bell. “It wasn’t
a bad joke for once in a way. But really, Blyth is such a good
kind-hearted fellow, it seems too bad--in short, don’t let’s do it next
time, that’s all!”

Mat gruffly repudiated the slightest intention of deceiving their
guest as to the strength of the liquor he had drunk. They went into
the Painting Room, and found Mr. Blyth there, pale and penitent, but
manfully preparing to varnish The Golden Age, with a very trembling
hand, and a very headachy contraction of the eyebrows.

“Ah, Zack, Zack! I ought to lecture you about last night,” said
Valentine; “but I have no right to say a word, for I was much the
worst of the two. I’m wretchedly ill this morning, which is just what I
deserve; and heartily ashamed of myself, which is only what I ought
to be. Look at my hand! It’s all in a tremble like an old man’s. Not
a thimbleful of spirits shall ever pass my lips again: I’ll stick to
lemonade and tea for the rest of my life. No more Squaw’s Mixture for
me! Not, my dear sir,” continued Valentine, addressing Mat, who had been
quietly stealing a glance at the bureau, while the painter was speaking
to young Thorpe. “Not, my dear sir, that I think of blaming you, or
doubt for a moment that the drink you kindly mixed for me would have
been considered quite weak and harmless by people with stronger heads
than mine. It was all my own fault, my own want of proper thoughtfulness
and caution. If I misconducted myself last night, as I am afraid I did,
pray make allowances--”

“Nonsense!” cried Zack, seeing that Mat was beginning to fidget away
from Valentine, instead of returning an answer. “Nonsense! you were
glorious company. We were three choice spirits, and you were number One
of the social Trio. Away with Melancholy! Do you still keep in the same
mind about drawing Mat’s arms? He will be delighted to come, and
so shall I; and we’ll all get virtuously uproarious this time, on
toast-and-water and tea.”

“Of course I keep in the same mind,” returned Mr. Blyth. “I had my
senses about me, at any rate, when I invited you and your friend here
to-night. Not that I shall be able to do much, I am afraid, in the way
of drawing--for a letter has come this morning to hurry me into the
country. Another portrait-job has turned up, and I shall have to start
to-morrow. However, I can get in the outline of your friend’s arms
to-night, and leave the rest to be done when I come back--Shall I take
that sketch down for you, my dear sir, to look at close?” continued
Valentine, suddenly raising his voice, and addressing himself to Mat.
“I venture to think it one of my most contentious studies from actual
nature.”

While Mr. Blyth and Zack had been whispering together, Mat had walked
away from them quietly towards one end of the room, and was now standing
close to a door, lined inside with sheet iron, having bolts at top and
bottom, and leading down a flight of steps from the studio into the back
garden. Above this door hung a large chalk sketch of an old five-barred
gate, being the identical study from nature, which, as Valentine
imagined, was at that moment the special object of interest to Mat.

“No, no! don’t trouble to get the sketch now,” said Zack, once more
answering for his friend. “We are going out to get freshened up by a
long walk, and can’t stop. Now then, Mat; what on earth are you staring
at? The garden door, or the sketch of the five-barred gate?”

“The picter, in course,” answered Mat, with unusual quickness and
irritability.

“It shall be taken down for you to look at close to-night,” said Mr.
Blyth, delighted by the impression which the five-barred gate seemed to
have produced on the new visitor.

On leaving Mr. Blyth’s, young Thorpe and his companion turned down a
lane partially built over, which led past Valentine’s back garden wall.
This was their nearest way to the fields and to the high road into the
country beyond. Before they had taken six steps down the lane, Mat, who
had been incomprehensibly stolid and taciturn inside the house, became
just as incomprehensibly curious and talkative all on a sudden outside
it.

In the first place, he insisted on mounting some planks lying under
Valentine’s wall (to be used for the new houses that were being built in
the lane), and peeping over to see what sort of garden the painter had.
Zack summarily pulled him down from his elevation by the coat-tails, but
not before his quick eye had traveled over the garden; had ascended the
steps leading from it to the studio; and had risen above them as high
as the brass handle of the door by which they were approached from the
painting-room.

In the second place, when he had been prevailed on to start fairly
for the walk, Mat began to ask questions with the same pertinacious
inquisitiveness which he had already displayed on the day of the
picture-show. He set out with wanting to know whether there were to be
any strange visitors at Mr. Blyth’s that evening; and then, on being
reminded that Valentine had expressly said at parting, “Nobody but
ourselves,” asked if they were likely to see the painter’s wife
downstairs. After the inquiry had of necessity been answered in the
negative, he went on to a third question, and desired to know whether
“the young woman” (as he persisted in calling Madonna) might be expected
to stay upstairs with Mrs. Blyth, or to show herself occasionally in the
painting-room. Zack answered this inquiry also in the negative--with
a running accompaniment of bad jokes, as usual. Madonna, except under
extraordinary circumstances, never came down into the studio in the
evening, when Mr. Blyth had company there.

Satisfied on these points, Mat now wanted to know at what time Mr. Blyth
and his family were accustomed to go to bed; and explained, when Zack
expressed astonishment at the inquiry, that he had only asked this
question in order to find out the hour at which it would be proper
to take leave of their host that night. On hearing this, young Thorpe
answered as readily and carelessly as usual, that the painter’s family
were early people, who went to bed before eleven o’clock; adding, that
it was, of course, particularly necessary to leave the studio in good
time on the occasion referred to, because Valentine would most probably
start for the country next day, by one of the morning trains.

Mat’s next question was preceded by a silence of a few minutes. Possibly
he was thinking in what terms he might best put it. If this were the
case, he certainly decided on using the briefest possible form of
expression, for when he spoke again, he asked in so many words, what
sort of a woman the painter’s wife was.

Zack characteristically answered the inquiry by a torrent of his most
superlative eulogies on Mrs. Blyth; and then, passing from the lady
herself to the chamber that she inhabited, wound up with a magnificent
and exaggerated description of the splendor of her room.

Mat listened to him attentively; then said he supposed Mrs. Blyth
must be fond of curiosities, and all sorts of “knick-knack things from
foreign parts.” Young Thorpe not only answered the question in the
affirmative, but added, as a private expression of his own opinion, that
he believed these said curiosities and “knick-knacks” had helped,
in their way, to keep her alive by keeping her amused. From this, he
digressed to a long narrative of poor Mrs. Blyth’s first illness; and
having exhausted that sad subject at last, ended by calling on his
friend to change the conversation to some less mournful topic.

But just at this point, it seemed that Mat was perversely determined to
let himself lapse into another silent fit. He not only made no attempt
to change the conversation, but entirely ceased asking questions; and,
indeed, hardly uttered another word of any kind, good or bad. Zack,
after vainly trying to rally him into talking, lit a cigar in despair,
and the two walked on together silently--Mat having his hands in his
pockets, keeping his eyes bent on the ground, and altogether burying
himself, as it were, from the outer world, in the inner-most recesses of
a deep brown study.

As they returned, and got near Kirk Street, Mat gradually began to talk
again, but only on indifferent subjects; asking no more questions about
Mr. Blyth, or any one else. They arrived at their lodgings at half-past
five o’clock. Zack went into the bed-room to wash his hands. While he
was thus engaged, Mat opened that leather bag of his which has been
already described as lying in the corner with the bear-skins, and
taking out the feather-fan and the Indian tobacco-pouch, wrapped them
up separately in paper. Having done this, he called to Zack; and, saying
that he was about to step over to the shaving shop to get his face
scraped clean before going to Mr. Blyth’s, left the house with his two
packages in his hand.

“If the worst comes to the worst, I’ll chance it to-night with the
garden-door,” said Mat to himself, as he took the first turning that
led towards the second-hand iron shop. “This will do to get rid of the
painter-man with. And this will send Zack after him,” he added, putting
first the fan and then the tobacco-pouch into separate pockets of
his coat. A cunning smile hovered about his lips for a moment, as he
disposed of his two packages in this manner; but it passed away again
almost immediately, and was succeeded by a curious contraction and
twitching of the upper part of his face. He began muttering once again
that name of “Mary,” which had been often on his lips lately; and
quickened his pace mechanically, as it was always his habit to do when
anything vexed or disturbed him.

When he reached the shop, the hunchback was at the door, with the
tin tobacco-box in his hand. On this occasion, not a single word
was exchanged between the two. The squalid shopman, as the customer
approached, rattled something significantly inside the box, and then
handed it to Mat; and Mat put his finger and thumb into his waistcoat
pocket, winked, nodded, and handed some money to the squalid shopman.
The brief ceremony of giving and taking thus completed, these two
originals turned away from each other without a word of farewell; the
hunchback returning to the counter, and his customer proceeding to the
shaving shop.

Mat opened the box for an instant, on his way to the barber’s; and,
taking out the false key, (which, though made of baser metal, was almost
as bright as the original), put it carefully into his waistcoat pocket.
He then stopped at an oil and candle shop, and bought a wax taper and
a box of matches. “The garden door’s safest: I’ll chance it with the
garden-door,” thought Mat, as he sat down in the shaving-shop chair, and
ordered the barber to operate on his chin.

Punctually at seven o’clock Mr. Blyth’s visitors rang at his bell.

When they entered the studio, they found Valentine all ready for them,
with his drawing-board at his side, and his cartoon-sketch for the
proposed new picture of Hercules bringing to King Eurystheus the
Erymanthian Boar, lying rolled up at feet. He said he had got rid of his
headache, and felt perfectly well now; but Zack observed that he was not
in his good spirits. Mat, on his side, observed nothing but the
garden door, towards which he lounged carelessly as soon as the first
salutations were over.

“This way, my dear sir,” said Valentine, walking after him. “I have
taken down the drawing you were so good as to admire this morning, as
I said I would. Here it is on this painting-stand, if you would like to
look at it.”

Mat, whose first glance at the garden door had assured him that it was
bolted and locked for the night, wheeled round immediately: and, to Mr.
Blyth’s great delight, inspected the sketch of the old five-barred gate
with the most extraordinary and flattering attention. “Wants doing up,
don’t it?” said Mat, referring to the picturesquely-ruinous original
of the gate represented. “Yes, indeed,” answered Valentine, thinking
he spoke of the creased and ragged condition of the paper on which
the sketch was made; “a morsel of paste and a sheet of fresh paper to
stretch it on, would make quite another thing of it.” Mat stared. “Paste
and paper for a five-barred gate? A nice carpenter _you_ would make!”
 he felt inclined to say. Zack, however, spoke at that moment: so he left
the sketch, and wisely held his tongue.

“Now, then, Mat, strip to your chest, and put your arms in any position
Blyth tells you. Remember, you are going to be drawn as Hercules; and
mind you look as if you were bringing the Erymanthian Boar to King
Eurystheus, for the rest of the evening,” said young Thorpe, composedly
warming himself at the fire.

While Mat awkwardly, and with many expressions of astonishment at the
strange piece of service required from him by his host, divested himself
of his upper garments, Valentine unrolled on the floor the paper cartoon
of his classical composition; and, having refreshed his memory from it,
put his model forthwith into the position of Hercules, with a chair to
hold instead of an Erymanthian Boar, and Zack to look at as the only
available representative of King Eurystheus. This done, Mr. Blyth wasted
some little time, as usual, before he began to work, in looking for his
drawing materials. In the course of his search over the littered studio
table, he accidentally laid his hand on two envelopes with enclosures,
which, after examining the addresses, he gave immediately to young
Thorpe.

“Here, Zack,” he said, “these belong to you. The large envelope contains
your permission to draw at the British Museum. The small one has
a letter of introduction inside, presenting you, with my best
recommendations, to my friend, Mr. Strather, a very pleasing artist, and
the Curator of an excellent private Drawing Academy. You had better call
tomorrow, before eleven. Mr. Strather will go with you to the Museum,
and show you how to begin, and will introduce you to his drawing academy
the same evening. Pray, pray, Zack, be steady and careful. Remember
all you have promised your mother and me; and show us that you are now
really determined to study the Art in good earnest.”

Zack expressed great gratitude for his friend’s kindness, and declared,
with the utmost fervor of voice and manner, that he would repair all his
past faults by unflagging future industry as a student of Art. After a
little longer delay Valentine at last collected his drawing materials,
and fairly began to work; Mat displaying from the first the most
extraordinary and admirable steadiness as a model. But, while the work
of the studio thus proceeded with all the smoothness and expedition that
could be desired, the incidental conversation by no means kept pace with
it. In spite of all that young Thorpe could say or do, the talk lagged
more and more, and grew duller and duller. Valentine was evidently
out of spirits, and the Hercules of the evening had stolidly abandoned
himself to the most inveterate silence. At length Zack gave up all
further effort to be sociable, and left the painting-room to go up
stairs and visit the ladies. Mat looked after him as he quitted the
studio, and seemed about to speak--then glancing aside at the bureau,
checked himself suddenly, and did not utter a word.

Mr. Blyth’s present depression of spirits was not entirely attributable
to a certain ominous reluctance to leave home, which he had been vainly
trying to shake off since the morning. He had a secret reason for his
uneasiness which happened to be intimately connected with the model,
whose Herculean chest and arms he was now busily engaged in drawing.

The plain fact was, that Mr. Blyth’s tender conscience smote him
sorely, when he remembered the trust Mrs. Thorpe placed in his promised
supervision over her son, and when he afterwards reflected that he still
knew as little of Zack’s strange companion, as Zack did himself. His
visit to Kirk Street, undertaken for the express purpose of guarding the
lad’s best interests by definitely ascertaining who Mr. Mathew Marksman
really was, had ended in--what he was now ashamed to dwell over, or even
to call to mind. “Dear, dear me!” thought Mr. Blyth, while he worked
away silently at the outline of his drawing, “I ought to find out
whether this very friendly, good-natured, and useful man is fit to be
trusted with Zack; and now the lad is out of the room, I might very well
do it. Might? I will!” And, acting immediately on this conscientious
resolve, simple-hearted Mr. Blyth actually set himself to ask Mat the
important question of who he really was!

Mat was candor itself in answering all inquiries that related to his
wanderings over the American Continent. He confessed with the utmost
frankness that he had been sent to sea, as a wild boy whom it was
impossible to keep steady at home; and he quite readily admitted that
he had not introduced himself to Zack under his real name. But at this
point his communicativeness stopped. He did not quibble, or prevaricate;
he just bluntly and simply declared that he would tell nothing more than
he had told already.

“I said to the young ‘un,” concluded Mat, “when we first come together,
‘I haven’t heard the sound of my own name for better than twenty year
past; and I don’t care if I never hear it again.’ That’s what I said
to _him._ That’s what I say to _you._ I’m a rough ‘un, I know; but I
hav’n’t broke out of prison, or cheated the gallows--”

“My dear sir,” interposed Valentine, eagerly and alarmedly, “pray don’t
imagine any such offensive ideas ever entered my head! I might perhaps
have thought that family troubles--”

“That’s it,” Mat broke in quickly. “Family troubles. Drop it there; and
you’ll leave it right.”

Before Mr. Blyth could make any attempt to shift the conversation to
some less delicate topic, he was interrupted (to his own great relief)
by the return of young Thorpe to the studio.

Zack announced the approaching arrival of the supper-tray; and warned
“Hercules” to cover up his neck and shoulders immediately, unless he
wished to frighten the housemaid out of her wits. At this hint Mr. Blyth
laid aside his drawing-board, and Mat put on his flannel waistcoat;
not listening the while to one word of the many fervent expressions
of gratitude addressed to him by the painter, but appearing to be in a
violent hurry to array himself in his coat again. As soon as he had
got it on, he put his hand in one of the pockets, and looked hard at
Valentine. Just then, however, the servant came in with the tray; upon
which he turned round impatiently, and walked away once again to the
lower end of the room.

When the door had closed on the departing housemaid, he returned to
Mr. Blyth with the feather fan in his hand; and saying, in his usual
downright way, that he had heard from Zack of Mrs. Blyth’s invalid
condition and of her fondness for curiosities, bluntly asked the painter
if he thought his wife would like such a fan as that now produced.

“I got this plaything for a woman in the old country, many a long year
ago,” said Mat, pressing the fan roughly into Mr. Blyth’s hands. “When
I come back, and thought for to give it her, she was dead and gone.
There’s not another woman in England as cares about me, or knows about
me. If you’re too proud to let your wife have the thing, throw it into
the fire. I hav’n’t got nobody to give it to; and I can’t keep it by me,
and won’t keep it by me, no longer.”

In the utterance of these words there was a certain rough pathos and
bitter reference to past calamity, which touched Valentine in one of his
tender places. His generous instincts overcame his prudent doubts in
a moment; and moved him, not merely to accept the present, but also to
predict warmly that Mrs. Blyth would be delighted with it.

“Zack,” he said, speaking in an undertone to young Thorpe, who had been
listening to Mat’s last speech, and observing his production of the fan,
in silent curiosity and surprise. “Zack, I’ll run up stairs with the fan
to Lavvie at once, so as not to seem careless about your friend’s gift.
Mind you do the honors of the supper table with proper hospitality,
while I am away.”

Speaking these words, Mr. Blyth bustled out of the room as nimbly as
usual. A minute or two after his departure, Mat put his hand into his
pocket once more; mysteriously approached young Thorpe, and opened
before him the paper containing the Indian tobacco pouch, which was made
of scarlet cloth, and was very prettily decorated with colored beads.

“Do you think the young woman would fancy this for a kind of plaything?”
 he asked.

Zack, with a shout of laughter, snatched the pouch out of his hands,
and began to rally his friend more unmercifully than ever. For the first
time, Mat seemed to be irritated by the boisterous merriment of which he
was made the object; and cut his tormentor short quite fiercely, with a
frown and an oath.

“Don’t lose your temper, you amorous old savage!” cried Zack, with
incorrigible levity. “I’ll take your pouch upstairs to the Beloved
Object; and, if Blyth will let her have it, I’ll bring her down here to
thank you for it herself!” Saying this, young Thorpe ran laughing out of
the room, with the scarlet pouch in his hand.

Mat listened intently till the sound of Zack’s rapid footsteps died away
upstairs--then walked quickly and softly down the studio to the garden
door--gently unlocked it--gently drew the bolts back--gently opened it,
and ascertained that it could also be opened from without, merely by
turning the handle--then, quietly closing it again, left it, to all
appearance, as fast for the night as before; provided no one went near
enough, or had sufficiently sharp eyes, to observe that it was neither
bolted nor locked.

“Now for the big chest!” thought Mat, taking the false key out of his
pocket, and hastening back to the bureau. “If Zack or the Painter Man
come down before I’ve time to get at the drawer inside, I’ve made sure
of my second chance with the garden door.”

He had the key in the lock of the bureau, as this thought passed
through his mind. He was just about to turn it, when the sound of
rapidly-descending footsteps upon the stairs struck on his quick ear.

“Too late!” muttered Mat. “I must chance it, after all, with the garden
door.”

Putting the key into his pocket again, as he said this, he walked back
to the fireplace. The moment after he got there, Mr. Blyth entered the
studio.

“I am quite shocked that you should have been so unceremoniously left
alone,” said Valentine, whose naturally courteous nature prompted him to
be just as scrupulously polite in his behavior to his rough guest, as if
Mat had been a civilized gentleman of the most refined feeling and the
most exalted rank. “I am so sorry you should have been left, through
Zack’s carelessness, without anybody to ask you to take a little
supper,” continued Valentine, turning to the table. “Mrs. Blyth, my dear
sir (do take a sandwich!), desires me to express her best thanks for
your very pretty present (that is the brandy in the bottle next to you).
She admires the design (spongecake? Ah! you don’t care about sweets),
and thinks the color of the center feathers--”

At this moment the door opened, and Mr. Blyth, abruptly closing his
lips, looked towards it with an expression of the blankest astonishment;
for he beheld Madonna entering the painting-room in company with Zack.

Valentine had been persuaded to let the deaf and dumb girl accept the
scarlet pouch by his wife; but neither she nor Zack had said a word
before him upstairs about taking Madonna into the studio. When the
painter was well out of earshot, young Thorpe had confided to Mrs. Blyth
the new freak in which he wanted to engage; and, signing unscrupulously
to Madonna that she was wanted in the studio, to be presented to the
“generous man who had given her the tobacco-pouch,” took her out of the
room without stopping to hear to the end the somewhat faint remonstrance
by which his proposition was met. To confess the truth, Mrs.
Blyth--seeing no great impropriety in the girl’s being introduced to the
stranger, while Valentine was present in the room, and having moreover
a very strong curiosity to hear all she could about Zack’s odd
companion--was secretly anxious to ascertain what impressions Madonna
would bring away of Mat’s personal appearance and manners. And thus
it was that Zack, by seizing his opportunity at the right moment, and
exerting a little of that cool assurance in which he was never
very deficient, now actually entered the painting-room in a glow of
mischievous triumph with Madonna on his arm.

Valentine gave him a look as he entered which he found it convenient not
to appear to see. The painter felt strongly inclined, at that moment,
to send his adopted child upstairs again directly; but he restrained
himself out of a feeling of delicacy towards his guest--for Mat had not
only seen Madonna, but had hesitatingly advanced a step or two to meet
her, the instant she came into the room.

Few social tests for analyzing female human nature can be more safely
relied on than that which the moral investigator may easily apply, by
observing how a woman conducts herself towards a man who shows symptoms
of confusion on approaching her for the first time. If she has nothing
at all in her, she awkwardly forgets the advantage of her sex, and grows
more confused than he is. If she has nothing but brains in her, she
cruelly abuses the advantage, and treats him with quiet contempt. If she
has plenty of heart in her, she instinctively turns the advantage to its
right use, and forthwith sets him at his ease by the timely charity of a
word or the mute encouragement of a look.

Now Madonna, perceiving that the stranger showed evident signs, on
approaching her, of what appeared like confusion to her apprehension,
quietly drew her arm out of Zack’s, and, to his unmeasured astonishment,
stepped forward in front of him--looked up brightly into the grim,
scarred face of Mat--dropped her usual curtsey--wrote a line hurriedly
on her slate--then offered it to him with a smile and a nod, to read if
he pleased, and to write on in return.

“Who would ever have thought it?” cried Zack, giving vent to his
amazement; “she has taken to old Rough and Tough, and made him a prime
favorite at first sight!”

Valentine was standing near, but he did not appear to hear this speech.
He was watching the scene before him closely and curiously. Accustomed
as he was to the innocent candor with which the deaf and dumb
girl always showed her approval or dislike of strangers at a first
interview--as also to her apparent perversity in often displaying a
decided liking for the very people whose looks and manners had been
previously considered certain to displease her--he was now almost as
much surprised as Zack, when he witnessed her reception of Mat. It
was an infallible sign of Madonna’s approval, if she followed up an
introduction by handing her slate of her own accord to a stranger. When
she was presented to people whom she disliked, she invariably kept it by
her side until it was formally asked for.

Eccentric in everything else, Mat was consistently eccentric even in his
confusion. Some men who are bashful in a young lady’s presence show it
by blushing--Mat’s color sank instead of rising. Other men, similarly
affected, betray their burdensome modesty by fidgeting incessantly.--Mat
was as still as a statue. His eyes wandered heavily and vacantly over
the girl, beginning with her soft brown hair, then resting for a moment
on her face, then descending to the gay pink ribbon on her breast, and
to her crisp black silk apron with its smart lace pockets--then dropping
at last to her neat little shoes, and to the thin bright line of white
stocking that just separated them from the hem of her favorite grey
dress. He only looked up again, when she touched his hand and put her
slate pencil into it. At that signal he raised his eyes once more, read
the line she had written to thank him for the scarlet pouch, and tried
to write something in return. But his hand shook, and his thoughts
seemed to fail him, he gave her back the slate and pencil, looking her
full in the eyes as he did so. A curious change came over his face at
the same time--a change like that which had altered him so remarkably in
the hosier’s shop at Dibbledean.

“Zack might, after all, have made many a worse friend than this man,”
 thought Mr. Blyth, still attentively observing Mat. “Vagabonds don’t
behave in the presence of young girls as he is behaving now.”

With this idea in his mind, Valentine advanced to help his guest
by showing Mat how to communicate with Madonna. The painter was
interrupted, however, by young Thorpe, who, the moment he recovered from
his first sensations of surprise began to talk nonsense again, at the
top of his voice, with the mischievous intention of increasing Mat’s
embarrassment.

While Mr. Blyth was attempting to silence Zack by leading him to the
supper table, Madonna was trying her best to reassure the great bulky,
sunburnt man who seemed to be absolutely afraid of her! She moved to a
stool, which stood near a second table in a corner by the fireplace; and
sitting down, produced the scarlet pouch, intimating by a gesture that
Mat was to look at what she was now doing. She then laid the pouch open
on her lap, and put into it several little work-box toys, a Tonbridge
silk-reel, an ivory needle case, a silver thimble with an enameled rim,
a tiny pair of scissors, and other things of the same kind--which she
took first from one pocket of her apron and then from another. While she
was engaged in filling the pouch, Zack, standing at the supper-table,
drummed on the floor with his foot to attract her attention, and
interrogatively held up a decanter of wine and a glass. She started as
the sound struck on her delicate nerves; and, looking at young Thorpe
directly, signed that she did not wish for any wine. The sudden movement
of her body thus occasioned, shook off her lap a little mother-of-pearl
bodkin case, which lay more than half out of one of the pockets of her
apron. The bodkin case rolled under the stool, without her seeing it,
for she was looking towards the supper-table: without being observed by
Mat, for his eyes were following the direction of her’s: without being
heard by Mr. Blyth, for Zack was, as usual, chattering and making a
noise.

When she had put two other little toys that remained in her pockets into
the pouch, she drew the mouth of it tight, passed the loops of the loose
thongs that fastened it, over one of her arms, and then, rising to her
feet, pointed to it, and looked at Mat with a very significant nod.
The action expressed the idea she wished to communicate, plainly
enough:--“See,” it seemed to say, “see what a pretty work-bag I can make
of your tobacco-pouch!”

But Mat, to all appearance, was not able to find out the meaning of one
of her gestures, easy as they were to interpret. His senses seemed
to grow more and more perturbed the longer he looked at her. As she
curtseyed to him again, and moved away in despair, he stepped forward a
little, and suddenly and awkwardly held out his hand. “The big man seems
to be getting a little less afraid of me,” thought Madonna, turning
directly, and meeting his clumsy advance towards her, with a smile. But
the instant he took her hand, her lips closed, and she shivered through
her whole body as if dead fingers had touched her. “Oh!” she thought
now, “how cold his hand is! how cold his hand is!”

“If I hadn’t felt her warm to touch, I should have been dreaming
to-night that I’d seen Mary’s ghost.” This was the grim fancy which
darkly troubled Mat’s mind, at the very same moment when Madonna was
thinking how cold his hand was. He turned away impatiently from some
wine offered to him just then by Zack; and, looking vacantly into the
fire, drew his coat-cuff several times over his eyes and forehead.

The chill from the strange man’s hand still lingered icily about
Madonna’s fingers, and made her anxious, though she hardly knew why,
to leave the room. She advanced hastily to Valentine, and made the sign
which indicated Mrs. Blyth, by laying her hand on her heart; she then
pointed up-stairs. Valentine, understanding what she wanted, gave her
leave directly to return to his wife’s room. Before Zack could make even
a gesture to detain her, she had slipped out of the studio, after not
having remained in it much longer than five minutes.

“Zack,” whispered Mr. Blyth, as the door closed, “I am anything but
pleased with you for bringing Madonna down-stairs. You have broken
through all rule in doing so; and, besides that, you have confused your
friend by introducing her to him without any warning or preparation.”

“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” interrupted young Thorpe. “He’s not the sort
of man to want warning about anything. I apologize for breaking rules;
but as for Mat--why, hang it, Blyth, it’s plain enough what has been
wrong with him since supper came in! He’s fairly knocked up with doing
Hercules for you. You have kept the poor old Guy for near two hours
standing in one position, without a rag on his back; and then you
wonder--”

“Bless my soul! that never occurred to me. I’m afraid you’re right,”
 exclaimed Valentine. “Do let us make him take something hot and
comfortable! Dear, dear me! how ought one to mix grog?”

Mr. Blyth had been for some little time past trying his best to compound
a species of fiery and potential Squaw’s Mixture for Mat. He had begun
the attempt some minutes before Madonna left the studio; having found
it useless to offer any explanations to his inattentive guest of
the meaning of the girl’s signs and gestures with the slate and
tobacco-pouch. He had persevered in his hospitable endeavor all through
the whispered dialogue which had just passed between Zack and himself;
and he had now filled the glass nearly to the brim, when it suddenly
occurred to him that he had put sherry in at the top of the tumbler,
after having begun with brandy at the bottom; also that he had
altogether forgotten some important ingredient which he was, just then,
perfectly incapable of calling to mind.

“Here, Mat!” cried Zack. “Come and mix yourself something hot. Blyth’s
been trying to do it for you, and can’t.”

Mat, who had been staring more and more vacantly into the fire all
this time, turned round again at last towards his friends at the supper
table. He started a little when he saw that Madonna was no longer in the
room--then looked aside from the door by which she had departed, to the
bureau. He had been pretty obstinately determined to get possession
of the Hair Bracelet from the first: but he was doubly and trebly
determined now.

“It’s no use looking about for the young lady,” said Zack; “you behaved
so clumsily and queerly, that you frightened her out of the room.”

“No! no! nothing of the sort,” interposed Valentine, good-naturedly.
“Pray take something to warm you. I am quite ashamed of my want of
consideration in keeping you standing so long, when I ought to have
remembered that you were not used to being a painter’s model. I hope I
have not given you cold--”

“Given me cold?” repeated Mat, amazedly. He seemed about to add
a sufficiently indignant assertion of his superiority to any such
civilized bodily weakness, as a liability to catch cold--but just as
the words were on his lips, he looked fixedly at Mr. Blyth, and checked
himself.

“I am afraid you must be tired with the long sitting you have so kindly
given me,” added Valentine.

“No,” answered Mat, after a moment’s consideration; “not tired. Only
sleepy. I’d best go home. What’s o’clock?”

A reference to young Thorpe’s watch showed that it was ten minutes
past ten. Mat held out his hand directly to take leave; but Valentine
positively refused to let him depart until he had helped himself to
something from the supper-table. Hearing this, he poured out a glass of
brandy and drank it off; then held out his hand once more, and said good
night.

“Well, I won’t press you to stay against your will,” said Mr. Blyth,
rather mournfully. “I will only thank you most heartily for your
kindness in sitting to me, and say that I hope to see you again when I
return from the country. Good bye, Zack. I shall start in the morning by
an early train. Pray, my dear boy, be steady, and remember your mother
and your promises, and call on Mr. Strather in good time to-morrow, and
stick to your work, Zack--for all our sakes, stick to your work!”

As they left the studio, Mat cast one parting glance at the garden door.
Would the servant, who had most likely bolted and locked it early in the
evening, go near it again, before she went to bed? Would Mr. Blyth walk
to the bottom of the room to see that the door was safe, after he had
raked the fire out? Important questions these, which only the events of
the night could answer.

A little way down Kirk Street, at the end by which Zack and his friend
entered it on returning from Mr. Blyth’s, stood the local theater--all
ablaze with dazzling gas, and all astir with loitering blackguards.
Young Thorpe stopped, as he and his companion passed under the portico,
on the way to their lodgings further up the street.

“It’s only half-past ten, now,” he said. “I shall drop in here, and see
the last scenes of the pantomime. Won’t you come too?”

“No,” said Mat; “I’m too sleepy. I shall go on home.”

They separated. While Zack entered the theater, Mat proceeded steadily
in the direction of the tobacco shop. As soon, however, as he was well
out of the glare of gas from the theater door, he crossed the street;
and, returning quickly by the opposite side of the way, took the road
that led him back to Valentine’s house.



CHAPTER XII. THE HAIR BRACELET.

Mr. Blyth’s spirits sank apace, as he bolted and locked the front door,
when his guests had left him. He actually sighed as he now took a turn
or two alone, up and down the studio.

Three times did he approach close to the garden door, as he walked
slowly from end to end of the room. But he never once looked up at
it. His thoughts were wandering after Zack, and Zack’s friend; and his
attention was keeping them company. “Whoever this mysterious Mat may
be,” mused Valentine, stopping at the fourth turn, and walking up to
the fireplace; “I don’t believe there’s anything bad about him; and so I
shall tell Mrs. Thorpe the next time I see her.”

He set himself to rake out the fire, leaving only a few red embers
and tiny morsels of coal to flame up fitfully from time to time in the
bottom of the grate. Having done this, he stood and warmed himself for
a little while, and tried to whistle a favorite tune. The attempt was a
total failure. He broke down at the third bar, and ended lamentably in
another sigh.

“What can be the matter with me? I never felt so miserable about going
away from home before.” Puzzling himself uselessly with such reflections
as these, he went to the supper-table, and drank a glass of wine, picked
a bit of a sandwich, and unnecessarily spoilt the appearance of two
sponge cakes, by absently breaking a small piece off each of them. He
was in no better humor for eating or drinking, than for whistling; so he
wisely determined to light his candle forthwith, and go to bed.

After extinguishing the lights that had been burning on the
supper-table, he cast a parting glance all round the room, and was then
about to leave it, when the drawing of the old five-barred gate, which
he had taken down for Mat to look at, and had placed on a painting-stand
at the lower end of the studio, caught his eye. He advanced towards
it directly--stopped half-way--hesitated--yawned--shivered a
little--thought to himself that it was not worth while to trouble about
hanging the drawing up over the garden door, that night--and so, yawning
again, turned on his heel and left the studio.

Mr. Blyth’s two servants slept up-stairs. About ten minutes after their
master had ascended to his bed-room, they left the kitchen for their
dormitory on the garret floor. Patty, the housemaid, stopped as she
passed the painting room, to look in, and see that the lights were
out, and the fire safe for the night. Polly, the cook, went on with
the bedroom candle; and, after having ascended the stairs as far as the
first landing from the hall, discreetly bethought herself of the
garden door, the general care and superintendence of which was properly
attached to her department in the household.

“I say, did you lock the garden door?” said Polly to Patty through the
banisters.

“Yes; I did it when I took up master’s tea,” said Patty to Polly,
appearing lazily in the hall, after one sleepy look round the
fast-darkening studio.

“Hadn’t you better see to it again, to make sure?” suggested the
cautious cook.

“Hadn’t _you?_ It’s _your_ place,” retorted the careless house-maid.

“Hush!” whispered Valentine, suddenly appearing on the landing above
Polly, from his bedroom, arrayed in his flannel dressing-gown and
nightcap. “Don’t talk here, or you’ll disturb your mistress. Go up to
bed, and talk there. Good night.”

“Good night, sir,” answered together the two faithful female dependents
of the house of Blyth, obeying their master’s order with simpering
docility, and deferring to a future opportunity all further
considerations connected with the garden door.


The fire was fading out fast in the studio grate. Now and then, at
long intervals, a thin tongue of flame leapt up faintly against the
ever-invading gloom, flickered for an instant over the brighter and more
prominent objects in the room, then dropped back again into darkness.
The profound silence was only interrupted by those weird house-noises
which live in the death of night and die in the life of day; by that
sudden crackling in the wall, by that mysterious creaking in the
furniture, by those still small ghostly sounds from inanimate bodies,
which we have all been startled by, over and over again, while lingering
at our book after the rest of the family are asleep in bed, while
waiting up for a friend who is out late, or while watching alone through
the dark hours in a sick chamber. Excepting such occasional night-noises
as these, so familiar, yet always so strange, the perfect tranquillity
of the studio remained undisturbed for nearly an hour after Mr. Blyth
had left it. No neighbors came home in cabs, no bawling drunken men
wandered into the remote country fastnesses of the new suburb. The
night-breeze, blowing in from the fields, was too light to be audible.
The watch-dog in the nurseryman’s garden hard by, was as quiet on this
particular night as if he had actually barked himself dumb at last.
Outside the house, as well as inside, the drowsy reign of old primeval
Quiet was undisturbed by the innovating vagaries of the rebel, Noise.

Undisturbed, till the clock in the hall pointed to a quarter past
eleven. Then there came softly and slowly up the iron stairs that led
from the back garden to the studio, a sound of footsteps. When these
ceased, the door at the lower end of the room was opened gently from
outside, and the black bulky figure of Mat appeared on the threshold,
lowering out gloomily against a back-ground of starry sky.

He stepped into the painting-room, and closed the door quietly behind
him; stood listening anxiously in the darkness for a moment or two;
then pulling from his pocket the wax taper and the matches which he had
bought that afternoon, immediately provided himself with a light.

While the wick of the taper was burning up, he listened again. Except
the sound of his own heavy breathing, all was quiet around him. He
advanced at once to the bureau, starting involuntarily as he brushed
by Mr. Blyth’s lay figure with the Spanish hat and the Roman toga; and
cursing it under his breath for standing in his way, as if it had been
a living creature. The door leading from the studio into the passage of
the house was not quite closed; but he never noticed this as he passed
to the bureau, though it stood close to the chink left between the door
and the post. He had the false key in his hand; he knew that he should
be in possession of the Hair Bracelet in another moment; and, his
impatience for once getting the better of his cunning, he pounced on the
bureau, without looking aside first either to the right or the left.

He had unlocked it, had pulled open the inner drawer, had taken out the
Hair Bracelet, and was just examining it closely by the light of his
taper (after having locked the bureau again)--when a faint sound on the
staircase of the house caught his ear.

At the same instant, a thin streak of candle-light flashed on him
through the narrow chink between the hardly-closed door and the
doorpost. It increased rapidly in intensity, as the sound of
softly-advancing footsteps now grew more and more distinct from the
stone passage leading to the interior of the house.

He had the presence of mind to extinguish his taper, to thrust the Hair
Bracelet into his pocket, and to move across softly from the bureau
(which stood against the lock-side doorpost) to the wall (which was by
the hinge-side doorpost); so that the door itself might open back upon
him, and thus keep him concealed from the view of any person entering
the room. He had the presence of mind to take these precautions
instantly; but he had not self-control enough to suppress the
involuntary exclamation which burst from his lips, at the moment when
the thin streak of candle-light first flashed into his eyes. A violent
spasmodic action contracted the muscles of his throat. He clenched his
fist in a fury of suppressed rage against himself, as he felt that his
own voice had turned traitor and betrayed him.

The light came close: the door opened--opened gently, till it just
touched him as he stood with his back against the wall.

For one instant his heart stopped; the next, it burst into action again
with a heave, and the blood rushed hotly through every vein all over
him, as his wrought-up nerves of mind and body relaxed together under
a sense of ineffable relief. He was saved almost by a miracle from the
inevitable consequence of the rash exclamation that had escaped him. It
was Madonna who had opened the door--it was the deaf and dumb girl whom
he now saw walking into the studio.

She had been taking her working materials out of the tobacco-pouch
in her own room before going to bed, and had then missed her
mother-of-pearl bodkin-case. Suspecting immediately that she must have
dropped it in the studio, and fearing that it might be trodden on and
crushed if she left it there until the next morning, she had now stolen
downstairs by herself to look for it. Her hair, not yet put up for the
night, was combed back from her face, and hung lightly down in long
silky folds over her shoulders. Her complexion looked more exquisitely
clear and pure than ever, set off as it was by the white dressing-gown
which now clothed her. She had a pretty little red and blue china
candlestick, given to her by Mrs. Blyth, in her hand; and, holding the
light above her, advanced slowly from the studio doorway, with her eyes
bent on the ground, searching anxiously for the missing bodkin-case.

Mat’s resolution was taken the moment he caught sight of her. He never
stirred an inch from his place of concealment, until she had advanced
three or four paces into the room, and had her back turned full upon
him. Then quietly stepping a little forward from the door, but still
keeping well behind her, he blew out her candle, just as she was raising
it over her head, and looking down intently on the floor in front of
her.

He had calculated, rightly enough, on being able to execute this
maneuver with impunity from discovery, knowing that she was incapable
of hearing the sound of his breath when he blew her candle out, and
that the darkness would afterwards not only effectually shield him from
detection, but also oblige her to leave him alone in the room again,
while she went to get another light. He had not calculated, however, on
the serious effect which the success of his stratagem would have upon
her nerves, for he knew nothing of the horror which the loss of
her sense of hearing caused her always to feel when she was left in
darkness; and he had not stopped to consider that by depriving her of
her light, he was depriving her of that all-important guiding sense of
sight, the loss of which she could not supply in the dark, as others
could, by the exercise of the ear.

The instant he blew her candle out, she dropped the china candlestick,
in a paroxysm of terror. It fell, and broke, with a deadened sound, on
one of the many portfolios lying on the floor about her. He had hardly
time to hear this happen, before the dumb moaning, the inarticulate cry
of fear which was all that the poor panic-stricken girl could utter,
rose low, shuddering, and ceaseless, in the darkness--so close at his
ear, that he fancied he could feel her breath palpitating quick and warm
on his cheek.

If she should touch him? If she should be sensible of the motion of
_his_ foot on the floor, as she had been sensible of the motion of
Zack’s, when young Thorpe offered her the glass of wine at supper-time?
It was a risk to remain still--it was a risk to move! He stood as
helpless even as the helpless creature near him. That low, ceaseless,
dumb moaning, smote so painfully on his heart, roused up so fearfully
the rude superstitious fancies lying in wait within him, in connection
with the lost and dead Mary Grice, that the sweat broke out on his face,
the coldness of sharp mental suffering seized on his limbs, the fever of
unutterable expectation parched up his throat, and mouth, and lips; and
for the first time, perhaps, in his existence, he felt the chillness of
mortal dread running through him to his very soul--he, who amid perils
of seas and wildernesses, and horrors of hunger and thirst, had played
familiarly with his own life for more than twenty years past, as a child
plays familiarly with an old toy.

He knew not how long it was before the dumb moaning seemed to grow
fainter; to be less fearfully close to him; to change into what sounded,
at one moment, like a shivering of her whole body; at another, like a
rustling of her garments; at a third, like a slow scraping of her hands
over the table on the other side of her, and of her feet over the floor.
She had summoned courage enough at last to move, and to grope her way
out--he knew it as he listened. He heard her touch the edge of the
half-opened door; he heard the still sound of her first footfall on the
stone passage outside; then the noise of her hand drawn along the wall;
then the lessening gasps of her affrighted breathing as she gained the
stairs.

When she was gone, and the change and comfort of silence and solitude
stole over him, his power of thinking, his cunning and resolution began
to return. Listening yet a little while, and hearing no sound of any
disturbance among the sleepers in the house, he ventured to light one of
his matches; and, by the brief flicker that it afforded, picked his
way noiselessly through the lumber in the studio, and gained the garden
door. In a minute he was out again in the open air. In a minute more,
he had got over the garden wall, and was walking freely along the lonely
road of the new suburb, with the Hair Bracelet safe in his pocket.

At first, he did not attempt to take it out and examine it. He had not
felt the slightest scruple beforehand; he did not feel the slightest
remorse now, in connection with the Bracelet, and with his manner
of obtaining possession of it. Callous, however, as he was in this
direction, he was sensitive in another. There was both regret and
repentance in him, as he thought of the deaf and dumb girl, and of the
paroxysm of terror he had caused her. How patiently and prettily she
had tried to explain to him her gratitude for his gift, and the use she
meant to put it to; and how cruelly he had made her suffer in return! “I
wish I hadn’t frighted her so,” said Mat to himself; thinking of this
in his own rough way, as he walked rapidly homewards. “I wish I hadn’t
frighted her so.”

But his impatience to examine the Bracelet got the better of his
repentance, as it had already got the better of every other thought and
feeling in him. He stopped under a gas lamp, and drew his prize out of
his pocket. He could see that it was made of two kinds of hair, and
that something was engraved on the flat gold of the clasp. But his hand
shook, his eyes were dimmer than usual, the light was too high above
him, and try as he might he could make out nothing clearly.

He put the Bracelet into his pocket again, and, muttering to himself
impatiently, made for Kirk Street at his utmost speed. His landlord’s
wife happened to be in the passage when he opened the door. Without the
ceremony of a single preliminary word, he astonished her by taking her
candle out of her hand, and instantly disappearing up-stairs with it.
Zack had not come from the theater--he had the lodgings to himself--he
could examine the hair Bracelet in perfect freedom.

His first look was at the clasp. By holding it close to the flame of the
candle, he succeeded in reading the letters engraved on it.

“M. G. In memory of S. G.”

_“Mary Grice. In memory of Susan Grice.”_ Mat’s hand closed fast on the
Bracelet--and dropped heavily on his knee, as he uttered those words.

              * * * * * *

The pantomime which Zack had gone to see, was so lengthened out by
encores of incidental songs and dances, that it was not over till close
on midnight. When he left the theater, the physical consequences of
breathing a vitiated atmosphere made themselves felt immediately in the
regions of his mouth, throat, and stomach. Those ardent aspirations in
the direction of shell-fish and malt liquor, which it is especially the
mission of the English drama to create, overcame him as he issued into
the fresh air, and took him to the local oyster shop for refreshment and
change of scene.

Having the immediate prospect of the private Drawing Academy vividly and
menacingly present before his eyes, Zack thought of the future for once
in his life, and astonished the ministering vassals of the oyster shop
(with all of whom he was on terms of intimate friendship), by enjoying
himself with exemplary moderation at the festive board. When he had done
supper, and was on his way to bed at the tobacconist’s across the road,
it is actually not too much to say that he was sober and subdued enough
to have borne inspection by the President and Council of the Royal
Academy, as a model student of the Fine Arts.

It was rather a surprise to him not to hear his friend snoring when
he let himself into the passage, but his surprise rose to blank
astonishment when he entered the front room, and saw the employment on
which his fellow lodger was engaged.

Mat was sitting by the table, with his rifle laid across his knees, and
was scouring the barrel bright with a piece of sand paper. By his side
was an unsnuffed candle, an empty bottle, and a tumbler with a little
raw brandy left in the bottom of it. His face, when he looked up, showed
that he had been drinking hard. There was a stare in his eyes that was
at once fierce and vacant, and a hard, fixed, unnatural smile on his
lips which Zack did not at all like to see.

“Why, Mat, old boy!” he said soothingly, “you look a little out of
sorts. What’s wrong?”

Mat scoured away at the barrel of the gun harder than ever, and gave no
answer.

“What, in the name of wonder, can you be scouring your rifle for
to-night?” continued young Thorpe. “You have never yet touched it since
you brought it into the house. What can you possibly want with it now?
We don’t shoot birds in England with rifle bullets.”

“A rifle bullet will do for _my_ game, if I put it up,” said Mat,
suddenly and fiercely fixing his eyes on Zack.

“What game does he mean?” thought young Thorpe. “He’s been drinking
himself pretty nearly drunk. Can anything have happened to him since we
parted company at the theater?--I should like to find out; but he’s such
an old savage when the brandy’s in his head, that I don’t half like to
question him--”

Here Zack’s reflections were interrupted by the voice of his eccentric
friend.

“Did you ever meet with a man of the name of Carr?” asked Mat. He looked
away from young Thorpe, keeping his eyes steadily on the rifle, and
rubbing hard at the barrel, as he put this question.

“No,” said Zack. “Not that I can remember.”

Mat left off cleaning the gun, and began to fumble awkwardly in one of
his pockets. After some little time, he produced what appeared to
Zack to be an inordinately long letter, written in a cramped hand, and
superscribed apparently with two long lines of inscription, instead of
an ordinary address. Opening this strange-looking document, Mat guided
himself a little way down the lines on the first page with a very
unsteady forefinger--stopped, and read somewhat anxiously and with
evident difficulty--then put the letter back in his pocket, dropped his
eyes once more on the gun in his lap, and said with a strong emphasis on
the Christian name:--

_“Arthur_ Carr?”

“No,” returned Zack. “I never met with a man of that name. Is he a
friend of yours?”

Mat went on scouring the rifle barrel.

Young Thorpe said nothing more. He had been a little puzzled early in
the evening, when his friend had exhibited the fan and tobacco pouch
(neither of which had been produced before), and had mentioned to Mr.
Blyth that they were once intended for “a woman” who was now dead. Zack
had thought this conduct rather odd at the time; but now, when it was
followed by these strangely abrupt references to the name of Carr, by
this mysterious scouring of the rifle and desperate brandy drinking
in solitude, he began to feel perplexed in the last degree about Mat’s
behavior. “Is this about Arthur Carr a secret of the old boy’s?” Zack
asked himself with a sort of bewildered curiosity. “Is he letting out
more than he ought, I wonder, now he’s a little in liquor?”

While young Thorpe was pondering thus, Mat was still industriously
scouring the barrel of his rifle. After the silence in the room had
lasted some minutes, he suddenly threw away his morsel of sand-paper,
and spoke again.

“Zack,” he said, familiarly smacking the stock of his rifle, “me and you
had some talk once about going away to the wild country over the waters
together. I’m ready to sail when you are, if--” He had glanced up at
young Thorpe with his vacant bloodshot eyes, as he spoke the last words.
But he checked himself almost at the same moment, and looked away again
quickly at the gun.

“If what?” asked Zack.

“If I can lay my hands first on Arthur Carr,” answered Mat, with very
unusual lowness of tone. “Only let me do that, and I shall be game to
tramp it at an hour’s notice. He may be dead and buried for anything I
know--”

“Then what’s the use of looking after him?” interposed Zack.

“The use is, I’ve got it into my head that he’s alive, and that I shall
find him,” returned Mat.

“‘Well?” said young Thorpe eagerly.

Mat became silent again. His head drooped slowly forward, and his
body followed it till he rested his elbows on the gun. Sitting in this
crouched-up position, he abstractedly began to amuse himself by snapping
the lock of the rifle. Zack, suspecting that the brandy he had
swallowed was beginning to stupefy him, determined, with characteristic
recklessness, to rouse him into talking at any hazard.

“What the devil is all this mystery about?” he cried boldly. “Ever since
you pulled out that feather-fan and tobacco-pouch at Blyth’s--”

“Well, what of them?” interrupted Mat, looking up instantly with a
fierce, suspicious stare.

“Nothing particular,” pursued Zack, undauntedly, “except that it’s odd
you never brought them out before; and odder still that you should
tell Blyth, and never say a word here to me, about getting them for a
woman--”

“What of _her?”_ broke out Mat, rising to his feet with flushed face
and threatening eyes, and making the room ring again as he grounded his
rifle on the floor.

“Nothing but what a friend ought to say,” replied Zack, feeling that, in
Mat’s present condition, he had ventured a little too far. “I’m sorry,
for your sake, that she never lived to have the presents you meant
for her. There’s no offense, I hope, in saying that much, or in asking
(after what you yourself told Blyth) whether her death happened lately,
or--”

“It happened afore ever you was born.”

He gave this answer, which amazed Zack, in a curiously smothered,
abstracted tone, as if he were talking to himself; laying aside the
rifle suddenly as he spoke, sitting down by the table again, and resting
his head on his hand, Young Thorpe took a chair near him, but wisely
refrained from saying anything just at that moment. Silence seemed to
favor the change that was taking place for the better in Mat’s temper.
He looked up, after awhile, and regarded Zack with a rough wistfulness
and anxiety working in his swarthy face.

“I like you, Zack,” he said, laying one hand on the lad’s arm and
mechanically stroking down the cloth of his sleeve. “I like you. Don’t
let us two part company. Let’s always pull together as brotherly and
pleasant as we can.” He paused. His hand tightened round young Thorpe’s
arm; and the hot, dry, tearless look in his eyes began to soften as he
added, “I take it kind in you, Zack, saying you were sorry for her just
now. She died afore ever you was born.” His hand relaxed its grasp: and
when he had repeated those last words, he turned a little away, and said
no more.

Astonishment and curiosity impelled young Thorpe to hazard another
question.

“Was she a sweetheart of yours?” he asked, unconsciously sinking his
voice to a whisper, “or a relation, or--”

“Kin to me. Kin to me,” said Mat quickly, yet not impatiently; reaching
out his hand again to Zack’s arm, but without looking up.

“Was she your mother?”

“No.”

“Sister?”

“Yes.”

For a minute or two Zack was silent after this answer. As soon as he
began to speak again, his companion shook his arm--a little impatiently,
this time--and stopped him.

“Drop it,” said Mat peremptorily. “Don’t let’s talk no more, my head--”

“Anything wrong with your head?” asked Zack.

Mat rose to his feet again. A change began to appear in his face. The
flash that had tinged it from the first, deepened palpably, and spread
up to the very rim of his black skull-cap. A confusion and dimness
seemed to be stealing over his eyes, a thickness and heaviness to be
impeding his articulation when he spoke again.

“I’ve overdone it with the brandy,” he said, “my head’s getting hot
under the place where they scalped me. Give me holt of my hat, and show
me a light, Zack. I can’t stop indoors no longer. Don’t talk! Let me out
of the house at once.”

Young Thorpe took up the candle directly; and leading the way
down-stairs, let him out into the street by the private door, not
venturing to irritate him by saying anything, but waiting on the
door-step, and watching him with great curiosity as he started for his
walk. He was just getting out of sight, when Zack heard him stop, and
strike his stick on the pavement. In less than a minute he had turned,
and was back again at the door of the tobacconist’s shop.

“Zack,” he whispered, “you ask about among your friends if any of ‘em
ever knowed a man with that name I told you of.”

“Do you mean the _‘Arthur Carr’_ you were talking about just now?”
 inquired young Thorpe.

“Yes; _Arthur Carr,”_ said Mat, very earnestly. Then, turning away
before Zack could ask him any more questions, he disappeared rapidly
this time in the darkness of the street.



CHAPTER XIII. THE SEARCH FOR ARTHUR CARR.

Mr. Blyth was astir betimes on the morning after Mat and young Thorpe
had visited him in the studio. Manfully determined not to give way an
inch to his own continued reluctance to leave home, he packed up his
brushes and colors, and started on his portrait-painting tour by the
early train which he had originally settled to travel by.

Although he had every chance of spending his time, during his absence,
agreeably as well as profitably, his inexplicable sense of uneasiness at
being away from home, remained with him even on the railway; defying
all the exhilarating influences of rapid motion and change of scene, and
oppressing him as inveterately as it had oppressed him the night before.
Bad, however, as his spirits now were, they would have been much worse,
if he had known of two remarkable domestic events, which it had been the
policy of his household to keep strictly concealed from him on the day
of his departure.

When Mr. Blyth’s cook descended the first thing in the morning to air
the studio in the usual way, by opening the garden door, she was not a
little amazed and alarmed to find that, although it was closed, it
was neither bolted nor locked. She communicated this circumstance
(reproachfully, of course) to the housemaid, who answered (indignantly,
as was only natural) by reiterating her assertion of the past night,
that she had secured the door properly at six o’clock in the evening.
Polly, appealing to contradictory visible fact, rejoined that the thing
was impossible. Patty, holding fast to affirmatory personal knowledge,
retorted that the thing had been done. Upon this, the two had a violent
quarrel--followed by a sulky silence--succeeded by an affectionate
reconciliation--terminated by a politic resolution to say nothing more
about the matter, and especially to abstain from breathing a word in
connection with it to the ruling authorities above stairs. Thus it
happened that neither Valentine nor his wife knew anything of the
suspicious appearance presented that morning by the garden door.

But, though Mrs. Blyth was ignorant on this point, she was well enough
informed on another of equal, if not greater, domestic importance. While
her husband was down-stairs taking his early breakfast, Madonna came
into her room; and communicated confidentially all the particulars
of the terrible fright that she had suffered, while looking for her
bodkin-case in the studio, on the night before. How her candle could
possibly have gone out, as it did in an instant, she could not say.
She was quite sure that nobody was in the room when she entered it; and
quite sure that she felt no draught of wind in any direction--in short,
she knew nothing of her own experience, but that her candle suddenly
went out; that she remained for a little time, half dead with fright,
in the darkness; and that she then managed to grope her way back to her
bedroom, in which a night-light was always burning.

Mrs. Blyth followed the progress of this strange story on Madonna’s
fingers with great interest to the end; and then--after suggesting that
the candle might have gone out through some defect in the make of it, or
might really have been extinguished by a puff of air which the girl was
too much occupied in looking for her bodkin-case to attend to--earnestly
charged her not to say a word on the subject of her adventure to
Valentine, when she went to help him in packing up his painting
materials. “He is nervous and uncomfortable enough already, poor fellow,
at the idea of leaving home,” thought Mrs. Blyth; “and if he heard the
story about the candle going out, it would only make him more uneasy
still.” To explain this consideration to Madonna was to ensure her
discretion. She accordingly kept her adventure in the studio so profound
a secret from Mr. Blyth, that he no more suspected what had happened to
her, than he suspected what had happened to the Hair Bracelet, when he
hastily assured himself that he was leaving his bureau properly locked,
by trying the lid of it the last thing before going away.

Such were the circumstances under which Valentine left home. He was not,
however, the only traveler of the reader’s acquaintance, whose departure
from London took place on the morning after the mysterious extinguishing
of Madonna’s light in the painting-room. By a whimsical coincidence, it
so happened that, at the very same hour when Mr. Blyth was journeying in
one direction, to paint portraits, Mr. Matthew Marksman (now, perhaps,
also recognizable as Mr. Matthew Grice) was journeying in another, to
pay a second visit to Dibbledean.

Not a visit of pleasure by any means, but a visit of business--business,
which, in every particular, Mat had especially intended to keep secret
from Zack; but some inkling of which he had nevertheless allowed to
escape him, during his past night’s conversation with the lad in Kirk
Street.

When young Thorpe and he met on the morning after that conversation, he
was sufficiently aware of the fact that his overdose of brandy had set
him talking in a very unguarded manner; and desired Zack, as bluntly as
usual, to repeat to him all that he had let out while the liquor was in
his head. After this request had been complied with, he volunteered no
additional confidences. He simply said that what had slipped from his
tongue was no more than the truth; but that he could add nothing to
it, and explain nothing about it, until he had first discovered whether
“Arthur Carr” were alive or dead. On being asked how, and when, he
intended to discover this, he answered that he was going into the
country to make the attempt that very morning; and that, if he
succeeded, he would, on his return, tell his fellow-lodger unreservedly
all that the latter might wish to know. Favored with this additional
promise, Zack was left alone in Kirk Street, to quiet his curiosity as
well as he could, with the reflection that he might hear something
more about his friend’s secrets, when Mat returned from his trip to the
country.

In order to collect a little more information on the subject of these
secrets than was at present possessed by Zack, it will be necessary to
return for a moment to the lodgings in Kirk Street, at that particular
period of the night when Mr. Marksman was sitting alone in the front
room, and was holding the Hair Bracelet crumpled up tight in one of his
hands.

His first glance at the letters engraved on the clasp not only showed
him to whom the Bracelet had once belonged, but set at rest in his mind
all further doubt as to the identity of the young woman, whose face
had so startled and impressed him in Mr. Blyth’s studio. He was neither
logical enough nor legal enough in his mode of reasoning, to see, that,
although he had found his sister’s bracelet in Valentine’s bureau,
it did not actually follow as a matter of proof--though it might as
a matter of suspicion--that he had also found his sister’s child in
Valentine’s house. No such objection as this occurred to him. He was
now perfectly satisfied that Madonna was what he had suspected her to be
from the first--Mary’s child.

But to the next questions that he asked himself, concerning the girl’s
unknown father, the answers were not so easy to be found:--Who was
Arthur Carr? Where was he? Was he still alive?

His first hasty suspicion that Valentine might have assumed the name
of Arthur Carr, and might therefore be the man himself, was set at rest
immediately by another look at the Bracelet. He knew that the lightest
in color, of the two kinds of hair of which it was made, was Carr’s
hair, because it exactly resembled the surplus lock sent back by
the jeweler, and enclosed in Jane Holdsworth’s letter. He made the
comparison and discovered the resemblance at a glance. The evidence of
his own eyesight, which was enough for this, was also enough to satisfy
him immediately that Arthur Carr’s hair was, in color, as nearly as
possible the exact opposite of Mr. Blyth’s hair.

Still, though the painter was assuredly not the father, might he not
know who the father was, or had been? How could he otherwise have got
possession of Mary Grice’s bracelet and Mary Grice’s child?

These two questions suggested a third in Mat’s mind. Should he discover
himself at once to Mr. Blyth; and compel him, by fair means or foul, to
solve all doubts, and disclose what he knew?

No: not at once. That would be playing, at the outset, a desperate and
dangerous move in the game, which had best be reserved to the last.
Besides, it was useless to think of questioning Mr. Blyth just
now--except by the uncertain and indiscreet process of following him
into the country--for he had settled to take his departure from London,
early the next morning.

But it was now impossible to rest, after what had been already
discovered, without beginning, in one direction or another, the attempt
to find out Arthur Carr. Mat’s purpose of doing this sprang from the
strongest of all resolutions--a vindictive resolution. That dangerous
part of the man’s nature which his life among the savages and his
wanderings in the wild places of the earth had been stealthily nurturing
for many a long year past, was beginning to assert itself, now that he
had succeeded in penetrating the mystery of Madonna’s parentage by
the mother’s side. Placed in his position, the tender thought of their
sister’s child would, at this particular crisis, have been uppermost in
many men’s hearts. The one deadly thought of the villain who had been
Mary’s ruin was uppermost in Mat’s.

He pondered but a little while on the course that he should pursue,
before the idea of returning to Dibbledean, and compelling Joanna Grice
to tell more than she had told at their last interview, occurred to him.
He disbelieved the passage in her narrative which stated that she had
seen and heard nothing of Arthur Carr in all the years that had elapsed
since the flight and death of her niece: he had his own conviction, or
rather his own presentiment (which he had mentioned to Zack), that the
man was still alive somewhere; and he felt confident that he had it
in his power, as a last resource, to awe the old woman into confessing
everything that she knew. To Dibbledean, therefore, in the first
instance, he resolved to go.

If he failed there in finding any clue to the object of his inquiry, he
determined to repair next to Rubbleford, and to address himself boldly
to Mrs. Peckover. He remembered that, when Zack had first mentioned her
extraordinary behavior about the Hair Bracelet in Mr. Blyth’s hall, he
had prefaced his words by saying, that she knew apparently as much of
Madonna’s history as the painter did himself; and that she kept that
knowledge just as close and secret. This woman, therefore, doubtless
possessed information which she might be either entrapped or forced into
communicating. There would be no difficulty about finding out where she
lived; for, on the evening when he had mimicked her, young Thorpe had
said that she kept a dairy and muffin-shop at Rubbleford. To that town,
then, he proposed to journey, in the event of failing in his purpose at
Dibbledean.

And if, by any evil chance, he should end in ascertaining no more from
Mrs. Peckover than from Joanna Grice, what course should he take next?
There would be nothing to be done then, but to return to London--to
try the last great hazard--to discover himself to Mr. Blyth, come what
might, with the Hair Bracelet to vouch for him in his hand.

These were his thoughts, as he sat alone in the lodging in Kirk
Street. At night, they had ended in the fatal consolation of the brandy
bottle--in the desperate and solitary excess, which had so cheated him
of his self-control, that the lurking taint which his life among the
savages had left in his disposition, and the deadly rancor which his
recent discovery of his sister’s fate had stored up in his heart,
escaped from concealment, and betrayed themselves in that half-drunken,
half-sober occupation of scouring the rifle-barrel, which it had so
greatly amazed Zack to witness, and which the lad had so suddenly and
strangely suspended by his few chance words of sympathizing reference to
Mary’s death.

But, in the morning, Mat’s head was clear, and his dangerous instincts
were held once more under cunning control. In the morning, therefore, he
declined explaining himself to young Thorpe, and started quietly for the
country by the first train.

On being set down at the Dibbledean Station, Mat lingered a little and
looked about him, just as he had lingered and looked on the occasion of
his first visit. He subsequently took the same road to the town which he
had then taken; and, on gaining the church, stopped, as he had formerly
stopped, at the churchyard-gate.

This time, however, he seemed to have no intention of passing the
entrance--no intention, indeed, of doing anything, unless standing
vacantly by the gate, and mechanically swinging it backwards and
forwards with both his hands, can be considered in the light of an
occupation. As for the churchyard, he hardly looked at it now. There
were two or three people, at a little distance, walking about among
the graves, who it might have been thought would have attracted his
attention; but he never took the smallest notice of them. He was
evidently meditating about something, for he soon began to talk to
himself--being, like most men who have passed much of their time in
solitude, unconsciously in the habit of thinking aloud.

“I wonder how many year ago it is, since she and me used to swing
back’ards and for’ards on this,” he said, still pushing the gate slowly
to and fro. “The hinges used to creak then. They go smooth enough now.
Oiled, I suppose.” As he said this, he moved his hands from the bar on
which they rested, and turned away to go on to the town; but stopped,
and walking back to the gate, looked attentively at its hinges--“Ah,” he
said, “not oiled. New.”

“New,” he repeated, walking slowly towards the High Street--“new since
my time, like everything else here. I wish I’d never come back--I wish
to God I’d never come back!”

On getting into the town, he stopped at the same place where he had
halted on his first visit to Dibbledean, to look up again, as he had
looked then, at the hosier’s shop which had once belonged to Joshua
Grice. Here, those visible and tangible signs and tokens which he
required to stimulate his sluggish memory, were not very easy to
recognize. Though the general form of his father’s old house was
still preserved, the re-painting and renovating of the whole front had
somewhat altered it, in its individual parts, to his eyes. He looked up
and down at the gables, and all along from window to window; and shook
his head discontentedly.

“New again here,” he said. “I can’t make out for certain which winder it
was Mary and me broke between us, when I come away from school, the year
afore I went to sea. Whether it was Mary that broke the winder, and me
that took the blame,” he continued, slowly pursuing his way--“or whether
it was her that took the blame, and me that broke the winder, I can’t
rightly call to mind. And no great wonder neither, if I’ve forgot such
a thing as that, when I can’t even fix it for certain, yet, whether she
used to wear her Hair Bracelet or not, while I was at home.”

Communing with himself in this way, he reached the turning that led to
Joanna Grice’s cottage.

His thoughts had thus far been straying away idly and uninterruptedly
to the past. They were now recalled abruptly to present emergencies by
certain unexpected appearances which met his eye, the moment he looked
down the lane along which he was walking.

He remembered this place as having struck him by its silence and its
loneliness, on the occasion of his first visit to Dibbledean. He now
observed with some surprise that it was astir with human beings, and
noisy with the clamor of gossiping tongues. All the inhabitants of the
cottages on either side of the road were out in their front gardens.
All the townspeople who ought to have been walking about the principal
streets, seemed to be incomprehensibly congregated in this one narrow
little lane. What were they assembled here to do? What subject was it
that men and women--and even children as well--were all eagerly talking
about?

Without waiting to hear, without questioning anybody, without appearing
to notice that he was stared at (as indeed all strangers are in rural
England), as if he were walking about among a breeched and petticoated
people in the character of a savage with nothing but war paint on him,
Mat steadily and rapidly pursued his way down the lane to Joanna Grice’s
cottage. “Time enough,” thought he, “to find out what all this means,
when I’ve got quietly into the house I’m bound for.” As he approached
the cottage, he saw, standing at the gate, what looked, to his eyes,
like two coaches--one, very strange in form: both very remarkable in
color. All about the coaches stood solemn-looking gentlemen; and all
about the solemn-looking gentlemen, circled inquisitively and excitably,
the whole vagabond boy-and-girl population of Dibbledean.

Amazed, and even bewildered (though he hardly knew why) by what he saw,
Mat hastened on to the cottage. Just as he arrived at the garden paling,
the door opened, and from the inside of the dwelling there protruded
slowly into the open air a coffin carried on four men’s shoulders, and
covered with a magnificent black velvet pall.

Mat stopped the moment he saw the coffin, and struck his hand violently
on the paling by his side. “Dead!” he exclaimed under his breath.

“A friend of the late Miss Grice’s?” asked a gently inquisitive voice
near him.

He did not hear. All his attention was fixed on the coffin, as it was
borne slowly over the garden path. Behind it walked two gentlemen,
mournfully arrayed in black cloaks and hat-bands. They carried white
handkerchiefs in their hands, and used them to wipe--not their eyes--but
their lips, on which the balmy dews of recent wine-drinking glistened
gently.

“Dix, and Nawby--the medical attendant of the deceased, and the
solicitor who is her sole executor,” said the voice near Mat, in tones
which had ceased to be gently inquisitive, and had become complacently
explanatory instead. “That’s Millbury the undertaker, and the other is
Gutteridge of the White Hart Inn, his brother-in-law, who supplies the
refreshments, which in my opinion makes a regular job of it,” continued
the voice, as two red-faced gentlemen followed the doctor and the
lawyer. “Something like a funeral, this! Not a halfpenny less than
forty pound, I should say, when it’s all paid for. Beautiful, ain’t it?”
 concluded the voice, becoming gently inquisitive again.

Still Mat kept his eyes fixed on the funeral proceedings in front, and
took not the smallest notice of the pertinacious speaker behind him.

The coffin was placed in the hearse. Dr. Dix and Mr. Nawby entered
the mourning coach provided for them. The smug human vultures who prey
commercially on the civilized dead, arranged themselves, with black
wands, in solemn Undertakers’ order of procession on either side of
the funeral vehicles. Those clumsy pomps of feathers and velvet, of
strutting horses and marching mutes, which are still permitted among us
to desecrate with grotesquely-shocking fiction the solemn fact of death,
fluttered out in their blackest state grandeur and showed their most
woeful state paces, as the procession started magnificently with its
meager offering of one dead body more to the bare and awful grave.

When Mary Grice died, a fugitive and an outcast, the clown’s wife and
the Irish girl who rode in the circus wept for her, stranger though she
was, as they followed her coffin to the poor corner of the churchyard.
When Joanna Grice died in the place of her birth, among the townspeople
with whom her whole existence had been passed, every eye was tearless
that looked on her funeral procession; the two strangers who made part
of it, gossiped pleasantly as they rode after the hearse about the news
of the morning; and the sole surviving member of her family, whom chance
had brought to her door on her burial-day, stood aloof from the hired
mourners, and moved not a step to follow her to the grave.

No: not a step. The hearse rolled on slowly towards the churchyard, and
the sight-seers in the lane followed it; but Matthew Grice stood by the
garden paling, at the place where he had halted from the first. What was
her death to him? Nothing but the loss of his first chance of tracing
Arthur Carr. Tearlessly and pitilessly she had left it to strangers to
bury her brother’s daughter; and now, tearlessly and pitilessly, there
stood her brother’s son, leaving it to strangers to bury _her._

“Don’t you mean to follow to the churchyard, and see the last of it?”
 inquired the same inquisitive voice, which had twice already endeavored
to attract Mat’s attention.

He turned round this time to look at the speaker, and confronted
a wizen, flaxen-haired, sharp-faced man, dressed in a jaunty
shooting-jacket, carrying a riding-cane in his hand, and having a
thorough-bred black-and-tan terrier in attendance at his heels.

“Excuse me asking the question,” said the wizen man; “but I noticed how
dumbfoundered you were when you saw the coffin come out. ‘A friend of
the deceased,’ I thought to myself directly--”

“Well,” interrupted Mat, gruffly, “suppose I am; what then?”

“Will you oblige me by putting this in your pocket?” asked the wizen
man, giving Mat a card. “My name’s Tatt, and I’ve recently started
in practice here as a solicitor. I don’t want to ask any improper
questions, but, being a friend of the deceased, you may perhaps have
some claim on the estate; in which case, I should feel proud to take
care of your interests. It isn’t strictly professional, I know, to be
touting for the chance of a client in this way; but I’m obliged to do it
in self-defense. Dix, Nawby, Millbury, and Gutteridge, all play into one
another’s hands, and want to monopolize among ‘em the whole Doctoring,
Lawyering, Undertaking, and Licensed Victualling business of Dibbledean.
I’ve made up my mind to break down Nawby’s monopoly, and keep as much
business out of his office as I can. That’s why I take time by the
forelock, and give you my card.” Here Mr. Tatt left off explaining, and
began to play with his terrier.

Mat looked up thoughtfully at Joanna Grice’s cottage. Might she not, in
all probability, have left some important letters behind her? And, if
he mentioned who he was, could not the wizen man by his side help him to
get at them?

“A good deal of mystery about the late Miss Grice,” resumed Mr. Tatt,
still playing with the terrier. “Nobody but Dix and Nawby can tell
exactly when she died, or how she’s left her money. Queer family
altogether. (Rats, Pincher! where are the rats?) There’s a son of old
Grice’s, who has never, they say, been properly accounted for. (Hie,
boy! there’s a cat! hie after her, Pincher!) If he was only to turn up
now, I believe, between ourselves, it would put such a spoke in Nawby’s
wheel--”

“I may have a question or two to ask you one of these days,” interposed
Mat, turning away from the garden paling at last. While his new
acquaintance had been speaking, he had been making up his mind that he
should best serve his purpose of tracing Arthur Carr, by endeavoring
forthwith to get all the information that Mrs. Peckover might be able to
afford him. In the event of this resource proving useless, there would
be plenty of time to return to Dibbledean, discover himself to Mr. Tatt,
and ascertain whether the law would not give to Joshua Grice’s son the
right of examining Joanna Grice’s papers.

“Come to my office,” cried Mr. Tatt, enthusiastically. “I can give you
a prime bit of Stilton, and as good a glass of bitter beer as ever you
drank in your life.”

Mat declined this hospitable invitation peremptorily, and set forth at
once on his return to the station. All Mr. Tatt’s efforts to engage
him for an “early day,” and an “appointed hour,” failed. He would only
repeat, doggedly, that at some future time he might have a question or
two to ask about a matter of law, and that his new acquaintance should
then be the man to whom he would apply for information.

They wished each other “good morning” at the entrance of the lane,--Mr.
Tatt lounging slowly up the High Street, with his terrier at his heels;
and Mat walking rapidly in the contrary direction, on his way back to
the railway station.

As he passed the churchyard, the funeral procession had just arrived
at its destination, and the bearers were carrying the coffin from the
hearse to the church door. He stopped a little by the road-side to see
it go in. “She was no good to anybody about her, all her lifetime,” he
thought bitterly, as the last heavy fold of the velvet pall was lost to
view in the darkness of the church entrance. “But if she’d only lived a
day or two longer, she might have been of some good to me. There’s more
of what I wanted to know nailed down along with her in that coffin, than
ever I’m likely to find out anywhere else. It’s a long hunt of mine,
this is--a long hunt on a dull scent; and her death has made it duller.”
 With this farewell thought, he turned from the church.

As he pursued his way back to the railroad, he took Jane Holdsworth’s
letter out of his pocket, and looked at the hair enclosed in it. It was
the fourth or fifth time he had done this during the few hours that
had passed since he had possessed himself of Mary’s Bracelet. From
that period there had grown within him a vague conviction, that the
possession of Carr’s hair might in some way lead to the discovery of
Carr himself. He knew perfectly well that there was not the slightest
present or practical use in examining this hair, and yet, there was
something that seemed to strengthen him afresh in his purpose, to
encourage him anew after his unexpected check at Dibbledean, merely
in the act of looking at it. “If I can’t track him no other way,” he
muttered, replacing the hair in his pocket, “I’ve got the notion into my
head, somehow, that I shall track him by this.”

Mat found it no very easy business to reach Rubbleford. He had to go
back a little way on the Dibbledean line, then to diverge by a branch
line, and then to get upon another main line, and travel along it some
distance before he reached his destination. It was dark by the time
he reached Rubbleford. However, by inquiring of one or two people, he
easily found the dairy and muffin-shop when he was once in the town;
and saw, to his great delight, that it was not shut up for the night. He
looked in at the window, under a plaster cast of a cow, and observed
by the light of one tallow candle burning inside, a chubby, buxom girl
sitting at the counter, and either drawing or writing something on a
slate. Entering the shop, after a moment or two of hesitation, he asked
if he could see Mrs. Peckover.

“Mother went away, sir, three days ago, to nurse uncle Bob at Bangbury,”
 answered the girl.

(Here was a second check--a second obstacle to defer the tracing of
Arthur Carr! It seemed like a fatality!)

“When do you expect her back?” asked Mat.

“Not for a week or ten days, sir,” answered the girl. “Mother said she
wouldn’t have gone, but for uncle Bob being her only brother, and not
having wife or child to look after him at Bangbury.”

_(Bangbury!_--Where had he heard that name before?)

“Father’s up at the rectory, sir,” continued the girl, observing that
the stranger looked both disappointed and puzzled. “If it’s dairy
business you come upon, I can attend to it; but it’s anything about
accounts to settle, mother said they were to be sent on to her.”

“Maybe I shall have a letter to send your mother,” said Mat, after a
moment’s consideration. “Can you write me down on a bit of paper where
she is?”

“Oh, yes, sir.” And the girl very civilly and readily wrote in her best
round hand, on a slip of bill-paper, this address:--“Martha Peckover, at
Rob: Randle, 2 Dawson’s Buildings, Bangbury.”

Mat absently took the slip of paper from her, and put it into his
pocket; then thanked the girl, and went out. While he was inside the
shop, he had been trying in vain to call to mind where he had heard
the name of Bangbury before: the moment he was in the street, the lost
remembrance came back to him. Surely, Bangbury was the place where
Joanna Grice had told him that Mary was buried!

After walking a few paces, he came to a large linen-draper’s shop, with
plenty of light in the window. Stopping here, he hastily drew from his
pocket the manuscript containing the old woman’s “Justification” of
her conduct; for he wished to be certain about the accuracy of his
recollection, and he had an idea that the part of the Narrative which
mentioned Mary’s death would help to decide him in his present doubt.

Yes! on turning to the last page, there it was written in so many
words: “I sent, by a person I could depend on, money enough to bury her
decently in Bangbury churchyard.”

“I’ll go there to-night,” said Mat to himself, thrusting the letter into
his pocket, and taking the way back to the railway station immediately.



CHAPTER XIV. MARY’S GRAVE.

Matthew Grice was a resolute traveler; but no resolution is powerful
enough to alter the laws of inexorable Time-Tables to suit the
convenience of individual passengers. Although Mat left Rubbleford
in less than an hour after he had arrived there, he only succeeded in
getting half way to Bangbury, before he had to stop for the night, and
wait at an intermediate station for the first morning train on what was
termed the Trunk Line. By this main railroad he reached his destination
early in the forenoon, and went at once to Dawson’s Buildings.

“Mrs. Peckover has just stepped out, sir--Mr. Randle being a little
better this morning--for a mouthful of fresh air. She’ll be in again in
half-an-hour,” said the maid-of-all-work who opened Mr. Randle’s door.

Mat began to suspect that something more than mere accident was
concerned in keeping Mrs. Peckover and himself asunder. “I’ll come again
in half-an-hour,” he said--then added, just as the servant was about to
shut the door:--“Which is my way to the church?”

Bangbury church was close at hand, and the directions he received for
finding it were easy to follow. But when he entered the churchyard, and
looked about him anxiously to see where he should begin searching for
his sister’s grave, his head grew confused, and his heart began to fail
him. Bangbury was a large town, and rows and rows of tombstones seemed
to fill the churchyard bewilderingly in every visible direction.

At a little distance a man was at work opening a grave, and to him
Mat applied for help; describing his sister as a stranger who had been
buried somewhere in the churchyard better than twenty years ago. The man
was both stupid and surly, and would give no advice, except that it was
useless to look near where he was digging, for they were all respectable
townspeople buried about there.

Mat walked round to the other side of the church. Here the graves were
thicker than ever; for here the poor were buried. He went on slowly
through them, with his eyes fixed on the ground, towards some trees
which marked the limits of the churchyard; looking out for a place to
begin his search in, where the graves might be comparatively few, and
where his head might not get confused at the outset. Such a place he
found at last, in a damp corner under the trees. About this spot the
thin grass languished; the mud distilled into tiny water-pools; and the
brambles, briars, and dead leaves lay thickly and foully between a few
ragged turf-mounds. Could they have laid her here? Could this be the
last refuge to which Mary ran after she fled from home?

A few of the mounds had stained moldering tomb-stones at their heads.
He looked at these first; and finding only strange names on them, turned
next to the mounds marked out by cross-boards of wood. At one of the
graves the cross-board had been torn, or had rotted away, from its
upright supports, and lay on the ground weather-stained and split, but
still faintly showing that it had once had a few letters cut in it. He
examined this board to begin with, and was trying to make out what the
letters were, when the sound of some one approaching disturbed him. He
looked up, and saw a woman walking slowly towards the place where he was
standing.

It was Mrs. Peckover herself! She had taken a prescription for her sick
brother to the chemist’s--had bought him one or two little things he
wanted in the High Street--and had now, before resuming her place at his
bedside, stolen a few minutes to go and look at the grave of Madonna’s
mother. It was many, many years since Mrs. Peckover had last paid a
visit to Bangbury churchyard.

She stopped and hesitated when she first caught sight of Mat; but, after
a moment or two, not being a woman easily baulked in anything when she
had once undertaken to do it, continued to advance, and never paused
for the second time until she had come close to the grave by which Mat
stood, and was looking him steadily in the face, exactly across it.

He was the first to speak. “Do you know whose grave this is?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” answered Mrs. Peckover, glancing indignantly at the broken
board and the mud and brambles all about it. “Yes, sir, I _do_ know;
and, what’s more, I know that it’s a disgrace to the parish. Money has
been paid twice over to keep it decent; and look what a state it’s left
in!”

“I asked you whose grave it was,” repeated Mat, impatiently.

“A poor, unfortunate, forsaken creature’s, who’s gone to Heaven if ever
an afflicted, repenting woman went there yet!” answered Mrs. Peckover,
warmly.

“Forsaken? Afflicted? A woman, too?” Mat repeated to himself,
thoughtfully.

“Yes, forsaken and afflicted,” cried Mrs. Peckover, overhearing him.
“Don’t you say no ill of her, whoever you are. She shan’t be spoken
unkindly of in my hearing, poor soul!”

Mat looked up suddenly and eagerly. “What’s your name?” he inquired.

“My name’s Peckover, and I’m not ashamed of it,” was the prompt reply.
“And, now, if I may make so bold, what’s yours?”

Mat took from his pocket the Hair Bracelet, and, fixing his eyes
intently on her face, held it up, across the grave, for her to look at.
“Do you know this?” he said.

Mrs. Peckover stooped forward, and closely inspected the Bracelet for
a minute or two. “Lord save us!” she exclaimed, recognizing it, and
confronting him with cheeks that had suddenly become colorless, and eyes
that stared in terror and astonishment. “Lord save us! how did you come
by that? And who for mercy’s sake are you?”

“My name’s Matthew Grice,” he answered quickly and sternly. “This
Bracelet belonged to my sister, Mary Grice. She run away from home, and
died, and was buried in Bangbury churchyard. If you know her grave, tell
me in plain words--is it here?”

Breathless as she was with astonishment, Mrs. Peckover managed to
stammer a faint answer in the affirmative, and to add that the initials,
“M. G.,” would be found somewhere on the broken board lying at their
feet. She then tried to ask a question or two in her turn; but the words
died away in faint exclamations of surprise. “To think of me and you
meeting together!” was all she could say;--“her own brother, too! Oh! to
think of that!--only to think of that!”

Mat looked down at the mud, the brambles, and the rotting grass that
lay over what had once been a living and loving human creature. The
dangerous brightness glittered in his eyes, the cold change spread fast
over his cheeks, and the scars of the arrow-wounds began to burn redly
and more redly, as he whispered to himself--“I’ll be even yet, Mary,
with the man who laid you here!”

“Does Mr. Blyth know who you are, sir?” asked Mrs. Peckover, hesitating
and trembling as she put this question. “Did he give you the Bracelet?”

She stopped. Mat was not listening to her. His eyes were fastened on the
grave: he was still talking to himself in quick whispering tones.

“Her Bracelet was hid from me in another man’s chest,” he said--“I’ve
found her Bracelet. Her child was hid from me in another man’s
house--I’ve found her child. Her grave was hid from me in a strange
churchyard--I’ve found her grave. The man who laid her in it is hid from
me still--I shall find _him!”_

“Please do listen to me, sir, for one moment,” pleaded Mrs. Peckover,
more nervously than before. _“Does_ Mr. Blyth know about you? And little
Mary--oh, sir, whatever you do, pray, pray don’t take her away from
where she is now! You can’t mean to do that, sir, though you are her own
mother’s brother? You can’t, surely?”

He looked up at her so quickly, with such a fierce, steady,
serpent-glitter in his light-grey eyes, that she recoiled a step or two;
still pleading, however, with desperate perseverance for an answer to
her last question.

“Only tell me, sir, that you don’t mean to take little Mary away, and I
won’t ask you to say so much as another word! You’ll leave her with Mr.
and Mrs. Blyth, won’t you, sir? For your sister’s sake, you’ll leave her
with the poor bed-ridden lady that’s been like a mother to her for so
many years past?--for your dear, lost sister’s sake, that I was with
when she died--”

“Tell me about her.” He said those few words with surprising gentleness,
as Mrs. Peckover thought, for such a rough-looking man.

“Yes, yes, all you want to know,” she answered. “But I can’t stop here.
There’s my brother--I’ve got such a turn with seeing you, it’s almost
put him out of my head--there’s my brother, that I must go back to, and
see if he’s asleep still. You just please to come along with me, and
wait in the parlor--it’s close by--while I step upstairs--” (Here she
stopped in great confusion. It seemed like running some desperate risk
to, ask this strange, stern-featured relation of Mary Grice’s into
her brother’s house.) “And yet,” thought Mrs. Peckover, “if I can only
soften his heart by telling him about his poor unfortunate sister, it
may make him all the readier to leave little Mary--”

At this point her perplexities were cut short by Matthew himself, who
said, shortly, that he had been to Dawson’s Buildings already to look
after her. On hearing this, she hesitated no longer. It was too late to
question the propriety or impropriety of admitting him now.

“Come away, then,” she said; “don’t let’s wait no longer. And don’t
fret about the infamous state they’ve left things in here,” she added,
thinking to propitiate him, as she saw his eyes turn once more at
parting, on the broken board and the brambles around the grave. “I know
where to go, and who to speak to--”

“Go nowhere, and speak to nobody,” he broke in sternly, to her great
astonishment. “All what’s got to be done to it, I mean to do myself.”

“You!”

“Yes, me. It was little enough I ever did for her while she was alive;
and it’s little enough now, only to make things look decent about the
place where she’s buried. But I mean to do that much for her; and no
other man shall stir a finger to help me.”

Roughly as it was spoken, this speech made Mrs. Peckover feel easier
about Madonna’s prospects. The hard-featured man was, after all, not so
hard-hearted as she had thought him at first. She even ventured to
begin questioning him again, as they walked together towards Dawson’s
Buildings.

He varied very much in his manner of receiving her inquiries, replying
to some promptly enough, and gruffly refusing, in the plainest terms, to
give a word of answer to others.

He was quite willing, for example, to admit that he had procured her
temporary address at Bangbury from her daughter at Rubbleford; but he
flatly declined to inform her how he had first found out that she lived
at Rubbleford at all. Again, he readily admitted that neither Madonna
nor Mr. Blyth knew who he really was; but he refused to say why he had
not disclosed himself to them, or when he intended--if he ever intended
at all--to inform them that he was the brother of Mary Grice. As to
getting him to confess in what manner he had become possessed of the
Hair Bracelet, Mrs. Peckover’s first question about it, although only
answered by a look, was received in such a manner as to show her that
any further efforts on her part in that direction would be perfectly
fruitless.

On one side of the door, at Dawson’s Buildings, was Mr. Randle’s shop;
and on the other was Mr. Randle’s little dining parlor. In this room
Mrs. Peckover left Mat, while she went up stairs to see if her sick
brother wanted anything. Finding that he was still quietly sleeping, she
only waited to arrange the bed-clothes comfortably about him, and to put
a hand-bell easily within his reach in case he should awake, and then
went down stairs again immediately.

She found Mat sitting with his elbows on the one little table in the
dining-parlor, his head resting on his hands. Upon the table lying by
the side of the Bracelet, was the lock of hair out of Jane Holdsworth’s
letter, which he had yet once more taken from his pocket to look at.
“Why, mercy on me!” cried Mrs. Peckover, glancing at it, “surely it’s
the same hair that’s worked into the Bracelet! Wherever, for goodness
sake, did you get that?”

“Never mind where I got it. Do you know whose hair it is? Look a little
closer. The man this hair belonged to was the man she trusted in--and he
laid her in the churchyard for her pains.”

“Oh! who was he? who was he?” asked Mrs. Peckover, eagerly

“Who was he?” repeated Matthew, sternly. “What do you mean by asking me
that?”

“I only mean that I never heard a word about the villain--I don’t so
much as know his name.”

“You don’t?” He fastened his eyes suspiciously on her as he said those
two words.

“No; as true as I stand here I don’t. Why, I didn’t even know that your
poor dear sister’s name was Grice till you told me.”

His look of suspicion began to change to a look of amazement as he heard
this. He hurriedly gathered up the Bracelet and the lock of hair, and
put them into his pocket again.

“Let’s hear first how you met with her,” he said. “I’ll have a word or
two about the other matter afterwards.”

Mrs. Peckover sat down near him, and began to relate the mournful story
which she had told to Valentine, and Doctor and Mrs. Joyce, now many
years ago, in the Rectory dining-room. But on this occasion she was
not allowed to go through her narrative uninterruptedly. While she was
speaking the few simple words which told how she had sat down by the
road-side, and suckled the half-starved infant of the forsaken and dying
Mary Grice, Mat suddenly reached out his heavy, trembling hand, and took
fast hold of hers. He griped it with such force that, stout-hearted and
hardy as she was, she cried out in alarm and pain, “Oh, don’t! you hurt
me--you hurt me!”

He dropped her hand directly, and turned his face away from her; his
breath quickening painfully, his fingers fastening on the side of his
chair, as if some great pang of oppression were trying him to the quick.
She rose and asked anxiously what ailed him; but, even as the words
passed her lips, he mastered himself with that iron resolution of his
which few trials could bend, and none break, and motioned to her to sit
down again.

“Don’t mind me,” he said; “I’m old and tough-hearted with being battered
about in the world, and I can’t give myself vent nohow with talking or
crying like the rest of you. Never mind; it’s all over now. Go on.”

She complied, a little nervously at first; but he did not interrupt her
again. He listened while she proceeded, looking straight at her; not
speaking or moving--except when he winced once or twice, as a man winces
under unexpected pain, while Mary’s death-bed words were repeated to
him. Having reached this stage of her narrative, Mrs. Peckover added
little more; only saying, in conclusion: “I took care of the poor soul’s
child, as I said I would; and did my best to behave like a mother to
her, till she got to be ten year old; then I give her up--because it was
for her own good--to Mr. Blyth.”

He did not seem to notice the close of the narrative. The image of the
forsaken girl, sitting alone by the roadside, with her child’s
natural sustenance dried up within her--travel-worn, friendless, and
desperate--was still uppermost in his mind; and when he next spoke,
gratitude for the help that had been given to Mary in her last sore
distress was the one predominant emotion, which strove roughly to
express itself to Mrs. Peck over in these words:

“Is there any living soul you care about that a trifle of money would
do a little good to?” he asked, with such abrupt eagerness that she was
quite startled by it.

“Lord bless me!” she exclaimed, “what do you mean? What has that got to
do with your poor sister, or Mr. Blyth?”

“It’s got this to do,” burst out Matthew, starting to his feet, as the
struggling gratitude within him stirred body and soul both together;
“you turned to and helped Mary when she hadn’t nobody else in the world
to stand by her. She was always father’s darling--but father couldn’t
help her then; and I was away on the wrong side of the sea, and couldn’t
be no good to her neither. But I’m on the right side, now; and if
there’s any friends of yours, north, south, east, or west, as would be
happier for a trifle of money, here’s all mine; catch it, and give it
‘em.” (He tossed his beaver-skin roll, with the bank-notes in it, into
Mrs. Peckover’s lap.) “Here’s my two hands, that I dursn’t take a holt
of yours with, for fear of hurting you again; here’s my two hands that
can work along with any man’s. Only give ‘em something to do for you,
that’s all! Give ‘em something to make or mend, I don’t care what--”

“Hush! hush!” interposed Mrs. Peckover; “don’t be so dreadful noisy,
there’s a good man! or you’ll wake my brother up stairs. And, besides,
where’s the use to make such a stir about what I done for your sister?
Anybody else would have took as kindly to her as I did, seeing what
distress she was in, poor soul! Here,” she continued, handing him back
the beaver-skin roll; “here’s your money, and thank you for the offer
of it. Put it up safe in your pocket again. We manage to keep our heads
above water, thank God! and don’t want to do no better than that. Put
it up in your pocket again, and then I’ll make bold to ask you for
something else.”

“For what?” inquired Mat, looking her eagerly in the face.

“Just for this: that you’ll promise not to take little Mary from Mr.
Blyth. Do, pray do promise me you won’t.”

“I never thought to take her away,” he answered. “Where should I take
her to? What can a lonesome old vagabond, like me, do for her? If she’s
happy where she is--let her stop where she is.”

“Lord bless you for saying that!” fervently exclaimed Mrs. Peckover,
smiling for the first time, and smoothing out her gown over her knees
with an air of inexpressible relief. “I’m rid of my grand fright now,
and getting to breathe again freely, which I haven’t once yet been able
to do since I first set eyes on you. Ah! you’re rough to look at; but
you’ve got your feelings like the rest of us. Talk away now as much as
you like. Ask me about anything you please--”

“What’s the good?” he broke in, gloomily. “You don’t know what I wanted
you to know. I come down here for to find out the man as once owned
this,”--he pulled the lock of hair out of his pocket again--“and you
can’t help me. I didn’t believe it when you first said so, but I do
now.”

“Well, thank you for saying that much; though you might have put it
civiler--”

“His name was Arthur Carr. Did you never hear tell of anybody with the
name of Arthur Carr?”

“No: never--never till this very moment.”

“The Painter-man will know,” continued Mat, talking more to himself than
to Mrs. Peckover. “I must go back, and chance it with the Painter-man,
after all.”

“Painter-man?” repeated Mrs. Peckover. “Painter? Surely you don’t mean
Mr. Blyth?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why, what in the name of fortune can you be thinking of! How should Mr.
Blyth know more than me? He never set eyes on little Mary till she was
ten year old; and he knows nothing about her poor unfortunate mother
except what I told him.”

These words seemed at first to stupefy Mat: they burst upon him in the
shape of a revelation for which he was totally unprepared. It had never
once occurred to him to doubt that Valentine was secretly informed
of all that he most wished to know. He had looked forward to what the
painter might be persuaded--or, in the last resort, forced--to tell him,
as the one certainty on which he might finally depend; and here was this
fancied security exposed, in a moment, as the wildest delusion that ever
man trusted in! What resource was left? To return to Dibbledean, and,
by the legal help of Mr. Tatt, to possess himself of any fragments of
evidence which Joanna Grice might have left behind her in writing?
This seemed but a broken reed to depend on; and yet nothing else now
remained.

“I shall find him! I don’t care where he’s hid away from me, I shall
find him yet,” thought Mat, still holding with dogged and desperate
obstinacy to his first superstition, in spite of every fresh sign that
appeared to confute it.

“Why worrit yourself about finding Arthur Carr at all?” pursued Mrs.
Peckover, noticing his perplexed and mortified expression. “The wretch
is dead, most likely, by this time--”

“I’m not dead!” retorted Mat, fiercely; “and you’re not dead; and you
and me are as old as him. Don’t tell me he’s dead again! I say he’s
alive; and, by God, I’ll be even with him!”

“Oh, don’t talk so, don’t! It’s shocking to hear you and see you,” said
Mrs. Peckover, recoiling from the expression of his eye at that moment,
just as she had recoiled from it already over Mary’s grave. “Suppose he
is alive, why should you go taking vengeance into your own hands after
all these years? Your poor sister’s happy in heaven; and her child’s
took care of by the kindest people, I do believe, that ever drew breath
in this world. Why should you want to be even with him now? If he hasn’t
been punished already, I’ll answer for it he will be--in the next world,
if not in this. Don’t talk about it, or think about it any more, that’s
a good man! Let’s be friendly and pleasant together again--like we were
just now--for Mary’s sake. Tell me where you’ve been to all these years.
How is it you’ve never turned up before? Come! tell me, do.”

She ended by speaking to him in much the same tone which she would have
made use of to soothe a fractious child. But her instinct as a woman
guided her truly: in venturing on that little reference to “Mary,” she
had not ventured in vain. It quieted him, and turned aside the current
of his thoughts into the better and smoother direction. “Didn’t she
never talk to you about having a brother as was away aboard ship?” he
asked, anxiously.

“No. She wouldn’t say a word about any of her friends, and she didn’t
say a word about you. But how did you come to be so long away?--that’s
what I want to know,” said Mrs. Peckover, pertinaciously repeating her
question, partly out of curiosity, partly out of the desire to keep him
from returning to the dangerous subject of Arthur Carr.

“I was alway a bitter bad ‘un, _I_ was,” said Matthew, meditatively.
“There was no keeping of me straight, try it anyhow you like. I bolted
from home, I bolted from school, I bolted from aboard ship--”

“Why? What for?”

“Partly because I was a bitter bad ‘un, and partly because of a letter
I picked up in port, at the Brazils, at the end of a long cruise. Here’s
the letter--but it’s no good showing it to you: the paper’s so grimed
and tore about, you can’t read it.”

“Who wrote it? Mary?”

“No: father--saying what had happened to Mary, and telling me not to
come back home till things was pulled straight again. Here--here’s what
he said--under the big grease-spot. ‘If you can get continued employment
anywhere abroad, accept it instead of coming back. Better for you,
at your age, to be spared the sight of such sorrow as we are now
suffering.’ Do you see that?”

“Yes, yes, I see. Ah! poor man! he couldn’t give no kinder better
advice; and you--”

“Deserted from my ship. The devil was in me to be off on the tramp, and
father’s letter did the rest. I got wild and desperate with the thought
of what had happened to Mary, and with knowing they were ashamed to see
me back again at home. So the night afore the ship sailed for England
I slipped into a shore-boat, and turned my back on salt-junk and the
boatswain’s mate for the rest of my life.”

“You don’t mean to say you’ve done nothing but wander about in foreign
parts from that time to this?”

“I do, though! I’d a notion I should be shot for a deserter if I turned
up too soon in my own country. That kep’ me away for ever so long, to
begin with. Then tramps’ fever got into my head; and there was an end of
it.”

“Tramps’ fever! Mercy on me! what do you mean?”

“I mean this: when a man turns gypsy on his own account, as I did, and
tramps about through cold and hot, and winter and summer, not caring
where he goes or what becomes of him, that sort of life ends by getting
into his head, just like liquor does--except that it don’t get out
again. It got into my head. It’s in it new. Tramps’ fever kep’ me away
in the wild country. Tramps’ fever will take me back there afore long.
Tramps’ fever will lay me down, some day, in the lonesome places, with
my hand on my rifle and my face to the sky; and I shan’t get up again
till the crows and vultures come and carry me off piecemeal.”

“Lord bless us! how can you talk about yourself in that way?” cried Mrs.
Peckover, shuddering at the grim image which Mat’s last words suggested.
“You’re trying to make yourself out worse than you are. Surely you must
have thought of your father and sister sometimes--didn’t you?”

“Think of them? Of course I did! But, mind ye, there come a time when I
as good as forgot them altogether. They seemed to get smeared out of my
head--like we used to smear old sums off our slates at school.”

“More shame for you! Whatever else you forgot, you oughtn’t to have
forgotten--”

“Wait a bit. Father’s letter told me--I’d show you the place, only I
know you couldn’t read it--that he was a going to look after Mary, and
bring her back home, and forgive her. He’d done that twice for _me,_
when _I_ run away; so I didn’t doubt but what he’d do it just the same
for _her._ She’ll pull through her scrape with father just as I used to
pull through mine--was what I thought. And so she would, if her own kin
hadn’t turned against her; if father’s own sister hadn’t--” He stopped;
the frown gathered on his brow, and the oath burst from his lips, as he
thought of Joanna Grice’s share in preventing Mary’s restoration to her
home.

“There! there!” interposed Mrs. Peckover, soothingly. “Talk about
something pleasanter. Let’s hear how you come back to England.”

“I can’t rightly fix it when Mary first begun to drop out of my head
like,” Mat continued, abstractedly pursuing his previous train of
recollections. “I used to think of her often enough, when I started for
my run in the wild country. That was the time, mind ye, when I had clear
notions about coming back home. I got her a scarlet pouch and another
feather plaything then, knowing she was fond of knick-knacks, and making
it out in my own mind that we two was sure to meet together again. It
must have been a longish while after that, afore I got ashamed to go
home. But I did get ashamed. Thinks I, ‘I haven’t a rap in my pocket
to show father, after being away all this time. I’m getting summut of a
savage to look at already; and Mary would be more frighted than pleased
to see me as I am now. I’ll wait a bit,’ says I, ‘and see if I can’t
keep from tramping about, and try and get a little money, by doing some
decent sort of work, afore I go home.’ I was nigh about a good ten days’
march then from any seaport where honest work could be got for such
as me; but I’d fixed to try, and I did try, and got work in a
ship-builder’s yard. It wasn’t no good. Tramps’ fever was in my head;
and in two days more I was off again to the wild country, with my gun
over my shoulder, just as damned a vagabond as ever.”

Mrs. Peckover held up her hands in mute amazement. Matthew, without
taking notice of the action, went on, speaking partly to her and partly
to himself.

“It must have been about that time when Mary and father, and all what
had to do with them, begun to drop out of my head. But I kep’ them two
knick-knacks, which was once meant for presents for her--long after I’d
lost all clear notion of ever going back home again, I kep’ ‘em--from
first to last I kep’ ‘em--I can’t hardly say why; unless it was that I’d
got so used to keeping of them that I hadn’t the heart to let ‘em go.
Not, mind ye, but what they mightn’t now and then have set me thinking
of father and Mary at home--at times, you know, when I changed ‘em from
one bag to another, or took and blew the dust off of ‘em, for to keep
‘em as nice as I could. But the older I got, the worse I got at calling
anything to mind in a clear way about Mary and the old country. There
seemed to be a sort of fog rolling up betwixt us now. I couldn’t see her
face clear, in my own mind, no longer. It come upon me once or twice in
dreams, when I nodded alone over my fire after a tough day’s march--it
come upon me at such times so clear, that it startled me up, all in a
cold sweat, wild and puzzled with not knowing at first whether the stars
was shimmering down at me in father’s paddock at Dibbledean, or in the
lonesome places over the sea, hundreds of miles away from any living
soul. But that was only dreams, you know. Waking, I was all astray now,
whenever I fell a-thinking about father or her. The longer I tramped it
over the lonesome places, the thicker that fog got which seemed to have
rose up in my mind between me and them I’d left at home. At last, it
come to darken in altogether, and never lifted no more, that I can
remember, till I crossed the seas again and got back to my own country.”

“But how did you ever think of coming back, after all those years?”
 asked Mrs. Peckover.

“Well, I got a good heap of money, for once in a way, with digging for
gold in California,” he answered; “and my mate that I worked with, he
says to me one day:--‘I don’t see my way to how we are to spend our
money, now we’ve got it, if we stop here. What can we treat ourselves to
in this place, excepting bad brandy and cards? Let’s go over to the old
country, where there ain’t nothing we want that we can’t get for our
money; and, when it’s all gone, let’s turn tail again, and work for
more.’ He wrought upon me, like that, till I went back with him. We
quarreled aboard ship; and when we got into port, he went his way and I
went mine. Not, mind ye, that I started off at once for the old place as
soon as I was ashore. That fog in my mind, I told you of, seemed to lift
a little when I heard my own language, and saw my own country-people’s
faces about me again. And then there come a sort of fear over me--a fear
of going back home at all, after the time I’d been away. I got over
it, though, and went in a day or two. When I first laid my hand on the
churchyard gate that Mary and me used to swing on, and when I looked up
at the old house, with the gable ends just what they used to be
(though the front was new painted, and strange names was over the
shop-door)--then all my time in the wild country seem to shrivel
up somehow, and better than twenty year ago begun to be a’most like
yesterday. I’d seen father’s name in the churchyard--which was no more
than I looked for; but when they told me Mary had never been brought
back, when they said she’d died many a year ago among strange people,
they cut me to the quick.”

“Ah! no wonder, no wonder!”

“It was a wonder to _me,_ though. I should have laughed at any man,
if he’d told me I should be took so at hearing what I heard about her,
after all the time I’d been away. I couldn’t make it out then, and I
can’t now. I didn’t feel like my own man, when I first set eyes on the
old place. And then to hear she was dead--it cut me, as I told you. It
cut me deeper still, when I come to tumble over the things she’d
left behind her in her box. Twenty years ago got nigher and nigher to
yesterday, with every fresh thing belonging to her that I laid a hand
on. There was a arbor in father’s garden she used to be fond of working
in of evenings. I’d lost all thought of that place for more years than
I can reckon up. I called it to mind again--and called _her_ to mind
again, too, sitting and working and singing in the arbor--only with
laying holt of a bit of patchwork stuff in the bottom of her box, with
her needle and thread left sticking in it.”

“Ah, dear, dear!” sighed Mrs. Peckover, “I wish I’d seen her then! She
was as happy, I dare say, as the bird on the tree. But there’s one thing
I can’t exactly make out yet,” she added--“how did you first come to
know all about Mary’s child?”

“All? There wasn’t no _all_ in it, till I see the child herself. Except
knowing that the poor creeter’s baby had been born alive, I knowed
nothing when I first come away from the old place in the country. Child!
I hadn’t nothing of the sort in my mind, when I got back to London.
It was how to track the man as was Mary’s death, that I puzzled and
worrited about in my head, at that time--”

“Yes, yes,” said Mrs. Peckover, interposing to keep him away from the
dangerous subject, as she heard his voice change, and saw his eyes begin
to brighten again. “Yes, yes--but how did you come to see the child?
Tell me that.”

“Zack took me into the Painter-man’s big room--”

“Zack! Why, good gracious Heavens! do you mean Master Zachary Thorpe?”

“I see a young woman standing among a lot of people as was all a staring
at her,” continued Mat, without noticing the interruption. “I see her
just as close to, and as plain, as I see you. I see her look up, all of
a sudden, front face to front face with me. A creeping and a crawling
went through me; and I says to myself, ‘Mary’s child has lived to grow
up, and that’s her.’”

“But, do pray tell me, how ever you come to know Master Zack?”

“I says to myself ‘That’s her,’” repeated Mat, his rough voice sinking
lower and lower, his attention wandering farther and farther away from
Mrs. Peckover’s interruptions. “Twenty year ago had got to be like
yesterday, when I was down at the old place; and things I hadn’t
called to mind for long times past, I called to mind when I come to the
churchyard-gate, and see father’s house. But there was looks Mary had
with her eyes, turns Mary had with her head, bits of twitches Mary had
with her eyebrows when she looked up at you, that I’d clean forgot. They
all come back to me together, as soon as ever I see that young woman’s
face.”

“And do you really never mean to let your sister’s child know who you
are? You may tell me that, surely--though you won’t speak a word about
Master Zack.”

“Let her know who I am? Mayhap I’ll let her know that much, before long.
When I’m going back to the wild country, I may say to her: ‘Rough as I
am to look at, I’m your mother’s brother, and you’re the only bit of my
own flesh and blood I’ve got left to cotton to in all the world. Give us
a shake of your hand, and a kiss for mother’s sake; and I won’t trouble
you no more.’ I _may_ say that, afore I go back, and lose sight of her
for good and all.”

“Oh, but you won’t go back. Only you tell Mr. Blyth you don’t want to
take her away, and then say to him, ‘I’m Mr. Grice, and--’”

“Stop! Don’t you get a-talking about Mr. Grice.”

“Why not? It’s your lawful name, isn’t it?”

“Lawful enough, I dare say. But I don’t like the sound of it, though it
is mine. Father as good as said he was ashamed to own it, when he wrote
me that letter: and I was afraid to own it, when I deserted from my
ship. Bad luck has followed the name from first to last. I ended with it
years ago, and I won’t take up with it again now. Call me ‘Mat.’ Take it
as easy with me as if I was kin to you.”

“Well, then--Mat,” said Mrs. Peckover with a smile. “I’ve got such a
many things to ask you still--”

“I wish you could make it out to ask them to-morrow,” rejoined Matthew.
“I’ve overdone myself already, with more talking than I’m used to. I
want to be quiet with my tongue, and get to work with my hands for the
rest of the day. You don’t happen to have a foot-rule in the house, do
you?”

On being asked to explain what motive could induce him to make this
extraordinary demand for a foot-rule, Mat answered that he was anxious
to proceed at once to the renewal of the cross-board at the head of his
sister’s grave. He wanted the rule to measure the dimensions of the old
board: he desired to be directed to a timber-merchant’s, where he could
buy a new piece of wood; and, after that, he would worry Mrs. Peckover
about nothing more. Extraordinary as his present caprice appeared to
her, the good woman saw that it had taken complete possession of him,
and wisely and willingly set herself to humor it. She procured for him
the rule, and the address of a timber-merchant; and then they parted,
Mat promising to call again in the evening at Dawson’s Buildings.

When he presented himself at the timber-merchant’s, after having
carefully measured the old board in the churchyard, he came in no humor
to be easily satisfied. Never was any fine lady more difficult to decide
about the texture, pattern, and color to be chosen for a new dress,
than Mat, was when he arrived at the timber-merchant’s, about the grain,
thickness, and kind of wood to be chosen for the cross-board at the
head of Mary’s grave. At last, he selected a piece of walnut-wood; and,
having paid the price demanded for it, without any haggling, inquired
next for a carpenter, of whom he might hire a set of tools. A man who
has money to spare, has all things at his command. Before evening,
Mat had a complete set of tools, a dry shed to use them in, and a
comfortable living-room at a public-house near, all at his own sole
disposal.

Being skillful enough at all carpenter’s work of an ordinary kind, he
would, under most circumstances, have completed in a day or two such
an employment as he had now undertaken. But a strange fastidiousness,
a most uncharacteristic anxiety about the smallest matters, delayed him
through every stage of his present undertaking. Mrs. Peckover, who came
every morning to see how he was getting on, was amazed at the slowness
of his progress. He was, from the first, morbidly scrupulous in keeping
the board smooth and clean. After he had shaped it, and fitted it to its
upright supports; after he had cut in it (by Mrs. Peckover’s advice)
the same inscription which had been placed on the old board--the simple
initials “M. G.,” with the year of Mary’s death, “1828”--after he had
done these things, he was seized with an unreasonable, obstinate
fancy for decorating the board at the sides. In spite of all that Mrs.
Peckover could say to prevent him, he carved an anchor at one side, and
a tomahawk at the other--these being the objects with which he was most
familiar, and therefore the objects which he chose to represent. But
even when the carving of his extraordinary ornaments had been completed,
he could not be prevailed on to set the new cross-board up in its
proper place. Fondly as artists or authors linger over their last loving
touches to the picture or the book, did Mat now linger, day after day,
over the poor monument to his sister’s memory, which his own rough hands
had made. He smoothed it carefully with bits of sand-paper, he rubbed it
industriously with leather, he polished it anxiously with oil, until,
at last, Mrs. Peckover lost all patience; and, trusting in the influence
she had already gained over him, fairly insisted on his bringing his
work to a close. Even while obeying her, he was still true to his first
resolution. He had said that no man’s hand should help in the labor he
had now undertaken; and he was as good as his word, for he carried the
cross-board himself to the churchyard.

All this time, he never once looked at that lock of hair which had been
accustomed to take so frequently from his pocket but a few days back.
Perhaps there was nothing in common between the thought of tracing
Arthur Carr, and the thoughts of Mary that came to him while he was at
work on the walnut-wood plank.

But when the cross-board had been set up; when he had cleared away the
mud and brambles about the mound, and had made a smooth little path
round it; when he had looked at his work from all points of view, and
had satisfied himself that he could do nothing more to perfect it, the
active, restless, and violent elements in his nature seemed to awake,
as it were, on a sudden. His fingers began to search again in his pocket
for the fatal lock of hair; and when he and Mrs. Peckover next met, the
first words he addressed to her announced his immediate departure for
Dibbledean.

She had strengthened her hold on his gratitude by getting him
permission, through the Rector of Bangbury, to occupy himself, without
molestation, in the work of repairing his sister’s grave. She had
persuaded him to confide to her many of the particulars concerning
himself which he had refused to communicate at their first interview.
But when she tried, at parting, to fathom what his ultimate intentions
really were, now that he was leaving Bangbury with the avowed purpose
of discovering Arthur Carr, she failed to extract from him a single
sentence of explanation, or even so much as a word of reply. When he
took his farewell, he charged her not to communicate their meeting to
Mr. Blyth, till she heard from him or saw him again; and he tried once
more to thank her in as fit words as he could command, for the pity and
kindness she had shewn towards Mary Grice; but, to the very last, he
closed his lips resolutely on the ominous subject of Arthur Carr.

He had been a fortnight absent from London, when he set forth once more
for Dibbledean, to try that last chance of tracing out the hidden man,
which might be afforded him by a search among the papers of Joanna
Grice.

The astonishment and delight of Mr. Tatt when Matthew, appearing in the
character of a client at the desolate office door, actually announced
himself as the sole surviving son of old Joshua Grice, flowed out in
such a torrent of congratulatory words, that Mat was at first literally
overwhelmed by them. He soon recovered himself, however; and while Mr.
Tatt was still haranguing fluently about proving his client’s identity,
and securing his client’s right of inheritance, silenced the solicitor,
by declaring as bluntly as usual, that he had not come to Dibbledean to
be helped to get hold of money, but to be helped to get hold of
Joanna Grice’s papers. This extraordinary announcement produced a long
explanation and a still longer discussion, in the middle of which
Mat lost his patience, and declared that he would set aside all legal
obstacles and delays forthwith, by going to Mr. Nawby’s office, and
demanding of that gentleman, as the official guardian of the late Miss
Grice’s papers, permission to look over the different documents which
the old woman might have left behind her.

It was to no earthly purpose that Mr. Tatt represented this course
of proceeding as unprofessional, injudicious, against etiquette, and
utterly ruinous, looked at from any point of view. While he was still
expostulating, Matthew was stepping out at the door; and Mr. Tatt, who
could not afford to lose even this most outrageous and unmanageable of
clients, had no other alternative but to make the best of it, and run
after him.

Mr. Nawby was a remarkably lofty, solemn, and ceremonious gentleman,
feeling as bitter a hatred and scorn for Mr. Tatt as it is well possible
for one legal human being to entertain toward another. There is no doubt
that he would have received the irregular visit of which he was now the
object with the most chilling contempt, if he had only been allowed
time to assert his own dignity. But before he could utter a single word,
Matthew, in defiance of all that Mr. Tatt could say to silence him,
first announced himself in his proper character; and then, after
premising that he came to worry nobody about money matters, coolly added
that he wanted to look over the late Joanna Grice’s letters and papers
directly, for a purpose which was not of the smallest consequence to
anyone but himself.

Under ordinary circumstances, Mr. Nawby would have simply declined to
hold any communication with Mat, until his identity had been legally
proved. But the prosperous solicitor of Dibbledean had a grudge against
the audacious adventurer who had set up in practice against him; and he
therefore resolved to depart a little on this occasion from the strictly
professional course, for the express purpose of depriving Mr. Tatt of
as many prospective six-and-eight-pences as possible. Waving his hand
solemnly, when Mat had done speaking, he said: “Wait a moment, sir,”
 then rang a bell and ordered in his head clerk.

“Now, Mr. Scutt,” said Mr. Nawby, loftily addressing the clerk, “have
the goodness to be a witness in the first place, that I protest against
this visit on Mr. Tatt’s part, as being indecorous, unprofessional, and
unbusiness-like. In the second place, be a witness, also, that I do not
admit the identity of this party,” (pointing to Mat), “and that what I
am now about to say to him, I say under protest, and denying _pro
forma_ that he is the party he represents himself to be. You thoroughly
understand, Mr. Scutt?”

Mr. Scutt bowed reverently. Mr. Nawby went on.

“If your business connection, sir, with that party,” he said, addressing
Matthew, and indicating Mr. Tatt, “was only entered into to forward the
purpose you have just mentioned to me, I beg to inform you (denying,
you will understand, at the same time, your right to ask for such
information) that you may wind up matters with your solicitor whenever
you please. The late Miss Grice has left neither letters nor papers. I
destroyed them all, by her own wish, in her own presence, and under her
own written authority, during her last illness. My head clerk here, who
was present to assist me, will corroborate the statement, if you wish
it.”

Mat listened attentively to these words, but listened to nothing more.
A sturdy legal altercation immediately ensued between the two
solicitors--but it hardly reached his ears. Mr. Tatt took his arm, and
led him out, talking more fluently than ever; but he had not the poorest
trifle of attention to bestow on Mr. Tatt. All his faculties together
seemed to be absorbed by this one momentous consideration: Had he really
and truly lost the last chance of tracing Arthur Carr?

When they got into the High Street, his mind somewhat recovered its
freedom of action, and he began to feel the necessity of deciding at
once on his future movements. Now that his final resource had failed
him, what should he do next? It was useless to go back to Bangbury,
useless to remain at Dibbledean. Yet the fit was on him to be moving
again somewhere--better even to return to Kirk Street than to remain
irresolute and inactive on the scene of his defeat.

He stopped suddenly; and saying--“It’s no good waiting here now; I shall
go back to London;” impatiently shook himself free of Mr. Tatt’s arm
in a moment. He found it by no means so easy, however, to shake himself
free of Mr. Tatt’s legal services. “Depend on my zeal,” cried this
energetic solicitor, following Matthew pertinaciously on his way to the
station. “If there’s law in England, your identity shall be proved and
your rights respected. I intend to throw myself into this case, heart
and soul. Money, Justice, Law, Morality, are all concerned--One moment,
my dear sir! If you must really go back to London, oblige me at any
rate, with your address, and just state in a cursory way, whether you
were christened or not at Dibbledean church. I want nothing more
to begin with--absolutely nothing more, on my word of honor as a
professional man.”

Willing in his present mood to say or do anything to get rid of his
volunteer solicitor, Mat mentioned his address in Kirk Street, and the
name by which he was known there, impatiently said “Yes,” to the inquiry
as to whether he had been christened at Dibbledean church--and then
abruptly turning away, left Mr. Tatt standing in the middle of the high
road, excitably making a note of the evidence just collected, in a new
legal memorandum-book.

As soon as Mat was alone, the ominous question suggested itself to him
again: Had he lost the last chance of tracing Arthur Carr? Although
inexorable facts seemed now to prove past contradiction that he
had--even yet he held to his old superstition more doggedly and
desperately than ever. Once more, on his way to the station, he pulled
out the lock of hair, and obstinately pondered over it. Once more, while
he journeyed to London, that strange conviction upheld him, which had
already supported him under previous checks. “I shall find him,” thought
Mat, whirling along in the train. “I don’t care where he’s hid away from
me, I shall find him yet!”



CHAPTER XV. THE DISCOVERY OF ARTHUR CARR.

While Matthew Grice was traveling backwards and forwards between town
and town in the midland counties, the life led by his young friend
and comrade in the metropolis, was by no means devoid of incident and
change. Zack had met with his adventures as well as Mat; one of them, in
particular, being of such a nature, or, rather, leading to such results,
as materially altered the domestic aspect of the lodgings in Kirk
Street.

True to his promise to Valentine, Zack, on the morning of his friend’s
departure for the country, presented himself at Mr. Strather’s house,
with his letter of introduction, punctually at eleven o’clock; and was
fairly started in life by that gentleman, before noon on the same
day, as a student of the Classic beau-ideal in the statue-halls of the
British Museum. He worked away resolutely enough till the rooms
were closed; and then returned to Kirk Street, not by any means
enthusiastically devoted to his new occupation; but determined to
persevere in it, because he was determined to keep to his word.

His new profession wore, however, a much more encouraging aspect when
Mr. Strather introduced him, in the evening, to the private Academy.
Here, live people were the models to study from. Here he was free to
use the palette, and to mix up the pinkest possible flesh tints with
bran-new brushes. Here were high-spirited students of the fine arts,
easy in manners and picturesque in personal appearance, with whom he
contrived to become intimate directly. And here, to crown all, was
a Model, sitting for the chest and arms, who had been a great
prize-fighter, and with whom Zack joyfully cemented the bonds of an
eternal (pugilistic) friendship, on the first night of his admission to
Mr. Strather’s Academy.

All through the second day of his probation as a student, he labored
at his drawing with immense resolution and infinitesimal progress. All
through the evening he daubed away industriously under Mr. Strather’s
supervision, until the Academy sitting was suspended. It would have been
well for him if he had gone home as soon as he laid down his brushes.
But in an evil hour be lingered after the studies of the evening
were over, to have a gossip with the prize-fighting Model; and in an
indiscreet moment he consented to officiate as one of the patrons at an
exhibition of sparring, to be held that night in a neighboring tavern,
for the ex-pugilist’s benefit.

After being conducted in an orderly manner enough for some little time,
the pugilistic proceedings of the evening were suddenly interrupted
by one of the Patrons present (who was also a student at the Drawing
Academy), declaring that his pocket had been picked, and insisting that
the room door should be closed and the police summoned immediately.
Great confusion and disturbance ensued, amid which Zack supported the
demand of his fellow-student--perhaps a little too warmly. At any rate,
a gentleman sitting opposite to him, with a patch over one eye, and
a nose broken in three places, swore that young Thorpe had personally
insulted him by implying that he was the thief; and vindicated his moral
character by throwing a cheese-plate at Zack’s head. The missile struck
the mark (at the side, however, instead of in front), and breaking when
it struck, inflicted what appeared to every unprofessional eye that
looked at the injury like a very extensive and dangerous wound.

The chemist to whom Zack was taken in the first instance to be bandaged,
thought little of the hurt; but the local doctor who was called in,
after the lad’s removal to Kirk Street, did not take so reassuring a
view of the patient’s case. The wound was certainly not situated in a
very dangerous part of the head; but it had been inflicted at a time
when Zack’s naturally full-blooded constitution was in a very unhealthy
condition, from the effects of much more ardent spirit-drinking than
was at all good for him. Bad fever symptoms set in immediately, and
appearances became visible in the neighborhood of the wound, at which
the medical head shook ominously. In short, Zack was now confined to
his bed, with the worst illness he had ever had in his life, and with no
friend to look after him except the landlady of the house.

Fortunately for him, his doctor was a man of skill and energy, who knew
how to make the most of all the advantages which the patient’s youth and
strength could offer to assist the medical treatment. In ten days’
time, young Thorpe was out of danger of any of the serious inflammatory
results which had been apprehended from the injury to his head.

Wretchedly weak and reduced--unwilling to alarm his mother by informing
her of his illness--without Valentine to console him, or Mat to amuse
him, Zack’s spirits now sank to a far lower ebb than they had ever
fallen to before. In his present state of depression, feebleness, and
solitude, there were moments when he doubted of his own recovery, in
spite of all that the doctor could tell him. While in this frame
of mind, the remembrance of the last sad report he had heard of his
father’s health, affected him very painfully, and he bitterly condemned
himself for never having written so much as a line to ask Mr. Thorpe’s
pardon since he had left home. He was too weak to use the pen himself;
but the tobacconist’s wife--a slovenly, showy, kind-hearted woman--was
always ready to do anything to serve him; and he determined to make his
mind a little easier by asking her to write a few penitent lines for
him, and by having the letter despatched immediately to his father’s
address in Baregrove Square. His landlady had long since been made the
confidant of all his domestic tribulations (for he freely communicated
them to everybody with whom he was brought much in contact); and she
showed, therefore, no surprise, but on the contrary expressed great
satisfaction, when his request was preferred to her. This was the letter
which Zack, with tearful eyes and faltering voice, dictated to the
tobacconist’s wife:--


“MY DEAR FATHER,--I am truly sorry for never having written to ask
you to forgive me before. I write now, and beg your pardon with all my
heart, for I am indeed very penitent, and ashamed of myself. If you
will only let me have another trial, and will not be too hard upon me at
first, I will do my best never to give you any more trouble. Therefore,
pray write to me at 14, Kirk Street, Wendover Market, where I am now
living with a friend who has been very kind to me. Please give my dear
love to mother, and believe me your truly penitent son,

                            “Z. THORPE, jun.”


Having got through this letter pretty easily, and finding that the
tobacconist’s wife was quite ready to write another for him if he
pleased, Zack resolved to send a line to Mr. Blyth, who, as well as he
could calculate, might now be expected to return from the country every
day. On the evening when he had been brought home with the wound in his
head, he had entreated that his accident might be kept a secret from
Mrs. Blyth (who knew his address), in case she should send after him.
This preliminary word of caution was not uselessly spoken. Only three
days later a note was brought from Mrs. Blyth, upbraiding him for never
having been near the house during Valentine’s absence, and asking him
to come and drink tea that evening. The messenger, who waited for an
answer, was sent back with the most artful verbal excuse which the
landlady could provide for the emergency, and no more notes had been
delivered since. Mrs. Blyth was doubtless not overwell satisfied with
the cool manner in which her invitation had been received.

In his present condition of spirits, Zack’s conscience upbraided him
soundly for having thought of deceiving Valentine by keeping him
in ignorance of what had happened. Now that Mat seemed, by his long
absence, to have deserted Kirk Street for ever, there was a double
attraction and hope for the weary and heart-sick Zack in the prospect
of seeing the painter’s genial face by his bedside. To this oldest,
kindest, and most merciful of friends, therefore, he determined to
confess, what he dare not so much as hint to his own father.

The note which, by the assistance of the tobacconist’s wife, he now
addressed to Valentine, was as characteristically boyish, and even
childish in tone, as the note which he had sent to his father. It ran
thus:


“MY DEAR BLYTH,--I begin to wish I had never been born; for I have got
into another scrape--having been knocked on the head by a prize-fighter
with a cheese-plate. It was wrong in me to go where I did, I know. But
I went to Mr. Strather, just as you told me, and stuck to my drawing--I
did indeed! Pray do come, as soon as ever you get back--I send this
letter to make sure of getting you at once. I am so miserable and
lonely, and too weak still to get out of bed.

“My landlady is very good and kind to me; but, as for that old vagabond,
Mat, he has been away in the country, I don’t know how long, and has
never written to me. Please, please do come! and don’t blow me up much
if you can help it, for I am so weak I can hardly keep from crying when
I think of what has happened. Ever yours,

                            “Z. THORPE, jun.

“P. S. If you have got any of my money left by you, I should be very
glad if you would bring it. I haven’t a farthing, and there are several
little things I ought to pay for.”


This letter, and the letter to Mr. Thorpe, after being duly sealed and
directed, were confided for delivery to a private messenger. They were
written on the same day which had been occupied by Matthew Grice in
visiting Mr. Tatt and Mr. Nawby, at Dibbledean. And the coincidences of
time so ordered it, that while Zack’s letters were proceeding to their
destinations, in the hand of the messenger, Zack’s fellow-lodger was
also proceeding to his destination in Kirk Street, by the fast London
train.

Baregrove Square was nearer to the messenger than Valentine’s house, so
the first letter that he delivered was that all-important petition for
the paternal pardon, on the favorable reception of which depended Zack’s
last chance of reconciliation with home.


Mr. Thorpe sat alone in his dining-parlor--the same dining-parlor in
which, so many weary years ago, he had argued with old Mr. Goodworth,
about his son’s education. Mrs. Thorpe, being confined to her room by a
severe cold, was unable to keep him company--the doctor had just taken
leave of him--friends in general were forbidden, on medical authority,
to excite him by visits--he was left lonely, and he had the prospect of
remaining lonely for the rest of the day. That total prostration of
the nervous system, from which the doctor had declared him to be now
suffering, showed itself painfully, from time to time, in his actions
as well as his looks--in his sudden startings when an unexpected noise
occurred in the house, in the trembling of his wan yellowish-white hand
whenever he lifted it from the table, in the transparent paleness of his
cheeks, in the anxious uncertainty of his ever-wandering eves.

His attention was just now directed on an open letter lying near him--a
letter fitted to encourage and console him, if any earthly hopes could
still speak of happiness to his heart, or any earthly solace still
administer repose to his mind.

But a few days back, his wife’s entreaties and the doctor’s advice
had at length prevailed on him to increase his chances of recovery, by
resigning the post of secretary to one of the Religious Societies to
which he belonged. The letter he was now looking at, had been written
officially to inform him that the members of the Society accepted his
resignation with the deepest regret; and to prepare him for a visit on
the morrow from a deputation charged to present him with an address and
testimonial--both of which had been unanimously voted by the Society “in
grateful and affectionate recognition of his high character and eminent
services, while acting as their secretary.” He had not been able to
resist the temptation of showing this letter to the doctor; and he could
not refrain from reading it once again now, before he put it back in his
desk. It was, in his eyes, the great reward and the great distinction of
his life.

He was still lingering thoughtfully over the last sentence, when Zack’s
letter was brought in to him. It was only for a moment that he had dared
to taste again the sweetness of a well-won triumph--but even in that
moment, there mingled with it the poisoning bitter of every past
association that could pain him most!--With a heavy sigh, he put away
the letter from the friends who honored him, and prepared to answer the
letter from the son who had deserted him.

There was grief, but no anger in his face, as he read it over for the
second time. He sat thinking for a little while--then drew towards him
his inkstand and paper--hesitated--wrote a few lines--and paused again,
putting down the pen this time, and covering his eyes with his thin
trembling hand. After sitting thus for some minutes, he seemed to
despair of being able to collect his thoughts immediately, and to
resolve on giving his mind full time to compose itself. He shut up his
son’s letter and his own unfinished reply together in the paper-case.
But there was some re-assuring promise for Zack’s future prospects
contained even in the little that he had already written; and the letter
suggested forgiveness at the very outset; for it began with, “My dear
Zachary.”


On delivering Zack’s second note at Valentine’s house, the messenger was
informed that Mr. Blyth was expected back on the next day, or on the day
after that, at the latest. Having a discretionary power to deal as she
pleased with her husband’s correspondence, when he was away from home,
Mrs. Blyth opened the letter as soon as it was taken up to her. Madonna
was in the room at the time, with her bonnet and shawl on, just ready
to go out for her usual daily walk, with Patty the housemaid for a
companion, in Valentine’s absence.

“Oh, that wretched, wretched Zack!” exclaimed Mrs. Blyth, looking
seriously distressed and alarmed, the moment her eyes fell on the first
lines of the letter. “He must be ill indeed,” she added, looking closely
at the handwriting; “for he has evidently not written this himself.”

Madonna could not hear these words, but she could see the expression
which accompanied their utterance, and could indicate by a sign her
anxiety to know what had happened. Mrs. Blyth ran her eye quickly over
the letter, and ascertaining that there was nothing in it which Madonna
might not be allowed to read, beckoned to the girl to look over her
shoulder, as the easiest and shortest way of explaining what was the
matter.

“How distressed Valentine will be to hear of this!” thought Mrs. Blyth,
summoning Patty up-stairs by a pull at her bell-rope, while Madonna was
eagerly reading the letter. The housemaid appeared immediately, and
was charged by her mistress to go to Kirk Street at once; and after
inquiring of the landlady about Zack’s health, to get a written list of
any comforts he might want, and bring it back as soon as possible. “And
mind you leave a message,” pursued Mrs. Blyth, in conclusion, “to say
that he need not trouble himself about money matters, for your master
will come back from the country, either to-morrow or next day.”

Here her attention was suddenly arrested by Madonna, who was eagerly and
even impatiently signing on her fingers: “What are you saying to Patty?
Oh! do let me know what you are saying to Patty?”

Mrs. Blyth repeated, by means of the deaf-and-dumb alphabet,
the instructions which she had just given to the servant; and
added--observing the paleness and agitation of Madonna’s face--“Let us
not frighten ourselves unnecessarily, my dear, about Zack; he may turn
out to be much better than we think him from reading his letter.”

“May I go with Patty?” rejoined Madonna, her eyes sparkling with
anxiety, her fingers trembling as they rapidly formed these words. “Let
me take my walk with Patty, just as if nothing had happened. Let me go!
pray, let me go!”

“She can’t be of any use, poor child,” thought Mrs. Blyth; “but if I
keep her here, she will only be fretting herself into one of her violent
headaches. Besides, she may as well have her walk now, for I shan’t
be able to spare Patty later in the day.” Influenced by these
considerations, Mrs. Blyth, by a nod, intimated to her adopted child
that she might accompany the housemaid to Kirk Street. Madonna, the
moment this permission was granted, led the way out of the room; but
stopped as soon as she and Patty were alone on the staircase, and,
making a sign that she would be back directly, ran up to her own
bed-chamber.

When she entered the room, she unlocked a little dressing-case that
Valentine had given to her; and, emptying out of one of the trays four
sovereigns and some silver, all her savings from her own pocket-money,
wrapped them up hastily in a piece of paper, and ran down stairs again
to Patty. Zack was ill, and lonely, and miserable; longing for a friend
to sit by his bedside and comfort him--and she could not be that friend!
But Zack was also poor; she had read it in his letter; there were many
little things he wanted to pay for; he needed money--and in that need
she might secretly be a friend to him, for she had money of her own to
give away.

“My four golden sovereigns shall be the first he has,” thought Madonna,
nervously taking the housemaid’s offered arm at the house-door. “I will
put them in some place where he is sure to find them, and never to know
who they come from. And Zack shall be rich again--rich with all the
money I have got to give him.” Four sovereigns represented quite a
little fortune in Madonna’s eyes. It had taken her a long, long time to
save them out of her small allowance of pocket-money.

When they knocked at the private door of the tobacco-shop, it was opened
by the landlady, who, after hearing what their errand was from Patty,
and answering some preliminary inquiries after Zack, politely
invited them to walk into her back parlor. But Madonna seemed--quite
incomprehensibly to the servant--to be bent on remaining in the passage
till she had finished writing some lines which she had just then begun
to trace on her slate. When they were completed, she showed them to
Patty, who read with considerable astonishment these words: “Ask where
his sitting-room is, and if I can go into it. I want to leave something
for him there with my own hands, if the room is empty.”

After looking at her young mistress’s eager face in great amazement for
a moment or two, Patty asked the required questions; prefacing them with
some words of explanation which drew from the tobacconist’s wife many
voluble expressions of sympathy and admiration for Madonna. At last,
there came to an end; and the desired answers to the questions on the
slate were readily given enough, and duly, though rather slowly, written
down by Patty, for her young lady’s benefit. The sitting-room belonging
to Mr. Thorpe and the other gentleman, was the front room on the first
floor. Nobody was in it now. Would the lady like to be shown--

Here Madonna arrested the servant’s further progress with the
slate pencil--nodded to indicate that she understood what had been
written--and then, with her little packet of money ready in her hand,
lightly ran up the first flight of stairs; ascending them so quickly
that she was on the landing before Patty and the landlady had settled
which of the two ought to have officially preceded her.

The front room was indeed empty when she entered it, but one of the
folding doors leading into the back room had been left ajar; and when
she looked towards the opening thus made, she also looked, from the
particular point of view she then occupied, towards the head of the bed
on which Zack lay, and saw his face turned towards her, hushed in deep,
still, breathless sleep.

She started violently--trembled a little--then stood motionless, looking
towards him through the door; the tears standing thick in her eyes,
the color gone from her cheeks, the yearning pulses of grief and
pity beating faster and faster in her heart. Ah! how pale and wan and
piteously still he lay there, with the ghastly white bandages round
his head, and one helpless, languid hand hanging over the bedside! How
changed from that glorious creature, all youth, health, strength, and
exulting activity, whom it had so long been her innocent idolatry to
worship in secret! How fearfully like what might be the image of him in
death, was the present image of him as he lay in his hushed and awful
sleep! She shuddered as the thought crossed her mind, and drying the
tears that obscured her sight, turned a little away from him, and looked
round the room. Her quick feminine eyes detected at a glance all
its squalid disorder, all its deplorable defects of comfort, all its
repulsive unfitness as a habitation for the suffering and the sick.
Surely a little money might help Zack to a better place to recover in!
Surely _her_ money might be made to minister in this way to his comfort,
his happiness, and even his restoration to health!

Full of this idea, she advanced a step or two, and sought for a proper
place on the one table in the room, in which she might put her packet of
money.

While she was thus engaged, an old newspaper, with some hair lying in
it, caught her eye. The hair was Zack’s and was left to be thrown away;
having been cut off that very morning by the doctor, who thought that
enough had not been removed from the neighborhood of the wound by the
barber originally employed to clear the hair from the injured side of
the patient’s head. Madonna had hardly looked at the newspaper before
she recognized the hair in it as Zack’s by its light-brown color, and by
the faint golden tinge running through it. One little curly lock, lying
rather apart from the rest, especially allured her eyes; she longed to
take it as a keepsake--a keepsake which Zack would never know that she
possessed! For a moment she hesitated, and in that moment the longing
became an irresistible temptation. After glancing over her shoulder to
assure herself that no one had followed her upstairs, she took the lock
of hair, and quickly hid it away in her bosom.

Her eyes had assured her that there was no one in the room; but, if she
had not been deprived of the sense of hearing, she would have known that
persons were approaching it, by the sound of voices on the stairs--a
man’s voice being among them. Necessarily ignorant, however, of this,
she advanced unconcernedly, after taking the lock of hair, from the
table to the chimney-piece, which it struck her might be the safest
place to leave the money on. She had just put it down there, when she
felt the slight concussion caused by the opening and closing of the door
behind her; and turning round instantly, confronted Patty, the landlady,
and the strange swarthy-faced friend of Zack’s, who had made her a
present of the scarlet tobacco-pouch.

Terror and confusion almost overpowered her, as she saw him advance to
the chimney-piece and take up the packet she had just placed there. He
had evidently opened the room-door in time to see her put it down; and
he was now deliberately unfolding the paper and examining the money
inside.

While he was thus occupied, Patty came close up to her, and, with rather
a confused and agitated face, began writing on her slate, much faster
and much less correctly than usual. She gathered, however, from the few
crooked lines scrawled by the servant, that Patty had been very much
startled by the sudden entrance of the landlady’s rough lodger, who
had let himself in from the street, just as she was about to follow her
young mistress up to the sitting-room, and had uncivilly stood in her
way on the stairs, while he listened to what the good woman of the
house had to tell him about young Mr. Thorpe’s illness. Confused as the
writing was on the slate, Madonna contrived to interpret it thus far,
and would have gone on interpreting more, if she had not felt a heavy
hand laid on her arm, and had not, on looking round, seen Zack’s friend
making signs to her, with her money loose in his hand.

She felt confused, but not frightened now; for his eyes, as she looked
into them, expressed neither suspicion nor anger. They rested on her
face kindly and sadly, while he first pointed to the money in his hand,
and then to her. She felt that her color was rising, and that it was
a hard matter to acknowledge the gold and silver as being her own
property; but she did so acknowledge it. He then pointed to himself; and
when she shook her head, pointed through the folding doors into Zack’s
room. Her cheeks began to burn, and she grew suddenly afraid to look at
him; but it was no harder trial to confess the truth than shamelessly
to deny it by making a false sign. So she looked up at him again, and
bravely nodded her head.

His eyes seemed to grow clearer and softer as they still rested kindly
on her; but he made her take back the money immediately, and, holding
her hand as he did so, detained it for a moment with a curious awkward
gentleness. Then, after first pointing again to Zack’s room, he began to
search in the breast-pocket of his coat, took from it at one rough grasp
some letters tied together loosely, and a clumsy-looking rolled-up strip
of fur, put the letters aside on the table behind him, and, unrolling
the fur, showed her that there were bank-notes in it. She understood him
directly--he had money of his own for Zack’s service, and wanted none
from her.

After he had replaced the strip of fur in his pocket, he took up the
letters from the table to be put back also. As he reached them towards
him, a lock of hair, which seemed to have accidentally got between them,
fell out on the floor just at her feet. She stooped to pick it up for
him; and was surprised, as she did so, to see that it exactly resembled
in color the lock of Zack’s hair which she had taken from the old
newspaper, and had hidden in her bosom.

She was surprised at this; and she was more than surprised, when he
angrily and abruptly snatched up the lock of hair, just as she touched
it. Did he think that she wanted to take it away from him? If he did,
it was easy to show him that a lock of Zack’s hair was just now no such
rarity that people need quarrel about the possession of it. She reached
her hand to the table behind, and, taking some of the hair from the old
newspaper, held it up to him with a smile, just as he was on the point
of putting his own lock of hair back in his pocket.

For a moment he did not seem to comprehend what her action meant; then
the resemblance between the hair in her hand and the hair in his own,
struck him suddenly.

The whole expression of his face changed in an instant--changed so
darkly that she recoiled from him in terror, and put back the hair into
the newspaper. He pounced on it directly; and, crunching it up in his
hand, turned his grim threatening face and fiercely-questioning eyes on
the landlady. While she was answering his inquiry, Madonna saw him look
towards Zack’s bed; and, as he looked, another change passed over
his face--the darkness faded from it, and the red scars on his cheek
deepened in color. He moved back slowly to the further corner of the
room from the folding-doors; his restless eyes fixed in a vacant stare,
one of his hands clutched round the old newspaper, the other motioning
clumsily and impatiently to the astonished and alarmed women to leave
him.

Madonna had felt Patty’s hand pulling at her arm more than once during
the last minute or two. She was now quite as anxious as her companion
to quit the house. They went out quickly, not venturing to look at Mat
again; and the landlady followed them. She and Patty had a long talk
together at the street door--evidently, judging by the expression
of their faces, about the conduct of the rough lodger up-stairs. But
Madonna felt no desire to be informed particularly of what they were
saying to each other. Much as Matthew’s strange behavior had surprised
and startled her, he was not the uppermost subject in her mind just
then. It was the discovery of her secret, the failure of her little plan
for helping Zack with her own money, that she was now thinking of with
equal confusion and dismay. She had not been in the front room at Kirk
Street much more than five minutes altogether--yet what a succession of
untoward events had passed in that short space of time!


For a long while after the women had left him, Mat stood motionless in
the furthest corner of the room from the folding-doors, looking vacantly
towards Zack’s bedchamber. His first surprise on finding a stranger
talking in the passage, when he let himself in from the street; his
first vexation on hearing of Zack’s accident from the landlady; his
momentary impulse to discover himself to Mary’s child, when he saw
Madonna standing in his room, and again when he knew that she had come
there with her little offering, for the one kind purpose of helping the
sick lad in his distress--all these sensations were now gone from
his memory as well as from his heart; absorbed in the one predominant
emotion with which the discovery of the resemblance between Zack’s hair
and the hair from Jane Holdworth’s letter now filled him. No ordinary
shocks could strike Mat’s mind hard enough to make it lose its
balance--_this_ shock prostrated it in an instant.

In proportion as he gradually recovered his self-possession so did the
desire strengthen in him to ascertain the resemblance between the
two kinds of hair once more--but in such a manner as it had not been
ascertained yet. He stole gently to the folding-doors and looked into
young Thorpe’s room. Zack was still asleep.

After pausing for a moment, and shaking his head sorrowfully, as he
noticed how pale and wasted the lad’s face looked, he approached the
pillow, and laid the lock of Arthur Carr’s hair upon it, close to the
uninjured side of Zack’s head. It was then late in the afternoon, but
not dusk yet. No blind hung over the bedroom window, and all the light
in the sky streamed full on to the pillow as Mat’s eyes fastened on it.

The similarity between the sleeper’s hair and the hair of Arthur Carr
was perfect! Both were of the same light brown color, and both had
running through that color the same delicate golden tinge, brightly
visible in the light, hardly to be detected at all in the shade.

Why had this extraordinary resemblance never struck him before? Perhaps
because he had never examined Arthur Carr’s hair with attention until
he had possessed himself of Mary’s bracelet, and had gone away to the
country. Perhaps also because he had never yet taken notice enough of
Zack’s hair to care to look close at it. And now the resemblance was
traced, to what conclusion did it point? Plainly, from Zack’s youth,
to none in connection with _him._ But what elder relatives had he? and
which of them was he most like?

Did he take after his father?

Mat was looking down at the sleeper, just then; something in the lad’s
face troubled him, and kept his mind from pursuing that last thought.
He took the lock of hair from the pillow, and went into the front room.
There was anxiety and almost dread in his face, as he thought of the
fatally decisive question in relation to the momentous discovery he had
just made, which must be addressed to Zack when he awoke. He had never
really known how fond he was of his fellow lodger until now, when he
was conscious of a dull, numbing sensation of dismay at the prospect of
addressing that question to the friend who had lived as a brother with
him, since the day when they first met.

As the evening closed in, Zack woke. It was a relief to Mat, as he went
to the bedside, to know that his face could not now be clearly seen. The
burden of that terrible question pressed heavily on his heart, while he
held his comrade’s feeble hand; while he answered as considerately, yet
as briefly as he could, the many inquiries addressed to him; and while
he listened patiently and silently to the sufferer’s long, wandering,
faintly-uttered narrative of the accident that had befallen him. Towards
the close of that narrative, Zack himself unconsciously led the way to
the fatal question which Mat longed, yet dreaded to ask him.

“Well, old fellow,” he said, turning feebly on his pillow, so as to face
Matthew, “something like what you call the ‘horrors’ has been taking
hold of me. And this morning, in particular, I was so wretched and
lonely, that I asked the landlady to write for me to my father, begging
his pardon, and all that. I haven’t behaved as well as I ought; and,
somehow, when a fellow’s ill and lonely he gets homesick--”

His voice began to grow faint, and he left the sentence unfinished.

“Zack,” said Mat, turning his face away from the bed while he spoke,
though it was now quite dark. “Zack, what sort of a man is your father?”

“What sort of a man! How do you mean?”

“To look at. Are you like him in the face?”

“Lord help you, Mat! as little like as possible. My father’s face is all
wrinkled and marked.”

“Aye, aye, like other old men’s faces. His hair’s grey, I suppose?”

“Quite white. By-the-by--talking of that--there _is_ one point I’m like
him in--at least, like what he _was,_ when he was a young man.”

“What’s that?”

“What we’ve been speaking of--his hair. I’ve heard my mother say, when
she first married him--just shake up my pillow a bit, will you, Mat?”

“Yes, yes. And what did you hear your mother say?”

“Oh, nothing particular. Only that when he was a young man, his hair was
exactly like what mine is now.”


As those momentous words were spoken, the landlady knocked at the door,
and announced that she was waiting outside with candles, and a nice
cup of tea for the invalid. Mat let her into the bedchamber--then
immediately walked out of it into the front room, and closed the
folding-doors behind him. Brave as he was, he was afraid, at that
moment, to let Zack see his face.

He walked to the fireplace, and rested his head and arm on the
chimney-piece--reflected for a little while--then stood upright
again--and searching in his pocket, drew from it once more that fatal
lock of hair, which he had examined so anxiously and so often during his
past fortnight in the country.

_“Your_ work’s done,” he said, looking at it for a moment, as it lay in
his hand--then throwing it into the dull red fire which was now burning
low in the grate. _“Your_ work’s done; and mine won’t be long a-doing.”
 He rested his head and arm again wearily on the chimney-piece, and
added:

“I’m brothers with Zack--there’s the hard part of it!--I’m brothers with
Zack.”



CHAPTER XVI. THE DAY OF RECKONING.

On the forenoon of the day that followed Mat’s return to Kirk Street,
the ordinarily dull aspect of Baregrove Square was enlivened by a
procession of three handsome private carriages which stopped at Mr.
Thorpe’s door.

From each carriage there descended gentlemen of highly respectable
appearance, clothed in shining black garments, and wearing, for the
most part, white cravats. One of these gentlemen carried in his hands a
handsome silver inkstand, and another gentleman who followed him, bore
a roll of glossy paper, tied round with a broad ribbon of sober purple
hue. The roll contained an Address to Mr. Thorpe, eulogizing his
character in very affectionate terms; the inkstand was a Testimonial to
be presented after the Address; and the gentlemen who occupied the three
private carriages were all eminent members of the religious society
which Mr. Thorpe had served in the capacity of Secretary, and from which
he was now obliged to secede in consequence of the precarious state of
his health.

A small and orderly assembly of idle people had collected on the
pavement to see the gentlemen alight, to watch them go into the house,
to stare at the inkstand, to wonder at the Address, to observe that Mr.
Thorpe’s page wore his best livery, and that Mr. Thorpe’s housemaid had
on new cap-ribbons and her Sunday gown. After the street door had
been closed, and these various objects for popular admiration had
disappeared, there still remained an attraction outside in the square,
which addressed itself to the general ear. One of the footmen in
attendance on the carriages, had collected many interesting particulars
about the Deputation and the Testimonial, and while he related them in
regular order to another footman anxious for information, the small and
orderly public of idlers stood round about, and eagerly caught up any
stray words explanatory of the ceremonies then in progress inside the
house, which fell in their way.

One of the most attentive of these listeners was a swarthy-complexioned
man with bristling whiskers and a scarred face, who had made one of the
assembly on the pavement from the moment of its first congregating.
He had been almost as much stared at by the people about him as the
Deputation itself; and had been set down among them generally as a
foreigner of the most outlandish kind: but, in plain truth, he was
English to the back-bone, being no other than Matthew Grice.

Mat’s look, as he stood listening among his neighbors, was now just as
quietly vigilant, his manner just as gruffly self-possessed, as usual.
But it had cost him a hard struggle that morning, in the solitude of
one of his longest and loneliest walks, to compose himself--or, in his
favorite phrase, to “get to be his own man again.”

From the moment when he had thrown the lock of hair into the fire, to
the moment when he was now loitering at Mr. Thorpe’s door, _he_ had
never doubted, whatever others might have done, that the man who had
been the ruin of his sister, and the man who was the nearest blood
relation of the comrade who shared his roof, and lay sick at that moment
in his bed, were one and the same. Though he stood now, amid the casual
street spectators, apparently as indolently curious as the most careless
among them--looking at what they looked at, listening to what they
listened to, and leaving the square when they left it--he was resolved
all the time to watch his first opportunity of entering Mr. Thorpe’s
house that very day; resolved to investigate through all its
ramifications the secret which he had first discovered when the
fragments of Zack’s hair were playfully held up for him to look at in
the deaf and dumb girl’s hand.

The dispersion of the idlers on the pavement was accelerated, and the
footman’s imaginary description of the proceedings then in progress at
Mr. Thorpe’s was cut short, by the falling of a heavy shower. The frost,
after breaking up, had been succeeded that year by prematurely mild
spring weather--April seemed to have come a month before its time.

Regardless of the rain, Mat walked slowly up and down the streets round
Baregrove Square, peering every now and then, from afar off, through
the misty shower, to see if the carriages were still drawn up at Mr.
Thorpe’s door. The ceremony of presenting the Testimonial was evidently
a protracted one; for the vehicles were long kept waiting for their
owners. The rain had passed away--the sun had reappeared--fresh clouds
had gathered, and it was threatening a second shower, before the
Deputation from the great Religious Society re-entered their vehicles
and drove out of the square.

When they had quitted it, Mat advanced and knocked at Mr. Thorpe’s door.
The clouds rolled up darkly over the sun, and the first warning drops of
the new shower began to fall, as the door opened.

The servant hesitated about admitting him. He had anticipated that
this sort of obstacle would be thrown in his way at the outset, and had
provided against it in his own mind beforehand. “Tell your master,” he
said, “that his son is ill, and I’ve come to speak to him about it.”

This message was delivered, and had the desired effect. Mat was admitted
into the drawing-room immediately.

The chairs occupied by the members of the Deputation had not been
moved away--the handsome silver inkstand was on the table--the Address,
beautifully written on the fairest white paper, lay by it. Mr. Thorpe
stood before the fireplace, and bending over towards the table,
mechanically examined, for the second time, the signatures attached to
the Address, while his strange visitor was being ushered up stairs.

Mat’s arrival had interrupted him just at the moment when he was going
to Mrs. Thorpe’s room, to describe to her the Presentation ceremony
which she had not been well enough to attend. He had stopped
immediately, and the faint smile that was on his face had vanished from
it, when the news of his son’s illness reached him through the servant.
But the hectic flush of triumph and pleasure which his interview
with the Deputation had called into his cheeks, still colored them as
brightly as ever, when Matthew Grice entered the room.

“You have come, sir,” Mr. Thorpe began, “to tell me--”

He hesitated, stammered out another word or two, then stopped. Something
in the expression of the dark and strange face that he saw lowering at
him under the black velvet skull-cap, suspended the words on his lips.
In his present nervous, enfeebled state, any sudden emotions of doubt
or surprise, no matter how slight and temporary in their nature, always
proved too powerful for his self-control, and betrayed themselves in his
speech and manner painfully.

Mat said not a word to break the ominous silence. Was he at that moment,
in very truth, standing face to face with Arthur Carr? Could this
man--so frail and meager, with the narrow chest, the drooping figure,
the effeminate pink tinge on his wan wrinkled cheeks--be indeed the man
who had driven Mary to that last refuge, where the brambles and weeds
grew thick, and the foul mud-pools stagnated in the forgotten corner of
the churchyard?

“You have come, sir,” resumed Mr. Thorpe, controlling himself by an
effort which deepened the flush on his face, “to tell me news of my son,
which I am not entirely unprepared for. I heard from him yesterday;
and, though it did not strike me at first, I noticed on referring to his
letter afterwards, that it was not in his own handwriting. My nerves are
not very strong, and they have been tried--pleasurably, most pleasurably
tried--already this morning, by such testimonies of kindness and
sympathy as it does not fall to the lot of many men to earn. May I beg
you, if your news should be of an alarming nature (which God forbid!) to
communicate it as gently--”

“My news is this,” Mat broke in: “Your son’s been hurt in the head, but
he’s got over the worst of it now. He lives with me; I like him; and I
mean to take care of him till he gets on his legs again. That’s my news
about your son. But that’s not all I’ve got to say. I bring you news of
somebody else.”

“Will you take a seat, and be good enough to explain yourself?”

They sat down at opposite sides of the table, with the Testimonial and
the Address lying between them. The shower outside was beginning to
fall at its heaviest. The splashing noise of the rain and the sound of
running footsteps, as the few foot passengers in the square made for
shelter at the top of their speed, penetrated into the room during the
pause of silence which ensued after they had taken their seats. Mr.
Thorpe spoke first.

“May I inquire your name?” he said, in his lowest and calmest tones.

Mat did not seem to hear the question. He took up the Address from the
table, looked at the list of signatures, and turned to Mr. Thorpe.

“I’ve been hearing about this,” he said. “Are all them names there, the
names of friends of yours?”

Mr. Thorpe looked a little astonished; but he answered after a moment’s
hesitation:

“Certainly; the most valued friends I have in the world.”

“Friends,” pursued Mat, reading to himself the introductory sentence in
the address, _“who have put the most affectionate trust in you.”_

Mr. Thorpe began to look rather offended as well as rather astonished.
“Will you excuse me,” he said coldly, “if I beg you to proceed to the
business that has brought you here.”

Mat placed the Address on the table again, immediately in front of him;
and took a pencil from a tray with writing materials in it, which stood
near at hand. “Friends _‘who have put the most affectionate trust in
you,’”_ he repeated. “The name of one of them friends isn’t here. It
ought to be; and I mean to put it down.”

As the point of his pencil touched the paper of the Address, Mr. Thorpe
started from his chair.

“What am I to understand, sir, by this conduct?” he began haughtily,
stretching out his hand to possess himself of the Address.

Mat looked up with the serpent-glitter in his eyes, and the angry red
tinge glowing in the scars on his cheek. “Sit down,” he said, “I’m not
quick at writing. Sit down, and wait till I’m done.”

Mr. Thorpe’s face began to look a little agitated. He took a step
towards the fireplace, intending to ring the bell.

“Sit down, and wait,” Mat reiterated, in quick, fierce, quietly uttered
tones of command, rising from his own chair, and pointing peremptorily
to the seat just vacated by the master of the house.

A sudden doubt crossed Mr. Thorpe’s mind, and made him pause before he
touched the bell. Could this man be in his right senses? His actions
were entirely unaccountable--his words and his way of uttering them were
alike strange--his scarred, scowling face looked hardly human at that
moment. Would it be well to summon help? No, worse than useless. Except
the page, who was a mere boy, there were none but women servants in
the house. When he remembered this, he sat down again, and at the same
moment Mat began, clumsily and slowly, to write on the blank space
beneath the last signature attached to the Address.

The sky was still darkening apace, the rain was falling heavily and more
heavily, as he traced the final letter, and then handed the paper to Mr.
Thorpe, bearing inscribed on it the name of MARY GRICE.

“Read that name,” said Mat.

Mr. Thorpe looked at the characters traced by the pencil. His face
changed instantly--he sank down into the chair--one faint cry burst from
his lips--then he was silent.

Low, stifled, momentary as it was, that cry proclaimed him to be the
man. He was self-denounced by it even before he cowered down, shuddering
in the chair, with both his hands pressed convulsively over his face.

Mat rose to his feet and spoke; eyeing him pitilessly from head to foot.

“Not a friend of all of ‘em,” he said, pointing down at the Address,
“put such affectionate trust in you, as she did. When first I see her
grave in the strange churchyard, I said I’d be even with the man who
laid her in it. I’m here to-day to be even with _you._ Carr or Thorpe,
whichever you call yourself; I know how you used her from first to last!
_Her_ father was _my_ father; _her_ name is _my_ name: you were _her_
worst enemy three-and-twenty year ago; you are _my_ worst enemy now. I’m
her brother, Matthew Grice!”

The hands of the shuddering figure beneath him suddenly dropped--the
ghastly uncovered face looked up at him, with such a panic stare in the
eyes, such a fearful quivering and distortion of all the features, that
it tried even his firmness of nerve to look at it steadily. In spite of
himself; he went back to his chair, and sat down doggedly by the table,
and was silent.

A low murmuring and moaning, amid which a few disconnected words made
themselves faintly distinguishable, caused him to look round again.
He saw that the ghastly face was once more hidden. He heard the
disconnected words reiterated, always in the same stifled wailing
tones. Now and then, a half finished phrase was audible from behind the
withered hands, still clasped over the face, He heard such fragments of
sentences as these:--“Have pity on my wife”--“accept the remorse of many
years”--“spare me the disgrace--”

After those four last words, he listened for no more. The merciless
spirit was roused in him again the moment he heard them.

“Spare you the disgrace?” he repeated, starting to his feet. “Did you
spare _her?_--Not you!”

Once more the hands dropped; once more the ghastly face slowly and
horribly confronted him. But this time he never recoiled from it. There
was no mercy in him--none in his looks, none in his tones--as he went
on.

“What! it would disgrace you, would it? Then disgraced you shall be!
You’ve kep’ it a secret, have you? You shall tell that secret to every
soul that comes about the house! You shall own Mary’s disgrace, Mary’s
death, and Mary’s child before every man who’s put his name down on that
bit of paper!--You shall, as soon as to-morrow if I like! You shall, if
I have to bring your child with me to make you; if I have to stand up,
hand in hand along with her, here on your own hearthstone.”

He stopped. The cowering figure was struggling upward from the chair:
one of the withered hands, slowly raised, was stretching itself out
towards him; the panic-stricken eyes were growing less vacant, and were
staring straight into his with a fearful meaning in their look; the pale
lips were muttering rapidly--at first he could not tell what; then he
succeeded in catching the two words, “Mary’s child?” quickly, faintly,
incessantly reiterated, until he spoke again,

“Yes,” he said, pitiless as ever. “Yes: Mary’s child. Your child.
Haven’t you seen her? Is it _that_ you’re staring and trembling about?
Go and look at her: she lives within gunshot of you. Ask Zack’s friend,
the Painter-Man, to show you the deaf and dumb girl he picked up among
the horse-riders. Look here--look at this bracelet! Do you remember
your own hair in it? The hands that brought up Mary’s child, took that
bracelet from Mary’s pocket. Look at it again! Look at it as close as
you like--”

Once more he stopped. The frail figure which had been feebly rising out
of the chair, while he held up the Hair Bracelet, suddenly and heavily
sank back in it--he saw the eyelids half close, and a great stillness
pass over the face--he heard one deep-drawn breath: but no cry now, no
moaning, no murmuring--no sound whatever, except the steady splash of
the fast-falling rain on the pavement outside.


Dead?


A thought of Zack welled up into his heart, and troubled it.

He hesitated for a moment, then bent over the chair, and put his hand on
the bosom of the deathly figure reclining in it. A faint fluttering was
still to be felt; and the pulse, when he tried that next, was beating
feebly. It was not death he looked on now, but the swoon that is near
neighbor to it.

For a minute or two, he stood with his eyes fixed on the white calm
face beneath him, thinking. “If me and Zack,” he whispered to himself;
“hadn’t been brothers together--” He left the sentence unfinished, took
his hat quickly, and quitted the room.

In the passage down-stairs, he met one of the female servants, who
opened the street-door for him.

“Your master wants you,” he said, with an effort. He spoke those words,
passed by her, and left the house.



CHAPTER XVII. MATTHEW GRICE’S REVENGE.

Neither looking to the right nor the left, neither knowing nor caring
whither he went, Matthew Grice took the first turning he came to,
which led him out of Baregrove Square. It happened to be the street
communicating with the long suburban road, at the remote extremity of
which Mr. Blyth lived. Mat followed this road mechanically, not casting
a glance at the painter’s abode when he passed it, and taking no notice
of a cab, with luggage on the roof; which drew up, as he walked by,
at the garden gate. If he had only looked round at the vehicle for a
moment, he must have seen Valentine sitting inside it, and counting out
the money for his fare.

But he still went on--straight on, looking aside at nothing. He fronted
the wind and the clearing quarter of the sky as he walked. The shower
was now fast subsiding; and the first rays of returning sunlight, as
they streamed through mist and cloud, fell tenderly and warmly on his
face.

Though he did not show it outwardly, there was strife and trouble within
him. The name of Zack was often on his lips, and he varied constantly
in his rate of walking; now quickening, now slackening his pace at
irregular intervals. It was evening before he turned back towards
home--night, before he sat down again in the chair by young Thorpe’s
bedside.


“I’m a deal better to-night, Mat,” said Zack, answering his first
inquiries. “That good fellow, Blyth, has come back: he’s been sitting
here with me a couple of hours or more. Where have you been to all day,
you restless old Rough and Tough?” he continued, with something of his
natural lighthearted manner returning already. “There’s a letter come
for you, by-the-by. The landlady said she would put it on the table in
the front room.”

Matthew found and opened the letter, which proved to contain two
enclosures. One was addressed to Mr. Blyth; the other had no direction.
The handwriting in the letter being strange to him, Mat looked first for
the name at the end, and found that it was _Thorpe._ “Wait a bit,” he
said, as Zack spoke again just then, “I want to read my letter. We’ll
talk after.”

This is what he read:--

“Some hours have passed since you left my house. I have had time
to collect a little strength and composure, and have received such
assistance and advice as have enabled me to profit by that time. Now I
know that I can write calmly, I send you this letter.

“My object is not to ask how you became possessed of the guilty secret
which I had kept from every one--even from my wife--but to offer you
such explanation and confession as you have a right to demand from me.
I do not cavil about that right--I admit that you possess it, without
desiring further proof than your actions, your merciless words, and the
Bracelet in your possession, have afforded me.

“It is fit you should first be told that the assumed name by which I
was known at Dibbledean, merely originated in a foolish jest--in a wager
that certain companions of my own age, who were accustomed to ridicule
my fondness for botanical pursuits, and often to follow and disturb me
when I went in search of botanical specimens, would not be able to trace
and discover me in my country retreat. I went to Dibbledean, because the
neighborhood was famous for specimens of rare Ferns, which I desired to
possess; and I took my assumed name before I went, to help in keeping me
from being traced and disturbed by my companions. My father alone was in
the secret, and came to see me once or twice in my retirement. I have no
excuse to offer for continuing to preserve my false name, at a time when
I was bound to be candid about myself and my station in life. My conduct
was as unpardonably criminal in this, as it was in greater things.

“My stay at the cottage I had taken, lasted much longer than my father
would have remitted, if I had not deceived him, and if he had not been
much harassed at that time by unforeseen difficulties in his business as
a foreign merchant. These difficulties arrived at last at a climax, and
his health broke down under them. His presence, or the presence of a
properly qualified person to represent him, was absolutely required in
Germany, where one of his business houses, conducted by an agent, was
established. I was his only son; he had taken me as a partner into his
London house; and had allowed me, on the plea of delicate health, to
absent myself from my duties for months and months together, and
to follow my favorite botanical pursuits just as I pleased. When,
therefore, he wrote me word that great part of his property, and great
part, consequently, of my sisters’ fortunes, depended on my going to
Germany (his own health not permitting him to take the journey), I had
no choice but to place myself at his disposal immediately.

“I went away, being assured beforehand that my absence would not last
more than three or four months at the most.

“While I was abroad, I wrote to your sister constantly. I had treated
her dishonorably and wickedly, but no thought of abandoning her had ever
entered my heart: my dearest hope, at that time, was the hope of seeing
her again. Not one of my letters was answered. I was detained in Germany
beyond the time during which I had consented to remain there; and in
the excess of my anxiety, I even ventured to write twice to your father.
Those letters also remained unanswered. When I at last got back to
England, I immediately sent a person on whom I could rely to Dibbledean,
to make the inquiries which I dreaded to make myself. My messenger was
turned from your doors, with the fearful news of your sister’s flight
from home and of her death.

“It was then I first suspected that my letters had been tampered with.
It was then, too, when the violence of my grief and despair had a little
abated, that the news of your sister’s flight inspired me, for the
first time, with a suspicion of the consequence which had followed
the commission of my sin. You may think it strange that this suspicion
should not have occurred to me before. It would seem so no longer,
perhaps, if I detailed to you the peculiar system of home education, by
which my father, strictly and conscientiously, endeavored to preserve
me--as other young men are not usually preserved--from the moral
contaminations of the world. But it would be useless to dwell on this
now. No explanations can alter the events of the guilty and miserable
past.

“Anxiously--though privately, and in fear and trembling--I caused such
inquiries to be made as I hoped might decide the question whether
the child existed or not. They were long persevered in, but they were
useless--useless, perhaps, as I now think with bitter sorrow, because
I trusted them to others, and had not the courage to make them openly
myself.

“Two years after that time I married, under circumstances not of an
ordinary kind--what circumstances you have no claim to know. _That_ part
of my life is my secret and my wife’s, and belongs to us alone.

“I have now dwelt long enough for your information on my own guilty
share in the events of the Past. As to the Present and the Future, I
have still a word or two left to say.

“You have declared that I shall expiate, by the exposure of my shameful
secret before all my friends, the wrong your sister suffered at my
hands. My life has been one long expiation for that wrong. My broken
health, my altered character, my weary secret sorrows, unpartaken and
unconsoled, have punished me for many years past more heavily than you
think. Do you desire to see me visited by more poignant sufferings
than these? If it be so, you may enjoy the vindictive triumph of having
already inflicted them. Your threats will force me, in a few hours, from
the friends I have lived with, at the very time when the affection shown
to me, and the honor conferred on me by those friends, have made their
society most precious to my heart. You force me from this, and from
more--for you force me from my home, at the moment when my son has
affectionately entreated me to take him back to my fireside.

“These trials, heavy as they are, I am ready to endure, if, by accepting
them humbly, I may be deemed to have made some atonement for my sin. But
more I have not the fortitude to meet. I cannot face the exposure with
which you are resolved to overwhelm me. The anxiety--perhaps, I ought to
say, the weakness--of my life, has been to win and keep the respect
of others. You are about, by disclosing the crime which dishonored
my youth, to deprive me of my good fame. I can let it go without a
struggle, as part of the punishment that I have deserved; but I have not
the courage to wait and see you take it from me. My own sensations tell
me that I have not long to live; my own convictions assure me that
I cannot fitly prepare myself for death, until I am far removed from
worldly interests and worldly terrors--in a word, from the horror of an
exposure, which I have deserved, but which, at the end of my weary life,
is more than I can endure. We have seen the last of each other in this
world. To-night I shall be beyond the reach of your retaliation;
for to-night I shall be journeying to the retreat in which the short
remainder of my life will be hidden from you and from all men.

“It now only remains for me to advert to the two enclosures contained in
this letter.

“The first is addressed to Mr. Blyth. I leave it to reach his hands
through you; because I am ashamed to communicate with him directly, as
from myself. If what you said about my child be the truth--and I cannot
dispute it--then, in my ignorance of her identity, in my estrangement
from the house of her protector since she first entered it, I have
unconsciously committed such an offense against Mr. Blyth as no
contrition can ever adequately atone for. Now indeed I feel how
presumptuously merciless my bitter conviction of the turpitude of my own
sin, has made me towards what I deemed like sins in others. Now also
I know, that, unless you have spoken falsely, I have been guilty of
casting the shame of my own deserted child in the teeth of the very
man who had nobly and tenderly given her an asylum in his own home. The
unutterable anguish which only the bare suspicion of this has inflicted
on me might well have been my death. I marvel even now at my own
recovery from it.

“You are free to look at the letter to Mr. Blyth which I now entrust
to you. Besides the expression of my shame, my sorrow, and my sincere
repentance, it contains some questions, to which Mr. Blyth, in his
Christian kindness, will, I doubt not, readily write answers. The
questions only refer to the matter of the child’s identity; and the
address I have written down at the end, is that of the house of business
of my lawyer and agent in London. He will forward the document to me,
and will then arrange with Mr. Blyth the manner in which a fit provision
from my property may be best secured to his adopted child. He has
deserved her love, and to him I gratefully and humbly leave her. For
myself, I am not worthy even to look upon her face.

“The second enclosure is meant for my son; and is to be delivered in the
event of your having already disclosed to him the secret of his father’s
guilt. But, if you have not done this--if any mercy towards me
has entered into your heart, and pleads with it for pardon and for
silence--then destroy the letter, and tell him that he will find a
communication waiting for him at the house of my agent. He wrote to
ask my pardon--he has it freely. Freely, in my turn, I hope to have his
forgiveness for severities exercised towards him, which were honestly
meant to preserve him betimes from ever falling as his father fell,
but which I now fear were persevered in too hardly and too long. I have
suffered for this error, as for others, heavily--more heavily, when he
abandoned his home, than I should ever wish him to know. You said he
lived with you and that you were fond of him. Be gentle with him, now
that he is ill, for his mother’s sake.

“My hand grows weaker and weaker: I can write no more. Let me close this
letter by entreating your pardon. If you ever grant it me, then I also
ask your prayers.”


With this the letter ended.

Matthew sat holding it open in his hand for a little while. He looked
round once or twice at the enclosed letter from Mr. Thorpe to his son,
which lay close by on the table--but did not destroy it; did not so much
as touch it even.

Zack spoke to him before long from the inner room.

“I’m sure you must have done reading your letter by this time, Mat. I’ve
been thinking, old fellow, of the talk we used to have, about going back
to America together, and trying a little buffalo hunting and roaming
about in the wilds. If my father takes me into favor again, and can be
got to say Yes, I should so like to go with you, Mat. Not for too long,
you know, because of my mother, and my friends over here. But a sea
voyage, and a little scouring about in what you call the lonesome
places, would do me such good! I don’t feel as if I should ever settle
properly to anything, till I’ve had my fling. I wonder whether my father
would let me go?”

“I know he would, Zack.”

“You! How?”

“I’ll tell you how another time. You shall have your run, Zack,--you
shall have your heart’s content along with me.” As he said this, he
looked again at Mr. Thorpe’s letter to his son, and took it up in his
hand this time.

“Oh! how I wish I was strong enough to start! Come in here, Mat, and
let’s talk about it.”

“Wait a bit, and I will.” Pronouncing those words, he rose from his
chair. “For your sake, Zack,” he said, and dropped the letter into the
fire.

“What can you be about all this time?” asked young Thorpe.

“Do you call to mind,” said Mat, going into the bedroom, and sitting
down by the lad’s pillow--“Do you call to mind me saying, that I’d be
brothers with you, when first us two come together? Well, Zack, I’ve
only been trying to be as good as my word.”

“Trying? What do you mean? I don’t understand, old fellow.”

“Never mind: you’ll make it out better some day. Let’s talk about
getting aboard ship, and going a buffalo-hunting now.”

They discussed the projected expedition, until Zack grew sleepy. As he
fell off into a pleasant doze, Mat went back into the front-room; and,
taking from the table Mr. Thorpe’s letter to Mr. Blyth, left Kirk Street
immediately for the painter’s house.


It had occurred to Valentine to unlock his bureau twice since his return
from the country, but on neither occasion had he found it necessary to
open that long narrow drawer at the back, in which he had secreted the
Hair Bracelet years ago. He was consequently still totally ignorant
that it had been taken away from him, when Matthew Grice entered the
painting-room, and quietly put it into his hand.

Consternation and amazement so thoroughly overpowered him, that he
suffered his visitor to lock the door against all intruders, and then
to lead him peremptorily to a chair, without uttering a single word of
inquiry or expostulation. All though the narrative, on which Mat now
entered, he sat totally speechless, until Mr. Thorpe’s letter was placed
in his hands, and he was informed that Madonna was still to be left
entirely under his own care. Then, for the first time, his cheeks
showed symptoms of returning to their natural color, and he exclaimed
fervently, “Thank God! I shan’t lose her after all! I only wish you had
begun by telling me of that, the moment you came into the room!”

Saying this, he began to read Mr. Thorpe’s letter. When he had finished
it, and looked up at Mat, the tears were in his eyes.

“I can’t help it,” said the simple-hearted painter. “It would even
affect _you,_ Mr. Grice, to be addressed in such terms of humiliation
as these. How can he doubt my forgiving him, when he has a right to my
everlasting gratitude for not asking me to part with our darling
child? They never met--he has never, never, seen her face,” continued
Valentine, in lower and fainter tones. “She always wore her veil down,
by my wish, when we went out; and our walks were generally into the
country, instead of town way. I only once remember seeing him coming
towards us; and then I crossed the road with her, knowing we were not on
terms. There’s something shocking in father and daughter living so near
each other, yet being--if one may say so--so far, so very far apart. It
is dreadful to think of that. It is far more dreadful to think of its
having been _her_ hand which held up the hair for you to look at, and
_her_ little innocent action which led to the discovery of who her
father really was!”

“Do you ever mean to let her know as much about it as we do?” asked
Matthew.

The look of dismay began to appear again in Valentine’s face. “Have you
told Zack, yet?” he inquired, nervously and eagerly.

“No,” said Mat; “and don’t _you!_ When Zack’s on his legs again, he’s
going to take a voyage, and get a season’s hunting along with me in the
wild country over the water. I’m as fond of the lad as if he was a bit
of my own flesh and blood. I cottoned to him when he hit out so hearty
for me at the singing-shop--and we’ve been brothers together ever since.
You mightn’t think it, to look at me; but I’ve spared Zack’s father for
Zack’s sake; and I don’t ask no more reward for it than to take the lad
a hunting for a season or two along with me. When he comes back home
again, and we say Good-bye, I’ll tell him all what’s happened; but
I won’t risk bringing so much as a cross look into his eyes now, by
dropping a word to him of what’s passed betwixt his father and me.”

Although this speech excited no little surprise and interest in
Valentine’s mind, it did not succeed in suspending the anxieties which
had been awakened in him by Matthew’s preceding question, and which he
now began to feel the necessity of confiding to Mrs. Blyth--his grand
counselor in all difficulties, and unfailing comforter in all troubles.

“Do you mind waiting here,” he said, “while I go upstairs, and break
the news to my wife? Without her advice I don’t know what to do
about communicating our discovery to the poor dear child. Do you mind
waiting?”

No: Matthew would willingly wait. Hearing this, Mr. Blyth left the room
directly.

He remained away a long time. When he came back, his face did not seem
to have gained in composure during his absence.

“My wife has told me of another discovery,” he said, “which her motherly
love for our adopted daughter enabled her to make some time since. I
have been sadly surprised and distressed at hearing of it. But I need
say no more on the subject to you, than that Mrs. Blyth has at once
decided me to confide nothing to Madonna--to Mary, I ought to say--until
Zack has got well again and has left England. When I heard just now,
from you, of his projected voyage, I must confess I saw many objections
to it. They have all been removed by what my wife has told me. I
heartily agree with her that the best thing Zack can do is to make the
trip he proposes. You are willing to take care of him; and I honestly
believe that we may safely trust him with you.”

A serious difficulty being thus disposed of, Valentine found leisure to
pay some attention to minor things. Among other questions which he now
asked, was one relating to the Hair Bracelet, and to the manner in which
Matthew had become possessed of it. He was answered by the frankest
confession, a confession which tried even _his_ kindly and forbearing
disposition to the utmost, as he listened to it; and which drew from
him, when it was ended, some of the strongest terms of reproach that had
ever passed his lips.

Mat listened till he had done; then, taking his hat to go, muttered a
few words of rough apology, which Valentine’s good-nature induced him
to accept, almost as soon as they were spoken. “We must let bygones be
bygones,” said the painter. “You have been candid with me, at last, at
any-rate; and, in recognition of that candor, I say ‘Good-night, Mr.
Grice,’ as a friend of yours still.”

When Mat returned to Kirk Street, the landlady came out of her little
parlor to tell him of a visitor who had been to the lodgings in his
absence. An elderly lady, looking very pale and ill, had asked to see
young Mr. Thorpe, and had prefaced the request by saying that she was
his mother. Zack was then asleep, but the lady had been taken up stairs
to see him in bed--had stooped over him, and kissed him--and had then
gone away again, hastily, and in tears. Matthew’s face grew grave as he
listened, but he said nothing when the landlady had done, except a word
or two charging her not to mention to Zack what had happened when he
woke. It was plain that Mrs. Thorpe had been told her husband’s secret,
and that she had lovingly devoted herself to him, as comforter and
companion to the last.

When the doctor paid his regular visit to the invalid, the next morning,
he was called on immediately for an answer to the important question of
when Zack would be fit to travel. After due consideration and careful
inspection of the injured side of the patient’s head, he replied that
in a month’s time the lad might safely go on board ship; and that the
sea-voyage proposed would do more towards restoring him to perfect
health and strength, than all the tonic medicines that all the doctors
in England could prescribe.

Matthew might have found the month’s inaction to which he was now
obliged to submit for Zack’s sake, rather tedious, but for the opportune
arrival in Kirk Street of a professional visitor from Dibbledean.

Though his client had ungratefully and entirely forgotten him, Mr. Tatt
had not by any means forgotten his client, but had, on the contrary,
attended to his interests with unremitting resolution and assiduity.
He had discovered that Mat was entitled, under his father’s will, to no
less a sum than two thousand pounds, if his identity could be properly
established. To effect this result was now, therefore, the grand object
of Mr. Tatt’s ambition. He had the prospect, not only of making a
little money, but of establishing a reputation in Dibbledean, if he
succeeded--and, by dint of perseverance, he ultimately did succeed. He
carried Mat about to all sorts of places, insisted on his signing all
sorts of papers and making all sorts of declarations, and ended by
accumulating such a mass of evidence before the month was out, that
Mr. Nawby, as executor to “the late Joshua Grice,” declared himself
convinced of the claimant’s identity.

On being informed of this result, Mat ordered the lawyer, after first
deducting the amount of his bill from the forthcoming legacy, to draw
him out such a legal form as might enable him to settle his property
forthwith on another person. When Mr. Tatt asked to be furnished with
the name of this person, he was told to write “Martha Peckover.”

“Mary’s child has got you to look after her, and money enough from her
father to keep her,” said Mat, as he put the signed instrument into
Valentine’s hands. “When Martha Peckover’s old and past her work, she
may want a bank-note or two to fall back on. Give her this, when I’m
gone--and say she earned it from Mary’s brother, the day she stopped and
suckled Mary’s child by the road-side.”

The day of departure drew near. Zack rallied so rapidly, that he was
able, a week before it arrived, to go himself and fetch the letter from
his father which was waiting for him at the Agent’s office. It assured
him, briefly, but very kindly, of the forgiveness which he had written
to ask--referred him to the man of business for particulars of the
allowance granted to him, while he pursued his studies in the Art, or
otherwise occupied himself--urged him always to look on Mr. Blyth as the
best friend and counselor that he could ever have--and ended by engaging
him to write often about himself and his employments, to his mother;
sending his letters to be forwarded through the Agent. When Zack,
hearing from this gentleman that his father had left the house in
Baregrove Square, desired to know what had occasioned the change of
residence, he was only informed that the state of Mr. Thorpe’s health
had obliged him to seek perfect retirement and repose: and that there
were reasons at present for not mentioning the place of his retreat
to any one, which it was not deemed expedient for his son to become
acquainted with.

The day of departure arrived.

In the morning, by Valentine’s advice, Zack wrote to his mother; only
telling her, in reference to his proposed trip, that he was about to
travel to improve and amuse himself, in the company of a friend, of whom
Mr. Blyth approved. While he was thus engaged, the painter had a private
interview with Matthew Grice, and very earnestly charged him to remember
his responsibilities towards his young companion. Mat answered briefly
and characteristically: “I told you I was as fond of him as if he was a
bit of my own flesh and blood. If you don’t believe I shall take care of
him, after that--I can’t say nothing to make you.”

Both the travelers were taken up into Mrs. Blyth’s room to say Farewell.
It was a sad parting. Zack’s spirits had not been so good as usual,
since the day of his visit to the Agent’s--and the other persons
assembled were all more or less affected in an unusual degree by the
approaching separation. Madonna had looked ill and anxious--though she
would not own to having anything the matter with her--for some days
past. But now, when she saw the parting looks exchanged around her, the
poor girl’s agitation got beyond her control, and became so painfully
evident, that Zack wisely and considerately hurried over the farewell
scene. He went out first. Matthew followed him to the landing--then
stopped--and suddenly retraced his steps.

He entered the room again, and took his sister’s child by the hand
once more; bent over her as she stood pale and in tears before him, and
kissed her on the cheek. “Tell her some day that me and her mother was
playmates together,” he said to Mrs. Blyth, as he turned away to join
Zack on the stairs.

Valentine accompanied them to the ship. When they shook hands together,
he said to Matthew; “Zack has engaged to come back in a year’s time.
Shall we see _you_ again with him?”

Mat took the painter aside, without directly answering him.

“If ever you go to Bangbury,” he whispered, “look into the churchyard,
in the dark corner amongst the trees. There’s a bit of walnut-wood
planking put up now at the place where she’s buried; and it would be a
comfort to me to know that it was kep’ clean and neat. I should take it
kind of you if you’d give it a brush or two with your hand when you’re
near it--for I never hope to see the place myself; no more.”

              * * * * *

Sadly and thoughtfully, Valentine returned alone to his own house. He
went up at once to his wife’s room.

As he opened the door, he started, and stopped on the threshold. Madonna
was sitting on the couch by her adopted mother, with her face hidden on
Mrs. Blyth’s bosom, and her arms clasped tight round Mrs. Blyth’s neck.

“Have you ventured to tell her all, Lavvie?” he asked.

Mrs. Blyth was not able to speak in answer--she looked at him with
tearful eyes, and bowed her head.

Valentine lingered at the door for a moment-then softly closed it, and
left them together.



CLOSING CHAPTER. A YEAR AND A HALF AFTERWARDS.

It is sunset after a fine day in August, and Mr. Blyth is enjoying the
evening breeze in the invalid room.

Besides the painter and his wife, and Madonna, two visitors are present,
who occupy both the spare beds in the house. One is Mrs. Thorpe, the
other Mrs. Peckover; and they have been asked to become Valentine’s
guests, to assist at the joyful ceremony of welcoming Zack to England on
his return from the wilds of America. He has outstayed his year’s leave
of absence by nearly six months; and his appearance at Mr. Blyth’s has
become an event of daily, or more properly, of hourly expectation.

There is a sad and significant change in Mrs. Thorpe’s dress. She wears
the widow’s cap and weeds. It is nearly seven months since her husband
died, in the remote Welsh village to which he retired on leaving London.
With him, as with many other confirmed invalids, Nature drooped to her
final decay gradually and wearily; but his death was painless, and his
mental powers remained unimpaired to the end. One of the last names that
lingered lovingly on his lips--after he had bade his wife farewell--was
the name of his absent son.

Mrs. Thorpe sits close to Mrs. Blyth, and talks to her in low, gentle
tones. The kind black eyes of the painter’s wife are brighter than
they have been for many a long year past, and the clear tones of her
voice--cheerful always--have a joyous sound in them now. Ever since
the first days of the Spring season, she has been gaining so greatly in
health and strength, that the “favorable turn” has taken place in her
malady, which was spoken of as “possible” by the doctors long ago, at
the time of her first sufferings. She has several times, for the last
fortnight, been moved from her couch for a few hours to a comfortable
seat near the window; and if the fine weather still continues, she is to
be taken out, in a day or two, for an airing in an invalid chair.

The prospect of this happy event, and the pleasant expectation of
Zack’s return, have made Valentine more gaily talkative and more nimbly
restless than ever. As he skips discursively about the room at this
moment, talking of all sorts of subjects, and managing to mix Art up
with every one of them; dressed in the old jaunty frock-coat with
the short tails, he looks, if possible, younger, plumper, rosier, and
brisker than when he was first introduced to the reader. It is wonderful
when people are really youthful at heart, to see how easily the Girdle
of Venus fits them, and how long they contrive to keep it on, without
ever wearing it out.

Mrs. Peckover, arrived in festively-flaring cap-ribbons, sits close to
the window to get all the air she can, and tries to make more of it by
fanning herself with the invariable red cotton pocket-handkerchief to
which she has been all her life attached. In bodily circumference
she has not lost an inch of rotundity; suffers, in consequence,
considerably, from the heat; and talks to Mr. Blyth with parenthetical
pantings, which reflect little credit on the cooling influence of the
breeze, or the ventilating properties of the pocket-handkerchief fan.

Madonna sits opposite to her at the window--as cool and pretty a
contrast as can be imagined, in her white muslin dress, and light
rose-coloured ribbons. She is looking at Mrs. Peckover, and smiling
every now and then at the comically languishing faces made by that
excellent woman, to express to “little Mary” the extremity of her
sufferings from the heat. The whole length of the window-sill is
occupied by an AEolian harp--one of the many presents which Valentine’s
portrait painting expeditions have enabled him to offer to his wife.
Madonna’s hand is resting lightly on the box of the harp; for by
touching it in this way, she becomes sensible to the influence of its
louder and higher notes when the rising breeze draws them out. This is
the only pleasure she can derive from music; and it is always, during
the summer and autumn evenings, one of the amusements that she enjoys in
Mrs. Blyth’s room.

Mrs. Thorpe, in the course of her conversation with Mrs. Blyth, has
been reminded of a letter to one of her sisters, which she has not yet
completed, and goes to her own room to finish it--Valentine running
to open the door for her, with the nimblest juvenile gallantry, then
returning to the window and addressing Mrs. Peckover.

“Hot as ever, eh? Shall I get you one of Lavvie’s fans?” says Mr. Blyth.

“No, thank’ee, sir; I ain’t quite melted yet,” answers Mrs. Peckover.
“But I’ll tell you what I wish you would do for me. I wish you would
read me Master Zack’s last letter. You promised, you know, sir.”

“And I would have performed my promise before, Mrs. Peckover, if Mrs.
Thorpe had not been in the room. There are passages in the letter, which
it might revive very painful remembrances in her to hear. Now she has
left us, I have not the least objection to read, if you are ready to
listen.”

Saying this, Valentine takes a letter from his pocket. Madonna
recognizing it, asks by a sign if she may look over his shoulder and
read it for the second time. The request is granted immediately. Mr.
Blyth makes her sit on his knee, puts his arm round her waist, and
begins to read aloud as follows:

“MY DEAR VALENTINE,--Although I am writing to you to announce my return,
I cannot say that I take up my pen in good spirits. It is not so long
since I picked up my last letters from England that told me of my
father’s death. But besides that, I have had a heavy trial to bear,
in hearing the dreadful secret, which you all kept from me when it was
discovered; and afterwards in parting from Matthew Grice.

“What I felt when I knew the secret, and heard why Mat and all of you
had kept it from me, I may be able to tell you--but I cannot and dare
not write about it. You may be interested to hear how my parting with
Matthew happened; and I will relate it to you, as well as I can.

“You know, from my other letters, all the glorious hunting and riding we
have had, and the thousands of miles of country we have been over, and
the wonderful places we have seen. Well, Bahia (the place I now write
from) has been the end of our travels. It was here I told Mat of my
father’s death; and he directly agreed with me that it was my duty to go
home, and comfort my poor dear mother, by the first ship that sailed for
England. After we had settled that, he said he had something serious
to tell me, and asked me to go with him, northward, half a day’s march
along the seacoast; saying we could talk together quietly as we went
along. I saw that he had got his rifle over his shoulder, and his
baggage at his back; and thought it odd--but he stopped me from asking
any questions, by telling me from beginning to end, all that you and he
knew about my father, before we left England. I was at first so shocked
and amazed by what I heard, and then had so much to say to him about
it, that our half day’s march, by the time we had got to the end of it,
seemed to me to have hardly lasted as long as an hour.

“He stopped, though, at the place he had fixed on; and held out his hand
to me, and said these words: ‘I’ve done my duty by you, Zack, as brother
should by brother. The time’s come at last for us two to say Good-bye.
You’re going back over the sea to your friends, and I’m going inland by
myself on the tramp.’ I had heard him talk of our parting in this way
before, but had never thought it would really take place; and I tried
hard, as you may imagine, to make him change his mind, and sail for
England with me. But it was useless.

“‘No, Zack,’ he said, ‘I doubt if I’m fit for the life you’re going back
to lead. I’ve given it a trial, and a hard and bitter one it’s been
to me. I began life on the tramp; and on the tramp I shall end it.
Good-bye, Zack. I shall think of you, when I light my fire and cook my
bit of victuals without you, in the lonesome places to-night.’

“I tried to control myself, Valentine; but my eyes got dim, and I caught
fast hold of him by the arm. ‘Mat,’ I said, ‘I can’t part with you in
this dreary, hopeless way. Don’t shut the future up from both of us for
ever. We have been eighteen months together, let another year and-a-half
pass if you like; and then give yourself; and give me, another chance.
Say you’ll meet me, when that time is past, in New York; or say at
least, you’ll let me hear where you are?’ His face worked and quivered,
and he only shook his head. ‘Come, Mat,’ I said, as cheerfully as I
could, ‘if I am ready to cross the sea again, for your sake, you can’t
refuse to do what I ask you, for mine?’ ‘Will it make the parting easier
to you, my lad?’ he asked kindly. ‘Yes, indeed it will,’ I answered.
‘Well, then, Zack,’ he said, ‘you shall have your way. Don’t let’s say
no more, now. Come, let’s cut it as short as we can, or we shan’t part
as men should. God bless you, lad, and all of them you’re going back to
see.’ Those were his last words.

“After he had walked a few yards inland, he turned round and waved
his hand--then went on, and never turned again. I sat down on the
sand-hillock where we had said Good-bye, and burst out crying. What with
the dreadful secret he had been telling me as we came along, and then
the parting when I didn’t expect it, all I had of the man about me gave
way somehow in a moment. And I sat alone, crying and sobbing on the
sand-hillock, with the surf roaring miles out at sea behind me, and the
great plain before, with Matthew walking over it alone on his way to the
mountains beyond.

“When I had had time to get ashamed of myself for crying, and had got my
eyesight clear again, he was already far away from me. I ran to the
top of the highest hillock, and watched him over the plain--a desert,
without a shrub to break the miles and miles of flat ground spreading
away to the mountains. I watched him, as he got smaller and smaller--I
watched till he got a mere black speck--till I was doubtful whether I
still saw him or not--till I was certain at last, that the great vacancy
of the plain had swallowed him up from sight.

“My heart was very heavy, Valentine, as I went back to the town by
myself. It is sometimes heavy still; for though I think much of my
mother, and of my sister--whom you have been so kind a father to, and
whose affection it is such a new happiness to me to have the prospect of
soon returning--I think occasionally of dear old Mat, too, and have
my melancholy moments when I remember that he and I are not going back
together.

“I hope you will think me improved by my long trip--I mean in behavior,
as well as health. I have seen much, and learnt much, and thought
much--and I hope I have really profited and altered for the better
during my absence. It is such a pleasure to think I am really going
home--”


Here Mr. Blyth stops abruptly and closes the letter, for Mrs. Thorpe
re-enters the room. “The rest is only about when he expects to be back,”
 whispers Valentine to Mrs. Peckover. “By my calculations,” he continues,
raising his voice and turning towards Mrs. Thorpe; “by my calculations
(which, not having a mathematical head, I don’t boast of, mind, as
being infallibly correct), Zack is likely, I should say, to be here in
about--”

“Hush! hush! hush!” cries Mrs. Peckover, jumping up with incredible
agility at the window, and clapping her hands in a violent state of
excitement. “Don’t talk about when he will be here--_here he is!_ He’s
come in a cab--he’s got out into the garden--he sees me. Welcome back,
Master Zack, welcome back! Hooray! hooray!” Here Mrs. Peckover forgets
her company-manners, and waves the red cotton handkerchief out of the
window in an irrepressible burst of triumph.

Zack’s hearty laugh is heard outside--then his quick step on the
stairs--then the door opens, and he comes in with his beaming sunburnt
face healthier and heartier than ever. His first embrace is for his
mother, his second for Madonna; and, after he has greeted every one else
cordially, he goes back to those two, and Mr. Blyth is glad to see
that he sits down between them and takes their hands gently and
affectionately in his.

Matthew Grice is in all their memories, when the first greetings are
over. Valentine and Madonna look at each other--and the girl’s fingers
sign hesitatingly the letters of Matthew’s name.

“She is thinking of the comrade you have lost,” says the painter,
addressing himself, a little sadly, to Zack.

“The only living soul that’s kin to her now by her mother’s side,” adds
Mrs. Peckover. “It’s like her pretty ways to be thinking of him kindly,
for her mother’s sake.”

“Are you really determined, Zack, to take that second voyage?” asks
Valentine. “Are you determined to go back to America, on the one faint
chance of seeing Mat once more?”

“If I am a living man, eighteen months hence,” Zack answers resolutely,
“nothing shall prevent my taking the voyage. Matthew Grice loved me like
a brother. And, like a brother, I will yet bring him back--if he lives
to keep his promise and meet me, when the time comes.”

*****

The time came; and on either side, the two comrades of former days--in
years so far apart, in sympathies so close together--lived to look each
other in the face again. The solitude which had once hardened Matthew
Grice, had wrought on him, in his riper age, to better and higher ends.
In all his later roamings, the tie which had bound him to those sacred
human interests in which we live and move and have our being--the tie
which he himself believed that he had broken--held fast to him still.
His grim, scarred face softened, his heavy hand trembled in the friendly
grasp that held it, as Zack pleaded with him once more; and, this time,
pleaded not in vain.

“I’ve never been my own man again” said Mat, “since you and me wished
each other good-bye on the sandhills. The lonesome places have got
strange to me--and my rifle’s heavier in hand than ever I knew it
before. There’s some part of myself that seems left behind like, between
Mary’s grave and Mary’s child. Must I cross the seas again to find it?
Give us hold of your hand, Zack--and take the leavings of me back, along
with you.”

So the noble nature of the man unconsciously asserted itself in his
simple words. So the two returned to the old land together. The first
kiss with which his dead sister’s child welcomed him back, cooled the
Tramp’s Fever for ever; and the Man of many Wanderings rested at last
among the friends who loved him, to wander no more.



NOTE TO CHAPTER VII. I DO not know that any attempt has yet been made
in English fiction to draw the character of a “Deaf Mute,” simply
and exactly after nature--or, in other words, to exhibit the peculiar
effects produced by the loss of the senses of hearing and speaking
on the disposition of the person so afflicted. The famous Fenella, in
Scott’s “Peveril of the Peak,” only assumes deafness and dumbness;
and the whole family of dumb people on the stage have the remarkable
faculty--so far as my experience goes--of always being able to hear what
is said to them. When the idea first occurred to me of representing the
character of a “Deaf Mute” as literally as possible according to nature,
I found the difficulty of getting at tangible and reliable materials to
work from, much greater than I had anticipated; so much greater, indeed,
that I believe my design must have been abandoned, if a lucky chance
had not thrown in my way Dr. Kitto’s delightful little book, “The Lost
Senses.” In the first division of that work, which contains the author’s
interesting and touching narrative of his own sensations under the total
loss of the sense of hearing, and its consequent effect on the faculties
of speech, will be found my authority for most of those traits in
Madonna’s character which are especially and immediately connected with
the deprivation from which she is represented as suffering. The moral
purpose to be answered by the introduction of such a personage as this,
and of the kindred character of the Painter’s Wife, lies, I would fain
hope, so plainly on the surface, that it can be hardly necessary for me
to indicate it even to the most careless reader. I know of nothing which
more firmly supports our faith in the better parts of human nature, than
to see--as we all may--with what patience and cheerfulness the heavier
bodily afflictions of humanity are borne, for the most part, by those
afflicted; and also to note what elements of kindness and gentleness the
spectacle of these afflictions constantly develops in the persons of
the little circle by which the sufferer is surrounded. Here is the ever
bright side, the ever noble and consoling aspect of all human calamity
and the object of presenting this to the view of others, as truly and as
tenderly as in him lies, seems to me to be a fit object for any writer
who desires to address himself to the best sympathies of his readers.





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