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Title: The Athelings; vol. 1/3
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             THE ATHELINGS


                            THE THREE GIFTS

                         BY MARGARET OLIPHANT


    “I’ the cave wherein they bow, their thoughts do hit
     The roofs of palaces; and nature prompts them,
     In simple and low things, to prince it much
     Beyond the trick of others.”
                              CYMBELINE


                           IN THREE VOLUMES

                                VOL. I.


                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON
                               MDCCCLVII


                             THE ATHELINGS

                           BOOK I.--BELLEVUE



                            THE ATHELINGS.



BOOK I.--CHAPTER I.

IN THE STREET.


One of them is very pretty--you can see that at a glance: under the
simple bonnet, and through the thin little veil, which throws no cloud
upon its beauty, shines the sweetest girl’s face imaginable. It is only
eighteen years old, and not at all of the heroical cast, but it
brightens like a passing sunbeam through all the sombre line of
passengers, and along the dull background of this ordinary street. There
is no resisting that sweet unconscious influence: people smile when they
pass her, unawares; it is a natural homage paid involuntarily to the
young, sweet, innocent loveliness, unconscious of its own power. People
have smiled upon her all her days; she thinks it is because everybody is
amiable, and seeks no further for a cause.

The other one is not very pretty; she is twenty: she is taller, paler,
not so bright of natural expression, yet as far from being commonplace
as can be conceived. They are dressed entirely alike, thriftily dressed
in brown merino, with little cloaks exact to the same pattern, and
bonnets, of which every bow of ribbon outside, and every little pink
rosebud within, is a complete fac-simile of its sister bud and bow. They
have little paper-parcels in their hands each of them; they are about
the same height, and not much different in age; and to see these twin
figures, so entirely resembling each other, passing along at the same
inconsistent youthful pace, now rapid and now lingering, you would
scarcely be prepared for the characteristic difference in their looks
and in their minds.

It is a spring afternoon, cheery but cold, and lamps and shop-windows
are already beginning to shine through the ruddy twilight. This is a
suburban street, with shops here and there, and sombre lines of houses
between. The houses are all graced with “front gardens,” strips of
ground enriched with a few smoky evergreens, and flower-plots ignorant
of flowers; and the shops are of a highly miscellaneous character,
adapted to the wants of the locality. Vast London roars and travails far
away to the west and to the south. This is Islington, a mercantile and
clerkish suburb. The people on the omnibuses--and all the omnibuses are
top-heavy with outside passengers--are people from the City; and at this
time in the afternoon, as a general principle, everybody is going home.

The two sisters, by a common consent, come to a sudden pause: it is
before a toy-shop; and it is easy to discover by the discussion which
follows that there are certain smaller people who form an important part
of the household at home.

“Take this, Agnes,” says the beautiful sister; “see how pretty! and they
could both play with this; but only Bell would care for the doll.”

“It is Bell’s turn,” said Agnes; “Beau had the last one. This we could
dress ourselves, for I know mamma has a piece over of their last new
frocks. The blue eyes are the best. Stand at the door, Marian, and look
for my father, till I buy it; but tell me first which they will like
best.”

This was not an easy question. The sisters made a long and anxious
survey of the window, varied by occasional glances behind them “to see
if papa was coming,” and concluded by a rapid decision on Agnes’s part
in favour of one of the ugliest of the dolls. But still Papa did not
come; and the girls were proceeding on their way with the doll, a soft
and shapeless parcel, added to their former burdens, when a rapid step
came up behind them, and a clumsy boy plunged upon the shoulder of the
elder.

“Oh, Charlie!” exclaimed Agnes in an aggrieved but undoubting tone. She
did not need to look round. This big young brother was unmistakable in
his salutations.

“I say, my father’s past,” said Charlie. “Won’t he be pleased to find
you two girls out? What do you wander about so late for? it’s getting
dark. I call that foolish, when you might be out, if you pleased, all
the day.”

“My boy, you do not know anything about it,” said the elder sister with
dignity; “and you shall go by yourself if you do not walk quietly.
There! people are looking at us; they never looked at us till you came.”

“Charlie is so handsome,” said Marian laughing, as they all turned a
corner, and, emancipated from the public observation, ran along the
quiet street, a straggling group, one now pressing before, and now
lagging behind. This big boy, however, so far from being handsome, was
strikingly the opposite. He had large, loose, ill-compacted limbs, like
most young animals of a large growth, and a face which might be called
clever, powerful, or good-humoured, but certainly was, without any
dispute, ugly. He was of dark complexion, had natural furrows in his
brow, and a mouth, wide with fun and happy temper at the present moment,
which could close with indomitable obstinacy when occasion served. No
fashion could have made Charlie Atheling fashionable; but his plain
apparel looked so much plainer and coarser than his sisters’, that it
had neither neatness nor grace to redeem its homeliness. He was
seventeen, tall, _big_, and somewhat clumsy, as unlike as possible to
the girls, who had a degree of natural and simple gracefulness not very
common in their sphere. Charlie’s masculine development was unequivocal;
he was a thorough _boy_ now, and would be a manful man.

“Charlie, boy, have you been thinking?” asked Agnes suddenly, as the
three once more relapsed into a sober pace, and pursued their homeward
way together. There was the faintest quiver of ridicule in the elder
sister’s voice, and Marian looked up for the answer with a smile. The
young gentleman gave some portentous hitches of his broad shoulders,
twisted his brow into ominous puckers, set his teeth--and at last burst
out with indignation and unrestrained vehemence--

“Have I been thinking?--to be sure! but I can’t make anything of it, if
I think for ever.”

“You are worse than a woman, Charlie,” said the pretty Marian; “you
never can make up your mind.”

“Stuff!” cried the big boy loudly; “it isn’t making up my mind, it’s
thinking what will do. You girls know nothing about it. I can’t see that
one thing’s better than another, for my part. One man succeeds and
another man’s a failure, and yet the one’s as good a fellow and as
clever to work as the other. I don’t know what it means.”

“So I suppose you will end with being misanthropical and doing nothing,”
said Agnes; “and all Charlie Atheling’s big intentions will burst, like
Beau’s soap-bubbles. I would not have that.”

“I won’t have that, and so you know very well,” said Charlie, who was by
no means indisposed for a quarrel. “You are always aggravating, you
girls--as if you knew anything about it! I’ll tell you what; I don’t
mind how it is, but I’m a man to be something, as sure as I live.”

“You are not a man at all, poor little Charlie--you are only a boy,”
said Marian.

“And we are none of us so sure to live that we should swear by it,” said
Agnes. “If you are to be something, you should speak better sense than
that.”

“Oh, a nice pair of tutors you are!” cried Master Charlie. “I’m bigger
than the two of you put together--and I’m a man. You may be as envious
as you like, but you cannot alter that.”

Now, though the girls laughed, and with great contempt scouted the idea
of being envious, it is not to be denied that some small morsel of envy
concerning masculine privileges lay in the elder sister’s heart. It was
said at home that Agnes was clever--this was her distinction in the
family; and Agnes, having a far-away perception of the fact, greatly
longed for some share of those wonderful imaginary advantages which
“opened all the world,” as she herself said, to a man’s ambition; she
coloured a little with involuntary excitement, while Marian’s sweet and
merry laughter still rang in her ear. Marian could afford to laugh--for
this beautiful child was neither clever nor ambitious, and had, in all
circumstances, the sweetest faculty of content.

“Well, Charlie, a man can do anything,” said Agnes; “_we_ are obliged to
put up with trifles. If I were a man, I should be content with nothing
less than the greatest--I know that!”

“Stuff!” answered the big boy once more; “you may romance about it as
you like, but I know better. Who is to care whether you are content or
not? You must be only what you can, if you were the greatest hero in the
world.”

“I do not know, for my part, what you are talking of,” said Marian. “Is
this all about what you are going to do, Charlie, and because you cannot
make up your mind whether you will be a clerk in papa’s office, or go to
old Mr Foggo’s to learn to be a lawyer? I don’t see what heroes have to
do with it either one way or other. You ought to go to your business
quietly, and be content. Why should _you_ be better than papa?”

The question was unanswerable. Charlie hitched his great shoulders, and
made marvellous faces, but replied nothing. Agnes went on steadily in a
temporary abstraction; Marian ran on in advance. The street was only
half-built--one of those quietest of surburban streets which are to be
found only in the outskirts of great towns. The solitary little houses,
some quite apart, some in pairs--detached and semi-detached, according
to the proper description--stood in genteel retirement within low walls
and miniature shrubberies. There was nothing ever to be seen in this
stillest of inhabited places--therefore it was called Bellevue: and the
inhabitants veiled their parlour windows behind walls and boarded
railings, lest their privacy should be invaded by the vulgar vision of
butcher, or baker, or green-grocer’s boy. Other eyes than those of the
aforesaid professional people never disturbed the composure of Laurel
Cottage and Myrtle Cottage, Elmtree Lodge and Halcyon House--wherefore
the last new house had a higher wall and a closer railing than any of
its predecessors; and it was edifying to observe everybody’s virtuous
resolution to see nothing where there was visibly nothing to see.

At the end of this closed-up and secluded place, one light, shining from
an unshuttered window, made a gleam of cheerfulness through the
respectable gloom. Here you could see shadows large and small moving
upon the white blind--could see the candles shifted about, and the
sudden reddening of the stirred fire. A wayfarer, when by chance there
was one, could scarcely fail to pause with a momentary sentiment of
neighbourship and kindness opposite this shining window. It was the only
evidence in the darkness of warm and busy human life. This was the home
of the three young Athelings--as yet the centre and boundary of all
their pleasures, and almost all their desires.



CHAPTER II.

HOME.


The house is old for this locality--larger than this family could have
afforded, had it been in better condition,--a cheap house out of repair.
It is impossible to see what is the condition of the little garden
before the door; but the bushes are somewhat straggling, and wave their
long arms about in the rising wind. There is a window on either side of
the door, and the house is but two stories high: it is the most
commonplace of houses, perfectly comfortable and uninteresting, so far
as one may judge from without. Inside, the little hall is merely a
passage, with a door on either side, a long row of pegs fastened against
the wall, and a strip of brightly-painted oil-cloth on the floor. The
parlour door is open--there are but two candles, yet the place is
bright; and in it is the lighted window which shines so cheerily into
the silent street. The father sits by the fire in the only easy-chair
which this apartment boasts; the mother moves about on sundry nameless
errands, of which she herself could scarcely give a just explanation;
yet somehow that comfortable figure passing in and out through light and
shadow adds an additional charm to the warmth and comfort of the place.
Two little children are playing on the rug before the fire--very little
children, twins scarcely two years old--one of them caressing the
slippered foot of Mr Atheling, the other seated upon a great paper book
full of little pictures, which serves at once as amusement for the
little mind, and repose for the chubby little frame. They are rosy,
ruddy, merry imps, as ever brightened a fireside; and it is hard to
believe they are of the same family as Charlie and Agnes and Marian. For
there is a woeful gap between the elder and the younger children of this
house--an interval of heavy, tardy, melancholy years, the records of
which are written, many names, upon one gravestone, and upon the hearts
of these two cheerful people, among their children at their own hearth.
They have lived through their day of visitation, and come again into the
light beyond; but it is easy to understand the peculiar tenderness with
which father and mother bend over these last little children--angels of
consolation--and how everything in the house yields to the pretty
childish caprice of little Bell and little Beau.

Yes, of course, you have found it out: everybody finds it out at the
first glance; everybody returns to it with unfailing criticism. To tell
the truth, the house is a very cheap house, being so large a one. Had it
been in good order, the Athelings could never have pretended to such a
“desirable family residence” as this house in Bellevue; and so you
perceive this room has been papered by Charlie and the girls and Mrs
Atheling. It is a very pretty paper, and was a great bargain; but
unfortunately it is not matched--one-half of the pattern, in two or
three places, is hopelessly divorced from the other half. They were very
zealous, these amateur workpeople, but they were not born paperhangers,
and, with the best intentions in the world, have drawn the walls awry.
At the time Mrs Atheling was extremely mortified, and Agnes overcome
with humiliation; but Charlie and Marian thought it very good fun; Papa
burst into shouts of laughter; Bell and Beau chorused lustily, and at
length even the unfortunate managers of the work forgave themselves. It
never was altered, because a new paper is an important consideration
where so many new frocks, coats, and bonnets are perpetually wanting:
everybody became accustomed to it; it was an unfailing source of family
witticism; and Mrs Atheling came to find so much relaxation from her
other cares in the constant mental effort to piece together the
disjointed pattern, that even to her there was consolation in this dire
and lamentable failure. Few strangers came into the family-room, but
every visitor who by chance entered it, with true human perversity
turned his eyes from the comfort and neatness of the apartment, and from
the bright faces of its occupants, to note the flowers and arabesques of
the pretty paper, wandering all astray over this unfortunate wall.

Yet it was a pretty scene--with Marian’s beautiful face at one side of
the table, and the bright intelligence of Agnes at the other--the rosy
children on the rug, the father reposing from his day’s labour, the
mother busy with her sweet familiar never-ending cares; even Charlie,
ugly and characteristic, added to the family completeness. The head of
the house was only a clerk in a merchant’s office, with a modest stipend
of two hundred pounds a-year. All the necessities of the family, young
and old, had to be supplied out of this humble income. You may suppose
there was not much over, and that the household chancellor of the
exchequer had enough to do, even when assisted by that standing
committee with which she consulted solemnly over every little outlay.
The committee was prudent, but it was not infallible. Agnes, the leading
member, had extravagant notions. Marian, more careful, had still a
weakness for ribbons and household embellishments, bright and clean and
new. Sometimes the committee _en permanence_ was abruptly dismissed by
its indignant president, charged with revolutionary sentiments, and a
total ignorance of sound financial principles. Now and then there
occurred a monetary crisis. On the whole, however, the domestic kingdom
was wisely governed, and the seven Athelings, parents and children,
lived and prospered, found it possible to have even holiday dresses, and
books from the circulating library, ribbons for the girls, and toys for
the babies, out of their two hundred pounds a-year.

Tea was on the table; yet the first thing to be done was to open out the
little paper parcels, which proved to contain enclosures no less
important than those very ribbons, which the finance committee had this
morning decided upon as indispensable. Mrs Atheling unrolled them
carefully, and held them out to the light. She shook her head; they had
undertaken this serious responsibility all by themselves, these rash
imprudent girls.

“Now, mamma, what do you think? I told you we could choose them; and the
man said they were half as dear again six months ago,” cried the
triumphant Marian.

Again Mrs Atheling shook her head. “My dears,” said the careful mother,
“how do you think such a colour as this can last till June?”

This solemn question somewhat appalled the youthful purchasers. “It is a
very pretty colour, mamma,” said Agnes, doubtfully.

“So it is,” said the candid critic; “but you know it will fade directly.
I always told you so. It is only fit for people who have a dozen
bonnets, and can afford to change them. I am quite surprised at you,
girls; you ought to have known a great deal better. Of course the colour
will fly directly: the first sunny day will make an end of that. But _I_
cannot help it, you know; and, faded or not faded, it must do till
June.”

The girls exchanged glances of discomfiture. “Till June!” said Agnes;
“and it is only March now. Well, one never knows what may happen before
June.”

This was but indifferent consolation, but it brought Charlie to the
table to twist the unfortunate ribbon, and let loose his opinion. “They
ought to wear wide-awakes. That’s what they ought to have,” said
Charlie. “Who cares for all that trumpery? not old Foggo, I’m sure, nor
Miss Willsie; and they are all the people we ever see.”

“Hold your peace, Charlie,” said Mrs Atheling, “and don’t say old Foggo,
you rude boy. He is the best friend you have, and a real gentleman; and
what would your papa do with such a set of children about him, if Mr
Foggo did not drop in now and then for some sensible conversation. It
will be a long time before you try to make yourself company for papa.”

“Foggo is not so philanthropical, Mary,” said Papa, for the first time
interposing; “he has an eye to something else than sensible
conversation. However, be quiet and sit down, you set of children, and
let us have some tea.”

The ribbons accordingly were lifted away, and placed in a heap upon a
much-used work-table which stood in the window. The kettle sang by the
fire. The tea was made. Into two small chairs of wickerwork, raised upon
high stilts to reach the table, were hoisted Bell and Beau. The talk of
these small interlocutors had all this time been incessant, but
untranslatable. It was the unanimous opinion of the family Atheling that
you could “make out every word” spoken by these little personages, and
that they were quite remarkable in their intelligibility; yet there were
difficulties in the way, and everybody had not leisure for the close
study of this peculiar language, nor the abstract attention necessary
for a proper comprehension of all its happy sayings. So Bell and Beau,
to the general public, were but a merry little chorus to the family
drama, interrupting nothing, and being interrupted by nobody. Like
crickets and singing-birds, and all musical creatures, their happy din
grew louder as the conversation rose; but there was not one member of
this loving circle who objected to have his voice drowned in the
jubilant uproar of those sweet small voices, the unceasing music of this
happy house.

After tea, it was Marian’s “turn,” as it appeared, to put the little
orchestra to bed. It was well for the little cheeks that they were made
of a more elastic material than those saintly shrines and reliquaries
which pious pilgrims wore away with kissing; and Charlie, mounting one
upon each shoulder, carried the small couple up-stairs. It was touching
to see the universal submission to these infants: the house had been
very sad before they came, and these twin blossoms had ushered into a
second summer the bereaved and heavy household life.

When Bell and Beau were satisfactorily asleep and disposed of, Mrs
Atheling sat down to her sewing, as is the wont of exemplary mothers.
Papa found his occupation in a newspaper, from which now and then he
read a scrap of news aloud. Charlie, busy about some solitary study,
built himself round with books at a side-table. Agnes and Marian, with
great zeal and some excitement, laid their heads together over the
trimming of their bonnets. The ribbon was very pretty, though it was
unprofitable; perhaps in their secret hearts these girls liked it the
better for its unthrifty delicacy, but they were too “well brought up”
to own to any such perverse feeling. At any rate, they were very much
concerned about their pretty occupation, and tried a hundred different
fashions before they decided upon the plainest and oldest fashion of
all. They had taste enough to make their plain little straw-bonnets very
pretty to look at, but were no more skilled in millinery than in
paperhanging, and timid of venturing upon anything new. The night flew
on to all of them in these quiet businesses; and Time went more heavily
through many a festive and courtly place than he did through this little
parlour, where there was no attempt at pleasure-making. When the bonnets
were finished, it had grown late. Mr Foggo had not come this night for
any sensible conversation; neither had Agnes been tempted to join
Charlie at the side-table, where lay a miscellaneous collection of
papers, packed within an overflowing blotting-book, her indisputable
property. Agnes had other ambition than concerned the trimming of
bonnets, and had spoiled more paper in her day than the paper of this
parlour wall; but we pause till the morning to exhibit the gift of Agnes
Atheling, how it was regarded, and what it was.



CHAPTER III.

AGNES.


Dearest friend! most courteous reader! suspend your judgment. It was not
her fault. This poor child had no more blame in the matter than Marian
had for her beauty, which was equally involuntary. Agnes Atheling was
not wise; she had no particular gift for conversation, and none whatever
for logic; no accomplishments, and not a very great deal of information.
To tell the truth, while it was easy enough to discover what she had
not, it was somewhat difficult to make out precisely what she had to
distinguish her from other people. She was a good girl, but by no means
a model one; full of impatiences, resentments, and despairs now and
then, as well as of hopes, jubilant and glorious, and a vague but grand
ambition. She herself knew herself quite as little as anybody else did;
for consciousness of power and prescience of fame, if these are signs of
genius, did not belong to Agnes. Yet genius, in some kind and degree,
certainly did belong to her, for the girl had that strange faculty of
expression which is as independent of education, knowledge, or culture
as any wandering angel. When she had anything to say (upon paper), she
said it with so much grace and beauty of language, that Mr Atheling’s
old correspondents puzzled and shook their grey heads over it, charmed
and astonished without knowing why, and afterwards declared to each
other that Atheling must be a clever fellow, though they had never
discovered it before; and a clever fellow he must have been indeed,
could he have clothed these plain sober sentiments of his in such a
radiant investiture of fancy and youth. For Agnes was the letter-writer
of the household, and in her young sincerity, and with her visionary
delight in all things beautiful, was not content to make a dutiful
inquiry, on her mother’s part, for an old ailing country aunt, or to
convey a bit of city gossip to some clerkish contemporary of her
father’s, without induing the humdrum subject with such a glow and glory
of expression that the original proprietors of the sentiment scarcely
knew it in its dazzling gear. She had been letting her pearls and her
diamonds drop from her lips after this fashion, with the prodigality of
a young spendthrift--only astonishing the respectable people who were on
letter-writing terms with Mr and Mrs Atheling--for two or three years
past. But time only strengthened the natural bent of this young
creature, to whom Providence had given, almost her sole dower, that gift
of speech which is so often withheld from those who have the fullest and
highest opportunity for its exercise. Agnes, poor girl! young,
inexperienced, and uninstructed, had not much wisdom to communicate to
the world--not much of anything, indeed, save the vague and splendid
dreams--the variable, impossible, and inconsistent speculations of
youth; but she had the gift, and with the gift she had the sweet
spontaneous impulse which made it a delight. They were proud of her at
home. Mr and Mrs Atheling, with the tenderest exultation, rejoiced over
Marian, who was pretty, and Agnes, who was clever; yet, loving these two
still more than they admired them, they by no means realised the fact
that the one had beauty and the other genius of a rare and unusual kind.
We are even obliged to confess that at times their mother had
compunctions, and doubted whether Agnes, a poor man’s daughter, and like
to be a poor man’s wife, ought to be permitted so much time over that
overflowing blotting-book. Mrs Atheling, when her own ambition and pride
in her child did not move her otherwise, pondered much whether it would
not be wiser to teach the girls dress-making or some other practical
occupation, “for they may not marry; and if anything should happen to
William or me!--as of course we are growing old, and will not live for
ever,” she said to herself in her tender and anxious heart. But the
girls had not yet learned dress-making, in spite of Mrs Atheling’s
fears; and though Marian could “cut out” as well as her mother, and
Agnes, more humble, worked with her needle to the universal admiration,
no speculations as to “setting them up in business” had entered the
parental brain. So Agnes continued at the side-table, sometimes writing
very rapidly and badly, sometimes copying out with the most elaborate
care and delicacy--copying out even a second time, if by accident or
misfortune a single blot came upon the well-beloved page. This
occupation alternated with all manner of domestic occupations. The young
writer was as far from being an abstracted personage as it is possible
to conceive; and from the momentous matter of the household finances to
the dressing of the doll, and the childish play of Bell and Beau,
nothing came amiss to the incipient author. With this sweet stream of
common life around her, you may be sure her genius did her very little
harm.

And when all the domestic affairs were over--when Mr Atheling had
finished his newspaper, and Mrs Atheling put aside her work-basket, and
Mr Foggo was out of the way--then Papa was wont to look over his
shoulder to his eldest child. “You may read some of your nonsense, if
you like, Agnes,” said the household head; and it was Agnes’s custom
upon this invitation, though not without a due degree of coyness, to
gather up her papers, draw her chair into the corner, and read what she
had written. Before Agnes began, Mrs Atheling invariably stretched out
her hand for her work-basket, and was invariably rebuked by her husband;
but Marian’s white hands rustled on unreproved, and Charlie sat still at
his grammar. It was popularly reported in the family that Charlie kept
on steadily learning his verbs even while he listened to Agnes’s story.
He said so himself, who was the best authority; but we by no means
pledge ourselves to the truth of the statement.

And so the young romance was read: there was some criticism, but more
approval; and in reality none of them knew what to think of it, any more
than the youthful author did. They were too closely concerned to be cool
judges, and, full of interest and admiration as they were, could not
quite overcome the oddness and novelty of the idea that “our Agnes”
might possibly one day be famous, and write for the world. Mr Atheling
himself, who was most inclined to be critical, had the strangest
confusion of feelings upon this subject, marvelling much within himself
whether “the child” really had this singular endowment, or if it was
only their own partial judgment which magnified her powers. The family
father could come to no satisfactory conclusion upon the subject, but
still smiled at himself, and wondered, when his daughter’s story
brought tears to his eyes, or sympathy or indignation to his heart. It
moved _him_ without dispute,--it moved Mamma there, hastily rubbing out
the moisture from the corner of her eyes. Even Charlie was disturbed
over his grammar. “Yes,” said Mr Atheling, “but then you see she belongs
to us; and though all this certainly never could have come into _my_
head, yet it is natural I should sympathise with it; but it is a very
different thing when you think of the world.”

So it was, as different a thing as possible; for the world had no
anxious love to sharpen _its_ criticism--did not care a straw whether
the young writer was eloquent or nonsensical; and just in proportion to
its indifference was like to be the leniency of its judgment. These good
people did not think of that; they made wonderful account of their own
partiality, but never reckoned upon that hypercritical eye of love which
will not be content with a questionable excellence; and so they pondered
and marvelled with an excitement half amusing and half solemn. What
would other people think?--what would be the judgment of the world?

As for Agnes, she was as much amused as the rest at the thought of being
“an author,” and laughed, with her bright eyes running over, at this
grand anticipation; for she was too young and too inexperienced to see
more than a delightful novelty and unusualness in her possible fame. In
the mean time she was more interested in what she was about than in the
result of it, and pleased herself with the turn of her pretty sentences,
and the admirable orderliness of her manuscript; for she was only a
girl.



CHAPTER IV.

MARIAN.


Marian Atheling had as little choice in respect to her particular
endowment as her sister had; less, indeed, for it cost her nothing--not
an hour’s thought or a moment’s exertion. She could not help shining
forth so fair and sweet upon the sober background of this family life;
she could not help charming every stranger who looked into her sweet
eyes. She was of no particular “style” of beauty, so far as we are
aware; she was even of no distinct complexion of loveliness, but wavered
with the sweetest shade of uncertainty between dark and fair, tall and
little. For hers was not the beauty of genius--it was not exalted and
heroical expression--it was not tragic force or eloquence of features;
it was something less distinct and more subtle even than these. Hair
that caught the sunshine, and brightened under its glow; eyes which
laughed a sweet response of light before the fair eyelids fell over them
in that sweet inconsistent mingling of frankness and shyness which is
the very charm of girlhood; cheeks as soft and bloomy and fragrant as
any flower,--these seemed but the appropriate language in which alone
this innocent, radiant, beautiful youth could find fit expression. For
beauty of expression belonged to Marian as well as more obvious
beauties; there was an entire sweet harmony between the language and the
sentiment of nature upon this occasion. The face would have been
beautiful still, had its possessor been a fool or discontented; as it
was, being only the lovely exponent of a heart as pure, happy, and
serene as heart could be, the face was perfect. Criticism had nothing to
do with an effect so sudden and magical: this young face shone and
brightened like a sunbeam, touching the hearts of those it beamed upon.
Mere admiration was scarcely the sentiment with which people looked at
her; it was pure tenderness, pleasure, unexpected delight, which made
the chance passengers in the street smile as they passed her by. Their
hearts warmed to this fair thing of God’s making--they “blessed her
unaware.” Eighteen years old, and possessed of this rare gift, Marian
still did not know what rude admiration was, though she went out day by
day alone and undefended, and would not have faltered at going anywhere,
if her mother bade or necessity called. _She_ knew nothing of those
stares and impertinent annoyances which fastidious ladies sometimes
complained of, and of which she had read in books. Marian asserted
roundly, and with unhesitating confidence, that “it was complete
nonsense”--“it was not true;” and went upon her mother’s errands through
all the Islingtonian streets as safely as any heroine ever went through
ambuscades and prisons. She believed in lovers and knights of romance
vaguely, but fervently,--believed even, we confess, in the melodramatic
men who carry off fair ladies, and also in disguised princes and Lords
of Burleigh; but knew nothing whatever, in her own most innocent and
limited experience, of any love but the love of home. And Marian had
heard of bad men and bad women,--nay, _knew_, in Agnes’s story, the most
impossible and short-sighted of villains--a true rascal of romance,
whose snares were made on purpose for discovery,--but had no more fear
of such than she had of lions or tigers, the Gunpowder Plot, or the
Spanish Inquisition. Safe as among her lawful vassals, this young girl
went and came--safe as in a citadel, dwelt in her father’s house,
untempted, untroubled, in the most complete and thorough security. So
far as she had come upon the sunny and flowery way of her young life,
her beauty had been no gift of peril to Marian, and she had no fear of
what was to come.

And no one is to suppose that Mrs Atheling’s small means were strained
to do honour to, or “set off,” her pretty daughter. These good people,
though they loved much to see their children happy and well esteemed,
had no idea of any such unnecessary efforts; and Marian shone out of her
brown merino frock, and her little pink rosebuds, as sweetly as ever
shone a princess in the purple and pall of her high estate. Mrs Atheling
thought Marian “would look well in anything,” in the pride of her heart,
as she pinched the bit of white lace round Marian’s neck when Mr Foggo
and Miss Willsie were coming to tea. It was indeed the general opinion
of the household, and that other people shared it was sufficiently
proved by the fact that Miss Willsie herself begged for a pattern of
that very little collar, which was so becoming. Marian gave the pattern
with the greatest alacrity, yet protested that Miss Willsie had many
collars a great deal prettier--which indeed was very true.

And Marian was her mother’s zealous assistant in all household
occupations--not more willing, but with more execution and practical
power than Agnes, who, by dint of a hasty anxiety for perfection, made
an intolerable amount of blunders. Marian was more matter-of-fact, and
knew better what she could do; she was constantly busy, morning and
night, keeping always in hand some morsel of fancy-work, with which to
occupy herself at irregular times after the ordinary work was over.
Agnes also had bits of fancy-work in hand; but the difference herein
between the two sisters was this, that Marian finished _her_ pretty
things, while Agnes’s uncompleted enterprises were always turning up in
some old drawer or work-table, and were never brought to a conclusion.
Marian made collars for her mother, frills for Bell and Beau, and a very
fine purse for Charlie; which Charlie, having nothing to put in the
same, rejected disdainfully: but it was a very rare thing indeed for
Agnes to come to an end of any such labour. With Marian, too, lay the
honour of far superior accuracy and precision in the important
particular of “cutting out.” These differences furthered the appropriate
division of labour, and the household work made happy progress under
their united hands.

To this we have only to add, that Marian Atheling was merry without
being witty, and intelligent without being clever. She, too, was a good
girl; but she also had her faults: she was sometimes saucy, very often
self-willed, yet had fortunately thus far shown a sensible perception of
cases which were beyond her own power of settling. She had the greatest
interest in Agnes’s story-telling, but was extremely impatient to know
the end before the beginning, which the hapless young author was not
always in circumstances to tell; and Marian made countless suggestions,
interfering arbitrarily and vexatiously with the providence of fiction,
and desiring all sorts of impossible rewards and punishments. But
Marian’s was no quiet or superficial criticism: how she burned with
indignation at that poor unbelievable villain!--how she triumphed when
all the good people put him down!--with what entire and fervid interest
she entered into everybody’s fortune! It was worth while being present
at one of these family readings, if only to see the flutter and tumult
of sympathies which greeted the tale.

And we will not deny that Marian had possibly a far-off idea that she
was pretty--an idea just so indistinct and distant as to cause a
momentary blush and sparkle--a momentary flutter, half of pleasure and
half of shame, when it chanced to glide across her young unburdened
heart; but of her beauty and its influence this innocent girl had
honestly no conception. Everybody smiled upon her everywhere. Even Mr
Foggo’s grave and saturnine countenance slowly brightened when her sweet
face shone upon him. Marian did not suppose that these smiles had
anything to do with her; she went upon her way with a joyous young
belief in the goodness of everybody, except the aforesaid impossible
people, who were unspeakably black, beyond anything that ever was
painted, to the simple imagination of Marian. She had no great
principle of abstract benevolence to make her charitable; she was
strongly in favour of the instant and overwhelming punishment of all
these imaginary criminals; but for the rest of the world, Marian looked
them all in the face, frank and shy and sweet, with her beautiful eyes.
She was content to offer that small right hand of kindliest fellowship,
guileless and unsuspecting, to them all.



CHAPTER V.

CHARLIE.


This big boy was about as far from being handsome as any ordinary
imagination could conceive: his large loose limbs, his big features, his
swarthy complexion, though they were rather uglier in their present
development than they were likely to be when their possessor was
full-grown and a man, could never, by any chance, gain him the moderate
credit of good looks. He was not handsome emphatically, and yet there
never was a more expressive face: that great furrowed brow of his went
up in ripples and waves of laughter when the young gentleman was so
minded, and descended in rolls of cloud when there was occasion for such
a change. His mouth was not a pretty mouth: the soft curve of Cupid’s
bow, the proud Napoleonic curl, were as different as you could suppose
from the indomitable and graceless upper-lip of Charlie Atheling. Yet
when that obstinate feature came down in fixed and steady
impenetrability, a more emphatic expression never sat on the haughtiest
curve of Greece. He was a tolerably good boy, but he had his foible.
Charlie, we are grieved to say, was obstinate--marvellously obstinate,
unpersuadable, and beyond the reach of reasoning. If anything could have
made this propensity justifiable--as nothing could possibly make it more
provoking--it was, that the big boy was very often in the right. Time
after time, by force of circumstances, everybody else was driven to give
in to him: whether it really was by means of astute and secret
calculation of all the chances of the question, nobody could tell; but
every one knew how often Charlie’s opinion was confirmed by the course
of events, and how very seldom his odd penetration was deceived. This,
as a natural consequence, made everybody very hot and very resentful who
happened to disagree with Charlie, and caused a great amount of
jubilation and triumph in the house on those occasions, unfrequent as
they were, when his boyish infallibility was proved in the wrong.

Yet Charlie was not clever. The household could come to no satisfactory
conclusion upon this subject. He did not get on with his moderate
studies either quicker or better than any ordinary boy of his years. He
had no special turn for literature either, though he did not disdain
_Peter Simple_ and _Midshipman Easy_. These renowned productions of
genius held the highest place at present in that remote corner of
Charlie’s interest which was reserved for the fine arts; but we are
obliged to confess that this big boy had wonderfully bad taste in
general, and could not at all appreciate the higher excellences of art.
Besides all this, no inducement whatever could tempt Charlie to the
writing of the briefest letter, or to any exercise of his powers of
composition, if any such powers belonged to him. No, he could not be
clever--and yet----

They did not quite like to give up the question, the mother and sisters.
They indulged in the loftiest flights of ambition for him, as
heaven-aspiring, and built on as slender a foundation, as any bean-stalk
of romance. They endeavoured greatly, with much anxiety and care, to
make him clever, and to make him ambitious, after their own model; but
this obstinate and self-willed individual was not to be coerced. So far
as this matter went, Charlie had a certain affectionate contempt for
them all, with their feminine fancies and imaginations. He said only
“Stuff!” when he listened to the grand projects of the girls, and to
Agnes’s flush of enthusiastic confidence touching that whole unconquered
world which was open to “a man!” Charlie hitched his great shoulders,
frowned down upon her with all the furrows of his brow, laughed aloud,
and went off to his grammar. This same grammar he worked at with his
usual obstinate steadiness. He had not a morsel of liking for “his
studies;” but he “went in” at them doggedly, just as he might have
broken stones or hewed wood, had that been a needful process. Nobody
ever does know the secret of anybody else’s character till life and time
have evolved the same; so it is not wonderful that these good people
were a little puzzled about Charlie, and did not quite know how to
dispose of their obstinate big boy.

Charlie himself, however, we are glad to say, was sometimes moved to
take his sisters into his confidence. _They_ knew that some ambition did
stir within that Titanic boyish frame. They were in the secret of the
great discussion which was at present going on in the breast of Charlie,
whose whole thoughts, to tell the truth, were employed about the
momentous question--What he was to be? There was not a very wide choice
in his power. He was not seduced by the red coat and the black coat,
like the ass of the problem. The syrens of wealth and fame did not sing
in his ears, to tempt him to one course or another. He had two homely
possibilities before him--a this, and a that. He had a stout intention
to be _something_, and no such ignoble sentiment as content found place
in Charlie’s heart; wherefore long, animated, and doubtful was the
self-controversy. Do not smile, good youth, at Charlie’s two
chances--they are small in comparison of yours, but they were the only
chances visible to him; the one was the merchant’s office over which Mr
Atheling presided--head clerk, with his two hundred pounds a-year; the
other was, grandiloquently--by the girls, not by Charlie--called the
law; meaning thereby, however, only the solicitor’s office, the lawful
empire and domain of Mr Foggo. Between these two legitimate and likely
regions for making a fortune, the lad wavered with a most doubtful and
inquiring mind. His introduction to each was equally good; for Mr
Atheling was confidential and trusted, and Mr Foggo, as a mysterious
rumour went, was not only most entirely trusted and confidential, but
even in secret a partner in the concern. Wherefore long and painful were
the ruminations of Charlie, and marvellous the balance which he made of
precedent and example. Let nobody suppose, however, that this question
was discussed in idleness. Charlie all this time was actually in the
office of Messrs Cash, Ledger, and Co., his father’s employers. He was
there on a probationary and experimental footing, but he was very far
from making up his mind to remain. It was an extremely difficult
argument, although carried on solely in the deep invisible caverns of
the young aspirant’s mind.

The same question, however, was also current in the family, and remained
undecided by the household parliament. With much less intense and
personal earnestness, “everybody” went over the for and against, and
contrasted the different chances. Charlie listened, but made no sign.
When he had made up his own mind, the young gentleman proposed to
himself to signify his decision publicly, and win over this committee of
the whole house to his view of the question. In the mean time he
reserved what he had to say; but so far, it is certain that Mr Foggo
appeared more tempting than Mr Atheling. The family father had been
twenty or thirty years at this business of his, and his income was two
hundred pounds--“that would not do for me,” said Charlie; whereas Mr
Foggo’s income, position, and circumstances were alike a mystery, and
might be anything. This had considerable influence in the argument, but
was not conclusive; for successful merchants were indisputably more
numerous than successful lawyers, and Charlie was not aware how high a
lawyer who was only an attorney could reach, and had his doubts upon the
subject. In the mean time, however, pending the settlement of this
momentous question, Charlie worked at two grammars instead of one, and
put all his force to his study. Force was the only word which could
express the characteristic power of this boy, if even _that_ can give a
sufficient idea of it. He had no love for his French or for his Latin,
yet learned his verbs with a manful obstinacy worthy all honour; and it
is not easy to define what was the special gift of Charlie. It was not a
describable thing, separate from his character, like beauty or like
genius--it _was_ his character, intimate and not to be distinguished
from himself.



CHAPTER VI.

PAPA AND MAMMA.


The father of this family, as we have already said, was a clerk in a
merchant’s office, with a salary of two hundred pounds a-year. He was a
man of fifty, with very moderate abilities, but character
unimpeachable--a perfect type of his class--steadily marching on in his
common routine--doing all his duties without pretension--somewhat given
to laying down the law in respect to business--and holding a very grand
opinion of the importance of commerce in general, and of the marvellous
undertakings of London in particular. Yet this good man was not entirely
circumscribed by his “office.” He had that native spring of life and
healthfulness in him which belongs to those who have been born in, and
never have forgotten, the country. The country, most expressive of
titles!--he had always kept in his recollection the fragrance of the
ploughed soil, the rustle of the growing grass; so, though he lived in
Islington, and had his office in the City, he was not a Cockney--a
happy and most enviable distinction. His wife, too, was country born and
country bred; and two ancestral houses, humble enough, yet standing
always among the trees and fields, belonged to the imagination of their
children. This was a great matter--for the roses on her grandmother’s
cottage-wall bloomed perpetually in the fancy of Agnes; and Marian and
Charlie knew the wood where Papa once went a-nutting, as well as--though
with a more ideal perception than, Papa himself had known it. Even
little Bell and Beau knew of a store of secret primroses blooming for
ever on a fairy bank, where their mother long ago, in the days of her
distant far-off childhood, had seen them blow, and taken them into her
heart. Happy primroses, that never faded! for all the children of this
house had dreamed and gathered them in handfuls, yet there they were for
ever. It was strange how this link of connection with the far-off rural
life refined the fancy of these children; it gave them a region of
romance, into which they could escape at all times. They did not know
its coarser features, and they found refuge in it from the native
vulgarity of their own surroundings. Happy effect to all imaginative
people, of some ideal and unknown land.

The history of the family was a very common one. Two-and-twenty years
ago, William Atheling and Mary Ellis had ventured to marry, having only
a very small income, limited prospects, and all the indescribable hopes
and chances of youth. Then had come the children, joy, toil, and
lamentation--then the way of life had opened up upon them, step by step;
and they had fainted, and found it weary, yet, helpless and patient, had
toiled on. They never had a chance, these good people, of running away
from their fate. If such a desperate thought ever came to them, it must
have been dismissed at once, being hopeless; and they stood at their
post under the heavy but needful compulsion of ordinary duties, living
through many a heartbreak, bearing many a bereavement--voiceless souls,
uttering no outcry except to the ear of God. Now they had lived through
their day of visitation. God had removed the cloud from their heads and
the terror from their heart: their own youth was over, but the youth of
their children, full of hopes and possibilities still brighter than
their own had been, rejoiced these patient hearts; and the warm little
hands of the twin babies, children of their old age, led them along with
delight and hopefulness upon their own unwearying way. Such was the
family story; it was a story of life, very full, almost overflowing with
the greatest and first emotions of humanity, but it was not what people
call eventful. The private record, like the family register, brimmed
over with those first makings and foundations of history, births and
deaths; but few vicissitudes of fortune, little success and little
calamity, fell upon the head of the good man whose highest prosperity
was this two hundred pounds a-year. And so now they reckoned themselves
in very comfortable circumstances, and were disturbed by nothing but
hopes and doubts about the prospects of the children--hopes full of
brightness present and visible, doubts that were almost as good as hope.

There was but one circumstance of romance in the simple chronicle. Long
ago--the children did not exactly know when, or how, or in what
manner--Mr Atheling did somebody an extraordinary and mysterious
benefit. Papa was sometimes moved to tell them of it in a general way,
sheltering himself under vague and wide descriptions. The story was of a
young man, handsome, gay, and extravagant, of rank far superior to Mr
Atheling’s--of how he fell into dissipation, and was tempted to
crime--and how at the very crisis “I happened to be in the way, and got
hold of him, and showed him the real state of the case; how I heard what
he was going to do, and of course would betray him; and how, even if he
could do it, it would be certain ruin, disgrace, and misery. That was
the whole matter,” said Mr Atheling--and his affectionate audience
listened with awe and a mysterious interest, very eager to know
something more definite of the whole matter than this concise account of
it, yet knowing that all interrogation was vain. It was popularly
suspected that Mamma knew the full particulars of this bit of romance,
but Mamma was as impervious to questions as the other head of the house.
There was also a second fytte to this story, telling how Mr Atheling
himself undertook the venture of revealing his hapless hero’s
misfortunes to the said hero’s elder brother, a very grand and exalted
personage; how the great man, shocked, and in terror for the family
honour, immediately delivered the culprit, and sent him abroad. “Then he
offered me money,” said Mr Atheling quietly. This was the climax of the
tale, at which everybody was expected to be indignant; and very
indignant, accordingly, everybody was.

Yet there was a wonderful excitement in the thought that this hero of
Papa’s adventure was now, as Papa intimated, a man of note in the
world--that they themselves unwittingly read his name in the papers
sometimes, and that other people spoke of him to Mr Atheling as a public
character, little dreaming of the early connection between them. How
strange it was!--but no entreaty and no persecution could prevail upon
Papa to disclose his name. “Suppose we should meet him some time!”
exclaimed Agnes, whose imagination sometimes fired with the thought of
reaching that delightful world of society where people always spoke of
books, and genius was the highest nobility--a world often met with in
novels. “If you did,” said Mr Atheling, “it will be all the better for
you to know nothing about this,” and so the controversy always ended;
for in this matter at least, firm as the most scrupulous old knight of
romance, Papa stood on his honour.

As for the good and tender mother of this house, she had no story to
tell. The girls, it is true, knew about _her_ girlish companions very
nearly as well as if these, now most sober and middle-aged personages,
had been playmates of their own; they knew the names of the pigeons in
the old dovecote, the history of the old dog, the number of the apples
on the great apple-tree; also they had a kindly recollection of one old
lover of Mamma’s, concerning whom they were shy to ask further than she
was pleased to reveal. But all Mrs Atheling’s history was since her
marriage: she had been but a young girl with an untouched heart before
that grand event, which introduced her, in her own person, to the
unquiet ways of life; and her recollections chiefly turned upon the
times “when we lived in---- Street,”--“when we took that new house in
the terrace,”--“when we came to Bellevue.” This Bellevue residence was a
great point in the eyes of Mrs Atheling. She herself had always kept her
original weakness for gentility, and to live in a street where there was
no straight line of commonplace houses, but only villas, detached and
semi-detached, and where every house had a name to itself, was no small
step in advance--particularly as the house was really cheap, really
large, as such houses go, and had only the slight disadvantage of being
out of repair. Mrs Atheling lamed her most serviceable finger with
attempts at carpentry, and knocked her own knuckles with misdirected
hammering, yet succeeded in various shifts that answered very well, and
produced that grand _chef-d’œuvre_ of paperhanging which made more
amusement than any professional decoration ever made, and was just as
comfortable. So the good mother was extremely well pleased with her
house. She was not above the ambition of calling it either Atheling
Lodge, or Hawthorn Cottage, but it was very hard to make a family
decision upon the prettiest name; so the house of the Athelings, with
its eccentric garden, its active occupants, and its cheery
parlour-window, was still only Number Ten, Bellevue.

And there in the summer sunshine, and in the wintry dawning, at eight
o’clock, Mr Atheling took his seat at the table, said grace, and
breakfasted; from thence at nine to a moment, well brushed and buttoned,
the good man went upon his daily warfare to the City. There all the day
long the pretty twins played, the mother exercised her careful
housewifery, the sweet face of Marian shone like a sunbeam, and the
fancies of Agnes wove themselves into separate and real life. All the
day long the sun shone in at the parlour window upon a thrifty and
well-worn carpet, which all his efforts could not spoil, and dazzled the
eyes of Bell and Beau, and troubled the heart of Mamma finding out spots
of dust, and suspicions of cobwebs which had escaped her own detection.
And when the day was done, and richer people were thinking of dinner,
once more, punctual to a moment, came the well-known step on the gravel,
and the well-known summons at the door; for at six o’clock Mr Atheling
came home to his cheerful tea-table, as contented and respectable a
householder, as happy a father, as was in England. And after tea came
the newspaper and Mr Foggo; and after Mr Foggo came the readings of
Agnes; and so the family said good-night, and slept and rested, to rise
again on the next morning to just such another day. Nothing interrupted
this happy uniformity; nothing broke in upon the calm and kindly usage
of these familiar hours. Mrs Atheling had a mighty deal of thinking to
do, by reason of her small income; now and then the girls were obliged
to consent to be disappointed of some favourite project of their
own--and sometimes even Papa, in a wilful fit of self-denial, refused
himself for a few nights his favourite newspaper; but these were but
passing shadows upon the general content. Through all these long winter
evenings, the one lighted window of this family room brightened the
gloomy gentility of Bellevue, and imparted something of heart and
kindness to the dull and mossy suburban street. They “kept no company,”
as the neighbours said. That was not so much the fault of the Athelings,
as the simple fact that there was little company to keep; but they
warmed the old heart of old Mr Foggo, and kept that singular personage
on speaking terms with humanity; and day by day, and night by night,
lived their frank life before their little world, a family life of love,
activity, and cheerfulness, as bright to look at as their happy open
parlour-window among the closed-up retirements of this genteel little
street.



CHAPTER VII.

THE FIRST WORK.


“Now,” said Agnes, throwing down her pen with a cry of triumph--“now,
look here, everybody--it is done at last.”

And, indeed, there it was upon the fair and legible page, in Agnes’s
best and clearest handwriting, “The End.” She had written it with
girlish delight, and importance worthy the occasion; and with admiring
eyes Mamma and Marian looked upon the momentous words--The End! So now
it was no longer in progress, to be smiled and wondered over, but an
actual thing, accomplished and complete, out of anybody’s power to check
or to alter. The three came together to look at it with a little awe. It
was actually finished--out of hand--an entire and single production. The
last chapter was to be read in the family committee to-night--and then?
They held their breath in sudden excitement. What was to be done with
the Book, which could be smiled at no longer? That momentous question
would have to be settled to-night.

So they piled it up solemnly, sheet by sheet, upon the side-table. Such
a manuscript! Happy the printer into whose fortunate hands fell this
unparalleled _copy_! And we are grieved to confess that, for the whole
afternoon thereafter, Agnes Atheling was about as idle as it is possible
even for a happy girl to be. No one but a girl could have attained to
such a delightful eminence of doing nothing! She was somewhat unsettled,
we admit, and quite uncontrollable,--dancing about everywhere, making
her presence known by involuntary outbursts of singing and sweet
laughter; but sterner lips than Mamma’s would have hesitated to rebuke
that fresh and spontaneous delight. It was not so much that she was glad
to be done, or was relieved by the conclusion of her self-appointed
labour. She did not, indeed, quite know what made her so happy. Like all
primal gladness, it was involuntary and unexplainable; and the event of
the day, vaguely exciting and exhilarating on its own account, was novel
enough to supply that fresh breeze of excitement and change which is so
pleasant always to the free heart of youth.

Then came all the usual routine of the evening--everything in its
appointed time--from Susan, who brought the tea-tray, to Mr Foggo. And
Mr Foggo stayed long, and was somewhat prosy. Agnes and Marian, for
this one night, were sadly tired of the old gentleman, and bade him a
very hasty and abrupt good-night when at last he took his departure.
Even then, with a perverse inclination, Papa clung to his newspaper. The
chances were much in favour of Agnes’s dignified and stately withdrawal
from an audience which showed so little eagerness for what she had to
bestow upon them; but Marian, who was as much excited as Agnes,
interposed. “Papa, Agnes is done--finished--done with her story--do you
hear me, papa?” cried Marian in his ear, shaking him by the shoulder to
give emphasis to her words--“she is going to read the last chapter, if
you would lay down that stupid paper--do you hear, papa?”

Papa heard, but kept his finger at his place, and read steadily in spite
of this interposition. “Be quiet, child,” said the good Mr Atheling; but
the child was not in the humour to be quiet. So after a few minutes,
fairly persecuted out of his paper, Papa gave in, and threw it down; and
the household circle closed round the fireside, and Agnes lifted her
last chapter; but what that last chapter was, we are unable to tell,
without infringing upon the privacy of Number Ten, Bellevue.

It was satisfactory--that was the great matter: everybody was satisfied
with the annihilation of the impossible villain and the triumph of all
the good people--and everybody concurred in thinking that the
winding-up was as nearly perfect as it was in the nature of mortal
winding-up to be. The MS. accordingly was laid aside, crowned with
applauses and laurels;--then there was a pause of solemn
consideration--the wise heads of the house held their peace and
pondered. Marian, who was not wise, but only excited and impatient,
broke the silence with her own eager, sincere, and unsolicited opinion;
and this was the advice of Marian to the family committee of the whole
house: “Mamma, I will tell you what ought to be done. It ought to be
taken to somebody to-morrow, and published every month, like Dickens and
Thackeray. It is quite as good! Everybody would read it, and Agnes would
be a great author. I am quite sure that is the way.”

At which speech Charlie whistled a very long “whew!” in a very low
under-tone; for Mamma had very particular notions on the subject of
“good-breeding,” and kept careful watch over the “manners” even of this
big boy.

“Like Dickens and Thackeray! Marian!” cried Agnes in horror; and then
everybody laughed--partly because it was the grandest and most
magnificent nonsense to place the young author upon this astonishing
level, partly because it was so very funny to think of “our Agnes”
sharing in ever so small a degree the fame of names like these.

“Not quite that,” said Papa, slowly and doubtfully, “yet I think
somebody might publish it. The question is, whom we should take it to. I
think I ought to consult Foggo.”

“Mr Foggo is not a literary man, papa,” said Agnes, somewhat
resentfully. She did not quite choose to receive this old gentleman, who
thought her a child, into her confidence.

“Foggo knows a little of everything,--he has a wonderful head for
business,” said Mr Atheling. “As for a literary man, we do not know such
a person, Agnes; and I can’t see what better we should be if we did.
Depend upon it, business is everything. If they think they can make
money by this story of yours, they will take it, but not otherwise; for,
of course, people trade in books as they trade in cotton, and are not a
bit more generous in one than another, take my word for that.”

“Very well, my dear,” said Mamma, roused to assert her dignity, “but we
do not wish any one to be generous to Agnes--of course not!--that would
be out of the question; and nobody, you know, could look at that book
without feeling sure of everybody else liking it. Why, William, it is so
natural! You may speak of Thackeray and Dickens as you like; I know
they are very clever--but I am sure I never read anything of theirs like
that scene--that last scene with Helen and her mother. I feel as if I
had been present there my own self.”

Which was not so very wonderful after all, seeing that the mother in
Agnes’s book was but a delicate, shy, half-conscious sketch of this
dearest mother of her own.

“I think it ought to be taken to somebody to-morrow,” repeated Marian
stoutly, “and published every month with pictures. How strange it would
be to read in the newspapers how everybody wondered about the new book,
and who wrote it!--such fun!--for nobody but _us_ would know.”

Agnes all this time remained very silent, receiving everybody’s
opinion--and Charlie also locked up his wisdom in his own breast. There
was a pause, for Papa, feeling that his supreme opinion was urgently
called for, took time to ponder upon it, and was rather afraid of giving
a deliverance. The silence, however, was broken by the abrupt
intervention, when nobody expected it, of the big boy.

“Make it up into a parcel,” said Master Charlie with business-like
distinctness, “and look in the papers what name you’ll send it to, and
I’ll take it to-morrow.”

This was so sudden, startling, and decisive, that the audience were
electrified. Mr Atheling looked blankly in his son’s face; the young
gentleman had completely cut the ground from under the feet of his papa.
After all, let any one advise or reason, or argue the point at his
pleasure, this was the only practical conclusion to come at. Charlie
stopped the full-tide of the family argument; they might have gone on
till midnight discussing and wondering; but the big boy made it up into
a parcel, and finished it on the spot. After that they all commenced a
most ignorant and innocent discussion concerning “the trade;” these good
people knew nothing whatever of that much contemned and long-suffering
race who publish books. Two ideal types of them were present to the
minds of the present speculators. One was that most fatal and fictitious
savage, the Giant Despair of an oppressed literature, who sits in his
den for ever grinding the bones of those dismal unforgettable hacks of
Grub Street, whose memory clings unchangeably to their profession; the
other was that bland and genial imagination, equally fictitious, the
author’s friend--he who brings the neglected genius into the full
sunshine of fame and prosperity, seeking only the immortality of such a
connection with the immortal. If one could only know which of these
names in the newspapers belonged to this last wonder of nature! This
discussion concerning people of whom absolutely nothing but the names
were known to the disputants, was a very comical argument; and it was
not concluded when eleven o’clock struck loudly on the kitchen clock,
and Susan, very slumbrous, and somewhat resentful, appeared at the door
to see if anything was wanted. Everybody rose immediately, as Susan
intended they should, with guilt and confusion: eleven o’clock! the
innocent family were ashamed of themselves.

And this little room up-stairs, as you do not need to be told, is the
bower of Agnes and of Marian. There are two small white beds in it,
white and fair and simple, draped with the purest dimity, and covered
with the whitest coverlids. If Agnes, by chance or in haste--and Agnes
is very often “in a great hurry”--should leave her share of the
apartment in a less orderly condition than became a young lady’s room,
Marian never yielded to such a temptation. Marian was the completest
woman in all her simple likings; their little mirror, their
dressing-table, everything which would bear such fresh and inexpensive
decoration, was draped with pretty muslin, the work of these pretty
fingers. And there hung their little shelf of books over Agnes’s head,
and here upon the table was their Bible. Yet in spite of the quiet night
settling towards midnight--in spite of the unbroken stillness of
Bellevue, where every candle was extinguished, and all the world at
rest, the girls could not subdue all at once their eager anticipations,
hopes, and wondering. Marian let down all her beautiful hair over her
shoulders, and pretended to brush it, looking all the time out of the
shining veil, and throwing the half-curled locks from her face, when
something occurred to her bearing upon the subject. Agnes, with both her
hands supporting her forehead, leaned over the table with downcast
eyes--seeing nothing, thinking nothing, with a faint glow on her soft
cheek, and a vague excitement at her heart. Happy hearts! it was so easy
to stir them to this sweet tumult of hope and fancy; and so small a
reason was sufficient to wake these pure imaginations to all-indefinite
glory and delight.



CHAPTER VIII.

CHARLIE’S ENTERPRISE.


It was made into a parcel, duly packed and tied up; not in a delicate
wrapper, or with pretty ribbons, as perhaps the affectionate regard of
Agnes might have suggested, but in the commonest and most matter-of-fact
parcel imaginable. But by that time it began to be debated whether
Charlie, after all, was a sufficiently dignified messenger. He was only
a boy--that was not to be disputed; and Mrs Atheling did not think him
at all remarkable for his “manners,” and Papa doubted whether he was
able to manage a matter of business. But, then, who could go?--not the
girls certainly, and not their mother, who was somewhat timid out of her
own house. Mr Atheling could not leave his office; and really, after all
their objections, there was nobody but Charlie, unless it was Mr Foggo,
whom Agnes would by no means consent to employ. So they brushed their
big boy, as carefully as Moses Primrose was brushed before he went to
the fair, and gave him strict injunctions to look as grave, as
sensible, and as _old_ as possible. All these commands Charlie received
with perfect coolness, hoisting his parcel under his arm, and remaining
entirely unmoved by the excitement around him. “_I_ know well
enough--don’t be afraid,” said Charlie; and he strode off like a young
ogre, carrying Agnes’s fortune under his arm. They all went to the
window to look after him with some alarm and some hope; but though they
were troubled for his youth, his abruptness, and his want of “manners,”
there was exhilaration in the steady ring of Charlie’s manful foot, and
his own entire and undoubting confidence. On he went, a boyish giant, to
throw down that slender gage and challenge of the young genius to all
the world. Meanwhile they returned to their private occupations, this
little group of women, excited, doubtful, much expecting, marvelling
over and over again what Mr Burlington would say. Such an eminence of
lofty criticism and censorship these good people recognised in the
position of Mr Burlington! He seemed to hold in his hands the universal
key which opened everything: fame, honour, and reward, at that moment,
appeared to these simple minds to be mere vassals of his pleasure; and
all the balance of the future, as Agnes fancied, lay in the doubtful
chance whether he was propitious or unpropitious. Simple imaginations!
Mr Burlington, at that moment taking off his top-coat, and placing his
easy-chair where no draught could reach it, was about as innocent of
literature as Charlie Atheling himself.

But Charlie, who had to go to “the office” after he fulfilled his
mission, could not come home till the evening; so they had to be patient
in spite of themselves. The ordinary occupations of the day in Bellevue
were not very novel, nor very interesting. Mrs Atheling had ambition,
and aimed at gentility; so, of course, they had a piano. The girls had
learned a very little music; and Marian and Agnes, when they were out of
humour, or disinclined for serious occupation, or melancholy (for they
were melancholy sometimes in the “prodigal excess” of their youth and
happiness), were wont to bethink themselves of the much-neglected
“practising,” and spend a stray hour upon it with most inconsistent and
variable zeal. This day there was a great deal of “practising”--indeed,
these wayward girls divided their whole time between the piano and the
garden, which was another recognised safety-valve. Mamma had not the
heart to chide them; instead of that, her face brightened to hear the
musical young voices, the low sweet laughter, the echo of their flying
feet through the house and on the garden paths. As she sat at her work
in her snug sitting-room, with Bell and Beau playing at her feet, and
Agnes and Marian playing too, as truly, and with as pure and
spontaneous delight, Mrs Atheling was very happy. She did not say a
word that any one could hear--but God knew the atmosphere of unspoken
and unspeakable gratitude, which was the very breath of this good
woman’s heart.

When their messenger came home, though he came earlier than Papa, and
there was full opportunity to interrogate him--Charlie, we are grieved
to say, was not very satisfactory in his communications. “Yes,” said
Charlie, “I saw him: I don’t know if it was the head-man: of course, I
asked for Mr Burlington--and he took the parcel--that’s all.”

“That’s all?--you little savage!” cried Marian, who was not half as big
as Charlie. “Did he say he would be glad to have it? Did he ask who had
written it? What did he say?”

“Are you sure it was Mr Burlington?” said Agnes. “Did he look pleased?
What do you think he thought? What did you say to him? Charlie, boy,
tell us what you said?”

“I won’t tell you a word, if you press upon me like that,” said the big
boy. “Sit down and be quiet. Mother, make them sit down. I don’t know if
it was Mr Burlington; I don’t think it was: it was a washy man, that
never could have been head of that place. He took the papers, and made a
face at me, and said, ‘Are they your own?’ I said ‘No’ plain enough; and
then he looked at the first page, and said they must be left. So I left
them. Well, what was a man to do? Of course, that is all.”

“What do you mean by making a face at you, boy?” said the watchful
mother. “I do trust, Charlie, my dear, you were careful how to behave,
and did not make any of your faces at him.”

“Oh, it was only a smile,” said Charlie, with again a grotesque
imitation. “‘Are they your own?’--meaning I was just a boy to be laughed
at, you know--I should think so! As if I could not make an end of
half-a-dozen like him.”

“Don’t brag, Charlie,” said Marian, “and don’t be angry about the
gentleman, you silly boy; he always must have something on his mind
different from a lad like you.”

Charlie laughed with grim satisfaction. “He hasn’t a great deal on his
mind, that chap,” said the big boy; “but I wouldn’t be him, set up there
for no end but reading rubbish--not for--five hundred a-year.”

Now, we beg to explain that five hundred a-year was a perfectly
magnificent income to the imagination of Bellevue. Charlie could not
think at the moment of any greater inducement.

“Reading rubbish! And he has Agnes’s book to read!” cried Marian. That
was indeed an overpowering anti-climax.

“Yes, but how did he look? Do you think he was pleased? And will it be
sure to come to Mr Burlington safe?” said Agnes. Agnes could not help
having a secret impression that there might be some plot against this
book of hers, and that everybody knew how important it was.

“Why, he looked--as other people look who have nothing to say,” said
Charlie; “and I had nothing to say--so we got on together. And he said
it looked original--much he could tell from the first page! And so, of
course, I came away--they’re to write when they’ve read it over. I tell
you, that’s all. I don’t believe it was Mr Burlington; but it was the
man that does that sort of thing, and so it was all the same.”

This was the substance of Charlie’s report. He could not be prevailed
upon to describe how this important critic looked, or if he was pleased,
or anything about him. He was a washy man, Charlie said; but the
obstinate boy would not even explain what washy meant, so they had to
leave the question in the hands of time to bring elucidation to it. They
were by no means patient; many and oft-repeated were the attacks upon
Charlie--many the wonderings over the omnipotent personage who had the
power of this decision in his keeping; but in the mean time, and for
sundry days and weeks following, these hasty girls had to wait, and to
be content.



CHAPTER IX.

A DECISION.


“I’ve been thinking,” said Charlie Atheling slowly. Having made this
preface, the big boy paused: it was his manner of opening an important
subject, to which the greater part of his cogitations were directed. His
sisters came close to him immediately, half-embracing this great fellow
in their united arms, and waiting for his communication. It was the
twilight of an April evening, soft and calm. There were no stars in the
sky--no sky even, except an occasional break of clear deep heavenly blue
through the shadowy misty shapes of clouds, crowding upon each other
over the whole arch of heaven. The long boughs of the lilac-bushes
rustled in the night wind with all their young soft leaves--the prim
outline of the poplar was ruffled with brown buds, and low on the dark
soil at its feet was a faint golden lustre of primroses. Everything was
as still--not as death, for its deadly calm never exists in nature; but
as life, breathing, hushing, sleeping in that sweet season, when the
grass is growing and the bud unfolding, all the night and all the day.
Even here, in this suburban garden, with the great Babel muffling its
voices faintly in the far distance, you could hear, if you listened,
that secret rustle of growth and renewing which belongs to the sweet
spring. Even here, in this colourless soft light, you could see the
earth opening her unwearied bosom, with a passive grateful sweetness, to
the inspiring touch of heaven. The brown soil was moist with April
showers, and the young leaves glistened faintly with blobs of dew. Very
different from the noonday hope was this hope of twilight; but not less
hopeful in its silent operations, its sweet sighs, its soft tears, and
the heart that stirred within it, in the dark, like a startled bird.

These three young figures, closely grouped together, which you could see
only in outline against the faint horizon and the misty sky, were as
good a human rendering as could be made of the unexpressed sentiment of
the season and the night--they too were growing, with a sweet
involuntary progression, up to their life, and to their fate. They stood
upon the threshold of the world innocent adventurers, fearing no evil;
and it was hard to believe that these hopeful neophytes could ever be
made into toil-worn, care-hardened people of the world by any sum of
hardships or of years.

“I’ve been thinking;”--all this time Charlie Atheling had added nothing
to his first remarkable statement, and we are compelled to admit that
the conclusion which he now gave forth did not seem to justify the
solemnity of the delivery--“yes, I’ve made up my mind; I’ll go to old
Foggo and the law.”

“And why, Charlie, why?”

Charlie was not much given to rendering a reason.

“Never mind the why,” he said, abruptly; “that’s best. There’s old Foggo
himself, now; nobody can reckon his income, or make a balance just what
he is and what he has, and all about him, as people could do with us. We
are plain nobodies, and people know it at a glance. My father has five
children and two hundred a-year--whereas old Foggo, you see--”

“_I_ don’t see--I do not believe it!” cried Marian, impatiently. “Do you
mean to say, you bad boy, that Mr Foggo is better than papa--_my_
father? Why, he has mamma, and Bell and Beau, and all of us: if anything
ailed him, we should break our hearts. Mr Foggo has only Miss Willsie:
he is an old man, and snuffs, and does not care for anybody: do you call
_that_ better than papa?”

But Charlie only laughed. Certain it was that this lad had not the
remotest intention of setting up Mr Foggo as his model of happiness.
Indeed, nobody quite knew what Charlie’s ideal was; but the boy, spite
of his practical nature, had a true boyish liking for that margin of
uncertainty which made it possible to surmise some unknown power or
greatness even in the person of this ancient lawyer’s clerk. Few lads,
we believe, among the range of those who have to make their own fortune,
are satisfied at their outset to decide upon being “no better than
papa.”

“Well,” said Agnes, with consideration, “I should not like Charlie to be
just like papa. Papa can do nothing but keep us all--so many
children--and he never can be anything more than he is now. But
Charlie--Charlie is quite a different person. I wish he could be
something great.”

“Agnes--don’t! it is such nonsense!” cried Marian. “Is there anything
great in old Mr Foggo’s office? He is a poor old man, _I_ think, living
all by himself with Miss Willsie. I had rather be Susan in our house,
than be mistress in Mr Foggo’s: and how could _he_ make Charlie anything
great?”

“Stuff!” said Charlie; “nobody wants to be _made_; that’s a man’s own
business. Now, you just be quiet with your romancing, you girls. I’ll
tell you what, though, there’s one man I think I’d like to be--and I
suppose you call him great--I’d like to be Rajah Brooke.”

“Oh, Charlie! and hang people!” cried Marian.

“Not people--only pirates,” said the big boy: “wouldn’t I string them up
too! Yes, if that would please you, Agnes, I’d like to be Rajah Brooke.”

“Then why, Charlie,” exclaimed Agnes--“why do you go to Mr Foggo’s
office? A merchant may have a chance for such a thing--but a lawyer!
Charlie, boy, what do you mean?”

“Never mind,” said Charlie; “your Brookes and your Layards and such
people don’t begin by being merchants’ clerks. I know better: they have
birth and education, and all that, and get the start of everybody, and
then they make a row about it. I don’t see, for my part,” said the young
gentleman meditatively, “what it is but chance. A man may succeed, or a
man may fail, and it’s neither much to his credit nor his blame. It is a
very odd thing, and I can’t understand it--a man may work all his life,
and never be the better for it. It’s chance, and nothing more, so far as
I can see.”

“Hush, Charlie--say Providence,” said Agnes, anxiously.

“Well, I don’t know--it’s very odd,” answered the big boy.

Whereupon there began two brief but earnest lectures for the good of
Charlie’s mind, and the improvement of his sentiments. The girls were
much disturbed by their brother’s heterodoxy; they assaulted him
vehemently with the enthusiastic eagerness of the young faith which had
never been tried, and would not comprehend any questioning. Chance! when
the very sparrows could not fall to the ground--The bright face of Agnes
Atheling flushed almost into positive beauty; she asked indignantly,
with a trembling voice and tears in her eyes, how Mamma could have
endured to live if it had not been God who did it? Charlie, rough as he
was, could not withstand an appeal like this: he muttered something
hastily under his breath about success in business being a very
different thing from _that_, and was indisputably overawed and
vanquished. This allusion made them all very silent for a time, and the
young bright eyes involuntarily glanced upward where the pure faint
stars were gleaming out one by one among the vapoury hosts of cloud.
Strangely touching was the solemnity of this link, not to be broken,
which connected the family far down upon the homely bosom of the
toilsome earth with yonder blessed children in the skies. Marian, saying
nothing, wiped some tears silently from the beautiful eyes which turned
such a wistful, wondering, longing look to the uncommunicating heaven.
Charlie, though you could scarcely see him in the darkness, worked those
heavy furrows of his brow, and frowned fiercely upon himself. The long
branches came sweeping towards them, swayed by the night wind; up in the
east rose the pale spring moon, pensive, with a misty halo like a saint.
The aspect of the night was changed; instead of the soft brown gloaming,
there was broad silvery light and heavy masses of shadow over sky and
soil--an instant change all brought about by the rising of the moon. As
swift an alteration had passed upon the mood of these young speculators.
They went in silently, full of thought--not so sad but that they could
brighten to the fireside brightness, yet more meditative than was their
wont; even Charlie--for there was a warm heart within the clumsy form of
this big boy!



CHAPTER X.

MR FOGGO.


They went in very sedately out of the darkness, their eyes dazzled with
the sudden light. Bell and Beau were safely disposed of for the night,
and on the side-table, beside Charlie’s two grammars and Agnes’s
blotting-book, now nearly empty, lay the newspaper of Papa; for the
usual visitor was installed in the usual place at the fireside, opposite
Mr Atheling. Good companion, it is time you should see the friend of the
family: there he was.

And there also, it must be confessed, was a certain faint yet expressive
fragrance, which delicately intimated to one sense at least, before he
made his appearance, the coming of Mr Foggo. We will not affirm that it
was lundyfoot--our own private impression, indeed, is strongly in favour
of black rappee--but the thing was indisputable, whatever might be the
species. He was a large brown man, full of folds and wrinkles; folds in
his brown waistcoat, where secret little sprinklings of snuff, scarcely
perceptible, lay undisturbed and secure; wrinkles, long and forcible,
about his mouth; folds under his eyelids, deep lines upon his brow.
There was not a morsel of smooth surface visible anywhere even in his
hands, which were traced all over with perceptible veins and sinews,
like a geographical exercise. Mr Foggo wore a wig, which could not by
any means be complimented with the same title as Mr Pendennis’s “’ead of
’air.” He was between fifty and sixty, a genuine old bachelor, perfectly
satisfied with his own dry and unlovely existence. Yet we may suppose it
was something in Mr Foggo’s favour, the frequency of his visits here. He
sat by the fireside with the home-air of one who knows that this chair
is called his, and that he belongs to the household circle, and turned
to look at the young people, as they entered, with a familiar yet
critical eye. He was friendly enough, now and then, to deliver little
rebukes and remonstrances, and was never complimentary, even to Marian;
which may be explained, perhaps, when we say that he was a Scotsman--a
north-country Scotsman--with “peculiarities” in his pronunciation, and
very distinct opinions of his own. How he came to win his way into the
very heart of this family, we are not able to explain; but there he was,
and there Mr Foggo had been, summer and winter, for nearly half-a-score
of years.

He was now an institution, recognised and respected. No one dreamt of
investigating his claims--possession was the whole law in his case, his
charter and legal standing-ground; and the young commonwealth recognised
as undoubtingly the place of Mr Foggo as they did the natural throne and
pre-eminence of Papa and Mamma.

“For my part,” said Mr Foggo, who, it seemed, was in the midst of what
Mrs Atheling called a “sensible conversation,”--and Mr Foggo spoke
slowly, and with a certain methodical dignity,--“for my part, I see
little in the art of politics, but just withholding as long as ye can,
and giving as little as ye may; for a statesman, ye perceive, be he
Radical or Tory, must ever consent to be a stout Conservative when he
gets the upper hand. It’s in the nature of things--it’s like father and
son--it’s the primitive principle of government, if ye take my opinion.
So I am never sanguine myself about a new ministry keeping its word. How
should it keep its word? Making measures and opposing them are two as
different things as can be. There’s father and son, a standing example:
the young man is the people and the old man is the government,--the lad
spurs on and presses, the greybeard holds in and restrains.”

“Ah, Foggo! all very well to talk,” said Mr Atheling; “but men should
keep their word, government or no government--that’s what I say. Do you
mean to tell me that a father would cheat his son with promises? No! no!
no! Your excuses won’t do for me.”

“And as for speaking of the father and son, as if it was natural they
should be opposed to each other, I am surprised at _you_, Mr Foggo,”
said Mrs Atheling, with emphatic disapproval. “There’s my Charlie, now,
a wilful boy; but do you think _he_ would set his face against anything
his papa or I might say?”

“Charlie,” said Mr Foggo, with a twinkle of the grey-brown eye which
shone clear and keen under folds of eyelid and thickets of eyebrow, “is
an uncommon boy. I’m speaking of the general principle, not of
exceptional cases. No! men and measures are well enough to make a noise
or an election about; but to go against the first grand rule is not in
the nature of man.”

“Yes, yes!” said Mr Atheling, impatiently; “but I tell you he’s broken
his word--that’s what I say--told a lie, neither more nor less. Do you
mean to tell me that any general principle will excuse a man for
breaking his promises? I challenge your philosophy for that.”

“When ye accept promises that it’s not in the nature of things a man can
keep, ye must even be content with the alternative,” said Mr Foggo.

“Oh! away with your nature of things!” cried Papa, who was unusually
excited and vehement,--“scarcely civil,” as Mrs Atheling assured him in
her private reproof. “It’s the nature of the man, that’s what’s wrong.
False in youth, false in age,--if I had known!”

“Crooked ways are ill to get clear of,” said Mr Foggo oracularly.
“What’s that you’re about, Charlie, my boy? Take you my advice, lad, and
never be a public man.”

“A public man! I wish public men had just as much sense,” said Mrs
Atheling in an indignant under-tone. This good couple, like a great many
other excellent people, were pleased to note how all the national
businesses were mismanaged, and what miserable ’prentice-hands of pilots
held the helm of State.

“I grant you it would not be overmuch for them,” said Mr Foggo; “and
speaking of government, Mrs Atheling, Willsie is in trouble again.”

“I am very sorry,” exclaimed Mrs Atheling, with instant interest. “Dear
me, I thought this was such a likely person. You remember what I said to
you, Agnes, whenever I saw her. She looked so neat and handy, I thought
her quite the thing for Miss Willsie. What has she done?”

“Something like the Secretary of State for the Home Department,” said Mr
Foggo,--“made promises which could not be kept while she was on trial,
and broke them when she took office. Shall I send the silly thing
away?”

“Oh, Mr Foggo! Miss Willsie was so pleased with her last week--she could
do so many things--she has so much good in her,” cried Marian; “and then
you can’t tell--you have not tried her long enough--don’t send her
away!”

“She is so pretty, Mr Foggo,” said Agnes.

Mr Foggo chuckled, thinking, not of Miss Willsie’s maid-servant, but of
the Secretary of State. Papa looked at him across the fireplace
wrathfully. What the reason was, nobody could tell; but Papa was visibly
angry, and in a most unamiable state of mind: he said “Tush!” with an
impatient gesture, in answer to the chuckle of his opponent. Mr Atheling
was really not at all polite to his friend and guest.

But we presume Mr Foggo was not sensitive--he only chuckled the more,
and took a pinch of snuff. The snuff-box was a ponderous silver one,
with an inscription on the lid, and always revealed itself most
distinctly, in shape at least, within the brown waistcoat-pocket of its
owner. As he enjoyed this refreshment, the odour diffused itself more
distinctly through the apartment, and a powdery thin shower fell from Mr
Foggo’s huge brown fingers. Susan’s cat, if she comes early to the
parlour, will undoubtedly be seized with many sneezes to-morrow.

But Marian, who was innocently unconscious of any double meaning,
continued to plead earnestly for Miss Willsie’s maid. “Yes, Mr Foggo,
she is so pretty,” said Marian, “and so neat, and smiles. I am sure Miss
Willsie herself would be grieved after, if she sent her away. Let mamma
speak to Miss Willsie, Mr Foggo. She smiles as if she could not help it.
I am sure she is good. Do not let Miss Willsie send her away.”

“Willsie is like the public--she is never content with her servants,”
said Mr Foggo. “Where’s all the poetry to-night? no ink upon Agnes’s
finger! I don’t understand that.”

“I never write poetry, Mr Foggo,” said Agnes, with superb disdain. Agnes
was extremely annoyed by Mr Foggo’s half-knowledge of her authorship.
The old gentleman took her for one of the young ladies who write verses,
she thought; and for this most amiable and numerous sisterhood, the
young genius, in her present mood, had a considerable disdain.

“And ink on her finger! You never saw ink on Agnes’s finger--you know
you never did!” cried the indignant Marian. “If she did write poetry, it
is no harm; and I know very well you only mean to tease her: but it is
wrong to say what never was true.”

Mr Foggo rose, diffusing on every side another puff of his peculiar
element. “When I have quarrelled with everybody, I reckon it is about
time to go home,” said Mr Foggo. “Charlie, step across with me, and get
some nonsense-verses Willsie has been reading, for the girls. Keep in
the same mind, Agnes, and never write poetry--it’s a mystery; no man
should meddle with it till he’s forty--that’s _my_ opinion--and then
there would be as few poets as there are Secretaries of State.”

“Secretaries of State!” exclaimed Papa, restraining his vehemence,
however, till Mr Foggo was fairly gone, and out of hearing--and then Mr
Atheling made a pause. You could not suppose that his next observation
had any reference to this indignant exclamation; it was so oddly out of
connection that even the girls smiled to each other. “I tell you what,
Mary, a man should not be led by fantastic notions--a man should never
do anything that does not come directly in his way,” said Mr Atheling,
and he pushed his grizzled hair back from his brow with heat and
excitement. It was an ordinary saying enough, not much to be marvelled
at. What did Papa mean?

“Then, papa, nothing generous would ever be done in the world,” said
Marian, who, somewhat excited by Mr Foggo, was quite ready for an
argument on any subject, or with any person.

“But things that have to be done always come in people’s way,” said
Agnes; “is not that true? I am sure, when you read people’s lives, the
thing they have to do seems to pursue them; and even if they do not want
it, they cannot help themselves. Papa, is not that true?”

“Ay, ay--hush, children,” said Mr Atheling, vaguely; “I am busy--speak
to your mother.”

They spoke to their mother, but not of this subject. They spoke of Miss
Willsie’s new maid, and conspired together to hinder her going away; and
then they marvelled somewhat over the book which Charlie was to bring
home. Mr Foggo and his maiden sister lived in Bellevue, in one of the
villas semi-detached, which Miss Willsie had named Killiecrankie Lodge,
yet Charlie was some time absent. “He is talking to Mr Foggo, instead of
bringing our book,” said Marian, pouting with her pretty lips. Papa and
Mamma had each of them settled into a brown study--a very brown study,
to judge from appearances. The fire was low--the lights looked dim.
Neither of the girls were doing anything, save waiting on Charlie. They
were half disposed to be peevish. “It is not too late; come and practise
for half an hour, Agnes,” said Marian, suddenly. Mrs Atheling was too
much occupied to suggest, as she usually did, that the music would wake
Bell and Beau: they stole away from the family apartment unchidden and
undetained, and, lighting another candle, entered the genteel and
solemn darkness of the best room. You have not been in the best room;
let us enter with due dignity this reserved and sacred apartment, which
very few people ever enter, and listen to the music which nobody ever
hears.



CHAPTER XI.

THE BEST ROOM.


The music, we are grieved to say, was not at all worth listening to--it
would not have disturbed Bell and Beau had the two little beds been on
the top of the piano. Though Marian with a careless hand ran over three
or four notes, the momentary sound did not disturb the brown study of
Mrs Atheling, and scarcely roused Susan, nodding and dozing, as she
mended stockings by the kitchen fire. We are afraid this same practising
was often an excuse for half an hour’s idleness and dreaming. Sweet
idleness! happy visions! for it certainly was so to-night.

The best room was of the same size exactly as the family sitting-room,
but looked larger by means of looking prim, chill, and uninhabited--and
it was by no means crowded with furniture. The piano in one corner and a
large old-fashioned table in another, with a big leaf of black and
bright mahogany folded down, were the only considerable articles in the
room, and the wall looked very blank with its array of chairs. The sofa
inclined towards the unlighted fire, and the round table stood before
it; but you could not delude yourself into the idea that this at any
time could be the family hearth. Mrs Atheling “kept no company;” so,
like other good people in the same condition, she religiously preserved
and kept in order the company-room; and it was a comfort to her heart to
recollect that in this roomy house there was always an orderly place
where strangers could be shown into, although the said strangers never
came.

The one candle had been placed drearily among the little coloured glass
vases on the mantel-shelf; but the moonlight shone broad and full into
the window, and, pouring its rays over the whole visible scene without,
made something grand and solemn even of this genteel and silent
Bellevue. The tranquil whiteness on these humble roofs--the distinctness
with which one branch here and there, detached and taken possession of
by the light, marked out its half-developed buds against the sky--the
strange magic which made that faint ascending streak of smoke the
ethereal plaything of these moonbeams--and the intense blackness of the
shadow, deep as though it fell from one of the pyramids, of these homely
garden-walls--made a wonderful and striking picture of a scene which had
not one remarkable feature of its own; and the solitary figure crossing
the road, all enshrined and hallowed in this silvery glory, but itself
so dark and undistinguishable, was like a figure in a vision--an
emblematic and symbolical appearance, entering like a picture to the
spectator’s memory. The two girls stood looking out, with their arms
entwined, and their fair heads close together, as is the wont of such
companions, watching the wayfarer, whose weary footstep was inaudible in
the great hush and whisper of the night.

“I always fancy one might see ghosts in moonlight,” said Marian, under
her breath. Certainly that solitary passenger, with all the silvered
folds of his dress, and the gliding and noiseless motion of his
progress, was not entirely unlike one.

“He looks like a man in a parable,” said Agnes, in the same tone. “One
could think he was gliding away mysteriously to do something wrong. See,
now, he has gone into the shadow. I cannot see him at all--he has quite
disappeared--it is so black. Ah! I shall think he is always standing
there, looking over at us, and plotting something. I wish Charlie would
come home--how long he is!”

“Who would plot anything against us?” said innocent Marian, with her
fearless smile. “People do not have enemies now as they used to have--at
least not common people. I wish he would come out again, though, out of
that darkness. I wonder what sort of man he could be.”

But Agnes was no longer following the man; her eye was wandering vaguely
over the pale illumination of the sky. “I wonder what will happen to us
all?” said Agnes, with a sigh--sweet sigh of girlish thought that knew
no care! “I think we are all beginning now, Marian, every one of us. I
wonder what will happen--Charlie and all?”

“Oh, I can tell you,” said Marian; “and you first of all, because you
are the eldest. We shall all be famous, Agnes, every one of us; all
because of you.”

“Oh, hush!” cried Agnes, a smile and a flush and a sudden brightness
running over all her face; “but suppose it _should_ be so, you know,
Marian--only suppose it for our own pleasure--what a delight it would
be! It might help Charlie on better than anything; and then what we
could do for Bell and Beau! Of course it is nonsense,” said Agnes, with
a low laugh and a sigh of excitement, “but how pleasant it would be!”

“It is not nonsense at all; I think it is quite certain,” said Marian;
“but then people would seek you out, and you would have to go and visit
them--great people--clever people. Would it not be odd to hear real
ladies and gentlemen talking in company as they talk in books?”

“I wonder if they do,” said Agnes, doubtfully. “And then to meet people
whom we have heard of all our lives--perhaps Bulwer even!--perhaps
Tennyson! Oh, Marian!”

“And to know they were very glad to meet _you_,” exclaimed the sister
dreamer, with another low laugh of absolute pleasure: that was very near
the climax of all imaginable honours--and for very awe and delight the
young visionaries held their breath.

“And I think now,” said Marian, after a little interval, “that perhaps
it is better Charlie should be a lawyer, for he would have so little at
first in papa’s office, and he never could get on, more than papa; and
you would not like to leave all the rest of us behind you, Agnes? I know
you would not. But I hope Charlie will never grow like Mr Foggo, so old
and solitary; to be poor would be better than that.”

“Then I could be Miss Willsie,” said Agnes, “and we should live in a
little square house, with two bits of lawn and two fir-trees; but I
think we would not call it Killiecrankie Lodge.”

Over this felicitous prospect there was a great deal of very quiet
laughing--laughing as sweet and as irrepressible as any other natural
music, but certainly not evidencing any very serious purpose on the
part of either of the young sisters to follow the example of Miss
Willsie. They had so little thought, in their fair unconscious youth, of
all the long array of years and changes which lay between their sweet
estate and that of the restless kind old lady, the mistress of Mr
Foggo’s little square house.

“And then, for me--what should I do?” said Marian. There were smiles
hiding in every line of this young beautiful face, curving the pretty
eyebrow, moving the soft lip, shining shy and bright in the sweet eyes.
No anxiety--not the shadow of a shade--had ever crossed this young
girl’s imagination touching her future lot. It was as rosy as the west
and the south, and the cheeks of Maud in Mr Tennyson’s poem. She had no
thought of investigating it too closely; it was all as bright as a
summer day to Marian, and she was ready to spend all her smiles upon the
prediction, whether it was ill or well.

“Then I suppose you must be married, May. I see nothing else for you,”
said Agnes, “for there could not possibly be two Miss Willsies; but I
should like to see, in a fairy glass, who my other brother was to be. He
must be clever, Marian, and it would be very pleasant if he could be
rich, and I suppose he ought to be handsome too.”

“Oh, Agnes! handsome of course, first of all!” cried Marian, laughing,
“nobody but you would put that last.”

“But then I rather like ugly people, especially if they are clever,”
said Agnes; “there is Charlie, for example. If he was _very_ ugly, what
an odd couple you would be!--he ought to be ugly for a balance--and very
witty and very pleasant, and ready to do anything for you, May. Then if
he were only rich, and you could have a carriage, and be a great lady, I
think I should be quite content.”

“Hush, Agnes! mamma will hear you--and now there is Charlie with a
book,” said Marian. “Look! he is quite as mysterious in the moonlight as
the other man--only Charlie could never be like a ghost--and I wonder
what the book is. Come, Agnes, open the door.”

This was the conclusion of the half-hour’s practising; they made
grievously little progress with their music, yet it was by no means an
unpleasant half-hour.



CHAPTER XII.

A SERIOUS QUESTION.


Mrs Atheling has been calling upon Miss Willsie, partly to intercede for
Hannah, the pretty maid, partly on a neighbourly errand of ordinary
gossip and kindliness; but in decided excitement and agitation of mind
Mamma has come home. It is easy to perceive this as she hurries
up-stairs to take off her shawl and bonnet; very easy to notice the
fact, as, absent and preoccupied, she comes down again. Bell and Beau
are in the kitchen, and the kitchen-door is open. Bell has Susan’s cat,
who is very like to scratch her, hugged close in her chubby arms. Beau
hovers so near the fire, on which there is no guard, that his mother
would think him doomed did she see him; but--it is true, although it is
almost unbelievable--Mamma actually passes the open kitchen-door without
observing either Bell or Beau!

The apples of her eye! Mrs Atheling has surely something very important
to occupy her thoughts; and now she takes her usual chair, but does not
attempt to find her work-basket. What can possibly have happened to
Mamma?

The girls have not to wait very long in uncertainty. The good mother
speaks, though she does not distinctly address either of them. “They
want a lad like Charlie in Mr Foggo’s office,” said Mrs Atheling. “I
knew that, and that Charlie could have the place; but they also want an
articled clerk.”

“An articled clerk!--what is that, mamma?” said Agnes, eagerly.

To tell the truth, Mrs Atheling did not very well know what it was, but
she knew it was “something superior,” and that was enough for her
motherly ambition.

“Well, my dear, it is a gentleman,” said Mrs Atheling, “and of course
there must be far greater opportunities of learning. It is a superior
thing altogether, I believe. Now, being such old friends, I should think
Mr Foggo might get them to take a very small premium. Such a thing for
Charlie! I am sure we could all pinch for a year or two to give him a
beginning like _that_!”

“Would it be much better, mamma?” said Marian. They had left what they
were doing to come closer about her, pursuing their eager
interrogations. Marian sat down upon a stool on the rug where the
fire-light brightened her hair and reddened her cheek at its pleasure.
Agnes stood on the opposite side of the hearth, looking down upon the
other interlocutors. They were impatient to hear all that Mrs Atheling
had heard, and perfectly ready to jump to an unanimous opinion.

“Better, my dear!” said Mrs Atheling--“just as much better as a young
man learning to be a master can be better than one who is only a
servant. Then, you know, it would give Charlie standing, and get him
friends of a higher class. I think it would be positively a sin to
neglect such an opportunity; we might never all our lives hear of
anything like it again.”

“And how did you hear of it, mamma?” said Marian. Marian had quite a
genius for asking questions.

“I heard of it from Miss Willsie, my love. It was entirely by accident.
She was telling me of an articled pupil they had at the office, who had
gone all wrong, poor fellow, in consequence of----; but I can tell you
that another time. And then she said they wanted one now, and then it
flashed upon me just like an inspiration. I was quite agitated. I do
really declare to you, girls, I thought it was Providence; and I
believe, if we only were bold enough to do it in faith, God would
provide the means; and I feel sure it would be the making of Charlie. I
think so indeed.”

“I wonder what he would say himself?” said Agnes; for not even Mrs
Atheling knew so well as Agnes did the immovable determination, when he
had settled upon anything, of this obstinate big boy.

“We will speak of it to-night, and see what your papa says, and I would
not mind even mentioning it to Mr Foggo,” said Mrs Atheling: “we have
not very much to spare, yet I think we could all spare something for
Charlie’s sake; we must have it fully discussed to-night.”

This made, for the time, a conclusion of the subject, since Mrs
Atheling, having unburthened her mind to her daughters, immediately
discovered the absence of the children, rebuked the girls for suffering
them to stray, and set out to bring them back without delay. Marian sat
musing before the fire, scorching her pretty cheek with the greatest
equanimity. Agnes threw herself into Papa’s easy-chair. Both hurried off
immediately into delightful speculations touching Charlie--a lawyer and
a gentleman; and already in their secret hearts both of these rash girls
began to entertain the utmost contempt for the commonplace name of
clerk.

We are afraid Mr Atheling’s tea was made very hurriedly that night. He
could not get peace to finish his third cup, that excellent papa: they
persecuted him out of his ordinary play with Bell and Beau; his
invariable study of the newspaper. He could by no means make out the
cause of the commotion. “Not another story finished already, Agnes?”
said the perplexed head of the house. He began to think it would be
something rather alarming if they succeeded each other like this.

“Now, my dears, sit down, and do not make a noise with your work, I beg
of you. I have something to say to your papa,” said Mrs Atheling, with
state and solemnity.

Whereupon Papa involuntarily put himself on his defence; he had not the
slightest idea what could be amiss, but he recognised the gravity of the
preamble. “What _is_ the matter, Mary?” cried poor Mr Atheling. He could
not tell what he had done to deserve this.

“My dear, I want to speak about Charlie,” said Mrs Atheling, becoming
now less dignified, and showing a little agitation. “I went to call on
Miss Willsie to-day, partly about Hannah, partly for other things; and
Miss Willsie told me, William, that besides the youth’s place which we
thought would do for Charlie, there was in Mr Foggo’s office a vacancy
for an articled clerk.”

Mrs Atheling paused, out of breath. She did not often make long
speeches, nor had she frequently before originated and led a great
movement like this, so she showed fully as much excitement as the
occasion required. Papa listened with composure and a little surprise,
relieved to find that he was not on his trial. Charlie pricked his big
red ears, as he sat at his grammar, but made no other sign; while the
girls, altogether suspending their work, drew their chairs closer, and
with a kindred excitement eagerly followed every word and gesture of
Mamma.

“And you must see, William,” said Mrs Atheling, rapidly, “what a great
advantage it would be to Charlie, if he could enter the office like a
gentleman. Of course, I know he would get no salary; but we could go on
very well for a year or two as we are doing--quite as well as before,
certainly; and I have no doubt Mr Foggo could persuade them to be
content with a very small premium; and then think of the advantage to
Charlie, my dear!”

“Premium! no salary!--get on for a year or two! Are you dreaming, Mary?”
exclaimed Mr Atheling. “Why, this is a perfect craze, my dear. Charlie
an articled clerk in Foggo’s office! it is pure nonsense. You don’t mean
to say such a thought has ever taken possession of _you_. I could
understand the girls, if it was their notion--but, Mary! you!”

“And why not me?” said Mamma, somewhat angry for the moment. “Who is so
anxious as me for my boy? I know what our income is, and what it can do
exactly to a penny, William--a great deal better than you do, my dear;
and of course it would be my business to draw in our expenses
accordingly; and the girls would give up anything for Charlie’s sake.
And then, except Beau, who is so little, and will not want anything much
done for him for many a year--he is our only boy, William. It was not
always so,” said the good mother, checking a great sob which had nearly
stopped her voice--“it was not always so--but there is only Charlie left
of all of them; and except little Beau, the son of our old age, he is
our only boy!”

She paused now, because she could not help it; and for the same reason
her husband was very slow to answer. All-prevailing was this woman’s
argument; it was very near impossible to say the gentlest Nay to
anything thus pleaded in the name of the dead.

“But, my dear, we cannot do it,” said Mr Atheling very quietly. The good
man would have given his right hand at that moment to be able to procure
this pleasure for the faithful mother of those fair boys who were in
heaven.

“We could do it if we tried, William,” said Mrs Atheling, recovering
herself slowly. Her husband shook his head, pondered, shook his head
again.

“It would be injustice to the other children,” he said at last. “We
could not keep Charlie like a gentleman without injuring the rest. I am
surprised you do not think of that.”

“But the rest of us are glad to be injured,” cried Agnes, coming to her
mother’s aid; “and then I may have something by-and-by, and Charlie
could get on so much better. I am sure you must see all the advantages,
papa.”

“And we can’t be injured either, for we shall just be as we are,” said
Marian, “only a little more economical; and I am sure, papa, if it is so
great a virtue to be thrifty, as you and Mr Foggo say, you ought to be
more anxious than we are about this for Charlie; and you would, if you
carried out your principles--and you must submit. I know we shall
succeed at last.”

“If it is a conspiracy, I give in,” said Mr Atheling. “Of course you
must mulct yourselves if you have made up your minds to it. I protest
against suffering your thrift myself, and I won’t have any more economy
in respect to Bell and Beau. But do your will, Mary--I don’t interfere.
A conspiracy is too much for me.”

“Mother!” said Charlie--all this time there had been nothing visible of
the big boy, except the aforesaid red ears; now he put down his grammar
and came forward, with some invisible wind working much among the
furrows of his brow--“just hear what I’ve got to say. This won’t do--I’m
not a gentleman, you know; what’s the good of making me like one?--of
course I mean,” said Charlie, somewhat hotly, in a parenthesis, as
Agnes’s eyes flashed upon him, “not a gentleman, so far as being idle
and having plenty of money goes;--I’ve got to work for my bread. Suppose
I was articled, at the end of my time I should have to work for my bread
all the same. What is the difference? It’s only making a sham for two
years, or three years, or whatever the time might be. I don’t want to go
against what anybody says, but you wouldn’t make a sham of me, would
you, mother? Let me go in my proper place--like what I’ll have to be,
all my life; then if I rise you will be pleased; and if I don’t rise,
still nobody will be able to say I have come down. I can’t be like a
gentleman’s son, doing nothing. Let me be myself, mother--the best thing
for me.”

Charlie said scarcely any more that night, though much was said on every
side around; but Charlie was the conqueror.



CHAPTER XIII.

KILLIECRANKIE LODGE.


Killiecrankie Lodge held a dignified position in this genteel locality:
it stood at the end of the road, looking down and superintending
Bellevue. Three square houses, all duly walled and gardened, made the
apex and conclusion of this suburban retirement. The right-hand one was
called Buena Vista House; the left-hand one was Green View Cottage, and
in the centre stood the lodge of Killiecrankie. The lodge was not so
jealously private as its neighbours: in the upper part of the door in
the wall was an open iron railing, through which the curious passenger
might gain a beatific glimpse of Miss Willsie’s wallflowers, and of the
clean white steps by which you ascended to the house-door. The
corresponding loopholes at the outer entrance of Green View and Buena
Vista were carefully boarded; so the house of Mr Foggo had the sole
distinction of an open eye.

Within the wall was a paved path leading to the house, with a square
bit of lawn on either side, each containing in its centre a very small
round flower-plot and a minute fir-tree. These were the pine forests of
the Islingtonian Killiecrankie; but there were better things within the
brief enclosure. The borders round about on every side were full of
wallflowers--double wallflower, streaked wallflower, yellow wallflower,
brown wallflower--every variety under the sun. This was the sole
remarkable instance of taste displayed by Miss Willsie; but it gave a
delicate tone of fragrance to the whole atmosphere of Bellevue.

This is a great day at Killiecrankie Lodge. It is the end of April now,
and already the days are long, and the sun himself stays up till after
tea, and throws a slanting golden beam over the daylight table. Miss
Willsie, herself presiding, is slightly heated. She says, “Bless me,
it’s like July!” as she sets down upon the tray her heavy silver teapot.
Miss Willsie is not half as tall as her brother, but makes up the
difference in another direction. She is stout, though she is so
restlessly active. Her face is full of wavering little lines and
dimples, though she is an old lady; and there are the funniest
indentations possible in her round chin and cheeks. You would fancy a
laugh was always hiding in those crevices. Alas! Hannah knows better.
You should see how Miss Willsie can frown!

But the old lady is in grand costume to-night; she has her brown satin
dress on, her immense cairngorm brooch, her overwhelming blue turban.
This sublime head-dress has an effect of awe upon the company; no one
was prepared for such a degree of grandeur, and the visitors
consequently are not quite at their ease. These visitors are rather
numerous for a Bellevue tea-party. There is Mr Richards from Buena
Vista, Mrs Tavistock from Woburn Lodge, and Mr Gray, the other Scotch
inhabitant, from Gowanbrae; and there is likewise Mr Foggo Silas
Endicott, Miss Willsie’s American nephew, and her Scotch nephew, Harry
Oswald; and besides all this worshipful company, there are all the
Athelings--all except Bell and Beau, left, with many cautions, in the
hands of Susan, over whom, in fear and self-reproach, trembles already
the heart of Mamma.

“So he would not hear of it--he was not blate!” said Miss Willsie. “My
brother never had the like in his office--that I tell you; and there’s
no good mother at home to do as much for Harry. Chairles, lad, you’ll
find out better some time. If there’s one thing I do not like, it’s a
wilful boy!”

“But I can scarcely call him wilful either,” said Mrs Atheling, hastily.
“He is very reasonable, Miss Willsie; he gives his meaning--it is not
out of opposition. He has always a good reason for what he does--he is a
very reasonable boy.”

“And if there’s one thing I object to,” said Miss Willsie, “it’s the
assurance of these monkeys with their reasons. When we were young, we
were ill bairns, doubtless, like other folk; but if I had dared to make
my excuses, pity me! There is Harry, now, will set up his face to me as
grand as a Lord of Session; and Marian this very last night making her
argument about these two spoiled babies of yours, as if she knew better
than me! Misbehaviour’s natural to youth. I can put up with that, but I
cannot away with their reasons. Such things are not for me.”

“Very true--_so_ true, Miss Willsie,” said Mrs Tavistock, who was a
sentimental and sighing widow. “There is my niece, quite an example. I
am sadly nervous, you know; and that rude girl will ‘prove’ to me, as
she calls it, that no thief could get into the house, though I know they
try the back-kitchen window every night.”

“If there’s one thing I’m against,” said Miss Willsie, solemnly, “it’s
that foolish fright about thieves--thieves! Bless me, what would the
ragamuffins do here? A man may be a robber, but that’s no to say he’s an
idiot; and a wise man would never put his life or his freedom in
jeopardy for what he could get in Bellevue.”

Mrs Tavistock was no match for Miss Willsie, so she prudently abstained
from a rejoinder. A large old china basin full of wallflowers stood
under a grim portrait, and between a couple of huge old silver
candlesticks upon the mantelpiece; Miss Willsie’s ancient tea-service,
at present glittering upon the table, was valuable and massive silver:
nowhere else in Bellevue was there so much “plate” as in Killiecrankie
Lodge; and this was perfectly well known to the nervous widow. “I am
sure I wonder at your courage, Miss Willsie; but then you have a
gentleman in the house, which makes a great difference,” said Mrs
Tavistock, woefully. Mrs Tavistock was one of those proper and
conscientious ladies who make a profession of their widowhood, and are
perpetually executing a moral suttee to the edification of all
beholders. “I was never nervous before. Ah, nobody knows what a
difference it makes to me!”

“Young folk are a troublesome handful. Where are the girls--what are
they doing with Harry?” said Miss Willsie. “Harry’s a lad for any kind
of antics, but you’ll no see Foggo demeaning himself. Foggo writes poems
and letters to the papers: they tell me that in his own country he’s a
very rising young man.”

“He looks intellectual. What a pleasure, Miss Willsie, to you!” said the
widow, with delightful sympathy.

“If there’s one thing I like worse than another, it’s your writing young
men,” said Miss Willsie, vehemently. “I lighted on a paper this very
day, that the young leasing-maker had gotten from America, and what do
you think I saw therein, but just a long account--everything about
us--of my brother and me. My brother Robert Foggo, as decent a man as
there is in the three kingdoms--and _me_! What do you think of that, Mrs
Atheling?--even Harry in it, and the wallflowers! If it had not been for
my brother, he never should have set foot in this house again.”

“Oh dear, how interesting!” said the widow. Mrs Tavistock turned her
eyes to the other end of the room almost with excitement. She had not
the least objection, for her own part, in the full pomp of sables and
sentiment, to figure at full length in the _Mississippi Gazette_.

“And what was it for?” said Mrs Atheling, innocently; “for I thought it
was only remarkable people that even the Americans put in the papers.
Was it simply to annoy you?”

“Me!--do you think a lad like yon could trouble _me_?” exclaimed Miss
Willsie. “He says, ‘All the scenes through which he has passed will be
interesting to his readers.’ That’s in a grand note he sent me this
morning--the impertinent boy! My poor Harry, though he’s often in
mischief, and my brother thinks him unsteady--I would not give his
little finger for half-a-dozen lads like yon.”

“But Harry is doing well _now_, Miss Willsie?” said Mrs Atheling. There
was a faint emphasis on the now which proved that Harry had not always
done well.

“Ay,” said Miss Willsie, drily; “and so Chairles has settled to his
business--that’s aye a comfort. If there’s one thing that troubles me,
it is to see young folk growing up in idleness; I pity them, now, that
are genteel and have daughters. What are you going to do, Mrs Atheling,
with these girls of yours?”

Mrs Atheling’s eyes sought them out with fond yet not untroubled
observation. There was Marian’s beautiful head before the other window,
looking as if it had arrested and detained the sunbeams, long ago
departed in the west; and there was Agnes, graceful, animated, and
intelligent, watching, with an affectionate and only half-conscious
admiration, her sister’s beauty. Their mother smiled to herself and
sighed. Even her anxiety, looking at them thus, was but another name for
delight.

“Agnes,” said Marian at the other window, half whispering, half
aloud--“Agnes! Harry says Mr Endicott has published a book.”

With a slight start and a slight blush Agnes turned round. Mr Foggo S.
Endicott was tall, very thin, had an extremely lofty mien, and a pair of
spectacles. He was eight-and-twenty, whiskerless, sallow, and by no
means handsome: he held his thin head very high, and delivered his
sentiments into the air when he spoke, but rarely bent from his
altitude to address any one in particular. But he heard the whisper in a
moment: in his very elbows, as you stood behind him, you could see the
sudden consciousness. He perceived, though he did not look at her, the
eager, bright, blushing, half-reverential glance of Agnes, and,
conscious to his very finger-points, raised his thin head to its fullest
elevation, and pretended not to hear.

Agnes blushed: it was with sudden interest, curiosity, reverence, made
more personal and exciting by her own venture. Nothing had been heard
yet of this venture, though it was nearly a month since Charlie took it
to Mr Burlington, and the young genius looked with humble and earnest
attention upon one who really had been permitted to make his utterance
to the ear of all the world. He _had_ published a book; he was a real
genuine printed author. The lips of Agnes parted with a quick breath of
eagerness; she looked up at him with a blush on her cheek, and a light
in her eye. A thrill of wonder and excitement came over her: would
people by-and-by regard herself in the same light?

“Oh, Mr Endicott!--is it poems?” said Agnes, shyly, and with a deepening
colour. The simple girl was almost as much embarrassed asking him about
his book, as if she had been asking about the Transatlantic lady of this
Yankee young gentleman’s love.

“Oh!” said Mr Endicott, discovering suddenly that she addressed
him--“yes. Did you speak to me?--poems?--ah! some little fugitive
matters, to be sure. One has no right to refuse to publish, when
everybody comes to know that one does such things.”

“Refuse?--no, indeed; I think not,” said Agnes, in spite of herself
feeling very much humbled, and speaking very low. This was so elevated a
view of the matter, and her own was so commonplace a one, that the poor
girl was completely crestfallen. She so anxious to get into print; and
this _bonâ fide_ author, doubtless so very much her superior, explaining
how he submitted, and could not help himself! Agnes was entirely put
down.

“Yes, really one ought not to keep everything for one’s own private
enjoyment,” said the magnanimous Mr Endicott, speaking very high up into
the air with his cadenced voice. “I do not approve of too much reserve
on the part of an author myself.”

“And what are they about, Mr Endicott?” asked Marian, with respect, but
by no means so reverentially as Agnes. Mr Endicott actually looked at
Marian; perhaps it was because of her very prosaic and improper
question, perhaps for the sake of the beautiful face.

“About!” said the poet, with benignant disdain. “No, I don’t approve of
narrative poetry; it’s after the time. My sonnets are experiences. I
live them before I write them; that is the true secret of poetry in our
enlightened days.”

Agnes listened, much impressed and cast down. She was far too simple to
perceive how much superior her natural bright impulse, spontaneous and
effusive, was to this sublime concentration. Agnes all her life long had
never lived a sonnet; but she was so sincere and single-minded herself,
that, at the first moment of hearing it, she received all this nonsense
with unhesitating faith. For she had not yet learned to believe in the
possibility of anybody, save villains in books, saying anything which
they did not thoroughly hold as true.

So Agnes retired a little from the conversation. The young genius began
to take herself to task, and was much humiliated by the contrast. Why
had she written that famous story, now lying storm-stayed in the hands
of Mr Burlington? Partly to please herself--partly to please
Mamma--partly because she could not help it. There was no grand motive
in the whole matter. Agnes looked with reverence at Mr Endicott, and sat
down in a corner. She would have been completely conquered if the
sublime American had been content to hold his peace.

But this was the last thing which occurred to Mr Endicott. He continued
his utterances, and the discouraged girl began to smile. She was no
judge of character, but she began to be able to distinguish nonsense
when she heard it. This was very grand nonsense on the first time of
hearing, and Agnes and Marian, we are obliged to confess, were somewhat
annoyed when Mamma made a movement of departure. They kept very early
hours in Bellevue, and before ten o’clock all Miss Willsie’s guests had
said good-night to Killiecrankie Lodge.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE HOUSE OF FOGGO.


It was ten o’clock, and now only this little family circle was left in
the Lodge of Killiecrankie. Miss Willsie, with one of the big silver
candlesticks drawn so very close that her blue turban trembled, and
stood in jeopardy, read the _Times_; Mr Foggo sat in his armchair, doing
nothing save contemplating the other light in the other candlestick; and
at the unoccupied sides of the table, between the seniors, were the two
young men.

These nephews did not live at Killiecrankie Lodge; but Miss Willsie, who
was very careful, and a notable manager, considered it would be unsafe
for “the boys” to go home to their lodgings at so late an hour as
this--so her invitations always included a night’s lodging; and the kind
and arbitrary little woman was not accustomed to be disobeyed. Yet “the
boys” found it dull, we confess. Mr Foggo was not pleased with Harry,
and by no means “took” to Endicott. Miss Willsie could not deny herself
her evening’s reading. They yawned at each other, these unfortunate
young men, and with a glance of mutual jealousy thought of Marian
Atheling. It was strange to see how dull and disenchanted this place
looked when the beautiful face that brightened it was gone.

So Mr Foggo S. Endicott took from his pocket his own paper, the
_Mississippi Gazette_, and Harry possessed himself of the half of Miss
Willsie’s _Times_. It was odd to observe the difference between them
even in manner and attitude. Harry bent half over the table, with his
hands thrust up into the thick masses of his curling hair; the American
sat perfectly upright, lifting his thin broadsheet to the height of his
spectacles, and reading loftily his own lucubrations. You could scarcely
see the handsome face of Harry as he hung over his half of the paper,
partly reading, partly dreaming over certain fond fancies of his own;
but you could not only see the lofty lineaments of Foggo, which were not
at all handsome, but also could perceive at a glance that he had “a
remarkable profile,” and silently called your attention to it.
Unfortunately, nobody in the present company was at all concerned about
the profile of Mr Endicott. That philosophical young gentleman,
notwithstanding, read his “Letter from England” in his best manner, and
demeaned himself as loftily as if he were a “portrait of a distinguished
literary gentleman” in an American museum. What more could any man do?

Meanwhile Mr Foggo sat in his armchair steadily regarding the candle
before him. He loved conversation, but he was not talkative, especially
in his own house. Sometimes the old man’s acute eyes glanced from under
his shaggy brow with a momentary keenness towards Harry--sometimes they
shot across the table a momentary sparkle of grim contempt; but to make
out from Mr Foggo’s face what Mr Foggo was thinking, was about the
vainest enterprise in the world. It was different with his sister: Miss
Willsie’s well-complexioned countenance changed and varied like the sky.
You could pursue her sudden flashes of satisfaction, resentment,
compassion, and injury into all her dimples, as easily as you could
follow the clouds over the heavens. Nor was it by her looks alone that
you could discover the fluctuating sympathies of Miss Willsie. Short,
abrupt, hasty exclamations, broke from her perpetually. “The
vagabond!--to think of that!” “Ay, that’s right now; I thought there was
something in _him_.” “Bless me--such a story!” After this manner ran on
her unconscious comments. She was a considerable politician, and this
was an interesting debate; and you could very soon make out by her
continual observations the political opinions of the mistress of
Killiecrankie. She was a desperate Tory, and at the same moment the
most direful and unconstitutional of Radicals. With a hereditary respect
she applauded the sentiments of the old country-party, and clung to
every institution with the pertinacity of a martyr; yet with the same
breath, and the most delightful inconsistency, was vehement and
enthusiastic in favour of the wildest schemes of reform; which, we
suppose, is as much as to say that Miss Willsie was a very feminine
politician, the most unreasonable of optimists, and had the sublimest
contempt for all practical considerations when she had convinced herself
that anything was _right_.

“I knew it!” cried Miss Willsie, with a burst of triumph; “he’s out, and
every one disowning him--a mean crew, big and little! If there’s one
thing I hate, it’s setting a man forward to tell an untruth, and then
letting him bear all the blame!”

“He’s got his lawful deserts,” said Mr Foggo. This gentleman, more
learned than his sister, took a very philosophical view of public
matters, and acknowledged no particular leaning to any “party” in his
general interest in the affairs of state.

“I never can find out now,” said Miss Willsie suddenly, “what the like
of Mr Atheling can have to do with this man--a lord and a great person,
and an officer of state--but his eye kindles up at the name of him, as
if it was the name of a friend. There cannot be ill-will unless there is
acquaintance, that’s my opinion; and an ill-will at this lord I am sure
Mr Atheling has.”

“They come from the same countryside,” said Mr Foggo; “when they were
lads they knew each other.”

“And who is this Mr Atheling?” said Endicott, speaking for the first
time. “I have a letter of introduction to Viscount Winterbourne myself.
His son, the Honourable George Rivers, travelled in the States a year or
two since, and I mean to see him by-and-by; but who is Mr Atheling, to
know an English Secretary of State?”

“He’s Cash and Ledger’s chief clerk,” said Mr Foggo, very laconically,
looking with a steady eye at the candlestick, and bestowing as little
attention upon his questioner as his questioner did upon him.

“Marvellous! in this country!” said the American; but Mr Endicott
belonged to that young America which is mightily respectful of the old
country. He thought it vulgar to do too much republicanism. He only
heightened the zest of his admiration now and then by a refined little
sneer.

“In this country! Where did ye ever see such a country, I would like to
know?” cried Miss Willsie. “If it was but for your own small concerns,
you ought to be thankful; for London itself will keep ye in writing
this many a day. If there’s one thing I cannot bear, it’s ingratitude!
I’m a long-suffering person myself; but that, I grant, gets the better
of me.”

“Mr Atheling, I suppose, has not many lords in his acquaintance,” said
Harry Oswald, looking up from his paper. “Endicott is right enough,
aunt; he is not quite in the rank for that; he has better----” said
Harry, something lowering his voice; “I would rather know myself welcome
at the Athelings’ than in any other house in England.”

This was said with a little enthusiasm, and brought the rising colour to
Harry Oswald’s brow. His cousin looked at him, with a curl of his thin
lip and a somewhat malignant eye. Miss Willsie looked at him hastily,
with a quick impatient nod of her head, and a most rapid and emphatic
frown. Finally, Mr Foggo lifted to the young man’s face his acute and
steady eye.

“Keep to your physic, Harry,” said Mr Foggo. The hapless Harry did not
meet the glance, but he understood the tone.

“Well, uncle, well,” said Harry hastily, raising his eyes; “but a man
cannot always keep to physic. There are more things in the world than
drugs and lancets. A man must have some margin for his thoughts.”

Again Miss Willsie gave the culprit a nod and a frown, saying as plain
as telegraphic communication ever said, “I am your friend, but this is
not the time to plead.” Again Mr Endicott surveyed his cousin with a
vague impulse of malice and of rivalry. Harry Oswald plunged down again
on his paper, and was no more heard of that night.



CHAPTER XV.

THE PROPOSAL.


“I suppose we are not going to hear anything about it. It is very hard,”
said Agnes disconsolately. “I am sure it is so easy to show a little
courtesy. Mr Burlington surely might have written to let us know.”

“But, my dear, how can we tell?” said Mrs Atheling; “he may be ill, or
he may be out of town, or he may have trouble in his family. It is very
difficult to judge another person--and you don’t know what may have
happened; he may be coming here himself, for aught we know.”

“Well, I think it is very hard,” said Marian; “I wish we only could
publish it ourselves. What is the good of a publisher? They are only
cruel to everybody, and grow rich themselves; it is always so in books.”

“He might surely have written at least,” repeated Agnes. These young
malcontents were extremely dissatisfied, and not at all content with Mrs
Atheling’s explanation that he might be ill, or out of town, or have
trouble in his family. Whatever extenuating circumstances there might
be, it was clear that Mr Burlington had not behaved properly, or with
the regard for other people’s feelings which Agnes concluded to be the
only true mark of a gentleman. Even the conversation of last night, and
the state and greatness of Mr Endicott, stimulated the impatience of the
girls. “It is not for the book so much, as for the uncertainty,” Agnes
said, as she disconsolately took out her sewing; but in fact it was just
because they had so much certainty, and so little change and commotion
in their life, that they longed so much for the excitement and novelty
of this new event.

They were very dull this afternoon, and everything out of doors
sympathised with their dulness. It was a wet day--a hopeless, heavy,
persevering, not-to-be-mended day of rain. The clouds hung low and
leaden over the wet world; the air was clogged and dull with moisture,
only lightened now and then by an impatient shrewish gust, which threw
the small raindrops like so many prickles full into your face. The long
branches of the lilacs blew about wildly with a sudden commotion, when
one of these gusts came upon them, like a group of heroines throwing up
their arms in a tragic appeal to heaven. The primroses, pale and
drooping, sullied their cheeks with the wet soil; hour after hour, with
the most sullen and dismal obstinacy, the rain rained down upon the
cowering earth; not a sound was in Bellevue save the trickle of the
water, a perfect stream, running strong and full down the little channel
on either side the street. It was in vain to go to the window, where not
a single passenger--not a baker’s boy, nor a maid on pattens, nobody but
the milkman in his waterproof-coat--hurrying along, a peripatetic
fountain, with little jets of water pouring from his hat, his cape, and
his pails--was visible through the whole dreary afternoon. It is
possible to endure a wet morning--easy enough to put up with a wet
night; but they must have indeed high spirits and pleasurable
occupations who manage to keep their patience and their cheerfulness
through the sullen and dogged monotony of a wet afternoon.

So everybody had a poke at the fire, which had gone out twice to-day
already, and was maliciously looking for another opportunity of going
out again; every person here present snapped her thread and lost her
needle; every one, even, each for a single moment, found Bell and Beau
in her way. You may suppose, this being the case, how very dismal the
circumstances must have been. But suddenly everybody started--the outer
gate swung open--an audible footstep came towards the door! Fairest of
readers, a word with you! If you are given to morning-calls, and love to
be welcomed, make your visits on a wet day!

It was not a visitor, however welcome--better than that--ecstatic sound!
it was the postman--the postman, drenched and sullen, hiding his crimson
glories under an oilskin cape; and it was a letter, solemn and
mysterious, in an unknown hand--a big blue letter, addressed to Miss
Atheling. With trembling fingers Agnes opened it, taking, with awe and
apprehension, out of the big blue envelope, a blue and big enclosure and
a little note. The paper fell to the ground, and was seized upon by
Marian. The excited girl sprang up with it, almost upsetting Bell and
Beau. “It is in print! Memorandum of an agreement--oh, mamma!” cried
Marian, holding up the dangerous instrument. Agnes sat down immediately
in her chair, quite hushed for the instant. It was an actual reality, Mr
Burlington’s letter--and a veritable proposal--not for herself, but for
her book.

The girls, we are obliged to confess, were slightly out of their wits
for about an hour after this memorable arrival. Even Mrs Atheling was
excited, and Bell and Beau ran about the room in unwitting exhilaration,
shouting at the top of their small sweet shrill voices, and tumbling
over each other unreproved. The good mother, to tell the truth, would
have liked to cry a little, if she could have managed it, and was much
moved, and disposed to take this, not as a mere matter of business, but
as a tender office of friendship and esteem on the part of the
unconscious Mr Burlington. Mrs Atheling could not help fancying that
somehow this wonderful chance had happened to Agnes because she was “a
good girl.”

And until Papa and Charlie came home they were not very particular about
the conditions of the agreement; the event itself was the thing which
moved them: it quickened the slow pace of this dull afternoon to the
most extraordinary celerity; the moments flew now which had lagged with
such obstinate dreariness before the coming of that postman; and all the
delight and astonishment of the first moment remained to be gone over
again at the home-coming of Papa.

And Mr Atheling, good man, was almost as much disturbed for the moment
as his wife. At first he was incredulous--then he laughed, but the laugh
was extremely unsteady in its sound--then he read over the paper with
great care, steadily resisting the constant interruptions of Agnes and
Marian, who persecuted him with their questions, “What do you think of
it, papa?” before the excellent papa had time to think at all. Finally,
Mr Atheling laughed again with more composure, and spread out upon the
table the important “Memorandum of Agreement.” “Sign it, Agnes,” said
Papa; “it seems all right, and quite business-like, so far as I can see.
She’s not twenty-one, yet--I don’t suppose it’s legal--that child! Sign
it, Agnes.”

This was by no means what Papa was expected to say; yet Agnes, with
excitement, got her blotting-book and her pen. This innocent family were
as anxious that Agnes’s autograph should be _well written_ as if it had
been intended for a specimen of caligraphy, instead of the signature to
a legal document; nor was the young author herself less concerned; and
she made sure of the pen, and steadied her hand conscientiously before
she wrote that pretty “Agnes Atheling,” which put the other ugly
printer-like handwriting completely to shame. And now it was done--there
was a momentary pause of solemn silence, not disturbed even by Bell and
Beau.

“So this is the beginning of Agnes’s fortune,” said Mr Atheling. “Now
Mary, and all of you, don’t be excited; every book does not succeed
because it finds a publisher; and you must not place your expectations
too high; for you know Agnes knows nothing of the world.”

It was very good to say “don’t be excited,” when Mr Atheling himself was
entirely oblivious of his newspaper, indifferent to his tea, and
actually did not hear the familiar knock of Mr Foggo at the outer door.

“And these half profits, papa, I wonder what they will be,” said Agnes,
glad to take up something tangible in this vague delight.

“Oh, something very considerable,” said Papa, forgetting his own
caution. “I should not wonder if the publisher made a great deal of
money by it: _they_ know what they’re about. Get up and get me my
slippers, you little rascals. When Agnes comes into her fortune, what a
paradise of toys for Bell and Beau!”

But the door opened, and Mr Foggo came in like a big brown cloud. There
was no concealing from him the printed paper--no hiding the overflowings
of the family content. So Agnes and Marian hurried off for half an
hour’s practising, and then put the twins to bed, and gossiped over the
fire in the little nursery. What a pleasant night it was!



CHAPTER XVI.

FAMILY EXCITEMENT.


It would be impossible to describe, after that first beginning, the
pleasant interest and excitement kept up in this family concerning the
fortune of Agnes. All kinds of vague and delightful magnificences
floated in the minds of the two girls: guesses of prodigious sums of
money and unimaginable honours were constantly hazarded by Marian; and
Agnes, though she laughed at, and professed to disbelieve, these
splendid imaginations, was, beyond all controversy, greatly influenced
by them. The house held up its head, and began to dream of fame and
greatness. Even Mr Atheling, in a trance of exalted and exulting fancy,
went down self-absorbed through the busy moving streets, and scarcely
noticed the steady current of the Islingtonian public setting in strong
for the City. Even Mamma, going about her household business, had
something visionary in her eye; she saw a long way beyond to-day’s
little cares and difficulties--the grand distant lights of the future
streaming down on the fair heads of her two girls. It was not possible,
at least in the mother’s fancy, to separate these two who were so
closely united. No one in the house, indeed, could recognise Agnes
without Marian, or Marian without Agnes; and this new fortune belonged
to both.

And then there followed all those indefinite but glorious adjuncts
involved in this beginning of fate--society, friends, a class of people,
as those good dreamers supposed, more able to understand and appreciate
the simple and modest refinement of these young minds;--all the world
was to be moved by this one book--everybody was to render homage--all
society to be disturbed with eagerness. Mr Atheling adjured the family
not to raise their expectations too high, yet raised his own to the most
magnificent level of unlikely greatness. Mrs Atheling had generous
compunctions of mind as she looked at the ribbons already half faded.
Agnes now was in a very different position from her who made the
unthrifty purchase of a colour which would not bear the sun. Mamma held
a very solemn synod in her own mind, and was half resolved to buy new
ones upon her own responsibility. But then there was something shabby in
building upon an expectation which as yet was so indefinite. And we are
glad to say there was so much sobriety and good sense in the house of
the Athelings, despite their glorious anticipations, that the ribbons
of Agnes and Marian, though they began to fulfil Mrs Atheling’s
prediction, still steadily did their duty, and bade fair to last out
their appointed time.

This was a very pleasant time to the whole household. Their position,
their comfort, their external circumstances, were in no respect changed,
yet everything was brightened and radiant in an overflow of hope. There
was neither ill nor sickness nor sorrow to mar the enjoyment; everything
at this period was going well with them, to whom many a day and many a
year had gone full heavily. They were not aware themselves of their
present happiness; they were all looking eagerly forward, bent upon a
future which was to be so much superior to to-day, and none dreamed how
little pleasure was to be got out of the realisation, in comparison with
the delight they all took in the hope. They could afford so well to
laugh at all their homely difficulties--to make jokes upon Mamma’s grave
looks as she discovered an extravagant shilling or two in the household
accounts--or found out that Susan had been wasteful in the kitchen. It
was so odd, so _funny_, to contrast these minute cares with the golden
age which was to come.

And then the plans and secret intentions, the wonderful committees which
sat in profound retirement; Marian plotting with Mamma what Agnes
should have when she came into her fortune, and Agnes advising, with the
same infallible authority, for the advantage of Marian. The vast and
ambitious project of the girls for going to the country--the country or
the sea-side--some one, they did not care which, of those beautiful
unknown beatific regions out of London, which were to them all fairyland
and countries of magic. We suppose nobody ever did enjoy the sea breezes
as Agnes and Marian Atheling, in their little white bed-chamber, enjoyed
the imaginary gale upon the imaginary sands, which they could perceive
brightening the cheek of Mamma, and tossing about the curls of the
twin-babies, at any moment of any night or day. This was to be the grand
triumph of the time when Agnes came into her fortune, though even Mamma
as yet had not heard of the project; but already it was a greater
pleasure to the girls than any real visit to any real sea-side in this
visible earth ever could be.

And then there began to come, dropping in at all hours, from the
earliest post in the morning to the last startling delivery at nine
o’clock at night, packets of printed papers--the proof-sheets of this
astonishing book. You are not to suppose that those proofs needed much
correcting--Agnes’s manuscript was far too daintily written for that;
yet every one read them with the utmost care and attention, and Papa
made little crosses in pencil on the margin when he came to a doubtful
word. Everybody read them, not once only, but sometimes twice, or even
three times over--everybody but Charlie, who eat them up with his bread
and butter at tea, did not say a word on the subject, and never looked
at them again. All Bellevue resounded with the knocks of that incessant
postman at Number Ten. Public opinion was divided on the subject. Some
people said the Athelings had been extravagant, and were now suffering
under a very Egyptian plague, a hailstorm of bills; others, more
charitable, had private information that both the Miss Athelings were
going to be married, and believed this continual dropping to be a
carnival shower of flowers and _bonbons_, the love-letters of the
affianced bridegrooms; but nobody supposed that the unconscious and
innocent postman stood a respectable deputy for the little Beelzebub, to
whose sooty hands of natural right should have been committed the
custody of those fair and uncorrectable sheets. Sometimes, indeed, this
sable emissary made a hasty and half-visible appearance in his own
proper person, with one startling knock, as loud, but more solemn than
the postman--“That’s the Devil!” said Charlie, with unexpected
animation, the second time this emphatic sound was heard; and Susan
refused point-blank to open the door.

How carefully these sheets were corrected! how punctually they were
returned!--with what conscientious care and earnestness the young author
attended to all the requirements of printer and publisher! There was
something amusing, yet something touching as well, in the sincere and
natural humbleness of these simple people. Whatever they said, they
could not help thinking that some secret spring of kindness had moved Mr
Burlington; that somehow this unconscious gentleman, most innocent of
any such intention, meant to do them all a favour. And moved by the
influence of this amiable delusion, Agnes was scrupulously attentive to
all the suggestions of the publisher. Mr Burlington himself was somewhat
amused by his new writer’s obedience, but doubtful, and did not half
understand it; for it is not always easy to comprehend downright and
simple sincerity. But the young author went on upon her guileless way,
taking no particular thought of her own motives; and on with her every
step went all the family, excited and unanimous. To her belonged the
special joy of being the cause of this happy commotion; but the pleasure
and the honour and the delight belonged equally to them all.



CHAPTER XVII.

AN AMERICAN SKETCH.


“Here! there’s reading for you,” said Miss Willsie, throwing upon the
family table a little roll of papers. “They tell me there’s something of
the kind stirring among yourselves. If there’s one thing I cannot put up
with, it’s to see a parcel of young folk setting up to read lessons to
the world!”

“Not Agnes!” cried Marian eagerly; “only wait till it comes out. I know
so well, Miss Willsie, how you will like her book.”

“No such thing,” said Miss Willsie indignantly. “I would just like to
know--twenty years old, and never out of her mother’s charge a week at a
time--I would just like any person to tell me what Agnes Atheling can
have to say to the like of me!”

“Indeed, nothing at all,” said Agnes, blushing and laughing; “but it is
different with Mr Endicott. Now nobody must speak a word. Here it is.”

“No! let me away first,” cried Miss Willsie in terror. She was rather
abrupt in her exits and entrances. This time she disappeared
instantaneously, shaking her hand at some imaginary culprit, and had
closed the gate behind her with a swing, before Agnes was able to begin
the series of “Letters from England” which were to immortalise the name
of Mr Foggo S. Endicott. The New World biographist began with his
voyage, and all the “emotions awakened in his breast” by finding himself
at sea; and immediately thereafter followed a special chapter, headed
“Killiecrankie Lodge.”

“How delightful,” wrote the traveller, “so many thousand miles from
home, so far away from those who love us, to meet with the sympathy and
communion of kindred blood! To this home of the domestic affections I am
glad at once to introduce my readers, as a beautiful example of that Old
England felicity, which is, I grieve to say, so sadly outbalanced by
oppression and tyranny and crime! This beautiful suburban retreat is the
home of my respected relatives, Mr F. and his maiden sister Miss
Wilhelmina F. Here they live with old books, old furniture, and old
pictures around them, with old plate upon their table, old servants in
waiting, and an old cat coiled up in comfort upon their cosy hearth! A
graceful air of antiquity pervades everything. The inkstand from which I
write belonged to a great-grandfather; the footstool under my feet was
worked by an old lady of the days of the lovely Queen Mary; and I cannot
define the date of the china in that carved cabinet: all this, which
would be out of place in one of the splendid palaces of our buzy
citizens, is here in perfect harmony with the character of the inmates.
It is such a house as naturally belongs to an old country, an old
family, and an old and secluded pair.

“My uncle is an epitome of all that is worthy in man. Like most
remarkable Scotsmen, he takes snuff; and to perceive his penetration and
wise sagacity, one has only to look at the noble head which he carries
with a hereditary loftiness. His sister is a noble old lady, and
entirely devoted to him. In fact, they are all the world to each other;
and the confidence with which the brother confides all his cares and
sorrows to the faithful bosom of his sister, is a truly touching sight;
while Miss Wilhelmina F., on her part, seldom makes an observation
without winding up by a reference to ‘my brother.’ It is a long time
since I have found anywhere so fresh and delightful an object of study
as the different characteristics of this united pair. It is beautiful to
watch the natural traits unfolding themselves. One has almost as much
pleasure in the investigation as one has in studying the developments of
childhood; and my admirable relatives are as delightfully unconscious of
their own distinguishing qualities as even children could be.

“Their house is a beautiful little suburban villa, far from the noise
and din of the great city. Here they spend their beautiful old age in
hospitality and beneficence; beggars (for there are always beggars in
England) come to the door every morning with patriarchal familiarity,
and receive their dole through an opening in the door, like the ancient
buttery-hatch; every morning, upon the garden paths crumbs are strewed
for the robins and the sparrows, and the birds come hopping fearlessly
about the old lady’s feet, trusting in her gracious nature. All the
borders are filled with wallflowers, the favourite plant of Miss
Wilhelmina, and they seemed to me to send up a sweeter fragrance when
she watered them with her delicate little engine, or pruned them with
her own hand; for everything, animate and inanimate, seems to know that
she is good.

“To complete this delightful picture, there is just that shade of
solicitude and anxiety wanting to make it perfect. They have a nephew,
this excellent couple, over whom they watch with the characteristic
jealousy of age watching youth. While my admirable uncle eats his egg at
breakfast, he talks of Harry; while aunt Wilhelmina pours out the tea
from her magnificent old silver teapot, she makes apologies and excuses
for him. They will make him their heir, I do not doubt, for he is a
handsome and prepossessing youth; and however this may be to _my_
injury, I joyfully waive my claim; for the sight of their tender
affection and beautiful solicitude is a greater boon to a student of
mankind like myself than all their old hereditary hoards or patrimonial
acres; and so I say, Good fortune to Harry, and let all my readers say
Amen!”

We are afraid to say how difficult Agnes found it to accomplish this
reading in peace; but in spite of Marian’s laughter and Mrs Atheling’s
indignant interruptions, Agnes herself was slightly impressed by these
fine sentiments and pretty sentences. She laid down the paper with an
air of extreme perplexity, and could scarcely be tempted to smile.
“Perhaps that is how Mr Endicott sees things,” said Agnes; “perhaps he
has so fine a mind--perhaps--Now, I am sure, mamma, if you had not known
Miss Willsie, you would have thought it very pretty. I know you would.”

“Do not speak to me, child,” cried Mrs Atheling energetically. “Pretty!
why, he is coming here to-night!”

And Marian clapped her hands. “Mamma will be in the next one!” cried
Marian; “and he will find out that Agnes is a great author, and that we
are all so anxious about Charlie. Oh, I hope he will send us a copy.
What fun it would be to read about papa and his newspaper, and what
everybody was doing at home here in Bellevue!”

“It would be very impertinent,” said Mrs Atheling, reddening with anger;
“and if anything of the kind should happen, I will never forgive Mr
Foggo. You will take care to speak as little as possible to him, Marian;
he is not a safe person. Pretty! Does he think he has a right to come
into respectable houses and make his pretty pictures? You must be very
much upon your guard, girls. I forbid you to be friendly with such a
person as _that_!”

“But perhaps”--said Agnes.

“Perhaps--nonsense,” cried Mamma indignantly; “he must not come in here,
that I am resolved. Go and tell Susan we will sit in the best room
to-night.”

But Agnes meditated the matter anxiously--perhaps, though she did not
say it--perhaps to be a great literary personage, it was necessary to
“find good in everything,” after the newest fashion, like Mr Endicott.
Agnes was much puzzled, and somewhat discouraged, on her own account.
She did not think it possible she could ever come to such a sublime and
elevated view of ordinary things; she felt herself a woeful way behind
Mr Endicott, and with a little eagerness looked forward to his visit.
Would he justify himself--what would he say?



CHAPTER XVIII.

COMPANY.


The best room was not by any means so bright, so cheerful, or so kindly
as the family parlour, with its family disarrangement, and the amateur
paperhanging upon its walls. Before their guests arrived the girls made
an effort to improve its appearance. They pulled the last beautiful
bunches of the lilac to fill the little glass vases, and placed candles
in the ornamental glass candlesticks upon the mantelpiece. But even a
double quantity of light did not bring good cheer to this dull and
solemn apartment. Had it been winter, indeed, a fire might have made a
difference; but it was early summer--one of those balmy nights so sweet
out of doors, which give an additional shade of gloom to
dark-complexioned parlours, shutting out the moon and the stars, the
night air and the dew. Agnes and Marian, fanciful and visionary, kept
the door open themselves, and went wandering about the dark garden,
where the summer flowers came slowly, and the last primrose was dying
pale and sweet under the poplar tree. They went silently and singly, one
after the other, through the garden paths, hearing, without observing,
the two different footsteps which came to the front door. If they were
thinking, neither of them knew or could tell what she was thinking
about, and they returned to the house without a word, only knowing how
much more pleasant it was to be out here in the musical and breathing
darkness, than to be shut closely within the solemn enclosure of the
best room.

But there, by the table where Marian had maliciously laid his paper, was
the stately appearance of Mr Endicott, holding high his abstracted head,
while Harry Oswald, anxious, and yet hesitating, lingered at the door,
eagerly on the watch for the light step of which he had so immediate a
perception when it came. Harry, who indeed had no great inducement to be
much in love with himself, forgot himself altogether as his quick ear
listened for the foot of Marian. Mr Endicott, on the contrary, added a
loftier shape to his abstraction, by way of attracting and not
expressing admiration. Unlucky Harry was in love with Marian; his
intellectual cousin only aimed at making Marian in love with _him_.

And she came in, slightly conscious, we admit, that she was the heroine
of the night, half aware of the rising rivalry, half-enlightened as to
the different character of these two very different people, and of the
one motive which brought them here. So a flitting changeable blush went
and came upon the face of Marian. Her eyes, full of the sweet darkness
and dew of the night, were dazzled by the lights, and would not look
steadily at any one; yet a certain gleam of secret mischief and
amusement in her face betrayed itself to Harry Oswald, though not at all
to the unsuspicious American. She took her seat very sedately at the
table, and busied herself with her fancy-work. Mr Endicott sat opposite,
looking at her; and Harry, a moving shadow in the dim room, hovered
about, sitting and standing behind her chair.

Besides these young people, Mr Atheling, Mr Foggo, and Mamma, were in
the room, conversing among themselves, and taking very little notice of
the other visitors. Mamma was making a little frock, upon which she
bestowed unusual pains, as it seemed; for no civility of Mr Endicott
could gain any answer beyond a monosyllable from the virtuous and
indignant mistress of the house. He was playing with his own papers as
Agnes and Marian came to the table, affectionately turning them over,
and looking at the heading of the “Letter from England” with a loving
eye.

“You are interested in literature, I believe?” said Mr Endicott. Agnes,
Marian, and Harry, all of them glancing at him in the same moment,
could not tell which he addressed; so there was a confused murmur of
reply. “Not in the slightest,” cried Harry Oswald, behind Marian’s
chair. “Oh, but Agnes is!” cried Marian; and Agnes herself, with a
conscious blush, acknowledged--“Yes, indeed, very much.”

“But not, I suppose, very well acquainted with the American press?” said
Mr Endicott. “The bigotry of Europeans is marvellous. We read your
leading papers in the States, but I have not met half-a-dozen people in
England--actually not six individuals--who were in the frequent habit of
seeing the _Mississippi Gazette_.”

“We rarely see any newspapers at all,” said Agnes, apologetically. “Papa
has his paper in the evenings, but except now and then, when there is a
review of a book in it----”

“That is the great want of English contemporary literature,” interrupted
Mr Endicott. “You read the review--good! but you feel that something
else is wanted than mere politics--that votes and debates do not supply
the wants of the age!”

“If the wants of the age were the wants of young ladies,” said Harry
Oswald, “what would become of my uncle and Mr Atheling? Leave things in
their proper place, Endicott. Agnes and Marian want something different
from newspaper literature and leading articles. Don’t interfere with the
girls.”

“These are the slavish and confined ideas of a worn out civilisation,”
said the man of letters; “in my country we respect the opinions of our
women, and give them full scope.”

“Respect!--the old humbug!” muttered Harry behind Marian’s chair. “Am I
disrespectful? I choose to be judged by you.”

Marian glanced over her shoulder with saucy kindness. “Don’t quarrel,”
said Marian. No! Poor Harry was so glad of the glance, the smile, and
the confidence, that he could have taken Endicott, who was the cause of
it, to his very heart.

“The functions of the press,” said Mr Endicott, “are unjustly limited in
this country, like most other enlightened influences. In these days we
have scarcely time to wait for books. It is not with us as it was in old
times, when the soul lay fallow for a century, and then blossomed into
its glorious epic, or drama, or song! Our audience must perceive the
visible march of mind, hour by hour and day by day. We are no longer
concerned about mere physical commotions, elections, or debates, or
votes of the Senate. In these days we care little for the man’s
opinions; what we want is an advantageous medium for studying the man.”

As she listened to this, Agnes Atheling held her breath, and suspended
her work unawares. It sounded very imposing, indeed--to tell the truth,
it sounded something like that magnificent conversation in books over
which Marian and she had often marvelled. Then this simple girl believed
in everybody; she was rather inclined to suppose of Mr Endicott that he
was a man of very exalted mind.

“I do not quite know,” said Agnes humbly, “whether it is right to tell
all about great people in the newspapers, or even to put them in books.
Do you think it is, Mr Endicott?”

“I think,” said the American, solemnly, “that a public man, and, above
all, a literary man, belongs to the world. All the exciting scenes of
life come to us only that we may describe and analyse them for the
advantage of others. A man of genius has no private life. Of what
benefit is the keenness of his emotions if he makes no record of them?
In my own career,” continued the literary gentleman, “I have been
sometimes annoyed by foolish objections to the notice I am in the habit
of giving of friends who cross my way. Unenlightened people have
complained of me, in vulgar phrase, that I ‘put them in the newspapers.’
How strange a misconception! for you must perceive at once that it was
not with any consideration of them, but simply that my readers might see
every scene I passed through, and in reality feel themselves travelling
with _me_!”

“Oh!” Agnes made a faint and very doubtful exclamation; Harry Oswald
turned on his heel, and left the room abruptly; while Marian bent very
closely over her work, to conceal that she was laughing. Mr Endicott
thought it was a natural youthful reverence, and gave her all due credit
for her “ingenuous emotions.”

“The path of genius necessarily reveals certain obscure individuals,”
said Mr Endicott; “they cross its light, and the poet has no choice. I
present to my audience the scenes through which I travel. I introduce
the passengers on the road. Is it for the sake of these passengers? No.
It is that my readers may be enabled, under all circumstances, to form a
just realisation of _me_. That is the true vocation of a poet: he ought
to be in himself the highest example of everything--joy, delight,
suffering, remorse, and ruin--yes, I am bold enough to say, even crime.
No man should be able to suppose that he can hide himself in an
indescribable region of emotion where the poet cannot follow. Shall
murder be permitted to attain an experience beyond the reach of genius?
No! Everything must be possessed by the poet’s intuitions, for he
himself is the great lesson of the world.”

“Charlie,” said Harry Oswald behind the door, “come in, and punch this
fellow’s head.”



CHAPTER XIX.

CONVERSATION.


Charlie came in, but not to punch the head of Mr Endicott. The big boy
gloomed upon the dignified American, pushed Harry Oswald aside, and
brought his two grammars to the table. “I say, what do you want with
me?” said Charlie; he was not at all pleased at having been disturbed.

“Nobody wanted you, Charlie,--no one ever wants you, you disagreeable
boy,” said Marian: “it was all Harry Oswald’s fault; he thought we were
too pleasant all by ourselves here.”

To which complimentary saying Mr Endicott answered by a bow. He quite
understood what Miss Marian meant! he was much flattered to have gained
her sympathy! So Marian pleased both her admirers for once, for Harry
Oswald laughed in secret triumph behind her chair.

“And you are still with Mr Bell, Harry,” said Mrs Atheling, suddenly
interposing. “I am very glad you like this place--and what a pleasure
it must be to all your sisters! I begin to think you are quite settled
now.”

“I suppose it was time,” said Harry the unlucky, colouring a little, but
smiling more as he came out from the shadow of Marian’s chair, in
compliment to Marian’s mother; “yes, we get on very well,--we are not
overpowered with our practice; so much the better for me.”

“But you ought to be more ambitious,--you ought to try to extend your
practice,” said Mrs Atheling, immediately falling into the tone of an
adviser, in addressing one to whom everybody gave good advice.

“I might have some comfort in it, if I was a poet,” said Harry; “but to
kill people simply in the way of business is too much for me.--Well,
uncle, it is no fault of mine. I never did any honour to my doctorship.
I am as well content to throw physic to the dogs as any Macbeth in the
world.”

“Ay, Harry,” said Mr Foggo; “but I think it is little credit to a man to
avow ill inclinations, unless he has the spirit of a man to make head
against them. That’s my opinion--but I know you give it little weight.”

“A curious study!” said Mr Endicott, reflectively. “I have watched it
many times,--the most interesting conflict in the world.”

But Harry, who had borne his uncle’s reproof with calmness, reddened
fiercely at this, and seemed about to resent it. The study of character,
though it is so interesting a study, and so much pursued by superior
minds, is not, as a general principle, at all liked by the objects of
it. Harry Oswald, under the eye of his cousin’s curious inspection, had
the greatest mind in the world to knock that cousin down.

“And what do you think of our domestic politics, on the other side of
the Atlantic?” asked Papa, joining the more general conversation: “a
pretty set of fellows manage us in Old England here. I never take up a
newspaper but there’s a new job in it. If it were only for other
countries, they might have a sense of shame!”

“Well, sir,” said Mr Endicott, “considering all things--considering the
worn-out circumstances of the old country, your oligarchy and your
subserviency, I am rather disposed, on the whole, to be in favour of the
government of England. So far as a limited intelligence goes, they
really appear to me to get on pretty well.”

“Humph!” said Mr Atheling. He was quite prepared for a dashing
republican denunciation, but this cool patronage stunned the humble
politician--he did not comprehend it. “However,” he continued, reviving
after a little, and rising into triumph, “there is principle among them
yet. They cannot tolerate a man who wants the English virtue of keeping
his word; no honourable man will keep office with a traitor.
Winterbourne’s out. There’s some hope for the country when one knows
that.”

“And who is Winterbourne, papa?” asked Agnes, who was near her father.

Mr Atheling was startled. “Who is Lord Winterbourne, child? why, a
disgraced minister--everybody knows!”

“You speak as if you were glad,” said Agnes, possessed with a perfectly
unreasonable pertinacity: “do you know him, papa,--has he done anything
to you?”

“I!” cried Mr Atheling, “how should I know him? There! thread your
needle, and don’t ask ridiculous questions. Lord Winterbourne for
himself is of no consequence to me.”

From which everybody present understood immediately that this unknown
personage _was_ of consequence to Mr Atheling--that Papa certainly knew
him, and that he had “done something” to call for so great an amount of
virtuous indignation. Even Mr Endicott paused in the little account he
proposed to give of Viscount Winterbourne’s title and acquirements, and
his own acquaintance with the Honourable George Rivers, his lordship’s
only son. A vision of family feuds and mysteries crossed the active
mind of the American: he stopped to make a mental note of this
interesting circumstance; for Mr Endicott did not disdain to embellish
his “letters” now and then with a fanciful legend, and this was
certainly “suggestive” in the highest degree.

“I remember,” said Mrs Atheling, suddenly, “when we were first married,
we went to visit an old aunt of papa’s, who lived quite close to
Winterbourne Hall. Do you remember old Aunt Bridget, William? We have
not heard anything of her for many a day; she lived in an old house,
half made of timber, and ruinous with ivy. I remember it very well; I
thought it quite pretty when I was a girl.”

“Ruinous! you mean beautiful with ivy, mamma,” said Marian.

“No, my dear; ivy is a very troublesome thing,” said Mrs Atheling, “and
makes a very damp house, I assure you, though it looks pretty. This was
just upon the edge of a wood, and on a hill. There was a very fine view
from it; all the spires, and domes, and towers looked beautiful with the
morning sun upon them. I suppose Aunt Bridget must still be living,
William? I wonder why she took offence at us. What a pleasant place that
would have been to take the children in summer! It was called the Old
Wood Lodge, and there was a larger place near which was the Old Wood
House, and the nearest house to that, I believe, was the Hall. It was a
very pretty place; I remember it so well.”

Agnes and Marian exchanged glances; this description was quite enough to
set their young imaginations a-glow;--perhaps, for the sake of her old
recollections, Mamma would like this better than the sea-side.

“Should you like to go again, mamma?” said Agnes, in a half whisper.
Mamma smiled, and brightened, and shook her head.

“No, my dear, no; you must not think of such a thing--travelling is so
very expensive,” said Mrs Atheling; but the colour warmed and brightened
on her cheek with pleasure at the thought.

“And of course there’s another family of children,” said Papa, in a
somewhat sullen under-tone. “Aunt Bridget, when she dies, will leave the
cottage to one of them. They always wanted it. Yes, to be sure,--to him
that hath shall be given,--it is the way of the world.”

“William, William; you forget what you say!” cried Mrs Atheling, in
alarm.

“I mean no harm, Mary,” said Papa, “and the words bear that meaning as
well as another: it is the way of the world.”

“Had I known your interest in the family, I might have brought you some
information,” interposed Mr Endicott. “I have a letter of introduction
to Viscount Winterbourne--and saw a great deal of the Honourable George
Rivers when he travelled in the States.”

“I have no interest in them--not the slightest,” said Mr Atheling,
hastily; and Harry Oswald moved away from where he had been standing to
resume his place by Marian, a proceeding which instantly distracted the
attention of his cousin and rival. The girls were talking to each other
of this new imaginary paradise. Harry Oswald could not explain how it
was, but he began immediately with all his skill to make a ridiculous
picture of the old house, which was half made of timber, and ruinous
with ivy: he could not make out why he listened with such a jealous pang
to the very name of this Old Wood Lodge.



CHAPTER XX.

AUNT BRIDGET.


“Very strange!” said Mr Atheling--he had just laid upon the
breakfast-table a letter edged with black, which had startled them all
for the moment into anxiety,--“very strange!”

“What is very strange?--who is it, William?” asked Mrs Atheling,
anxiously.

“Do you remember how you spoke of her last night?--only last night--my
Aunt Bridget, of whom we have not heard for years? I could almost be
superstitious about this,” said Papa. “Poor old lady! she is gone at
last.”

Mrs Atheling read the letter eagerly. “And she spoke of us, then?--she
was sorry. Who could have persuaded her against us, William?” said the
good mother--“and wished you should attend her funeral. You will
go?--surely you must go.” But as she spoke, Mrs Atheling paused and
considered--travelling is not so easy a matter, when people have only
two hundred a-year.

“It would do her no pleasure now, Mary,” said Mr Atheling, with a
momentary sadness. “Poor Aunt Bridget; she was the last of all the old
generation; and now it begins to be our turn.”

In the mean time, however, it was time for the respectable man of
business to be on his way to his office. His wife brushed his hat with
gravity, thinking upon his words. The old old woman who was gone, had
left no responsibility behind her; but these children!--how could the
father and the mother venture to die, and leave these young ones in the
unfriendly world!

Charlie had gone to his office an hour ago--other studies, heavier and
more discouraging even than the grammars, lay in the big law-books of Mr
Foggo’s office, to be conquered by this big boy. Throughout the day he
had all the miscellaneous occupations which generally fall to the lot of
the youngest clerk. Charlie said nothing about it to any one, but went
in at these ponderous tomes in the morning. They were frightfully tough
reading, and he was not given to literature; he shook his great fist at
them, his natural enemies, and went in and conquered. These studies were
pure pugilism so far as Charlie was concerned: he knocked down his
ponderous opponent, mastered him, stowed away all his wisdom in his own
prodigious memory, and replaced him on his shelf with triumph. “Now that
old fellow’s done for,” said Charlie--and next morning the young student
“went in” at the next.

Agnes and Marian were partly in this secret, as they had been in the
previous one; so these young ladies came down stairs at seven o’clock to
make breakfast for Charlie. It was nine now, and the long morning began
to merge into the ordinary day; but the girls arrested Mamma on the
threshold of her daily business to make eager inquiry about the Aunt
Bridget, of whom, the only one among all their relatives, they knew
little but the name.

“My dears, this is not a time to ask me,” said Mrs Atheling: “there is
Susan waiting, and there is the baker and the butterman at the door.
Well, then, if you must know, she was just simply an old lady, and your
grandpapa’s sister; and she was once governess to Miss Rivers, and they
gave her the old Lodge when the young lady should have been married.
They made her a present of it--at least the old lord did--and she lived
there ever after. It had been once in your grandpapa’s family. I do not
know the rights of the story--you can ask about it some time from your
papa; but Aunt Bridget took quite a dislike to us after we were
married--I cannot tell you why; and since the time I went to the Old
Wood Lodge to pay her a visit, when I was a bride, I have never heard a
kind word from her, poor old lady, till to-day. Now, my dears, let me
go; do you see the people waiting? I assure you that is all.”

And that was all that could be learned about Aunt Bridget, save a few
unimportant particulars gleaned from the long conversation concerning
her, which the father and the mother, much moralising, fell into that
night. These young people had the instinct of curiosity most healthily
developed; they listened eagerly to every new particular--heard with
emotion that she had once been a beauty, and incontinently wove a string
of romances about the name of the aged and humble spinster; and then
what a continual centre of fancy and inquiry was that Old Wood Lodge!

A few days passed, and Aunt Bridget began to fade from her temporary
prominence in the household firmament. A more immediate interest
possessed the mind of the family--the book was coming out! Prelusive
little paragraphs in the papers, which these innocent people did not
understand to be advertisements, warned the public of a new and original
work of fiction by a new author, about to be brought out by Mr
Burlington, and which was expected to make a sensation when it came.
Even the known and visible advertisements themselves were read with a
startling thrill of interest. _Hope Hazlewood, a History_--everybody
concluded it was the most felicitous title in the world.

The book was coming out, and great was the excitement of the household
heart. The book came out!--there it lay upon the table in the family
parlour, six fair copies in shiny blue cloth, with its name in letters
of gold. These Mr Burlington intended should be sent to influential
friends: but the young author had no influential friends; so one copy
was sent to Killiecrankie Lodge, to the utter amazement of Miss Willsie,
and another was carefully despatched to an old friend in the country,
who scarcely knew what literature was; then the family made a solemn
pause, and waited. What would everybody say?

Saturday came, full of fate. They knew all the names of all those dread
and magnificent guides of public opinion, the literary newspapers; and
with an awed and trembling heart, the young author waited for their
verdict. She was so young, however, and in reality so ignorant of what
might be the real issue of this first step into the world, that Agnes
had a certain pleasure in her trepidation, and, scarcely knowing what
she expected, knew only that it was in the highest degree novel,
amusing, and extraordinary that these sublime and lofty people should
ever be tempted to notice her at all. It was still only a matter of
excitement and curiosity and amusing oddness to them all. If the young
adventurer had been a man, this would have been a solemn crisis, full of
fate: it was even so to a woman, seeking her own independence; but Agnes
Atheling was only a girl in the heart of her family, and, looking out
with laughing eyes upon her fortune, smiled at fate.

It is Saturday--yes, Saturday afternoon, slowly darkening towards the
twilight. Agnes and Marian at the window are eagerly looking out, Mamma
glances over their bright heads with unmistakable impatience, Papa is
palpably restless in his easy-chair. Here he comes on flying feet, that
big messenger of fortune--crossing the whole breadth of Bellevue in two
strides, with ever so many papers in his hands. “Oh, I wonder what they
will say!” cries Marian, clasping her pretty fingers. Agnes, too
breathless to speak, makes neither guess nor answer--and here he comes!

It is half dark, and scarcely possible to read these momentous papers.
The young author presses close to the window with the uncut _Athenæum_.
There is Papa, half-risen from his chair; there is Mamma anxiously
contemplating her daughter’s face; there is Marian, reading over her
shoulder; and Charlie stands with his hat on in the shade, holding fast
in his hand the other papers. “One at a time!” says Charlie. He knows
what they are, the grim young ogre, but he will not say a word.

And Agnes begins to read aloud--reads a sentence or two, suddenly stops,
laughs hurriedly. “Oh, I cannot read that--somebody else take it,” cried
Agnes, running a rapid eye down the page; her cheeks are tingling, her
eyes overflowing, her heart beating so loud that she does not hear her
own voice. And now it is Marian who presses close to the window and
reads aloud. Well! after all, it is not a very astonishing paragraph; it
is extremely condescending, and full of the kindest patronage;
recognises many beauties--a great deal of talent; and flatteringly
promises the young author that by-and-by she will do very well. The
reading is received with delight and disappointment. Mrs Atheling is not
quite pleased that the reviewer refuses entire perfection to _Hope
Hazlewood_, but by-and-by even the good mother is reconciled. Who could
the critic be?--innocent critic, witting nothing of the tumult of kindly
and grateful feelings raised towards him in a moment! Mrs Atheling
cannot help setting it down certainly that he must be some unknown
friend.

The others come upon a cooled enthusiasm--nobody feels that they have
said the first good word. Into the middle of this reading Susan suddenly
interposes herself and the candles. What tell-tales these lights are!
Papa and Mamma, both of them, look mighty dazzled and unsteady about the
eyes, and Agnes’s cheeks are burning crimson-deep, and she scarcely
likes to look at any one. She is half ashamed in her innocence--half as
much ashamed as if they had been love-letters detected and read aloud.

And then after a while they come to a grave pause, and look at each
other. “I suppose, mamma, it is sure to succeed now,” says Agnes, very
timidly, shading her face with her hand, and glancing up under its
cover; and Papa, with his voice somewhat shaken, says solemnly,
“Children, Agnes’s fortune has come to-night.”

For it was so out of the way--so uncommon and unexpected a fortune, to
their apprehension, that the father and the mother looked on with wonder
and amazement, as if at something coming down, without any human
interposition, clear out of the hand of Providence, and from the
treasures of heaven.

Upon the Monday morning following, Mr Atheling had another letter. It
was a time of great events, and the family audience were interested even
about this. Papa looked startled and affected, and read it without
saying a word; then it was handed to Mamma: but Mrs Atheling, more
demonstrative, ran over it with a constant stream of comment and
exclamation, and at last read the whole epistle aloud. It ran thus:--

     “DEAR SIR,--Being intrusted by your Aunt, Miss Bridget Atheling,
     with the custody of her will, drawn up about a month before her
     death, I have now to communicate to you, with much pleasure, the
     particulars of the same. The will was read by me, upon the day of
     the funeral, in presence of the Rev. Lionel Rivers, rector of the
     parish; Dr Marsh, Miss Bridget’s medical attendant; and Mrs
     Hardwicke, her niece. You are of course aware that your aunt’s
     annuity died with her. Her property consisted of a thousand pounds
     in the Three per Cents, a small cottage in the village of
     Winterbourne, three acres of land in the hundred of Badgeley, and
     the Old Wood Lodge.

     “Miss Bridget has bequeathed her personal property, all except the
     two last items, to Mrs Susannah Hardwicke, her niece--the Old Wood
     Lodge and the piece of land she bequeaths to you, William Atheling,
     being part, as she says, ‘of the original property of the family.’
     She leaves it to you ‘as a token that she had now discovered the
     falseness of the accusations made to her, twenty years ago, against
     you, and desires you to keep and to hold it, whatever attempts may
     be made to dislodge you, and whatever it may cost.’ A copy of the
     will, pursuant to her own directions, will be forwarded to you in a
     few days.

     “As an old acquaintance, I gladly congratulate you upon this
     legacy; but I am obliged to tell you, as a friend, that the
     property is not of that value which could have been desired. The
     land, which is of inferior quality, is let for fifteen shillings an
     acre, and the house, I am sorry to say, is not in very good
     condition, is very unlikely to find a tenant, and would cost half
     as much as it is worth to put it in tolerable repair--besides
     which, it stands directly in the way of the Hall, and was, as I
     understand, a gift to Miss Bridget only, with power, on the part of
     the Winterbourne family, to reclaim after her death. Under these
     circumstances, I doubt if you will be allowed to retain possession;
     notwithstanding, I call your attention to the emphatic words of my
     late respected client, to which you will doubtless give their due
     weight.--I am, dear sir, faithfully yours,

     “FRED. R. LEWIS, _Attorney_.”



“And what shall we do? If we were only able to keep it, William--such a
thing for the children!” cried Mrs Atheling, scarcely pausing to take
breath. “To think that the Old Wood Lodge should be really ours--how
strange it is! But, William, who could possibly have made false
accusations against _you_?”

“Only one man,” said Mr Atheling, significantly. The girls listened with
interest and astonishment. “Only one man.”

“No, no, my dear--no, it could not be----,” cried his wife: “you must
not think so, William--it is quite impossible. Poor Aunt Bridget! and so
she found out the truth at last.”

“It is easy to talk,” said the head of the house, looking over his
letter; “very easy to leave a bequest like this, which can bring nothing
but difficulty and trouble. How am I ‘to keep and to hold it, at
whatever cost?’ The old lady must have been crazy to think of such a
thing: she had much better have given it to my Lord at once without
making any noise about it; for what is the use of bringing a quarrel
upon me?”

“But, papa, it is the old family property,” said Agnes, eagerly.

“My dear child, you know nothing about it,” said Papa. “Do you think I
am able to begin a lawsuit on behalf of the old family property? How
were we to repair this tumble-down old house, if it had been ours on the
securest holding? but to go to law about it, and it ready to crumble
over our ears, is rather too much for the credit of the family. No, no;
nonsense, children; you must not think of it for a moment; and you,
Mary, surely you must see what folly it is.”

But Mamma would not see any folly in the matter; her feminine spirit was
roused, and her maternal pride. “You may depend upon it, Aunt Bridget
had some motive,” said Mrs Atheling, with a little excitement, “and
real property, William, would be such a great thing for the children.
Money might be lost or spent; but property--land and a house. My dear,
you ought to consider how important it is for the children’s sake.”

Mr Atheling shook his head. “You are unreasonable,” said the family
father, who knew very well that he was pretty sure to yield to them,
reason or no--“as unreasonable as you can be. Do you suppose I am a
landed proprietor, with that old crazy Lodge, and forty-five shillings
a-year? Mary, Mary, you ought to know better. We could not repair it, I
tell you, and we could not furnish it; and nobody would rent it from us.
We should gain nothing but an enemy, and that is no great advantage for
the children. I do not remember that Aunt Bridget was ever remarkable
for good sense; and it was no such great thing, after all, to transfer
her family quarrel to me.”

“Oh, papa, the old family property, and the beautiful old house in the
country, where we could go and live in the summer!” said Marian. “Agnes
is to be rich--Agnes would be sure to want to go somewhere in the
country. We could do all the repairs ourselves--and mamma likes the
place. Papa, papa, you will never have the heart to let other people
have it. I think I can see the place; we could all go down when Agnes
comes to her fortune--and the country would be so good for Bell and
Beau.”

This, perhaps, was the most irresistible of arguments. The eyes of the
father and mother fell simultaneously upon the twin babies. They were
healthy imps as ever did credit to a suburban atmosphere--yet somehow
both Papa and Mamma fancied that Bell and Beau looked pale to-day.

“It is ten minutes past nine,” exclaimed Mr Atheling, solemnly rising
from the table. “I have not been so late for years--see what your
nonsense has brought me to. Now, Mary, think it over reasonably, and I
will hear all that you have to say to-night.”

So Mr Atheling hastened to his desk to turn over this all-important
matter as he walked and as he laboured. The Old Wood Lodge obliterated
to the good man’s vision the very folios of his daily companionship--old
feelings, old incidents, old resentment and pugnacity, awoke again in
his kindly but not altogether patient and self-commanded breast. The
delight of being able to leave something--a certain patrimonial
inheritance--to his son after him, gradually took possession of his mind
and fancy; and the pleasant dignity of a house in the country--the happy
power of sending off his wife and his children to the sweet air of his
native place--won upon him gradually before he was aware. By slow
degrees Mr Atheling brought himself to believe that it would be
dishonourable to give up this relic of the family belongings, and make
void the will of the dead. The Old Wood Lodge brightened before him into
a very bower for his fair girls. The last poor remnant of his yeoman
grandfather’s little farm became a hereditary and romantic nucleus,
which some other Atheling might yet make into a great estate. “There is
Charlie--he will not always be a lawyer’s clerk, that boy!” said his
father to himself, with involuntary pride; and then he muttered under
his breath, “and to give it up to _him_!”

Under this formidable conspiracy of emotions, the excellent Mr Atheling
had no chance: old dislike, pungent and prevailing, though no one knew
exactly its object or its cause, and present pride and tenderness still
more strong and earnest, moved him beyond his power of resistance. There
was no occasion for the attack, scientifically planned, which was to
have been made upon him in the evening. If they had been meditating at
home all day upon this delightful bit of romance in their own family
history, and going over, with joy and enthusiasm, every room and closet
in Miss Bridget’s old house, Papa had been no less busy at the office.
The uncertain tenor of a lawsuit had no longer any place in the good
man’s memory, and the equivocal advantage of the ruinous old house
oppressed him no longer. He began to think, by an amiable and agreeable
sophistry, self-delusive, that it was his sacred duty to carry out the
wishes of the dead.



CHAPTER XXI.

A LAW STUDENT.


Steadily and laboriously these early summer days trudged on with
Charlie, bringing no romantic visions nor dreams of brilliant fortune to
tempt the imagination of the big boy. How his future looked to him no
one knew. Charlie’s aspirations--if he had any--dwelt private and secure
within his own capacious breast. He was not dazzled by his sudden
heirship of the Old Wood Lodge; he was not much disturbed by the growing
fame of his sister; those sweet May mornings did not tempt him to the
long ramble through the fields, which Agnes and Marian did their best to
persuade him to. Charlie was not insensible to the exhilarating morning
breeze, the greensward under foot, and the glory of those great
thorn-hedges, white with the blossoms of the May--he was by no means a
stoic either, as regarded his own ease and leisure, to which inferior
considerations this stout youth attached their due importance; but still
it remained absolute with Charlie, his own unfailing answer to all
temptations--he had “something else to do!”

And his ordinary day’s work was not of a very elevating character; he
might have kept to that for years without acquiring much knowledge of
his profession; and though he still was resolute to occupy no sham
position, and determined that neither mother nor sisters should make
sacrifices for him, Charlie felt no hesitation in making a brief and
forcible statement to Mr Foggo on the subject. Mr Foggo listened with a
pleased and gracious ear. “I’m not going to be a copying-clerk all my
life,” said Charlie. He was not much over seventeen; he was not
remarkably well educated; he was a poor man’s son, without connection,
patronage, or influence. Notwithstanding, the acute old Scotsman looked
at Charlie, lifting up the furrows of his brow, and pressing down his
formidable upper-lip. The critical old lawyer smiled, but believed him.
There was no possibility of questioning that obstinate big boy.

So Mr Foggo (acknowledged to be the most influential of chief clerks,
and supposed to be a partner in the firm) made interest on behalf of
Charlie, that he might have access, before business hours, to the law
library of the house. The firm laughed, and gave permission graciously.
The firm joked with its manager upon his credulity: a boy of seventeen
coming at seven o’clock to voluntary study--and to take in a
Scotsman--old Foggo! The firm grew perfectly jolly over this capital
joke. Old Foggo smiled too, grimly, knowing better; and Charlie
accordingly began his career.

It was not a very dazzling beginning. At seven o’clock the office was
being dusted; in winter, at that hour, the fires were not alight, and
extremely cross was the respectable matron who had charge of
the same. Charlie stumbled over pails and brushes; dusters
descended--unintentionally--upon his devoted head; he was pursued into
every corner by his indefatigable enemy, and had to fly before her big
broom with his big folio in his arms. But few people have pertinacity
enough to maintain a perfectly unprofitable and fruitless warfare. Mrs
Laundress, a humble prophetic symbol of that other virago, Fate, gave in
to Charlie. He sat triumphant upon his high stool, no longer incommoded
by dusters. While the moted sunbeams came dancing in through the dusty
office window, throwing stray glances on his thick hair, and on the
ponderous page before him, Charlie had a good round with his enemy, and
got him down. The big boy plundered the big books with silent
satisfaction, arranged his spoil on the secret shelves and pigeon-holes
of that big brain of his, all ready and in trim for using; made his own
comments on the whole complicated concern, and, with his whole mind bent
on what was before him, mastered that, and thought of nothing else. Let
nobody suppose he had the delight of a student in these strange and
unattractive studies, or regarded with any degree of affectionateness
the library of the House. Charlie looked at these volumes standing in
dim rows, within their wired case, as Captain Bobadil might have looked
at the army whom--one down and another come on--he meant to demolish,
man by man. When he came to a knotty point, more hard than usual, the
lad felt a stir of lively pleasure: he scorned a contemptible opponent,
this stout young fighter, and gloried in a conquest which proved him, by
stress and strain of all his healthful faculties, the better man. If
they had been easy, Charlie would scarcely have cared for them.
Certainly, mere literature, even were it as attractive as _Peter
Simple_, could never have tempted him to the office at seven o’clock.
Charlie stood by himself, like some primitive and original champion,
secretly hammering out the armour which he was to wear in the field, and
taking delight in the accomplishment of gyve and breastplate and morion,
all proved and tested steel. Through the day he went about all his
common businesses as sturdily and steadily as if his best ambition was
to be a copying-clerk. If any one spoke of ambition, Charlie said
“Stuff!” and no one ever heard a word of his own anticipations; but on
he went, his foot ringing clear upon the pavement, his obstinate purpose
holding as sure as if it were written on a rock. While all the household
stirred and fluttered with the new tide of imaginative life which
brightened upon it in all these gleams of the future, Charlie held
stoutly on, pursuing his own straightforward and unattractive path. With
his own kind of sympathy he eked out the pleasure of the family, and no
one of them ever felt a lack in him; but nothing yet which had happened
to the household in the slightest degree disturbed Charlie from his own
bold, distinct, undemonstrative, and self-directed way.



CHAPTER XXII.

ANOTHER EVENT.


We will not attempt to describe the excitement, astonishment, and
confusion produced in the house of the Athelings by the next
communication received from Mr Burlington. It came at night, so that
every one had the benefit, and its object was to announce the astounding
and unexampled news of A Second Edition!

The letter dropped from Agnes’s amazed fingers; Papa actually let fall
his newspaper; and Charlie, disturbed at his grammar, rolled back the
heavy waves of his brow, and laughed to himself. As for Mamma and
Marian, each of them read the letter carefully over. There was no
mistake about it--_Hope Hazelwood_ was nearly out of print. True, Mr
Burlington confessed that this first edition had been a small one, but
the good taste of the public demanded a second; and the polite publisher
begged to have an interview with Miss Atheling, to know whether she
would choose to add or revise anything in the successful book.

Upon this there ensued a consultation. Mrs Atheling was doubtful as to
the proprieties of the case; Papa was of opinion that the easiest and
simplest plan was, that the girls should call; but Mamma, who was
something of a timid nature, and withal a little punctilious, hesitated,
and did not quite see which was best. Bellevue, doubtless, was very far
out of the way, and the house, though so good a house, was not “like
what Mr Burlington must have been accustomed to.” The good mother was a
long time making up her mind; but at last decided, with some
perturbation, on the suggestion of Mr Atheling. “Yes, you can put on
your muslin dresses; it is quite warm enough for them, and they always
look well; and you must see, Marian, that your collars and sleeves are
very nice, and your new bonnets. Yes, my dears, as there are two of you,
I think you may call.”

The morning came; and by this time it was the end of June, almost
midsummer weather. Mrs Atheling herself, with the most anxious care,
superintended the dressing of her daughters. They were dressed with the
most perfect simplicity; and nobody could have supposed, to see the
result, that any such elaborate overlooking had been bestowed upon their
toilette. They were dressed well, in so far that their simple
habiliments made no pretension above the plain pretty inexpensive
reality. They were not intensely fashionable, like Mrs Tavistock’s
niece, who was a regular Islingtonian “swell” (if that most felicitous
of epithets can be applied to anything feminine), and reminded everybody
who saw her of work-rooms and dressmakers and plates of the fashions.
Agnes and Marian, a hundred times plainer, were just so many times the
better dressed. They were not quite skilled in the art of gloves--a
difficult branch of costume, grievously embarrassing to those good
girls, who had not much above a pair in three months, and were
constrained to select thrifty colours; but otherwise Mrs Atheling
herself was content with their appearance as they passed along Bellevue,
brightening the sunny quiet road with their light figures and their
bright eyes. They had a little awe upon them--that little shade of sweet
embarrassment and expectation which gives one of its greatest charms to
youth. They were talking over what they were to say, and marvelling how
Mr Burlington would receive them; their young footsteps chiming as
lightly as any music to her tender ear--their young voices sweeter than
the singing of the birds, their bright looks more pleasant than the
sunshine--it is not to be wondered at if the little street looked
somewhat dim and shady to Mrs Atheling when these two young figures had
passed out of it, and the mother stood alone at the window, looking at
nothing better than the low brick-walls and closed doors of Laurel House
and Green View.

And so they went away through the din and tumult of the great London,
with their own bright young universe surrounding them, and their own
sweet current of thought and emotion running as pure as if they had been
passing through the sweetest fields of Arcadia. They had no eyes for
impertinent gazers, if such things were in their way. Twenty stout
footmen at their back could not have defended them so completely as did
their own innocence and security. We confess they did not even shrink,
with a proper sentimental horror, from all the din and all the commotion
of this noonday Babylon; they liked their rapid glance at the wonderful
shop-windows; they brightened more and more as their course lay along
the gayest and most cheerful streets. It was pleasant to look at the
maze of carriages, pleasant to see the throngs of people, exhilarating
to be drawn along in this bright flood-tide and current of the world.
But they grew a little nervous as they approached the house of Mr
Burlington--a little more irregular in their pace, lingering and
hastening as timidity or eagerness got the upper hand--and a great deal
more silent, being fully occupied with anticipations of, and
preparations for, this momentous interview. What should Agnes--what
would Mr Burlington say?

This silence and shyness visibly increased as they came to the very
scene and presence of the redoubtable publisher--where Agnes called the
small attendant clerk in the outer office “Sir” and deferentially asked
for Mr Burlington. When they had waited there for a few minutes, they
were shown into a matted parlour containing a writing-table and a
coal-scuttle, and three chairs. Mr Burlington would be disengaged in a
few minutes, the little clerk informed them, as he solemnly displaced
two of the chairs, an intimation that they were to sit down. They sat
down accordingly, with the most matter-of-course obedience, and held
their breath as they listened for the coming steps of Mr Burlington. But
the minutes passed, and Mr Burlington did not come. They began to look
round with extreme interest and curiosity, augmented all the more by
their awe. There was nothing in the least interesting in this bare
little apartment, but their young imaginations could make a great deal
out of nothing. At Mr Burlington’s door stood a carriage, with a grand
powdered coachman on the box, and the most superb of flunkies gracefully
lounging before the door. No doubt Mr Burlington was engaged with the
owner of all this splendour. Immediately they ran over all the great
names they could remember, forgetting for the moment that authors, even
of the greatest, are not much given, as a general principle, to gilded
coaches and flunkies of renown. Who could it be?

When they were in the very height of their guessing, the door suddenly
opened. They both rose with a start; but it was only the clerk, who
asked them to follow him to the presence of Mr Burlington. They went
noiselessly along the long matted passage after their conductor, who was
not much of a Ganymede. At the very end, a door stood open, and there
were two figures half visible between them and a big round-headed
window, full of somewhat pale and cloudy sky. These two people turned
round, as some faint sound of the footsteps of Ganymede struck aside
from the matting. “Oh, what a lovely creature!--what a beautiful girl!
Now I do hope that is the one!” cried, most audibly, a feminine voice.
Marian, knowing by instinct that she was meant, shrank back grievously
discomfited. Even Agnes was somewhat dismayed by such a preface to their
interview; but Ganymede was a trained creature, and much above the
weakness of a smile or hesitation--_he_ pressed on unmoved, and hurried
them into the presence and the sanctum of Mr Burlington. They came into
the full light of the big window, shy, timid, and graceful, having very
little self-possession to boast of, their hearts beating, their colour
rising--and for the moment it was scarcely possible to distinguish which
was the beautiful sister; for Agnes was very near as pretty as Marian in
the glow and agitation of her heart.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A NEW FRIEND.


The big window very nearly filled up the whole room. The little place
had once been the inmost heart of a long suite of apartments when this
was a fashionable house--now it was an odd little nook of seclusion,
with panelled walls, painted of so light a colour as to look almost
white in the great overflow of daylight; and what had looked like a pale
array of clouds in the window at a little distance, made itself out now
to be various blocks and projections of white-washed wall pressing very
close on every side, and leaving only in the upper half-circle a clear
bit of real clouds and unmistakable sky. The room had a little table, a
very few chairs, and the minutest and most antique of Turkey carpets
laid over the matting. The walls were very high; there was not even a
familiar coal-scuttle to lessen the solemnity of the publisher’s retreat
and sanctuary; and Mr Burlington was not alone.

And even the inexperienced eyes of Agnes and Marian were not slow to
understand that the lady who stood by Mr Burlington’s little table was a
genuine fine lady, one of that marvellous and unknown species which
flourishes in novels, but never had been visible in such a humble
hemisphere as the world of Bellevue. She was young still, but had been
younger, and she remained rich in that sweetest of all mere external
beauties, the splendid English complexion, that lovely bloom and
fairness, which is by no means confined to the flush of youth. She
looked beautiful by favour of these natural roses and lilies, but she
was not beautiful in reality from any other cause. She was lively,
good-natured, and exuberant to an extent which amazed these shy young
creatures, brought up under the quiet shadow of propriety, and
accustomed to the genteel deportment of Bellevue. They, in their simple
girlish dress, in their blushes, diffidence, and hesitation--and she,
accustomed to see everything yielding to her pretty caprices, arbitrary,
coquettish, irresistible, half a spoiled child and half a woman of the
world--they stood together, in the broad white light of that big window,
like people born in different planets. They could scarcely form the
slightest conception of each other. Nature itself had made difference
enough; but how is it possible to estimate the astonishing difference
between Mayfair and Bellevue?

“Pray introduce me, Mr Burlington; oh pray introduce me!” cried this
pretty vision before Mr Burlington himself had done more than bow to his
shy young visitors. “I am delighted to know the author of _Hope
Hazlewood_! charmed to be acquainted with Miss Atheling! My dear child,
how is it possible, at your age, to know so much of the world?”

“It is my sister,” said Marian very shyly, almost under her breath.
Marian was much disturbed by this mistake of identity; it had never
occurred to her before that any one could possibly be at a loss for the
real Miss Atheling. The younger sister was somewhat indignant at so
strange a mistake.

“Now that is right! that is poetic justice! that is a proper
distribution of gifts!” said the lady, clasping her hands with a pretty
gesture of approval. “If you will not introduce me, I shall be compelled
to do it myself, Mr Burlington: Mrs Edgerley. I am charmed to be the
first to make your acquaintance; we were all dying to know the author of
_Hope Hazlewood_. What a charming book it is! I say there has been
nothing like it since _Ellen Fullarton_, and dear Theodosia herself
entirely agrees with me. You are staying in town? Oh I am delighted! You
must let me see a great deal of you, you must indeed; and I shall be
charmed to introduce you to Lady Theodosia, whose sweet books every one
loves. Pray, Mr Burlington, have you any very great secrets to say to
these young ladies, for I want so much to persuade them to come with
me?”

“I shall not detain Miss Atheling,” said the publisher, with a bow, and
the ghost of a smile: “we will bring out the second edition in a week or
two; a very pleasant task, I assure you, and one which repays us for our
anxiety. Now, how about a preface? I shall be delighted to attend to
your wishes.”

But Agnes, who had thought so much about him beforehand, had been too
much occupied hitherto to do more than glance at Mr Burlington. She
scarcely looked up now, when every one was looking at her, but said,
very low and with embarrassment, that she did not think she had any
wishes--that she left it entirely to Mr Burlington--he must know best.

“Then we shall have no preface?” said Mr Burlington, deferentially.

“No,” said Agnes, faltering a little, and glancing up to see if he
approved; “for indeed I do not think I have anything to say.”

“Oh that is what a preface is made for,” cried the pretty Mrs Edgerley.
“You dear innocent child, do you never speak except when you have
something to say? Delightful! charming! I shall not venture to
introduce you to Lady Theodosia; if she but knew, how she would envy me!
You must come home with me to luncheon--you positively must; for I am
quite sure Mr Burlington has not another word to say.”

The two girls drew back a little, and exchanged glances. “Indeed you are
very good, but we must go home,” said Agnes, not very well aware what
she was saying.

“No, you must come with me--you must positively; I should break my
heart,” said their new acquaintance, with a pretty affectation of
caprice and despotism altogether new to the astonished girls. “Oh, I
assure you no one resists me. Your mamma will not have a word to say if
you tell her it is Mrs Edgerley. Good morning, Mr Burlington; how
fortunate I was to call to-day!”

So saying, this lady of magic swept out, rustling through the long
matted passages, and carrying her captives, half delighted, half afraid,
in her train. They were too shy by far to make a pause and a commotion
by resisting; they had nothing of the self-possession of the trained
young ladies of society. The natural impulse of doing what they were
told was very strong upon them, and before they were half aware, or had
time to consider, they were shut into the carriage by the sublime
flunky, and drove off into those dazzling and undiscovered regions, as
strange to them as Lapland or Siberia, where dwells The World. Agnes was
placed by the side of the enchantress; Marian sat shyly opposite, rather
more afraid of Mrs Edgerley’s admiring glance than she had ever been
before of the gaze of strangers. It seemed like witchcraft and sudden
magic--half-an-hour ago sitting in the little waiting-room, looking out
upon the fairy chariot, and now rolling along in its perfumy and warm
enclosure over the aristocratic stones of St James’s. The girls were
bewildered with their marvellous position, and could not make it out,
while into their perplexity stole an occasional thought of what Mamma
would say, and how very anxious she would grow if they did not get soon
home.

Mrs Edgerley in the meanwhile ran on with a flutter of talk and
enthusiasm, pretty gestures, and rapid inquiries, so close and constant
that there was little room for answer and none for comment. And then,
long before they could be at their ease in the carriage, it drew up,
making a magnificent commotion, before a door which opened immediately
to admit the mistress of the house. Agnes and Marian followed her humbly
as she hastened up-stairs. They were bewildered with the long suite of
lofty apartments through which their conductress hurried, scarcely
aware, they supposed, that they, not knowing what else to do, followed
where she led, till they came at last to a pretty boudoir, furnished, as
they both described it unanimously, “like the Arabian Nights!” Here Mrs
Edgerley found some letters, the object, as it seemed, of her search,
and good-naturedly paused, with her correspondence in her hand, to point
out to them the Park, which could be seen from the window, and the books
upon the tables. Then she left them, looking at each other doubtfully,
and half afraid to remain. “Oh, Agnes, what will mamma say?” whispered
Marian. All their innocent lives, until this day, they had never made a
visit to any one without the permission or sanction of Mamma.

“We could not help it,” said Agnes. That was very true; so with a
relieved conscience, but very shyly, they turned over the pretty
picture-books, the pretty nicknacks, all the elegant nothings of Mrs
Edgerley’s pretty bower. Good Mrs Atheling could very seldom be tempted
to buy anything that was not useful, and there was scarcely a single
article in the whole house at home which was not good for something.
This being the case, it is easy to conceive with what perverse youthful
delight the girls contemplated the hosts of pretty things around, which
were of no use whatever, nor good for anything in the world. It gave
them an idea of exuberance, of magnificence, of prodigality, more than
the substantial magnitude of the great house or the handsome equipage.
Besides, they were alone for the moment, and so much less embarrassed,
and the rose-coloured atmosphere charmed them all the more that they
were quite unaccustomed to it. Yet they spoke to each other in whispers
as they peeped into the sunny Park, all bright and green in the
sunshine, and marvelled much what Mamma would say, and how they should
get home.

When Mrs Edgerley returned to them, they were stooping over the table
together, looking over some of the most splendid of the “illustrated
editions” of this age of sumptuous bookmaking. When they saw their
patroness they started, and drew a little apart from each other. She
came towards them through the great drawing-room, radiant and rustling,
and they looked at her with shy admiration. They were by no means sure
of their own position, but their new acquaintance certainly was the
kindest and most delightful of all sudden friends.

“Do you forgive me for leaving you?” said Mrs Edgerley, holding out both
her pretty hands; “but now we must not wait here any longer, but go to
luncheon, where we shall be all by ourselves, quite a snug little party;
and now, you dear child, come and tell me everything about it. What was
it that first made you think of writing that charming book?”

Mrs Edgerley had drawn Agnes’s arm within her own, a little to the
discomposure of the shy young genius, and, followed closely by Marian,
led them down stairs. Agnes made no answer in her confusion. Then they
came to a pretty apartment on the lower floor, with a broad window
looking out to the Park. The table was near the window; the pretty scene
outside belonged to the little group within, as they placed themselves
at the table, and the room itself was green and cool and pleasant, not
at all splendid, lined with books, and luxurious with easy-chairs. There
was a simple vase upon the table, full of roses, but there was no
profusion of prettinesses here.

“This is my own study; I bring every one to see it. Is it not a charming
little room?” said Mrs Edgerley (it would have contained both the
parlours and the two best bedrooms of Number Ten, Bellevue); “but now I
am quite dying to hear--really, how did it come into your head to write
that delightful book?”

“Indeed I do not know,” said Agnes, smiling and blushing. It seemed
perfectly natural that the book should have made so mighty a sensation,
and yet it was rather embarrassing, after all.

“I think because she could not help it,” said Marian shyly, her
beautiful face lighting up as she spoke with a sweet suffusion of
colour. Their hearts were beginning to open to the kindness of their new
friend.

“And you are so pleased and so proud of your sister--I am sure you
are--it is positively delightful,” said Mrs Edgerley. “Now tell me, were
you not quite heartbroken when you finished it--such a delightful
interest one feels in one’s characters--such an object it is to live
for, is it not? The first week after my first work was finished I was
_triste_ beyond description. I am sure you must have been quite
miserable when you were obliged to come to an end.”

The sisters glanced at each other rather doubtfully across the table.
Everybody else seemed to have feelings so much more elevated than
they--for they both remembered with a pang of shame that Agnes had
actually been glad and jubilant when this first great work was done.

“And such a sweet heroine--such a charming character!” said Mrs
Edgerley. “Ah, I perceive you have taken your sister for your model, and
now I shall always feel sure that she is Hope Hazlewood; but at your age
I cannot conceive where you got so much knowledge of the world. Do you
go out a great deal? do you see a great many people? But indeed, to tell
the truth,” said Mrs Edgerley, with a pretty laugh, “I do believe you
have no right to see any one yet. You ought to be in the schoolroom,
young creatures like you. Are you both _out_?”

This was an extremely puzzling question, and some answer was necessary
this time. The girls again looked at each other, blushing over neck and
brow. In their simple honesty they thought themselves bound to make a
statement of their true condition--what Miss Willsie would have called
“their rank in life.”

“We see very few people. In our circumstances people do not speak about
coming out,” said Agnes, hesitating and doubtful--the young author had
no great gift of elegant expression. But in fact Mrs Edgerley did not
care in the slightest degree about their “circumstances.” She was a
hundred times more indifferent on that subject than any genteel and
respectable matron in all Bellevue.

“Oh then, that is so much better,” said Mrs Edgerley, “for I see you
must have been observing character all your life. It is, after all, the
most delightful study; but such an eye for individuality! and so young!
I declare I shall be quite afraid to make friends with you.”

“Indeed, I do not know at all about character,” said Agnes hurriedly, as
with her pretty little ringing laugh, Mrs Edgerley broke off in a pretty
affected trepidation; but their patroness shook her hand at her, and
turned away in a graceful little terror.

“I am sure she must be the most dreadful critic, and keep you quite in
awe of her,” said their new friend, turning to Marian. “But now pray
tell me your names. I have such an interest in knowing every one’s
Christian name; there is so much character in them. I do think that is
the real advantage of a title. There is dear Lady Theodosia, for
instance: suppose her family had been commoners, and she had been called
Miss Piper! Frightful! odious! almost enough to make one do some harm to
oneself, or get married. And now tell me what are your names?”

“My sister is Agnes, and I am Marian,” said the younger. Now we are
obliged to confess that by this time, though Mrs Edgerley answered with
the sweetest and most affectionate of smiles and a glance of real
admiration, she began to feel the novelty wear off, and flagged a little
in her sudden enthusiasm. It was clear to her young visitors that she
did not at all attend to the answer, despite the interest with which she
had asked the question. A shade of weariness, half involuntary, half of
will and purpose, came over her face. She rushed away immediately upon
another subject; asked another question with great concern, and was
completely indifferent to the answer. The girls were not used to this
phenomenon, and did not understand it; but at last, after hesitating and
doubting, and consulting each other by glances, Agnes made a shy
movement of departure, and said Mamma would be anxious, and they should
have to go away.

“The carriage is at the door, I believe,” said Mrs Edgerley, with her
sweet smile; “for of course you must let me send you home--positively
you must, my love. You are a great author, but you are a young lady, and
your sister is much too pretty to walk about alone. Delighted to have
seen you both! Oh, I shall write to you very soon; do not fear.
Everybody wants to make your acquaintance. I shall be besieged for
introductions. You are engaged to me for Thursday next week, remember! I
never forgive any one who disappoints me. Good-by! Adieu! I am charmed
to have met you both.”

While this valedictory address was being said, the girls were slowly
making progress to the door; then they were ushered out solemnly to the
carriage which waited for them. They obeyed their fate in their going as
they did in their coming. They could not help themselves; and with
mingled fright, agitation, and pleasure, were once more shut up by that
superbest of flunkies, but drove off at a slow pace, retarded by the
intense bewilderment of the magnificent coachman as to the locality of
Bellevue.



CHAPTER XXIV.

GOING HOME.


Driving slowly along while the coachman ruminated, Agnes and Marian, in
awe and astonishment, looked in each other’s faces--then they put up
their hands simultaneously to their faces, which were a little heated
with the extreme confusion, embarrassment, and wonder of the last two
hours--lastly, they both fell into a little outburst of low and somewhat
tremulous laughter--laughing in a whisper, if that is possible--and
laughing, not because they were very merry, but because, in their
extreme amazement, no other expression of their sentiments occurred to
them. Were they two enchanted princesses? and had they been in
fairyland?

“Oh Agnes!” exclaimed Marian under her breath, “what will mamma say?”

“I do not think mamma can be angry,” said Agnes, who had gained some
courage, “for I am sure we could not help ourselves. What could we
do?--but when they see us coming home like this--oh May!”

There was another pause. “I wonder very much what she has written. We
have never heard of her,” said Marian, “and yet I suppose she must be
quite a great author. How respectful Mr Burlington was! I am afraid it
will not be good for you, Agnes, that we live so much out of the
world--you ought to know people’s names at least.”

Agnes did not dispute this advantage. “But I don’t quite think she can
be a great author,” said the young genius, looking somewhat puzzled,
“though I am sure she was very kind--how kind she was, Marian! And do
you think she really wants us to go on Thursday? Oh, I wonder what mamma
will say!”

As this was the burden of the whole conversation, constantly recurring,
as every new phase of the question was discussed, the conversation
itself was not quite adapted for formal record. While it proceeded, the
magnificent coachman blundered towards the unknown regions of Islington,
much marvelling, in his lofty and elevated intelligence, what sort of
people his mistress’s new acquaintances could be. They reached Bellevue
at last by a grievous roundabout. What a sound and commotion they made
in this quiet place, where a doctor’s brougham was the most fashionable
of equipages, and a pair of horses an unknown glory! The dash of that
magnificent drawing-up startled the whole neighbourhood, and the
population of Laurel House and Buena Vista flew to their bedroom windows
when the big footman made that prodigious assault upon the knocker of
Number Ten. Then came the noise of letting down the steps and opening
the carriage door; then the girls alighted, almost as timid as Susan,
who stood scared and terror-stricken within the door; and then Agnes, in
sudden temerity, but with a degree of respectfulness, offered, to the
acceptance of the footman, a precious golden half-sovereign, intrusted
to her by her mother this morning, in case they should want anything.
Poor Mrs Atheling, sitting petrified in her husband’s easy-chair, did
not know how the coin was being disposed of. They came in--the humble
door was closed--they stood again in the close little hall, with its
pegs and its painted oil-cloth--what a difference!--while the fairy
coach and the magical bay-horses, the solemn coachman and the superb
flunky, drove back into the world again with a splendid commotion, which
deafened the ears and fluttered the heart of all Bellevue.

“My dears, where have you been? What have you been doing, girls? Was
that Mr Burlington’s carriage? Have you seen any one? Where have you
been?” asked Mrs Atheling, while Agnes cried eagerly, “Mamma, you are
not to be angry!” and Marian answered, “Oh, mamma! we have been in
fairyland!”

And then they sat down upon the old hair-cloth sofa beside the family
table, upon which, its sole ornaments, stood Mrs Atheling’s full
work-basket, and some old toys of Bell’s and Beau’s; and thus, sometimes
speaking together, sometimes interrupting each other, with numberless
corrections on the part of Marian and supplementary remarks from Agnes,
they told their astonishing story. They had leisure now to enjoy all
they had seen and heard when they were safe in their own house, and
reporting it all to Mamma. They described everything, remembered
everything, went over every word and gesture of Mrs Edgerley, from her
first appearance in Mr Burlington’s room until their parting with her;
and Marian faithfully recorded all her compliments to _Hope Hazlewood_,
and Agnes her admiration of Marian. It was the prettiest scene in the
world to see them both, flushed and animated, breaking in, each upon the
other’s narrative, contradicting each other, after a fashion;
remonstrating “Oh Agnes!” explaining, and adding description to
description; while the mother sat before them in her easy-chair,
sometimes quietly wiping her eyes, sometimes interfering or commanding,
“One at a time, my dears,” and all the time thinking to herself that the
honours that were paid to “girls like these!” were no such wonder after
all. And indeed Mrs Atheling would not be sufficiently amazed at all
this grand and wonderful story. She was extremely touched and affected
by the kindness of Mrs Edgerley, and dazzled with the prospect of all
the great people who were waiting with so much anxiety to make
acquaintance with the author of _Hope Hazlewood_, but she was by no
means properly _surprised_.

“My dears, I foresaw how it would be,” said Mrs Atheling with her simple
wisdom. “I knew quite well all this must happen, Agnes. I have not read
about famous people for nothing, though I never said much about it. To
be sure, my dear, I knew people would appreciate you--it is quite
natural--it is quite proper, my dear child! I know they will never make
you forget what is right, and your duty, let them flatter as they will!”

Mrs Atheling said this with a little effusion, and with wet eyes. Agnes
hung her head, blushed very deeply, grew extremely grave for a moment,
but concluded by glancing up suddenly again with a little overflow of
laughter. In the midst of all, she could not help recollecting how
perfectly ridiculous it was to make all this commotion about _her_.
“Me!” said Agnes with a start; “they will find me out directly--they
must, mamma. You know I cannot talk or do anything; and indeed everybody
that knew me would laugh to think of people seeing anything in _me_!”

Now this was perfectly true, though the mother and the sister, for the
moment, were not quite inclined to sanction it. Agnes was neither
brilliant nor remarkable, though she had genius, and was, at twenty and
a half, a successful author in her way. As she woke from her first awe
and amazement, Agnes began to find out the ludicrous side of her new
fame. It was all very well to like the book; there was some reason in
that, the young author admitted candidly; but surely those people must
expect something very different from the reality, who were about to
besiege Mrs Edgerley for introductions to “_me_!”

However, it was very easy to forget this part of the subject in
returning to the dawn of social patronage, and in anticipating the
invitation they had received. Mrs Atheling, too, was somewhat
disappointed that they had made so little acquaintance with Mr
Burlington, and could scarcely even describe him, how he looked or what
he said. Mr Burlington had quite gone down in the estimation of the
girls. His lady client had entirely eclipsed, overshadowed, and taken
the glory out of the publisher. The talk was all of Mrs Edgerley, her
beauty, her kindness, her great house, her approaching party. They began
already to be agitated about this, remembering with terror the important
article of dress, and the simple nature and small variety of their
united wardrobe. Before they had been an hour at home, Miss Willsie made
an abrupt and sudden visit from Killiecrankie Lodge, to ascertain all
about the extraordinary apparition of the carriage, and to find out
where the girls had been; and it did not lessen their own excitement to
discover the extent of the commotion which they had caused in Bellevue.
The only drawback was, that a second telling of the story was not
practicable for the instruction and advantage of Papa--for, for the
first time in a dozen years, Mr Atheling, all by himself, and solitary,
was away from home.



CHAPTER XXV.

PAPA’S OPINION.


Papa was away from home. That very day on which the charmed light of
society first shone upon his girls, Papa, acting under the instructions
of a family conference, hurried at railway speed to the important
neighbourhood of the Old Wood Lodge. He was to be gone three days, and
during that time his household constituents expected an entire
settlement of the doubtful and difficult question which concerned their
inheritance. Charlie, perhaps, might have some hesitation on the
subject, but all the rest of the family believed devoutly in the
infallible wisdom and prowess of Papa.

Yet it was rather disappointing that he should be absent at such a
crisis as this, when there was so much to tell him. They had to wonder
every day what he would think of the adventure of Agnes and Marian, and
how contemplate their entrance into the world; and great was the family
satisfaction at the day and hour of his return. Fortunately it was
evening; the family tea-table was spread with unusual care, and the best
china shone and glistened in the sunshine, as Agnes, Marian, and Charlie
set out for the railway to meet their father. They went along together
very happily, excited by the expectation of all there was to tell, and
all there was to hear. The suburban roads were full of leisurely people,
gossiping, or meditating like old Isaac at eventide, with a breath of
the fields before them, and the big boom of the great city filling all
the air behind. The sun slanted over the homely but pleasant scene,
making a glorious tissue of the rising smoke, and brightening the dusky
branches of the wayside trees. “If we could but live in the country!”
said Agnes, pausing, and turning round to trace the long sun-bright line
of road, falling off into that imaginary Arcadia, or rather into the
horizon, with its verge of sunny and dewy fields. The dew falls upon the
daisies even in the vicinity of Islington--let students of natural
history bear this significant fact in mind.

“Stuff! the train’s in,” said Charlie, dragging along his half-reluctant
sister, who, quite proud of his bigness and manly stature, had taken his
arm. “Charlie, don’t make such strides--who do you think can keep up
with you?” said Marian. Charlie laughed with the natural triumphant
malice of a younger brother; he was perfectly indifferent to the fact
that one of them was a genius and the other a beauty; but he liked to
claim a certain manly and protective superiority over “the girls.”

To the great triumph, however, of these victims of Charlie’s obstinate
will, the train was not in, and they had to walk about upon the platform
for full five minutes, pulling (figuratively) his big red ear, and
waiting for the exemplary second-class passenger, who was scrupulous to
travel by that golden mean of respectability, and would on no account
have put up with a parliamentary train. Happy Papa, it was better than
Mrs Edgerley’s magnificent pair of bays pawing in superb impatience the
plebeian causeway. He caught a glimpse of three eager faces as he looked
out of his little window--two pretty figures springing forward, one big
one holding back, and remonstrating. “Why, you’ll lose him in the
crowd--do you hear?” cried Charlie. “What good could you do, a parcel of
girls? See! you stand here, and I’ll fetch my father out.”

Grievously against their will, the girls obeyed. Papa was safely evolved
out of the crowd, and went off at once between his daughters, leaving
Charlie to follow--which Charlie did accordingly, with Mr Atheling’s
greatcoat in one hand and travelling-bag in the other. They made quite a
little procession as they went home, Marian half dancing as she clasped
Papa’s arm, and tantalised him with hints of their wondrous tale; Agnes
walking very demurely on the other side, with a pretence of rebuking her
giddy sister; Charlie trudging with his burden in the rear. By way of
assuring him that he was not to know till they got home, Papa was put in
possession of all the main facts of their adventure, before they came
near enough to see two small faces at the bright open window, shouting
with impatience to see him. Happy Papa! it was almost worth being away a
year, instead of three days, to get such a welcome home.

“Well, but who is this fine lady--and how were you introduced to
her--and what’s all this about a carriage?” said Papa. “Here’s Bell and
Beau, with all their good sense, reduced to be as crazy as the rest of
you. What’s this about a carriage?”

For Bell and Beau, we are constrained to confess, had made immense ado
about the “two geegees” ever since these fabulous and extraordinary
animals drew up before the gate with that magnificent din and concussion
which shook to its inmost heart the quiet of Bellevue.

“Oh, it is Mrs Edgerley’s, papa,” said Marian; “such a beautiful pair of
bay horses--she sent us home in it--and we met her at Mr Burlington’s,
and we went to luncheon at her house--and we are going there again on
Thursday to a great party. She says everybody wishes to see Agnes; she
thinks there never was a book like _Hope_. She is very pretty, and has
the grandest house, and is kinder than anybody I ever saw. You never saw
such splendid horses. Oh, mamma, how pleasant it would be to keep a
carriage! I wonder if Agnes will ever be as rich as Mrs Edgerley; but
then, though _she_ is an author, she is a great lady besides.”

“Edgerley!” said Mr Atheling; “do you know, I heard that name at the Old
Wood Lodge.”

“But, papa, what about the Lodge? you have never told us yet: is it as
pretty as you thought it was? Can we go to live there? Is there a
garden? I am sure _now_,” said Agnes, blushing with pleasure, “that we
will have money enough to go down there--all of us--mamma, and Bell and
Beau!”

“I don’t deny it’s rather a pretty place,” said Mr Atheling; “and I
thought of Agnes immediately when I looked out from the windows. There
is a view for you! Do you remember it, Mary?--the town below, and the
wood behind, and the river winding about everywhere. Well, I confess to
you it _is_ pretty, and not in such bad order either, considering all
things; and nothing said against our title yet, Mr Lewis tells me. Do
you know, children, if you were really to go down and take possession,
and then my lord made any attempt against us, I should be tempted to
stand out against him, cost what it might?”

“Then, papa, we ought to go immediately,” said Marian. “To be sure, you
should stand out--it belonged to our family; what has anybody else got
to do with it? And I tell you, Charlie, you ought to read up all about
it, and make quite sure, and let the gentleman know the real law.”

“Stuff! I’ll mind my own business,” said Charlie. Charlie did not choose
to have any allusion made to his private studies.

“And there are several people there who remember us, Mary,” said Mr
Atheling. “My lord is not at home--that is one good thing; but I met a
youth at Winterbourne yesterday, who lives at the Hall they say, and is
a--a--sort of a son; a fine boy, with a haughty look, more like the old
lord a great deal. And what did you say about Edgerley? There’s one of
the Rivers’s married to an Edgerley. I won’t have such an acquaintance,
if it turns out one of them.”

“Why, William?” said Mrs Atheling. “Fathers and daughters are seldom
very much like each other. I do not care much about such an acquaintance
myself,” added the good mother, in a moralising tone. “For though it may
be very pleasant for the girls at first, I do not think it is good, as
Miss Willsie says, to have friends far out of our own rank of life. My
dear, Miss Willsie is very sensible, though she is not always pleasant;
and I am sure you never can be very easy or comfortable with people whom
you cannot have at your own house; and you know such a great lady as
that could not come _here_.”

Agnes and Marian cast simultaneous glances round the room--it was
impossible to deny that Mrs Atheling was right.

“But then the Old Wood Lodge, mamma!” cried Agnes, with sudden relief
and enthusiasm. “There we could receive any one--anybody could come to
see us in the country. If the furniture is not very good, we can improve
it a little. For you know, mamma----.” Agnes once more blushed with shy
delight and satisfaction, but came to a sudden conclusion there, and
said no more.

“Yes, my dear, I know,” said Mrs Atheling, with a slight sigh, and a
careful financial brow; “but when your fortune comes, papa must lay it
by for you, Agnes, or invest it. William, what did you say it would be
best to do?”

Mr Atheling immediately entered _con amore_ into a consideration of the
best means of disposing of this fabulous and unarrived fortune. But the
girls looked blank when they heard of interest and percentage; they did
not appreciate the benefits of laying by.

“Are we to have no good of it, then, at all?” said Agnes disconsolately.

Mr Atheling’s kind heart could not resist an appeal like this. “Yes,
Mary, they must have their pleasure,” said Papa; “it will not matter
much to Agnes’s fortune, the little sum that they will spend on the
journey, or the new house. No, you must go by all means; I shall fancy
it is in mourning for poor old Aunt Bridget, till my girls are there to
pull her roses. If I knew you were all there, I should begin to think
again that Winterbourne and Badgely Wood were the sweetest places in the
world.”

“And there any one could come to see us,” said Marian, clapping her
hands. “Oh, papa, what a good thing for Agnes that Aunt Bridget left you
the Old Wood Lodge!”



CHAPTER XXVI.

MRS EDGERLY’S THURSDAY.


Mr Atheling’s visit to the country had, after all, not been so necessary
as the family supposed; no one seemed disposed to pounce upon the small
bequest of Miss Bridget. The Hall took no notice either of the death or
the will which changed the proprietorship of the Old Wood Lodge. It
remained intact and unvisited, dilapidated and picturesque, with Miss
Bridget’s old furniture in its familiar place, and her old maid in
possession. The roses began to brush the little parlour window, and
thrust their young buds against the panes, from which no one now looked
out upon their sweetness. Papa himself, though his heart beat high to
think of his own beautiful children blooming in this retired and
pleasant place, wept a kindly tear for his old aunt, as he stood in the
chamber of her long occupation, and found how empty and mournful was
this well-known room. It was a quaint and touching mausoleum, full of
relics; and good Mr Atheling felt himself more and more bound to carry
out the old lady’s wishes as he stood in the vacant room.

And then it would be such a good thing for Agnes! That was the most
flattering and pleasant view of the subject possible; and ambitious
ideas of making the Old Wood Lodge the prettiest of country cottages,
entered the imagination of the house. It was pretty enough for anything,
Papa said, looking as he spoke at his beautiful Marian, who was
precisely in the same condition; and if some undefined notion of a
prince of romance, carrying off from the old cottage the sweetest bride
in the world, did flash across the thoughts of the father and mother,
who would be hard enough to blame so natural a vision? As for Marian
herself, she thought of nothing but Agnes, unless, indeed, it was Mrs
Edgerley’s party; and there must, indeed, have been quite a moral
earthquake in London had all the invitees to this same party been as
much disturbed about it as these two sisters. They wondered a hundred
times in a day if it was quite right to go without any further
invitation--if Mrs Edgerley would write to them--who would be there? and
finally, and most momentous of all, if it would be quite proper to go in
those simple white dresses, which were, in fact, the only dresses they
could wear. Over these girlish robes there was great discussion, and
councils manifold; people, however, who have positively no choice, have
facilities for making up their minds unknown to more encumbered
individuals, and certainly there was no alternative here.

Another of these much discussed questions was likewise very shortly set
to rest. Mrs Edgerley did write to Agnes the most affectionate and
emphatic of notes--deeply, doubly underscored in every fourth word,
adjuring her to “_remember_ that I NEVER _forgive_ any one who _forgets_
my _Thursday_.” Nobody could possibly be more innocent of this
unpardonable crime than Agnes and Marian, from whose innocent minds,
since they first heard of it, Mrs Edgerley’s Thursday had scarcely been
absent for an hour at a stretch; but they were mightily gratified with
this reminder, and excited beyond measure with the prospect before them.
They had also ascertained with much care and research the names of their
new acquaintance’s works--of which one was called _Fashion_, one
_Coquetry_, and one _The Beau Monde_. On the title-page of these famous
productions she was called the Honourable Mrs Edgerley--a distinction
not known to them before; and the girls read with devotion the three
sets of three volumes each, by which their distinguished friend had made
herself immortal. These books were not at all like _Hope Hazlewood_. It
was not indeed very easy to define what they were like; they were very
fine, full of splendid upholstery and elevated sentiments, diamonds of
the finest water, and passions of the loftiest strain. The girls
prudently reserved their judgment on the matter. “It is only some people
who can write good books,” said Marian, in the tone of an indulgent
critic; and nobody disputed the self-evident truth.

Meanwhile Mr Foggo continued to pay his usual visit every night, and
Miss Willsie, somewhat curious and full of disapprovals, “looked in”
through the day. Miss Willsie, who in secret knew _Hope Hazlewood_
nearly by heart, disapproved of everything. If there was one thing she
did not like, it was young people setting up their opinion, and
especially writing books; and if there was one thing she could not bear,
it was to see folk in a middling way of life aiming to be like their
betters. Miss Willsie “could not put up with” Mrs Edgerley’s presumption
in sending the girls home in her carriage; she thought it was just as
much as taunting decent folk because they had no carriage of their own.
Altogether the mistress of Killiecrankie was out of temper, and would
not be pleased--nothing satisfied her; and she groaned in spirit over
the vanity of her young _protégés_.

“Silly things!” said Miss Willsie, as she came in on the eventful
morning of Thursday itself, that golden day; “do you really think
there’s satisfaction in such vanities? Do you think any person finds
happiness in the pleasures of this world?”

“Oh, Miss Willsie! if they were not very pleasant, why should people be
so frightened for them?” cried Marian, who was carefully trimming, with
some of her mother’s lace, the aforesaid white dress.

“And then we are not trying to _find_ happiness,” said Agnes, looking up
from her similar occupation with a radiant face, and a momentary
perception of the philosophy of the matter. After all, that made a
wonderful difference. Miss Willsie was far too Scotch to remain
unimpressed by the logical distinction.

“Well, that’s true,” acknowledged Miss Willsie; “but you’re no to think
I approve of such a way of spending your happiness, though ye have got
it, ye young prodigals. If there is one thing I cannot endure, it’s
countenancing the like of you in your nonsense and extravagance; but I’m
no for doing things by halves either--Here!”

Saying which, Miss Willsie laid a parcel upon the table and disappeared
instantly, opening the door for herself, and closing it after her with
the briskest energy. There was not much time lost in examining the
parcel; and within it, in a double wrapper, lay two little pairs of
satin shoes, the whitest, daintiest, prettiest in the world.

Cinderella’s glass slippers! But Cinderella in the story was not half so
much disturbed as these two girls. It seemed just the last proof
wanting of the interest all the world took in this momentous and
eventful evening. Miss Willsie, the general critic and censor, who
approved of nothing! If it had not been for a little proper pride in the
presence of Susan, who just then entered the parlour, Marian and Agnes
would have been disposed for half a minute to celebrate this pleasure,
in true feminine fashion, by a very little “cry.”

And then came the momentous duties of the toilette. The little white
bedchamber looked whiter to-night than it had done all its days before,
under the combined lustre of the white dresses, the white ribbons, and
the white shoes. They were both so young and both so bright that their
colourless and simple costume looked in the prettiest harmony imaginable
with their sweet youth--which was all the more fortunate, that they
could not help themselves, and had nothing else to choose. One of those
useful and nondescript vehicles called “flies” stood at the door.
Charlie, with his hat on, half laughing, half ashamed of his office,
lingered in the hall, waiting to accompany them. They kissed Bell and
Beau (dreadfully late for this one night, and in the highest state of
exultation) with solemnity--submitted themselves to a last inspection on
the part of Mrs Atheling, and with a little fright and sudden terror
were put into the “carriage.” Then the carriage drove away through the
late summer twilight, rambling into the distance and the darkness. Then
at last Mamma ventured to drop into the easy-chair, and rest for a
moment from her labours and her anxieties. At this great crisis of the
family history, small events looked great events to Mrs Atheling; as if
they had been going out upon a momentous enterprise, this good mother
paused awhile in the darkness, and blessed them in her heart.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE WORLD.


They were bewildered, yet they lost nothing of the scene. The great
rooms radiant with light, misty with hangings, gleaming with
mirrors--the magnificent staircase up which they passed, they never
could tell how, ashamed of the echo of their own names--the beautiful
enchantress of a hostess, who bestowed upon each of them that light
perfumy kiss of welcome, at the momentary touch of which the girls
blushed and trembled--the strange faces everywhere around them--their
own confusion, and the shyness which they thought so awkward. Though all
these things together united to form a dazzling jumble for the first
moment, the incoherence of the vision lasted no longer. With a touch of
kindness Mrs Edgerley led them (for of course they were scrupulously
early, and punctual to the hour) to her pretty boudoir, where they had
been before, and which was not so bright nor like to be so thronged as
the larger rooms. Here already a young matron sat in state, with a
little circle of worshippers. Mrs Edgerley broke into the midst of them
to introduce to the throned lady her young strangers. “They have no one
with them--pray let them be beside you,” whispered the beautiful hostess
to her beautiful guest. The lady bowed, and stared, and assented. When
Mrs Edgerley left them, Agnes and Marian looked after her wistfully, the
only face they had ever seen before, and stood together in their shy
irresolute grace, blushing, discouraged, and afraid. They supposed it
was not right to speak to any one whom they had not been introduced to;
but no one gave them any inconvenience for the moment in the matter of
conversation. They stood for a short time shyly, expecting some notice
from their newly-elected chaperone, but she had half-a-dozen flirtations
in hand, and no leisure for a charge which was a bore. This, it must be
confessed, was somewhat different from Mrs Edgerley’s anticipation of
being “besieged for introductions” to the author of _Hope Hazlewood_.
The young author looked wistfully into the brightness of the great
drawing-room, with some hope of catching the eye of her patroness; but
Mrs Edgerley was in the full business of “receiving,” and had no eye
except for the brilliant stream of arrivals. Marian began to be
indignant, and kept her beautiful eyes full upon Agnes, watching her
sister with eager sympathy. Never before, in all their serene and quiet
lives, had they needed to be proud. For a moment the lip of Agnes curved
and quivered--a momentary pang of girlish mortification passed over her
face--then they both drew back suddenly to a table covered with books
and portfolios, which stood behind them. They did not say a word to each
other--they bent down over the prints and pictures with a sudden impulse
of self-command and restraint: no one took the slightest notice of them;
they stood quite alone in these magnificent rooms, which were slowly
filling with strange faces. Agnes was afraid to look up, lest any one
should see that there were actual tears under her eyelids. How she
fancied she despised herself for such a weakness! But, after all, it was
a hard enough lesson for neophytes so young and innocent,--so they stood
very silent, bending closely over the picture-books, overcoming as they
could their sudden mortification and disappointment. No one disturbed
them in their solitary enjoyment of their little table, and for once in
their life they did not say a word to each other, but bravely fought out
the crisis within themselves, and rose again with all the pride of
sensitive and imaginative natures to the emergency. With a sudden
impulsive movement Agnes drew a chair to the table, and made Marian sit
down upon it. “Now, we will suppose we are at the play,” said Agnes,
with youthful contempt and defiance, leaning her arm upon the back of
the chair, and looking at the people instead of the picture-books.
Marian was not so rapid in her change of mood--she sat still, shading
her face with her hand, with a flush upon her cheek, and an angry cloud
on her beautiful young brow. Yes, Marian was extremely angry.
Mortification on her own account did not affect her--but that all these
people, who no doubt were only rich people and nobodies--that they
should neglect Agnes!--this was more than her sisterly equanimity could
bear.

Agnes Atheling was not beautiful. When people looked at her, they never
thought of her face, what were its features or its complexion. These
were both agreeable enough to make no detraction from the interest of
the bright and animated intelligence which was indeed the only beauty
belonging to her. She did not know herself with what entire and
transparent honesty her eyes and her lips expressed her sentiments; and
it never occurred to her that her own looks, as she stood thus, somewhat
defiant, and full of an imaginative and heroical pride, looking out upon
all those strangers, made the brightest comment possible upon the scene.
How her eye brightened with pleasure as it fell on a pleasant face--how
her lip laughed when something ridiculous caught her rapid
attention--how the soft lines on her forehead drew together when
something displeased her delicate fancy--and how a certain natural
delight in the graceful grouping and brilliant action of the scene
before her lighted up all her face--was quite an unknown fact to Agnes.
It was remarkable enough, however, in an assembly of people whose looks
were regulated after the most approved principles, and who were
generally adepts in the admirable art of expressing nothing. And then
there was Marian, very cloudy, looking up under the shadow of her hand
like an offended fairy queen. Though Mrs Edgerley was lost in the stream
of her arriving guests, and the beautiful young chaperone she had
committed them to took no notice whatever of her charge, tired eyes,
which were looking out for something to interest them, gradually fixed
upon Agnes and Marian. One or two observers asked who they were, but
nobody could answer the question. They were quite by themselves, and
evidently knew no one; and a little interest began to rise about them,
which the girls, making their own silent observations upon everything,
and still sometimes with a little wistfulness looking for Mrs Edgerley,
had not yet begun to see.

When an old gentleman came to their table, and startled them a little by
turning over the picture-books. He was an ancient beau--the daintiest of
old gentlemen--with a blue coat and a white waistcoat, and the most
delicate of ruffles. His hair--so much as he had--was perfectly white,
and his high bald forehead, and even his face, looked like a piece of
ivory curiously carved into wrinkles. He was not by any means a handsome
old man, yet it was evident enough that this peculiar look and studied
dress belonged to a notability, whose coat and cambric, and the great
shining diamond upon whose wrinkled ashen-white hand, belonged to his
character, and were part of himself. He was an old connoisseur, critic,
and fine gentleman, with a collection of old china, old jewels, rare
small pictures, and curious books, enough to craze the whole dilettanti
world when it came to the prolonged and fabulous sale, which was its
certain end. And he was a connoisseur in other things than silver and
china. He was somewhat given to patronising young people; and the common
judgment gave him credit for great kindness and benignity. But it was
not benignity and kindness which drew Mr Agar to the side of Agnes and
Marian. Personal amusement was a much more prevailing inducement than
benevolence with the dainty old dilettante. They were deceived, of
course, as youth is invariably; for despite the pure selfishness of the
intention, the effect, as it happened, was kind.

Mr Agar began a conversation by remarking upon the books, and drew forth
a shy reply from both; then he managed gradually to change his
position, and to survey the assembled company along with them, but with
his most benign and patriarchal expression. He was curious to hear in
words those comments which Agnes constantly made with her eyes; and he
was pleased to observe the beauty of the younger sister--the perfect
unconscious grace of all her movements and attitudes. They thought they
had found the most gracious of friends, these simple girls; they had not
the remotest idea that he was only a connoisseur.

“Then you do not know many of those people?” said Mr Agar, following
Agnes’s rapid glances. “Ah, old Lady Knightly! is that a friend of
yours?”

“No; I was thinking of the old story of ‘Thank you for your Diamonds,”
said Agnes, who could not help drawing back a little, and casting down
her eyes for the moment, while the sound of her own voice, low as it
was, brought a sudden flush to her cheek. “I did not think diamonds had
been so pretty; they look as if they were alive.”

“Ah, the diamonds!” said the old critic, looking at the unconscious
object of Agnes’s observation, who was an old lady, wrinkled and
gorgeous, with a leaping, twinkling band of light circling her
time-shrivelled brow. “Yes, she looks as if she had dressed for a
masquerade in the character of Night--eh? Poor old lady, with her lamps
of diamonds! Beauty, you perceive, does not need so many tapers to show
its whereabouts.”

“But there are a great many beautiful people here,” said Agnes, “and a
great many jewels. I think, sir, it is kind of people to wear them,
because all the pleasure is to us who look on.”

“You think so? Ah, then beauty itself, I suppose, is pure generosity,
and _we_ have all the pleasure of it,” said the amused old gentleman;
“that is comfortable doctrine, is it not?” And he looked at Marian, who
glanced up blushingly, yet with a certain pleasure. He smiled, yet he
looked benignant and fatherly; and this was an extremely agreeable view
of the matter, and made it much less embarrassing to acknowledge oneself
pretty. Marian felt herself indebted to this kind old man.

“And you know no one--not even Mrs Edgerley, I presume?” said the old
gentleman. They both interrupted him in haste to correct this, but he
only smiled the more, and went on. “Well, I shall be benevolent, and
tell you who your neighbours are; but I cannot follow those rapid eyes.
Yes, I perceive you have made a good pause for a beginning--that is our
pretty hostess’s right honourable papa. Poor Winterbourne! he was sadly
clumsy about his business. He is one of those unfortunate men who cannot
do a wicked thing without doing it coarsely. You perceive, he is
stopping to speak to Lady Theodosia--dear Lady Theodosia, who writes
those sweet books! Nature intended she should be merry and vulgar, and
art has made her very fine, very sentimental, and full of tears. There
is an unfortunate youth wandering alone behind everybody’s back. That is
a miserable new poet, whom Mrs Edgerley has deluded hither under the
supposition that he is to be the lion of the evening. Poor fellow! he is
looking demoniacal, and studying an epigram. Interested in the
poet--eh?”

“Yes, sir,” said Agnes, with her usual respect; “but we were thinking of
ourselves, who were something the same,” she added quickly; for Mr Agar
had seen the sudden look which passed between the sisters.

“Something the same! then I am to understand that you are a poet?” said
the old gentleman, with his unvarying benignity. “No!--what then? A
musician? No; an artist? Come, you puzzle me. I shall begin to suppose
you have written a novel if you do not explain.”

The animated face of Agnes grew blank in a moment; she drew farther
back, and blushed painfully. Marian immediately drew herself up and
stood upon the defensive. “Is it anything wrong to write a novel?” said
Marian. Mr Agar turned upon her with his benignant smile.

“It is so, then?” said the old gentleman; “and I have not the least
doubt it is an extremely clever novel. But hold! who comes here? Ah, an
American! Now we must do our best to talk very brilliantly, for friend
Jonathan loves the conversation of distinguished circles. Let me find a
seat for you, and do not be angry that I am not an enthusiast in
literary matters. We have all our hobbies, and that does not happen to
be mine.”

Agnes sat down passively on the chair he brought for her. The poor girl
felt grievously ashamed of herself. After all, what was that poor little
book, that she should ground such mighty claims upon it? Who cared for
the author of _Hope Hazlewood_? Mr Agar, though he was so kind, did not
even care to inquire what book it was, nor showed the smallest curiosity
about its name. Agnes was so much cast down that she scarcely noticed
the upright figure approaching towards them, carrying an abstracted head
high in the air, and very like to run over smaller people; but Mr Agar
stepped aside, and Marian touched her sister’s arm. “It is Mr
Endicott--look, Agnes!” whispered Marian. Both of them were stirred with
sudden pleasure at sight of him; it was a known face in this dazzling
wilderness, though it was not a very comely one. Mr Endicott was as much
startled as themselves when glancing downward from his lofty altitude,
his eye fell upon the beautiful face which had made sunshine even in the
shady place of that Yankee young gentleman’s self-admiring breast. The
sudden discovery brightened his lofty languor for a moment. He hastened
to shake hands with them, so impressively that the pretty lady and her
cloud of admirers paused in their flutter of satire and compliment to
look on.

“This is a pleasure I was not prepared for,” said Mr Endicott. “I
remember that Mr Atheling had an early acquaintance with Viscount
Winterbourne--I presume an old hereditary friendship. I am rejoiced to
find that such things are, even in this land of sophistication. This is
a brilliant scene!”

“Indeed I do not think papa knows Lord Winterbourne,” said Agnes
hastily; but her low voice did not reach the ears which had been so far
enlightened by Mr Endicott. “Hereditary friendship--old connections of
the family; no doubt daughters of some squire in Banburyshire,” said
their beautiful neighbour, in a half-offended tone, to one of her
especial retainers, who showed strong symptoms of desertion, and had
already half-a-dozen times asked Marian’s name. Unfortunate Mr Endicott!
he gained a formidable rival by these ill-advised words.

“I find little to complain of generally in the most distinguished
circles of your country,” said Mr Endicott. “Your own men of genius may
be neglected, but a foreigner of distinction always finds a welcome.
This is true wisdom--for by this means we are enabled to carry a good
report to the world.”

“I say, what nice accounts these French fellows give of us!” burst in
suddenly a very young man, who stood under the shadow of Mr Endicott.
The youth who hazarded this brilliant remark did not address anybody in
particular, and was somewhat overpowered by the unexpected honour of an
answer from Mr Agar.

“Trench journalists, and newspaper writers of any country, are of course
the very best judges of manners and morals,” said the old gentleman,
with a smile; “the other three estates are more than usually fallible;
the fourth is the nearest approach to perfection which we can find in
man.”

“Sir,” said Mr Endicott, “in my country we can do without Queen, Lords,
and Commons; but we cannot do without the Press--that is, the exponent
of every man’s mind and character, the legitimate vehicle of instructive
experiences. The Press, sir, is Progress--the only effective agency ever
invented for the perfection of the human race.”

“Oh, I am sure I quite agree with you. I am quite in love with the
newspapers; they do make one so delightfully out of humour,” said Mrs
Edgerley, suddenly making her appearance; “and really, you know, when
they speak of society, it is quite charming--so absurd! Sir Langham
Portland--Miss Atheling. I have been so longing to come to you. Oh, and
you must know Mr Agar. Mr Agar, I want to introduce you to my charming
young friend, the author of _Hope Hazlewood_; is it not wonderful? I was
sure you, who are so fond of people of genius, would be pleased to know
her. And there is dear Lady Theodosia, but she is so surrounded. You
must come to the Willows--you must indeed; I positively insist upon it.
For what can one do in an evening? and so many of my friends want to
know you. We go down in a fortnight. I shall certainly calculate upon
you. Oh, I never take a refusal; it was _so_ kind of you to come
to-night.”

Before she had ceased speaking, Mrs Edgerley was at the other end of the
room, conversing with some one else, by her pretty gestures. Sir Langham
Portland drew himself up like a guardsman, as he was, on the other side
of Marian, and made original remarks about the picture-books, somewhat
to the amusement, but more to the dismay of the young beauty,
unaccustomed to such distinguished attentions. Mr Agar occupied himself
with Agnes; he told her all about the Willows, Mrs Edgerley’s pretty
house at Richmond, which was always amusing, said the old gentleman. He
was very pleasantly amused himself with Agnes’s bright respondent face,
which, however, this wicked old critic was fully better pleased with
while its mortification and disappointment lasted. Mr Endicott remained
standing in front of the group, watching the splendid guardsman with a
misanthropic eye. This, however, was not very amusing; and the
enlightened American gracefully took from his pocket the daintiest of
pocket-books, fragrant with Russia leather and clasped with gold. From
this delicate enclosure Mr Endicott selected with care a letter and a
card, and, armed with these formidable implements, turned round upon the
unconscious old gentleman. When Mr Agar caught a glimpse of this
impending assault, his momentary look of dismay would have delighted
himself, could he have seen it. “I have the honour of bearing a letter
of introduction,” said Mr Endicott, closing upon the unfortunate
connoisseur, and thrusting before his eyes the weapons of offence--the
moral bowie-knife and revolver, which were the weapons of this young
gentleman’s warfare. Mr Agar looked his assailant in the face, but did
not put forth his hand.

“At my own house,” said the ancient beau, with a gracious smile: “who
could be stoic enough to do justice to the most distinguished of
strangers, under such irresistible distractions as I find here?”

Poor Mr Endicott! He did not venture to be offended, but he was
extinguished notwithstanding, and could not make head against his double
disappointment; for there stood the guardsman speaking through his
mustache of Books of Beauty, and holding his place like the most
faithful of sentinels by Marian Atheling’s side.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A FOE.


“I shall have to relinquish my charge of you,” said the young chaperone,
for the first time addressing Agnes. Agnes started immediately, and
rose.

“It is time for us to go,” she said with eager shyness, “but I did not
like. May we follow you? If it would not trouble you, it would be a
great kindness, for we know no one here.”

“Why did you come, then?” said the lady. Agnes’s ideas of politeness
were sorely tried to-night.

“Indeed,” said the young author, with a sudden blush and courage, “I
cannot tell why, unless because Mrs Edgerley asked us; but I am sure it
was very foolish, and we will know better another time.”

“Yes, it is always tiresome, unless one knows everybody,” said the
pretty young matron, slowly rising, and accepting with a careless grace
the arm which somebody offered her. The girls rose hastily to follow. Mr
Agar had left them some time before, and even the magnificent guardsman
had been drawn away from his sentryship. With a little tremor, looking
at nobody, and following very close in the steps of their leader, they
glided along through the brilliant groups of the great drawing-room.
But, alas! they were not fated to reach the door in unobserved safety.
Mr Endicott, though he was improving his opportunities, though he had
already fired another letter of introduction at somebody else’s head,
and listened to his heart’s content to various snatches of that most
brilliant and wise conversation going on everywhere around him, had
still kept up a distant and lofty observation of the lady of his love.
He hastened forward to them now, as with beating hearts they pursued
their way, keeping steadily behind their careless young guide. “You are
going?” said Mr Endicott, making a solemn statement of the fact. “It is
early; let me see you to your carriage.”

But they were glad to keep close to him a minute afterwards, while they
waited for that same carriage, the Islingtonian fly, with Charlie in it,
which was slow to recognise its own name when called. Charlie rolled
himself out as the vehicle drew up, and came to the door like a man to
receive his sisters. A gentleman stood by watching the whole scene with
a little amusement--the shy girls, the big brother, the officious
American. This was a man of singularly pale complexion, very black
hair, and a face over which the skin seemed to be strained so tight that
his features were almost ghastly. He was old, but he did not look like
his age; and it was impossible to suppose that he ever could have looked
young. His smile was not at all a pleasant smile. Though it came upon
his face by his own will, he seemed to have no power of putting it off
again; and it grew into a faint spasmodic sneer, offensive and
repellent. Charlie looked him in the face with a sudden impulse of
pugnacity--he looked at Charlie with this bloodless and immovable smile.
The lad positively lingered, though his fly “stopped the way,” to bestow
another glance upon this remarkable personage, and their eyes met in a
full and mutual stare. Whether either person, the old man or the youth,
were moved by a thrill of presentiment, we are not able to say; but
there was little fear hereafter of any want of mutual recognition.
Despite the world of social distinction, age, and power which lay
between them, Charlie Atheling looked at Lord Winterbourne, and Lord
Winterbourne looked at Charlie. It was their first point of contact;
neither of them could read the fierce mutual conflict, the ruin,
despair, and disgrace which lay in the future, in that first look of
impulsive hostility; but as the great man entered his carriage, and the
boy plunged into the fly, their thoughts for the moment were full of
each other--so full that neither could understand the sudden distinct
recognition of this first touch of fate.

“No; mamma was quite right,” said Agnes; “we cannot be great friends nor
very happy with people so different from ourselves.”

And the girls sighed. They were pleased, yet they were disappointed. It
was impossible to deny that the reality was as far different from the
imagination as anything could be; and really nobody had been in the
smallest degree concerned about the author of _Hope Hazlewood_. Even
Marian was compelled to acknowledge that.

“But then,” cried this eager young apologist, “they were not literary
people; they were not good judges; they were common people, like what
you might see anywhere, though they might be great ladies and fine
gentlemen; it was easy to see _we_ were not very great, and they did not
understand _you_.”

“Hush,” said Agnes quickly; “they were rather kind, I think--especially
Mr Agar; but they did not care at all for us: and why should they, after
all?”

“So it was a failure,” said Charlie. “I say, who was that man--that
fellow at the door?”

“Oh, Charlie, you dreadful boy! that was Lord Winterbourne,” cried
Marian. “Mr Agar told us who he was.”

“Who’s Mr Agar?” asked Charlie. “And so that’s him--that’s the man that
will take the Old Wood Lodge! I wish he would. I knew I owed him
something. I’d like to see him try!”

“And Mrs Edgerley is his daughter,” said Agnes. “Is it not strange? And
I suppose we shall all be neighbours in the country. But Mr Endicott
said quite loud, so that everybody could hear, that papa was a friend of
Lord Winterbourne’s. I do not like people to slight us; but I don’t like
to deceive them either. There was _that_ gentleman--that Sir Langham. I
suppose he thought _we_ were great people, Marian, like the rest of the
people there.”

In the darkness Marian pouted, frowned, and laughed within herself. “I
don’t think it matters much what Sir Langham thought,” said Marian; for
already the young beauty began to feel her “greatness,” and smiled at
her own power.



CHAPTER XXIX.

FAMILY SENTIMENTS.


When the fly jumbled into Bellevue, the lighted window, which always
illuminated the little street, shone brighter than ever in the profound
darkness of this late night, when all the respectable inhabitants for
more than an hour had been asleep. Papa and Mamma, somewhat drowsily,
yet with a capacity for immediate waking-up only to be felt under these
circumstances, had unanimously determined to sit up for the girls; and
the window remained bright, and the inmates wakeful, for a full hour
after the rumbling “fly,” raising all the dormant echoes of the
neighbourhood, had rolled off to its nightly shelter. The father and the
mother listened with the most perfect patience to the detail of
everything, excited in spite of themselves by their children’s
companionship with “the great,” yet considerably resenting, and much
disappointed by the failure of those grand visions, in which all night
the parental imagination had pictured to itself an admiring assembly
hanging upon the looks of those innocent and simple girls. Mr and Mrs
Atheling on this occasion were somewhat disposed, we confess, to make
out a case of jealousy and malice against the fashionable guests of Mrs
Edgerley. It was always the way, Papa said. They always tried to keep
everybody down, and treated aspirants superciliously; and in the climax
of his indignation, under his breath, he added something about those
“spurns which patient merit of the unworthy takes.” Mrs Atheling did not
quote Shakespeare, but she was quite as much convinced that it was their
“rank in life” which had prevented Agnes and Marian from taking a
sovereign place in the gay assembly they had just left. The girls
themselves gave no distinct judgment on the subject; but now that the
first edge of her mortification had worn off, Agnes began to have great
doubts upon this matter. “We had no claim upon them--not the least,”
said Agnes; “they never saw us before; we were perfect strangers; why
should they trouble themselves about us, simply because I had written a
book?”

“Do not speak nonsense, my dear--do not tell me,” said Mrs Atheling,
with agitation: “they had only to use their own eyes and see--as if they
often had such an opportunity! My dear, I know better; you need not
speak to me!”

“And everybody has read your book, Agnes--and no doubt there are scores
of people who would give anything to know you,” said Papa with dignity.
“The author of _Hope Hazlewood_ is a different person from Agnes
Atheling. No, no--it is not that they don’t know your proper place; but
they keep everybody down as long as they can. Now, mind, one day you
will turn the tables upon them; I am very sure of that.”

Agnes said no more, but went up to her little white room completely
unconvinced upon the subject. Miss Willsie saw the tell-tale light in
this little high window in the middle of the night--when it was nearly
daylight, the old lady said--throwing a friendly gleam upon the two
young controversialists as they debated this difficult question. Agnes,
of course, with all the heat of youth and innovation, took the extreme
side of the question. “It is easy enough to write--any one can write,”
said the young author, triumphant in her argument, yet in truth somewhat
mortified by her triumph. “But even if it was not, there are greater
things in this world than books, and almost all other books are greater
than novels; and I do think it was the most foolish thing in the world
to suppose that clever people like these--for they were all clever
people--would take any notice of me.”

To which arguments, all and several, Marian returned only a direct,
unhesitating, and broad negative. It was _not_ easy to write, and there
were _not_ greater things than books, and it was not at all foolish to
expect a hundred times more than ever their hopes had expected. “It is
very wrong of you to say so, Agnes,” said Marian. “Papa is quite right;
it will all be as different as possible by-and-by; and if you have
nothing more sensible to say than that, I shall go to sleep.”

Saying which, Marian turned round upon her pillow, virtuously resisted
all further temptations, and closed her beautiful eyes upon the faint
grey dawn which began to steal in between the white curtains. They
thought their minds were far too full to go to sleep. Innocent
imaginations! five minutes after, they were in the very sweetest
enchanted country of the true fairyland of dreams.

While Charlie, in his sleep in the next room, laboriously struggled all
night with a bloodless apparition, which smiled at him from an open
doorway--fiercely fought and struggled against it--mastered it--got it
down, but only to begin once more the tantalising combat. When he rose
in the morning, early as usual, the youth set his teeth at the
recollection, and with an attempt to give a reason for this instinctive
enmity, fiercely hoped that Lord Winterbourne would try to take from his
father his little inheritance. Charlie, who was by no means of a
metaphysical turn, did not trouble himself at all to inquire into the
grounds of his own unusual pugnacity. He “knew he owed him something,”
and though my Lord Winterbourne was a viscount and an ex-minister, and
Charlie only a poor man’s son and a copying-clerk, he fronted the great
man’s image with indomitable confidence, and had no more doubt of his
own prowess than of his entire goodwill in the matter. He did not think
very much more of his opponent in this case than he did of the big
folios in the office, and had as entire confidence in his own ability to
bring the enemy down.

But it was something of a restless night to Papa and Mamma. They too
talked in their darkened chamber, too proper and too economical to waste
candlelight upon subjects so unprofitable, of old events and people half
forgotten;--how the first patroness of Agnes should be the daughter of
the man between whom and themselves there existed some unexplained
connection of old friendship or old enmity, or both;--how circumstances
beyond their guidance conspired to throw them once more in the way of
persons and plans which they had heard nothing of for more than twenty
years. These things were very strange and troublous events to Mr
Atheling and his wife. The past, which nearer grief and closer
pleasure--all their family life, full as that was of joy and sorrow--had
thrown so far away and out of remembrance, came suddenly back before
them in all the clearness of youthful recollection. Old feelings
returned strong and fresh into their minds. They went back, and took up
the thread of this history, whatever it might be, where they had dropped
it twenty years ago; and with a thrill of deeper interest, wondered and
inquired how this influence would affect their children. To themselves
now little could happen; their old friend or their old enemy could do
neither harm nor benefit to their accomplished lives--but the
children!--the children, every one so young, so hopeful, and so well
endowed; all so strangely brought into sudden contact, at a double
point, with this one sole individual, who had power to disturb the rest
of the father and the mother. They relapsed into silence suddenly, and
were quieted by the thought.

“It is not our doing--it is not our seeking,” said Mr Atheling at
length. “If the play wants a last act, Mary, it will not be your
planning nor mine; and as for the children, they are in the hands of
God.”

So in the grey imperfect dawn which lightened on the faces of the
sleeping girls, whose sweet youthful rest was far too deep to be broken
even by the growing light, these elder people closed their eyes, not to
sleep, but to pray. If evil were about to come--if danger were lurking
in the air around them--they had this only defence against it. It was
not the simple faith of youth which dictated these prayers; it was a
deeper and a closer urgency, which cried aloud and would not cease, but
yet was solemn with the remembrance of times when God’s pleasure was not
to grant them their petitions. The young ones slept in peace, but with
fights and triumphs manifold in their young dreams. The father and the
mother held a vigil for them, holding up holy hands for their defence
and safety; and so the morning came at last, brightly, to hearts which
feared no evil, or when they feared, put their apprehensions at once
into the hand of God.



CHAPTER XXX.

AGNES’S FORTUNE.


The morning, like a good fairy, came kindly to these good people,
increasing in the remembrance of the girls the impression of pleasure,
and lessening that of disappointment. They came, after all, to be very
well satisfied with their reception at Mrs Edgerley’s. And now her
second and most important invitation remained to be discussed--the
Willows--the pretty house at Richmond, with the river running sweetly
under the shadow of its trees; the company, which was sure to include,
as Mr Agar said, _some_ people worth knowing, and which that ancient
connoisseur himself did not refuse to join. Agnes and Marian looked with
eager eyes on the troubled brow of Mamma; a beautiful vision of the lawn
and the river, flowers and sunshine, the sweet silence of “the country,”
and the unfamiliar music of running water and rustling trees, possessed
the young imaginations for the time to the total disregard of all
sublunary considerations. _They_ did not think for a moment of Lord
Winterbourne’s daughter, and the strange chance which could make them
inmates of her house; for Lord Winterbourne himself was not a person of
any importance in the estimation of the girls. But more than that, they
did not even think of their wardrobe, important as that consideration
was; they did not recollect how entirely unprovided they were for such a
visit, nor how the family finances, strait and unelastic, could not
possibly stretch to so new and great an expenditure. But all these
things, which brought no cloud upon Agnes and Marian, conspired to
embarrass the brow of the family mother. She thought at the same moment
of Lord Winterbourne and of the brown merinos; of this strange
acquaintanceship, mysterious and full of fate as it seemed; and of the
little black silk cloaks which were out of fashion, and the bonnets with
the faded ribbons. It was hard to deny the girls so great a pleasure;
but how could it be done?

And for a day or two following the household remained in great
uncertainty upon this point, and held every evening, on the engrossing
subject of ways and means, a committee of the whole house. This,
however, we are grieved to say, was somewhat of an unprofitable
proceeding; for the best advice which Papa could give on so important a
subject was, that the girls must of course have everything proper if
they went. “If they went!--that is exactly the question,” said the
provoked and impatient ruler of all. “But are they to go? and how are we
to get everything proper for them?” To these difficult questions Mr
Atheling attempted no answer. He was a wise man, and knew his own
department, and prudently declined any interference in the legitimate
domain of the other head of the house.

Mrs Atheling was by no means addicted to disclosing the private matters
of her own family life, yet she carried this important question through
the faded wallflowers to crave the counsel of Miss Willsie. Miss Willsie
was not at all pleased to have such a matter submitted to her. _Her_
supreme satisfaction would have lain in criticising, finding fault, and
helping on. Now reduced to the painful alternative of giving an opinion,
the old lady pronounced a vague one in general terms, to the effect that
if there was one thing she hated, it was to see poor folk striving for
the company of them that were in a different rank in life; but whenever
this speech was made, and her conscience cleared, Miss Willsie began to
inquire zealously what “the silly things had,” and what they wanted, and
set about a mental turning over of her own wardrobe, where were a great
many things which she had worn in her own young days, and which were
“none the worse,” as she said--but they were not altogether adapted for
the locality of the Willows. Miss Willsie turned them over not only in
her own mind, but in her own parlour, where her next visitor found her
as busy with her needle and her shears as any cottar matron ever was,
and anxiously bent on the same endeavour to “make auld things look
amaist as weel’s the new.” It cost Miss Willsie an immense deal of
trouble, but it was not half so successful a business as the repairs of
that immortal Saturday Night.

But the natural course of events, which had cleared their path for them
many times before, came in once more to make matters easy. Mr
Burlington, of whom nothing had been heard since the day of that
eventful visit to his place--Mr Burlington, who since then had brought
out a second edition of _Hope Hazlewood_, announced himself ready to
“make a proposal” for the book. Now, there had been many and great
speculations in the house on this subject of “Agnes’s fortune.” They
were as good at the magnificent arithmetic of fancy as Major Pendennis
was, and we will not say that, like him, they had not leaped to their
thousands a-year. They had all, however, been rather prudent in
committing themselves to a sum--nobody would guess positively what it
was to be--but some indefinite and fabulous amount, a real fortune,
floated in the minds of all: to the father and mother a substantial
provision for Agnes, to the girls an inexhaustible fund of pleasure,
comfort, and charity. The proposal came--it was not a fabulous and
magnificent fortune, for the author of _Hope Hazlewood_ was only Agnes
Atheling, and not Arthur Pendennis. For the first moment, we are
compelled to confess, they looked at each other with blank faces,
entirely cast down and disappointed: it was not an inexhaustible fairy
treasure--it was only a hundred and fifty pounds.

Yes, most tender-hearted reader! these were not the golden days of Sir
Walter, nor was this young author a literary Joan of Arc. She got her
fortune in a homely fashion like other people--at first was grievously
disappointed about it--formed pugnacious resolutions, and listened to
all the evil stories of the publishing ghouls with satisfaction and
indignant faith. But by-and-by this angry mood softened down; by-and-by
the real glory of such an unrealisable heap of money began to break upon
the girls. A hundred and fifty pounds, and nothing to do with it--no
arrears to pay--nothing to make up--can any one suppose a position of
more perfect felicity? They came to see it bit by bit dawning upon them
in gradual splendour--content blossomed into satisfaction, satisfaction
unfolded into delight. And then to think of laying by such a small sum
would be foolish, as the girls reasoned; so its very insignificance
increased the pleasure. It was not a dull treasure, laid up in a bank,
or “invested,” as Papa had solemnly proposed to invest “Agnes’s
fortune;” it was a delightful little living stream of abundance, already
in imagination overflowing and brightening everything. It would buy
Mamma the most magnificent of brocades, and Bell and Beau such frocks as
never were seen before out of fairyland. It would take them all to the
Old Wood Lodge, or even to the seaside; it would light up with books and
pictures, and pretty things, the respectable family face of Number Ten,
Bellevue. There was no possibility of exhausting the capacities of this
marvellous sum of money, which, had it been three or four times as much,
as the girls discovered, could not have been half as good for present
purposes. The delight of spending money was altogether new to them: they
threw themselves into it with the most gleeful abandonment (in
imagination), and threw away their fortune royally, and with genuine
enjoyment in the process; and very few millionaires have ever found as
much pleasure in the calculation of their treasures as Agnes and Marian
Atheling, deciding over and over again how they were to spend it, found
in this hundred and fifty pounds.

In the mean time, however, Papa carried it off to the office, and locked
it up there for security--for they all felt that it would not be right
to trust to the commonplace defences of Bellevue with such a prodigious
sum of money in the house.



CHAPTER XXXI.

EXTRAVAGANCE.


It was a July day, brilliant and dazzling; the deep-blue summer sky
arched over these quiet houses, a very heaven of sunshine and calm; the
very leaves were golden in the flood of light, and grateful shadows fell
from the close walls, and a pleasant summer fragrance came from within
the little enclosures of Bellevue. Nothing was stirring in the silent
little suburban street--the very sounds came slow and soft through the
luxurious noonday air, into which now and then blew the little
capricious breath of a cool breeze, like some invisible fairy fan making
a current in the golden atmosphere. Safe under the shelter of green
blinds and opened windows, the feminine population reposed in summer
indolence, mistresses too languid to scold, and maids to be improved by
the same. In the day, the other half of mankind, all mercantile and
devoted to business, deserted Bellevue and perhaps were not less drowsy
in their several offices, where dust had to answer all the purpose of
those trim venetian defences, than their wives and daughters were at
home.

But before the door of Number Ten stood a vehicle--let no one scorn its
unquestioned respectability,--it was The Fly. The fly was drawn by an
old white horse, of that bony and angular development peculiar to this
rank of professional eminence. This illustrious animal gave character
and distinction at once to the equipage. The smartest and newest
brougham in existence, with such a steed attached to it, must at once
have taken rank, in the estimation of all beholders, as a true and
unmistakable Fly. The coachman was in character; he had a long white
livery-coat, and a hat very shiny, and bearing traces of various
indentations. As he sat upon his box in the sunshine, he nodded in
harmony with the languid branches of the lilac-bushes. Though he was not
averse to a job, he marvelled much how anybody who could stay at home
went abroad under this burning sun, or troubled themselves with
occupations. So too thought the old white horse, switching his old white
tail in vain pursuit of the summer flies which troubled him; and so even
thought Hannah, Miss Willsie’s pretty maid, as she looked out from the
gate of Killiecrankie Lodge, shading her eyes with her hand,
marvelling, half in envy, half in pity, how any one could think even of
“pleasuring” on such a day.

With far different sentiments from these languid and indolent observers,
the Athelings prepared for their unusual expedition. Firmly compressed
into Mrs Atheling’s purse were five ten-pound notes, crisp and new, and
the girls, with a slight tremor of terror enhancing their delight, had
secretly vowed that Mamma should not be permitted to bring anything in
the shape of money home. They were going to spend fifty pounds. That was
their special mission--and when you consider that very rarely before had
they helped at the spending of more than fifty shillings, you may fancy
the excitement and delight of this family enterprise. They had
calculated beforehand what everything was to cost--they had left a
margin for possibilities--they had all their different items written
down on a very long piece of paper, and now the young ladies were
dancing Bell and Beau through the garden, and waiting for Mamma.

For the twin babies were to form part of this most happy party. Bell and
Beau were to have an ecstatic drive in that most delightful of carriages
which the two big children and the two little ones at present stood
regarding with the sincerest admiration. If Agnes had any doubt at all
about the fly, it was a momentary fear lest somebody should suppose it
to be their own carriage--a contingency not at all probable. In every
other view of the question, the fly was scarcely second even to Mrs
Edgerley’s sublime and stately equipage; and it is quite impossible to
describe the rapture with which this magnificent vehicle was
contemplated by Bell and Beau.

At last Mamma came down stairs in somewhat of a flutter, and by no means
satisfied that she was doing right in thus giving in to the girls. Mrs
Atheling still, in spite of all their persuasions, could not help
thinking it something very near a sin to spend wilfully, and at one
doing, so extraordinary a sum as fifty pounds--“a quarter’s income!” she
said solemnly. But Papa was very nearly as foolish on the subject as
Agnes and Marian, and the good mother could not make head against them
all. She was alarmed at this first outbreak of “awful” extravagance, but
she could not quite refuse to be pleased either with the pleasant piece
of business, with the delight of the girls, and the rapture of the
babies, nor to feel the glory in her own person of “shopping” on so
grand a scale--

    “My sister and my sister’s child,
      Myself and children three.”

The fly was not quite so closely packed as the chaise of Mrs Gilpin, yet
it was very nearly as full as that renowned conveyance. They managed to
get in “five precious souls,” and the white horse languidly set out
upon his journey, and the coachman, only half awake, still nodded on his
box. Where they went to, we will not betray their confidence by telling.
It was an erratic course, and included all manner of shops and
purchases. Before they had got nearly to the end of their list, they
were quite fatigued with their labours, and found it rather cumbrous,
after all, to choose the shops they wanted from the “carriage” windows,
a splendid but inconvenient necessity. Then Bell and Beau grew very
tired, wanted to go home, and were scarcely to be solaced even with
cakes innumerable. Perfect and unmixed delights are not to be found
under the sun; and though the fly went back to Bellevue laden with
parcels beyond the power of arithmetic; though the girls had
accomplished their wicked will, and the purse of Mrs Atheling had shrunk
into the ghost of its former size, yet the accomplished errand was not
half so delightful as were those exuberant and happy intentions, which
could now be talked over no more. They all grew somewhat silent, as they
drove home--“vanity of vanities--” Mrs Atheling and her daughters were
in a highly reflective state of mind, and rather given to moralising;
while extremely wearied, sleepy, and uncomfortable were poor little Bell
and Beau.

But at last they reached home--at last the pleasant sight of Susan, and
the fragrance of the tea, which, as it was now pretty late in the
afternoon, Susan had prepared to refresh them, restored their flagging
spirits. They began to open out their parcels, and fight their battles
over again. They examined once more, outside and inside, the pretty
little watches which Papa had insisted on as the first of all their
purchases. Papa thought a watch was a most important matter--the money
spent in such a valuable piece of property was _invested_; and Mrs
Atheling herself, as she took her cup of tea, looked at these new
acquisitions with extreme pride, good pleasure, and a sense of
importance. They had put their bonnets on the sofa--the table overflowed
with rolls of silk and pieces of ribbon half unfolded; Bell and Beau,
upon the hearth-rug, played with the newest noisiest toys which could be
found for them; and even Susan, when she came to ask if her mistress
would take another cup, secretly confessed within herself that there
never was such a littered and untidy room.

When there suddenly came a dash and roll of rapid wheels, ringing into
all the echoes. Suddenly, with a gleam and bound, a splendid apparition
crossed the window, and two magnificent bay-horses drove up before the
little gate. Her very watch, new and well-beloved, almost fell from the
fingers of Agnes. They looked at each other with blank faces--they
listened in horror to the charge of artillery immediately discharged
upon their door--nobody had self-possession to apprehend Susan on the
way, and exhort her to remember the best room. And Susan, greatly
fluttered, forgot the sole use of this sacred apartment. They all stood
dismayed, deeply sensible of the tea upon the table, and the
extraordinary confusion of the room, when suddenly into the midst of
them, radiant and splendid, floated Mrs Edgerley--Mayfair come to visit
Bellevue.



CHAPTER XXXII.

A GREAT VISITOR.


Mayfair came in, radiant, blooming, splendid, with a rustle of silks, a
flutter of feathers, an air of fragrance, like a fairy creature not to
be molested by the ruder touches of fortune or the world. Bellevue stood
up to receive her in the person of Mrs Atheling, attired in a black silk
gown which had seen service, and hastily setting down a cup of tea from
her hand. The girls stood between the two, an intermediate world,
anxious and yet afraid to interpret between them; for Marian’s beautiful
hair had fallen down upon her white neck, and Agnes’s collar had been
pulled awry, and her pretty muslin dress sadly crushed and broken by the
violent hands of Bell and Beau. The very floor on which Mrs Edgerley’s
pretty foot pressed the much-worn carpet, was strewed with little frocks
for those unruly little people. The sofa was occupied by three bonnets,
and Mamma’s new dress hung over the back of the easy-chair. You may
laugh at this account of it, but Mamma, and Marian, and Agnes were a
great deal more disposed to cry at the reality. To think that, of all
days in the world, this great lady should have chosen to come to-day!

“Now, pray don’t let me disturb anything. Oh, I am so delighted to find
you quite at home! It is quite kind of you to let me come in,” cried Mrs
Edgerley--“and indeed you need not introduce me. When one has read _Hope
Hazlewood_, one knows your mamma. Oh, that charming, delightful book!
Now, confess you are quite proud of her. I am sure you must be.”

“She is a very good girl,” said Mrs Atheling doubtfully, flattered, but
not entirely pleased--“and we are very deeply obliged to Mrs Edgerley
for the kindness she has shown to our girls.”

“Oh, I have been quite delighted,” said Mayfair; “but pray don’t speak
in the third person. How charmingly fragrant your tea is!--may I have
some? How delightful it must be to be able to keep rational hours. What
lovely children! What beautiful darlings! Are they really yours?”

“My youngest babies,” said Bellevue, somewhat stiffly, yet a little
moved by the question. “We have just come in, and were fatigued. Agnes,
my dear!”

But Agnes was already gone, seizing the opportunity to amend her
collar, while Marian put away the bonnets, and cleared the parcels from
the feet of Mrs Edgerley. With this pretty figure half-bending before
her, and the other graceful cup-bearer offering her the homely
refreshment she had asked for, Mrs Edgerley, though quite aware of it,
did not think half so much as Mrs Atheling did about their “rank in
life.” The great lady was not at all nervous on this subject, but was
most pleasantly and meritoriously conscious, as she took her cup of tea
from the hand of Agnes, that by so doing she set them all “at their
ease.”

“And pray, do tell me now,” said Mrs Edgerley, “how you manage in this
quarter, so far from everything? It is quite delightful, half as good as
a desolate island--such a pretty, quiet place! You must come to the
Willows--I have quite made up my mind and settled it: indeed, you must
come--so many people are dying to know you. And I must have your mamma
know,” said the pretty flutterer, turning round to Mrs Atheling with
that air of irresistible caprice and fascinating despotism which was the
most amazing thing in the world to the family mother, “that no one ever
resists me: I am always obeyed, I assure you. Oh, you _must_ come; I
consider it quite a settled thing. Town gets so tiresome just at this
time--don’t you think so? I always long for the Willows--for it is
really the sweetest place, and in the country one cares so much more for
one’s home.”

“You are very kind,” said Mrs Atheling, not knowing what other answer to
make, and innocently supposing that her visitor had paused for a reply.

“Oh, I assure you, nothing of the kind--perfectly selfish, on the
contrary,” said Mrs Edgerley, with a sweet smile. “I shall be so charmed
with the society of my young friends. I quite forgot to ask if you were
musical. We have the greatest little genius in the world at the Willows.
Such a voice!--it is a shame to hide such a gift in a drawing-room. She
is--a sort of connection--of papa’s family. I say it is very good of him
to acknowledge her even so far, for people seldom like to remember their
follies; but of course the poor child has no position, and I
have even been blamed for having her in my house. She is quite a
genius--wonderful: she ought to be a singer--it is quite her duty--but
such a shy foolish young creature, and not to be persuaded. What
charming tea! I am quite refreshed, I assure you. Oh, pray, do not
disturb anything. I am so pleased you have let me come when you were
_quite_ at home. Now, Tuesday, remember! We shall have a delightful
little party. I know you will quite enjoy it. Good-by, little darlings.
On Tuesday, my love; you must on no account forget the day.”

“But I am afraid they will only be a trouble--and they are not used to
society,” said Mrs Atheling, rising hastily before her visitor should
have quite flown away; “they have never been away from home. Excuse
me--I am afraid----”

“Oh, I assure you, nobody ever resists me,” cried Mrs Edgerley,
interrupting this speech; “I never hear such a naughty word as No. It is
not possible--you cannot conceive how it would affect me; I should break
my heart! It is quite decided--oh, positively it is--Tuesday--I shall so
look forward to it! And a charming little party we shall be--not too
many, and _so_ congenial! I shall quite long for the day.”

Saying which, Mrs Edgerley took her departure, keeping up her stream of
talk while they all attended her to the door, and suffering no
interruption. Mrs Atheling was by no means accustomed to so dashing and
sudden an assault. She began slowly to bring up her reasons for
declining the invitation as the carriage rolled away, carrying with it
her tacit consent. She was quite at a loss to believe that this visit
was real, as she returned into the encumbered parlour--such haste,
patronage, and absoluteness were entirely out of Mrs Atheling’s way.

“I have no doubt she is very kind,” said the good mother, puzzled and
much doubting; “but I am not at all sure that I approve of her--indeed,
I think I would much rather you did not go.”

“But she will expect us, mamma,” said Agnes.

That was unquestionable. Mrs Atheling sat very silent all the remainder
of the day, pondering much upon this rapid and sudden visitation, and
blaming herself greatly for her want of readiness. And then the “poor
child” who had no position, and whose duty it was to be a singer, was
she a proper person to breathe the same air as Agnes and Marian?
Bellevue was straiter in its ideas than Mayfair. The mother reflected
with great self-reproach and painful doubts; for the girls were so
pleased with the prospect, and it was so hard to deny them the expected
pleasure. Mrs Atheling at last resigned herself with a sigh. “If you
must go, I expect you to take great care whom you associate with,” said
Mrs Atheling, very pointedly; and she sent off their new purchases
up-stairs, and gave her whole attention, with a certain energy and
impatience, to the clearing of the room. This had not been by any means
a satisfactory day.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

GOING FROM HOME.


“My dear children,” said Mrs Atheling solemnly, “you have never been
from home before.”

Suddenly arrested by the solemnity of this preamble, the girls
paused--they were just going up-stairs to their own room on the last
evening before setting out for the Willows. Marian’s pretty arms were
full of a collection of pretty things, white as the great apron with
which Susan had girded her. Agnes carried her blotting-book, two or
three other favourite volumes, and a candle. They stood in their pretty
sisterly conjunction, almost leaning upon each other, waiting with
youthful reverence for the address which Mamma was about to deliver. It
was true they were leaving home for the first time, and true also that
the visit was one of unusual importance. They prepared to listen with
great gravity and a little awe.

“My dears, I have no reason to distrust your good sense,” said Mrs
Atheling, “nor indeed to be afraid of you in any way--but to be in a
strange house is very different from being at home. Strangers will not
have the same indulgence as we have had for all your fancies--you must
not expect it; and people may see that you are of a different rank in
life, and perhaps may presume upon you. You must be very careful. You
must not copy Mrs Edgerley, or any other lady, but _observe_ what they
do, and rule yourselves by it; and take great care what acquaintances
you form; for even in such a house as that,” said Mamma, with emphasis
and dignity, suddenly remembering the “connection of the family” of whom
Mrs Edgerley had spoken, “there may be some who are not fit companions
for you.”

“Yes, mamma,” said Agnes. Marian looked down into the apronful of lace
and muslin, and answered nothing. A variable blush and as variable a
smile testified to a little consciousness on the part of the younger
sister. Agnes for once was the more matter-of-fact of the two.

“At your time of life,” continued the anxious mother, “a single day may
have as much effect as many years. Indeed, Marian, my love, it is
nothing to smile about. You must be very careful; and, Agnes, you are
the eldest--you must watch over your sister. Oh, take care!--you do not
know how much harm might be done in a single day.”

“Take care of what, mamma?” said Marian, glancing up quickly, with that
beautiful faint blush, and a saucy gleam in her eye. What do you suppose
she saw as her beautiful eyes turned from her mother with a momentary
imaginative look into the vacant space? Not the big head of Charlie,
bending over the grammars, but the magnificent stature of Sir Langham
Portland, drawn up in sentry fashion by her side; and at the
recollection Marian’s pretty lip could not refuse to smile.

“Hush, my dear!--you may easily know what I mean,” said Mrs Atheling
uneasily. “You must try not to be awkward or timid; but you must not
forget how great a difference there is between Mrs Edgerley’s friends
and you.”

“Nonsense, Mary,” cried her husband, energetically. “No such thing,
girls. Don’t be afraid to let them know who you are, or who you belong
to. But as for inferiority, if you yield to such a notion, you are no
girls of mine! One of the Riverses! A pretty thing! _You_, at least, can
tell any one who asks the question that your father is an honest man.”

“But I suppose, papa, no one is likely to have any doubt upon the
subject,” said Agnes, with a little spirit. “It will be time enough to
publish that when some one questions it; and that, I am sure, was not
what mamma meant.”

“No, my love, of course not,” said Mamma, who was somewhat agitated.
“What I meant is, that you are going to people whom we used to know--I
mean, whom we know nothing of. They are great people--a great deal
richer and higher in station than we are; and it is possible Papa may be
brought into contact with them about the Old Wood Lodge; and you are
young and inexperienced, and don’t know the dangers you may be subjected
to;--and, my dear children, what I have to say to you is, just to
remember your duty, and read your Bibles, and take care!”

“Mamma! we are only going to Richmond--we are not going away from you,”
cried Marian in dismay.

“My dears,” said Mrs Atheling, putting her handkerchief to her eyes, “I
am an old woman--I know more than you do. You cannot tell where you are
going; you are going into the world.”

No one spoke for the moment. The young travellers themselves looked at
their mother with concern and a little solemnity. Who could tell? All
the young universe of romance lay at their very feet. They might be
going to their fate.

“And henceforward I know,” said the good mother, rising into homely and
unconscious dignity, “our life will no longer be your boundary, nor our
plans all your guidance. My darlings, it is not any fault of yours; you
are both as obedient as when you were babies; it is Providence, and
comes to every one. You are going away from me, and both your lives may
be determined before you come back again. You, Marian! it is not your
fault, my love; but, oh! take care.”

Under the pressure of this solemn and mysterious caution, the girls at
length went up-stairs. Very gravely they entered the little white room,
which was somewhat disturbed out of its usual propriety, and in
respectful silence Marian began to arrange her burden. She sat down upon
the white bed, with her great white apron full of snowy muslin and
dainty morsels of lace, stooping her beautiful head over them, with her
long bright hair falling down at one side like a golden framework to her
sweet cheek. Agnes stood before her holding the candle. Both were
perfectly grave, quite silent, separating the sleeves and kerchiefs and
collars as if it were the most solemn work in the world.

At length suddenly Marian looked up. In an instant smiles irrestrainable
threaded all the soft lines of those young faces. A momentary electric
touch sent them both from perfect solemnity into saucy and conscious but
subdued laughter. “Agnes! what do you suppose mamma could mean?” asked
Marian; and Agnes said “Hush!” and softly closed the door, lest Mamma
should hear the low and restrained overflow of those sudden sympathetic
smiles. Once more the apparition of the magnificent Sir Langham gleamed
somewhere in a bright corner of Marian’s shining eye. These incautious
girls, like all their happy kind, could not be persuaded to regard with
any degree of terror or solemnity the fate that came in such a shape as
this.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

EVERYBODY’S FANCIES.


But the young adventurers had sufficient time to speculate upon their
“fate,” and to make up their minds whether this journey of theirs was
really a fortnight’s visit to Richmond, or a solemn expedition into the
world, as they drove along the pleasant summer roads on their way to the
Willows. They had leisure enough, but they had not inclination; they
were somewhat excited, but not at all solemnised. They thought of the
unknown paradise to which they were going--of their beautiful patroness
and her guests; but they never paused to inquire, as they bowled
pleasantly along under the elms and chestnuts, anything at all about
their fate.

“How grave every one looked,” said Marian. “What are all the people
afraid of? for I am sure Miss Willsie wanted us to go, though she was so
cross; and poor Harry Oswald, how he looked last night!”

At this recollection Marian smiled. To tell the truth, she was at
present only amused by the gradual perception dawning upon her of the
unfortunate circumstances of these young gentlemen. She might never have
found it out had she known only Harry Oswald; but Sir Langham Portland
threw light upon the subject which Marian had scarcely guessed at
before. Do you think she was grateful on that account to the handsome
Guardsman? Marian’s sweet face brightened all over with amused
half-blushing smiles. It was impossible to tell.

“But, Marian,” said Agnes, “I want to be particular about one thing. We
must not deceive any one. Nobody must suppose we are great ladies. If
anything _should_ happen of any importance, we must be sure to tell who
we are.”

“That you are the author of _Hope Hazlewood_,” said Marian, somewhat
provokingly. “Oh! Mrs Edgerley will tell everybody that; and as for me,
I am only your sister--nobody will mind me.”

So they drove on under the green leaves, which grew less and less dusty
as they left London in the distance, through the broad white line of
road, now and then passing by orchards rich with fruit--by suburban
gardens and pretty villakins of better fashion than their own; now and
then catching silvery gleams of the river quivering among its low green
banks, like a new-bended bow. They knew as little where they were going
as what was to befall them there, and were as unapprehensive in the one
case as in the other. At home the mother went about her daily business,
pondering with a mother’s anxiety upon all the little embarrassments and
distresses which might surround them among strangers, and seeing in her
motherly imagination a host of pleasant perils, half alarming, half
complimentary, a crowd of admirers and adorers collected round her
girls. At Messrs Cash and Ledger’s, Papa brooded over his desk, thinking
somewhat darkly of those innocent investigators whom he had sent forth
into an old world of former connections, unfortified against the ancient
grudge, if such existed, and unacquainted with the ancient story. Would
anything come of this acquaintanceship? Would anything come of the new
position which placed them once more directly in the way of Lord
Winterbourne? Papa shook his head slowly over his daybook, as ignorant
as the rest of us what might have to be written upon the fair blank of
the very next page--who could tell?

Charlie meanwhile, at Mr Foggo’s office, buckled on his harness this
important morning with a double share of resolution. As his brow rolled
down with all its furrows in a frown of defiance at the “old fellow”
whom he took down from the wired bookcase, it was not the old fellow,
but Lord Winterbourne, against whom Charlie bit his thumb. In the depths
of his heart he wished again that this natural enemy might “only try!”
to usurp possession of the Old Wood Lodge. A certain excitement
possessed him regarding the visit of his sisters. Once more the youth,
in his hostile imagination, beheld the pale face at the door, the
bloodless and spasmodic smile. “I knew I owed him something,” muttered
once more the instinctive enmity; and Charlie was curious and excited to
come once more in contact with this mysterious personage who had raised
so active and sudden an interest in his secret thoughts.

But the two immediate actors in this social drama--the family doves of
inquiry, who might bring back angry thorns instead of olive
branches--the innocent sweet pioneers of the incipient strife, went on
untroubled in their youthful pleasure, looking at the river and the
sunshine, dreaming the fairy dreams of youth. What new life they verged
and bordered--what great consequences might grow and blossom from the
seedtime of to-day--how their soft white hands, heedless and
unconscious, might touch the trembling strings of fate--no one of all
these anxious questions ever entered the charmed enclosure of this
homely carriage, where they leant back into their several corners, and
sung to themselves, in unthinking sympathy with the roll and hum of the
leisurely wheels, conveying them on and on to their new friends and
their future life. They were content to leave all questions of the kind
to a more suitable season--and so, singing, smiling, whispering (though
no one was near to interrupt them), went on, on their charmed way, with
their youth and their light hearts, to Armida and her enchanted
garden--to the world, with its syrens and its lions--forecasting no
difficulties, seeing no evil. They had no day-book to brood over like
Papa. To-morrow’s magnificent blank of possibility was always before
them, dazzling and glorious--they went forward into it with the freshest
smile and the sweetest confidence. Of all the evils and perils of this
wicked world, which they had heard so much of, they knew none which
they, in their happy safety, were called upon to fear.

END OF VOL. I.

PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.





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