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Title: Miss Esperance and Mr Wycherly
Author: Harker, L. Allen (Lizzie Allen)
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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                          *MISS ESPERANCE AND
                              MR WYCHERLY*


                                   BY

                            L. ALLEN HARKER

           AUTHOR OF "A ROMANCE OF THE NURSERY," "CONCERNING
              PAUL AND FIAMMETTA," "HIS FIRST LEAVE," ETC.



                                NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
                                  1908



                          COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                       Published September, 1908



                       *BOOKS BY L. ALLEN HARKER*

                  PUBLISHED BY CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                    Miss Esperance and Mr. Wycherly
                            His First Leave
                     Concerning Paul and Fiammetta
                        A Romance of the Nursery



                               *CONTENTS*

CHAPTER

      I. Which Introduces Them
     II. The Coming of the Children
    III. The Education of Mr. Wycherly
     IV. The Secretiveness of Mause
      V. Robina
     VI. The Awakening of Mr. Wycherly
    VII. Elsa Drives the Nail Home
   VIII. Edmund Rechristens Mr. Wycherly
     IX. Cupid Abroad
      X. The Sabbath
     XI. Loaves and Fishes
    XII. The Village
   XIII. A Meeting
    XIV. A Parting
     XV. The Bethune Temperament
    XVI. The Coming of the Colonel
   XVII. Mr. Wycherly Goes Into Society
  XVIII. Montagu and His Aunt
    XIX. The Fond Adventure
     XX. A Question of Theology
    XXI. In which Mr. Wycherly Hangs Up His College Arms
   XXII. Vale



"_Love is an excellent thing, a great good indeed, which alone maketh
light all that is burthensome and equally bears all that is unequal.
For it carrieth a burthen without being burthened and maketh all that
which is bitter sweet and savoury._"



                          *MISS ESPERANCE AND
                             MR. WYCHERLY*



                              *CHAPTER I*

                        *WHICH INTRODUCES THEM*

And the kingdom of heaven is of the child-like, of those who are easy to
please, who love and who give pleasure.—R.L.S.


Just as a Royal Princess is known only by her Christian name, so "Miss
Esperance" was known to her many friends by hers.  It would have seemed
an impertinence to add anything more: there was only one Miss Esperance,
and even quite commonplace people, deficient in imagination and
generally prosaic in their estimate of their acquaintance, acknowledged,
perhaps unconsciously, that in Miss Esperance was to be found in marked
degree "that hardy and high serenity," distinguishing quality of the
truly great.

A little, old lady, her abundant white hair demurely parted under the
species of white muslin cap known in the North country as a "mutch,"
with beautiful, kind eyes, and a fresh pink-and-white complexion, having
a slim, long-waisted figure, always attired in garments something of a
cross between those of a Quakeress and a Sister-of-Mercy; a little, old
lady, who walked delicately and talked deliberately the English of Mr.
Addison; who lived in a small, square house set in a big, homely garden,
on an incredibly small income; and out of that income helped innumerable
people poorer than herself, to say nothing of much greater
responsibilities undertaken at an age when most of us look for rest and
a quiet life.

Long before there was a village of Burnhead at all, that small stone
house had stood four-square to all the winds of heaven, and winds are
boisterous in that cold North.  So lonely had it been—that little
house—that far back, beyond the memory of even hearsay it had been
called "Remote."  Now the village had crept up round it, but still it
stood just a little aloof, alone in its green garden at the end of the
straggling village street.  And it seemed a singularly suitable setting
for Miss Esperance who, also, by reason of her breeding and her
dignified, dainty ways, moved wholly unconsciously and gracefully on a
somewhat different plane from that of the homely folk amongst whom she
spent her simple days.

Such was Miss Esperance; regarded by the inhabitants of her own village,
and those of the big town on whose outskirts it lay, with something of
the possessive pride with which they looked upon their famous Castle.

And then there was Mr. Wycherly.

For some years he had lived with Miss Esperance, occupying two rooms on
the first floor.  A very learned man was he, absorbed in the many books
which lined his little sitting-room.  Something of a collector, too,
with a discriminating affection for first editions and a knowledge
concerning them excelling that of Mr. Donaldson himself, the great
second-hand dealer.

The attitude of Miss Esperance toward Mr. Wycherly somewhat resembled
that of Miss Betsy Trotwood to Mr. Dick, with this difference—that Mr.
Wycherly’s lapses from a condition of erudite repose were only
occasional. He had what Miss Esperance tenderly called "one foible."  On
occasion, particularly at such times as he left the safe shelter of the
village on a book-hunting expedition in the neighbouring town, "he
exceeded"—again to quote Miss Esperance—the temperate tumbler of toddy
and single glass of port which she accorded him; and would return in a
state of boisterous hilarity, which caused Elsa, the serving-woman, to
shake her head and mutter something about "haverals" on his first
wavering appearance at the far end of the garden path which led to the
front door.

Then would she march upstairs and sternly "turn down" his bed;
descending hastily again and, in spite of his protests, trundle him up
the staircase, divest him of his boots, nor leave him till he was safe
between the sheets. There he continued to sing lustily till he fell
asleep.

He was never otherwise than courteous in his cups; but at such times his
usually austere manner would unbend, and he would compare Elsa—who was
older than Miss Esperance and extremely hard-favoured—to sundry heathen
goddesses, eulogising her eyes and her complexion, and interspersing his
compliments with sonorous Latin quotations; for, like Mr. Addison, "his
knowledge of the Latin poets, from Lucretius and Catullus down to
Claudian and Prudentius, was singularly exact and profound."

Even when most mirthful he sang only two songs, "Here’s a Health Unto
His Majesty" and "Down Among the Dead Men."  In his more sober moments
he professed entire ignorance of music.

There were people who said that he was a descendant of the Mr. Wycherly
who wrote plays, but he was never heard to claim any such relationship.
When he first came to live with Miss Esperance his family and hers
almost despaired of him, and even talked of putting him "in a home"; for
his "foible" had become a habit, and health and brain were both
seriously affected.  Then Miss Esperance suggested that he should come
to her, and he and his relatives were only too glad to fall in with the
suggestion.  What he could pay would make things easier for her, and
she, if any one in the world, might reclaim him.  But if his friends
thought to make things more comfortable for Miss Esperance by the
quarterly payments they made for his board and lodging, they were very
far wrong.  She deducted a few shillings for his rooms, but the rest was
most religiously expended upon Mr. Wycherly; and as his health improved
and the fine, keen, scholarly brain reasserted itself, he was only too
glad to leave everything to Miss Esperance, never concerning himself so
much as to order a pair of boots unless she accompanied him to be
measured.

He "exceeded" less and less; his vocal exercises were confined to some
four times in the year, and Miss Esperance rejoiced over him as a
book-lover rejoices over some rare folio rescued from the huckster’s
stall to play an honoured part among "the chosen and the mighty of every
place and time."

"It is of inestimable advantage to me to be able to listen daily to the
instructive conversation of so cultivated a man as my good friend Mr.
Wycherly," Miss Esperance would say.  "He seems to comprise in his own
person the trained intelligence of the ages."

And no matter to whomsoever she said it, he would bow gravely and look
impressed.  It was surprising what beautiful manners quite uncouth
people developed in the society of Miss Esperance.

She had many relations in high places, and all who crossed her threshold
were her life-long friends, eager to serve her, but she would accept
pecuniary assistance from none of them.

She and Elsa, the faithful servant and friend of some fifty years,
cooked and washed and gardened, caught and groomed the shaggy pony in
the little paddock, and cleaned the queer little carriage in which Miss
Esperance used to drive into Edinburgh, with a shawl pinned over her
bonnet, on cold days, to protect her ears.

She and Elsa seldom tasted meat except on Sundays.  "A man, my dear, is
different," she would say, when chops were frizzling for Mr. Wycherly;
but she always had a meal for a friend, and a good and daintily served
meal it was!

When you stayed with Miss Esperance, Elsa would put her head into your
bedroom—it seemed in the small hours—demanding loudly, "Will ye tak’ a
herring or an egg to your breakfast?"  And you were wise if you chose
the herring, for herrings "brandered" by Elsa were of a succulence
unknown to ordinary mortals.

It fell upon a time during Mr. Wycherly’s sojourn that one Archie, a
young nephew of Miss Esperance, came to visit them, and in no time the
jolly young middy, whose ship was anchored at Leith, had made a conquest
of them, all three, with his youth, and good looks, and kindly, cheery
ways.

Mr. Wycherly heard that a first edition of "Beaumont and Fletcher" was
to be seen at some bookseller’s in the new town, and set forth early
with five pounds in his pocket, to see if he could secure such a find.

The day waned, and still no Mr. Wycherly returned triumphant to display
his treasure before the admiring eyes of Miss Esperance and "that vastly
agreeable youth," as he styled Archie.

Miss Esperance visibly grew more and more anxious, and Archie, who was
quite ignorant of Mr. Wycherly’s "foible," wondered why his aunt should
concern herself that a dignified middle-aged gentleman had not returned
by five o’clock on a spring afternoon.  So perturbed did she become that
Archie volunteered to go and look for him.

His aunt hesitated, then said slowly, "Dear Archie, I am not sure
whether it would be right to let you go.  You are very young, and poor
dear Mr. Wycherly——"

"Hoots, Miss Esperance," interrupted Elsa from the half-open door, where
she had been listening in the most barefaced fashion, "just let the
laddie gang: he is better suited to see after yon puir drucken body than
you are yersel’!"

With that blessed reticence which characterises all honest and
well-disposed boys, Archie asked no questions.  The whole situation
"jumped to the eye"; so, kissing his aunt, he seized his jaunty cap and
was gone before Miss Esperance recovered from her wonder and indignation
at Elsa’s "meddling."

Archie walked smartly, keeping a sharp lookout to right and left till he
reached the outskirts of the town: but he met nobody other than an
occasional drover.

Presently he became aware of a little crowd which surrounded some one
who was apparently sitting on the curbstone and singing.

The group of rough lads and fisher-girls joined derisively in the chorus
of the song, marking the time by means of various missiles more
calculated to soil than to injure their target.

With a sense of foreboding curiosity as the discordant "Fal-la-la, la,
la la, la" smote upon his ears, Archie squeezed himself into the press
under the arms of its taller members, and to his dismay discovered Mr.
Wycherly—hatless, almost coatless, dirty and dishevelled—endeavouring to
sing "Here’s a Health Unto His Majesty" in very adverse circumstances.

Archie pushed through to his side, saying haughtily, "Don’t you see that
the gentleman is drunk?  Be off, and let me take him home."

But the lads and lassies by no means saw it in that light, and in less
time than it takes to write the sentence Archie was engaged
single-handed in a free fight with all and sundry, and there seemed
every likelihood of his getting decidedly the worst of it.

Fortune favours the brave, however, and a big collier lad, who had been
the first to point out Mr. Wycherly’s peculiarities of gait and costume
to his companions, suddenly sided with Archie, and not only did he
succeed in dispersing his quondam friends, but he fetched a "hackney
coach" and lifted Mr. Wycherly bodily into it.

The "Beaumont and Fletcher" had proved to be a reprint, and Mr. Wycherly
had drowned his sorrows in the flowing bowl.

                     *      *      *      *      *

At twenty-two, with nothing but his pay to live upon, Archie married a
pretty girl whose face was her sole fortune.  Two charming little boys
were born to them in the next seven years, then Archie and his wife both
died of typhoid fever at Portsmouth.

There were no living near relatives on either side, but kindly strangers
forwarded a letter, written by Archie a week before his death, to Miss
Esperance.

She was then nearly seventy years old, but in this matter she did not
even consult Mr. Wycherly.  She merely informed him of what had
occurred, and announced her speedy departure for Portsmouth "to fetch
dear Archie’s children home."

She had not left her own house for a single night in fifteen years.

Mr. Wycherly took her frail, beautiful old hand in his and raised it to
his lips.  As he laid it down, he said beseechingly, "You will let me
act as joint guardian with you to Archie’s children?  I will undertake
the education of those boys myself—it will be a great interest for me."

"They will indeed be fortunate boys!" said Miss Esperance, and she
raised such beautiful, trustful eyes to her old friend that he was fain
to kiss her hand again and hasten from the room.

Shortly afterward he left the house and might have been seen hurrying
along the road in the direction of Edinburgh, with a large and seemingly
heavy parcel under his arm.

He was not long away, and he walked steady and straight, but all the
same he sang softly under his breath, "and he that will this health
deny," as he shut the garden gate with a clang and hurried toward the
house.

Miss Esperance was standing in the little hall dressed for driving,
looking pale and perturbed.  She, too, had a parcel, a small square
parcel, and Elsa was evidently remonstrating, for Mr. Wycherly heard her
say as he came up: "It’s just fair redeeklus, and onny o’ them would be
just prood to be askit—an’ me wi’ all yon wages lyin’ idle i’ the bank
these thirty year!"

She paused abruptly as Mr. Wycherly appeared in the open door.  Elsa had
sharp ears in spite of her years, and the last "let him lie" sent her up
the staircase as fast as her old legs would carry her.

"Miss Esperance," said Mr. Wycherly, "we start this afternoon.  See, I
have bought the tickets," and he waved them triumphantly. "I have made
all our arrangements.  We shall reach Portsmouth about midday to-morrow,
and there is plenty of money for present expenses, so please—" he took
the little square parcel from her very gently, and reached it up to
Elsa, who stood on the top step of the curly staircase.  Through the
paper he felt it was the little leather jewel-case that had been her
mother’s.  "We could not allow that, Miss Esperance!" he continued.
"Journeys are a man’s business."

Miss Esperance sat down on the only chair in the hall and began to cry.

Next day, when they were far away, and Elsa was dusting Mr. Wycherly’s
books—he took them out and dusted them himself three times a week; there
were no glass doors, for he said he could not bear "to see his friends
through a window"—she came on several gaps in the well-filled shelves.
"The right edition of Gerard" was nowhere to be seen.  The long row of
"kind-hearted play-books" was loose in the shelf, for "Philip Massinger"
was a-missing. And in the sacred place devoted to "first folios" there
was a yawning chasm.

Elsa paused, duster in hand.  "She maun never ken," she whispered.
"They buiks was more to him than her braws is tae a woman. She maun
never ken."



                              *CHAPTER II*

                      *THE COMING OF THE CHILDREN*

    A sudden rush from the stairway,
      A sudden raid from the hall;
    By three doors left unguarded
      They enter my castle wall.
        LONGFELLOW.


Elsa had barely finished dusting Mr. Wycherly’s books when Lady Alicia
Carruthers walked over from the "big hoose" to see if she could be of
any use.  People found Elsa more approachable in this respect than Miss
Esperance, and often seized such times as they had seen the mistress
pass in her little pony carriage to tackle the maid, as to whether
anything could be done to increase the old lady’s comfort, without her
knowledge.

And now that the news of her journey, and its reason, had flamed through
the village with all the wonder of a torchlight procession, it was only
what Miss Esperance herself would have described as "fitting" that the
chief lady in it should be first in the field to offer her services.

Very managing was Lady Alicia, strong, kind-hearted, dictatorial; mother
of many children and inclined to regard all the rest of the world as
being equally in need of supervision.

"What on earth will she do with two wee things like that?" she cried to
Elsa, as that worthy met her in the passage.  "One’s but a baby, isn’t
he?"

"Two years and one month," answered Elsa cheerfully; "he’ll be walkin’
onnyway."

"You know the little room leading from Miss Esperance’s into the
passage, you must put them both there," said Lady Alicia decidedly.
"Have you got any beds?  But of course you haven’t.  I’ll send a bed for
the older boy and a crib for the baby, and bedding, and sheets, and I’ve
found the very girl to look after them—Robina Tod, a good douce
lassie—you’ll remember her mother, Elsa?"

"I ken her fine," said Elsa slowly.  "But yer Leddyship, d’ye think Miss
Esperance will consent?  And where would the lassie sleep?"

"Miss Esperance just must consent.  Robina will be thankful to come to
get trained and for her food, and she must come at six in the morning,
and go home at night to sleep, after they are bedded.  You must manage
Miss Esperance in this, Elsa—she will be so bewildered at having
children here at all at first, that you’ll find it easier than you
expect. What does she know of the wants of little children?  Just you
tell her that you made arrangements because she hadn’t time."

Elsa stood fingering her apron, and made no answer, nor did she look at
Lady Alicia, who was looking hard at her.

"Come, now, Elsa, you know there’s nothing for it but to give in
gracefully.  They must sleep somewhere, poor lambs, and you can’t put an
infant in a four-post bed."

"I’m thinkin’," said Elsa slowly, "that Master Montagu will have to
sleep in the big bed, for yon room will never hold three beds, and Miss
Esperance would never part wi’ yon that’s in there."

"Very well, then, I will only send the crib, and a bath, and Robina,
and—anything else that comes into my head.  You understand, Elsa?"

"I’ll no promise Miss Esperance’ll keep onny o’ it, but you’ll jest see.
If it pleases ye to send the bits o’ things, it’s no for me to say ye
nay."

Here Elsa raised her head and looked straight at Lady Alicia, and they
understood one another perfectly.

When, later in the afternoon, Robina, a rosy-cheeked lass of sixteen,
appeared in a spring cart along with the crib and a variety of other
useful things, Elsa received her with but grudging courtesy, and might
have been heard to mutter as she went about the house, "There’s some
folk that simply canna keep their fingers out o’ other folk’s business,
and the worst o’t is, that one must just thole’t."

                     *      *      *      *      *

It is one of the eternal verities that no man knows what he can do till
he tries.  Mr. Wycherly suddenly developed a "handiness" with regard to
babies that surprised himself, and caused Miss Esperance to regard him
with almost worshipful astonishment.

Montagu, the elder boy, fitted into his new surroundings at once.  He
was a thoughtful, dreamy child, gentle and biddable, with an inborn love
of books that immediately endeared him to Mr. Wycherly.  But the baby,
Edmund, was a strenuous person of inquiring mind, who toddled and
crawled and tumbled into every corner of the little house; who poked his
fat fingers into the mustard, the ink, and the mangle, impartially; who
pulled Mr. Wycherly’s heaviest books out of the shelves, and built a
tower with them, which fell upon and almost buried him in the ruins,
whence, howling dismally, he was rescued by Mr. Wycherly himself, only
consenting to be comforted when that gentleman "gappled" with him round
the garden, Edmund sitting enthroned upon his shoulders, and admonishing
him to "gee up."

"Walking" indeed!  I should think he was walking—swarming, climbing,
crawling, tumbling in every unimaginable direction, and celebrating his
innumerable accidents by vociferous outcries which invariably brought
the whole household to his assistance.  Robina, who in spite of Elsa’s
fears had been retained as the children’s attendant, declared that
Master Edmund was "ayont her," but Elsa, manifesting a wholly unexpected
toleration for mischief of all kinds, declared him to be a "wee, stumpin
stoozie" after her own heart.

Lady Alicia proved to be right.  Miss Esperance on her return with the
children expressed no objection to any of the preparations they had made
for her.  Furthermore, she accepted gratefully, and with a dignified
humility very affecting to those who knew her, the offers of "help with
the children" that poured in upon her from all sides.

"For myself it was only fitting that I should be somewhat reserved," she
gently explained to Elsa when that honest woman exclaimed in surprise at
her meek acceptance of so much neighbourly "interference," "but dear
Archie’s children are different, I have no right to refuse kindness
toward them: and my good friends have been so wonderfully kind—and as
for you, Elsa, you are the most wonderful of all—look how little Edmund
loves you!"

Elsa exclaimed, "tuts havers!" and hastened back to the kitchen, where
she relieved her feelings by making more of the gingerbread "pussies"
beloved of Baby Edmund.

Mr. Wycherly found his learned leisure considerably curtailed by the new
arrivals.  Both Montagu and Edmund (it was curiously characteristic of
the household that the children were "Montagu" and "Edmund" from the
very first, never "Monty" or "Baby") infinitely preferred his society to
that of Robina, even though she was so much nearer their own age.
Children are very quick to see where they may tyrannise, and gentle,
scholarly Mr. Wycherly, who had loved few people, and those few so
dearly, fell an easy victim to "dear Archie’s boys."

Montagu was called after him, but if on this score the elder boy may
seem to have had more claim on his attention than Baby Edmund, the
little brother made up in what Montagu called "demandliness," what he
may have lacked in legitimate pretension.

Even in a very large house it is impossible to conceal the presence of
children.  They are of all human creatures the most ubiquitous, the
least repressible.  Wherever they are they betray themselves in a
thousand ways no foresight can presage.  Their very belongings seem
possessed of their own all-pervading spirit, and toys and small shed
garments have a way of turning up in the most unlikely places.

When, three days after the little boys arrived at Remote, Mr. Wycherly
discovered an absurd small glove, with holes in every finger, shut
inside the "Third Satire of Horace," he remembered to have heard Elsa
loudly rebuking the lass, Robina, for having suffered it to get lost. He
took it out and looked at it, fingering it with wistful wonder and
tenderness: then, almost guiltily he put it back again and closed the
book, apologising to himself with the reflection that it really was
quite worn out.

The spare bedroom with the four-post bed was next to Mr. Wycherly’s
bedroom, and as it was the only room in Remote that was possible as a
night nursery, he heard in the early morning all sorts of mysterious
sounds connected with the toilet of the two small boys. The little high
voices: Baby Edmund’s bubbling laugh that was exactly like the beginning
of a thrush’s song: equally often, Baby Edmund’s noisy outcries when
things displeased him: Robina’s pleadings, and the gentle counsels of
Miss Esperance—all these things smote upon the ears of Mr. Wycherly as
he lay in bed waiting for the big can of hot water which, every morning,
Elsa dumped down outside his door that he might take the chill off his
bath. This matutinal bath being something of a grievance with Elsa, who
considered it as a part of Mr. Wycherly’s general "fushionlessness" that
he should require so much more washing than other folk.

Thus did she always set down the can with a thump, and perform a species
of tattoo on Mr. Wycherly’s door, exclaiming loudly, "Here’s yer bawth
watter—sir."  The "sir" always following after a pause, for it was only
added out of deference to continual admonishment on the part of Miss
Esperance, who thought that Elsa’s manner to Mr. Wycherly was frequently
lacking in respect, as indeed it was.  She could never be got to look
upon him as other than a poor, silly pensioner of her mistress.

A few days after the children arrived, Mr. Wycherly was awakened by the
voice of Edmund in the next room, vociferously demanding "man."  Mr.
Wycherly sat up in bed and listened.

"Want man, want to see man."

Murmured remonstrances from Robina, laboured explanations as to the
impossibility of beholding any man when he was still in his bed.

"Want man, want to see man," in tones ever growing louder and more
decided from Baby Edmund.

This went on for about half an hour, while all the time Mr. Wycherly lay
awake listening and longing to get up and join the little person who
showed so flattering a desire for his society; but that he dared not do
till Elsa brought his hot water.  At last it came: dumped down as usual
with a resounding impact with the floor, while Elsa knocked loudly with
her wonted vibrant announcement.

Mr. Wycherly was just preparing to get up when there were new and
strange sounds outside his door: rustlings and whisperings and curious
uncertain fumblings with the handle. Suddenly the door was pushed open
to show the children standing on the threshold behind the hot-water can.

"Man!  Man’!  Me see man in bed," cried Edmund, jumping up and down
gleefully.  He made a plunge forward to reach Mr. Wycherly, and of
course fell up against the can, which upset, while the baby capsized on
to the top of it.  The water was hot and the baby was very frightened.
So was Mr. Wycherly.  As loud wails rent the air he leaped out of bed to
rush to the rescue, only to skip back again with even greater haste as
he heard Elsa and Robina on the stairs.  Edmund was picked up and
carried off, Robina volubly explaining how she had only left them for a
minute.  Mr. Wycherly’s door was banged to, indignantly, as though he
was entirely to blame, and the hot water continued to stream gaily over
the carpet.

Mr. Wycherly stood in great awe of Elsa. Here was a most tremendous
mess, and so long as he was in bed no one could or would come to his
assistance.  He arose hastily, arrested the flow of the stream in one
direction with his big bath sponge, sopped up the water as well as he
could, and concluded the operation by the employment of all his towels.

Presently there came a new thump on his door.  "Have ye moppet it up?"
asked Elsa anxiously.

"As well as I could," Mr. Wycherly replied humbly.  "I don’t think it
will soak through to the room below."

"Pit oot the can an’ I’ll bring ye some mair hot watter—sir."  Standing
well behind the door Mr. Wycherly opened it gingerly and handed out the
can.  It was brought back full in no time, and again he heard Elsa’s
voice thus adjuring him, "Ye’d better mak a steer or yer breakfast will
be ruined—sir."

Poor Mr. Wycherly did his best to "mak a steer," but his towels were a
sodden mass, and it is not easy to dry one’s self, even with a selection
of the very largest handkerchiefs.  His toilet was assuredly less
careful than usual, for he was very anxious about little Edmund,
although the sounds of woe had ceased in a very short time after the
catastrophe of the hot-water can.  Mr. Wycherly’s sitting-room was
across the landing from his bedroom, but before he went to breakfast he
hastened downstairs to ask after Edmund’s welfare.

He knocked at the parlour door, and on being bidden to enter discovered
that lusty infant jumping up and down on the horse-hair sofa, while Miss
Esperance sat on its very edge to make sure that he should not take a
sudden dive on to the floor.

"I do hope he was not hurt—" Mr. Wycherly began.

"Man, man, me go to man!" Edmund cried before his aunt could answer; and
scrambling off the sofa he raced across the room to Mr. Wycherly; he
held up his arms exclaiming, "Uppee, uppee!" and of course was lifted
up. "Ta, ta," he remarked, smiling benignly upon Miss Esperance from
this eminence, "Me go wiv man."

He waved a fat hand to his aunt, and kicked Mr. Wycherly in the
waistcoat to hasten their departure.  Mr. Wycherly wavered.

"No, Edmund," said Miss Esperance, "you cannot go with Mr. Wycherly now,
he is going to his breakfast."

"Bretfus," echoed Edmund in joyful tones, "me go bretfus too, wiv man."
"I would like to come, too," Montagu interpolated, hastily clutching at
Mr. Wycherly’s coat.

"May I take them?" that gentleman pleaded. "It would be very agreeable
to have their society at breakfast."

"I doubt it," said Miss Esperance, "but since you are so very kind—for
this once—and if you find them too much, just ring."

The joyful procession was already mounting the steep, curly staircase,
and "Bretfus—man" resounded cheerily in the distance till Mr. Wycherly’s
door was shut.

Miss Esperance sat where she was on the edge of the sofa.  She was very
tired, for she had been up since five o’clock; moreover, her own
breakfast had been of the slightest, so busy was she superintending that
of the children.  Her head felt swimmy and the familiar room seemed
unreal and strange.  The sudden silence after the ceaseless and noisy
activity of Baby Edmund was restful and consoling.  Elsa and Robina were
upstairs busy making beds and emptying baths.

Miss Esperance felt so exhausted that she even folded her hands in her
lap and closed her eyes; a thing she never did in the day except
sometimes on a Sabbath afternoon.  She did not lean back, for she
belonged to that vanished school of old ladies who considered that to
loll was akin to something positively disreputable: bed was the only
place where it was proper to repose.  Sofas were for the invalid or the
indolent, and easy-chairs for men folk and such-like feeble spirits as
were indulgent to the frailties of the flesh.

"As thy days so shall thy strength be," whispered Miss Esperance.  The
precepts and promises by which she had ruled her gentle life did not
fail her now in her need: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew
their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run
and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint."

She opened her eyes.  Once more the room looked homely and familiar; the
pictures on the walls had ceased to chase each other in a giddy round.
She unclasped her hands and rose.  "I’d better go and see what those
bairns are doing," she thought to herself, "it’s not fair to leave them
with him for long."

She mounted the steep stairs and paused on the landing to listen.  The
only sound to be heard was a sort of munching.  Then, in Edmund’s
decisive voice, "Maw toas’."

Another pause.  "Bacon all dawn," in tones of sorrowful conviction.
Silence again for a minute, then, "Maw mink."

A gurgle, and a hasty movement, evidently on the part of Mr. Wycherly.
"He always pours it down his chin if he holds it himself," said Montagu,
in a slightly reproving voice.

A sound of rubbing.

"Toas’ all dawn," mournfully, from Edmund.

Miss Esperance opened the door.  The two children were sitting on either
side of Mr. Wycherly at his round table.  Edmund’s chubby face was
liberally besmeared with bacon fat, and the board had been cleared of
every sort of eatable except a small "heel" of loaf and a pot of
marmalade, which neither of the children liked.  It was Oxford marmalade
and very bitter.

"Have they been good?" Miss Esperance inquired anxiously.

Mr. Wycherly looked somewhat flushed and perturbed, but he hastened to
reply, "They have been model children—but—" here he hesitated, "do you
think they had enough to eat downstairs?  They seemed so exceedingly
hungry, and it would be so dreadful——"

"Hungry?" Miss Esperance repeated incredulously.  "Hungry?  They had
each a large bowl of porridge and milk, and bread and jam after that."

"Maw dam," Edmund immediately struck in; "’at nasty dam," and he pointed
a scornful fat finger at the pot of marmalade.

Here Robina appeared opportunely to take them for a walk.  Edmund roared
at the top of his voice at being reft from his beloved man. But Miss
Esperance was firm.

When Elsa had cleared away Mr. Wycherly’s breakfast, he found it
unusually difficult to concentrate his mind upon his great work dealing
with Aristotle’s Nikomachean Ethics.  Like Miss Esperance, he had had
very little breakfast. Two rashers of bacon had Elsa provided, and the
usual four pieces of toast.  Each little boy had had a rasher.  Edmund
had eaten three pieces of toast and Montagu the fourth. Edmund also
drank all the milk that he did not spill.  Mr. Wycherly was fain to
content himself with a cup of exceedingly black tea, and one small piece
of bread.  But he was quite unconscious that he had eaten less than
usual. So shaken was he out of his customary dreamy calm that he decided
to go for a walk.  He did not confess to himself that he hoped he might
meet the children while he was out.



                             *CHAPTER III*

                    *THE EDUCATION OF MR. WYCHERLY*

    For what are all our contrivings,
      And the wisdom of our books,
    When compared with your caresses,
      And the gladness of your looks?
        LONGFELLOW.


For several days Mr. Wycherly’s privacy was not again invaded before
breakfast, though he heard through the wall continual and loudly
expressed demands to visit "man" from his friend of the curly pate and
strap shoes.  One morning, however, Robina’s suspicions as to Edmund’s
propensity for roving were lulled into security by particularly
exemplary conduct on his part during the time of dressing; and she
slipped downstairs to give a hand with the breakfast, leaving the
children safety shut in their nursery.

No sooner had she departed than Montagu, of whom people expected better
things, suggested that they should go and visit Mr. Wycherly next door.
The morning hours had been so unusually quiet that that gentleman was
still dozing, although Elsa had already brought his hot water.  When he
heard the now unmistakable fumbling with the door handle, which always
proclaimed the advent of the children, he called out—"Come in, but for
heaven’s sake mind the hot-water can."

In they came without accident of any kind, as Elsa had taken the
precaution of placing the can well on the hinge side of the door.  Very
fresh and spick and span did the two little boys look in clean, blue
pinafores, and shining morning faces.  Edmund made a dash for Mr.
Wycherly, with his usual joyful cry of "Uppee! Uppee!"  Montagu hastily
banged the door after him to keep Robina out, and he, too, climbed up on
Mr. Wycherly’s bed.  The soft, indescribable fragrance of clean children
was supremely pleasurable to Mr. Wycherly, and excited strange,
unfamiliar stirrings of recollections, long buried but by no means dead,
of his own nursery days in the old house in Shropshire where he and his
brothers were brought up.

But there was no time to indulge in retrospect, for Edmund had already
settled the programme.  "Sing!" he commanded.  "Sing, man!"

"I fear," Mr. Wycherly said, somewhat breathlessly, for Edmund was
sitting upon that portion of his body known in sporting circles as "the
wind," "that I cannot sing, for I don’t know any songs."

"Say, zen, say, man," Edmund cried, jumping up and down upon poor Mr.
Wycherly’s yielding frame.

"He means you to say him a poem," Montagu explained.

Now of poetry Mr. Wycherly knew plenty, both in Greek and Latin and
English, but none of it seemed particularly suitable to the present
circumstances.  The only lines that came willingly to his call were—

    Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
    Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste,

which he felt would meet with but scant approval from his present
audience.

"Say ’ime, say ’ime, man!" cried Edmund, with an ominous droop of the
corners of his mouth.

"Say ’Hickory, dickory, dock," Montagu suggested kindly, "he likes
that—and you tickle him where it runs up, and where it runs down, and at
the end, you know."

"But I don’t know any poem called ’Hickory, dickory, dock," Mr. Wycherly
protested despairingly.

"Say ’ime, man!  Say dock!" Edmund persisted, punching Mr. Wycherly in
the chest to emphasise his wishes.  "Say dock.  Quit."

"I’ll whisper it to you," murmured the helpful Montagu, "it goes like
this—’Hickory, dickory, dock."

"Hickory, dickory, dock," Mr. Wycherly repeated dutifully and
distinctly.

"The mouse ran up the clock," Montagu continued.

"The mouse ran up the clock——"

"But you didn’t tickle him," Montagu interrupted.

Mr. Wycherly looked at Edmund, and Edmund looked with eager expectation
at Mr. Wycherly.

Now to tickle any one appeared to Mr. Wycherly a most unwarrantable
liberty.  Such a mode of procedure had never entered into his scheme of
life at all.  He was not even sure how he ought to set about it.  He
decided that tickling was altogether out of his province, and he would
not experiment, even upon Edmund.

He cleared his throat nervously.  "Ahem," said Mr. Wycherly, "Hickory,
dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock——"

"No!  No!" shouted Edmund.  "’E mouse ’an down."

"The mouse ran down the clock," echoed the obedient Mr. Wycherly.

"No, No," cried both the little boys.  "The clock struck one."  Here
Edmund gave a most tremendous bounce that really hurt Mr. Wycherly.

"Ve mouse ’an down," he continued, scrabbling with his fingers all over
Mr. Wycherly’s face, and seizing him by the collar of his night shirt to
burrow in his neck.

"Hickory, dickory, dock," Montagu concluded in a joyful chant.  "Now you
know it, only you must run up and down, you know."

"Oh, I really cannot do that," Mr. Wycherly expostulated, "not before I
am dressed."

Montagu looked puzzled.  "You ought to tickle us, you know, like Edmund
did, and with your fingers; it’s quite easy, really."

"Adain!" Edmund commanded, squirming and jumping all over the very
softest portions of Mr. Wycherly’s person, and causing that patient
gentleman acute agony.  "Adain!"

"Let us all say it together," Mr. Wycherly gasped, painfully drawing
himself a little higher up in the bed, "and do you think you could sit a
little more to one side, or a little further forward, or a little lower
down, or anywhere except just where you are at present?"

"Edmund heavy boy," that youth remarked proudly.

"He is," Mr. Wycherly fervently agreed, "a very heavy boy—ah, that’s
better now."

"Hickory, dickory, dock" was now performed in chorus, and if one of the
trio made any mistakes, his companions were making such a row that they
did not detect him.  At the conclusion of the verse the little boys gave
Mr. Wycherly a practical demonstration as to what they meant by
tickling.

It was only when the racket had somewhat subsided that they heard
Robina’s timid voice outside the door bidding the children come at once
to their breakfast.

"Det up, man," Edmund directed, "and take me to ’Obina."

"You are perfectly able to trot across to the door," said Mr. Wycherly,
mildly remonstrant and much exhausted.

"Come in," shouted Edmund, "come and fesh me."

"No, don’t do anything of the kind," cried Mr. Wycherly,
horror-stricken; "he can quite well come to you."

"I’ll surely no come in," said Robina in a slightly offended voice.
"They’re to come oot at once, the mistress is waitin’ breakfast."

"Me tiahed," Edmund announced, languidly lying down beside Mr. Wycherly.
"Me tay heah."

Robina knocked sharply.  "Come at once," she cried.  "Please, sir, make
them come, or the mistress will be rale vexed."

"Go, Montagu," said Mr. Wycherly firmly. "I suppose I must carry
this—myself."

Robina, outside, heard much gurgling and giggling on the part of Edmund,
as Mr. Wycherly arose and hastily donned his dressing-gown. He carried
the struggling baby across to the door, which he had to open widely in
order to give his charge into his nurse’s arms. Montagu departed with
his little brother, but not one moment sooner.

Mr. Wycherly shut and locked his door, only to remember that he had left
his hot water outside.  When he had secured it and again made the door
fast, he sank upon his bed: "I must certainly lock my door overnight,"
he reflected; "to be tickled is a truly dreadful experience."

He dressed to the rhythm of "Hickory, dickory, dock," and although the
two things had no sort of connection he found himself thinking of the
forget-me-nots on the banks of the Cherwell; they were exactly the
colour of Baby Edmund’s eyes.

It had already become a matter of course that the children should spend
half an hour in Mr. Wycherly’s study before they went to bed.

They were left in his charge while Robina got things ready for the
night, and he strove to make the time pass pleasantly for them by every
means in his power.  Edmund’s requests were occasionally a little
difficult to understand, as although his speech was fluent and his
vocabulary singularly large for his age, he had a habit of omitting any
consonant that was troublesome to pronounce.  Both "l" and "r" were of
this number.  He did not attempt to provide a substitute but simply left
the letter out, and nothing delighted old Elsa more than to hear him
repeat after her—"’ound the ’ugged ’ock the ’adical ’ascals ’an."

Mr. Wycherly did his best to correct this defect in Edmund’s speech, and
on this particular evening was showing him a picture book of coloured
animals.

"Poor little Edmund can’t say lion," he said sadly, apropos of a picture
of the king of beasts.

"He can say tigah," that infant rejoined cheerfully; "no maw pitchers.
Man, make a ’abbit," and Edmund scrambled off Mr. Wycherly’s knee the
better to behold the feat in question.

Mr. Wycherly shook his head hopelessly while Montagu shyly explained:
"He means a rabbit out of a handkerchief, you know.  Daddie always did
it, and it ran up his arm and jumped so.  _Do_ make one!"

Mr. Wycherly almost groaned.  He hadn’t the faintest notion how to make
a rabbit, and felt that he had lived in vain.  He proposed building a
tower with some bricks that the children had brought with them, but
Edmund would have none of such well-worn devices.  He persisted in his
demands for "a ’abbit," growing more and more vociferous, till his
wishes culminated in a roar that brought Robina to the rescue and to Mr.
Wycherly’s door, whence she bore Edmund away, wailing dismally.

Mr. Wycherly, helpless and distressed, looked appealingly at Montagu,
who only said rather reproachfully, "You might learn to make a rabbit,
you know," and followed Robina.

Almost unconsciously the student’s eyes sought the book-shelves where
generally was to be found any information that he wanted; but among the
familiar calf-bound backs there was not one that seemed to promise any
information about the manufacture of rabbits, and for the first time Mr.
Wycherly felt dissatisfied with a scholarship that seemed to ignore so
many possible contingencies in a man’s life. Of what use was the utmost
familiarity with Aristotle’s Politics if an indignant baby could put one
so wholly out of countenance?  For a few minutes he moved restlessly
about the room, then he took his hat and went out.

He had a vaguely formulated plan in his head that he would knock at the
door of every house in the village till he found somebody capable of
instructing him in the art of making rabbits; for learn he would, even
if he had to advertise in the "Scottish Press" for a teacher.

As he walked down the road leading to the village he met the minister,
who immediately remarked that something or other was amiss. Whether
Edmund had ruffled Mr. Wycherly’s hair and neck-cloth as well as his
equanimity we are not told, but it is certain that the Reverend Peter
Gloag thought him looking less "Oxfordish" than usual, and stopped him
to ask kindly, "Nothing wrong up at the house I hope?"

"No, I thank you," said Mr. Wycherly, stopping in his turn.  "At least—I
wonder now if you happen to know of any one who can make rabbits out of
handkerchiefs?"

The minister stared at Mr. Wycherly as though for a moment he feared for
his reason, then he looked as though he were about to laugh, when quite
suddenly his face changed, and the eyes under his bushy eyebrows were
wonderfully kind and gentle as he said, "You’ll hardly believe it, but I
can do something in that sort myself.  I used often to make them when
the bairns were wee."

"My dear friend," Mr. Wycherly exclaimed delightedly, "can you really?
But of course you can, you have children of your own.  Why didn’t I
think of you at the very first?  Are you pressed for time at present?
Could you return with me now, at once?"

For answer the minister turned and walked with Mr. Wycherly toward
Remote, and not only did he teach him how to make the most lively and
enchanting of rabbits, but he also instructed him how to originate one
"Sandy," who sat on the manipulator’s hand, whose arms were worked by
his fingers, a creature of infinite jest and dexterity.  Mr. Wycherly
was not half so elated when he got the Newdigate as when he achieved
this latter feat.

But Oh, dear me, Mr. Wycherly had a tremendous deal to learn!  Every day
was he confronted with new deficiencies in his education. The constant
demand for songs was most embarrassing: even Miss Esperance seemed to
fail the children here, for although she knew innumerable psalms and
hymns and spiritual songs, and endless and delightful Scottish ballads,
yet her repertoire of purely nursery ditties was but small.  It was
heartrending to Mr. Wycherly, when, during their first days at Remote,
Edmund would remark reproachfully anent his inability to sing some
hitherto unheard-of nursery song, "Mamma singed it."  And the eyes of
Miss Esperance would fill with tears at the thought of these two little
ones bereft of their young parents, who seemed to have been so
light-hearted, so ready to sing upon every possible occasion.  No books
of nursery rhymes had come with the children from Portsmouth.  Perhaps
they were forgotten in the hurry of their departure.  Perhaps they did
not exist: where was the need, with a girl-mother whose store of such
ditties seemed inexhaustible?  It did not occur either to Miss Esperance
or Mr. Wycherly that such books could be purchased.  It is true that the
latter received many catalogues, but they mostly concerned learned works
dealing with the more obscure of the Latin authors.

Miss Esperance possessed a whole shelf of little "Gilt-Books," which had
belonged to her mother and herself, and Mr. Wycherly feverishly rummaged
among these to find some childish lore suitable for the little boys:
with the result that he became exceedingly interested in the books from
an antiquarian point of view, and forgot his original quest.  They were
most of them published by John Newbery, the philanthropic bookseller in
Saint Paul’s Churchyard, who bought the MS. of the "Vicar of Wakefield"
for sixty pounds and kept it two years before he published it.  One
find, however, he did make, a tiny two-inch "Cries of London, as they
are Exhibited in the Streets, With an Epigram in verse adapted to Each,
embellished with sixty-two elegant Cuts."  Some of these epigrams found
much favour with the children, as, "My old Soul, will you buy a Bowl?"
"Who Buys my Pig and Plumb Sauce," or—

    Who liveth so merry in all this land,
    As doth the poor Widow that selleth the Sand?
    And ever she singeth, as I can guess,
    "Will you buy any Sand, any Sand, Mistress?"


He also discovered among the verses of that most genial and child-like
of poets, Robert Herrick, many rhymes that delighted the children, a
special favourite being the old watch rhyme—

    From noise of scare fires rest ye free,
    From murders, Benedicite.
    From all mischances that may fright
    Your pleasing slumbers in the night,
    Mercy secure ye all and keep
    The Goblin from ye while ye sleep.
    Past one o’clock and almost two,
    My masters all, Good day to you.


Mr. Wycherly was a little put to it to explain the "Goblin," as he would
not for the world have told the children anything that might frighten
them.  He passed it over lightly as "a bad dream," and when Montagu
further demanded what that was, Mr. Wycherly felt inexpressibly
comforted at the child’s ignorance; he had dreamed so many evil dreams
himself.

Summer had passed, the late September days were drawing in, but it was
still almost hot, as it often is in autumn in the north.  Even Mr.
Wycherly, who was always cold, admitted that the weather had remained
agreeably mild. And when Lady Alicia came, and partly by means of
bluster and partly by reason of prolonged petitioning, succeeded in
carrying off Miss Esperance to dine at the Big House, Mr. Wycherly
seconded her efforts nobly.  She had asked Mr. Wycherly, too, but he
never went anywhere, and on this occasion he had pointed out that his
presence made it perfectly safe for Miss Esperance to leave the
children.  He would sit with his door open, so that he would hear the
faintest sound in the children’s room, he would go and see them last
thing—"and hear them their prayers," Miss Esperance anxiously
interpolated—he would do everything that Miss Esperance usually did.

"Now there’s nothing whatever can happen to those children," said Lady
Alicia, as they drove away.  "They’re both looking as brown and bonny as
they can well look, and once they’re in their beds, they’ll just sleep
the round of the clock.  As for you, my dear, you’ve hardly been out of
the house since they came, and it’s very bad for you."

As a rule the children did sleep the round of the clock, but on this
particular evening, although they went to sleep directly they were
"bedded," as Robina put it, and she had gone home for the night, while
Elsa had retired to the back door for a gossip with the minister’s maid,
Edmund took it into his head to wake up.

Mr. Wycherly was sitting in his arm-chair reading "Marius the
Epicurean."  It was one of his many imperfections, in the eyes of the
inhabitants of Burnhead, that he was known to revel in the works of "yon
man, Pater."  The very name seemed redolent of papistry, even if the man
himself did not happen to be a papist, and it was known that the
Reverend Peter Gloag did not approve of his writings. In an English
village nobody would have concerned himself as to what anybody read—the
amount of reading done at all being quite a negligible quantity—but in a
Scottish village, where the cobbler probably reads the "Saturday Review"
and the works of Carlyle are as household words, people regard the
reading of their neighbours.

The light from the lamp fell full on Mr. Wycherly’s white hair and
regular, scholarly profile; and the figure in the chair made a pleasant
picture of erudite repose.  There was something clear-cut and delicately
finished about everything connected with Mr. Wycherly’s appearance.  One
long, slim hand with exquisitely tended nails held his book; the other
kept up a noiseless rhythmic beat upon the arm of his chair.

Suddenly he heard a little sound, an indescribable small sound as of
some soft body moving.  He laid down his book and leant forward to
listen.  Again he heard it, and with it a request for "’Obina."  It was
not a cry; it was rather a curious, tentative flinging of the word into
space to see what would happen.

The children’s door was closed but not fastened, Mr. Wycherly’s was wide
open, and he immediately hurried across the landing to the children’s
room.  The light from his lamp exactly opposite to their door, shone in
as he pushed it open, showing a fair, curly head and a pair of bright
eyes appearing above the side of the cot.  Montagu was still fast
asleep.

"Lie down, my child," Mr. Wycherly whispered, "it is night time, you
must go to sleep again."

"No," said Edmund firmly but kindly, "you must take me."

Mr. Wycherly looked at the wide-awake mutinous person in the cot, then
he looked at the peacefully sleeping Montagu in the big four-post bed.
To engage in argument with Edmund meant the inevitable waking of his
brother. For there would be tears; perhaps loud outcries which would
bring Elsa, scornful and capable, to his assistance.

It is to be feared that in some respects Mr. Wycherly was a weak man.
He would do anything to avoid a disturbance, almost anything to avoid an
argument.  Small wonder, then, that he was despised in Burnhead, where
argument flourished as the green bay tree and was the chief object of
social intercourse.

He wrapped Edmund in his quilt, carried him across to the study, and sat
down in his big chair with the deliciously warm, naughty bundle on his
knee.  Edmund blinked at the bright light, wriggled his arms out of the
enwrapping counterpane, and remarked "Bikky" in a tone whose subtly
seductive combination of command and supplication Mr. Wycherly never
could resist.  The children had not been three months in the house
without teaching him to keep a store of biscuits in his cupboard. When
Edmund was duly supplied, he leant his head luxuriously against Mr.
Wycherly’s shoulder, saying sleepily, "Say, deah man—say anysing."

This was gracious of Edmund, and Mr. Wycherly had already discovered
that when the baby was sleepy he did not cavil even at Latin verse.  Mr.
Wycherly had a singularly musical voice; and as he "said," the biscuit
dropped from Edmund’s hand and his head lay heavy on the kind shoulder
that supported it.  As the reciter reached the lines: "Dulce ridentem
Lalagen amabo, Dulce loquentem," he discovered, to his joy, that Edmund
was asleep.  Softly he repeated the musical last two lines again,
smiling down at the little figure in his arms. But it was not of Lalage
that Mr. Wycherly was thinking.

He succeeded in putting Edmund into bed without waking him, and just as
he had got back to his study he heard Miss Esperance come in.

Softly he closed the door so that it only stood open a little way, and
seated himself once more in his favourite chair.  If all was quiet it
was quite unlikely Miss Esperance would come to speak to him that night.
She would go straight to her little bedroom next that of the children.
He heard her door shut.  Mr. Wycherly rubbed his hands together quite
gleefully.  "I really am learning how to manage those children," he
said.



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                      *THE SECRETIVENESS OF MAUSE*

    A boy and a dog together will go,
    You may jail them, or chain them: They will have it so.
      Anon.


Mause was the bobtailed sheep-dog that lived in a kennel at the side of
the house nearest the back door, to keep guard.  Like Miss Esperance and
Mr. Wycherly and Elsa, she was not in her first youth; and when the
children came Miss Esperance was nervously apprehensive as to the old
dog’s conduct. Would she be jealous and growl at them, or perhaps even
fly out at them from her kennel as she did at the village boys if they
ventured into the garden for any illegitimate purpose? A good watch-dog
was Mause, with more discrimination in her vigilance than is displayed
by most dogs.  She never barked at poor old Mistress Dobie, who would
come humbly to the back door for her bi-weekly handful of meal and a
screw of snuff, who looked a very scarecrow of shabbiness, and tapped
with her staff as she walked: but Mause did bark, and bark loudly, only
pausing every now and then to growl thunderously, at the very grand
gentleman who tried to sell Elsa an inferior sewing-machine on the hire
system.  And when he returned a few weeks later with Bibles, Mause
nearly broke her chain in her frantic attempts to reach him.  The poor
dog was kept chained up for the greater part of the day, which is never
improving to the canine temper even when, as in this case, the chain is
a long one. Miss Esperance let her run by the pony trap whenever she
drove into Edinburgh, but this was by no means every day, and Elsa
rather grudged poor Mause even these occasional absences, and generally
put the chains on both doors when she had gone.

"A watch-dog sud be there to guard the hoose," said Elsa, "and no gang
stravaigin aff for hoors at a stretch."

Mr. Wycherly took Mause for a walk whenever he went for one himself, and
she greatly enjoyed these excursions, which were, however, but fleeting
joys; for Mr. Wycherly’s walks were by no means prolonged.  That he
should go for walks at all was, in the eyes of the villagers of
Burnhead, but another sign of his general futility and "genty ways,"
like his bath and the wooden feet in three pieces that he liked kept in
his boots, "just as if he was feart some ither body sud wear them."
Besides, what could a man who hardly ever stirred abroad want with six
pairs of boots? The folk in the village pitied Elsa that she had to give
in to such havers.

On rare occasions Mause managed to sneak into the house with Mr.
Wycherly and secrete herself in his room: but he did not encourage these
clandestine visits, for when Elsa discovered her—as she invariably
did—she drove the poor beast forth with much contumely; and Mr. Wycherly
was haunted for hours afterward by the reproach in the eyes of Mause
that he had not the courage to take her part.

Yet Mause was fond of Elsa, and in her heart of hearts Elsa loved Mause.
She would far sooner have gone without her own meals than have omitted
the plate of broken biscuit and bones that she carried twice daily to
the kennel.  Every day she filled the dog’s tin with fresh water, and
she brushed the thick, shaggy coat as religiously and even more
vigorously than she brushed Mr. Wycherly’s clothes.  It grieved her
rather that the latter, like Mause, wore the same coat week-days and
Sundays.

Mause was meekness and gentleness itself with the dwellers at Remote,
but outsiders gave her a very different character, and the Reverend
Peter Gloag even went so far as to remonstrate with Miss Esperance for
keeping such a savage brute about the place.  Not that Mause had ever
actually bitten even a man selling sewing-machines, but she had a way of
barking and bouncing, of growling and gyrating at the full length of her
chain, that was decidedly alarming; and if she happened to be loose, her
swift rush to the gate at the sound of a strange foot-step was
disconcerting in the extreme. What would she say to the children?

"If she’s ill-natured with them, she’ll have to go, poor beastie," Miss
Esperance had said, as they drove from the station with the two tired,
cross, little boys on that first day.  "She’s a dear, faithful animal,
but I could not let such wee things be frightened."

However, the fears of Miss Esperance were groundless.  From the first
moment that she beheld the little boys, Mause took them under her
protection.  Perhaps it was that neither of the children showed the
slightest fear of the great, clumsy, shaggy beast, but greeted her with
joyful outcries, instantly demanding her release from that harassing
chain.  The right kind of dog and the right kind of child are friends
always, by some immutable, inscrutable law of attraction.  It seemed
almost as if Mause mistook Montagu and Edmund for the puppies which had
been her pride some five years before.  And the baby certainly did his
very best to confirm her in her mistake.  Like a puppy, he had a
fondness for carrying off numerous and inconceivably incongruous
articles from places where they ought to be to distant parts of the
garden, where he would be found surrounded by a selection of improvised
playthings, while Mause sat by regarding the work of destruction with
her tongue hanging out, and an expression of maternal pride upon her
broad and blurry countenance.

When the children played in the garden their first thought was that
Mause must play too. "She must be very lonely in that little wooden
house," Montagu said pleadingly.  "She would be so happy with us, and we
do want her so."  And Edmund roared and refused to be comforted unless
his "big bow-wow" might go with him whenever Robina took him out in his
perambulator.

There was a little plot of shaven grass in the garden at Remote, and on
this Edmund and Mause and Montagu spent many an hour at play, while
Robina sat by demurely knitting at a stocking.  It was Edmund’s habit
when he fell down (a somewhat frequent occurrence that did not disturb
him in the least unless he happened to fall on "something scratchful")
to grasp firmly in each little hand a handful of the dog’s thick hair,
and by this means pull himself up to his feet again.  Mause bore it
stoically, and generally turned her patient face that she might lick the
small, fat hands that hurt her.  And by the time the children had been a
month at Remote Manse was only chained up at night.

One hot afternoon in late September Mr. Wycherly had taken Montagu for a
walk to a wood, near where there was a tiny tributary of the bigger burn
from which the village took its name.  So narrow was this stream that
Montagu could jump over it: and it was one of his greatest joys to be
taken there and to leap solemnly from one side to the other during a
whole afternoon, provided that at each effort his audience made some
suitably admirative remark.

Robina’s patience failed her after about three demonstrations of
Montagu’s saltatory prowess, but Mr. Wycherly would take his seat at the
foot of a big tree, and with tireless interest notice every jump,
finding something new and congratulatory to say after each fresh effort.

Robina, Edmund and Mause remained at home: baby and dog disporting
themselves upon the little square of turf, while Robina sat in the shade
doing the mending.  Elsa was busy in the house and Miss Esperance had
gone to a sewing meeting at the manse.

At the foot of the garden was a low stone wall, and beyond that wall a
lane.  From that lane presently there came a sound of light-hearted
whistling as Sandie, the flesher, his empty butcher’s tray borne lightly
on his shoulder, returned from the delivery of meat at the "Big Hoose."

Sandie, the flesher, could see over the wall, and he beheld Robina
sitting under the alder tree.  He thought her fair to look upon, and his
whistling ceased.  Robina gave one hasty glance back at the house.  Elsa
was making scones and would be far too busy to look out of the window
just then: besides, one could see very little from the kitchen window
save the raspberry canes, as Robina was sadly aware. Edmund and Mause
were engaged in an intricate game of ball.  They alone knew the rules,
but they appeared to find it of absorbing interest. Once more Robina
looked back at the house, and then flew down to the bottom of the garden
to speak to Sandie.

We all know that there are minutes that seem as hours, and hours that
slip by as a single moment of time.  Robina’s conversation with Sandie
was somewhat prolonged, but doubtless for them it passed even as the
twinkling of an eye.

When at last she tore herself away from Sandie’s blandishments and
returned hot-footed to her charge, baby and dog were gone.  The worsted
ball and the mending lay on the grass, and perfect quiet reigned in the
garden of Remote.

"He’ll be in mischief somewhere," she said to herself.  "The wee Turk!"

For it was only when he was in mischief that the continual flow of
Edmund’s conversation ceased, and he was traced by his silences rather
than by his sounds.

Warily did Robina search through every nook and corner of that garden:
behind raspberry canes, between gooseberry bushes, even among the
cabbages, but nowhere was there any sign of either child or dog.  The
girl’s heart sank.  Edmund had probably gone back to the house and Elsa
had just kept him that she might the better come down on his young nurse
for her carelessness.  Robina well knew the awful "radgin" that awaited
her if this were the case. It was just possible that the baby had
toddled round to the front and was playing among the flower beds, doing
damage in exactly inverse ratio to his size and weight.  As she passed
the open kitchen window Robina looked in: a great gust of hot air laden
with the clean, good smell of newly made scones met her.  Elsa was over
at the fire giving the scones, still on the griddle, an occasional poke
with her gnarled old finger.  Edmund most certainly was not there.
Robina’s spirits rose.  She might escape the "radgin" after all.  She
ran round to the front, but there was no baby here either; the tidy
little garden with its gay flower beds on either side of the broad
central path lay peaceful and deserted in the cool shadow thrown by the
house itself.  She noticed that the green gate was unlatched and she
began to feel anxious, and not wholly on her own account.  Where could
that baby have got to, and where in all the world was Mause?

Robina hurried to the back garden again and went over every inch of
ground, with no more success than the first time.

She was now very frightened indeed.  She hunted in the stable, she
looked in the loft, she even took all the tools out of the tool-house
lest Edmund might be secreted behind them; but it was all useless, baby
and dog had completely vanished.

All this searching had taken some time.  The afternoon began to wane, it
would soon be tea time.  Miss Esperance would return from her sewing
meeting, and even as it was, Robina heard Mr. Wycherly and Montagu come
into the house.

She rushed to Elsa in the kitchen, where that worthy woman was arranging
her last batch of scones round the top of the wire seive to cool.

"The wee boy’s lost!" cried Robina desperately. "I can find him nowhere
and no place, and the dug’s awa’ too."

Mr. Wycherly and Montagu heard the loud excited voices in the kitchen,
and for the first time in all the years he had spent with Miss Esperance
Mr. Wycherly entered the domain sacred to Elsa.  He questioned Robina
very gently and quietly, but could obtain no information that threw any
light upon Edmund’s mysterious disappearance.

They searched the house thoroughly, but with no success, and all four
had gone out to look once more in the garden when Montagu exclaimed,
"Why Mause is here, in her kennel, and she’s not chained up."

The kennel was a large one, but Mause also was large and effectually
blocked the doorway.

"We’d better take her with us," said Mr. Wycherly, who was preparing to
scour the village.  "She’ll find him sooner than any of us."

But to their astonishment Mause did not come to call.  She refused to
budge, and if any one came near her except Montagu she growled ominously
and showed her teeth, a thing she had never done to members of her own
household in the whole of her existence.

By this time Miss Esperance had returned and was gravely disquieted by
the news that met her, most of all by the fact that Mause should have
deserted Edmund and that she should be so surly in her temper.

"I can’t think what can have come over the dog," cried poor Miss
Esperance.  "Don’t go near her, Montagu, my son.  I just wish she was on
the chain."

"I’ll put the chain on her, auntie; I’m not afraid," cried Montagu,
breaking from his aunt’s detaining hand; and sure enough, Mause made not
the smallest objection, but licked Montagu’s hand, and gazed with
speaking, pathetic eyes at the group around the kennel, although she
would allow no one to approach her except the little boy.

"The gate was unlatched when we came in," said Mr. Wycherly.  "I noticed
that.  I think he must have strayed into the village, and we’ll probably
find him in one of the cottages. What I cannot understand is that Mause
should have left him."

"Mebbe some gaun-aboot-body’s ta’en him," wailed Robina, "and drove the
dug awa’."

"Hoot fie!" cried Elsa, indignantly.  "They gaun-aboot-bodies has plenty
bairns o’ their ain wi’oot nain o’ oor’s."

"The burn’s gey and deep up the rod," sobbed Robina, who was determined
to take the gloomiest view of things.

Miss Esperance looked at Mr. Wycherly, and both were very pale.  "Elsa
and I will go into the village," she said tremulously.  "Will you, dear
friend, go—the other way?  You would be of more use if—anything——"

Miss Esperance paused, unable to voice the dreadful fear that possessed
her.

Montagu had sat down on the ground beside Mause, facing the kennel, with
his arm round her shaggy neck; he leant his head against her, for he
felt that she was in some sort of disgrace, and needed comforting.  A
sudden shaft of sunlight shone full on the pretty group.  "Why, he’s in
there all the time," Montagu cried excitedly.  "I can see him; he’s fast
asleep in Mause’s kennel, and that’s why she wouldn’t come out."

The shrill voice woke the baby, who stirred, rolled over, and finally
crawled out from his hiding-place, flushed and tumbled with little beads
of perspiration all over his nose.  Mause politely making way for him
the instant he showed a desire to come out.

As he scrambled to his feet he beheld Mr. Wycherly, and gave his usual
cry of "Man! Uppie, uppie!" and was somewhat bewildered by the effusion
with which that same man caught him up in his arms.  Miss Esperance
grasped his fat legs and wept over them; Robina and Elsa caught at any
possible portion of his clothing and wept over that.  In fact, they all
more or less hung on to Mr. Wycherly in their excitement, while the
cause of all this enthusiasm blinked his sleepy eyes and wondered what
it was all about.  Mause ran round and round in a circle, hanging out
her tongue and giving occasional short, sharp barks, expressive of
approval.

Presently, when the women let go of him, Edmund bent down to scratch one
of his fat pink legs.  "I fink," he said majestically, "vat a fee has
bited me."

Mause looked apologetic, and licked the spot.



                              *CHAPTER V*

                                *ROBINA*

    Jenny rade tae Cowtstan, tae Cowtstan, tae Cowtstan,
    Jenny rade tae Cowtstan upon a barra’pin O!
    An’ aye as she wallopit, she wallopit, she wallopit,
    An’ aye as she wallopit, she aye fell ahin’ O!
      _Old Song_.


For Robina, it was a distinct rise in the social scale to have taken
service with Miss Esperance.  Any lass could get a place at the term in
Edinburgh, but only one lass in the whole village could have been chosen
to look after the little newcomers at Remote.

In the village Miss Esperance was familiarly known as "the wee leddy":
and in the eyes of Burnhead the fact that she lived in an extremely
small house with one old servant, and did a large portion of the
household work herself, in no way detracted from her dignity.  In
Burnhead, too, there were people who remembered her father, the
Admiral—"a gran’ man yon!  A radgy man whiles, mind ye, but a rale man.
When he gave ye a glass he aye looket the ither way and left ye to help
yersen—eh, but he was a gran’ man yon!"

Lady Alicia had described Robina as "douce," and that young woman fully
acted up to this reputation during her first weeks at Remote. She
trembled and cringed before Elsa.  She dropped whatever she happened to
be holding if suddenly addressed by Miss Esperance, while in the
presence of Mr. Wycherly extreme shyness lent to her appearance an
expression of such abject imbecility as caused that gentleman to demand
anxiously of her mistress whether she thought it was safe to allow
Robina to take the children for walks.

Once outside the walls of Remote, however, Robina’s whole attitude
changed.  She bridled: she minced: she was positively swollen with pride
in the importance of her position; and when she condescended to exchange
remarks with such neighbours as she met, her demeanour was distant and
haughty.  No sooner had she set forth with Edmund in the perambulator
and Montagu trotting by her side, than she at once radiated an
atmosphere of "say nothing to nobody" so forbidding as to discourage all
attempts at sociability except on the part of the boldest.  Everybody
wanted to see the little boys, who were, themselves, most friendly and
approachable and always ready to respond to the overtures of kindly
neighbours.

A comely lass was Robina, sturdy and thickset, but with the exquisite
colouring often to be found among the Lowland Scottish peasantry; and of
late her rosy cheeks had bloomed to a deeper rose, while her forehead
and chin and neck were white as the elder flower growing against the
wall at the bottom of the garden. Very blue eyes had Robina, and thick,
wavy hair—red hair that would escape from its tight braids in frivolous
little curls at the nape of her neck and round her ears.  From far away,
Sandie, the flesher, would espy that brilliant hair burning like a lamp,
and wheresoever that beacon shone there would Sandie be fain to follow.
He escorted her from her home to Remote in the early morning, and was
generally waiting at a safe distance from Remote to walk home with her
in the evening.  So devoted was he, that Robina had as yet made an
exception in his favour, and in spite of her exalted position treated
him with moderate friendliness.

The day that Edmund was lost she had got off comparatively lightly.  The
household at Remote was so excited over finding the baby in Mause’s
kennel that they all forgot to inquire till some time afterwards, how in
the world he had got there without the knowledge of his nurse.  Robina
did not consider it necessary to mention her conversation with Sandie,
and beyond a moderate amount of cavilling on the part of Elsa, very
little had been said.

One afternoon, during the same week, she took the small boys for a walk
along the highroad leading to Edinburgh; and as she, with stately mien,
was pushing the perambulator on the pathway, a young man, driving a
light spring cart, overtook her and pulled up and hailed her with the
inquiry, "Well, Robiny, hoo’s a’ wi’ ye the day?"

Robina stopped and pretended to be absorbed in settling Edmund in his
perambulator; for the moment the baby spied the trap, he began to
wriggle out of the strap that bound him in his seat, waving his arms and
shouting, "Me go ’ide in caht."

"I would like a ride, too," Montagu remarked in his usual deliberate
fashion, and he smiled up at Sandie engagingly.

Sandie saw the little boy and smiled back broadly, but he was mostly
looking at Robina.

"Is they wee things Piskeys tae?" Sandie asked, nodding his head toward
the children.

"Na, na," Robina replied, shaking her head emphatically, "there’s noan
o’ the wee leddy’s flesh and blood’s Piskeys, I’se warrant.  They’ll
gang tae the kirk wi’ their auntie like ither Christian folk."

"What’s a Piskey?" asked Montagu of the inquiring mind.

"I’m no very sure," the girl said slowly. "It’s a new-fangled kin’ o’
kirk—is’t no?" she added, looking up at Sandie.

Sandie grinned broadly and drew himself up. "I once went into one o’
they kirks in Edinbory—" he said with the air of one who has passed
through many strange adventures, "on a Sabbath evening," he continued
hastily, as Robina looked disapproving.  "I gang no place else than oor
ain kirk in the mornin’."

"And what like was it?" asked Robina, somewhat reassured by this
assertion of orthodoxy.

"Dod’ an’ it’s more than I can say.  Ye was aye hoppin’ up an’ sittin’
doon, wi’ a wee thing singin’ here an’ a wee bit prayin’ there, an’ a
wee sma’ readin’.  Ma certy! there was sae monny preeleeminaries ’at I
never thocht we’d reach the sairmon.  An’ when we did it was just as
scampit as a’ the rest.  An’ what wi’ human hymns an men i’ their sarks
jumpin’ up here an’ there, it was mair like play-actin’ than a kirk.
Nae mair Piskeys for me, I can tell ye!"

"But what is a Piskey?" Montagu again demanded.

"The auld gentleman wha’ lives wi’ us is a Piskey, so I’ve heard,"
Robina said in a low voice.

"I can well believe that," Sandie remarked meaningly, and tapped his
forehead.

"Me go jive in caht!" Edmund exclaimed for about the thirtieth time,
this time with an ominous warning of tears in his voice.

Sandie looked up the road and down the road. There was not a soul in
sight.

"Wull I gie them a wee bit hurrl?" he asked Robina.

"The wee stoot yen couldna’ sit wi’oot some person to hold him," Robina
said irresolutely, "an’ I daurna’ let them oot o’ my sight.  Mine’s is a
poseetion o’ great responsibeelity."  And once more she lifted the
struggling Edmund back into his seat, from which he instantly wriggled
so that he was hung up under the arms by the strap.

"Pit the pram inside yon gate," suggested the ready Sandie, "and come
tae.  No harm’ll happen it, an’ I’ll gie ye a bit hurrl doon the rod."

"Me go jive in caht!" Edmund shouted joyfully, and held out his arms to
Sandie. Edmund looked upon mankind in general as a means specially
provided for his quick transit from place to place.  "Uppie!  Uppie!"
the baby cried impatiently.

"Let the bairn have his hurrl," pleaded Sandie.

Montagu as yet found it somewhat difficult to follow the Scots tongue,
but he realised that Sandie was inviting them to go for a drive, and
forthwith declared his own intention of accepting the invitation without
Robina if she declined to avail herself of it.

Finally the perambulator was put inside a field, well out of sight.  The
two small boys were lifted into the cart, where Robina, with much
display of white-stockinged substantial ankles, followed them.  Away
went the butcher’s cart with four "precious souls and all agog" seated
abreast upon the wooden seat.  Robina firmly clutched the "wee stoot
yen" who chattered incessantly, giving the loudest expression to his
satisfaction.

They had gone about half a mile along the Edinburgh road when a gray
bobtailed sheepdog was seen trotting along towards them, followed by a
small pony tub driven by an old lady.

"Megsty me!" Robina exclaimed in great consternation, "if yon’s no the
wee leddy hersel’, and I thocht she was up at the hoose.  Turn man,
turn! and get back afore she comes."

Sandie tried to turn, but "Moggie," the butcher’s mare, knew that she
was on the homeward way and had no wish to defer her arrival.  Moggie
was fresh and frisky and very obstinate, and the more Sandie tried to
turn her the more did she back into the side of the road, finally
starting to rear and plunge, with an occasional rattle of hoofs on the
splash-board.

Robina screamed with terror, and had it not been that the four on the
seat were a pretty tight fit, the little boys would undoubtedly have
been thrown out.

Miss Esperance was jogging slowly homeward in her little pony tub with
only a village boy in attendance.  She generally picked up some stray
urchin as she drove through Burnhead to hold the pony while she paid
visits or did her shopping.  As she drew nearer she perceived Moggie’s
antics, and pulled up.

"That seems a very restive horse," she remarked anxiously.  "I hope the
young man is able to manage it, for I see he has children in the cart.
It would be terrible to have a collision. I think, Davie, you had better
get out and hold Jock’s head—and I," added the intrepid little lady,
"will go and speak to that horse and see if I can catch hold of its
head."

Davie looked at her admiringly.  "It’s the flesher’s mare, Moggie," he
murmured shyly, "an’ she’s awfu’ flechty.  Tak heed, mem, that she does
na fell ye."

Miss Esperance carefully descended from her little trap and walked
towards the mare who was getting a little tired of fighting with Sandie,
although she had no intention of giving in. Sandie had a firm hand, but
he did not dare to beat his steed while Robina and the children were in
the cart.  He sawed at Moggie’s mouth and roared directions at her, and
was so busily engaged in trying to get her round that he did not see the
little old lady till she was close upon him, then he nearly dropped his
reins in his consternation, and was stricken absolutely dumb.

This was just what Miss Esperance wanted. All her life she had been used
to horses, and she stepped up to the sweating, trembling, plunging mare,
laid a small, firm hand fearlessly upon her bridle, and spoke so
soothingly and gently that Moggie ceased to plunge and in a few minutes
was standing quiet, though trembling, with the cart still blocking the
road.

"Which way do you want her to go and I’ll turn her for you," she called
to Sandie.

"_He_ wants to go home, Aunt Espa’nce, but we don’t.  We’d much rather
go on.  D’you mind if we go on for a little more drive?"

And the amazed Miss Esperance looked up to perceive her great-nephews
and Robina perched up in Sandie’s cart.

Sandie was crimson and confused: Robina, pale and tearful: the little
boys bright-eyed and rosy with excitement.

"Robina!" Miss Esperance ejaculated, in deepest displeasure.  "What are
you doing there with the children?  Come down at once while the horse is
quiet."

Hastily and ungracefully Robina scrambled out of the cart and the little
boys were handed down by Sandie, both deeply disappointed that their
"hurrl" had come to this untimely end. Edmund was not one to conceal his
feelings at any time, and he forthwith began to roar so lustily that
further discussion was impossible, especially as Mause considered it
incumbent upon her to bark loudly in joy at this unexpected reunion.

Miss Esperance packed all three into her pony tub, dismissing Davie to
walk home and bring the perambulator.

Moggie was the only one who scored, for she was driven off without delay
in the direction she had all along wanted to go, and she went like the
wind.


"What," asked Montagu of his aunt some days later, "is a Piskey?"

Miss Esperance drew her delicate eyebrows together.  "Where have you
heard the word?" she inquired in her turn.

"Robina said Mr. Wycherly’s a Piskey, and I want to know what it is."

"Robina," said Miss Esperance, "is rather apt to talk about things she
does not understand. ’Piskey,’ my dear Montagu, is a vulgar way of
saying Episcopalian, and the English form of worship is called by that
name in Scotland.  I beg that you will not let me hear the word,
’Piskey,’ again."

"I think it’s rather a nice little word," Montagu retorted; "short and
cheerful-sounding. I suppose we’re Presbeys?"

"Abbreviations," said Miss Esperance, "are nearly always foolish and
often in bad taste. I have never heard of a Presbey in my life."

"Piskey and Presbey were two pretty men," Montagu murmured dreamily,
with a hazy recollection of some nursery rhyme, "though I think Piskey’s
far prettier than Presbey, just like Mr. Wycherly’s prettier than Mr.
Gloag."

"That will do, Montagu."

"D’you love Sandie, Aunt Esp’ance?" Montagu asked with an abrupt change
of subject.

"Certainly not," Miss Esperance answered hastily, "though I believe him
to be a well-doing young man on the whole."

"I love him," said Montagu, "but we don’t see him very often now.
Robina’s taken the huff at him—he told me so.  It’s a pity isn’t it?"

"The less Robina sees of Sandie, the more likely is she to attend to her
duties," Miss Esperance remarked austerely.  Then suddenly, her whole
face beaming, she added softly, as though to herself, "The lassie’s full
young for that sort of thing yet awhile."


If Robina had escaped lightly when Edmund was lost, Nemesis was by no
means leaden-footed as regarded her latest escapade.  She very nearly
lost her situation, and only by the combined and reiterated entreaties
of herself and her mother was Miss Esperance prevailed upon to give the
girl another trial.  Therefore did Robina, with the unreason of her sex,
lay the whole blame upon Sandie; and considered that he, and he alone,
was responsible for the mistrustful attitude of the authorities with
regard to her.  She declined to speak to him or even to look at him for
a whole fortnight. Morning and evening she passed him by, till at last
he threatened that if she remained so obdurate he would forsake the
church of his fathers and become a Piskey.  Then, and only then, did
Robina relent.  "I couldna hae that on my conscience," she reflected.
But all the same, although she condescended to speak to Sandie "whiles,"
he found that he had to do most of his wooing all over again; and Robina
would smile to herself from time to time as she reflected that "it’s an
ill wind blows nobody good."

Robina was one of those who believed that what a man wants he will ask
for over and over again; and that the harder a thing is to obtain the
more it is valued.  So she was very niggardly in the matter of her
favours to Sandie, and her work prospered in consequence.



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                    *THE AWAKENING OF MR. WYCHERLY*

    Ay; you would gaze on a wind-shaken tree
    By the hour, nor count time lost.
      PARACELSUS.


Montagu’s education was taken in hand at once, and a very curious course
of instruction it proved to be.  Mr. Wycherly taught him to read, and to
read Latin at the same time that he learned to read English. He also,
which Montagu very much preferred, told him endless stories, historical
and mythological, and in illustration thereof gave him for himself his
own two precious oblong folios of Flaxman’s "Compositions," on the very
first birthday the little boy spent with Miss Esperance.  These books
were for Montagu the only nursery picture books he knew, and Ulysses and
Hector were as real and familiar to him as "Jack the Giant Killer" or
"Bluebeard" to the ordinary child.  He treasured them and treated them
always with the greatest care and tenderness.  They were the one
possession he declined to share with Edmund, who was careless, and tore
things, to whom wide margins and spacious pages made no appeal.  He
pored over the pictures for hours at a time, arriving at a very clear
conception of the beauty of pure line.

When the children first came Mr. Wycherly might have been seen, during
all such time as those energetic young people left to him, immersed in
the study of a serviceable sheepskin volume, the Wrexham edition of
Roger Ascham’s "Schoolmaster," making notes on the margins of the same,
and marking such passages as seemed to him especially applicable to the
matter under consideration.

Years after the owner’s death Montagu found and read the wise old book,
and realised how humbly and patiently Mr. Wycherly had set himself to
follow out whatever he considered most valuable in the teaching of one
whose mental attitude toward youth was certainly centuries in advance of
his age.  On the flyleaf he had written in his small, delicate
handwriting: "In all my life, if I have done but little harm, I have
done no good or useful thing. God help me that I may do this thing
well," and Montagu, with an almost rapturous remembrance of his
teaching, could testify that the prayer had not been made in vain.

It was no doubt a good thing for Montagu that his tutor had such a
common-sense standard of teaching always before him, for Mr. Wycherly’s
own inclination was apt to draw him away from the grind of grammar to
discourse with enthusiasm on the beauties and solemnities of the authors
he so loved.  Montagu was quick and receptive, with considerable power
of concentration, and because he loved his teacher, he speedily grew to
love the subjects that he taught, so that he might truly have said with
Lady Jane Grey: "My book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth
daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it all other
pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles and troubles unto me."

Mr. Wycherly’s sitting-room was much the largest in the little house.
It was on the first floor and of a cheerful aspect, having two windows
facing east and south, respectively.  Here, for Montagu’s own special
use, were placed a little square oak table with stout, stumpy legs, of a
solid steadiness that even the most fidgety of little boys could not
shake, and a three-legged stool that had once served Elsa as a
milking-stool.  These were set sideways in the window looking on to the
kitchen garden, as being a view less likely to distract the learner than
that of the other, from which one beheld the front garden with the green
railings, and the village street with all its possible excitements.  The
little table possessed a drawer with bright handles, and in this drawer
Montagu kept his own exercise books, his pen with the pebble handle that
Elsa had given him, his box of pencils, and every scrap of paper
suitable for drawing on, that he could collect—generally half sheets
torn off letters by the careful hand of Miss Esperance.  The table
itself, in imitation of Mr. Wycherly’s, was piled with books, but they
were in orderly piles, and never set open, one on the top of the other,
as was the older scholar’s habit.

There was another reason why Mr. Wycherly chose that window for Montagu:
the morning sun shone straight through it, and the scholar, always
something of a stranger in this chill north, craved all the sunshine he
could get for the child.  He liked to lean back in his own deep-seated
revolving chair, set by the big knee-hole table in the centre of the
room, and watch the little stooping figure in the patch of sunshine in
the window, laboriously tracing the Greek characters so neatly and
carefully.  A large-eyed thin-faced boy was Montagu, somewhat sallow,
with the round shoulders got during those early studies which he never
lost in later life.

It was not only during lessons that Montagu sat at his little table:
long hours did he spend there on wet days while the wind howled round
the little house like a hungry wolf, and the rain battered on the panes
like shot—making drawings for himself of the battle in the "great
harbour of Syracuse," which he had read about in Thomas Hobbes’s
translation.  For Mr. Wycherly’s shelves abounded in translations as
well as in the "original texts," and although, like most translators, he
disagreed with all accepted renderings, yet he encouraged Montagu’s use
of them, perhaps that he, himself, might the better, by-and-by, point
out where he considered that they failed.

These drawings were afterwards bestowed upon Edmund, who would listen to
Montagu’s classic stories when they dealt with battles or ships, but who
otherwise infinitely preferred Elsa’s more homely legends regarding the
doings of "Cockie Lockie and Henny Penny."

But there was more than the garden to be seen from Montagu’s window: far
away, sharp against the sky line, lay the lion back of Arthur’s Seat,
and whenever Montagu raised his eyes from his work to look out, it was
there that they rested.  And inasmuch as at that time the Odyssey and
its hero filled all his thoughts, the great gaunt hill became for him
actually that Ithaca long sought and longed for by the many-counselled
one: till every sight of it would thrill him with a sense of personal
possession and delighted recognition.

Sometimes Montagu, looking back into the room, would find his old friend
watching him, and the little boy would nod gaily without speaking,
smiling the while the confident, comrade smile of childhood, and
thinking that, failing Achilles, he would like to look like Mr. Wycherly
when he was old.

There is always something pleasantly surprising in the conjunction of
white hair and very dark eyes and eyebrows, and in Mr. Wycherly’s case
the expression of the dark eyes was extremely gentle, the features
sharply cut and refined, the whole face of that clean-shaven, regular,
aristocratic type, which the Reverend Peter Gloag—half in admiration,
half in derision—described as so "intensely Oxfordish."

"He has got such a tidy face," Montagu said to his aunt one day.

"My dear, Mr. Wycherly is always considered a man of great personal
attractions," she replied, rather shocked at his choice of an adjective.

"Yes, aunt, dear, I know, but it’s a tidy sort of handsomeness; not a
bit like Noah and Jacob and those hairy prophets in the parlour."

The walls of his aunt’s sitting-room were adorned by many engravings
illustrative of the Scriptures, and Montagu, fresh from the study of his
beloved Flaxman, would compare these bearded Hebrew prophets, so
hampered by heavy draperies, with his airily attired and clean-limbed
Greeks, always to the advantage of the latter.  Yet he was forced to
acknowledge to himself that his adored Mr. Wycherly resembled them
equally little both in appearance and manner of life: for nothing could
savour less of the adventurous than his existence.  So Montagu "put the
question by" as one to be answered in that wonderful, grown-up time that
children think will solve so many riddles.  Mr. Wycherly was immensely
happy in this new work and approached his task with a certain tender
reverence, rare among teachers, for he agreed with wise old Roger Ascham
in thinking that "the pure, clean wit of a sweet, young babe is like the
newest wax, most able to receive the best and fairest printing, and like
a new bright silver dish never occupied to receive and keep clean any
good thing that is put in it."


One morning in early October, Montagu was sitting, as usual, at his
little table copying the Greek alphabet, while Mr. Wycherly sat watching
him with pleased, dreamy eyes.  As the little boy completed his task he
raised his head with a sigh of satisfaction and happened to look down
into the garden.

"Do you think?" he suddenly asked Mr. Wycherly, "I might go out and help
Aunt Esperance dig the potatoes?  The ground seems so heavy this
morning."

Mr. Wycherly rose hastily, crossed over to Montagu’s window and looked
out.

"Good God!" he exclaimed, and fled from the room.

Much astonished at this outburst from his usually serene tutor, Montagu
tore downstairs after him.

What Mr. Wycherly had seen to cause him such consternation was what he
might have seen any time during the last fifteen years—namely, the tiny,
stooping figure of Miss Esperance digging the potatoes for the day’s
dinner. But if it ever happened that he did look out he had never
chanced to look down into the homely garden below, or if he had his eyes
were holden, and he was wrapped in his dreams.  So that he beheld only
the things of the spirit, nor did he know how often the palms of those
little hands, so ready to help others, were hard and blistered by their
labours.

Since the days when he ran shouting along the towing path at Oxford Mr.
Wycherly had never run as he ran that morning to the potato patch at
Remote.  Montagu was hard put to it to catch him, but just managed it,
and they arrived together before the astonished eyes of Miss Esperance,
who saw them coming in such hot haste, and rested on her spade in fear
and trembling as to what could have happened.

When Mr. Wycherly did reach her he could not speak, so breathless was
he: but he looked beseechingly at her and gently took the spade out of
her hands.

"Why?" he gasped, "Why?"  His face worked strangely and he could say
nothing more.  Montagu stood watching him with solemn, puzzled eyes.

But Miss Esperance understood.  "You have come to help me," she said
gently, "that is very kind of you.  Montagu! away and get your wee spade
and dig too."

The little boy needed no second bidding, and flew to the tool-house.
Mr. Wycherly hadn’t the faintest notion how to dig potatoes.  He had
never held a spade in his hands before, and held this much as a nervous
person unaccustomed to firearms might hold a loaded gun. He looked
helplessly at Miss Esperance, and still the lines were deep about his
mouth and his eyes full of that new, dumb pain.

"Watch Montagu!" she whispered reassuringly, "he’s a famous digger."

Between them they dug quite a lot of potatoes, and Mr. Wycherly,
himself, carried the heavy basket to Elsa at the back door.  She took it
from him without comment of any kind, but when he had gone round through
the garden to get into the house by the front, she looked into the
basket, exclaiming, "Now what put sic’ a whigmalerie as this in his
head?"  And it seemed as if the potatoes must have thrown some light
upon the question, for in another minute she said softly, "Yon’s no a
bad buddy."

When Montagu went back to his lessons he found his tutor, with earthy
hands clasped behind him, restlessly pacing up and down his room.

"I think you’ve done enough this morning," said Mr. Wycherly.  "You’d
better go out and play while it is so fine and nice."

"It’s not twelve o’clock yet," Montagu objected, "and I generally do
lessons till twelve."

"We shall have plenty of wet days by-and-by," Mr. Wycherly answered.
"Go out now, and make the most of it while it is fine."

"But Robina and Edmund’s gone, and Aunt Esperance is busy—won’t you
come?"

"Yes, I’ll come."  But yet Mr. Wycherly made no move to get ready.

"I’ve washed my hands," Montagu remarked virtuously.

Mr. Wycherly started, unclasped his hands and held them out in front of
him.  "I fear," he said sadly, "that nothing will wash mine."  A remark
which puzzled Montagu extremely, for in a few minutes Mr. Wycherly
returned from his bedroom with perfectly clean hands.

It was a very silent walk at first, and what conversation there was
Montagu made.  At last he grew rather tired of this one-sided
intercourse and gave his companion’s hand a tug as he demanded: "Are you
asleep, that you don’t never answer?"

Mr. Wycherly started.  "No, my dear son," he said very gently; "I think
that I am just beginning to be awake."

"Will you talk to me then, like you generally do, and tell me things?
Shall we go on about Jason?  I do love stories where people do things."

Mr. Wycherly stood still in the middle of the road, and looked down into
the little eager face uplifted to his.  "You are right, Montagu," he
said very gravely; "it is of little use to think things if you don’t do
them."  And then it seemed as though Mr. Wycherly gave himself a mental
shake, for he devoted his whole attention to Montagu for the rest of
their walk.

Mr. Wycherly’s early dinner was served in his own room, but he always
supped downstairs with Miss Esperance at seven o’clock. He was the most
unpunctual of mortals, and when he first came, infuriated Elsa by
sometimes forgetting to eat any lunch at all.  But when he discovered
that these lapses really distressed Miss Esperance, he schooled himself
to keep as nearly as possible to the appointed hours.  He was never late
for supper, for that would have been discourteous to Miss Esperance, and
he was incapable of discourtesy; but he did allow himself a certain
amount of laxity with regard to lunch.  As for breakfast—ever since the
coming of the children he had been a model of punctuality, for they woke
him up so uncommonly early.

When he entered his room after the walk with Montagu, he found his lunch
all ready set on the round table in the middle of the room. This table
was sacred to meals, and he was not permitted to pile it with books and
papers. Hence, he was wont to regard its oaken emptiness between whiles
with a wistful envy.  It was so much good space wasted.  His lunch was
always very nicely laid, and to-day there was cold beef, thin dainty
slices adorned with parsley by Elsa’s careful hand, and beside the beef
stood a covered vegetable dish.  Mr. Wycherly sat down at the table,
poured out a glass of ale from the little Toby jug set at his right hand
and mechanically lifted the cover of the dish.  Potatoes were in that
dish, and at the sight of them he rose hastily from the table. He went
over to his big, knee-hole desk, and sitting down in front of it said
aloud: "And all these years she has been digging potatoes for me!"

Like a tired schoolboy he leaned forward, his arms upon his desk, laid
his head down on them, and the room was very still.

When Elsa went in to take away the dishes, he had gone out: but his
lunch was untouched. She shook her head ominously, and went and turned
down his bed, though it was only early afternoon.

Mr. Wycherly walked and walked till he was quite worn out.  He got back
to the house about four o’clock, crawled up to his room, and sank quite
exhausted into his big chair by the window.  All afternoon Elsa had been
watching for him, and three minutes after his return she followed him
upstairs bearing a little tray on which were set a cup of tea and a
plate of most tempting-looking scones.  She didn’t even knock at his
door, but went straight in, pushed the round table up to his elbow and
laid the little tray upon it.  She took up her stand at the window with
her back to Mr. Wycherly, remarking fiercely: "From this place I’ll not
stir till you’ve taken that tea."

She did not even add the usual tardy "sir," and Mr. Wycherly was so
startled that he never noticed the omission.  He drank the tea, and ate
two scones, and all the time Elsa stood with her back to him looking out
of the window.

Presently he touched her on the arm.  "I am very much obliged to you,
Elsa," he said. "I think I must have forgotten to eat as much lunch as
usual, I was so extremely tired, but I feel much refreshed now."

Elsa grunted something quite inaudible, took the tray off the table,
and, still with averted head, stumped out of the room.

But the fates had not done with Mr. Wycherly that day.  As he and Miss
Esperance sat down to supper, Montagu, who for some reason was rather
later than usual in going to bed, came in to say good night to them.  He
first kissed his aunt, who sat at one end of the table, then went to
kiss Mr. Wycherly who sat at the other.  Having said good night, of
course he lingered, leant confidingly against his tutor, and in the
universal fashion of children who would fain put off the evil hour of
bed, remarked detachedly: "You’ve got chops.  Aunt Esperance has only
got an egg.  Don’t you like chops, Aunt Esperance?  I do, much better
than eggs."

Mr. Wycherly dropped back in his chair, looking painfully distressed.
For a moment there was a dreadful pause, but the beautiful breeding of
Miss Esperance stood her in good stead even then.

"Do you know," she exclaimed, as though a sudden thought had struck her,
"I feel unusually hungry to-night.  I think I will defy my doctor for
once, and take a chop after all, Mr. Wycherly."

And Miss Esperance handed up her little plate for the chop which Mr.
Wycherly joyfully placed upon it.  But now came another difficulty.
Miss Esperance, who had eaten a boiled egg at this hour nearly every
night for some twenty years, had no fork.

"Montagu, my son," she said cheerfully, "run and ask Elsa for a fork for
me."

No man ever existed who cared less about eating than Mr. Wycherly.
Whatsoever was set before him, that he ate meekly and without comment—if
he remembered.  He always offered to help Miss Esperance from whatever
dish was set before him at supper, and she as invariably refused it.  It
would have seemed to him an unwarrantable piece of interference even so
indirectly to criticise her housekeeping as to suggest what she should
eat.  But to-day there had occurred something which had entirely shaken
him out of his usual patient acquiescence in existing conditions: so
that, when Montagu pointed out that his fare was so much better than
that of Miss Esperance, he was seized by a new anguish of self-reproach.
Had he, all these years, been living luxuriously?—that is how poor Mr.
Wycherly put it to himself—while she, who with her frail little hands
had pulled him forcibly back from the abyss into which he was so surely
slipping, had she been living sparely, and he never even noticed whether
she had enough to eat?  In his misery he was ready to accuse himself of
having starved Miss Esperance that he might go full-fed himself.

It was rather a silent meal.  Miss Esperance did her best to start
topics of interest, but his response, though never lacking in urbane
attention, was somewhat half-hearted and depressed.

When he had gone upstairs to his own room, Miss Esperance waited with
the little bell, which summoned Elsa, still in her hand till that good
woman appeared, when she asked anxiously: "Elsa, do you know if anything
has occurred to upset Mr. Wycherly?  He is not looking at all well
to-night."

Elsa shook her head.  "I dinna ken, mem, what it’ll be, but he never
touched his denner, and when he came back this afternoon he looked like
he’d been greetin’ and greetin’ sair."

Elsa paused; Miss Esperance made no answer, but stood still, looking at
the lamp on the table, lost in thought.

"It’s no the old thing," Elsa added suddenly, lowering her voice.

Miss Esperance put out her hand as if warding off a blow.  "Of course
not," she exclaimed.  "I am surprised, Elsa, that you should so far
forget yourself as to refer, to—that time—so long ago, so entirely
passed."

The little lady seemed in some subtle fashion to withdraw herself to an
immense distance from the homely serving-woman who stood fingering her
apron and saying nothing.  She knew that she had offended her mistress,
and when Miss Esperance was offended, she, usually the gentlest and
friendliest of women, became quite unapproachable.  She left the room
with her usual noiseless tread, and for a good five minutes after she
had gone Elsa stood where she was, still fingering her apron and
wondering what she could do to make amends.


Mr. Wycherly sat at his knee-hole table far into the night.  From the
recesses of a drawer that had been locked for years he brought forth
papers; long, legal-looking papers, and set himself, for the first time
since he came to live with Miss Esperance, to look into his financial
position.  He made many notes and his brow was furrowed by care and
thought, for his brain lent itself with difficulty to the understanding
of figures.  Still he persevered, and gradually his expression became
less pained and perplexed. For once he did not leave his papers
scattered all over the table.  He arranged them neatly in bundles and
put them back again into the drawer and locked it.

When he had finished these unusually orderly arrangements, he pulled up
the blind of Montagu’s window and looked out toward Arthur’s Seat.  It
was a moonlight night, and something of the large peace of that majestic
hill seemed to pass into his soul, for his gentle, scholarly face was no
longer troubled, and he whispered as if in prayer: "Thank God, I can at
least do that for her.  Thank God!"

The tender moonbeams touched Mr. Wycherly’s hair, white since he was
seven and twenty, to purest silver, and there seemed a benediction in
that quiet hour for the little house that held so much of innocence and
sorrow and repentance.



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                      *ELSA DRIVES THE NAIL HOME*

And toward such a full or complete life, a life of various yet select
sensation, the most direct and effective auxiliary must be, in a word,
Insight.—MARIUS THE EPICUREAN.


When Elsa came to clear away Mr. Wycherly’s breakfast next morning she
shut the door carefully behind her and stumped—never had woman a heavier
foot than Elsa—across to his writing-table, where she stood facing him
in silence.

Mr. Wycherly was, as usual, bent over a book, and the book was Roger
Ascham’s "Schoolmaster."  It was his habit ever since he had begun to
teach Montagu to read therein for a few minutes every morning that he
might start the lessons for the day in a frame of mind "fresh and
serenely disposed."

When Elsa planted herself full in his view he had just reached the
sentence describing the sixth virtue in a scholar: "He that is naturally
bold to ask any question," and was smiling to himself in the thought
that both his pupil and the small Edmund fulfilled this condition to the
very letter, when he looked up and saw Elsa.

"Sir," said Elsa, "do ye not want an account of your money?"

"No, Elsa," Mr. Wycherly answered, smiling still, although a little
startled by the interruption, "not in the least.  I probably should not
understand it if you gave it to me.  Do you want any more?  Because, if
so, I have some for you."  And Mr. Wycherly made as if to open one of
the drawers of his table.

"Stop!" Elsa exclaimed, "I’ve five pound yet, but I’m fear’d.  I’d
rather you had it back."

"But why?" Mr. Wycherly asked.  "There must be many expenses, many extra
expenses since the children came——"

"When the bairnies came," said Elsa, looking severely at Mr. Wycherly,
"you gave me three ten-pound notes, and ever since I’ve been deceiving
the mistress.  Twenty-five pounds have I spent in groceries and odds and
ends, and she so surprised—like that the bairns didna’ mak’ so great a
difference—and I just daurna gae on.  I’m fear’d.  If she was ever to
ken—and she’s that gleg in the uptak, she’ll ken somehow, an’ it’s me
she’ll blame, and no you."

Elsa’s voice broke.  The favour of her mistress was very precious to
her, and as yet she could not feel that Miss Esperance had quite
forgiven her for her indiscretion of the night before.  Mr. Wycherly had
obtained quite a large sum of money for the valuable books he sold when
he and Miss Esperance went to fetch the children, and on their return he
had given thirty pounds to Elsa, bidding her get any extras that might
be necessary, without troubling her mistress.  At the time Elsa had
taken the money willingly enough, for she felt that it would be more
usefully expended in her hands than if Mr. Wycherly kept it.  "He’ll
just waste it on some haver of a bit book," she said to herself, and
salved her conscience with this reflection; and it had, undoubtedly,
tided the little household over a difficult time.  But now, she felt,
this cooking of the household books could not go on.  It must come to an
end with the money, and her mistress would wonder why, all at once, the
weekly expenses had increased so mightily.  Searching inquiries would be
made.  Elsa knew that she could not lie to Miss Esperance, and she came
to the conclusion that as the money was his, it would be better that Mr.
Wycherly should make the necessary explanation and bear the blame.  She
would be his accomplice in this innocent deception no longer.

Therefore did she take from her pocket a screw of paper which she
unfolded, displaying the five sovereigns wrapped in it, and laid them
down on Mr. Wycherly’s desk in a row.

"I can give an account for every penny of the twenty-five pound," said
Elsa, turning away from the table, "and you maun just tell her the
truth—sir.  The tradesman’s books’ll be gey and big this week," she
added, significantly.

Mr. Wycherly leant back in his chair and gazed helplessly at Elsa, who
was now removing his breakfast things with her customary clatter. She
would not meet his eye, for an uneasy feeling that she had "gone back on
him" to a certain extent, disturbed her, and she was more than usually
unapproachable in consequence.

She had finished clearing the table and was about to depart with the
tray when Mr. Wycherly spoke: "Elsa," he said, "you had better take this
money and use it as you did the other. You are quite right that Miss
Esperance must know.  It is an impertinence on our part to do anything
without her knowledge: but I hope—I sincerely hope that in the future
Miss Esperance will permit me to act as guardian to her great-nephews in
more than name; that she will give me the _right_ to take my share—in
whatever may be necessary.  But be reassured as to this, Elsa, I will
not allow you to be blamed for what, after all, was wholly my fault: a
grievous fault in taste, I confess: but it was done hastily, and, to be
quite candid, I had wholly forgotten the circumstance until you very
properly reminded me of it."

Mr. Wycherly spoke earnestly, and while he was talking Elsa had laid
down the tray again on the centre table.  She made no answer to this
unusually long speech from him, but stood with her hard old face set
like a flint, wholly expressionless, till she remarked suddenly and
irrelevantly: "Could you tak’ your breakfast at eight o’clock instead o’
nine, sir?"

"Certainly," Mr. Wycherly replied, rather astonished at this abrupt,
change of subject, "if you will be kind enough to call me rather
earlier.  Those little people wake me in excellent time."

"Would you let the mistress come here to her breakfast wi’ you?"

Mr. Wycherly rose to his feet.  "Do you think Miss Esperance would so
far honour me, Elsa?"

Elsa and Mr. Wycherly stood looking at one another across the room.
Suddenly she bent her eyes upon the carpet and spoke in a low,
monotonous voice.

"Sir," she said, "it’s like this.  The mistress never gets a proper
breakfast for those wee bairns——"

"I can well believe that," Mr. Wycherly interrupted.

"Now if you, sir" (it was surprising how fluently the ’sir’ came to Elsa
just then), "would just say that you’d like your breakfast a wee thing
sooner in the morning and would ask the mistress, would she no have hers
wi’ you for the company.  Then me an’ Robina’ll see that the wee boys
has theirs.  Don’t you think, sir, you’d eat more yersel’, if ye was no
read—readin’ a’ the time?  If ye’d just tell the mistress that?  It’s
dull-like, isn’t it, to eat yer lane?"

Elsa picked up her tray and hastened from the room, feeling that do as
she would, she and Mr. Wycherly were doomed to be fellow-conspirators.

The sun came out and shone on the five sovereigns lying on the
writing-table, and Montagu, at that moment coming in to his lessons,
spied them.

"What a lot of money!" he exclaimed. "What are you going to do with it?"

"I hope," said Mr. Wycherly, quite gaily, "that I am going to buy large
pieces of happiness with it."

"Can you buy happiness?" Montagu asked wonderingly, ever desirous to
search out any doubt.

"No," Mr. Wycherly said decidedly, "not the best kinds, but it sometimes
happens that one can buy useful things that help—to a certain degree—in
obtaining happiness: and it is those useful things I hope to buy."

"Useful things," Montagu repeated in a disappointed tone, "like
pinafores?  Those sort of things wouldn’t make _me_ happy."  Montagu
loathed the blue pinafores enforced by Miss Esperance, and considered it
a degradation to wear one.

"I’m not sure that I shall buy pinafores," said Mr. Wycherly; "they are
not the only useful things in the world."

"Useful things are always dull," Montagu persisted.

"On the contrary," Mr. Wycherly replied, "useful things are sometimes
full of the most exquisite romance."

That day early after lunch he called upon Lady Alicia Carruthers.  She
was at home and alone, and he stayed with her nearly all the afternoon.
Lady Alicia would not let him go till he had had a cup of tea, and this
marked an epoch in the life of Mr. Wycherly at Remote, for it was the
first time he had broken bread in a neighbour’s house.

Shortly after this he astonished his relatives by suddenly demanding
entire control of his property.  He sent for the family lawyer, a
certain Mr. Woodhouse, and went into his affairs with a thoroughness and
an amount of legal acumen that quite amazed that worthy man.

Mr. Wycherly’s brothers were by no means pleased.  For many years—ever
since he had, much against their will, and in direct opposition to the
advice and warnings showered upon him, resigned his fellowship and
withdrawn himself finally from the scene of all his former interests—he
had been well content to spend about half his little income while the
remainder accumulated under their careful stewardship, presumably for
their benefit and that of their children.  He had asked no questions and
appeared, as indeed he was, quite contented with the arrangement.  So
entirely had he accepted existing conditions, that when he wanted money
in a hurry, in order to see that Miss Esperance and the children should
make the journey in decent comfort, he had sold his most precious books
instead of telegraphing to his solicitor.

But with the advent of Archie’s children Mr. Wycherly was completely
shaken out of his groove.  His humble desire to hide his shame from the
eyes of men (for to him, even in times when occasional excess was
regarded by the majority less severely than it is now, it meant disgrace
and dishonour) gave way to the more ardent desire that these boys might
take their place in the world he had left; see, and be seen, and, if
possible, seize all the opportunities that he himself had thrown away.

Mr. Woodhouse had travelled all the way from Shrewsbury to Edinburgh to
confer with Mr. Wycherly, and he stayed with Lady Alicia, for the public
house at Burnhead was of a very humble order, having no bedroom to offer
to the wayfaring stranger.  Like many other people, he had fallen under
the charm of Miss Esperance, and he not only acquiesced, but positively
encouraged Mr. Wycherly in all his plans for the disposal of his
property.  It is quite possible that he was not sorry to see his other
clients of that name disappointed. "They’ve kept him short all these
years, when they had no earthly right to, just because he and the old
lady are as unworldly as a pair of babies—and now, after all their
scheming and saving, the whole of that money will go to benefit her
relations," said Mr. Woodhouse to Lady Alicia, with a chuckle.  "It’s
poetic justice, that’s what I call it."

Mr. Woodhouse was standing on the hearthrug warming his coat-tails.  He
had returned for the night from Remote, and was quite prepared to enjoy
a comfortable chat with Lady Alicia and her pretty daughter, Margaret,
who were sitting by the fire knitting diligently.

"Do you happen to know?" asked Lady Alicia, who had never dared ask the
question of Miss Esperance, "what caused the—er—mental break-down, that
made Mr. Wycherly leave Oxford?"

The keen eyes under the bushy eyebrows twinkled with amusement as Mr.
Woodhouse surveyed his hostess, who was, he very well knew, devoured by
curiosity.

"I’ve never really heard the rights of it," he said cautiously, "but
from what I have heard I should gather that it was, as usual, saving
your presence, my dear young lady, a woman who was at the bottom of the
mischief."

"Oh!" exclaimed pretty Margaret, "how very sad.  Did she die?"

"She was," said Mr. Woodhouse, gazing into the gracious, pitiful young
face uplifted to his, "a hard, scheming woman, beautiful, of course, not
over young; in fact, I think she was older than he was.  He, then, was
considered the handsomest man in Oxford, very distinguished, you know,
with his white hair and young face, all the Wycherlys go gray very
early.  At that time there seemed no honour in the university to which
he might not aspire.  He was popular in society——"

"He has the most beautiful manners," Lady Alicia remarked, laying down
her knitting and preparing to enjoy herself.

"He had then.  In fact, in Oxford he was looked upon as a very brilliant
and rising young man; and the fact that he had some private means made
it possible for him to go into Society, with a big ’S,’ rather more than
is usual in such cases."

"I always felt," said Lady Alicia, bridling, "that he had at some time
or another belonged to the great world.  But what of the lady?"

"She came down for Commemoration Week; stayed, I think, with the Dean of
Christ Church, and made a dead set at Wycherly.  He went down before her
like a ninepin, and they were engaged, and there was ’a marriage
arranged to take place,’ before the week was out."

"Why didn’t it take place?" asked pretty Margaret eagerly.

"Because, my dear young lady, the lady in question happened to fascinate
a richer man just a week before the wedding day, and poor Wycherly
discovered the whole affair in some fashion that was a very great shock
to him. The only thing he was ever heard to say about it was that it
hurt him rather to hear of her marriage to the other man while he was
still under the impression that she was engaged to him."

"She wasn’t worth grieving over," Lady Alicia cried indignantly.

"Poor Mr. Wycherly!" pretty Margaret said softly.  "And he is so kind
and gentle always."

"I hope her marriage turned out badly," said Lady Alicia vindictively.

"Your ladyship’s pious hope was amply fulfilled," Mr. Woodhouse replied.

"Won’t you tell us who she was?" Lady Alicia demanded in honeyed tones.

"Alas, dear Lady Alicia, that I must not do. She is dead—_de mortuis nil
nisi bonum_, you know—may she rest in peace!"

Lady Alicia folded up her knitting.  "In that case," she said somewhat
abruptly, "we must not keep you out of your bed any longer, you have had
a tiring day."

                     *      *      *      *      *

"Is he quite capable of managing his own affairs?" Mr. Wycherly’s
brothers eagerly asked Mr. Woodhouse on his return some three days
later.

"Perfectly capable," answered that gentleman decidedly.  "Indeed, he
shows quite remarkable business capacity, considering how long it is
since he has undertaken anything of the kind.  It’s a thousand pities he
resigned his fellowship.  I would not advise you to attempt any sort of
interference with him—for, however reluctant I might be to give evidence
as to the impropriety of such a course, I should be obliged in common
honesty to do so.  It was certainly Quixotic to resign his fellowship
when he did, but it could not be brought up as a proof of mental
incapacity at this time of day."

Mr. Wycherly’s brothers did not fail to remind him at this juncture
that, had he listened to them, he would still be enjoying the income of
his fellowship.  "No one," they had reiterated, "could take it from him
while he lived. Once a fellow, always a fellow—a fellowship was a
freehold, and what did it matter to the authorities in Oxford what he
did north of the Tweed?"

But Mr. Wycherly had loved his college too dearly to bring shame upon
her, and if he could not serve, neither would he accept wage.  And now
that he had every reason to wish that his income was larger, it was the
one step in all the inglorious past that he did not regret.

Through the family solicitor he demanded an account of all monies
belonging to himself: explaining with the utmost clearness that he
intended to educate both Montagu and Edmund "as befitted their position
in life," that he wished to adopt both of them, and that, with their
aunt’s consent, the elder of the two was to take his name, and inherit
whatever he could leave him.

"It won’t be much," he said to Mr. Woodhouse, when he was discussing
ways and means with him, "for I intend Montagu to go to Winchester and
New College, and of course Edmund, should he go into the navy, will need
a considerable allowance for years to come.  But whatever there is, that
they are to have, and, above all, I beg you to make it perfectly clear
to Miss Esperance that she need be under no apprehension as to their
future."

For the sake of "Archie’s boys" Mr. Wycherly even bethought him of old
friends from whose kindly questioning eyes he would fain have hidden.
Insensibly, too, he accustomed himself to dwell fondly upon the past,
that pleasant past once so full of success, of dignity, and of the
intellectual honours so dear to him; that happy time preceding those
dark years of weakness and shame and mental degradation.

Thus he found himself telling Montagu all about William of Wykeham of
pious memory: of the "Founder’s Crozier" and the "Great West Window,"
and of the Warden’s library at New College where they keep the Founder’s
Jewel.  Day by day Montagu would revert to these entrancing topics till
Oxford rivalled even Troy in his affections, and the knowledge that he
himself was destined one day to go and live in this wonderful place gave
an even greater zeal to his studies than before.

Moreover, pictures of this same Oxford were found in boxes stored away,
and were brought forth and, at Montagu’s request, hung up, till what
with books and what with engravings there was hardly an inch of
drab-coloured wall to be seen.

As to the matter of breakfast—Elsa was so piteous in her account of how
that meal was neglected by Mr. Wycherly, and he proclaimed his
loneliness in such moving terms, that Miss Esperance came to the
conclusion that he was really far more in need of her supervision than
the little boys, and it ended in their breakfasting together in his room
at eight o’clock, and Mr. Wycherly, on the morning that initiated this
new arrangement, was as nervous and excited as an undergraduate who
expects "ladies to lunch" in his rooms for the first time.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                   *EDMUND RECHRISTENS MR. WYCHERLY*

      "Time was," the golden head
      Irrevocably said;
      "But time which none can bind,
    While flowing fast away, leaves love behind."
        R.L.S.


"It is just a year to-day since the children came," said Miss Esperance,
smiling across the table at Mr. Wycherly, as they sat together at
breakfast in his room.

"In some ways," he replied thoughtfully, "it seems as though they must
always have been here: it is impossible to conceive of life without
them—now.  In others, the time has gone so fast that it might be but
yesterday they came."

"When I was younger," Miss Esperance went on in her gentle, old voice,
"I used to look forward with such dread to a lonely old age.  I used to
think ’what would life be if my father and my brothers died?’; and one
by one they were all taken from me, and Archie was the last of our
family—and he is dead.  But the Lord has been very merciful.  First he
sent you to me, and then the children to us both: ’Goodness and mercy
all my life have surely followed me.’"

Miss Esperance paused, still smiling in the happy confidence of the
peace that wrapped her round.

If Mr. Wycherly did not answer it was not because he did not agree with
Miss Esperance as to the wonderful workings of Providence. But speech on
such subjects was to him almost impossible; and she, looking wistfully
into his face, partly realised this.  But she was not quite satisfied.
Religion was, for her, so entirely the mainspring of her every impulse,
her every action, that it was impossible for her in any way to separate
it from the most ordinary daily doings; and to her it was as easy and as
natural to confess her faith and her deepest feelings with regard to
these matters as it was impossible to him.  This inability on his part
formed to a certain extent a barrier between them: a barrier which can
only be broken down by mutual consent; and while he would have done, as
in very truth he did, anything in the world to give her pleasure and
peace of mind: this thing which she would have valued most, he could not
give her.  He could not talk about his religious views.

In the silence that followed it is possible that there recurred to the
minds of both an incident not wholly without bearing on their future
intercourse.  One Sabbath evening, shortly after he had gone to live
with Miss Esperance at Remote, she asked him to "engage in prayer" at
family worship—the "family" consisting of herself and Elsa.

Mr. Wycherly complied readily enough, for he knew plenty of prayers: but
when he prayed, he prayed for "the bishops and curates and all
congregations committed to their charge"; he prayed for the "good estate
of the Catholic Church here upon earth"; and, worst of all—it being the
collect for the day—he prayed that "as thy Holy Angels always do thee
service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succour and defend us
on earth."  Never was such a scandal in a strictly Presbyterian
household.  Elsa proclaimed throughout the village that Miss Esperance
had been induced to harbour an undoubted Puseyite, and it would not have
surprised her in the least if he had prayed for the Pope himself.

And Miss Esperance, knowing the length and strength of Elsa’s tongue,
felt herself constrained to explain (she did it with considerable
humour) to the Reverend Peter Gloag what had really happened.  Whereupon
the minister dismissed Mr. Wycherly and all his works as being "fettered
by formula?": and to the great relief of this prisoner in the chains of
ecclesiasticism he was never again asked to conduct family worship.  He
innocently wondered why, for he imagined with some complacency that he
had acquitted himself gracefully in what had been rather a trying
ordeal.

The tender smile of Miss Esperance, as she reflected upon her many
mercies, had changed to a smile of no less tender amusement as she
recalled those by-gone days, and Mr. Wycherly, ever quick to notice any
change in the dear old face he loved so well, felt that he might now
venture upon more familiar ground.

"You look amused," he remarked; "would it be a safe conjecture to say
that you are probably thinking of Edmund?"

"That reminds me," Miss Esperance exclaimed, without committing herself.
"I do wish that we could induce that dear little boy not to call you
’man.’  It is so disrespectful."

It had never struck Mr. Wycherly in that light.  In fact he had found
considerable secret comfort in the fact that Edmund, at all events, had
from the very first considered him deserving of that epithet.  Mr.
Wycherly was sensitive, and he knew perfectly well in what sort of
estimation most of the inhabitants of Burnhead held him.

"Do you think it matters?" he asked mildly, "what such a baby calls me?"

"Not to you, certainly," Miss Esperance replied promptly; "but I do
think it matters for him.  He is three now, and it’s time he knew
better."

"Surely three is not a very great age?" Mr. Wycherly pleaded.

"It is old enough for Edmund to want his own way, and generally to take
it," Miss Esperance rejoined as she rose from the table; "and it is old
enough for him to learn that he must be dutiful and obedient."

As Mr. Wycherly held the door open for her to go out, he remarked
deferentially, "But, don’t you think, dear Miss Esperance, that either
’Mr.’ or ’Sir’ is a somewhat formal mode of address to exact from such a
baby?"

"I called my honoured father ’Sir’ from the time I could speak at all,
and when I was young it would never for one moment have been permitted
to us to address any grown-up person otherwise than with respect," Miss
Esperance continued, as she paused in the doorway.  "I will see what I
can do about it this very day. I feel sure that if we reason with that
dear child, we can induce him to find some more suitable way of
addressing you."

When Miss Esperance had gone, and Mr. Wycherly had shut his door, he
shook his head and laughed.  Two or three times lately he had tried a
fall with Edmund, and that lusty infant invariably came off an easy
victor.

It was the daily custom for both the little boys to visit Mr. Wycherly
for a few minutes after breakfast, when biscuits were doled out and
there was much cheery good-fellowship. Mr. Wycherly himself made
periodical visits to Edinburgh to purchase these biscuits, which were
adorned with pink and white sugar, and were of a delectable flavour.
Once the biscuits were consumed—they had three each—Montagu settled down
to his lessons, and Edmund, ever unwillingly, departed with Robina.

Through the open window that morning there floated an imperative baby
voice.  "See man," it insisted, "me go and see man."

Mr. Wycherly looked out and Edmund looked up.  He stretched out his fat
arms, balancing himself first on one foot and then on the other, as
though poised for flight, while in the thrush-like tones that were
always irresistible to Mr. Wycherly he gave his usual cry of "Uppie!
Uppie! _deah_ man."

When Edmund called him "deah man" there was nothing on earth that Mr.
Wycherly could withhold.  "Bring Edmund up, Montagu," he said, leaning
out of the window.  "We’ll have a holiday to-day, it’s a kind of
birthday.  Just a year since you came."

But the gentle voice of Miss Esperance interposed. "Edmund must say
’Please, Mr. Wycherly,’ or ’please, sir,’ then he can go up."

"See man, me go and see man," Edmund persisted, absolutely ignoring his
aunt’s admonition and jumping up and down as though he could reach Mr.
Wycherly that way.

"No, Edmund," Miss Esperance said firmly; "you _must_ say, ’Please, Mr.
Wycherly."

Edmund looked at his aunt and his round chubby face expressed the utmost
defiance. "I _sall_ say man, and I will go to man," he announced loudly
and distinctly, "he’s my man, and I ’ove him—I don’t ’ove _you_," he
added emphatically.

"Edmund, my son, come here."  There was no resisting the resolution in
that very gentle voice.  Miss Esperance seated herself on the garden
seat under Mr. Wycherly’s window, and Edmund came at her bidding, to
stand in front of her, square and sturdy and rebellious.

Mr. Wycherly had withdrawn from the window when Miss Esperance first
began her expostulation with Edmund.  Now it struck him as rather shabby
to leave her to wrestle with that young sinner alone over a matter which
certainly referred to himself; so he hastened downstairs and joined her
in the garden.

On his appearance Edmund began his dance again, and his petition of
"Uppie!  Uppie!"

Mr. Wycherly went and sat on the seat beside Miss Esperance, trying hard
to look stern and judicial, and failing signally, while the chubby
culprit made ineffectual attempts to climb upon his knee.

"Edmund must say ’Please, Mr. Wycherly,’ or ’Please, sir,’" Miss
Esperance repeated.

"Peese, Mittah Chahley," echoed Edmund in tones that would have melted a
heart of stone.

Now if "man" was a disrespectful and familiar mode of address, "Chahlee"
seemed a singularly inappropriate pseudonym for Mr. Wycherly.

Even Montagu giggled.

The matutinal service of biscuits was long overdue, Edmund grew
impatient, and the corners of his rosy mouth drooped.  "I’ve said
’Chahley,’" he announced reproachfully, "and you don’t take me."

Mr. Wycherly looked beseechingly at Miss Esperance.  "I think he has
done his best," he said in deprecating tones, "it is a difficult name
for a baby."

"Chahlee!  Chahlee!" chirped Edmund, beginning to dance again.  "Uppie!
Uppie!" then turning to his aunt—"I’ve said ’im."

"You haven’t said it right—but perhaps—" Miss Esperance wavered.

Edmund marched up to his aunt, placed both his dimpled elbows on her
knees, and gazing earnestly into her face with bunches of unshed tears
still hanging on his lashes, remarked vindictively: "I wis a gate bid
ball would come and bounce at you."

Miss Esperance burst out laughing and stooped to kiss the red, indignant
baby-face. "All the same, my dear son, you must learn to do what you are
told."

"Me go wiv—Chahlee," Edmund announced triumphantly, as Mr. Wycherly
lifted him up.

"Am I to call you Charlie, too?" asked Montagu, who was rather jealous
where his tutor’s favour was concerned.

"Pray, don’t!" exclaimed that gentleman hastily.

"Chahlee, Chahlee," crowed Edmund from the safe vantage ground of Mr.
Wycherly’s arms as he was carried upstairs.  "Deah man, Chahlee."

Miss Esperance sat on where she was.  Her interference had certainly not
improved matters, and she was really perturbed.  That she should in any
way, however inadvertently and innocently, have rendered Mr. Wycherly in
the smallest degree ridiculous was most distressing to her.

Had the baby done his best, or was it but one more instance of his
supreme subtlety in the avoidance of doing what he was told?

Miss Esperance adored Edmund.  He was a Bethune from the top curl of his
fair hair to his small, straight, pink toes.  Handsome, ruddy, with very
blue eyes; eyes that changed in colour with his every emotion, even as
the sea so many of his forbears had served changes with the passing
hours; he was the image of Archie Bethune, his father.  He was like her
brother, whose name he bore, and still stronger was his likeness to the
admiral, her father, that generous and choleric sailor whose memory she
so revered.

Yet no one knew better than Miss Esperance the faults of the Bethune
temperament.  Had she not suffered from them herself in the past? And
she was painfully anxious to keep in check the wilful impulsiveness so
strongly marked in her great-nephew—that taking of their own way, no
matter at what cost in tribulation to themselves or suffering to others.
How many Bethunes had it ruined in the past!  And yet if she rebuked him
now it might confuse the baby: and above all, Miss Esperance desired to
be just in her dealings with these small creatures committed to her
charge.

As she sat in the sunshine, with the children’s voices borne to her on
the soft winds of early summer, she prayed for guidance.

Suddenly the children’s voices ceased, for Mr. Wycherly was reading
aloud.  It was his habit to read to them odd scraps of anything that had
happened to please himself, while they munched their biscuits.
Sometimes they, or at all events Montagu, understood; as often they did
not: but both found some sort of pleasure in the fine English gracefully
read.  Miss Esperance listened, and as if in answer to her prayer she
heard, in Mr. Wycherly’s gentle, cultivated tones, these words: "Love is
fitter than fear, gentleness better than beating, to bring up a child
rightly in learning."

So for a while Baby Edmund was allowed to call Mr. Wycherly very much
what he pleased. He occasionally conceded something to convention by
addressing him as "Mittah man" or "Mittah Chahlee"—but as a rule he took
his own way; finally adopting for Mr. Wycherly Elsa’s usual style of
address toward himself, namely, "Dearie."

It had never occurred to Mr. Wycherly as possible that anyone should
address him as "Dearie," and this particular term of endearment did
sound somewhat of an anachronism.

But he liked it, he liked it amazingly: and seeing this, Miss Esperance
interfered no more.

In the end, however, it was Montagu who found a pet name for Mr.
Wycherly.  "What are you to me?" the little boy asked one day. "Are you
an uncle?"

"No," said Mr. Wycherly, "I am your guardian."

"What’s a guardian?"

"Someone who takes care of a child who has lost his parents."

"May I call you guardian?"

"Certainly, if you wish it."

"May Edmund?"

"Assuredly."

"Then we will—it’s more friendlier than ’Mr.,’ don’t you think?"

And it ended in Guardian being abbreviated into ’Guardie,’ so that Mr.
Wycherly was, after all, the only member of the household who was
permitted a diminutive.



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                             *CUPID ABROAD*

    "Cupid abroad was lated in the night,
      His wings were wet with ranging in the rain;
    Harbour he sought, to me he took his flight,
      To dry his plumes," I heard the boy complain;
    "I ope’d the door, and granted his desire.
      I rose myself, and made the wag a fire."


Everyone in the neighbourhood of Burnhead called Lady Alicia’s youngest
daughter "Bonnie Margaret," so full of charm and gaiety and gentleness
was she.  Not all the year was Lady Alicia at the "big hoose": since the
death of her husband—worthy David Carruthers, late Advocate—she always
wintered in Edinburgh; but with May, Bonnie Margaret came back to
Burnhead, unless, indeed, as had happened lately, she spent that month
in London with one of her married sisters.  But at all events some part
of the summer saw her back at Burnhead, and the sun seemed to shine the
brighter for her coming.

Like everyone else, she was very fond of Miss Esperance, and she often
came to Remote to play with the little boys who whole-heartedly approved
of her.  Mr. Wycherly, too, was fond of Bonnie Margaret, and somehow,
recently, she had seemed to come across him very often during his walks
with Montagu.  She would join them, and sometimes spend a whole long
afternoon in the little copse sitting beside Mr. Wycherly at the foot of
his favourite tree, while Montagu played at the brook.

Very shyly and with many most becoming blushes, Margaret confided to Mr.
Wycherly that she had met a nephew of his during her visits to her
sister.  Mr. Wycherly was not in the least interested in his nephew, but
he was interested in anything Bonnie Margaret chose to talk about, and
the nephew acquired a fictitious importance for this reason.

This nephew was, Margaret carefully explained, an exceedingly clever
young man, who had taken a good degree—but he didn’t want to take
orders, and he hated school-mastering—he had tried it—and now he had
gone into a friend’s business as a wine merchant, and his people were
very much annoyed. What was Mr. Wycherly’s opinion on the subject?  And
didn’t he think it was very noble of this young man to earn his bread in
this particular fashion?  It had taken many meetings and much elaborate
and roundabout explanation upon Margaret’s part before this final
statement of the situation was reached; and Mr. Wycherly, having in the
meantime heard complaints that Bonnie Margaret was very ill to please in
the matter of a husband, began to put two and two together.  Many swains
had sighed at Margaret’s shrine, and she had received what her mother
called "several quite good offers," but she would have nothing to say to
any of them.  She was in character fully as decided as Lady Alicia
herself.  But she was demure and gentle in manner, and instead of
fighting for her own way, as is the custom of the strenuous, simply took
it quietly, and without vehement declaration of any kind.

When appealed to as to his opinion of the nobility of his nephew’s
conduct in thus plunging into trade, Margaret and Mr. Wycherly were
sitting on a low wall, watching Edmund and Mause and Montagu disport
themselves in the hay-field it bordered.

The summer sun was warm, and Margaret wore a floppy leghorn hat which
threw a most becoming shade over her serious grey eyes; eyes with long
black lashes in somewhat startling contrast to her very fair hair.  Mr.
Wycherly particularly admired her Greek profile, her short upper lip,
the lovely oval of her cheek and chin.  Still more did he appreciate her
sweet consideration and gentleness; and for the first time since he came
to live in Scotland he found himself wishing that he knew something of
this nephew who so plainly occupied a prominent position in the thoughts
of this kind and beautiful girl.

"Of course," Mr. Wycherly remarked guardedly, "he is perfectly right to
earn his own living in the way that seems best to him, though whether it
was absolutely necessary to run counter to the prejudices of his
relatives in order to do so is not quite clear."

"But you would not, would you, look down on anyone just because he
happened to be in trade?  If he is a cultured gentleman already, his
being in trade can’t make him less of a cultured gentleman, can it?"

"Of course not," Mr. Wycherly agreed, "but I think I can understand,
perhaps, some slight reason for annoyance on the part of his people. You
see, had he announced earlier this extreme desire to go into business,
it is hardly likely that they would have given him an expensive
education at the University.  He was, you tell me, five years at
Oxford?"

"He didn’t waste his time there," Margaret answered eagerly, "he took
all sorts of honours: but he loathes teaching—"  Margaret stopped, for
Mr. Wycherly was looking at her with a curiously amused expression which
seemed to say, "How is it that you are so remarkably conversant with the
likes and dislikes of this young man?"

She leant over the wall to gather some of the big horse gowans that grew
in the field, so that her face was hidden from Mr. Wycherly.  She
fastened a little bunch of them into her waistband; then she said in the
detached tone of one who seeks for information merely from curiosity:

"Don’t you think that at some time or other one has to settle what to do
with one’s life, regardless of whether it is pleasing to other people or
not—I mean in very big and important things?"

Mr. Wycherly, who thought she was still referring to his nephew,
cordially agreed that for most of us such a course at some time or other
is a necessity.

As it happened, however, Bonnie Margaret was not talking of his nephew,
but of herself. Mr. Wycherly remembered this in the following October
when, Lady Alicia having removed her household to Edinburgh, a startling
rumour shook the village to its very foundations—a rumour to the effect
that Bonnie Margaret had one night "taken the train" and was married
next morning to somebody in the south of England.

Miss Esperance was much shocked and perturbed, the more so that she felt
it devolved upon her, and her alone, to break this agitating
intelligence to Mr. Wycherly.  For was not a relative of his own the
chief culprit?  Miss Esperance could never understand Mr. Wycherly’s
indifference toward everything that concerned his relations.

She had heard the news just before supper, but she waited until that
meal was finished lest her communication might spoil his appetite.

It was their pleasant custom to sit and chat for a while every evening
while Mr. Wycherly drank his single glass of port, and cracked some
nuts, which he generally bestowed next morning upon the little boys.

He held up his glass of wine to the light, and even in the midst of her
uneasiness Miss Esperance noted with pleasure how steady was the long,
slender hand that held the glass.

"I have heard," Miss Esperance began with a deep sigh, "some most
distressing news to-day about certain good friends of yours."

"Is Mrs. Gloag worse?" Mr. Wycherly asked anxiously, for the minister’s
wife was very delicate, and was often quite seriously ill.

"No, no, nobody is ill; but I fear that our good friend, Lady Alicia, is
in very great trouble.  Margaret——"

"Has married against her mother’s wish?" Mr. Wycherly interrupted
quickly.

"That’s just what she has done—but how did you guess?"

"And she has married," Mr. Wycherly continued, "a nephew of mine.  If I
mistake not, Margaret was twenty-one only the other day."

"It seems," Miss Esperance went on, much astonished at the calmness with
which Mr. Wycherly received these grievous tidings, "that this young man
proposed to Margaret some time ago; but that Lady Alicia wouldn’t hear
of any engagement.  He asked for Margaret again this summer, and was
again refused: though Margaret told her mother that she intended to
marry him and considered herself engaged to him in spite of everything.
And, as you say, directly she came of age she has done it."

Mr. Wycherly had laid down his glass of port untasted, when Miss
Esperance first began to speak.  Now he lifted the decanter and poured
out another, offering it to Miss Esperance. "My dear friend," he
exclaimed eagerly, "they are married.  Nothing can alter that.  Let us
drink pretty Margaret’s health, and wish her all prosperity and
happiness, and may the man she has chosen try to be worthy of her!"

Miss Esperance demurred: but Mr. Wycherly continued to lean across the
table with the glass of wine held out toward her, and he looked so
pleading, and she so loved to gratify him, that at last, though a little
under protest, she consented to drink this toast, and took one sip from
the proffered glass of port.

"I wish I could feel that it will turn out well," she said wistfully.

"She must love him right well," Mr. Wycherly said thoughtfully, "and she
is not a foolish girl.  She has judgment and discretion."

"Where love is concerned," said Miss Esperance, "judgment and discretion
generally go to the wall."

And Mr. Wycherly could find no arguments in disproof of this statement.

Lady Alicia made a special journey to Remote for the express purpose of
reproaching Mr. Wycherly with the conduct of a nephew he had never seen.

Miss Esperance was out; Mr. Wycherly, as usual, reading in his room.
There Lady Alicia sought him and plunged at once into a history of the
"entanglement," as she called it, concluding with these words: "I told
her never to mention that young man to me again, and she never did, so
of course I concluded that, like a sensible girl, she had put the whole
thing out of her head: but the hussy has married him, _married_ him
without ever a wedding present or a single new gown, and what can I do?
A girl, too, who might have married anyone, by far the prettiest of the
four, and look how well the rest have married!"

"She must love him very much," Mr. Wycherly said dreamily.  "Pretty
Margaret, so gentle always and so quiet.  What strength, what tenacity
of purpose under that docile feminine exterior!  Dear Lady Alicia, she
is more like you than any of your other daughters."

"Like _me_!" Lady Alicia almost shouted. "Do you mean to say _I_ could
have run away with any bottle-nosed vintner that ever tasted port—_I_,
forsooth!"

"But you told me yourself that he is a gentleman, young and
good-looking," Mr. Wycherly expostulated.  "If I remember rightly, too,
something of a scholar—and Margaret loves him.  She has proved that
beyond all question.  God grant that he is worthy of her love.  You
can’t unmarry them, my dear old friend, and though you will be angry
with me, I must tell you that I think it is well you can’t. You must
forgive them both."

"Never," said Lady Alicia with the greatest determination.  "She has
chosen her vintner; let her stick to him."

"She will do that in any case," said Mr. Wycherly; "but she will love
her mother none the less, and her mother will, presently, love her all
the more."

"She will do nothing of the kind," Lady Alicia said with considerable
asperity.  "You don’t seem to realise what a disgraceful thing your
nephew has done in abducting my daughter in this fashion."

"I thought you said she went to him," Mr. Wycherly suggested
apologetically.

For answer Lady Alicia rose in her wrath and strode out of the room.
Mr. Wycherly hastened after her across the little landing and down the
curly staircase, but he was not in time to open the front door for her,
and she banged it in his face.  Mr. Wycherly opened it, and stood on the
threshold just in time to hear the little gate at the bottom of the
garden give an angry click as it fell behind Lady Alicia’s retreating
form. He did not attempt to follow her, but stood where he was, wrapped
in a reverie so absorbing that he started violently as the green gate
slammed again and Lady Alicia bustled up the path holding out her hand,
and saying:

"After all, it’s not your fault, I don’t know why I should scold you;
the only redeeming feature in the whole horrible affair is that he’s
your nephew and therefore cannot be an utter scoundrel, but you must
confess it is very hard for me."

Mr. Wycherly took the extended hand and shook it.  "You must forgive
her," he said gently, "she would never have done it if she hadn’t been
your daughter; think of the courage and determination——"

"The headstrong folly and foolhardiness," Lady Alicia interrupted.  "I
cannot imagine why you keep suggesting I could ever have done such a
disgraceful thing—I always had far too much——"

"Given the same circumstances, you would have behaved in exactly the
same way," Mr. Wycherly interrupted.  "My dear Lady Alicia, you know you
would."

"You are a ridiculous and obstinate man," said Lady Alicia; "much
learning hath made you mad, and you know nothing whatever about women."

All the same she smiled, and she left her hand in Mr. Wycherly’s.  It
was not unpleasant to her to be considered capable of romance; her life
had been so safe and seemly always, a little monotonous and commonplace,
perhaps, but she had once been young.

"I don’t know much," Mr. Wycherly answered humbly; "but surely character
is the same in man or woman, and given a certain character a certain
line of conduct is inevitable."

"And you think it is inevitable that I should forgive Margaret?"

"Assuredly," said Mr. Wycherly.

"As I said before"—here Lady Alicia thought fit to withdraw her
hand—"you are an ignorant man: but we won’t quarrel.  Time will show
whether you or I know most about me."

She turned to walk to the gate where her carriage was waiting.  He
helped her in and shut the door upon her in absolute silence. Then, just
as the man was driving off, he asked: "What do you think they would like
for a wedding present?"

"Man, you are incorrigible," exclaimed Lady Alicia, but her brow was
smooth and her eyes smiling.

Mr. Wycherly stood at the green gate for some time, lost hi thought.  As
he turned to walk up the path to the house he said aloud: "I should like
to know what that young man has done that he should be singled out by
the gods for such supreme good fortune."

When the days grew long once more Lady Alicia came back to the "big
house," but no fair-haired Margaret came to play with the little boys.

"Where is she?" asked Montagu of his tutor. "Why doesn’t she come?"

"She is married," said Mr. Wycherly; "she has to stay with her husband."

"When I marry," said Montagu, "I shall marry somebody like Margaret;
then she’ll stay with me and I shall never be lonely."

"When you marry," Mr. Wycherly said very seriously, "take care of just
one thing.  Take care that she is kind."

"I’d like her to be beautiful, too," Montagu said eagerly, "beautiful
and tall, like Margaret."

"I hope she will be beautiful, but kindness comes first," and Mr.
Wycherly spoke with conviction, as one who knew.

"How can one tell if she is kind?" Montagu asked.

"Compare her with your aunt, Montagu: if she stands such comparison, she
is all your best desires need seek."

"I will remember," Montagu said solemnly, "kind _and_ beautiful—but the
kindness must come first.  I wish Margaret hadn’t been in such a hurry,
she would have done beautifully."



                              *CHAPTER X*

                             *THE SABBATH*

    He ordered a’ things late and air’;
      He ordered folk to stand at prayer
    (Although I cannae just mind where
      He gave the warnin’).
    An’ pit pomatum on their hair
      On Sabbath mornin’.
        R.L.S.


The Sabbath day at Burnhead was a long, long day.  A day wholly given up
to "the public and private exercises of God’s worship."

For Montagu, indeed, the shadow of the Sabbath began to steal over the
horizon as early as Friday night: and it was only when he woke on Monday
morning secure in the consciousness that the first day of the week was
safely passed, that life assumed again its habitually cheerful aspect.

Miss Esperance was a staunch Presbyterian, and belonged to the strictest
sect of the so-called Free Kirk.  Therefore did she consider it her duty
to take Montagu twice to church in addition to superintending his
instruction in Bible history and the shorter catechism.

Montagu liked the scripture lessons well enough and found it no hardship
to read the Bible aloud to his aunt for hours at a time; but nearly four
hours’ church with only the blessed interval of dinner in between was a
heavy discipline for even a naturally quiet small boy, and sometimes
Montagu was, inwardly, very rebellious.

Mr. Wycherly begged him off the afternoon service as often as he could
as a companion for Edmund, volunteering to look after both children so
that Robina, as well as Elsa, could attend church.  Mr. Wycherly was an
Episcopalian, and as there was no "English" church within walking
distance, he said he read the service to himself every Sunday morning.

When Edmund was four years old, Miss Esperance decided that it was time
he, too, should share the benefit of the Reverend Peter Gloag’s
ministrations.  Edmund appeared pleased at the suggestion, for it was,
like his knickerbockers, to a certain extent an acknowledgment that he
had arrived at boy’s estate. Montagu went to church, and why not he?  It
was evidently the correct thing to do, and although he could not
remember to have seen his brother particularly uplifted by his
privileges in that respect, nobody else seemed much exhilarated either.
Hitherto, he had spent his Sunday mornings largely in the society of Mr.
Wycherly, who, as all toys were locked up in a tall cupboard on Saturday
night, connived at all sorts of queer games, invented on the spur of the
moment by the ingenious Edmund.

"I’m goin’ to kirk!  I’m goin’ to kirk!" Edmund chanted gaily on the
appointed day.

He wore a new white sailor suit with pockets, and in one pocket was a
penny to "pirle" in the plate: in the other a wee packet of
Wotherspoon’s peppermints for refreshment during the sermon.  His curly
hair was brushed till it shone like the brass knocker on the front door
when Elsa had newly cleaned it, and his round, rosy face was framed by a
large new sailor hat that looked like a substantial sort of halo.  White
socks and neat black shoes with straps completed Edmund’s toilet, and
his aunt thought that never yet had the Bethune family possessed a
worthier scion.

Mr. Wycherly assisted to direct Edmund’s fat, pink fingers into a tight,
white cotton glove, and stood at the green gate watching the departure
of Miss Esperance and her great-nephews, till the small black figure,
with a little white sailor on either side, had vanished from his view.

He marvelled greatly at the temerity of Miss Esperance in taking Edmund
to church at this tender age, though it was not the age that mattered so
much as Edmund.  What Miss Esperance called the "Bethune temperament"
was very marked in that sunny-haired small boy, and it was apt to
manifest itself unexpectedly, wholly regardless of time or place.

The house seemed queerly quiet and deserted as Mr. Wycherly returned to
his room.  Mause followed him and thrust a cold, wet nose into his hand,
looking up at him from under her tangled hair with puzzled, pleading
eyes.

"Poor old lady," said Mr. Wycherly, "you are lonely, too, are you?
We’ll go for a little walk when the bell stops."

The church was a bare, white-washed, barn-like edifice, where none of
the windows were ever opened, and the unchanged air was always redolent
of hair-oil and strong peppermint.

Edmund smiled and nodded at his friends as he pattered up the aisle to
his aunt’s pew, and when Andrew Mowat, the precentor, looking unwontedly
stern and unapproachable, took his seat under the pulpit, the little boy
wondered what could have annoyed him that he looked so cross.  On
week-days Andrew, who kept the little grocer’s shop in the village, was
the most sociable and friendly of creatures, and always bestowed "a
twa-three acid-drops" on the little boys when they went with Robina to
his shop.

But to-day Andrew was far removed from worldly cares or enjoyments, and
Edmund listened to him in awed astonishment as he wailed out the tune of
the first psalm, "My heart not haughty is, O Lord," to be gradually
taken up more or less tunefully by the whole congregation.

For the first half-hour of service Edmund behaved beautifully.  He held
a large Bible open upside down, with white cotton fingers spread well
out over the back.  He hummed the tune diligently and not too loud
during the first psalm, and stood quite moderately still during the
first long prayers.

It was not until the minister said: "Let us read in God’s word from the
fifteenth chapter of the Book of Kings, beginning at the fifth verse,"
that the troubles of Miss Esperance really began.

At the announcement of the chapter to be read, there was an
instantaneous fluttering and turning over of leaves among the
congregation to find their places, and Edmund, zealous to be no whit
behind the rest in this pious exercise, fluttered the leaves of his
Bible violently to and fro for some time after every one else had
settled into seemly silence to follow the reading. Such a noisy rustling
did he make that several of the congregation raised their heads and
glanced disapprovingly in the direction of Miss Bethune’s pew.  That
gentle lady laid a detaining hand over Edmund’s Bible to close it, but
he pulled it violently away from her with both hands, opened it again,
and held it ostentatiously against his nose, leaning forward to look
over the top at Montagu, who sat on the other side of his aunt.

Then to the horror of Miss Esperance, he began to imitate the minister;
joining in the reading wherever the oft-repeated "And the rest of the
acts of," whoever it happened to be, "are they not written," etc., in
low but perfectly audible tones.  Edmund evidently looked upon the
phrase as a sort of chorus, waited for it, seized upon it, and joined in
it gleefully, holding his Bible at arm’s length as though he were
singing at a concert.

Poor Miss Esperance turned crimson and bent over the little boy,
whispering, "You must be _perfectly_ quiet, my dear, you must not say a
single word."

Edmund, still holding his Bible stiffly out in front of him, looked
reproachfully at his aunt and was quiet for a few minutes.  Then came
"and the rest of the acts of Pekah and all that he did," which was too
many for him.  The name was attractive: "Pekah!  Pekah!  Pekah!" he
whispered, then faster: "Pekah, Pekah, Pekah, Pekah, Pekah, Pekah,"
exactly as he was wont to repeat "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled
peppers," which the minister’s wife herself had taught him.

His aunt laid a firm hand over his mouth and looked at him with all the
severity her sweet old face could achieve.  He realised that she was not
to be trifled with, and set down his Bible on the book-board in front of
him with an angry thump, at the same time leaning forward to frown
reprovingly at Montagu.

"When will he stop?" he whispered to his aunt, pointing a scornful
finger at the minister, "he’s making far more noise nor me."

"Hush," murmured Miss Esperance again. For three minutes he was
comparatively quiet, then it occurred to him to take off his gloves.
This he achieved by holding the end of each cotton finger in his teeth
and pulling violently. Then he blew into each one, as he had seen his
aunt do with hers, finally squeezing them into a tight ball and cramming
them into the tiny pocket of his blouse.

"Pocket" instantly suggested the pockets of his trousers.  His penny had
been disposed of on entrance, ’twas but a fleeting joy.  But the packet
of Wotherspoon’s sweeties remained. The minister had now engaged in
prayer, the congregation was standing up; Edmund’s doings were
comparatively inconspicuous, and Miss Esperance permitted her thoughts
to soar heavenward once more.  Edmund arranged the contents of his
packet in a neat square on the top of his Bible on the book-board in
front of him, and proceeded to taste several of the little white
comfits, putting each one back in its place wet and sticky, when he had
savoured its sweetness for a minute or two.  By accident he knocked one
of the unsucked sweeties off the Bible, and it rolled away gaily under
the seat. In a moment Edmund had dived after it.  He squeezed behind his
aunt and could not resist giving one of Montagu’s legs a sharp pinch as
he beheld those members and nothing more from his somewhat lowly and
darksome position. Montagu leapt into the air with a scarcely suppressed
yelp, that startled more than Miss Esperance, who, at the same moment,
felt an unwonted something shoving against her legs. She feared that
some dog had got into the pew, and opened her eyes only to find that one
great-nephew had disappeared from her side and was squirming under the
seat.  She also beheld the neatly arranged rows of sweeties on the top
of the Bible.

It took but a moment to sweep these into the satin bag she always
carried, but it took considerably longer to restore Edmund to an upright
position, and when this was done, his face was streaked with dust and
his small, hot hands were black.

Edmund lolled; Edmund fidgeted; Edmund even infected Montagu so that he
fidgeted too. Every five minutes or so Edmund whispered, "Can we go home
now?" till at last peace descended upon poor Miss Esperance, for in the
middle of the sermon Edmund fell fast asleep with his head against her
shoulder.

Miss Esperance looked quite pale and exhausted as she took her place at
early dinner that day, but Edmund was rosy and cheerful, and greeted Mr.
Wycherly as "Dearie" with rapturous affection when that gentleman took
his place at the bottom of the table.  He always had dinner with the
children on Sundays.

At first the small boys were so hungry that very little was said, but
presently when pudding came Mr. Wycherly asked: "Well, Edmund, how did
you get on at church?"

Edmund laid down his spoon: "I’m never going back," he said decidedly,
"it is a ’bomnable place."

"Edmund!" exclaimed Miss Esperance, "how can you say such a thing.  You,
unfortunately, did not behave particularly well, though I forgive that,
as it was the first time—but, remember, you will go to the church every
Sunday, and you will learn to be a good boy when you’re there."

"It is," Edmund repeated, unconvinced, "a ’bomnable place, a ’bomnation
of desolation place."

The phrase had occurred several times in the earlier part of the
minister’s sermon before Edmund fell asleep, and commended itself to his
youthful imagination as being singularly forceful and expressive.

Miss Esperance sighed.  She really felt incapable of further wrestling
with Edmund just then, and looked appealingly at Mr. Wycherly. But he
dropped his eyes and refused to meet her gaze.

"He," Edmund suddenly resumed, pointing with his spoon at Mr. Wycherly,
"never goes there.  _He_"—with even more emphasis and the greatest
deliberation—"is a—very—wise—man."

Here the naughty boy wagged his curly head and spoke with such barefaced
and perfect mimicry of his aunt, that again catching Mr. Wycherly’s eye,
she burst into laughter, in which that gentleman was thankful to join
her.

"More puddin’, please!" Edmund exclaimed, seizing the propitious moment
to hand up his plate.

That afternoon neither of the little boys accompanied Miss Esperance to
church.



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                          *LOAVES AND FISHES*

I am no quaker at my food.  I confess I am not indifferent to the kinds
of it.—CHARLES LAMB.


On the following Sabbath day Edmund was a-missing directly it was time
to get ready for church.  He was to be found neither in house nor
garden, and Miss Esperance came to the sorrowful conclusion that the
Bethune temperament had again asserted itself, and that Edmund had, of
deliberate purpose, effaced himself so that he should not be made to go
to church.  She was not on this occasion in the least perturbed by the
fact that the small boy was lost.  She had no fears as to his safety,
but she was most grievously upset by this deliberate flying in the face
of authority, and set off for church, looking very grave and almost
stern, with only Montagu in attendance.

Mr. Wycherly had shut himself in his room during the hunt for Edmund.
He had a nervous dread of scenes of any kind, and when either of the
little boys was punished he suffered horribly.  He fully recognised the
necessity for occasional correction, especially in the case of a small
boy so chock-full of original sin as Edmund.  But none the less did he
undergo much mental anguish on the occasions when such punishment took
place.  He could not altogether approve of certain of the methods of
Miss Esperance, although he reverenced her far too much to indulge in
any conscious criticism.

Remote had always been marked out from other houses by the immense
tranquillity of its chief inmates, to whom fret and fuss were unknown.
People were never scolded at Remote, unless by Elsa, when she was quite
sure Miss Esperance was out of hearing.

When Montagu and Edmund were naughty they were punished by Miss
Esperance, who always, and manifestly, suffered much more than the
delinquents.

A favourite mode of correction in days when Miss Esperance was young was
the substitution of bread and water for whatever meal happened to come
nearest the time of the offence: and for the little boys poignancy was
added to this dismal diet by the knowledge that their aunt tasted
nothing else at her own meal during such times of abstinence for them.
From such punishment, all suspicion of revenge—which, in the chastened
one, so often nullifies the desired result—was entirely eliminated; and
the children quite understood that they were being corrected for the
good of their souls, and not because their aunt required a vent for her
annoyance at their misdeeds.

Sunday dinner, however—the day on which by his own request Mr. Wycherly
took his mid-day meal with Miss Esperance and the children—had hitherto
been exempt from any such punitive mortification of the carnal
appetites. Indeed, Mr. Wycherly had imbued it with a certain Elizabethan
flavour of festivity and cheerfulness, and here, greatly to his
surprise, he was warmly seconded by Elsa, who grudged no extra cooking
to make the Sabbath-day dinner particularly appetising.  From the time
that Mr. Wycherly had asserted his right to throw his all into the
common lot, things had been easier at Remote, and old Elsa did not
forget his enthusiastic eagerness to further her endeavours that her
mistress should have a peaceful and proper breakfast.

Therefore when it became the established custom for Mr. Wycherly to
carve the joint on Sundays, she was ever ready to fall in with any small
plans he might make for the benefit of the little boys.

And now Edmund had been naughty on the Sabbath, and Mr. Wycherly knew
what to expect.

Bread, watered by his tears, for Edmund. Bread, seasoned only by
sorrowful reflection, for Miss Esperance.

Banishment for hungry Edmund if he cried aloud, and there were ducks for
dinner, large fat ducks sent by Lady Alicia.  Mr. Wycherly could smell
the stuffing even now.  Who would believe that the smell of sage and
onions could bear so mournful a message?

The Greek characters of the Philebus he held in his hand danced before
his eyes.  He could not give his mind to the philosophy of beauty or the
theory of pleasure.  The doctrine of æsthetical, moral, and intellectual
harmonies, pleasing as it was to him on ordinary occasions, failed to
hold him just then, when all his mental vision was concentrated on a
chubby, tearful figure whose misdeeds would debar him from duck for
dinner.

Mr. Wycherly laid down his "Plato" and began to pace the room
restlessly, finally taking up his stand at the window looking out on the
garden.  Where was that boy?  Where had the monkey hidden himself?  He
was not with Mause, for Mr. Wycherly could see the old dog lying in a
patch of sunshine on the little plot of grass.

He went back to his bookshelf for comfort: he wanted something human,
something warm and faulty and sympathetic, and his eye lighted on
"Tristram Shandy."  "Tristram Shandy" was tight in the shelf—squeezed in
between the "Phædo" and Hooker’s "Ecclesiastical Polity"—Mr. Wycherly
was nervous and agitated, and he must have pulled it out clumsily, for
it fell to the ground with a thump.

As he stooped to recover it he caught sight of a plump brown leg
protruding from beneath his sofa.  He went down on his knees to look
more closely, and there, cuddled up under the sofa, his curly head
pillowed on his arm, lay Edmund, fast asleep.  Edmund possessed a
Wellingtonian capacity for falling asleep whenever he kept still.  He
had hidden under the sofa in Mr. Wycherly’s room just before that
gentleman took refuge there from the grieved annoyance of Miss Esperance
at her grand-nephew’s defection.  Mr. Wycherly had shut his door, and no
one dreamt of disturbing him to look there for the missing one.

Here was a pretty kettle of fish!

Although Mr. Wycherly knew that Miss Esperance would exonerate him from
any actual participation in Edmund’s truancy, he was assuredly accessory
after the fact, and what was to be done?

"I hope he won’t hit his head when he wakes up," Mr. Wycherly thought
concernedly. "What a beautiful child he is!" and he knelt on where he
was gazing admiringly at the slumbering cupid.

Stronger and stronger grew the savour of sage and onions throughout the
little house.  It penetrated even to Mause in the garden, and she arose
from her patch of sunshine and sniffed inquisitively.

Mr. Wycherly grew stiff with kneeling, and rose to his feet.  At the
same moment Edmund rolled over and hit his leg against the edge of the
sofa.  It woke him, and the instant Edmund awoke he was wide awake.
"Dearie, are you zere?" he demanded.  He could see Mr. Wycherly’s legs,
and no more, from where he was lying.  In another minute he was sitting
on Mr. Wycherly’s knee while that elderly scholar cudgelled his brains
for some form of remonstrance which would bring home to this very
youthful delinquent the impropriety of his conduct.

"Dearie," Edmund exclaimed with disarming sweetness, "aren’t you glad
I’m here wiv you?"  Here he rubbed his soft face against Mr. Wycherly’s.
"What a good smell!  isn’t it?  I’m so hungry: is there a bikkit about?"

Mr. Wycherly steeled his heart: "You know, sonnie," he said very
gravely, "that you ought not to be here at all; you ought to be with
your dear aunt in church."

Edmund looked at Mr. Wycherly in reproachful surprise.  "In church?" he
echoed, as though such a possibility had occurred to him for the first
time that morning.

"In church," Mr. Wycherly repeated.  "Your dear aunt expected you to go
there with her and with Montagu, and she was very sad that she had to go
without you.  It was not right of you to hide, sonnie.  It was neither
kind nor polite nor straightforward."

"You doesn’t go," Edmund argued, staring gloomily at Mr. Wycherly.  "Why
mus’ I?"

"You must go because your dear aunt wishes it," Mr. Wycherly replied,
ignoring the first part of Edmund’s remark.

"Would you go if see wissed it?"

"I would.  But you see, for me it is different. I was brought up in a
different kind of church, and I am no longer a little boy.  Miss
Esperance has never asked me to go to church with her."

"Why hasn’t see ast you?"

"Because, as I tell you, I was brought up in a different church."

"Why can’t I be brought up in your church? Then we needn’t neither of us
never go," Edmund suggested, smiling radiantly, as though he had solved
the difficulty.

Mr. Wycherly sighed deeply.  "But I did go," he exclaimed.  "I always
went when I was a little boy, every Sunday, and afterward at Oxford I
went nearly every day as well."

Edmund’s face fell.  He desired to belong to no church that required
daily attendance. Mr. Wycherly’s looks were so serious that the little
boy began to be anxious.

"What will Aunt Esp’ance do, do you sink?"

"I fear she will feel compelled to punish you."

"Bed?" Edmund inquired uneasily.

"No, I fear, I very greatly fear it will be dinner——"

Mr. Wycherly felt the little figure stiffen in his arms, as without a
word Edmund laid his head down on his old friend’s shoulder.  The child
lay quite still, and glancing down at him Mr. Wycherly saw how the red
mouth drooped at the corners, and the blue eyes were screwed up tight to
keep back the tears.  No such dread contingency had crossed Edmund’s
mind till this moment, and it swept over him with devastating force.
Not to share in the Sunday dinner, that cheerful meal, when Mr. Wycherly
made jokes and Aunt Esperance sat beaming in her Sunday silks; when
hungry little boys were never refused two, even three, helpings of
everything.  It was a dreadful dispensation.

Edmund gave a short, smothered sob and buried his face in Mr. Wycherly’s
neck.

"Perhaps," the grave voice went on, and Edmund opened one tearful eye,
as though the gloom of his outlook were pierced by some ray of hope,
"perhaps if you went to your aunt and told her how sorry you are, and
that you promise on your honour as a gentleman you will never try to get
out of going to church again—perhaps she might forgive you this once.
If you can tell her this and mean it, my son, every word, I think that
she may be induced to forgive you—just this once."

The green gate creaked, there was a rush of feet on the staircase as
Montagu made straight for Mr. Wycherly’s room.

"Here you are," he exclaimed.  "I thought you’d be here somehow—what’s
the matter?"

Mr. Wycherly put Edmund gently from off his knee, and rose from his
chair.

"Wait here with Montagu, sonnie," he said. "I will see Miss Esperance
first," and he left the room, carefully shutting the door behind him.

"Is Aunt Esp’ance very sorry?" Edmund asked anxiously.  He did not ask
if she were angry, for that she had never been with him.

"I don’t think she’s as sorry as she was at first," Montagu said
consolingly.  "We met Mrs. Gloag as we were coming out and Aunt
Esperance told how you’d hidden, and Mrs. Gloag laughed, and after that
I don’t think she was so sorry."

The door was opened and Mr. Wycherly came back.  "Go to your aunt in her
room, Edmund," he said, "and remember what I told you."

Edmund trotted off obediently.

A few minutes later Robina rang the dinner bell.  Edmund and his aunt
descended the curly staircase together, hand in hand.

"I told her I was sorry," he announced to Mr. Wycherly, who was waiting
at the dining-room door that Miss Esperance might pass in first.  "I’m
going to church zis afternoon. I’m going," he added gleefully, "becos’
zere’s ducks for dinner."



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                             *THE VILLAGE*

    ’Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
    Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
      POPE.


"Our society may be small but it is extremely select," Miss Maggie
Moffat used to say on such occasions as friends from the South-side of
Edinburgh used to visit her.

"It is what we have always sought after," Miss Jeanie, her sister, would
chime in. "Quality not quantity, and nowhere could we have found
superior quality if we had gone over the whole of the British Isles to
look for it."

None of the earlier inhabitants of Burnhead ever quite fathomed how or
why the Misses Moffat had come to live there.  The fact remained,
however, that one term day they had taken a small house in the middle of
the village street: a house that had been empty for many years. Its
original name was "Rowan Cottage," because there was a rowan tree in the
back garden, but when the Misses Moffat took it they persuaded the
landlord to change the name to "Rowan Lodge," the only lodge in the
neighbourhood save that which guarded the entrance at Lady Alicia’s
drive gate.  The name was painted on the front of the house in large,
clear characters, and it looked, the Misses Moffat thought, extremely
well on the pink note-paper with scalloped edges which they affected in
their correspondence.

They were ladies of uncertain age; that is to say, of the kind of age to
which direct reference is never made.

They were not serenely and beautifully old like Miss Esperance, nor
sturdily and frankly middle-aged like Lady Alicia, and by no stretch of
imagination could they be considered young like Bonnie Margaret.  They
were, as they themselves would have put it, "of a quite suitable age for
matrimony, not giddy girls, you understand, but nice, sensible, douce
young women."

Miss Jeanie was probably not more than forty-five, and Miss Maggie some
six years older.  They were both moderately tall, moderately stout, and
of a healthy, homely aspect which did not challenge observation.  Miss
Jeanie, indeed, wore a curly fringe, and on muddy days a serge
golf-skirt that barely reached her substantial ankles, but Miss Maggie’s
mouse-coloured hair was brushed back over a cushion and displayed every
inch of her intellectual forehead.  Miss Maggie took in "Wise Words,"
and had literary leanings toward everything of an improving character.

At one time they had kept a "fancy-work emporium" on the South-side, but
they had not been dependent upon their sales of Berlin wool or crochet
cotton, and as the emporium was by no means thronged with customers it
had seemed good to them to retire from business and seek in the country
that seclusion and select society which their genteel souls hungered
after.

They were sincerely convinced that the emporium of the past could not in
any way preclude their reception into such society.

"It could not exactly be called trade, me dear," Miss Maggie argued,
"for you see our _clientèle_ was so exceedingly select.  We were never
called upon to serve a man in all the years——"

"Not so very many years, Maggie," Miss Jeanie would interrupt.

"During the time our residence was above the emporium," Miss Maggie
continued calmly. "That makes a very great difference. Anybody can come
into an ordinary shop.  A stationer’s now—a man might burst into a
stationer’s at any minute to buy envelopes or elastic bands, or a bit
rubber: but no man would dream of entering a—place where Berlin wools
and fingering and sewing silks are to be had.  And you know, me dear, it
always seems to me that so long as no strange man has had the
opportunity to accost one, one’s delicacy cannot be said to have
suffered in any way."

"I’ve heard," said Miss Jeanie, with a little sigh, "that in London one
may be accosted on the public street.  It must be terrible to be
accosted by a strange man.  I think I should faint away at his feet from
sheer terror."

"Indeed," replied Miss Maggie, bridling.  "_I_ should do no such thing.
I would freeze him with a glance."

So far, however, neither of these ladies had been called upon either to
faint or to freeze. Mankind had passed them by in decorous silence.
Neither of them had ever been accosted by anyone more alarming than a
village urchin, and their delicacy and their gentility remained
unimpaired.  For truly they were vastly genteel.

The real and chief attractions of Burnhead had been that the rent of
their modest residence was very small, that the "big house" was occupied
by "a lady of title," and that there were only two other houses in the
village having any claim to be the abodes of gentility, namely, the
Manse and Remote.

"Surely," argued the Misses Moffat, "in such a small place the gentry
will be friendly."

And so indeed it proved, for if the Misses Moffat were genteel they were
also the kindest and most amiable of women, and had they but known it,
they might have searched Scotland before they found a neighbourhood
where such qualities would have met with so swift a recognition from the
three chief ladies in the place.

There were many who pitied the minister because his wife was so
delicate.  There were others, mostly outsiders, who pitied Mrs. Gloag
because her husband was so stern.  And because, although she had done
her best to take root and bring forth the fruits of the spirit in the
humble vineyard where her husband worked, there was always something
alien about her which most of that small community mistrusted.

For Mrs. Gloag was English.

It was even whispered that she was the daughter of an Episcopalian
clergyman.

She was slender and pretty and very frail in health: and twenty-seven
years of Burnhead had not yet cured her of a tendency to laugh when
things amused her.  And things amused Mrs. Gloag which ought to have
shocked a right-minded minister’s wife.

In early days her chief offence had been that she looked younger than
any minister’s wife ought to have looked, that she played with her
little boys as though she were a child herself; and that she had been
known to yawn openly and apparently unashamed during the minister’s
sermons.

Now that her pretty, wavy hair was grey and her health so bad that she
seldom came to church more than once on a Sabbath, sometimes not at all
for weeks together, folks felt that this, and what happened to their
third boy, was a judgment on the minister for having married a person so
Englishey and irresponsible as Mrs. Gloag.

There was no question whatever that the minister adored his wife.
Whenever his eyes rested upon her, his whole face changed and softened,
and it was felt to be almost indecent that a minister should openly
manifest any affection whatsoever.

Three tall sons had the minister.  Two of them well-doing young men, who
passed examinations and won bursaries, and were as economical,
hard-working and clear-headed young Scotsmen as even a minister could
wish to see. A little harsh, perhaps, and dictatorial, and
argumentative; a little fond of airing their opinions unasked, a little
apt to judge character wholly by failure or success in practical things;
a little lacking in deference to older people. Still they were fine,
capable, upstanding young men of the "get up and git" order which is so
admirable; and while Mr. Wycherly would go miles out of his way to avoid
either of them, he was the very first to acknowledge their many
excellent qualities.

But Curly, the youngest, was different.  He was even more brilliant
intellectually than his brothers; he was better looking, and he had much
of his mother’s charm.  When he was eighteen he won a scholarship at
Balliol, a regular blue-ribbon among scholarships, and the minister was
a proud man.

Curly did well at Oxford, he lived sparely, and took tutorships in the
vacations, and when he came home the Manse was a merry place. Mr.
Wycherly was very fond of Curly, for he came and talked about Oxford,
and he would ask the older scholar’s opinion about many things, and
seemed to think it quite worth having.  Now his brothers considered Mr.
Wycherly a failure, effete, played out, _vieux-jeu_, and Mr. Wycherly
knew it.

Curly took a good degree, and then the blow fell.  He became an actor
and "went on the stage."

Had he turned forger or robbed a church the minister could hardly have
been more upset. Mr. Gloag hated the theatre and everything connected
with it.  He honestly believed it to be morally degrading and
soul-soiling to enter the doors of any such place of amusement. That
there could ever, under any circumstances, be found any common ground or
bond of union, or even mutual toleration, between the followers of this
degraded and degrading calling and professing Christians, he could not
conceive.  The minister had no belief in toleration.  He was fond of
saying, "Those that are not for us are against us"; and that "us" might
by any possibility include persons he designated as "mountebanks" never
for one moment entered his head.

He forbade the mention of Curly’s name, declaring that now he had only
two sons.  Curly’s brothers said very little.  They thought Curly a
fool, but, after all, he knew his own business best.

Mrs. Gloag said nothing at all.  She grew frailer and frailer, and her
pretty eyes wore always a strained expression as though they were tired
with watching for one who never came.

She did not attempt to soften the minister. He was always gentle to her,
but she knew him too well not to discern when argument and supplication
were alike useless.  She laughed less often now, and when no one was
watching her gentle face was very sad.

If anything, however, this sore trouble made her kinder and more
sympathetic than before, so that when the Misses Moffat took sittings in
the church and she, in her capacity of minister’s wife, went to see
them, she realised at once how anxious and timid and kind and harmless
they were; and most of all how they hungered to be admitted to the inner
circle of the "select."

She asked Miss Esperance to go and see them, and Miss Esperance went;
and she asked Lady Alicia to go and see them, and Lady Alicia went.

That was a great, a never-to-be-forgotten day for the Misses Moffat when
Lady Alicia walked over from the "big house" to call.  They could have
wished she had come in the carriage; it would have looked so fine in the
street for all the world to see.  But Lady Alicia was energetic and
inclined to grow stout, and she liked to walk when she could.  There she
sat in the Misses Moffat’s best room, talking affably in her big voice.
Everything about Lady Alicia was big and decided, and every simplest
remark she made was treasured by the Misses Moffat as the sayings of a
sibyl.  She didn’t stay long, but she praised the arrangements of Rowan
Lodge, from the window curtains to the chocolate-coloured railings in
front of the windows.

When she got up to go they watched her anxiously.  She had her silver
card-case in her hand.  Would she leave a card or not?

Alas! in their eagerness to be polite they both accompanied her into the
narrow passage and thence into the street.  And Lady Alicia, being
rather crowded, did not see the Benares bowl on the little table in the
lobby, wherein reposed the visiting cards of Miss Esperance and Mrs.
Gloag, and completely forgot to leave a similar memento of her visit.

This was a great blow to the Misses Moffat. Without the outward and
visible sign of a visiting card was it a proper call or not?

Might they return it?  Or was it only an act of condescension on Lady
Alicia’s part and not an act of friendship?

Miss Jeanie sought vainly in the pages of a bound volume of the "Lady’s
Home Companion" for guidance on this intricate point of etiquette.  But
although there was a whole long article on "calls" in that useful work,
with minute directions as to the most desirable deportment at afternoon
tea, there was no guidance as to what course should be taken by two
genteel unmarried females when visited by an earl’s daughter, who called
at three in the afternoon and omitted to leave a card at all.

"It’s most annoying!" Miss Jeanie exclaimed, tapping the "Lady’s Home
Companion" with her finger.  "There’s any amount about leaving cards,
but not one word about when they’re not left.  Listen to this: ’Should
there be only a lady, you would merely leave one of your husband’s.’
Perhaps Lady Alicia Carruthers just didn’t leave one of his because he’s
dead, poor man.  Then further on it says: ’When calling on a stranger on
any business matter, your card should be sent in by the servant, who
will ascertain if it is convenient for her mistress to see you.’  Now
she most certainly did not call on business.  What are we to think,
Maggie?"

Miss Maggie puckered her intellectual forehead in deep consideration of
the weighty matter. Apparently she reached no conclusion, for after a
minute she said: "I’m thinking, Jeanie, that our best course would be to
ask Miss Esperance Bethune.  She seems very intimate with Lady Alicia
Carruthers, and may know her ways, and I’m quite sure she’ll think none
the worse of us for asking.  She left a card, if you remember."

"You might just put on your bonnet and go now, Maggie.  It would set our
minds at rest. I wish she had left a card, though; it would have looked
fine on the table in the lobby, and you mind the Macdougals are coming
out to their tea on Saturday."

Miss Moffat sought Miss Esperance then and there, and that gentle little
lady gave it as her opinion that the omission of the card was mere
forgetfulness on Lady Alicia’s part and by no means intentional.
Whereupon Miss Maggie departed much comforted.

Miss Esperance happened to be dining with Lady Alicia that very evening
and told her how much soul-searching her visit had occasioned the Misses
Moffat.

"Bless me!" good-natured Lady Alicia exclaimed.  "The poor bodies!  I’d
have left a whole card-case of cards if I’d remembered. But they
fluttered round me so as I was leaving, and were so civil and obliging
and desperately fussy, that I got myself out as quickly as ever I
could."

"You’d make them very happy if you’d leave a card even yet, any time you
are passing," Miss Esperance suggested.  "They are such good, meek
creatures."

So it came to pass that next day, when Lady Alicia went out to drive,
the carriage stopped at Rowan Lodge, and she, in a voice that could be
heard all down the street, instructed her footman to leave cards,
explaining that she had forgotten to leave them the day before.

The front door of Rowan Lodge was separated from the footpath by about
three feet of gravel, and the Misses Moffat, seated behind the curtains
that Lady Alicia had admired, heard her every word.

"One for each of us!" exclaimed Miss Jeanie rapturously, gloating over
the little white cards, for them so packed with meaning.  "I hope it’s
not wicked, but I can’t help feeling rather glad poor Mr. Carruthers is
no more—though it would have been pleasant enough to have him calling,
too—for then, if that book is right, we should only have had his card,
and he hadn’t a title or anything."

"He was an advocate, I’m told," Miss Maggie said solemnly, "but whether
they put that on cards I’m not very sure, never having been called upon
by anyone connected with the legal profession except yon wee auctioneer,
who came about the fittings at the South-side, and I very much doubt if
he had a card at all."

"The Macdougals ’ll rather open their eyes when they see these," Miss
Jeanie chuckled. "I’ll put one on each side the Benares bowl in the
lobby, lest they shouldn’t look inside. I hope it’ll be a nice bright
day, for it’s a wee thing dark there when the door’s shut, and if it’s
left open there’s a terrible draught, and they might blow away."

"If it’s a mirk day," Miss Maggie said firmly, "I’ll stand them up
against the parlour clock, just careless-like.  You may depend the
Macdougal’s will spy them out."



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                              *A MEETING*

    We two will stand beside that shrine,
      Occult, withheld, untrod,
    Whose lamps are stirred continually
      With prayer sent up to God;
    And see our old prayers, granted, melt
      Each like a little cloud.
        D. G. ROSSETTI.


When Edmund was five years old Mr. Wycherly expressed his readiness to
teach him all he was teaching Montagu.  He took infinite pains to do so,
but Edmund’s presence was found to be so provocative of dispeace in the
quiet study upstairs, and so effectually hindered his brother’s
progress, while his own was of the slowest, that Miss Esperance took the
matter into her own hands and sent her younger nephew to be instructed
by the Reverend Peter Gloag, who seasoned his instruction with the
tawse, and was altogether more fitted to cope with the average boy’s
vagaries than the gentle, dreamy Mr. Wycherly. Edmund was rather afraid
of the minister.  His hand was heavy, and he was singularly awake to the
devices by means of which small boys seek to evade their scholastic
duties.  Nevertheless, the child liked him, for he could unbend on
occasion and was an excellent hand at marbles. Moreover, he had a sense
of humour, and like so many of the Scottish Calvinists of that time,
managed to keep his denunciations of abstract sins quite separate from
his judgment of the sinner.  In the pulpit he was a terror to
evil-doers.  When tackled upon questions of doctrine, he laid down the
law with a vigour and determination that left his opponent with the
impression that never was there such a hard and inflexible man: but when
it came to deeds, when it was a question of giving another chance to a
ne’er-do-weel, or the punishment to be meted out to some young
ragamuffin caught stealing apples or breaking windows, the sinner had
far rather fall into the hands of the minister than those of many a
gentler spoken man.

In spite of the minister’s endeavours, however, Edmund was still
laboriously writing sentences to the effect that "’Tis education forms
the mind" at an age when Montagu had begun to write Latin verses and to
read Xenophon.

"I hate sitting on a chair and hearing things," Edmund would say.  "I
want to be doing them. I want more room than there is in Auntie’s house,
or the Manse.  I _hate_ things over my head ’cept the sky."

One day Miss Esperance drove both boys to Leith, and left them to play
on the beach while she went to see an old friend.  In a minute Edmund
had off his shoes and socks, and in spite of the jagged pebbles, that
hurt his unaccustomed feet so cruelly, went down to the water’s edge and
in up to his knees, then turning to the more timid Montagu, who still
stood dubiously upon the brink, cried joyously, "_This_ is what I’ve
always been wanting: there’s _plenty_ of room out there."

The same evening he climbed on to Mr. Wycherly’s knee demanding, "How
can I get to be a sailor like my daddie was?"

"You go into the Navy."

"How do I go?  What way?  Where’s the Navy?  Is it a town?"

No, it’s an institution, a service——"

"Like the poorhouse?" Edmund interrupted, in less enthusiastic tones.

"Oh, dear, no."

"Tell me all about it," the little boy commanded, whereupon Mr. Wycherly
obediently and at considerable length explained the constitution of His
Majesty’s Navy, and Edmund never once interrupted.

When Mr. Wycherly had finished, the little boy was silent for a minute,
then asked earnestly, "How soon can I go?"

"Let me see, you’re nearly eight now; it might be managed in about three
years.  You will need to read well, and write well, and be able to do
many kinds of sums, and be very obedient."

"I could do all that," Edmund said decidedly, and in the end, to the
surprise of every one concerned, he did.

At first it grieved Mr. Wycherly that any one should teach either of the
little boys except himself.  He grudged Edmund to the minister, even
while he knew that the minister was far more fitted to teach him than he
was himself. His only consolation was that, as Edmund disliked lessons
so much, there would have been some danger of his extending his dislike
to the giver of them, and that Mr. Wycherly could not have borne.

It happened that soon after Edmund first went for lessons to the Manse
whooping-cough broke out among the village children.  It was a bad kind,
and Miss Esperance was very anxious that neither Montagu nor Edmund
should take it.  Thus it came about that one Sunday, one particularly
fine Sunday at the beginning of June, she decided that she would not
take them to church with her for fear of infection.  The doctor himself
had suggested this only the day before, and after a sleepless night, in
which she had prayed for guidance, Miss Esperance decided that the
doctor was probably right and that she should run no risks for them,
whatever she might do for herself. Mr. Wycherly offered to look after
them both during her absence, and it was characteristic of Miss
Esperance that, although she had her misgivings, she made no suggestions
as to how their time should be spent in her absence. That would have
been to reflect upon Mr. Wycherly.

The little boys will always remember that Sunday, not only because they
did not go to church, and did play in a field near the Manse, but
because of something that happened.

When the church bells had stopped and the village street was deserted,
Mr. Wycherly, the two little boys and Mause went to play in a field that
adjoined the Manse.  To get to this field, which was rich in buttercups
and hedge parsley, and was bordered by ash trees giving a pleasant
shade, you turned down a lane, which was also a short cut to the
station, lying a mile or so south of the village.  The Manse was at one
end of the lane, the main street of the village at the other: the gate
leading into the field about half-way down.  As the little boys neared
it they saw a stranger coming from the opposite direction.

It was unusual to meet anybody in that lane, especially at this time of
day on the Sabbath, and the children waited at the gate to see the
stranger pass.  Mr. Wycherly, whose long-distance sight was failing a
little, put up his eye-glasses lest he might know the stranger and pass
him by without greeting, as he was rather prone to do.  Hardly had he
placed the glasses on his nose than they dropped off again, and with an
exclamation of surprise he hurried forward, holding out both his hands,
which the stranger grasped and warmly shook.

He was a tall young man, with very large bright eyes and an abundance of
curly black hair, worn rather longer than was usual at that time.

He seized Mr. Wycherly by the arm and bore him up the lane again,
talking eagerly the while.

"I must see her," the little boys heard him say.  "I must see her
somehow, and I daren’t go into the house, for he has forbidden me. Could
you tell her?  Could you fetch her?  I’ll stay with the youngsters.  Oh,
dear old friend, for God’s sake don’t frighten her, but bring her to me
somehow.  She isn’t in church, I know, for I watched every one go in
from behind the hedge in the churchyard.  I was coming to you in any
case...."

Mr. Wycherly and the young man had passed out of earshot.  Montagu and
Edmund looked at one another with large, round eyes, and Mause looked
after Mr. Wycherly and sniffed the air inquiringly.

"Do you think he’s a relation?" Edmund asked.  "Do you think he’s come
to stay with us?"

"He can’t stay with us," Montagu answered decidedly; "there isn’t any
room.  I wish he could, though," he added; "he looks rather nice."

A sound of quick footsteps in the lane, and the stranger was back again,
but without Mr. Wycherly.

"Now," he said, "what shall we play at?"

He said it in a business-like way, and Edmund did the stranger the
honour to take him at his word.

"Can you be a tiger?" he demanded excitedly, "and we’ll hunt you.  You
must crawl in the grass, and crouch in the ditch—it’s quite dry—and
bounce out at us and growl, not too loud, because it’s the Sabbath."

Never was such a tiger; so fierce, so elusive, so dashing, so
unexpected.  This man threw himself into his part at once and required
no tedious explanations.  The intrepid hunters had a quarter of an
hour’s blissful excitement, and the tiger had rolled over dead for the
fifth time when he suddenly rose to his feet, went to the gate, and
looked up the lane toward the Manse.

Mr. Wycherly was coming slowly down the lane, and a lady leant upon his
arm.  The quondam tiger brushed some grass from off his clothes and
turned to the little boys, who were following him eagerly.  "Boys," he
said, "we’ve had a good play, we’ll have another some day, but now I
must go and speak—to my mother——"

He went down the lane very quickly toward Mr. Wycherly and the lady.

"Come," said Montagu, catching Edmund by the hand, "let’s come away,"
and the two little boys trotted off up the lane in the opposite
direction; and they never looked back.

Mrs. Gloag, tremulous and very pale, leant heavily on Mr. Wycherly’s arm
as the tall young man came out of the field toward her. Then she
steadied herself.  "Dear friend," she said very softly, "I am quite
strong.  Will you leave me to wait for my boy?  I would like to be with
him alone—once more, together—he and I."  She drew her hand from Mr.
Wycherly’s arm, and he raised his hat and left her. He passed the
stranger and hurried after the little boys.  They heard him coming and
slackened their pace: but they never looked round.

They had turned the corner when Mr. Wycherly joined them, and separated
that he might walk between them as was his custom. He laid a hand on
each soft little shoulder and stopped.  "Boys," he said, and his voice
sounded husky and broken.  "You are gentlemen—and good fellows—and I’m
proud of you."

The little boys were silent.  This that had happened, coming so close
upon the heels of the uproarious tiger game, was very puzzling.

Presently, as though following some train of thought, Edmund said: "She
knew him, I suppose.  Will our mothers know us, do you think, when we
get up there?  Because, you see, we shall look rather different from
when they saw us last.  Now you, Guardie, dear, you hadn’t white hair
when you saw your mother last, had you?  You were quite a little boy."

"I think," said Mr. Wycherly, "in fact, I may say I am sure, that our
mothers will know us, even if we all three should have white hair."

"I expect," Montagu said thoughtfully, "that they’re waiting just like
we waited for you round the corner; they’ve just gone on first."

"Just gone on," Edmund echoed.  "I wonder if it seems long to them till
we come?"

After morning service when the minister turned down the lane, which was
a short cut to the Manse, he found Mr. Wycherly waiting for him outside
his own gate.

As a rule Mr. Wycherly was rather shy and nervous in the presence of the
minister, but there was no sign of this usual mental perturbation as he
stopped him with a courteous gesture.  "Mr. Gloag," said Mr. Wycherly,
and he looked the minister straight in the eyes, "I have done something
which you will probably disapprove and condemn.  Curly has been here,
and I went to the Manse and told Mrs. Gloag that he was here."

"Did he dare to enter my house?" asked the minister, and he glowered at
Mr. Wycherly from under his heavy brows.

"I think," that gentleman replied, and he met the minister’s keen glance
with one that was quite equally combative, "that he would have dared
anything to see his mother.  As it happened she came to him.  And I want
to spare her the exertion of telling you that she did so."

"Since when," asked the minister, looking as though he would greatly
like to annihilate Mr. Wycherly; "since when has my wife needed a
go-between to spare her the necessity of telling me anything?"

"Good heavens, sir!" Mr. Wycherly exclaimed, "can’t you see that what I
want you to realise is that Mrs. Gloag is very ill—that whatever you may
feel on the subject of Curly’s coming, it would have been inhuman to
prevent her seeing her son—once more, whatever he had done."

Even as Mr. Wycherly spoke the eyes of the two men that a moment before
had been bright with mutual antagonism changed.  The minister’s to a
dumb agony, Mr. Wycherly’s to an awe-struck pity.  He turned and walked
hastily away.

Blindly the minister opened the gate and went through the garden into
his own house.

His wife met him in the hall, and her face, he thought, was as the face
of an angel, full of a soft radiance not of earth.

"Peter," she said in her soft "Englishey" voice, "God has been good to
me.  I have seen Curly, and he is not changed.  I know it; we may not
like what he has done, but he is not changed.  He is good, Peter; he is
our own dear good boy all the same.  He didn’t come in because he
thought you wouldn’t like it, but I had a long, beautiful talk with him
in the lane.  I felt somehow that I should see him—once more."

Again the ominous phrase, "Once more."

"Felicity," said the minister, "you have stood much longer than is good
for you," and he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the sofa
in the parlour.

She caught him round the neck and rubbed her soft cheek against his
hair.  "Why are you not surprised—and angry?" she asked with a little
nervous laugh, and he felt how her whole body was trembling in his arms.

"Because I knew already," said the minister; and not one other word did
he say on the subject that day, but he noticed that her pretty eyes had
lost their look of strained expectancy and watchfulness, and in its
place there was an expression of beautiful serenity and almost joyous
content.

Although Edmund went to the Manse for his lessons, he was faithful
always to the matutinal service of biscuits in Mr. Wycherly’s room. He
wouldn’t have missed it on any account. Two mornings after their
encounter with the "tiger-man," as they always called him, they sought
Mr. Wycherly after breakfast to find him looking very grave and sad.  He
gave them their biscuits as usual, and turning to Edmund said: "You must
not go to the Manse this morning, my dear boy.  There is great trouble
there.  We have all lost a very dear friend—Mrs. Gloag."  Mr. Wycherly
paused, for he could not speak.  The little boys looked very solemn,
then Edmund said softly, "I suppose she has gone on."



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                              *A PARTING*

    O Royal and radiant soul,
    Thou dost return, thine influences return
    Upon thy children as in life, and death
    Turns stingless!
      W. E. HENLEY.


Whooping-cough was still bad in the village on the Sabbath following
their famous tiger-game, and again Miss Esperance did not take her
great-nephews to church.

Again, moreover, the Sunday was memorable, not so much because they did
not attend church, as because Mr. Wycherly did.

The little boys knew there had been a funeral the day before.  Mr.
Wycherly had gone to it, and their aunt had sewn a black band upon the
sleeve of each little white blouse.  They felt solemn and important; and
for once they would even have been glad to go to church in order to show
this unusual adornment.  When they discovered that not only were they to
be left at home, but left at home without Mr. Wycherly, such immunity
was shorn of all its more pleasing attributes.

They were sorry about Mrs. Gloag, with the curious, impersonal sorrow
that children experience in considering the troubles of others. She was
a kind lady, and they liked her.  She knew many rhymes and funny
stories, and was almost as good a playmate as that unequalled tiger-man.
But they had not seen her often lately, and at present their chief
concern was with the unusual and uncomfortable sense of depression that
seemed in some subtle, indefinable fashion to separate them from their
aunt and Mr. Wycherly.

And now, having gone to a funeral on Saturday, Mr. Wycherly was going to
church on Sunday.  Why was Mr. Wycherly going to church?

That was the question that grievously exercised the little boys, and
perhaps Mr. Wycherly himself would have been hard put to it to explain
his reasons.

There was the protective instinct, the feeling that he could not let
Miss Esperance go alone, so small and sad and solitary: the desire to do
something comforting: an equally strong desire to show his affectionate
respect for Mrs. Gloag, and the hope that perhaps by this means he might
to some small extent show his sympathy with the minister.  And at the
back of all these mixed motives and through every one of them there
sounded the voices of habit and tradition; voices which every day of
late had called more and more imperatively to Mr. Wycherly.  In the old
days it had been a matter of course that he should take part in any
public ceremony; now, in spite of his long aloofness from any part or
lot in the lives of his neighbours, he felt it incumbent upon him to
make some open and public demonstration of his share in this common
sorrow.

When he first came to live with Miss Esperance, Mrs. Gloag had always
been kind and friendly, stopped him in the road when he would fain have
passed her by, and yet always left him unconsciously cheered by her
greeting. Few others had been kind and friendly then, and Mr. Wycherly
did not forget.

It was surprising how many people remembered such things of her now.  It
seemed that every man, woman, and child in the village could and did
tell of something kind Mrs. Gloag had done, of something merry and
heartening she had said.  People forgot now that she had sometimes
laughed when it would have been more fitting to look grave.  They only
remembered that she had cheered the despondent, strengthened the
weak-hearted, made peace where there were quarrels, and brought gaiety
and good humour into homes where before there were gloom and discontent.

Not for years had the church been so full as on that Sabbath morning,
that sunny Sabbath morning when Mr. Wycherly went to church with Miss
Esperance.

The minister looked much as usual.  His face was stern and set, though
his eyes under the bushy, overhanging gray eyebrows were the eyes of a
man who had slept but little.  Yet his voice was strong and full, and he
prayed and read the Bible with his customary earnestness and vigour.

The congregation were a little fluttered to notice that in the Manse pew
there were three tall young men, and that the white-haired, Oxfordy
gentleman who lived with Miss Esperance was in her seat, but otherwise
the service was much as usual.

It was not until the time came for the sermon that there was throughout
the congregation that little thrill of excited expectation which
proclaims deep interest.

"What would be the minister’s text?"

To most people it was a surprise: it was not even a whole text.  The
minister preached upon the four words, "Be pitiful, be courteous."  His
sermon was the shortest he had ever given in that church, lasting only
half an hour.

Mr. Wycherly sat with his elbow on the desk in front of him, his white,
slender hand shading his eyes.

Miss Esperance was visibly affected; and of the three young men in the
Manse seat, one laid his head down on his crossed arms, but he assuredly
was not sleeping.

When the service was over and Mr. Wycherly and Miss Esperance were
walking home, she said timidly: "It was a beautiful discourse, don’t you
think?"

"I think," said Mr. Wycherly, "that he preached that sermon for his
wife; and that it will be remembered when all his other sermons are
forgotten.  I am glad to have been there."

That afternoon the little boys took their Sunday picture-books into the
garden and sat on the grass under the alder tree; Mr. Wycherly, too, sat
in a garden chair reading a sober-looking calf-bound book.

Miss Esperance had returned from afternoon church, but she was so tired
and upset that Elsa persuaded her for once to go and lie down in her
room, and the children were warned not to disturb their aunt.

Edmund’s book was a large Bible Alphabet with gaily-coloured pictures,
which Miss Maggie Moffat had given him at the New Year.  Montagu had
brought out "Peep of Day," a work he detested, but choice on the Sabbath
was limited in the house of Miss Esperance, so he looked at the "Child’s
Bible Alphabet" with Edmund, and so often had they pored over the volume
that they were familiar with all the characters from Abraham to
Zacchaeus.

Presently Edmund shut the book with a bang.  "I shall know all these
folks when I meet ’em, anyway," he said decidedly.  "I’ve looked at ’em
and looked: I’ve had enough of seeing them, Isaac and Noah and Jacob and
Mrs. Potiphar and that dancing woman, Miriam—none of them very handsome,
either," Edmund continued discontentedly.  "Oh, I do wish the Sabbath
was over, it’s such a long, long day."

"I wonder," said Montagu musingly, "why the Bible people are always so
ugly in pictures; so red and blue: real people aren’t as ugly as that
even if they are a bit plain.  Can you tell how it is, Guardie, dear?
D’you suppose they’re really like the people in Edmund’s book?"

"I expect," Mr. Wycherly said cautiously, laying down his "Alcestis" and
smiling at Montagu’s earnest upturned face, "that they were very like
the people we see every day, some neither very handsome nor very plain.
Some beautiful and delightful."

"I shall be disappointed," Edmund remarked, "if, after all, they turn
out to be different from what they are in my book, after I’ve taken so
much trouble to know them when Aunt Esperance covers the little poem at
the bottom and the letter.  You do think they’ll be like they are here,
don’t you?" he asked anxiously.

"I fear not," Mr. Wycherly said, shaking his head.  "We can’t tell what
they were like. You see, the artists who made the pictures in your book
could only give their idea of the people they wished to represent——"

"Then they aren’t kind of fortygraphs!" Edmund exclaimed aghast.  "I
sha’n’t really know them when I meet them, after all—they may be quite
different!  What a shame!"

"I wish we might have the Theogony out on Sunday," Montagu grumbled.
"The people there are pretty enough.  Do you think we could, Guardie,
dear?"

"I fear not.  I don’t think Miss Esperance would like it."

"Is your book a Sunday book?" Edmund asked severely.

"Well, no, perhaps not exactly; it is a very beautiful play."

"What’s a play?"

"Something that can be acted."

"Is it wicked to act?"

"No, I don’t think so—but there are people——"

"Why, then, did Elsa say the tiger-man was wicked?" Edmund interposed.
"He’s an actor, isn’t he?"

Mr. Wycherly was spared an answer to this question, as at that very
moment some one was seen coming through the garden toward them—a tall
young man in black, who proved to be none other than the tiger-man
himself.

The boys rushed at him, shouting joyfully. "Oh, tiger-man, have you come
to play with us?  You promised you would, you know."

"I’ve come to say good-bye," he said, as each child seized a hand and
hung on to him.  "I have to go to-night."

"But you’ll have a little play with us first; just one?  It’s been such
a long Sabbath, and it isn’t nearly tea-time yet."

Edmund’s voice was very piteous.

"Poor mites," said the tiger-man.  "I’ll tell you what we’ll do.  You go
down to the bottom of the garden under the trees and wait for me for
five minutes.  Then I’ll come to you and we’ll do something—it mustn’t
be noisy—but we’ll make some sort of a play.  Just let me have five
minutes with Mr. Wycherly here—see, there’s my watch—when the five
minutes are up you give me a call."

As he spoke he took off his watch and chain and gave it to Montagu.  The
little boys ran to the end of the garden and waited by the wall.

"He must have climbed over," Edmund said.  "I suppose it isn’t very high
when your legs are so long."

"Edmund," said Montagu very seriously, "I don’t think we ought to bother
him to play. He looks very sorry.  You see, his mother’s just
dead—perhaps he doesn’t feel at all like playing.  You see, before, when
we had that lovely game, he was just going to see her—now——"

Edmund’s face fell.  The tiger-man’s advent had seemed a direct
interposition of Providence on his behalf.  Now, it appeared that he was
not to avail himself of it after all.

"Sha’n’t you call him when it’s the five minutes?" he asked.

"No," said Montagu, "it would be kinder not, don’t you think?"

Edmund’s mouth went down at the corners. "It’s been so mizzable all
day," he sighed. "Aunt Esperance is sorry, and Guardie is sorry, and now
you’re sorry, and say he mustn’t play wiv me.  How long must people keep
on being sorry?  He said he’d play his own self."

Montagu was puzzled.  He sympathised with his small brother—it had been
a long, dull day for him, too—but yet he felt that the tiger-man ought
not to be bothered.  Montagu was sensitive and sympathetic, and even as
he had caught sight of the tiger-man walking up the path he realised
that it was a different tiger-man from the one of a week ago who had
rolled over and over in the grass so joyously.

He looked at the watch in his hand.  "It’s more’n five minutes now," he
said.  "You can call if you like, I sha’n’t."

But Edmund did not call.  Montagu moved nearer his little brother and
put his arm round him.  "We ought to be sorry for the tiger-man, you
know," he said softly.  "He’s like Guardie and us now."

Edmund leaned against Montagu and sighed. It really was a very sad and
puzzling day.

"Surely, it’s more than five minutes," said a voice behind them, and
there was the tiger-man, pale certainly, with red rims round his eyes,
but evidently ready to play.

"Do you mind?  Are you sure you don’t mind?" Edmund asked eagerly.  "If
you’d rather not—we’d rather not, too."

The tiger-man sat down on the rough grass near the wall—it was one of
his agreeable qualities that he was ready to sit down anywhere at any
moment.  He held out his hand to each of the little boys, and they sat
down one on each side and cuddled up against him.

"You’re jolly, decent little chaps," he said, "and I know just what you
mean, but I’d like to keep my promise because—well, most of all, because
she’d like me to.  So now I’ll try and be amusing."

And he was amusing.  Edmund forgot his low spirits and rolled over and
over on the grass in paroxysms of stifled laughter at the things the
tiger-man did and said.

All too soon the game ended.  The tiger-man put on his watch, and kissed
both the little boys in farewell.  "Good-bye," he said, "I’m afraid it
will be some time before we meet again, but I sha’n’t forget you."

"We sha’n’t forget _you_.  Good-bye, good-bye," called the little boys,
watching the tiger-man as he vaulted lightly over the wall.  Montagu ran
after him.  "I’d like to whisper," he said breathlessly.

The tiger-man leant over the wall, and Montagu caught him round the
neck:

"Although we laughed and enjoyed it so," he whispered, "we _are_ sorry,
we really are."

The tiger-man kissed Montagu once more, but this time he said nothing at
all.



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                       *THE BETHUNE TEMPERAMENT*

For courage mounteth with occasion.—KING JOHN.


"It is curious, is it not," Miss Esperance said to Mr. Wycherly, "how
entirely those two dear boys differ in character.  Sometimes I think
that Montagu must be like his mother’s family.  He is certainly not like
ours."

"I am not sure that fundamentally Montagu is so very unlike you, Miss
Esperance.  In some ways, too, he strikes me as resembling Edmund,
though not on the surface.  I don’t think that you need feel disturbed.
Montagu is a Bethune _au fond_, although he may seem milder and
perhaps—er—less strenuous than Edmund."

Miss Esperance shook her head, unconvinced.

"No," she said, "from all I remember of my brothers and myself and from
what I know of my dear father, I don’t think Montagu is one of us.
Edmund is, absolutely, a Bethune for good and ill—and there’s a great
deal of ill, mind, in our characters.  But Montagu is too reflective,
too slow to act.  He is not impulsive, like the rest of us, and look how
serene he is! He is hardly ever in a temper, and the Bethunes have
always been so hot-tempered and high-spirited."

They were sitting at table in the evening while Mr. Wycherly drank his
wine, and he smiled as he looked at the pretty old lady opposite with
the soft lamplight shining on her white hair: the old lady who laid
claim to such violent characteristics with such calm assurance.  He did
not point out to her that it was her beautiful serenity that set so wide
a gulf between her and more easily ruffled ordinary mortals: he said
nothing, but he smiled, and Miss Esperance saw the smile.

"You must not think," she continued, "that I in any way regret Montagu’s
dissimilarity. He is a most kind and unselfish boy; a dear, dear boy.
And I wouldn’t have him different if I could.  But he is not like my
people.  He has the scholar’s temperament.  He weighs and considers.  He
would never act upon impulse, and sometimes I wonder whether he is not
lacking in the dash and courage that have always marked our race: those
qualities that Edmund possesses in so marked a degree—together with so
many others that are quite undesirable."

Mr. Wycherly ceased to smile.  "Do you know," he said, "it is a most
curious thing, and, I suppose, the result of association, but sometimes
Montagu reminds me a little of myself when I was a boy.  Of course it is
extremely unlikely that he should resemble me in any way: yet our minds
do tend to run in the same groove.  But it’s only our minds.  Montagu
has far more strength and tenacity of purpose than I ever had, and I
believe that, should the necessity arise, he would show both dash and
courage.  The Bethune temperament is there, Miss Esperance, but in his
case it is not roused to activity by little things."

Mr. Wycherly remembered this conversation next day when he was out
walking with Montagu. Their way lay through the village, past some of
the poorer cottages, and from one of these came Jamie Brown, a
barefooted laddie, about Montagu’s own age, but rather bigger.

As usual Montagu had hold of Mr. Wycherly’s hand, and there was
something in the sight of the two figures walking along so primly
together that annoyed Jamie excessively.

Neither Edmund nor Montagu were allowed to play with the village boys:
about this Miss Esperance was most firm and particular.  But all the
same Edmund knew and was hail-fellow-well-met with them all, and
contrived many a sly game of "tippenny-nippenny" or "papes," and many a
secret confab on his way to and from the Manse.  They all liked Edmund,
and Edmund liked them.  He could talk broad Scotch, and did whenever he
got the chance, although if his aunt heard him she severely discouraged
his efforts, even going so far as to forbid the use of certain somewhat
lurid, if expressive, adjectives.  But Montagu, who spent so much of his
time with Mr. Wycherly, was not drawn toward the village boys.  Their
loud voices and rough manners repelled him: he was naturally shy and
held himself aloof.  Hence he was despised and disliked as "Englishey"
and stuck up.

Jamie Brown danced out into the middle of the road on his noiseless bare
feet, and walked mincingly in front of Mr. Wycherly and Montagu, looking
back over his shoulder from time to time to remark tauntingly: "This is
you, mim’s milk, like a puggie, a wee Englishey puggie in a red coatie
jimp an’ sma’—whaur’s yer organ?  Wull yon auld gentleman no gies a
chune?  Puggie!  Puggie! wha’s a wee puggie!"

Montagu turned very red, but said nothing. Mr. Wycherly had never in the
smallest degree mastered the dialect of Burnhead, and was quite
unconscious that Jamie’s remarks were other than of the most friendly
description.  He regarded his gyrations with some surprise, but did not
realise any offensive intention. Presently, however, Jamie began to
stagger about the road like a drunken man, at the same time chanting
raucously:

    "Oxfordy, Oxfordy, Oxfordy, Sumph!
    What’ll ye get from a soo but a grumph?"

Then it was that Montagu felt a little tremor in his guardian’s hand,
and looking up, saw that his face was lined and drawn as with pain.

Now Mr. Wycherly was well aware that Jamie Brown could not by any
possibility know of his past weakness through personal knowledge; for
his "foible" had ceased to be a foible long before Jamie was born.  Yet
it was pain inexpressible that his old frailty could be made an
instrument of persecution for Montagu.  The love and admiration of the
two little boys, who had come so unexpectedly and beneficently into his
life, were very precious to him, and that anything could be done or said
to lower him in their estimation or hurt them through his past
infirmity, was little short of torture.

Montagu, who couldn’t imagine why Jamie was reeling about the road in
that idiotic fashion, understood well enough the insulting couplet, and
saw that Mr. Wycherly was pained.

"I can’t stand this any more," he said, dragging his hand from his
guardian’s; "he’s got to stop it."

He ran forward, and with a bound leapt upon Jamie from behind, who,
taken by surprise, went down with Montagu on the top of him. Over and
over in the mud the boys rolled, kicking, scratching, thumping, doing
everything, in fact, of a combative nature except bite.

Mr. Wycherly remained where he was, watching them.  Mause would fain
have hurled herself into the press, too, but he caught the old dog by
the collar just in time, and had hard work to hold her, as she bounced
and barked and choked in her efforts to get free.  He did not feel
called upon to interfere between the boys, for they were not
ill-matched, and Jamie had assuredly been the aggressor.  Presently,
however, he saw that Montagu was uppermost, that he had got his
adversary by the throat, and was deliberately bumping the boy’s head on
the ground, while he never relaxed his hold for an instant, and that
Jamie was rapidly getting black in the face.

Still holding Mause, Mr. Wycherly ran forward, shouting, "Loose him,
Montagu; let him go, I say.  Don’t you see you’re throttling the boy?
You’ll choke him; let go, I say."

"I want to choke him," Montagu gasped, as Mr. Wycherly, still holding
the struggling Mause with one hand, attempted to drag his ward off the
prostrate Jamie with the other. "I want to kill him.  I’d have done it,
too, if you hadn’t interfered."

"Nonsense," Mr. Wycherly said sharply. "Don’t you know yet that you
mustn’t keep on hitting a man when he’s down?  Here, catch hold of Mause
for me.  Get up, boy!"

And he half lifted the recumbent Jamie, who, though somewhat limp, was
beginning to assume a normal complexion.

Montagu glared at his foe like an angry terrier.  "We haven’t finished,"
he cried.  "Let me get at him to box him some more.  You hold Mause
again.  Come on!"

And Montagu, whose nose was bleeding, while one eye was rapidly
disappearing in a tremendous bruise, danced up and down impatiently, in
concert with the excited Mause.

But Jamie was holding his neck and gasping.

"I’ll no’ fecht nae mair wi’ yon wee teeger," he said slowly.  "He’s gey
an’ spunkie," he added, "for all he’s sae genty and mim.  Ma certie! his
hauns can tak a grup although they’re sae wee."

"There, you see," said Mr. Wycherly.  "He says that he has had enough,
so, of course, you can’t go on any more.  Now you must shake hands with
each other, for it’s all over."

Frankly, and with no sort of grudge, Jamie held out his square, brown
fist.  "I’ll no’ ca’ ye a puggie onny mair," he said handsomely.

Montagu was still eyeing his late foe with some hostility: but as his
guardian had bidden him to shake hands he felt it must be the proper
thing to do, so he held out his hand.  "Perhaps," he said hopefully,
"you’ll fight with me again some day."

"Ah’m no’ sae shure," Jamie replied cautiously, and in another minute
was speeding on his swift, bare feet toward his mother’s cottage.

Montagu, still standing in the middle of the road, was indeed a
deplorable figure: covered from head to foot with mud and blood, with a
singing in his ears, and an extremely sore eye, he looked about as
disreputable an object as could be imagined.  Mr. Wycherly stood back
and regarded him curiously.  "We must go home," he said, "and it is to
be hoped that we shall not meet many people on the way.  Here’s a
handkerchief; just try and mop that unfortunate nose of yours.  What
Miss Esperance will say, my dear Montagu, I really cannot imagine."

They turned homeward, and had not gone many yards when they met the
Misses Moffat, who stopped, holding up their hands in horror at
Montagu’s appearance.

Mr. Wycherly had never yet spoken to them and would fain have passed
them now with a courteous salutation.  But it was not to be. They closed
in upon him and Montagu, both asking at once what dreadful mishap had
occurred.

Mr. Wycherly again lifted his hat.  "The fact is," he said, "Montagu has
been engaged in the rough and tumble.  There has been a great deal of
tumble and a fair amount of rough. But no serious damage has been done.
I think, however, that the sooner he gets home and changes the better."
And yet again lifting his hat and holding out his hand to Montagu, he
prepared to go on his way.

But the Misses Moffat were not satisfied. "And you let him fight?" Miss
Maggie exclaimed reproachfully.  "Oh, sir! do you think it was right?"

"Yes, madam," Mr. Wycherly answered boldly.  "I think it would have been
wrong to interfere."

"But you did interfere," Montagu exclaimed in injured tones.  "I’d have
killed him if you hadn’t."

"Killed who?" shrieked Miss Jeanie.  "But this is dreadful——"

"I really think," Mr. Wycherly interposed, "that we must get back at
once.  Good-day to you—good-day."

And seizing Montagu’s hand, he fairly ran from the Misses Moffat in the
direction of Remote.

Miss Esperance met them at the gate.  When she caught sight of Montagu,
she, too, gazed in wonder and consternation, and ran out to them,
crying, "What has happened?  Has he been run over?  Is he badly hurt?"

"This," said Mr. Wycherly, pointing to Montagu, "is the result, my dear
Miss Esperance, of a sudden manifestation of—the Bethune temperament."

Miss Esperance flushed a most beautiful pink. She stooped and kissed her
great-nephew’s most uninviting-looking countenance.

"He has been fighting," she said quietly, "and I fear he has had the
worst of it."

"That I didn’t," the belligerent one exclaimed joyously.  "I’d have
killed him quite dead if Guardie hadn’t stopped me.  He wouldn’t let
me."

"Who was it?" Miss Esperance asked with breathless interest.

"Jamie Broun; he was rude.  His father makes wheels and things, you
know."

"Come and get cleaned, my dear, dear boy. It’s very wrong to fight, but
sometimes—in a good cause, it maybe necessary.  Come away in."

And Miss Esperance walked up the garden path with her arm round
Montagu’s neck.

Presently she tapped at Mr. Wycherly’s door. When she came in her gentle
face was wreathed with smiles.

"I’ve just come to confess to you," she said, "that I feel you were
right and I was wrong last night.  There is no doubt whatever that
Montagu is a real Bethune.  In 1657 Archibald Bethune did with his own
hands choke to death an Irish wrestler who had set upon him in a lonely
inn in Forfarshire.  The man was seven feet high, so the old chronicle
says.  I’ve just been looking."

"Won’t you sit down, Miss Esperance?"

"No, I thank you, not now.  I have several things to see to; but, dear
friend, I felt that I must tell you that I recognise that your insight
is deeper than mine.  Montagu is a true Bethune: he will be a man of his
hands even as the rest of our house."

"For my part," Mr. Wycherly said dryly, "I would rather fall into the
hands of Edmund than those of Montagu when he is roused. Especially as
it would appear to be an agreeable characteristic of the Bethunes to
throttle their adversaries."

"We have always been a fighting race," Miss Esperance remarked
complacently, and departed with pride in her port and satisfaction writ
large upon her face.

Mr. Wycherly looked thoughtful.  "And she the gentlest and tenderest of
women!" he murmured.  "How strange they are!"

That afternoon the Misses Moffat called to ask after Montagu.

They found him resting, with a bandaged eye, upon the sofa in his aunt’s
parlour, with Flaxman’s "Theogony" open on his knees for his amusement.
His head ached badly, but he was quite happy.  He knew that in some way
this exploit, although it entailed much destruction to garments and was
altogether of an unlawful and unusual order, had not really grieved his
aunt.  She had lectured him gently, it is true, but she had been very
kind as well, and had given him a whole bunch of raisins to console him
when he was left at home—his appearance being unsuited just then to
polite society—and she and Edmund drove over to see Lady Alicia.

Miss Maggie came and sat down beside his sofa, and after sundry
searching inquiries after his various wounds, she divulged the real
reason of her visit.

"I felt, my dear," said kind Miss Maggie, "that I must come and tell you
a story, a wee story, I read just the other day in ’Wise Words.’"

"Thank you very much," Montagu said politely.

"It was told by a Quaker gentleman——"

"What’s a Quaker, please?" Montagu interrupted.

"A very good man——"

"Are there many of them or only one?"

"I think there must be a good many, but that doesn’t matter," Miss
Maggie said hastily, rather flurried by these interruptions.

"I like to understand things as I go along. Guardie says you must never
pass a word you don’t understand.  Yes, a Quaker gentleman, a very good
man—what next?"

"Well, this Quaker gentleman had a class for boys, a Sunday class——"

"Was he a minister as well as a Quaker?" asked the incorrigible Montagu.

"No, no, he just taught them for kindness, and he was much pleased,
because one day he asked his class whether they would rather kill a man
or be killed themselves, and all of them, with one accord, every single
boy, said he’d rather be killed himself than take the life of a
fellow-creature."

Miss Maggie paused and looked at Montagu for admiration of these noble
sentiments.

He shook his head vigorously.  "I’m not like that," he said decidedly.
"Why, I’d rather kill ten men than be killed myself—and I’d try to do it
too, first."



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                      *THE COMING OF THE COLONEL*

Soldier, soldier, home from the wars.


At Remote a box hedge separated the path leading to the back door from
the trim front garden sacred to visitors.  Edmund often played behind
that hedge.  It made good cover for tiger shooting and suchlike
thrilling sport; and on this particular day he was in pursuit of a bear,
a brown bear of terrific size and grizzliness.

It was a very still morning: Elsa and Robina were busy at the back
hanging out clothes to dry.  Mr. Wycherly and Montagu were, as usual,
engaged in the study of Greek or Latin in the room upstairs.  Miss
Esperance had gone to see a sick woman in the village, and Mr. Gloag was
away on a holiday.  Therefore was Edmund free to amuse himself as best
he could, provided he did not stir beyond the garden.

He was getting a little tired of his solitary pursuit of big game when
he heard a horse’s hoofs ringing sharply on the road, accompanied by a
quite unfamiliar jingling.  Both hoofs and jingling stopped at the green
gate, and Edmund, peering through a hole in the hedge, saw a soldier, a
most resplendent soldier, in dark blue uniform and a brass helmet with a
white plume, dismount from a big black horse and push open the green
gate, where he paused and whistled.

He was a tall man, with a brown, good-humoured face, and he waited
evidently in the hope that some one would hear his whistle and come.

But no one came.  Mr. Wycherly generally shut the window that looked out
to the front as a preventive of interruptions.

The soldier whistled again loud and clear, then he began to sing a
little song.  He was evidently a patient man and didn’t mind waiting.
Edmund, his round face glued to the hole in the hedge, watched him with
absorbed interest; noting carefully both words and tune of the song.

The soldier sang, not at all loudly, but quite distinctly and with a
certain rollicking joviality that the child found most fascinating.
Finally he opened the green gate and led his horse up the garden path to
the front door, where he rang the bell.

Still no one came, and Edmund, greatly excited, darted out into the road
and in at the gate till he, too, stood beside the waiting soldier.

"Good morning, sir," said the soldier.  "I’ve got a note here for Miss
Bethune from the Colonel.  This ’ere ’ouse is Remote, ain’t it?"

"Yes, sir," Edmund answered with solemn politeness, "but who’s the
Colonel?"

"Colonel Dundas, sir.  Can you take the note, sir?  I was to wait for an
answer, but I can’t seem to make anybody hear," and the soldier held out
a square, white envelope to Edmund.

"I’ll put it on the table inside," Edmund said. "My aunt is out, but
please don’t go away yet; I’d like to talk to you.  Have you had a
battle lately, and did you kill many enemies?  And what are you?  Are
you a general or a major?"

The soldier laughed.  "Well, sir, no, I ain’t got that rank yet—I’m an
orderly, sir."

"What’s that?" asked Edmund.

"A private soldier, sir.  Would you like a ride, little gentleman?  I’ll
lift you up, and you can sit on the ’orse’s back and I’ll lead ’im down
to the gate and a little way down the road, it you like, sir."

"You are a kind man," said Edmund gratefully. "I should like that so
much."

And in what the soldier would have called a "brace of shakes" Edmund was
seated on the back of the tall black charger and was riding down the
path to the green gate.

Out into the road did he go and down the village street till they
reached the corner where the highway leads to Edinburgh; there the
soldier lifted him off, swung himself up into the saddle, and they
parted with mutual expressions of esteem.

Edmund trotted back to the house.  No one had missed him.  Miss
Esperance had not yet returned, and the square, white envelope still lay
on the hall table unopened.

That day at dinner the little boys learned from their aunt that the
Colonel of the cavalry regiment just come to Jock’s Lodge was an old
friend of hers, and was coming out to tea with them on the following
day.  They talked and thought of nothing else till bedtime.  Next
morning Edmund, still at a loose end, got tired of play in the garden by
himself and invaded his aunt in her parlour, where she was busy mending
Montagu’s stockings.

He fidgeted round about Miss Esperance, dropping balls of wool and
pricking his fingers with darning needles, finally upsetting a large box
of pins: which his aunt commanded him to pick up and replace.  This he
did, and lightened his labours by suddenly bursting into song:

    O there’s not a king is so gay as me—
    With my glass in my hand and my wench on my knee,
    When I gets back to the old countrie
    And the regiment’s home again.


Edmund had a clear, loud voice, and could sing any tune on earth after
he had heard it once.

Miss Esperance dropped the stocking she was darning, and exclaimed in
horrified tones: "Edmund!  My dear boy!  Where in the world did you
learn that song?  _Never_ let me hear it again!"

"The soldier gentleman what brought the Colonel’s letter was singing it
that morning he came, and nobody answered the door to him. He waited
ever so long.  What’s wrong with it, Aunt Esperance?  D’you not like
it?"

"Like it!" Miss Esperance repeated.  "It’s a shocking, low song, and
quite unsuitable for the lips of a little boy."

"What’s unshootable?" demanded the volatile Edmund, quite unabashed.

Miss Esperance was busy re-threading the darning-needle Edmund’s
surprising ditty had caused her to drop, and she did not reply at once.

"What’s unshootable?" Edmund demanded again.

"Unsuitable," Miss Esperance corrected.

"Well, ’shootable’ or ’sootable,’ whichever it is; what does it mean,
Aunt Esperance?"

"It means not fitting."

"Like my top-coat that’s got too wee?"

"No, Edmund, I did not in this case refer to bodily things."

"Like boots, then?" Edmund persisted, his head on one side like an
inquisitive sparrow’s.

Miss Esperance detached her mind from her darning.  "What I meant was,"
she said seriously, "that a vulgar and ugly song is distressing enough
upon anybody’s lips, but above all upon the lips of a child."

"I don’t sing with my lips," Edmund objected. "What’s a wench, Aunt
Esperance?"

"A wench is a young woman," Miss Esperance reluctantly explained.

"Hooo!" Edmund cried scornfully.  "I thought it was armour of some sort.
I don’t think I’d be very gay with a young woman on my knee—if she was
as heavy as Robina, anyway."

"Hush, Edmund!  I will not have you discuss that odious song any more.
Forget it as quickly as you can; and I shall have to speak to Colonel
Dundas about allowing his men to sing such songs before you!"

"He didn’t know I was there," Edmund said loyally.  "He was the very
nicest man, and Elsa never answered the door.  It’s such a nice tune,
too," he added regretfully.

Miss Esperance made no answer.  Her busy needle flew in and out of the
stocking, and she appeared absorbed in her beautiful darning.

Edmund had picked up all the pins, and he fidgeted about in silence for
a minute more till he observed thoughtfully:

"So shootable’s a vulgar song?"

"Child!  You do nothing but misunderstand me to-day.  I never said the
song was suitable, I said it was unsuitable, which means inappropriate,
and, in this case—improper."

"Were you ever a wench, Aunt Esperance?"

"Certainly not," Miss Esperance answered, with considerable heat.

"But you was a young woman once, Aunt Esperance?"

"That word, Edmund, is never applied to well-bred women at any time of
life.  It is not in itself a term of reproach, but it refers generally
to—"  Miss Esperance paused.

"What’s it refer to?"

"Well—to women of the less refined classes. It is a South of England
word—somewhat equivalent to our ’lassie."

"Which is the less refined classes, Aunt Esperance?  Is they in a
school?"

"Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!  You do nothing but ask questions to-day," Miss
Esperance sighed. "Still, it is right you should understand.  The less
refined classes, Edmund, are such as have not had many advantages in the
way of education or upbringing.  Excellent persons often——"

"Perhaps yon wench was an excellent person," Edmund suggested hopefully.

Miss Esperance showed no inclination to discuss the possible merits of
this young woman, and Edmund continued, "Had you many advantages, Aunt
Esperance?"

"Certainly I had."

"Then you was never a wench?"

"Never!"

"Why should he like a wench to sit on his knee, Aunt Esperance?  She’d
be very hot and heavy."

"I really must refuse to discuss that song any more.  Forget it as soon
as you can, and never, never sing it again."

"He was such a nice man," Edmund persisted. "He had such a beautiful
helmet."

"Perhaps," said Miss Esperance, "if you are both good boys I’ll take you
over one day to Pier’s Hill to see the soldiers being drilled."  And in
this entrancing prospect Edmund forgot all about the "unsuitable" song.

"Aunt Esperance would like you should come to tea with us this
afternoon, Guardie, dear."

It was Montagu who spoke.  Lessons were over, but he had sought Mr.
Wycherly again to deliver this message.

"It is most kind of Miss Esperance," said Mr. Wycherly.  "I shall of
course be delighted and highly honoured, but why am I to have this treat
to-day, is it a birthday?—No—I know it isn’t a birthday——"

"Colonel Dundas is coming.  He knew my daddie, and he knew my
grandfather, and Aunt Esperance is very anxious he should see you. She
said so."

"Don’t you think," Mr. Wycherly said nervously, "that I might be a
little in the way? If Colonel Dundas is such an old friend, they will
have many things to talk over.  Wouldn’t it be better for me to come
some other time?"

"No, it wouldn’t; I’m sure it wouldn’t. Aunt Esperance said that she
most pertikler wants Colonel Dundas to see you.  Do you think he’ll be
able to sing, Guardie, dear?"

"To sing," Mr. Wycherly repeated.  "Why should he sing at tea-time?"

"Well, the soldier Edmund saw (that gave him the ride—I wish I’d been
there, I did hear something, but I thought it was just a butcher,
perhaps), he could sing beautifully.  Edmund said so.  I thought perhaps
all soldiers can sing."

"Perhaps they can," said Mr. Wycherly.  "I really don’t know.  You can
ask him when he comes.  But not at tea-time, mind—that wouldn’t be
polite.  It seems to me, Montagu, that, as Colonel Dundas is coming, we
might ask him if there is any sergeant in his regiment who would teach
you to box—properly.  No choking, you know, or anything of that sort—you
must learn to keep your temper when you fight."

"But, Guardie, dear, I should never want to fight at all if I kept my
temper.  It’s when I’m angry I want to fight.  What’s the good of
fighting with someone you’re perfectly pleased with?"

"You won’t feel perfectly pleased when you’ve been cuffed about the head
pretty hard, but you must behave as if you were, and that’s where the
good training comes in.  No one can box properly who is in a rage.  It
would be good for you to learn."

"Will Edmund learn?"

"Certainly, if you do; but he needs it less than you."

Montagu felt rather aggrieved.  His guardian’s approval was very dear to
him, and Mr. Wycherly had never even indirectly referred to his
encounter with Jamie Brown until this moment.  The little boy did not
enjoy the cold water thus thrown upon his exploit.  He had felt more or
less of a hero ever since, and here was Mr. Wycherly suggesting that he
should be taught to "fight properly," and that he needed such tuition
much more than Edmund, who was not nearly so well-behaved in general as
he.  Montagu was puzzled; but he was accustomed to take most things that
his guardian said wholly upon trust, and being really humble-minded he
came to the sorrowful conclusion that in some way he had not acquitted
himself quite perfectly in his battle with Jamie Brown.

He was, however, dreadfully puzzled why anyone should care to fight for
the mere pleasure of fighting, and that his guardian, most gentle and
peace-loving of men, should suggest such unpleasing occupation as being
both necessary and beneficial was quite incomprehensible.  The coming of
the Colonel was shorn of some of its splendour of anticipation in
consequence.

At last tea-time arrived and with it the Colonel.  He, too, rode over,
but, to the great disappointment of the little boys, he was not in
uniform as they had expected.  It is true he wore beautiful breeches and
gaiters: but he hadn’t a weapon of any kind except a crop, nor did he
wear a helmet, which grieved Edmund unspeakably.

All the same he was a kind and jolly gentleman. He had known Admiral
Bethune and Miss Esperance when he was young; and, like the honest
soldier he was, did not forget people who had been kind to him; he had
also been friendly with poor Archie Bethune, and was interested in
seeing his little sons: and there was also just a spice of curiosity in
his visit.  He had heard of Mr. Wycherly; of the curious charge
undertaken by Miss Esperance; of the way that charge had, in his turn,
undertaken the joint guardianship of her great-nephews.

What did the Colonel expect to see?

It would be hard to define.  He had formed a hazy conception of some
weak-minded man: amiable, incompetent, wholly lacking in those manly
attributes that the Colonel considered essential.  He wondered greatly
what sort of training these little boys could have with such strange
protectors: an old lady—a delightful old lady Colonel Dundas would have
been the first to grant—and this eccentric, ineffectual recluse who was
known to have made such a hopeless fiasco of his own life.

As he rode over to Remote the Colonel shook his head sorrowfully from
time to time while he murmured to himself, "Poor little chaps!"

Not until they were all seated at the tea-table and Robina rang the bell
outside did Mr. Wycherly come down.

As he came into the room the Colonel looked a little startled.  He rose
and shook hands cordially, and then proceeded to readjust his ideas.
This was not at all what he had expected.  A handsome man himself, he
was quite ready to recognise good looks and, above all, distinction in
another man; and Mr. Wycherly’s was, even by the Colonel’s standard, a
striking personality.

It is impossible to dream perpetually when your companions for many
hours out of each day are two exceedingly lively small boys with
inquiring minds.  Mr. Wycherly’s expression had lost much of its
vagueness; and although it was still a great effort for him to brace
himself to meet strangers, he did it for the sake of the little boys and
Miss Esperance.  He did not want them to feel that he was in any way
singular.  What other people felt was a matter of the greatest
indifference to him, and this gave his manner a certain poise and
confidence that had been wholly wanting during his first years at
Remote.

All the time during tea, while Colonel Dundas was consuming quantities
of Elsa’s thrice-excellent scones and conversing pleasantly with his
hosts, something in the back of his brain kept reiterating, "I’ve been
confoundedly misinformed about this man."  And he found himself mentally
accusing vague rumour of a pack of lies: "Making me think the fellow a
sort of village idiot, while all the time he’s a scholar and a
gentleman—I’d like to know who was responsible for it in the first
place."

After tea the Colonel asked if he might smoke a cigar in the garden,
when it was found to be raining.

No one had ever smoked at Remote, and Mr. Wycherly felt rather nervous
in offering his room for that purpose.  But Miss Esperance pressed the
Colonel to go and have his smoke there, and sent him up alone with Mr.
Wycherly, while she, greatly to their indignation, detained the little
boys with her.

"You’ll come down and have a chat with us when you’ve finished your
smoke, Malcolm?" she said cheerfully.  So it came about that Mr.
Wycherly actually entertained a man of about his own age and social
standing in his room at Remote.

They seemed to have plenty to say, and the Colonel’s big, jolly laugh
rang out from time to time.

When he came down he took a small boy on each knee and poked fun at
them: till, finally, out of a perfect farrago of nonsense, they
elucidated the fact that they were to go over to Pier’s Hill twice a
week to be drilled and instructed in the noble art of self-defence: and
that the Colonel would himself write to London that very night for the
two smallest pairs of boxing-gloves made.

"Did Guardie ask you about it?" Montagu inquired anxiously.

"Will my soldier teach us?" Edmund demanded at the same instant.

"Who will take us?" both asked at once, and before the Colonel could
disentangle the questions his horse was brought round by a lad engaged
for the purpose that very afternoon. And the weather was discovered to
be perfectly fine.

The whole family turned out to see him mount and ride off, for Montagu
had rushed upstairs to fetch Mr. Wycherly, that he might not miss this
entrancing spectacle.

The Colonel, as he reached the corner, looked back at the little group
standing by the green gate and waved his hat to them: and for just a
minute after the landscape seemed a little blurred.

"There are more ways than one of making men," he said to a brother
officer at mess that night.  "It’s the quaintest household, but upon my
soul, I’m not at all sure that those two capital little chaps are not
rather to be envied."

The Colonel was not familiar with the writings of a certain monk of
Flanders, or he might have remembered that it is love alone that "maketh
light all that is burthensome and equally bears all that is unequal."



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

                    *MR. WYCHERLY GOES INTO SOCIETY*

    Where is the man who has the power and skill
    To stem the torrent of a woman’s will?


While Mr. Gloag was away upon his holiday a strange minister and his
wife came to look after the congregation at Burnhead.  The inhabitants
regarded them with more or less suspicion, for they came from a big
town, and their ways were unaccustomed.

Mr. Dewar, the visiting minister, was mild and inoffensive, with no
strongly marked characteristic of any sort; but Mrs. Dewar, a large,
bustling lady of resolute character and little tact, succeeded during
her first week in offending the majority of the leading members of the
congregation.

Lady Alicia frankly avowed that "she couldn’t endure the woman"; Miss
Esperance said nothing; the Misses Moffat were encouraged by Lady
Alicia’s plain-speaking to go so far as to remark that Mrs. Dewar was
very different from "our late dear Mrs. Gloag," while the village women
in confabulation at their respective doors pronounced the newcomer to be
"a leddy-buddy," which to the initiated subtly conveyed their opinion
that she was not quite a lady.

Still, she was eager to do her duty in this small, benighted backwater,
and she "visited" with zeal and frequency.

Her second visit to Remote was paid at a time when Mr. Wycherly happened
to have gone downstairs to ask Miss Esperance a question; and Mrs. Dewar
was shown into the parlour before he could escape.  And even had such
flight been possible, Miss Esperance held up a small, imploring hand as
Robina announced the lady’s name, which would have kept Mr. Wycherly at
her side to face the wives of twenty ministers.

Mrs. Dewar was charmed.  She had wanted all along to meet Mr. Wycherly,
and she opened the conversation at once by shaking a large kid-gloved
forefinger at him, remarking with ponderous jocosity:

"I didn’t see you in the church last Sabbath—and how was that?"

Mr. Wycherly glanced despairingly at Miss Esperance, and she came to the
rescue by remarking: "Mr. Wycherly is not a member of our church, Mrs.
Dewar; he is an Episcopalian."

"Ah, but nevertheless," Mrs. Dewar persisted, "I think he should come
and hear Mr. Dewar preach while he has the opportunity. It isn’t often
at a little place like this you get a man from such an important
charge."

"I am sure Burnhead is very fortunate," murmured the ever-courteous Mr.
Wycherly.

"You may well say that," the lady replied, highly satisfied, "and I must
say that the place seems to me to be in great need of a little moral and
intellectual quickening.  Of course, poor Mr. Gloag has been much
handicapped in his work by that poor invalid wife of his."

Miss Esperance always sat up very straight in her chair, but during Mrs.
Dewar’s speech her little figure attained to a positively awe-inspiring
frigidity of displeasure, and Mr. Wycherly looked anxiously at their
visitor as though he feared she might be turned into a pillar of salt
there and then.

"On the contrary," Miss Esperance remarked, and her very voice seemed to
have withdrawn itself to some inaccessible altitude, "by the death of
his wife, dear Mr. Gloag has been deprived of such a perfect helpmeet as
is seldom given to man.  You must certainly have been strangely
misinformed, Mrs. Dewar, to have acquired such a very mistaken
conception of the true circumstances."

For a moment Mr. Wycherly felt almost sorry for Mrs. Dewar, but although
she could not fail to be conscious that she had, in vulgar phrase, "put
her foot in it," she was too thick-skinned and complacent to be crushed.

"I’m sure," she said, making an effort to speak pleasantly, "I’m very
glad to hear what you say; but really there does seem to be a sad lack
of what my husband calls Spiritual Freemasonry among the congregation
here, and naturally one judges more or less of the Shepherd by his
sheep."

"I fear," said Miss Esperance, "that it is exceedingly unsafe to do so
in the majority of cases; including, surely, the fundamental Example
from which your analogy is drawn."

There was a dreadful pause.  Poor Mr. Wycherly was hot all over.  "If
they are going to talk theology," he thought to himself desperately, "I
shall be compelled to escape by the window."

"You must, Mrs. Dewar," he exclaimed recklessly, and then coloured
furiously for his voice sounded so loud, "you must find it very
agreeable to pass a week or two in the country at this time of year."

"We always go to the country every year," Mrs. Dewar rejoined rather
huffily, "but generally to the sea, it is so much better for the
children.  We came here this year solely to oblige Mr. Gloag," and the
many bugles on Mrs. Dewar’s stiff mantle chimed in concert, as though in
approbation of this amiability.

"That was very good of you," said Mr. Wycherly. "I am sure he badly
needed a holiday. I don’t think he has been out of the village for more
than a night or two for over ten years."

"That’s where he makes a great mistake. My husband always says that a
man grows stagnant unless he gets frequent change of scene and society.
What you tell me explains much of the spiritual torpor we deplore in
this village."

"I don’t know what you would say to me, Mrs. Dewar; I should be afraid
to confess to you how many years it is since I have been out of this
village—a great many, I assure you."

"Doubtless you are engaged in various intellectual pursuits which help
to pass the time," Mrs. Dewar remarked graciously, and she smiled upon
Mr. Wycherly—all women did when they got the chance—and during the rest
of her somewhat prolonged visit she addressed her remarks almost
exclusively to him: ignoring Miss Esperance, who sat still and straight
in her high-backed chair with a look of considerable amusement in her
kind old eyes.

Mr. Wycherly accompanied Mrs. Dewar to the gate and held it open for her
to pass out.

"You must come and see us at the Manse," she remarked
condescendingly—then confidentially: "I fear you must find it sadly
lonely and uncongenial living here with only that old lady for company."

"Pardon me," said Mr. Wycherly, "most people are only too inclined to
envy me the great, the very great privileges that I enjoy."

And Mrs. Dewar had to learn that it was not only Miss Esperance who
could surround herself with an atmosphere of almost unapproachable
aloofness.  She concluded her farewell with some haste, and Mr. Wycherly
walked slowly back to the house.

Montagu met him in the doorway.  "Who was that lady, Guardie?" he
inquired eagerly. "She stayed an awful time.  Who is she?"

"God made her, and therefore let her pass for a woman," said Mr.
Wycherly dreamily.

Montagu stared at him in astonishment, then pursued him indoors to find
out exactly what he meant by this cryptic speech; but for once Mr.
Wycherly’s explanations were both elusive and unsatisfactory.

Next day Miss Esperance invaded Mr. Wycherly’s room right in the middle
of lessons. She held an open note in her hand; a note written on pink
paper, with scalloped edges.

"I am sorry to interrupt you," she said, "but here is an invitation from
Miss Maggie Moffat, asking us both to take tea with them on Friday at
five.  May I accept for you?"

Mr. Wycherly, who had risen at her entrance, was standing behind his
loaded desk.

"Oh, dear Miss Esperance, pray don’t!" he exclaimed piteously.  "You
know I never go out anywhere—and to a tea-party—I shouldn’t know how to
behave.  Pray, thank the Misses Moffat and say that I never go
anywhere—it is most kind of them—but——!

"I’d go if I were you," Montagu suggested, sprawling over his table and
sucking the handle of his pen; "they have awfully good sorts of cakes,
full of squashy stuff that runs out over your fingers.  My! but it is
good."

"If it required anything to confirm me in my refusal," Mr. Wycherly
said, smiling at Miss Esperance, "such perilous cakes as those Montagu
describes would do it."

"It would please them very much if you would go," Miss Esperance said
persuasively; "we shouldn’t stay more than an hour."

Mr. Wycherly wrinkled up his forehead in the greatest perplexity: "But I
never go anywhere," he said again.

"And why not?" Miss Esperance asked boldly.  "If it were almost anybody
else, I would not press you, but they are so sensitive. If you don’t go
they will think it is because you are proud, and don’t think them good
enough."

"Me!  Proud!" ejaculated poor Mr. Wycherly. "But this is dreadful."

"They stopped us one day," remarked the pen-sucking Montagu, "and asked
if you were not very stand-off, and Edmund said it was bosh, and you
were nothing of the sort, and that if they just came and played
handy-pandy with you, they’d soon see."

"Well," said Miss Esperance, tapping the letter, "what am I to say?"

"O, say Guardie’s much obliged and he’ll be very pleased to come, and
that we’ll be very pleased to come, too," suggested Montagu, who
appreciated tea at the Misses Moffat’s.

"I did not ask you, Montagu," Miss Esperance remarked with dignity.
"Well, dear friend, may I say you will go with me?"

"Do you _wish_ me to go, Miss Esperance?" groaned Mr. Wycherly.

"I don’t wish you to do anything intensely disagreeable to yourself,
but, if you did go, it would assuredly give great pleasure to them—and
to me——"

"Then I will go," said Mr. Wycherly; and he said it with all the
resolution of a man determined to do or die.

The Misses Moffat were greatly flustered, for Mr. and Mrs. Dewar were
also to be of the party, and to entertain two gentlemen at once was an
unheard-of plunge into the wildest dissipation.

They paid innumerable visits of inspection to their little dining-room,
where the tea-table, laid early in the afternoon, positively groaned
under its load of dainties.  No less than four different kinds of jam
gleamed jewel-like, each in a cut-glass dish, at the four corners of the
table: while cookies, soda scones, dropped scones, short bread, and the
cream cakes, so appreciated by Montagu, were piled up in abundance on
the various plates.  In the centre of the table was a large _épergne_
arranged with flowers by Miss Jeanie’s artistic hands.  These
preparations all completed, there yet remained the arrangement of the
guests at table.

"You see, me dear," said Miss Maggie, anxiously, "we must ask Mr. Dewar
to take the foot of the table because he’s the minister, and will ask
the blessing.  But the question is, where’ll we put Mr. Wycherly?
Because, you see, whoever sits by Mr. Wycherly will get a gentleman on
either side, which doesn’t seem quite fair somehow.  If we put him on my
right hand and give him Mrs. Dewar for a partner, then she’ll be seated
next her husband, and that doesn’t seem quite correct; and yet, if we
put Miss Esperance Bethune there, that’s not right, either, and her
seeing him every day."

"Don’t you think," Miss Jeanie suggested, "that he’d better sit on your
right hand and Mrs. Dewar on your left, with Miss Bethune between Mr.
and Mrs. Dewar, and I’ll separate the gentlemen?"

"We mustn’t think of ourselves on occasions like these," Miss Maggie
said, with just a tinge of reproof in her voice; "it’s not a matter to
be settled hastily."

"Well, there’s not many ways we can sit unless you give up having Mr.
Dewar at the bottom of the table," Miss Jeanie responded sharply.

"That," Miss Maggie replied solemnly, "is a necessity—because of the
blessing."

So, after all, Miss Jeanie had it her way.

Mr. Wycherly had assuredly never been at a similar tea-party.

At the very beginning of the meal his polite commonplaces to Miss Maggie
were drowned by the minister’s voice, as with uplifted hand he asked a
lengthy blessing.  Mr. Wycherly was rather startled, but he bent his
head decorously, and when it was over continued his sentence where he
had broken off.

Mrs. Dewar was so odiously patronising to the Misses Moffat that Mr.
Wycherly unconsciously ranged himself on their side, devoting himself to
the entertainment of Miss Maggie, so that she became hopelessly
flustered and forgot to ask Mrs. Dewar if she would take some more
tea—an omission pointed out by the neglected lady with some asperity.

Mr. Wycherly filled the soul of Miss Jeanie with rapture by telling her
how Montagu and Edmund were consumed with envy because they were not
invited.  When tea was over and they repaired to the front parlour he
looked anxiously at Miss Esperance.  Surely the stipulated hour must be
up.  The Misses Moffat were quite endurable: kind and simple and almost
pathetic in their tremulous eagerness to please.  But Mrs. Dewar was
getting on his nerves, and she insisted on addressing her conversation
to him as though she were on much more familiar terms with him than the
rest of the party, a dreadful supposition not to be borne for an
instant.

"Perhaps," said Miss Maggie, beaming upon her guests, "the gentlemen
would like a game of draughts."

Mr. Wycherly’s heart went down into his boots.  Some years ago he would
truthfully have said he didn’t play draughts; since then, however, Mr.
Gloag had taught him that he, in his turn, might teach the little boys;
and Mr. Wycherly was scrupulously accurate in all his statements.

Miss Esperance came to the rescue.  "I fear," said she, "that we must be
going.  We promised the children that we would be home by about six."

Miss Esperance never made any plan that she did not intend to carry out,
and five minutes later she and Mr. Wycherly were on their way home.  The
little boys were waiting for them at the gate and volunteered to take
Mr. Wycherly for a walk.

Miss Esperance stood looking after them and her eyes were fond and
proud.  Old Elsa came out to ask her mistress something about the supper
and joined her at the gate, and she, too, looked after the trio marching
down the road, Mr. Wycherly, as usual, in the middle, with a small boy
hanging on to either hand.

"He’s awfu’ kind to they bairns," said Elsa. "They’ve wauken’d him up
extraordinar’.  He’s no’ the same gentleman he was afore they came."

"_He_ is exactly the same, Elsa," Miss Esperance said gently.
"Circumstances have changed, and God in His great mercy has seen fit to
call out the many beautiful qualities with which He has endowed His
servant.  But Mr. Wycherly is not changed."

Elsa’s face softened, as it always did when she looked at her mistress.

"I’m thinkin’, mem," she said, "that though the Lord has seen fit to do
much, He made you His instrument."

Gradually by slow degrees, but daily more and more, was Mr. Wycherly
shaken out of his groove.  It was he who took the little boys twice a
week to be drilled at Pier’s Hill; when Mr. Gloag came back, he even
went occasionally to the Manse to play chess with him because Miss
Esperance declared the minister to be so lonely.  And, more wonderful
still, that winter he made two or three journeys to Shrewsbury to confer
with Mr. Woodhouse and see after his affairs in person, leaving Montagu
in charge of Miss Esperance and the household.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                         *MONTAGU AND HIS AUNT*

In a space of shining and fragrant clarity you have a vision of marble
columns and stately cities, of men august in single-heartedness and
strength, and women comely and simple and superb as goddesses; and with
a music of leaves and winds and waters, of plunging ships and clanging
armours, of girls at song and kindly gods discoursing, the sunny-eyed
heroic age is revealed in all its nobleness, in all its majesty, its
candour, and its charm.—W. E. HENLEY.


It happened that Elsa died quite suddenly while Mr. Wycherly was away
upon one of these journeys, and Miss Esperance would not let him be
told, lest he should—as he most assuredly would—hasten home to her
assistance. It was a very cold spring, and Miss Esperance drove into
Edinburgh to make arrangements for Elsa’s funeral, in pouring rain and
in the teeth of a cutting east wind.  She caught a bad cold, but being
naturally very upset at the time and having a great deal to see to, she
took but little care of herself, and was laid aside with a sharp attack
of bronchitis before Robina had realised that there was anything the
matter.

Robina, with the best intentions in life, was no nurse.  She worried
Miss Esperance, and yet that decided little lady would have no stranger
in the house.  So it ended in Montagu—who was then nearly twelve years
old—doing everything for her, deftly, quietly, and with the gentle skill
so often developed by dreamy people when they are roused to action.

During his aunt’s illness the little boy slept in a large cupboard off
her bedroom; and that he might the better be able to attend to her wants
through the night, and yet not entirely lose his sleep (as he did during
the first night he was on duty), he tied one end of a long string round
his big toe and the other round his patient’s wrist, and if Miss
Esperance wanted the fire made up, or fresh poultices, or the "jelly
drink" she was too weak to reach for herself, she would give the string
a gentle pull, and Montagu, who was a light sleeper, was by her side in
a moment, quick to hear her faintest whisper.

During that time Montagu learned to know his aunt as he never could have
done under any other circumstances.  As her breathing grew easier, and
her wonderful constitution—result of a life temperate and self-denying
in all things—reasserted itself, they would have long and intimate
talks, and the little boy learned a great deal about "the family" of
which Miss Esperance was very proud.  It had been settled that at Mr.
Wycherly’s death Montagu was to take his name.  "He has no son, my dear,
and he has done so much for us that we could not refuse him this; but I
would have you remember always that you are a Bethune.  There have been
some bad men among them and many good—but bad and good alike, they have
all been Scottish gentlemen.  You will be educated in England, Montagu,
you will go to the English church, and you will learn English ways—good
and pleasant ways they are which go to the making of such men as our
dear friend—so wise and kind and unselfish.  But never forget that you
yourself are a Bethune, for it is a proud name to bear."

And then the dear old lady would show him the family’s coat-of-arms in a
little, fat, square calf-bound "Scots _Compendium_ of Rudiments of
Honour.  Containing the succession of _Scots Kings_ from Fergus, who
founded the Monarchy. ALSO the Nobility of Scotland Present and
Extinct—The Fifth edition improved and brought down to the year 1752."

From this work Montagu would read aloud to his aunt almost as often as
from the Bible itself, and would shudder as he read how one Archibald
Bethune was "famish’d at Falkland in the year 1592 so that he nearly
dy’d," but escaping to France "did afterward marry one Esperance de
Lanois, daughter of a Marshal of France—" "and since then," Miss
Esperance would interrupt eagerly, "there was never another Esperance
Bethune till I was born."

"I think she must have been like you," Montagu said, "kind to him
because he was so thin from being famish’d."

Miss Esperance laughed softly.  "She was a girl of sixteen, my dear,
when he married her."

"I’d rather marry you than any girl of sixteen that I’ve ever seen,"
Montagu said stoutly. "You’re much prettier than any of them—except
perhaps Margaret," he added, for he was very faithful in his
enthusiasms.

Indeed, there were many who would have agreed with him, if they could
have seen Miss Esperance at that moment, sitting up in bed propped up
with pillows, with a pink bed jacket, not half such a dainty colour as
her flushed cheeks, and the adorable white "mutch" framing the
shimmering silver of her hair.

And here it must be confessed that it is just possible that Miss
Esperance knew perfectly well what a pretty old lady she was; for all
the other old ladies of her time wore "fronts"—dreadful, aggressive,
black, brown or yellow fronts—whether they had any hair or not.  To wear
one’s own white hair was unusual even to boldness; and yet, Miss
Esperance, most decorous and delicately feminine of womankind, quietly
ignored this unpleasing fashion, and was beautiful even as nature had
intended her to be.

Many and exciting were the Jacobite stories she told to Montagu, till
his enthusiasm for the house of Stuart knew no bounds.  He read aloud
gracefully and with understanding, and his reading of the Bible was a
never-failing source of delight to Miss Esperance.  She would lie with
shining eyes and overflowing heart while the boy’s voice, gravely
emphatic and justly modulated, proclaimed to her the divine message to
which she had ever lent so willing an ear.  She even grew accustomed to
the enunciation of Montagu’s "extraordinary views"; as, when one day he
had read to her the story of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, he said
dreamily: "It’s curious, isn’t it, how disagreeable nearly all the women
in the Bible are?"

"Oh, Montagu!" Miss Esperance exclaimed distressedly.  "Think of the
mother of our Lord, and Mary, and Martha, and Dorcas——"

"Well, aunt," he interrupted, "you know in the Old Testament there’s
very few of them at all kind and nice.  The Greek women were far better:
look at Alcestis, and Penelope, and Polyxena!  I don’t like those Hebrew
women at all; they were so vindictive and dishonourable. Fancy you
behaving like Sara or Rachel or Jael!—why even Helen was far nicer than
most of them, and she wasn’t considered particularly good though she was
so beautiful."

"Tell me about Alcestis," said Miss Esperance, lying back on her pillows
and feeling unequal just then to a discussion regarding the relative
merits of Hebrew and Greek women.

"I’ll fetch you Mr. Wycherly’s ’Euripides,’" Montagu cried eagerly, "and
read it to you in English as he used to read it to me.  I really think,
Aunt Esperance, if you’ll only listen carefully you’ll like it almost as
well as the Bible!"

And Montagu fled from the room before his aunt’s horrified
expostulations reached him.

Then began a series of readings from Euripides, followed by arguments
between Miss Esperance and Montagu which would have convulsed Mr.
Wycherly had he been there to hear them.

Their extreme earnestness bridged over the gulf of years between them,
and it must be confessed that Miss Esperance took the greatest delight
in picking holes in the characters of some of Montagu’s heroes.

It was quite useless for Montagu, in imitation of Mr. Wycherly’s
methods, to point out that such and such ideas were so deeply rooted in
the national character as to be a part of it. Miss Esperance would only
shake her pretty white head, exclaiming: "Na! na! my dear laddie—right
is right, and wrong wrong, and that man Admetus was just no better than
a coward: grumbling at his parents, forsooth, because they wouldn’t die
in his place; accepting his wife’s sacrifice and then blaming those poor
old people.  Oh, I’ve no patience with him, a poor-spirited creature—no
man he!"

In spite, however, of the shortcomings in the character of Admetus, the
most human of the Greek dramatists certainly attracted Miss Esperance.
She inquired in a detached and impersonal manner whether there was not a
printed translation of "Ion" in the house, and looked distinctly
disappointed when Montagu informed her that there was no such thing. She
had perforce to leave the characters in no matter what impasse whenever
Montagu stopped reading, as he would occasionally for very mischief, at
the most exciting place, just for the pleasure of being asked to "go on
a little longer, dear laddie, I shall not sleep if I don’t know for
certain whether that poor body Kreusa knew that fine young man Ion for
her son or no’."

But directly afterward her conscience smote her, and she herself stopped
Montagu; fearing that, entertaining as these plays undoubtedly were,
they were apt perhaps to distract her mind from higher things; and she
bade him take Euripides back to Mr. Wycherly’s room, and bring her
Jeremy Taylor instead.  When Montagu would read "The Remedies Against
Wandering Thoughts," "The Remedies of Temptations Proper to Sickness,"
or "General Exercises Preparatory to Death."



                             *CHAPTER XIX*

                          *THE FOND ADVENTURE*

    But warily tent, when ye come to court me,
    And come na unless the back—yett be ajee.
      _Old Song._


Miss Esperance was decidedly better, and she had at last allowed Montagu
to tell Mr. Wycherly of old Elsa’s sudden death, and also of her own
illness.  The letter, according to her instructions, put it, that she
had been "rather ailing," and this guarded statement produced a telegram
from Mr. Wycherly announcing his return next day.

Therefore the little household was commanded to retire especially early,
and by half-past eight that night every light in Remote, save that of
the fires, was extinguished; and the whole family were, as Robina would
have put it, "safely bedded."

Miss Esperance had that evening insisted that Montagu should return to
the bedroom he shared with Edmund; declaring that she was perfectly
capable of getting anything that she wanted for herself.  No one guessed
how terribly Miss Esperance missed old Elsa’s ministrations at every
turn, for the old woman, though frail and incapable of any hard work for
some time past, was yet most jealous of all personal service to her
mistress, and Robina had never been permitted to do anything that
brought her into direct contact with that lady.

Robina, bustling, buxom, industrious, and far handsomer at three and
twenty than she had been at seventeen, had for a long time now entirely
managed the housework; but as a personal attendant she left much to be
desired. When she brought her mistress a cup of excellent beef-tea, she
invariably slopped it over into the saucer, often on to the tray-cloth.
She was economically minded, too, as regards laundry work (most people
are when they have to do it themselves), and looked upon stains as a
very minor matter in setting out a tray.  It was Montagu who noticed the
intense disfavour with which Miss Esperance regarded such small
untidinesses: how often the nourishing dishes prepared by Robina with
the utmost care were sent away untasted because they were not daintily
served; and he took the matter and the trays into his own hands, with
the result that things were served even as Elsa had served them, and
Miss Esperance drank her beef-tea without remark.

Not that she was unobservant; she noted everything that Montagu did for
her; and even when she was at her weakest and worst, she was filled with
a tender, admiring sort of amusement at the boy’s deft, dainty ways of
waiting upon her—ways undoubtedly acquired during his long and close
association with Mr. Wycherly.

At first Robina exclaimed in horror at the enormous number of
tray-cloths and dinner napkins discarded by Montagu if they had the
smallest spot or stain; but Montagu pointed out that it was better to
have mountains of washing than that his aunt should be starved; and the
girl gave in gracefully, for she was very eager to fill Elsa’s place as
far as she possibly could.

There is no doubt that she thoroughly enjoyed her new dignity and
independence, and she wrote to the still faithful Sandie that he might,
if he was in the mind, look in and see her one evening—"the mistress had
said she was perfectly willing, though still confined to her bed."

Sandie was now in partnership with a butcher on the other side of
Edinburgh, ten long miles from Burnhead, and the bicycle was not within
everybody’s reach in those days.  Still he managed every fortnight or so
to get over to see Robina, for they were now formally betrothed, and
their engagement was smiled upon by the authorities.

Sandie wanted to get married at once, but Robina had declared long
before Elsa’s death that she could not bring herself to leave Miss
Esperance, and now she felt that such a course was quite out of the
question.  Besides, she was in no hurry to get married.  That she could
get married, and well married, whenever she liked was a matter for
complacent reflection, but otherwise she was very contented with things
as they were.

Sandie was hardly so satisfied.  If not exactly an ardent lover, he had
assuredly proved himself a very faithful one, and he ruled his life
largely by the somewhat strict conceptions of Robina.


Montagu was very tired.  He had had a hard fortnight, with many broken,
anxious nights. The responsibility had lain heavily on his young,
slender shoulders.  He was supremely thankful that Mr. Wycherly would be
home on the morrow.  It was pleasant to lie once more in his big
four-post bed instead of in the somewhat cramped and stuffy cupboard
where he had spent his nights lately.  He stretched himself luxuriously,
and turned and turned that he might find the absolutely comfortable
position in which to fall asleep.  But somehow sleep would not come.
Every smallest sound disturbed him.  Whenever a little piece of cinder
fell into the grate from the fire in his aunt’s bedroom, he started up
to listen, thinking she had moved and might want him.  But all was
perfectly quiet.

Edmund, who preserved his infantile capacity for falling asleep directly
he lay down, slumbered peacefully in the little bed beside the big one.
Miss Esperance slept the heavy, dreamless sleep of old age and
exhaustion.  Mause, old now and very deaf, slept soundly in her kennel
outside the little house, and Robina already slept the healthy sleep of
hard-working youth.  Only the little boy in the big bed with carved
oaken posts and brocade canopy lay wide-eyed and wakeful with that
dreadful, useless wakefulness that comes sometimes to the overtired.
There was no moon to shine companionably through the blind, the room was
in absolute, black darkness, and when Montagu had been in bed about half
an hour it seemed to him that it must be the middle of the night. The
casement window was wide open, but the night was so still that the blind
never stirred. Again and again he sat up to listen for some sound from
his aunt’s room; it would have been a relief had she wanted him, but
there was no sound of any kind.

Still he could not sleep, and at last his listening was rewarded, for he
heard a step outside—a stealthy step that paused hesitating, then crept
fumblingly forward.

There was no doubt whatever that it was a step; and Montagu, convinced
that it must at least be midnight, immediately jumped to the conclusion
that whoever was there could be there for no lawful purpose.

If it was a burglar, he must be got away without noise.  That was
Montagu’s first thought.  On no account must Miss Esperance be wakened
or alarmed.

He flew out of bed, and, squeezing in behind the dressing-table, leant
out of the window. Soft, impenetrable, wet darkness met him and
enveloped him.  A fine rain was falling, and he could see nothing, but
he distinctly heard the hesitating footsteps turn and go round the house
toward the front.

Softly, on naked feet, he made his way to Edmund’s side and shook him.
But Edmund was difficult to wake, for Montagu did not dare to speak
above a whisper, and it was not until he had reiterated several times:
"There’s someone creeping round the house; it’s a thief, probably," in
the eeriest of stage whispers, that Edmund was roused.

When he did grasp the situation, however, he arose instantly, exclaiming
in a joyful whisper, "Come on, and let’s bash his head for him; then he
can make no noise, nor break in neither."

"That’s all very well," said the more cautious Montagu, whose teeth were
chattering, partly from cold and partly from fear for his aunt. "We’ve
got to catch him first.  Let’s come to Guardie’s room and see if we can
get a glimpse of the fellow from the window.  The night’s as black as
pitch though."

Very quietly Montagu lit a candle, and the two little boys sped across
the landing to Mr. Wycherly’s room.

"Close the door behind you and that’ll stifle his groans," the valiant
Edmund whispered as they reached their goal.  "I just wish we had the
villain here."

"I don’t," Montagu responded gloomily, "he might jump about and make no
end of a row before we got him under."

They had no sort of doubt as to their ultimate triumph over the
nefarious designs of this prowling stranger, but they were,
unfortunately, handicapped by the necessity for extreme quietude.

"I expect it’s the parlour he’ll be wanting to break into," Edmund
suggested.  "All those silver cups and things on the sideboard, you
know.  The basket with the forks and spoons is in aunt’s room.  We must
take care he doesn’t go there.  Don’t let him see a light!" and Edmund
promptly blew out the candle that Montagu held.

Together they softly opened the window and leant out.  Neither could, of
course, see anything, nor at the moment was anything to be heard.

"We’ll wait a wee while," Edmund whispered. And wait they did in
breathless silence, shoulder pressed to shoulder, the only sound the
quick beating of their hearts.

Their patience was rewarded.  The hesitating steps came slowly round to
the front of the house and paused under their very window. Then somebody
gave a low whistle.

Montagu dragged Edmund back from the window.  "That’s to summon his
confederates. What’ll we do?  If there’s more than one, they’re sure to
wake Aunt Esperance and frighten her dreadfully.  We must do
something—quick!"

"Will I fling out the poker on the chance of hitting him?" inquired
Edmund, who had already provided himself with that weapon.

"No, that won’t do, for if you don’t hit him, it would warn him we’d
seen him——"

"Perhaps it would make him run away."

"Not it.  I’ve got it!  Let’s empty the ewer of water over him first.  I
think he’s just under the window, and that’s sure to startle him, and
he’ll jump out.  Then you must say in an awful voice, ’Throw up your
hands without a sound (you mustn’t say it loud, mind) or you’re a dead
man.’  And you’ll light the candle and show me holding one of the big
pistols hanging at the stair-head.  I brought one in with me."

"I don’t think he’d better see you," Edmund objected; "he mightn’t be a
bit terrified."

"Perhaps we’d better keep the room dark, then, and mebbe he’ll think
it’s Guardie."

"Guardie’s voice isn’t a bit awful.  I’ll be a lot more frightening than
him, I can tell you. Have you got that jug?  Steady, now; mind you don’t
let the ewer go, too, else we’d catch it from Robina.  Listen a minute!"

Again the low whistle immediately under their window.

Very carefully they balanced the heavy bedroom jug on the window-sill.
"It must go all at once in one big splash!" Montagu whispered, "_Now!_"

A very big splash undoubtedly followed.

A series of gasps, and the sound of a voice raised in lamentation
exclaiming: "Lord hae mercy!  What like a way’s that to greet a body?
An’ it that dark I couldna’ find the back door.  Hoo was I tae ken ye’d
a’ be gane tae yer beds at nine o’clock?  Ye didna’ use to be sae awfu’
airly.  But I’ll just tell you this, Robina lass, it’s the last time
you’ll catch me trailin’ awa’ over here to speer after ye—to get sic a
like cauld welcome, as though it wasna’ wet eneugh onny wye.  I’m din, I
can tell ye."

Montagu clutched Edmund by the arm, exclaiming in horrified tones, "I do
believe it’s Sandie Croall."  Then leaning as far out of the window as
he could, "Is it you, Sandie? Because, if so, we’re most awfully sorry;
only please don’t speak so loud, for Aunt Esperance is asleep, and she’s
been so ill.  We thought you must be somebody trying to break in.  What
made you come in the middle of the night?"

"It’s no’ the middle o’ the night," Sandie grunted indignantly, "the
church clock has only just chappit nine.  It happened I could get over,
an’ I thocht I’d just look in an’ see Robiny—little thinkin’ I’d get sic
a like reception.  I’m jest drooket through an’ through. What for did ye
no’ speer wha it was, young gentleman, and no’ go droonin’ honest folk?"

"Would you like to come in and get dry?" Edmund suggested hospitably;
"there’s sure to be some fire in the kitchen."

"No, thank ye," Sandie replied, still somewhat huffy, "I’ll get awa’
hame to my mither, an’ she’ll dry my claes to me whiles I’m in my bed."

"Shall I tell Robina you called?" Montagu asked politely.

Sandie paused.  "I’m thinkin’, young gentleman," he remarked severely,
"that the less you say about to-night’s wark the better it will be for
you.  If I am content to pass the matter over with obleevion, it’s the
least you can dae to dae the same."

"We’re most awfully sorry," the boys said once more in subdued chorus.

"Just gang awa’ back tae yer beds," said Sandie, and with these parting
words he felt his way out to the green gate, and they heard his
footsteps going plop-plop on the wet road till they died away in the
distance.

Edmund sighed.  "It was a pity we couldn’t bash his head or anything,"
he murmured regretfully.  "I hope a real one’ll come some day when Aunt
Esperance is well, and we don’t need to be so hushified.  Then we could
have a jolly good mill."

Rather dispirited and extremely cold they crept back to bed.

"I wonder," Montagu murmured thoughtfully, "why he didn’t want Robina to
know he’d been here."

Edmund gave a smothered laugh.  "My word, but he did catch his breath
when we douched him, an’ wasn’t he cross when he thought it was Robina?
I wonder if she’s ever done it before?"



                              *CHAPTER XX*

                        *A QUESTION OF THEOLOGY*

    Nae shauchlin’ testimony here—
    We were a’ damned, an’ that was clear,
    I owned, wi’ gratitude an’ wonder,
    He was a pleisure to sit under.
      R.L.S.


The while that Mr. Wycherly looked after Montagu’s secular education,
Miss Esperance undertook the religious, and long, weary Sunday evenings
did he spend in wrestling with the polemics of the "Shorter Catechism."

"Why shorter?" he would ask bitterly.  "It’s as long as ever it can be."

"There’s a longer one than that, my dear son," Miss Esperance would
answer cheerfully; "but you won’t need to learn it unless you become a
minister."

"I shall never be a minister," said Montagu firmly, one day when he had
made four mistakes in the answer which defines "Effectual Calling"—an
answer, by the way, which he could have learned in two minutes had he
been in the slightest degree interested.  "I shall never be a minister.
I shall be an Epicurean when I’m grown up.  Mr. Wycherly was telling me
about them yesterday, and I liked them."

Miss Esperance gave a positive gasp of dismayed astonishment.  "Oh, my
dear!" she exclaimed.  "I hope that you will always be too sincere a
Christian ever to dream of being anything else.  I must indeed have
taught you badly that any such idea should be possible."

"Oh, no, dear aunt," said Montagu reassuringly, rubbing his head against
her shoulder. "It’s not that at all; but people do sometimes change
their religion, you know, when they’re grown up—like Calvin and Luther
you told me about—and you know I really think I like the old gods best;
they were very pleasant on the whole."

"Montagu, Montagu, you don’t know what you are saying!  Those heathen
gods that you speak of never existed.  There were no such beings."

"Are you sure, auntie?" Montagu asked earnestly.  "They sound very real,
quite as real, and much cheerfuller than—the Shorter Catechism," he
concluded lamely, checked by the unfeigned horror he saw in his aunt’s
face.

Miss Esperance took off her spectacles and wiped them, then she put them
on again and laid her frail old hand over the square, brown little hand
lying on her knee, saying gently: "Montagu, dear, you are talking of
what you do not understand.  It will in no wise be counted against you
_because_ you do not understand, but you must not say such things;
really, my dear boy, you _must_ not, and it grieves me the more in that
I somehow must be in fault.  My teaching has in no way been blest if you
are so filled with doubts already."

Poor Miss Esperance looked terribly distressed, and the little boy at
her knee, who, child as he was, had realised her sweetness and her truth
every day of the years he had been with her, wondered, with a sorrowful
vagueness, what he could have said to vex her so.  And inasmuch as he
could find no words to express the thoughts that were in him he flung
his arms round his aunt’s neck, exclaiming: "I love you so, I won’t be
an Epicurean if you don’t want me to; but you know, dear Auntie, it must
have been so happy in those days—there were never any Sabbaths."

Miss Esperance held him close and prayed silently; she even forbore to
dilate upon the blessed privileges of that Sabbath which, as she had
just been instructing Montagu, "is to be sanctified by a holy resting
all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are
lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and
private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up
in the works of necessity and mercy."

"Is dinner a necessity or a mercy?" Montagu had asked one day, he
himself being distinctly inclined to look upon it as a mercy, for it
followed morning church, and after the children came, in deference to a
suggestion of Mr. Wycherly’s, founded upon certain youthful
reminiscences of his own, there was always dessert on Sundays.

Now it happened that on the Sunday previous to Montagu’s announcement of
his approaching conversion to Epicureanism, the Reverend Peter Gloag had
given a lengthy and vigorous discourse on Eternal Punishment.  He was a
true disciple of Calvin in that he believed that the majority of mankind
needed herding into the right path by the sheep-dog of sheer terror as
to what would most certainly befall them should they stray from it; and
he succeeded in striking dire dismay to the very soul of one small
member of his congregation.  The minister had also touched upon
predestination and election, and Montagu, who was tender-hearted and
imaginative, was suddenly panic-stricken by the idea that perhaps he and
Edmund, and even Mr. Wycherly, who never came to church, might be
already numbered among those whom the Reverend Peter Gloag had denounced
as being "rejected, left to sin, to unbelief, and to perdition."

Long after he was put to bed in the big four-post bed, while Edmund
slept peacefully in the little bed beside him, did Montagu lie awake
wondering whether he would die that night. The very prayer that he said
every evening at his aunt’s knee took on a new and terrible
significance:

    If I should die before I wake,
    I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.


Montagu repeated it over and over again with dry lips, while he turned
from side to side in a vain endeavour to get away from the constant
beating as of a hammer upon an anvil that sounded ceaselessly in his
ears.

"If I should die"—the child whispered to himself, then gradually he fell
once more into thinking of his beloved Greeks; they, too, if they did
not actually fear death, met it sorrowfully, for it meant leaving the
bright light of the sun, and presently the reiterated "If I should die"
changed to the cry of Alcestis, "Lay me down, I have no strength in my
feet. Hades is nigh at hand, and dark night steals over mine eyes."
Then more familiar and less terrible came the thought of that "old man,
the guide of the dead, who sitteth at the oar and the helm"—who in
Montagu’s mind was inextricably mixed up with a saturnine old boatman he
knew at Leith, till at last he drifted into the blessed haven of sleep.

Next day in the Horace lesson Mr. Wycherly happened to mention that in
religion he was an Epicurean, whereupon Montagu, as was his wont, asked
innumerable questions, which his tutor set himself to answer as fully as
possible; dilating, in his pleasantly detached and impersonal fashion,
on the fact that Epicureanism pure and undefiled did away with the fear
of death among its professors; and quoted the philosopher himself to the
effect that "When we are, death is not; and when death is, we are not."
How that in his time the great incubus of human happiness was fear—fear
of the gods and fear of death—and that pleasure pursued with prudence
and tempered by justice and self-control was the true end and aim of all
wise men.

That what he said could by any remote possibility have any personal
application to Montagu never occurred to him for a moment.  He described
the doctrines of Epicurus with as little expectation of their affecting
the boy’s attitude toward life as that the use of the prolative
infinitive in his Latin prose should cause him any searchings of the
heart.  But he had reckoned without the minister, for Montagu, fresh
from the terrors of the previous night, suddenly determined to adopt as
his own a religion which seemed so singularly free from any disquieting
tenets.

Edmund’s curly head was never perplexed or troubled with vain imaginings
or hankerings after the old gods; but equally little did he aspire to
any considerable knowledge of the Shorter Catechism.  Lessons of any
kind he frankly detested, and as he learned by heart with difficulty, he
"went through," in two senses, an inordinate number of "Shorter
Catechisms" in the cinnamon paper bindings, such as Miss Esperance was
wont to provide for the instruction of her grand-nephews. Hardly ever
did Edmund get any answer absolutely without mistake, except the one
which replies to the question, "What is the misery of that estate
whereinto man fell?"  When he would respond in a dismal sort of chant,
"All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under His wrath
and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death
itself, and to the pains of Hell for ever."  This Edmund would repeat
with positive relish till sensitive Montagu shook in his shoes, and
wished harder than ever that he had been born in an age when there
seemed fewer possibilities of wrong-doing, followed by such appalling
punishment; and youths and maidens, light-footed, crowned with garlands,
trooped gaily to propitiate their easy-going gods by means of gifts.

                     *      *      *      *      *

On the evening of the day on which Montagu had announced his preference
for the doctrines of Epicurus Miss Esperance knocked at the door of Mr.
Wycherly’s study about nine o’clock. This was a most unusual proceeding
on her part, for they rarely met after supper, as Miss Esperance usually
went to bed about a quarter to nine.

When Mr. Wycherly saw her standing on the threshold he rose hastily and
led her in and set her in his special chair by the fire, taking up his
own position on the hearth-rug.  The reading lamp shone full on Miss
Esperance, but his face was in shadow.

"Mr. Wycherly, I am anxious about Montagu," Miss Esperance began
somewhat tremulously.

"Is he ill?" that gentleman interpolated hastily.  "He seemed quite well
at dinner-time."

"Oh, he’s well enough in health, I think, I am thankful to think—but—"
here Miss Esperance paused as if she found it somewhat difficult to
broach the subject, "I am not equally confident as to his spiritual
condition."

"His spiritual condition!" Mr. Wycherly repeated vaguely.  "Montagu’s!
He is surely a very young boy to have attained to a—spiritual
condition?"

"That’s just it," said Miss Esperance, despair in her voice, and grave
disquietude writ large upon her face.  "That’s just it.  Would you not
say that he was far too young to be assailed by doubts?  Would you not
expect so young a child to accept the teaching of our religion without
question or rebellion?  And yet Montagu—"  Here poor Miss Esperance
again faltered, then by a mighty effort forcing herself to voice the
dreadful thing—"told me to-day, when I was hearing him the Shorter
Catechism, that he intended to become an Epicurean when he was grown up!
What are we to do with him?"

It was well for Mr. Wycherly that his face was in shadow, for although
his mouth remained quite grave, there were little puckers round the
corners of his eyes, not wholly to be accounted for by the lines that
time had drawn there.  He coughed slightly, and cleared his throat.  "Am
I, dear Miss Esperance, to gather that you think I am in some degree to
blame for Montagu’s unregenerate frame of mind?" he asked gently.

"Not to blame!" she hastily ejaculated. "Not to blame!  But perhaps he
is learning rather too much about those old days, those unenlightened
heathen times, and evidently you render it all so entertaining that he
gets rather carried away, and is unable to distinguish between what is
mere fable and what is historical, vital truth.  He is very little," she
continued pleadingly.  "Do you think it is quite wholesome for him to
learn so much mythology?  Don’t you think it is apt to unsettle him?"

Mr. Wycherly was silent for a minute.  "Do you know," he asked suddenly,
"that with the exception of the little ’gilt-books’ you had as a child,
we haven’t a single child’s book in the house?  Perhaps I was wrong to
discuss any school of philosophy with him—but as regards mythology, I
have only told Montagu such stories as are in reality the foundation of
most of the child-stories that have ever been written. I don’t think
they have really hurt him, and such knowledge will be of use to him by
and by."

"But why should he seem positively to dislike proper religious
instruction?" persisted Miss Esperance.  "I am sure that when I was a
child it never occurred to me to do other than learn what was set me
with the greatest reverence.  Montagu’s critical and rebellious attitude
was undreamt of in my young days."

"Montagu has a curiously analytic mind," said Mr. Wycherly slowly, "and
a passionate longing for pleasantness and gaiety.  It is probably
inherited.  You remember dear Archie loved cheerfulness, and perhaps
that poor young mother—a Cornish girl, if I remember rightly—perhaps
she, too, had the Southern love of colour and brightness in life.  We
are old people to have to do with children, Miss Esperance, and
I—perhaps my aim has been too exclusively to teach Montagu to love study
by making the approach to it as pleasant as possible.  It is a great
temptation, for I find him so docile, so receptive, so eager to please.
But perhaps I have been wrong—though Socrates would bear me out.  It is
pleasant to wander in the Elysian fields with a young boy—but if you
think—"  Mr. Wycherly’s voice had dropped almost to a whisper, and here
he paused altogether.  He seemed to have been talking to himself rather
than to Miss Esperance, and to be looking past her into that pleasaunce
of memory which is the priceless heritage of the old.  Miss Esperance
did not interrupt him, and presently he went on again.  "Perhaps the
recollection of my own mother that is clearest to me is that of seeing
her come dancing down a garden path toward me.  To me now she seems so
inexpressibly young, and gay, and gracious; and I have remembered her
more distinctly lately, because the other day when I was reading with
Montagu that portion of the Odyssey which describes Nausicaa at play
among her maidens, he interrupted me to exclaim: ’_My_ mother was like
that, so beautiful!’  Now he has never spoken to me of his mother
before.  I did not even know that he remembered her, and it has made me
think of how distinctly I remember my own.  She was not five and twenty
when she died."

Miss Esperance sat upright in Mr. Wycherly’s chair, the lamplight
falling full on her troubled face.  In spite of her ready sympathy, a
sympathy so spontaneous that it seemed to give itself at all times
independently of her volition, she felt that her dear old friend was
wandering from the real question at issue.  It was all very well to
point out that Montagu loved beauty.  She was perfectly aware of it
herself, and it was not without an agreeable thrill that she recalled a
little scene enacted that very evening.  Montagu, according to custom,
had been reading aloud to her from one of the very "Gilt-Books" Mr.
Wycherly had mentioned, when the child came upon the somewhat gratuitous
and ungrammatical assertion with regard to the fleeting character of
personal beauty: "People’s faces soon alter; when they grow old, nobody
looks handsome."

Then Montagu brought his fist down on the page with a thump, declaring
indignantly: "That’s nonsense!  You and Mr. Wycherly are both old—and
you are quite beautiful.  There’s a beautiful oldness as well, don’t you
think so, Aunt Esperance?"

The delicate colour that came and went so easily flushed her face as
Miss Esperance met the child’s eager, admiring eyes.  "For none more
than children are concerned for beauty, and, above all, for beauty in
the old."  She not only thought so, but knew so; but it was not the
custom for women of her stamp to acknowledge that they took any sort of
interest in their personal appearance, and although she was distinctly
gratified, she merely shook her head, saying gravely: "What the writer
would point out, Montagu, is this—that without beauty of character mere
personal beauty is of but small account."

Montagu, unlike Miss Esperance, who never allowed her back to "come in
contact with her chair," lolled comfortably in his, disposed to argue
the question.  "I think it matters very much how people look," he said
decidedly.  "I hope I shall grow up to look like Achilles in the book
Mr. Wycherly gave me."

Miss Esperance looked down at the thin, little, brown boy beside her,
remarking dryly: "Well, at present, Montagu, I see small likelihood of
any such transformation," and returned to the perusal of "The History of
More Children than One."

But Montagu had not yet "threshed the subject out."  In spite of his
aunt’s forefinger laid entreatingly at the line where he had left off,
he continued in the tone of one who grants something to a vanquished
foe.  "Of course, young people look nicer in Greek clothes—I don’t
think, f’r instance (Montagu was very fond of "for instance," a
favourite phrase of Mr. Wycherly’s), that Mr. Gloag would look nice with
only a wee towel."

Miss Esperance chuckled, and was fain to close the "History of More
Children than One" for that day.

All this time those two dear old people waited in silence—Miss Esperance
fondly remembering Montagu’s unconscious compliment of the morning; Mr.
Wycherly absorbed in his vision of the girl who, clad in a high-waisted,
skimpy, muslin frock, with sandalled, twinkling feet, came dancing down
the broad central path of a Shropshire garden nearly sixty years ago.

The sunlight was on the grass, the air charged heavily with the scent of
the tall lilies on either hand, and she held out her arms toward him,
singing as she came.

Miss Esperance gave a faint little cough, and Mr. Wycherly came back to
the present with a start, saying: "Doubtless I have been wrong in the
way I have taught Montagu.  For the future we must have more grammar and
less romance.  I am sorry you should have been worried.  It is my
fault."

"No, no!" cried Miss Esperance.  "I am sure that all you have done, all
you are doing, is right and wise, but I—what am I to do? How can I make
him see the beauty and priceless value of that knowledge without which
all other knowledge is as dust and ashes?"

Mr. Wycherly turned to look at Miss Esperance, and fresh as he was from
his vision of a woman in all the radiance of her first youth and beauty,
he agreed with Montagu that there is a very beautiful oldness, and that
such beauty is to the understanding heart perhaps most fair of all.

She held out her hands in her eagerness, and leant forward, straining
her eyes to read his face in the shadow.

"You are far more fit to deal with such subjects than I," he said
hesitatingly, "but since you have done me the honour to consult me—if I
might venture, I would suggest that for a boy of Montagu’s temperament
much dogmatic teaching is a mistake.  In childhood we can only realise
the Infinite through the finite. Some of us in that respect never get
beyond childhood; I, myself, somewhat resemble Montagu, and therefore I
think it might be better to defer the—er—Shorter Catechism until he is
older and more able to grapple with—"  Mr. Wycherly seemed to swallow
something in his throat, and the lines round his eyes deepened
"its—er—theology."

"No," said Miss Esperance firmly, "he must learn his catechism whether
he understands it or not."

"Well, don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t understand it, dear Miss
Esperance.  I don’t, but then I never read it until the other day."

There was an ominous silence for a minute. He and Miss Esperance had
seldom before touched upon any religious question.  Now she sighed and
said sadly: "I thought perhaps you would be able to help me, but your
advice has been that, having put my hand to the plough, I should turn
back, and that I cannot do.  I wish," she continued timidly, "that
should a suitable opportunity arise, you could see your way to speak to
Montagu.  You have such great influence over him, anything that you say
would have so much weight.  Don’t you think that you could?"

"I cannot promise," he answered nervously; "should a suitable
opportunity arise, perhaps I might, but I cannot promise.  I confess
that I should have the greatest difficulty in approaching these subjects
in cold blood, and I question very much whether it would be wise on my
part.  I have always and purposely avoided anything that bore upon
religious instruction in my dealings with Montagu because—well, you
know, my dear Miss Esperance, that your good minister, Mr. Gloag,
considers me lamentably latitudinarian in these matters, my whole
training, my whole mental outlook, is so opposed—"  Again Mr. Wycherly
stopped, helplessly clasping and unclasping his long, thin hands.  Miss
Esperance regarded him sadly, then sighed, saying gently, "I can only
leave the issue in wiser hands than ours."

"And there," said Mr. Wycherly, reverently, "it will be perfectly safe."

Miss Esperance rose, and as he opened the door for her he held out his
hand, saying humbly: "You must try not to be angry with me: it is pure
incapacity, not wilfulness, that renders me so useless as an adviser."

Miss Esperance took the proffered hand in both her own.  "Are you sure
that you really care?" she asked gently.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*

           *IN WHICH MR. WYCHERLY HANGS UP HIS COLLEGE ARMS*

      For who can always act? but he,
    To whom a thousand memories call,
    Not being less but more than all
      The gentleness he seemed to be.
        _In Memoriam._


Mr. Wycherly, a look of great perplexity upon his face, sat by the
hearth far into the night.  The lamp burned low, went out, and he sat on
staring into the darkness till the dawn, cold and gray-mantled, came
creeping through the unshuttered windows to find him still seated,
clear-eyed and contemplative, but with the puzzled lines smoothed out of
his forehead as by a kind hand.  Bewilderment and self-reproach had
given place to memory, as the years since the children had come passed
before him in procession.

There was that strange, dreadful journey homeward from Portsmouth, the
long cramped hours of sitting, he and Miss Esperance, each with a child
clasped in stiff, unfamiliar arms: those first bewildering days when the
children made all sorts of incomprehensible demands upon his
inexperience.  As he sat alone in the darkness Edmund’s indignant
lamentations because he could not "make a ’abbit" sounded in his ears,
and his triumphant outcries when once the manufacture of the creature
was accomplished.

The rabbit scenes came back to him, and a thousand others—those pretty
daily doings full of quaint solemnity, that parents take for granted,
but that come with an ever-recurring shock of almost reverential
pleasure upon such gentle-hearted maids and bachelors as have to do with
little children late in life.

It had never ceased to fill Mr. Wycherly with amazement that baby Edmund
managed to put his spoon into his mouth and not into his eye; and he
never fastened those absurd little strap shoes that were for ever coming
undone, without a slight trembling of the hands.  It seemed so wonderful
that he, of all people, should be permitted to officiate at these
mysteries.  His memory was clamorous with the children’s endless demands
for "stories."  Picture after picture unrolled before him of attentive,
eager-eyed Montagu, listening with breathless interest to the tales that
are old and new as life itself; of sturdy, fidgety Edmund with the loud
laugh and handsome, fearless face....  And in all the pictures, the
figure of Miss Esperance, bent now, but quick as ever to deeds of
kindness, moved like the sound of music, gracious and beneficent.

The clock on the mantel-piece struck four, and the room was suddenly
filled with the clear, rosy light that proclaims the advent of the day.
Mr. Wycherly raised himself stiffly from his chair, and crossing the
room to Montagu’s table, rearranged his already tidy pile of books with
gentle, tremulous hands.  As he left the room to go to bed he stood
still on the threshold and looked back into it as though to fix its
image on his mind.

When Montagu came in to lessons that morning his tutor was not as usual
seated at his writing-table, but in the big chair by the fire. He was
not reading, and was so evidently waiting for the little boy that
Montagu, instead of going to his own seat in the window, went straight
to Mr. Wycherly, who stood him between his knees, laid his hands on the
child’s shoulders, and looked long and earnestly into his face.
Montagu, although rather puzzled by this unusual proceeding, was always
patient, and waited in silence, holding the lapels of his old friend’s
coat the while, till he should choose to speak.

At last he said, "Montagu, tell me exactly what you meant when you told
Miss Esperance that you would like to be an Epicurean when you are grown
up?"

It seemed a sudden reversal of the accepted order of things that Mr.
Wycherly should ask Montagu to explain anything, and as that youth had
entirely forgotten his enthusiasm for the doctrines of Epicurus directly
his own fear of death had evaporated, he looked rather foolish and
mumbled:

"It seems a comfortable sort of religion."

"And do you consider our religion uncomfortable?" asked Mr. Wycherly,
putting one finger under the little boy’s chin and lifting the downcast
face to his.

"Yes, I do," he replied with great decision, looking his teacher
straight in the eyes, "most uncomfortable, with so many ways you can go
to Hell, and people you like, too, and no getting back when you’re once
there, either."  And Montagu grew quite red in the face with the
vehemence of his objection to these doctrines.

Mr. Wycherly withdrew his hand from under Montagu’s chin and laid it on
one of the little brown hands holding his coat so firmly.

"Why do you bother your head about it?" he said gently.  "You may take
it from me that no one, above all, no little boy who tries his best to
behave well and pleasantly, ever goes to Hell—and as for the others—who
knows? you certainly don’t.  Besides, do you honestly think that any
wise person would choose a religion merely because it was comfortable?
There is very little use in any religion that does not at times make us
most uncomfortable, and spur us every day to try to do better.  Dear me,
Montagu! when I was your age I believed what I was told, and never
troubled my head about such things.  I learned my catechism without a
murmur."

"The Shorter Catechism?" Montagu interrupted.

"No, not that one, but it’s very much the same thing," said Mr. Wycherly
mendaciously.

"Well, _I_ believe what I’m told," said Montagu somewhat aggrieved by
this unsympathetic attitude on the part of his old friend. "That’s what
makes me so uncomfortable.  If I didn’t believe it, sir, it wouldn’t
matter."

"I assure you, Montagu, if you ask Miss Esperance, or Mr. Gloag,
himself—he is a most sensible man on the whole—they will both tell you
that it is absurd for you to worry yourself about Hell.  You don’t know
anything about your own religion yet, far less that of the Epicureans.
But now I want you to listen to me very attentively for I have something
serious to say to you.  You may take absolutely on trust, either upon
this or upon any other subject, anything that Miss Esperance may tell
you. She is a far safer guide than I, or Mr. Gloag, or indeed any one
that you know.  And above all, I beg you to try even harder with
whatever lessons she may set you, than you do with mine.  You must try
to please her, to make her happy...."

Mr. Wycherly paused and cleared his throat, the earnest, puzzled face
looking up into his grew suddenly dim, and the little boy felt his
tutor’s hand tighten on his own, as he asked suddenly, "Montagu, have
you ever seen anybody drunk?"

"Yes, lots of times: they look horrid, and walk crookedly and have
hoarse voices, the people on the road to Leith are often drunk."

"There was once a man, Montagu, who got into the habit of drinking more
than was good for him.  How and why he got into that habit does not
matter, it was at all events no excuse.

"He grew worse and worse—I don’t think he ever looked quite like the
people you mention, but I don’t know.  His brain was going, his friends
were ashamed of him, there seemed no place for him in this world, and
how should he dare face the next?  He was not altogether a stupid man,
he knew many things, and best of all that the weakness he encouraged was
a fatal weakness, but he seemed to have no strength of mind or body to
pull himself together till an angel from heaven took him into her house
and helped him, and protected him against himself—till he was cured.  It
was not done quickly, and God, who gave her her great heart, alone knows
what she had to bear in the doing of it."

Mr. Wycherly paused, he felt Montagu’s body tremble between his knees,
but the child did not speak, and the broken voice went on, "The angel
was your aunt, Montagu, and I, I was the man.  And the last time I was
drunk, your father, not much older than you are now, brought me home."

The clock ticked loudly, and a thrush was singing on the alder tree
outside.  There was no other sound in the room till Montagu, moved to a
sudden passion of tears, flung himself forward into his old friend’s
arms, clasping him round the neck and exclaiming between his sobs, "What
does it matter?  Why did you tell me?  I didn’t think I _could_ love you
any more, but I do, I do, I do!"

                     *      *      *      *      *

"And now," said Mr. Wycherly, some five minutes later, wiping Montagu’s
tear-stained face with a large, clean handkerchief, "we had better begin
work, and you may write out the rules concerning the sequence of the
tenses, that you learned yesterday."

As Montagu settled himself at the stout, stumpy table, the sun shone in
on him with a radiance that made him blink.  And Mr. Wycherly looked
round the room with the relieved expression of one who, expecting
everything to be changed, found it still blessedly the same.

He had played his great stake and won: and never was winner more happily
relieved. When Montagu finished his morning’s lessons and went
downstairs and Mr. Wycherly moved about his room dusting his books and
rearranging the piles of papers on his desk, he might have been heard to
sing softly and with subdued but joyful emphasis certain stanzas that
always concluded with a rollicking "fal la la la la la la."

Presently he went to Montagu’s window and looked out toward Arthur’s
Seat.  But he did not see it, for in dreams he walked in his college
garden beside the bastioned city wall.  "I would like to see the
chestnuts in bloom once more," he said softly, "and the perfect grass."


Montagu met his aunt on the staircase as he was going down and she at
once noted that his face looked tear-stained and his eyelids were
swollen with crying.  It was so unheard of a thing that Montagu should
cry during his lessons, whatever else he might cry about, that Miss
Esperance stopped him to ask anxiously what had happened.  The boy
crimsoned to the roots of his hair.  "It was about the catechism, Aunt
Esperance," he said slowly.  "I am sorry; I won’t be tiresome any more.

"Then he _did_ speak to you?" she exclaimed in surprise.

"Oh, yes!" said Montagu earnestly.  "He made me _very_ sorry," and he
fled past his aunt down the little crooked staircase and out into the
garden, for he feared what she might ask him next, and like Elsa, when
she discovered the gaps made by the missing books six years ago, the boy
felt that here again was a sacrifice that "she maun never ken."

The long-stilled voices of habit and tradition called loudly to Mr.
Wycherly, and moving as if in a dream, he went and opened a drawer in
his desk and drew from it a framed picture of his college arms.  The
gules were faded but the seeded Or on the tudor roses caught the
sunlight and gleamed gladly, as though it rejoiced to see the brightness
of the day once more.  With trembling hands he took down the portrait of
John Knox above the mantel-piece, and hung the arms of New College in
its place.

                     *      *      *      *      *

In looking forward for Montagu Mr. Wycherly had learned to look back, no
longer wholly in pain and shame, but sometimes in liveliest gratitude
that there was so much to remember that was lovely and of good report.
And the more he remembered, the more did action of many sorts seem
imperative, and in the July, after he had confessed himself to Montagu,
he went back to see Oxford once more.  Back to the city, of perhaps all
others in the civilised world, to fill the minds and hearts of her sons
with an adoring passion of tenderness, of real filial affection.  The
love, that while it worships the virtues of a mother, is only
strengthened by a perfect understanding of her weakness, her humanity,
her beautiful inconsistency.

The great quadrangles spread themselves empty and silent in the
sunlight: the fields, untenanted of "young barbarians all at play"
stretched green and peaceful to the river.

But the gray old buildings smiled their gracious welcome as of old, with
that wonderful mediæval friendliness that neither time nor absence can
change or lessen.  And just as a mother who gets her son home after long
absence in a far country will talk fondly of the dear, by-gone, boyish
days—remembering only such things as made her glad and proud—so Oxford
whispered kind, friendly things to Mr. Wycherly, and he was comforted.

The day after his arrival he went to Matins in Christ Church choir, and
there seemed something peculiarly applicable in the psalms for that, the
twenty-seventh day.  For lo! had he not returned to his Jerusalem, well
content to pray for her peace?

    Peace be within thy walls: and plenteousness
      within thy palaces.
    For my brethren and companions’ sakes: I will
      wish thee prosperity.
    Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God:
      I will seek to do thee good.



                             *CHAPTER XXII*

                                 *VALE*

    Twilight and evening bell
    And after that the dark!
    And may there be no sadness of farewell—
    When I embark.
      LORD TENNYSON.


When Montagu first went to Winchester he was something of a puzzle both
to masters and boys, although his housemaster, an old pupil of Mr.
Wycherly, knew enough of the boy’s curious upbringing to explain matters
somewhat to his colleagues:

"He knows far more classics than the average sixth-form boy, and
practically nothing else. Of the world he knows about as much as a child
of three, and of games and other boys, less than any old maid in the
kingdom—a most difficult boy to place.  It’s a very risky experiment."

And Montagu’s housemaster shook his head, for he felt worried about the
child.

Contrary to every one’s expectation, however, he got on wonderfully well
with his school-fellows.  Boys are tolerant enough of "queerness" if it
is unaccompanied by surliness or "side."  If Montagu was "green" he was
also singularly obliging and good-natured. A readiness to render a good
turn is a passport to favour all the world over, and when his
housemaster declared Montagu to know less of other boys than any old
maid in the kingdom he made a mistake.  Montagu had lived a good many
years with Edmund, and healthy boyhood is very much the same all the
world over.

He was always ready to give a construe or a copy of verses and it never
ceased to fill him with wonder that the boys in his own form, so much
bigger and wiser and self-assertive than he, apparently found such
difficulty in applying rules he could not remember to have learnt.

His accurate and old-fashioned way of expressing himself in ordinary
conversation was looked upon by the boys as an especially subtle form of
"rotting" or witticism; and it was quite a long time before Montagu
understood how it was that his simplest remarks, offered in all good
faith, were greeted with appreciative grins by his companions, who
generally took it that he was parodying one of the masters. Week by week
he committed fewer solecisms, and except that he seldom got into trouble
over his work, which he thoroughly enjoyed, his school life was very
like that of the rest and entirely happy.

The same term that Montagu went to Winchester Edmund was sent to a
preparatory school, also in England, and the little house at Burnhead
seemed very quiet and deserted.

They had all missed the old servant, Elsa, unspeakably, at first: but
youth is quick to accustom itself to new conditions, and Mr. Wycherly
was roused to so many fresh interests and activities that he hardly
realised what an important piece of the mechanism of Remote had stopped
working.  But Miss Esperance mourned silently and deeply for the
faithful friend and servant who had ministered to her so tirelessly,
and, though neither she nor Elsa knew it, ruled her so beneficently for
fifty years.

After the departure of the boys, Miss Esperance grew more and more
fragile till the time came when she was fain to follow Elsa, and fare
forth into the unknown with the same dignified serenity that had
characterised her every act during her long life of upright dealing and
beautiful self-sacrifice.

The end came in the boys’ second term at school.

"I am glad the boys have both entered upon their careers," she said to
Mr. Wycherly, in her kind, weak voice, as he sat by her bed the night
she died, "I shall tell Archie what dear, good lads they are—and that
poor young mother I never saw.  I can tell her how proud she would have
been, how proud she may be—but perhaps she knows," and Miss Esperance
gave a little sigh as though she would have liked to be the first to
bear this pleasing intelligence. Then putting the thought from her as
savouring of selfishness, she continued, "I’m sure she knows, but she’ll
be glad to hear it again: just as I am, when people praise them to me,
who know so well how dear they are."

Mr. Wycherly could not speak, but his hand tightened on the weak little
hand he held. "I would like to have seen Montagu again," she said
wistfully.  "He is such a kind boy. But it is so far and he has only
just gone back, and my bonnie wee Edmund, too.  It is better as it is.
I have you—and what is far more important, they have you....  I have
indeed been wonderfully blest.  I used to look forward with such dread
to a lonely death-bed with no kind hand to hold mine at the last, but
the Lord has been very merciful.  His merciful kindness is great toward
us...."

The faint, whispering voice died away into silence.  The fluttering in
the frail small hand was stilled.  And Mr. Wycherly was left alone, for
Miss Esperance had gone on.


A month later Mr. Wycherly went back to Oxford.  Miss Esperance left all
she was possessed of to him, in trust for the boys, with the exception
of a hundred pounds to Robina; and to Montagu, her lace, her jewels—such
humble, old-fashioned trinkets they were—and her miniatures, "in memory
of his great kindness to me when I was ill."

Mr. Wycherly took a tall, old house in Holywell Street, close to his
college, and there the boys always came to spend their holidays. The
quaint three, so strangely linked together by fate and affection,
aroused benevolent curiosity and interest in the minds of friendly dons
and their families.  In fact, the curious household was largely managed
by outsiders when the boys were at home.  But they loved each other
greatly and it is that alone "which maketh light all that is burthensome
and equally bears all that is unequal.  For it carrieth a burthen
without being burthened and maketh all that which is bitter sweet and
savoury."





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